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Lux ex Tenebris

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I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

-Translation of Sonnet XVII (from Cien Sonetos de Amor), Pablo Neruda

 

The morning sky was gray, tinged vaguely golden around the edges of the vaporous mist that rose up from the calm surface of the sea. Though it was spring at last, the air of early day was cool as it enveloped Hawke. She shivered slightly, staring down at the rippling waters that lapped against the wooden hull of the small vessel. Above her, the crimson sails fluttered in the light breeze that drove the ship southwards towards the shores of Ferelden. She could see the blush of red that reflected across the waves as she looked out across the sea. There was no chance, she knew, of catching sight of land so soon. She and Fenris had come aboard the ship little more than a week ago and, though the weather had been fair, they were still a number of days away from the small fishing town where Captain Devins had told them they would make port. Nevertheless, Hawke kept her eyes fixed on the horizon, eager for the journey to be over.

Returning to Ferelden, she knew, would be no homecoming. Home is not a place to which one can ever return once it has been left behind. Home is less of a physical place and more of an abstraction, created in the mind and in the heart and fed by emotion. The feeling of warmth and peace that she had felt during her childhood had not been the result of the land where she lived, but was rather the effect of being surrounded by family. The sensation of feeling at home was no more than a sense of belonging and of being loved. Ferelden was now no more than an expanse of land which lay somewhere across the Waking Sea. It was no more her home than Kirkwall had been.

Leaving Kirkwall had been no great loss to her. It had been a place, she knew, where she had had wealth and property and position, but it was no longer a place where she could feel safe. The devastation that Anders had incited had driven the city into chaos that had not been halted by Meredith’s death. Mages ran rampant through the city while the Templars attempted to regain control and, in the midst of that turmoil, the citizens of Kirkwall began to loot and pillage and contribute further to the chaos that had gripped the city and now refused to release it. Her mansion, Hawke realized, had likely been torn over by now. It was well enough. She had never felt particularly attached to the majority of her possessions. Granted, there were things that she lamented leaving behind. Her sister’s gilded toiletry set, for one thing, and her mother’s many family portraits. These last vestiges of a time when she had had a family and a home. She would miss these things and it pained her to think that they had now fallen into the hands of the rioters that had swept through the city while she and her companions disappeared into the hills. It ached also to think of Fenris’ diary, still amidst the sheets of her mother’s bed. The idea that someone else may come across it and peruse its pages felt like such a tremendous violation that she felt slightly nauseated whenever she thought of it. It was nearly as unpleasant as trying to guess what had become of the fingers that she had left behind, curled and bloody in the courtyard of the Gallows.

She tried to think of these things as infrequently as was possible. After all, she had with her all that mattered. Her mabari had, during that first night she had passed beyond Kirkwall, found his way back to her. Now, aboard the ship, Brutus had made himself useful by hunting the rats that had made residence below deck. At night, he slept on the planks of the floor in the same room where she and Fenris rested. Above the sounds of the sea and the creaking of the ship, she could sometimes hear Brutus huffing in his sleep while Fenris snored intermittently. Hawke’s own sleep was light and often disturbed. Any voyage into deeper, restorative sleep was typically broken off by the nightmares that came to her nightly. There were enough ghosts in her mind to ensure that she never truly slept again. She remembered all too well the expression on Anders’ face as he had died in her arms. She remembered the feel of blood against her skin and the smell of his body as it had burned. These memories returned to her at night, revisiting her along with all the accompanying memories of when she and Anders had almost been happy. Times when she had laughed in his arms and times when he had told her that he loved her. The time when she had tied him up for the first time, nervously and fighting back fits of giggling as she did so. When she had felt the warmth of him inside of her. And then, in her dreams, she felt the warmth of his blood spilling over her skin. His expressions of ecstasy or joy becoming that look of surprised resignation that had overtaken his face while she cut his throat. And then it was not only Anders who was gone, but all of them. Her father, her mother, Bethany, Carver. And Fenris. There was nothing, just the expanses of emptiness left within her as she found herself wholly and completely alone.

Her mind would snap back into consciousness then and she would wake, shaking slightly and almost believing that the dreams had been real. Panting, she would bite her forearm to hold back the whimpering sounds that might awaken Fenris. Their first night aboard the ship, sharing that confined space below deck, she had cried out upon waking and he had woken with her. Hearing his voice then was, admittedly, one of the greatest reliefs of her entire existence. Still, she had felt a surge of guilt for having weighted him with her own distress and she had been too afraid to bring up the subject of Anders. She was entirely uncertain as to how Fenris would react to the mention of her former lover and she had little urge to further test his commitment to her.

Hawke sighed, looking down at the silvery surface of the water that caught the pink light of the rising sun. She could see nothing below the surface of the water and marveled at the apparent emptiness of the sea. There was life, she knew, beneath those waves, but all that was within its waters was hidden, distant and far beyond anything that she would ever know. So much of her life was filled with the same uncertainty. It was obvious enough that Fenris felt something for her, but it was unclear as to what that was. She hadn’t the faintest notion of what it was that he expected from her or why it was that he had chosen to accompany her as she made her journey south. When he had made it clear to her that he intended to stay with her, while they had sat together not far from the warmth of the campfire, he had held her for a moment. He had kissed her wrist and he had touched her hair and, for the briefest and most fleeting of heartbeats, he had pressed his lips to hers. During the subsequent days and nights, he had not touched her at all. Not once. Not even for a moment.

It was enough for her. She was despicable enough of a person that it was enough simply to know that he was beside her. Hawke knew that she ought to drive him off and allow him the chance to find someone better, but the prospect of losing him again was almost too horrible to contemplate. The thought of going back to the hollowness that had filled her after he had left Kirkwall was unbearable. And it would be worse now that her friends had left her, heading north while she and Fenris made their way south. Having Fenris beside her was, she knew, more than she had any right to deserve. If he chose not to touch her, then she could hardly complain. Still, it left her confused as to what her role was meant to be. When he looked at her sometimes, gazing at her across the table, she suspected that he may be harboring some latent feelings of desire for her. There was, however, only the slimmest of chances that he would ever act on whatever lingering desire he might possess. Fenris was not the sort of person, it seemed, to engage in carnal acts without affection. He had, she supposed, experienced enough of the act when it was devoid of sentiment to have wearied of its basest incarnations. For a decade, at least, since he had escaped Danarius, he had never sought anyone out with whom to share a night of fevered, empty exertions. It was only when Fenris had believed himself to be in love with her that he had given way to his urges. Hawke doubted very much that that experience had done anything but to sour him still further with regards to sex. Certainly it would hardly compel him to seek her out for a reprieve of the act which had restored his memory of her betrayal. Though it was entirely true and undeniable that Hawke would have been amenable to such joining given the impossible impossibility that he chose to make such overtures, she was more than willing to forego such things if it meant keeping him beside her. However, she doubted whether he would remain with her much longer if she could not even offer herself as an outlet for his more primal instincts. Without either love or desire for her, she knew that it was only a matter of time before he saw reason and finally freed himself from the delusion that she was a worthy companion. The prospect of this was terrifying, though she knew that it was what she should want for him.

Finding herself shivering, Hawke decided that she might as well return to the cabin where she had left Fenris sleeping. It was her general practice to wake as early as possible and leave prior to his waking. If she was honest with herself, the primary reason for this was to avoid the various humiliating intimacies that came of sharing close quarters with another person. The ship that they had boarded, paying their fare through the use of Hawke’s reputation rather than with the meager gold she had in her possession, was not the sort that afforded a terrific amount of space for its passengers. It was only a small cutter used by a rather unsuccessful merchant who never found that his trade carried him beyond the Waking Sea. Having arranged for passage on such a boat, Hawke and Fenris found themselves confined to one rather small, dank room which smelt heavily of brining fluids and salted meats. Being kept in such close proximity made the uncertainty of their situation all the more uncomfortable. Though they slept separately in two hammocks, Hawke felt herself becoming increasingly awkward with each passing day. The worst of it was that Fenris did not seem to find the closeness to be the least bit off-putting. He seemed, as much as one could reasonably be expected to be under such circumstances, to be at ease.

Their first morning aboard the merchant’s vessel, Fenris had arisen before Hawke. He had been scarcely dressed when he lifted the blankets from himself and then had only exacerbated the situation by proceeding to change his clothing as if it were nothing. Hawke, lying in her hammock, had felt a sudden thrill of surprise as he stripped bare. Though his back was turned to her, the sight was nonetheless arresting. Overtaken by embarrassment and the rather voyeuristic urge to continue staring, Hawke rolled quickly towards the wall and covered her eyes with both hands. After a moment, she began to feel that she was not looking at him in such an aggressive way that she was certainly betraying how desperately she had wanted to watch. She was, at the very least, failing to be casual. When she rolled over, turning back towards him, she saw that he was now mostly clothed and already in the process of cleaning his teeth. As he did so, he was watching her with one of his eyebrows raised quizzically. Hawke had found herself blushing. So he had noticed her entirely conspicuous awkwardness then. “You’re awake, then?” he had asked flatly, surveying the increasing redness of her face that was now well beyond her control.

Clearing her throat and beginning the awkward process of clamoring out of her hammock, Hawke had stammered out something to the affirmative. He had made a small, noncommittal grunt in response and continued cleaning his teeth. Hawke had been left there, standing in the center of the small room and utterly without any idea as to how she was supposed to proceed from that point. She was aware that she ought to go about her morning routine and change from the shift she had slept in into something more conducive to moving about the ship during the day. It seemed impossible, however, that she would be able to find the nerve to strip down to her skin while he was in the room. He would think her disgusting, however, if she didn’t even change her underclothes. In a passing, panicked moment, Hawke wished that they hadn’t bothered to buy new clothing so that there would be no need to face this dilemma. Fenris had watched her for a moment as she stood, paralyzed with uncertainty, before he nonchalantly turned and faced towards the small, dusty porthole that looked out over the water.

Taking advantage of that moment, Hawke had quickly lifted her shift over her head and begun clamoring into fresh clothing as quickly as she could manage. As she did so, she was fully aware of the utter ridiculousness of her own modesty. After all, Fenris had seen every inch of her naked skin before. He had been inside of her, for Andraste’s sake. That thought, and the memory of his hands running over the exposed flesh that she was now so reticent to reveal to him, caused her to flush so intensely that she had actually felt rather light-headed. When she had, at last, managed to clumsily clothe herself, Hawke had turned back and realized, in a horrifying moment, that Fenris had been watching her over his shoulder. After that morning, Hawke had made every effort to wake earlier than him and to leave the room before he rose so that she could avoid the awkwardness of his nakedness and the humiliation of her own.

Mercifully, when she returned to their cabin, Hawke saw that Fenris had already risen and dressed himself and was seated in one of the secured chairs with a large book about sea-faring and navigation set on the table in front of him. It was, admittedly, not the most intriguing material, but they hadn’t had the time to purchase anything to read as of yet and had been forced to make do with what limited literature there was aboard. When Hawke entered the room, Fenris looked up from the pages and met her eye. Smiling slightly, Hawke moved forward and seated herself in the chair that was across the table from him. “Good morning,” she said as casually as she could manage, wondering if he was beginning to find it unusual that she was always out of the room when he awoke. If he did find it odd, however, he made no mention of it.

“I gathered together some breakfast,” he replied, gesturing unnecessarily at the food he had laid out on the table.

Hawke tugged uncomfortably at the right sleeve of the tunic she wore. “Thank you,” she said, another smile quivering on her lips while he stared at her expectantly.

“I’ve already eaten,” he told her, extending his hand to gently push a plate of slightly stale bread towards her.

“I’m not really very hungry.”

“Eat,” he ordered flatly, narrowing his eyes as he issued the command and then, after she took her first bite, turning his gaze back to his book while she chewed slowly.

Of late, Hawke had become conscious of the fact that Fenris had been forcing food on her several times a day with an unrelenting insistence. He was utterly unwilling to negotiate about the amount that she should consume and, when she resisted, he would typically become so impatient with her that she could never find the will to offer much protest. She obliged him, though she did find it a shade difficult to eat, especially in such great quantities. She had gotten rather out of the practice of doing so. It had been ages since she had had much of an appetite. As they had been fleeing from Minrathous back towards Kirkwall, Hawke had often found herself too anxious to swallow more than a few mouthfuls of food, which was scarcely enough to sustain her while they were engaged in such strenuous travel. Still, the stress of awaiting the return of his memory had rendered her appetite virtually nonexistent. When they had arrived in Kirkwall, the tension had hardly been alleviated. And after that, when he had remembered what she had done, Hawke had been unable to consider something so trivial as her eating habits. It was a process of actively keeping oneself alive and doing so had seemed pointless to her at that time, almost as if she were trying to prolong her own life past its natural end. Now, the lack of habit made the consumption of such large amounts of food seem quite odd. Still, Fenris continually drew her back to the table, urging her to eat. That morning, she might have merely picked at the bread and preserves that he had laid before her, but he kept looking up from what he was reading and would clear his throat pointedly if ever he discovered that she was not actively engaged in chewing or swallowing. The whole process, Hawke found, was extraordinarily uncomfortable for a myriad of reasons.

Fenris wished that she would oblige him with a trifle more enthusiasm. In the pale morning light that filtered through the grime-laden porthole, it was clear that she was still decidedly gaunt. A week of his effort was beginning to take effect, with her cheeks only just beginning to become less alarmingly concave, but there was still something decidedly sickly about her appearance. At times, it was difficult simply to look at her, and not only for the usual reasons. He turned the page of the book so that she wouldn’t notice how intensely he was staring at her. She had been beautiful once, full of life and strength. Initially, it had been that beauty and strength that had drawn him to her. He remembered being fixated on her, at once intrigued and infuriated by how alluring she was. It was odd to remember the shallowness of his attraction then. He much preferred her now, when he took her as a whole. Her demeanor had altered drastically—she had  softened in her severity and she had developed a thoughtfulness and tenderness that he observed with wonder. He found himself continually mesmerized by the subtle turns of her expressions and the dance of emotion in her eyes. It was such an alteration from the person she had been prior to her betrayal and it seemed almost impossible to him that he could have ever been infatuated with a creature that was so unlike the woman who was with him now. On quiet afternoons, they sat together as he read aloud from this atrocious book and she attempted to write out the words as he spoke them, using her untrained left hand while the right remained tucked away and hidden beneath the table that divided them. During those times, he found himself marveling at how very close he was to feeling content. He found himself amazed by how transformed she had become and how very nearly happy he was with her.

Still, it was difficult to see the physical transformation she had undergone. The first morning they had been aboard the ship together, before she had begun her little habit of sneaking off while she believed him to be sleeping, Fenris had surveyed her while she was undressing. In looking on her bare skin, he felt a familiar swelling of warmth within himself. He had possessed enough clarity, however, to notice how truly cadaverous she had become. She looked nearly like the bodies of disobedient slaves that were chained and left to starve after defying their masters. Looking at her while she was fully clothed had been alarming enough, but it was almost painful to see her while she was bare. The barrel of her ribcage was covered only by tight skin which left each rib and each vertebra of her spine fully visible. Her hipbones jutted out, looking as though they were trying to force their way through the skin that stretched over them. It was not only her emaciation that troubled him. Across her thighs, he caught sight of thin, pink scars that had only just begun to heal over. He knew well enough that such precise, methodical markings had not been made accidentally. He had watched her as she dressed, turning away only when she had looked back at him. It was unfortunate. The guilt she felt had transformed her into the woman that he knew very well he could not live without, and yet it seemed that it was simultaneously wearing her away to the extent that she would not be able to sustain herself for much longer. Seeing the manifestations of her guilt, written all over her wasted form, almost made him wish, for an insane moment, that she did not feel it at all.

Fenris had begun, at that juncture, to make his small effort towards mitigating the physical signs of her distress, since he hadn’t really any notion as to what he was meant to do in order to correct the emotional source of the problem. He could have told her, perhaps, that he forgave her, but that would have been a lie. The anger he felt towards her was still very much within him. It was not only the sickliness of her body which made it difficult to look at her. The thought of her body and her nakedness called forth the memory of when they had lain together. With that memory, he invariably recalled all she had done to betray him and the deception that she had maintained until he had held her. That betrayal was bound to her touch within his mind, which further complicated the fact that he still found himself drawn to her and undeniably aroused by her very presence. It was a baffling conflation of emotion within him that made each day and night rather irritating.

Her eyes lifted to him and she smiled, her mouth full of bread. Fenris realized then that he had, indeed, been staring at her for an extended period of time. He looked down once more and heard her swallow loudly. “Fenris?” she ventured, speaking quietly enough that he was barely able to hear her. Glancing back towards her face, he saw that she was blushing brilliantly.

“What is it?” he murmured, wishing that he hadn’t been caught staring.

Clearing her throat, she looked down at a roll of bread she held in her hand, digging her fingernails into the tough crust. “Do you regret staying with me?” she said at last, turning her eyes back towards him but continuing to pick away at the bread with restless fingers.

He sighed, watching as she began to play with the bread in an increasingly agitated and nervous manner. “No,” he replied at last. Hawke sighed and dropped the bread she’d been toying with onto her plate. Deprived of that outlet for her fidgeting, she placed her palms on the table and tried to keep her hands steady. Fenris looked briefly at the asymmetry of her hands and then back towards her face. “You have made it abundantly clear, Hawke, that I am free to leave you whenever I choose to do so and I am fully aware that I am under no obligation to remain at your side beyond the point of my convenience. There’s no need to continue harping on about the matter.” He turned the page of the book without looking down at it.

Hawke nodded, reaching for a piece of the torn bread and lifting it to her mouth. While she chewed, her eyes wandered from him to the plate in front of her. He knew her mannerisms well enough to know that she intended to continue speaking and, quietly, Fenris waited for her to form the words. As he did so, he kept turning pages without reading them. He was rather too occupied with attempting to read her expressions and guess why it was that she had brought up this well-worn topic once more. “I’m just not sure what you expect from me,” she said at last.

His lips turned down slightly at the corners into something that was nearly a frown. “Does that bother you?” Fenris said softly, studying the play of her features as she considered his answer. He was no more certain of what he expected from her than she was, but it had not occurred to him that the nebulousness of their situation might be as frustrating to her as it was to him.

“It worries me sometimes,” she answered, meeting his gaze and speaking with a measured composure. “I know it’s selfish… but I’m glad that you’re here. I don’t say it often, but I am. As much as I tell you that you should leave, I’m always relieved when you tell me that you don’t intend to go.” A smile flickered on her lips. “Which you know, of course, without my saying so. Still… I thought I should say it. I thought I should tell you that I am grateful that you came with me. I know it can’t have been easy for you.”

Fenris closed the book, watching Hawke and wondering how it was that her eyes were able to betray so much of what she felt. “Do you love me?” he asked quietly. He already knew the answer, of course, and yet he had felt compelled to ask it. It was vaguely humiliating how deeply he enjoyed hearing her speak the words.

“Yes,” she replied, her smile conveying to him that she had guessed accurately the reason for his inquiry. “I love you. More than anything.”

For a moment, he only looked at her, studying her eyes as she allowed him to stare wordlessly at her. Finally, he cleared his throat, looking down and reopening the book to a page that he had not been reading. “Fine,” he murmured, his eyes scanning the page. He could hear the smile in her voice as she asked him if he wouldn’t mind reading aloud. He obliged her, beginning once she had retrieved a quill and parchment so that she would be able to continue her own practice.

That night, as he lay in his hammock and felt the sway of the sea as it rocked them, Fenris looked up towards her. Their hammocks, due to the cramped nature of the room, were hung with one above the other. Each night, through the netting from which the hammocks had been crudely constructed, he watched her as she tossed and turned in her sleep. He watched, wondering at the array of troubled thoughts that must torment her through the nights. He could only guess, unable to ask and almost not wanting to hear the answers she would give. That night, she was almost still, laying on her side with her arms wrapped around herself. When she shifted her body slightly, lifting one of her arms to pillow her head, Fenris saw a strand of her hair hanging down through the weave of her hammock. That lock of hair was pendulously suspended above him, catching the dim light of cabin as the ship moved rhythmically from side to side. It was mesmerizing to watch the glint of her hair as it hung above him, swaying along with the sea. After a moment, Fenris found himself reaching upwards, gently catching the strand and rubbing it lightly between his thumb and forefinger.

Above him, not wanting to break the spell, Hawke remained perfectly still. Even so, she felt the slight tug of the contact and was aware of his touch. The first touch since they had left Kirkwall. Smiling and still, she closed her eyes.

Chapter Text

“You have played, 
(I think) 
And broke the toys you were fondest of, 
And are a little tired now; 
Tired of things that break, and— 
Just tired. 
So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight, 
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart— 
Open to me! 
For I will show you the places Nobody knows, 
And, if you like, 
The perfect places of Sleep.”

-from “You Are Tired (I Think)”, e.e. cummings

Athraim, eastwards of the fortress of West Hill, was not an altogether bustling hive of activity. Merchants did not come there often from across the sea; there were other, more convenient and more thriving locations where a captain could dock his vessel for a time. Captain Devins, however, had directed his men to guide his ship towards the coastal town of Athraim rather than one of the locations where he would have much preferred to go. The Hawke girl had requested that he take her and her elf to somewhere small and relatively isolated, if it wasn’t too much of a bother. And it wasn’t too much of a bother. He had no intention of remaining in the town long and there was no harm in wasting a night or two on his way to delivering his cargo. There were whores enough in Athraim that it wouldn’t be too much of a waste, in any case.

Standing on the docks, taking deep breaths of the air that reeked of rotting fish, Captain Devins looked down the wharf towards a lithesome redheaded creature who, reclining against a lamppost, looked as though she would be amenable to some discussion of a transaction. He knew that he was not an attractive man—many years beneath the hot sun had rendered his skin wrinkled and permanently burnt while his age had blanched his hair to white—but he had coin enough to convince even the fairest lass to be fond of him for a while a least.

Behind him, he could hear uneven footsteps across the planks of the dock. He watched as the Hawke girl came forward, her elf and her brute of a dog shadowing her as she staggered forward. If he were honest, it was not entirely the debt he owed her that had compelled him to transport her across the sea without making even the slightest demand of gold. He had pitied her. When she had come to him, even he had noticed the hollowness of her eyes and gaunt, skeletal appearance of her body. She had been a pretty enough little thing when he had first met her; he’d even offered her gold once, now that he thought of it, to spend the night with him. But when she had come to him two weeks earlier, asking for aid, he had hardly recognized her. She’d been improving since then, he saw. No doubt as a result of massive quantities of food that her elf had sponged off of him. Captain Devins spit nonchalantly on the docks as he waited for her to finish making her way towards him.

Hawke was finding it inordinately difficult to walk on a solid surface now that she had become accustomed to moving about on the decks of a ship. Each step felt oddly as if the planks were warped and curved beneath her feet. As she adjusted to the seemingly foreign surface, Hawke tried to appear as if maintaining her balance were no challenge at all. Attempting to seem at ease, however, was proving more of a struggle than the actual walking business and, eventually giving up on appearing to be competent, she held out her hands to her sides like an acrobat making her way across a tightrope.

A few paces behind her, Fenris watched her progress. Adjusting to leaving the sea behind was less of a challenge for him than it seemed to be for her. Generally, he had the advantage of coordination that she lacked. There was also the added advantage that his muscles had not atrophied. In any case, he felt it incumbent upon him to watch her carefully. Which was fortunate, considering that her ankle twisted to the side and it was necessary for him to rush forward and catch her shoulders before she toppled to the ground. As he braced her, Hawke laughed lightly at the sheer levels of her own clumsiness.

“Thanks,” she murmured softly, looking over her shoulder at him. Fenris continued to grasp her shoulders well after after she had regained her footing. She stood still while he lightly moved his hands down, clasping her upper arms while she turned her face from him, bowing her head forwards slightly and revealing the nape of her neck. There was nothing significant, really, in his touch. It was neither a caress nor a promise of an embrace nor a gesture of any real fondness. Fenris prolonged his contact with Hawke simply because it was a challenge he had begun to undertake during the last week. A game he’d begun to play—testing himself and seeing how long he could maintain physical contact with her before feeling disgusted or infuriated or uncomfortable. The game had seemed to catch her off-guard at first, but she seemed accustomed to it now. She no longer made any comment, but simply submitted to the contact, waiting for him to draw back and always looking a bit saddened when he did so. Lightly, he stroked her arm with his thumb. A layer of thick muslin lay between his hand and her skin, but it was obvious enough from her slight shivering that she was very much aware of his touch. It was pleasant, that afternoon, to linger with her for a moment. The wind brushed past her, blowing her faint scent towards him while loose tendrils of her hair trembled free of her thick braid. Fenris found himself stepping away from her only because it would have been immensely awkward to remain as they were for much longer while the Captain continued to stare at them expectantly.

Hawke cleared her throat when Fenris lowered his hands. She kept her head bowed as she moved forward with her mabari trotting along happily at her heels. Fenris noticed that she was largely steady by the time she reached the Captain. “I really can’t thank you enough,” she was saying as Fenris reached her side. “With Kirkwall in the state it is, you can understand that I’m in… a delicate situation.”

The Captain smiled broadly, yellow teeth flashing in his tanned face. “My pleasure, Champion,” he said, inclining his head in a gesture of humble acknowledgement of her gratitude. “It’s the very least I can do after what you did for my son.”

“Even so, we’re grateful for all you’ve done for us.” She glanced towards Fenris, smiling almost brightly as she did so, and then turned back towards Captain Devins. Fenris kept his eyes fixed on Hawke’s face, watching the lightness of her expression. Fenris failed to notice that the Captain was making his final farewells until he saw Hawke look up at him expectantly. Turning forward once more, Fenris saw that the Captain was holding out his hand to him. “You take care of yourself, elf,” the wizened sailor said as Fenris shook the cracked, callous that had been offered to him. Fenris was about to end the handshake when Devins, tightening his grip, jerked Fenris forward and whispered in his ear, almost menacingly, “And you take care of the girl, you hear?” He spoke quietly, his voice sharp with an ominous edge, but, when he stepped back from Fenris, his sun-damaged face was adorned with a smile that was very nearly convincing.

“Right,” mumbled Fenris noncommittally, looking once more back at Hawke, who seemed to be both amused and confused by what had just passed between Fenris and the Captain.

Devins left them then, sauntering off towards the voluptuous redhead who was now flouncing around the wharf in an ostentatious manner that was clearly meant to be alluring.

“So… this is Ferelden,” Hawke said, breaking the silence that had arisen now that she and Fenris found themselves alone.

He nodded, surveying the scene for the first time since they had disembarked. Beyond the quay, the shore stretched on for ages, its beach littered with small, pale pebbles. Amongst those pebbles, sandpipers danced along the water’s edge. As a wave rolled back, the small birds rushed towards the water, pecking frantically at the shore until the water came back in, driving them fleeing further inland. Fenris watched the frenetic game they played with the sea, before nodding his head and glancing back at Hawke. The softening light of afternoon suited her features well. “This is your homeland, then?” he asked, in spite of knowing the answer.

She shrugged her slight shoulders, glancing off down the shore towards a cluster of cedar trees that extended their boughs out over the shimmering gray water. “I suppose it is.” With an almost wistful smile, she added, “I really didn’t expect to feel much coming back here. It’s just land, after all, and my family’s gone. But it does… feel.” She shook her head, looking back at him and allowing her smile to broaden. “I can’t really describe the sensation. I’ve never been to Athraim before, but it seems familiar, and….” She trailed off, allowing her smile to fade and looking off towards where the sandpipers played with the waves.

Fenris quirked one of his brows. “And?” he prompted impatiently.

Her lips twisted slightly at the corners, her eyes flicking back towards him though her head remained oriented towards the shore. “And you’re here,” she replied simply, a light blush coloring her cheeks. “So it feels… sort of like home.” Letting out a nervous laugh, she brushed her hair behind her ear and turned quickly from him, walking hurriedly towards the line of buildings that stood beyond the wharf. Fenris remained, watching her as she moved away from him. He was glad that she had turned, for he found that he was smiling slightly as he watched her go. He’d never had a home before. Ferelden would be as good a place as any to remedy that, he supposed. He sighed, shaking his head, and rushed to catch up to her.

The buildings near the docks, which appeared to be shops for the most part, were made of large stones which were coated with flecks of white from dried saltwater. It appeared as if most of the roofs had recently had their thatch repaired after the difficult Ferelden winter had passed. Fenris and Hawke did not find themselves, however, wandering into town. Instead, they drifted down a narrow cobblestone path that seemed to lead off towards the more sparsely populated sections of Athraim. The path wound off towards the cedars before turning inland, leading off towards a slightly larger dirt road that seemed to go towards a residential district. It was agreed between Hawke and Fenris that it would be pleasant to take a short turn through the small neighborhood before finding a place to stay within in the town itself. They had been aboard that cramped ship for ages and the fresh air, which lost its disagreeable odor as they left the shore behind them, was a welcome relief as they meandered down the dirt road. 

“Of course, we’ll have to develop some plans for a longer-term arrangement,” Hawke was saying, looking forward down the road while Fenris watched the way that the golden sun caught the bright strands of her hair. “We have some gold… not lots…but some. More than I had when I got to Kirkwall, so that’s something. Enough for a while, if we’re responsible, but not enough for… well, for forever.” She glanced over at him uncertainly, trying to gauge how he had responded to her reference of their future together, but she saw from his expression that he hadn’t been listening to her.

Indeed, he had only been barely aware that she was speaking. They’d been walking past a small pasture as she spoke and Fenris had become aware of the fact that the dogwood trees were in bloom. His eyes had been caught by the vividly white blossoms which trembled violently in the temperamental breeze of springtime. He’d watched as the loosened petals were carried through the air. He’d watched them fall, fluttering, onto Hawke’s hair. She was covered with the small petals that clung to her, white like snow. She truly did look lovely in the soft sunlight, with her hair littered with petals and her amber eyes flicking towards him. He found himself reaching out, plucking a petal from her hair that had been on the verge of tumbling into her face. Hawke let out a laugh before leaning forward slightly and puckering her lips to blow the petal free from where it quivered on his extended fingertip. “So, what do you want to do, Fenris?” she asked quietly.

“About what?”

She suppressed a grin. “You weren’t listening at all, were you?” Turning, she began to continue down the road as he followed after. “I suppose we can worry about our more significant financial concerns later. For now, at least, we can deal with more immediate decisions. Do you want to keep moving inland, or should we find a place here to stay for the night?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “We may as well linger here for a bit longer until we can form a more decisive course of action. We haven’t any of the supplies we’ll need to travel a great distance, in any case.”

Hawke nodded her head curtly. “I was hoping you’d say that. I could use a proper bath.” She sighed, glancing off towards town. “We should try to find someplace to stay, then. Preferably somewhere that won’t entirely drain our pocketbooks.”

Unfortunately, Athraim was not of the size or notoriety that it frequently found itself host to travellers. It became immediately clear that the town was not well-equipped to accommodate visitors. It was only the occasional sailors who spent any time there and, it seemed, they preferred to patronize brothels rather than quaint inns. Towards the edge of the trade quarter, Hawke and Fenris found themselves gazing upon the only businesses in town that rented rooms. Granted, those rooms typically came with an eager companion with whom to spend the night…. One establishment—which claimed to be an inn on its sign in spite of mountains of evidence that it was, in fact, mostly a whorehouse—boasted reasonable rates. Hawke and Fenris stood outside the Vulpine Inn, examining the numerous signs that had been mounted on its exterior. “Disgusting,” muttered Fenris, his eyes running over the list of services that the workers within could be paid to provide.

Hawke stood beside him, her brow furrowed slightly. “Ugh,” she groaned. “What in the Maker’s name is pegging and why is it so expensive?”

“It’s when—,” began Fenris before abruptly cutting himself off. Clearing his throat roughly, he murmured, “Never mind.”

Hawke shifted uncomfortably, kicking the toe of her boot against the ground with enough force that she felt her largest toenail bend back painfully. “So, the rates look reasonable,” she said quietly. “For rooms, I mean, not….” She shook her head, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. “I mean, I’m sure it’ll do. For a night.”

“I suppose so,” he agreed unenthusiastically, staring off absently at the wooden sign that was mounted above the door. “Such places are often quite affordable, providing that one does not partake of the services offered within. As we do not intend to do so, then I don’t believe we will be straining our funds overmuch. Provided that you don’t find the idea of staying in such a place to be overly objectionable.”

Hawke watched his expression carefully, trying to discern what exactly his eyes held. A sadness, to be sure, and a memory of what had come before. The way that he looked up towards the sign seemed almost pointed, as though he were intentionally not looking at her. It was fair enough. She wouldn’t want to look at herself either. “We don’t have to stay here,” she told him softly. “If we looked, I’m sure we could find somewhere else.” Bowing her head, she added, “I know how you feel about this kind of thing.”

“Well, yes,” he grumbled, glancing down towards the crown of her head. He sighed heavily, rolling back his shoulders in attempt to alleviate some of the tension that seemed suddenly to have built up within him. “I have never been particularly fond of a practice that exploits the poor and desperate,” he said evenly, his voice low. “Under the circumstances, however, I don’t suppose we have an inordinate number of options.”

“We could always sleep outside somewhere, Fenris. It doesn’t have to be somewhere that makes you uncomfortable.”

He lifted one of his brows. “Do you find sleeping on the ground to be comfortable?”

“Not particularly,” she admitted, “but, I don’t mind it. And Brutus is going to have to sleep outside as it is, so it's no bother. If you'd rather not stay here....”

“Get inside, Hawke,” Fenris told her gruffly, opening the door and urging her to enter with a gesture of his hand.

Almost sheepishly, and feeling a twinge of guilt as if she had somehow coerced him into this course of action, Hawke slunk into the brothel.

Inside, the air was pleasantly warm. Hawke hadn’t even realized that she was cold until she had felt the heat several crackling fires wash over her. The room was commodious, with hearths roaring away at all corners of the room and extensive seating where patrons lounged, jabbering away inarticulately to the prostitutes that flitted around the floor. There were men working, but, all it all, it seemed that the staff was mostly female. Mostly female and predominantly elven. It was fortunate that the light of the room was fairly dim; Hawke was glad not to see too clearly the hollow eyes that looked out from the smiling faces of the barely clad elves. Shifting uncomfortably, she pressed against Fenris’ arm. He didn’t pull away, but glanced down at her instead, watching as her eyes darkened and her lips twitched downwards at the corners. He felt compelled to lift his arm and perhaps wrap it over her shoulders, but he didn’t do so. Instead, he looked up towards the stout, middle-aged woman who was making her way towards them.

“Welcome to the Vulpine Inn,” she said without inflection, her steely gray eyes dancing over Hawke and Fenris without any particular emotion. “What’s your pleasure?” She said these words with the quick, flat familiarity of a person who had repeated the same phrase until it had lost meaning. There was a coldness to her that made Fenris guess that she had already used all her warmth earlier in life, frittering it away on anyone willing to pay for it.

“We, um… do you rent rooms?” said Hawke, drawing the woman’s eyes away from Fenris. “Just for the night,” she went on hurriedly. “We don’t… well… we’re just here to sleep.”

“Fine,” said the woman, turning from them and already walking off towards her desk while she added, “Follow me, then.” She made her way to a small alcove and, from beneath her desk, pulled out a large logbook. “I’m Madam Rose and you can come to me with any questions or complaints during your stay and what names would you like this to be booked under?”

“Um, Lyna and…?” Hawke glanced at Fenris, prompting him.

“Leto,” contributed Fenris flatly.

Hawke’s eyes widened momentarily before she turned back to Madam Rose. “Lyna and Leto,” Hawke reiterated quietly.

“Lovely,” said Madam Rose as she scrawled down their names into her logbook.

Hawke seemed to consider something for a moment before saying, “Is there any chance you have a room with two beds?” She shifted her weight, feeling Fenris watching her.

The madam watched Hawke as well, raising an over-plucked brow with some surprise. “You two have had a time of it, haven’t you?” she marveled, shaking her head and turning to the wall behind her where several rows of room keys hung at the ready. “If you’re not involved with each other and you need some funds—which I can tell by lookin’ that you do—then I’m sure I could find work for you here.” She turned back towards them, the large iron key suspended from her hand by its chain. Her cold eyes passed over Fenris. “The elf, definitely.” Then, turning her eyes towards Hawke and looking her over appraisingly, she shrugged. “You, perhaps. If we get some meat on your bones.”

Hawke sighed, holding out her hand for the key. “Just the room will be fine.” Madam Rose’s eyes fell on Hawke’s hand and lingered for long enough that Hawke realized she had inadvertently held out her dominant hand. Drawing it back, she hid it behind her back, her face coloring.

“Just as well,” said the madam slowly. “I don’t suppose I’d be able to find work for you anyhow.”

Fenris stepped forward, holding out his own hand. “The key,” he demanded evenly. The woman sighed and gave it over. As Fenris paid her in return for it, the woman called over a young boy to guide Hawke and Fenris to their room.

Hawke fought back her blush as the elven boy led them up the stairs and through a corridor of doors. The boy was not one of the whores, Hawke guessed; he was only a little wisp of a thing and looked as though he was just barely on the cusp of adolescence. He was, in all likelihood, the offspring of one of the working girls. It wouldn’t be long for him though, she would guess. Youth and innocence never seemed to last long in these places. Hawke kept her eyes trained on the ground, biting at her lower lip. People were willing to do anything to each other to get what they wanted. There was no stopping that. There was no changing the hoard of careless monsters that went bumping around in the night.

“It’s this one,” the elven boy said, indicating the door that Fenris was to unlock.

The room was painted with walls of an almost blinding red. Aside from that, the décor was quite austere. The chairs were not upholstered and the couch was really more of a wooden bench with some plump pillows placed on it. Hawke was willing to wager that the reason for this was so that all the furniture could easily have the fluids of intercourse removed from it. It was reassuring, in a way, to see so little fabric in the room. As Hawke had requested, there were two beds, though they were both larger than she would have anticipated. It occurred to her then that such an arrangement only existed in such an establishment so that multiple partners could use the room comfortably. The thought made Hawke vaguely uncomfortable, though she saw with relief that the bedding was all of the purest white so that any filth would be evident. That also, she would guess, made cleanliness easier. It was possible, at least, to soak white sheets in lye without fear for disturbing the dye.

In the far corner of the room, set a few feet in front of a three-paneled room divider, Hawke saw that there was a large, brass bathtub. She turned to the boy, who lingered in the doorway behind her and Fenris. “Would it be possible to have some water brought up for a bath?” she asked.

The boy nodded. “Certainly.” Then, in a rapid steam, he listed the additional services that one could request along with a bath. Bathing partners, multi-purposed devices, massage oils, and massages, as well as a multitude of other things that seemed, to Hawke at least, to be wholly unnecessary to the bathing experience. Her eyes slightly widened and her cheeks slightly flushed once more, Hawke murmured inarticulately about how she’d really only need soap and water. With another slight inclination of his head, the boy ran off, leaving Hawke and Fenris alone once more.

Hawke was beginning to wish that she and Fenris had just slept by the roadside. The entire room, the entire building, seemed to be haunted by the ghosts of the myriad of copulating couples that had come before them. Even then, as they stood together in their room, Hawke could hear the not-too-distant moaning of a woman who was, quite loudly, pleading for her client to ride her harder. Everything seemed to have been designed specifically to remind her exactly of what she and Fenris wouldn’t be using that room for. It was obvious enough, from the way he stared at the floor and shifted his weight, that Fenris was thinking the same thing. Hawke sighed heavily, praying to the Maker that that woman would stop moaning obscenities with quite so much enthusiasm.

Mercifully, the sounds of fervent coupling had diminished by the time that three servants entered the room, bearing large buckets of water that they emptied efficiently into the tub. When they were gone, Hawke turned to Fenris, who was sitting on the edge of one of the beds and twiddling his thumbs together absently. “So, would you like to bathe first or shall I?” she asked.

He glanced up at her, his fidgeting hands stilling in his lap. “I’ll wait,” he replied, his eyes turning towards the corner where the bath sat. “Would you like me to the move the partition so that it obscures the bathtub?”

Hawke laughed under her breath, averting her gaze as she began to loose her hair from its braid. “I know I’ve been ridiculous about that,” she admitted. “I mean… I know that I’ve been ridiculous. It’s just skin.”

Fenris tilted his head slightly to the side, watching her fingers run deftly through her hair. “We both know it’s more than just skin,” he said softly.

Her eyes lifted towards his. “You don’t have to move the divider, Fenris,” she told him quietly, a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips.

She turned her back on him them, moving towards the bathtub. Fenris stared uncertainly after her, trying to determine whether she had been inviting him to watch her or whether she had only meant that she trusted him enough to believe that he would turn his back while she undressed. Uncomfortably, he remained seated on the bed, furtively looking at her and sporadically looking towards the floor.

Fenris hadn’t seen her without clothes since that alarming instance when they had first begun their passage from the Free Marches to Ferelden. She’d made progress in the two weeks since then, he noticed. Now, when she stripped away her clothes, his reaction was no longer one of alarm or concern. It was a different sort of reaction altogether and one which was not the least bit unpleasant. He found his gaze fixed on her as the last of her clothing fell away and she was left standing beside the tub, entirely bare and with her back still to him. He felt his heartbeat quicken as he watched the way the loose waves of her hair fell over her skin, the ends falling just short of her hips. Bending forward, she dipped her hand into the water, heating it with her magic. Fenris could feel his breath growing shorter as heat built within him. When she glanced over her shoulder at him, he saw how brightly she was blushing. She looked away quickly, seeming almost surprised that he had been watching her and Fenris found himself flooding with embarrassment for having been caught staring so unabashedly. He glared at the floor as she lowered herself into the water.

It was then, as he felt the heat rising, that Fenris was hit by the sudden and devastating realization that he would not be afforded any privacy in the near future. Granted, he had not had a great deal of privacy over the last weeks, but he had at least had enough that, when the need became unbearable, he had been able to deal with himself in the mornings while she was above deck. He would not even have that degree of privacy now. There was only the obscured part of room behind the room divider, where the chamber pot was hidden away. Unfortunately, that partition stood no more than a foot or two from where she bathed and he could hardly duck behind it now without seeming utterly ridiculous. He wished that he could keep his eyes from constantly flicking back to her as she frothed soap over her naked skin. It was impossible, when he saw her, to fight off the inevitable physiological reaction. Cursing himself and trying to stave off a maddeningly inconvenient erection, Fenris tried desperately to think of anything aside from the naked woman in front of him. “You’re on your own, Fenris.” Well, that did it.

Hawke didn’t linger in the bath long, but she did stay long enough for her blush to abate. She had known of course, that there was the possibility that Fenris would watch her undress, but she hadn’t really expected it. When she’d looked back towards him, and found that he was looking back at her, she had had to fight the powerful urge to cover herself as hastily as possible. Still, she had fought to remain calm and had managed, through some miracle, not to slip as she climbed into the tub. Of course, she did notice that he had stopped looking at her at that point, which was both a relief and a disappointment. She had only been trying to show him that she was comfortable with him and that she was open to him, but she had to admit to herself that some horrible part of her also wanted him to want her. Hawke looked down through the soapy water at her nearly nonexistent breasts and her awkward, protruding bones. She looked down at the bar of soap she clutched in her mutilated hand. Fighting back a breath of laughter, she shook her head. She was a bitch, a traitor, and, now, she was also deformed. Of course he didn’t want to touch her.

“I’m done,” she said evenly, wrapping a towel around herself and making her way to her bag so that she could change into fresh clothes as quickly as possible. She didn’t fail to notice that Fenris moved the room divider in front of the bathtub before he undressed. Hawke sighed and shook her head. Of course he didn’t want her leering at him after her transparent attempts to seem desirable.

Fenris slid into the heavily scented water, leaning his neck against the rim of the tub and enjoying the warmth that enveloped him. He could hear her moving around the room, though the divider hid her from sight. He heard the sound of a comb working through the tangled masses of her hair. Closing his eyes, her image formed on the inside of his eyelids. The way she had looked when she had glanced over her shoulder at him with only that mane of hair hiding her naked skin from total view. That image was joined by countless others—her lithe body crawling across the bed as she told him to do whatever he liked to her, her back arching as she begged him to enter her, her face as she gasped and climaxed and called his name breathlessly.

Fenris wanted to curse himself, but knew well enough that she would hear him do so. It was all becoming almost painful—the need, the ache, the hardness that persistently demanded his attention. It was only a matter of time before he accepted the inevitability of what he had to do. He had known, from the moment he saw her bare, that he would have no choice in this matter. It was, after all, the reason he had made sure to conceal himself from her. Still, she was well within earshot and he tried to move quietly, disrupting the water as little as possible. Yet, knowing that she was in the same room—perhaps listening to his ragged breath and perhaps guessing what he was doing—somehow managed to excite some perverse, twisted part of him.

Fenris bit back a desperate little groan; it had been too long. It was an impossible struggle not to pant and he was entirely certain that, in his last moments, he had managed to make enough noise that she had heard him. Still, he found himself almost too relaxed to care if she guessed what he’d done. Perhaps a little splashing wasn’t enough to attract her attention; it wasn’t unusual for people to splash while bathing. It was at least fortunate that she had washed herself before him rather than being forced to bathe herself in his cum. He considered this for a moment, triggering his mind to conjure a series of lewd images. Frustrated with his own undeniable sickness, Fenris bashed his head against the rim of the tub in an effort to jar the images free.

“Are you… alright?” he heard her say. “Did you hit your head?”

“Not accidentally,” he replied gruffly.

He heard her laugh from somewhere beyond the partition. “Well, alright then.” Her tone was light enough that he supposed she hadn’t guessed after all. That was a relief, in any case.

The longer he spent in the tub, the more he became disgusted with the sullied water that surrounded him. As soon as he had scrubbed the soap over his body and rinsed the suds from his skin, Fenris rose from the bathtub and rubbed himself roughly with a towel until his lyrium markings actually began to sting from the friction. He would have liked to dress then, while still hidden from view, but the clothes he had shed were filthy and anything clean that he might wear was in the bag with the rest of their meager possessions. It would be possible, he supposed, to ask Hawke to bring him a change of clothes, but that seemed entirely excessive. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he casually emerged from his isolation.

She was seated at a small, square table beside the window with the red of the setting sun illuminating her while she stared intently at the parchment in front of her. She didn’t turn her head as he clothed himself and only lifted her gaze for a moment when he sat beside her at the table. Having afforded Fenris a short, soft smile, Hawke returned to the enterprise of writing the same words over and over again. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Fenris reached for a small heap of the parchment and a quill of his own, but his eyes remained focused on her writing more than on his own. He had never really paid close attention to it before, as he had generally been reading whilst she was training her left hand to form the letters that had once flowed so easily from her pen. Fenris could barely make out what she had written. Nearly every attempt she had made at her chosen sentence was smeared from her hand dragging through the wet ink. On the rare occasion that a letter wasn’t smeared, the lines she’d made were shaky and nearly illegible. Fenris watched her face—the determination written across her features as she tried yet again to make the words appear properly on the page. He turned away before she noticed that he was staring and, picking up his own quill, began to write out the words of a poem that she had forced him memorize months earlier. He only looked up once more when Hawke frantically scribbled across her parchment, breaking the nib of her quill as she did so.

“Why can’t I do this?” she hissed, hurling the quill down on the table and sending a spray of ink across the wood.

Fenris hesitated to speak, watching her with slightly widened eyes while she glared impotently at the page in front of her. “Are you… alright?” he ventured cautiously.

She looked over at him, her eyes burning with a fusion of anger and frustration. “Two weeks. Two weeks, Fenris,” she said in a slow, rancorous voice. “Two weeks of solid practice and that is still not my handwriting. And I thought it was just that I was trying to write while jostling around a ship, but guess what? It wasn’t the ship. ” She stood, slamming her left hand down on the table and scowling at it as if it performed some act of great offense against her. “It’s because this hand—this fucking hand—won’t do anything I tell it to!” She snatched her parchment off the table, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it angrily across the room. Then, lifting her right hand for Fenris to admire, she added, “And this hand—this deformed, mangled claw at the end of my arm—is so hideous that I don’t even want to look at it.” She turned from him then, sighing heavily and skulking off to one of the beds, where she fell back dejectedly.

Turning his chair to face towards the bed, Fenris stared at her uneasily. He wasn’t precisely sure what it was that she expected him to do about it. “It will… get easier to write, Hawke,” he offered. “Your muscles will grow accustomed to it with time.”

She sat up, her legs dangling off the side of the bed and her head hanging forward. “It’s not about my handwriting,” she grumbled. With her left hand, she lightly touched the scars that, though healed, remained red and vaguely shiny. “I’ll never be whole again, Fenris,” she murmured. “Or beautiful.” She laughed under her breath, her lips twisting into a bitter smile. “You saw how that woman looked at me downstairs; I’m not even pretty enough to be a damn whore.” Hiding her hand in the folds of her robes, she added, “It’s doesn’t matter. I know that. But I thought… I thought I could at least be beautiful for you.” She didn’t lift her eyes as she spoke and he wasn’t entirely certain that she was speaking to him any longer. “I might not be kind or sweet or nurturing or… any of those nice things that other people are on the inside. But I used to at least be beautiful.” She cleared her throat, though her voice still broke slightly when she next spoke. “And now I can’t even offer you that.”

His brow furrowed. It was somewhat baffling to him that she could somehow think that something like this would diminish her. Of all the things that had upset his view of her, this had never been among them. She had been injured foolishly, he knew, and unnecessarily, but he was not blind to the fact that she had been injured while fighting bravely. He was hardly oblivious to the fact that she had been trying to protect him. “You’re still beautiful, Hawke,” he told her, his voice betraying more of his confusion than he would have liked. She lifted her eyes to him then, looking a little startled by his declaration. “In a different way, perhaps, than you once were….” He cleared his throat before continuing. “But you’re still beautiful.” More so, perhaps, than she had been, though that was difficult to explain and he thought that perhaps it was better not to attempt it.

“Oh,” she said quietly. “Well… thank you.” For a moment, a bit dazed, she stared at him. Then, with another sigh, she flopped back on the bed.

Fenris’ shoulders slumped forward slightly with mild defeat. “You don’t feel better,” he said flatly.

“I guess it was a little about my handwriting after all,” she sighed. “It’s really, really messy, Fenris. It’s upsettingly messy.”

He chuckled, turning his chair back towards the table and shaking his head. “Then I suggest practicing,” he told her, returning to his own writing. Within a few moments, she was at his side once more, with a fresh sheet of parchment in front of her.

It wasn’t long before evening gave way to night and Fenris, to save Hawke from the annoyance of interacting with the unpleasant madam, ventured from the room to gather together something for them to eat. Hawke was forced to eat two rather large fillets before Fenris, seeing that she was suffering, stopped heaping food on her plate. It really was an exhausting little habit he had developed, though Hawke could hardly deny him something so simple. Still, she did realize, as they sat together afterwards, that she was going to have to start offering some protest eventually. She understood well enough that his efforts were well-intentioned, but she always felt like her sides were splitting after every meal. Even with that pain, however, it was a pleasant evening. The choir of moaning couples did pick up again after sundown, put the awkwardness of that passed soon enough as she and Fenris quietly spoke together about what they ought to do when the morning came. The room was warm, lit by a fire that Hawke had created on the hearth. The heat of the room and the fullness of her stomach and the low stream of Fenris’ words left Hawke feeling pleasantly sluggish as she slouched back in her chair. Without meaning to, she yawned, which instantly drew his notice.

“Are you tired? We can discuss this further in the morning,” he assured her.

“I’m not tired,” she yawned. “And we have to at least decide where we’re going.”

 “We’ll know when we get there,” he said, rising to his feet and drawing the curtains over the window with an air of finality.

She sighed. “That’s not a very concrete plan, Fenris.”

“That’s a fair point, Hawke, though I do feel inclined to point out that your plans rarely go as they’re meant to even when they are concrete.”

Hawke rose from her chair, glowering at him in a manner that somehow looked like a smile. “You know, you’ve been awfully dictatorial these days,” she said, walking over to the bed closest to the door. “Deciding when I eat, when I sleep….”

“And?”

“And nothing,” she shrugged, smiling impishly. “I like it.”

Fenris rolled his eyes, yanking the blankets back from his bed. “Go to sleep, Hawke,” he said, undressing himself just enough that he wouldn’t overheat while sleeping.

Her grin broadened. “Goodnight, Fenris.”

He lay down, covering himself with his blankets and rolled onto his side, facing away from her. “Goodnight, Hawke,” he murmured quietly.

She remained oriented towards him for a moment after that, watching the slow rise and fall of his blankets as Fenris heaved breath. Sometimes, when he was still like this, she liked to imagine that he was peaceful and that he was happy. Of course, he was still with her, so that was unlikely.

Without ceremony, she stripped herself down to her underclothes and crawled into bed. She sighed involuntarily as she felt the warm embrace of an actual bed. Two weeks was too long to spend lurching around in suspended netting. This mattress was perfectly soft and the sheets smelled pleasantly like soap as she pulled them over herself. When she closed her eyes, she could almost hear Fenris breathing over the crackle of the fire and howl of a stranger’s orgasm.

If she was smiling when she fell asleep, the expression did not linger long into her unconsciousness.

She knew she was dreaming.

She had to be dreaming.

She would never do that—not to Fenris. She wouldn’t have bound him to the headboard like that, his legs and arms immobilized as he lay stretched out across her bed. It was her bed, after all. The one she’d slept in through all those years in Kirkwall. And those were her leather ties—the ones she had used time and time again when she had wanted to make Anders scream. But she didn’t want to make Fenris scream. Not like that.

And yet she still heard him screaming. She watched as a version of herself walked towards the bed, lightly tapping a riding crop against her open palm. She watched as the crop came down against his skin, reddening his exposed flesh as he lay, bound and helpless. Hawke wished that she could look away, but when she turned to the side, Fenris was beside her, watching along with her as their doppelgangers acted out their grotesque play. She looked back—he was still bound to the bed with her astride him now. But he was beside her also. Every part of her unconsciousness was full of him. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?” she heard him say. She turned to where he stood beside her, glaring at her now.

No.

Do you really expect me to believe you?

No.

He was beneath her then, inside her then. His body bound and his flesh pierced and torn. But it wasn’t Fenris, was it? She realized it wasn’t when she kissed his throat and realized it had been torn open, spilling blood out over her lips. Blood gurgling in Anders’ throat as he murmured, “You used me.

They all bled in the end, didn’t they? Bethany, flung to the ground and her neck snapping to the side. With her head at that bizarre, twisted angle and her amber eyes still open, she had stared at Hawke while their mother cried over a corpse. “This is your fault! How could you have let her charge off like that?

The smell of blood and rotting flesh invaded her nostrils as a hacked corpse stumbled towards her, wearing her mother’s face. She wanted to kill it to stop it from looking at her that way. Those eyes were always looking at her the same way. Because even her mother knew. Her mother knew what she was. Even as a child, she’d bent Carver’s fingernails back just to see if he would cry. Of course it had been her fault. It wouldn’t have ended like this if she hadn’t wanted it to.

How could I ever love something like you?” He was beside her again, in the darkness beside her, with his green eyes narrowed down to slits.

I don’t expect you to.

His hand against her cheek, slightly calloused, and his lips brushing against her ear as he spoke. “I will never forgive what you’ve done.”

The darkness was total then with her at the center of it. She heard herself calling after him, but he didn’t answer. He’d never answer. She could scream forever into the blackness, but he’d gone. He’d seen reason at last and he’d left her alone. An eternity of calling his name would never bring him back because he knew what she was and he knew that it only ever ended with her standing alone over the bodies.

Hawke?” She could almost hear his voice over the sound of the screaming.

“Hawke?” The wetness of her cheeks felt almost real.

“Hawke, wake up.”

She felt him prod her shoulder with his fingertip and her eyes opened suddenly. The fire had burnt down somewhat, but she could still see that it was Fenris who towered over her in the dwindling light. His bright eyes glittered through the darkness and she felt herself redden as she saw the expression of mild concern that was written across his features. Lifting her hand, she wiped the damning tears away from her eyes. “I’m sorry I woke you,” she murmured.

“That’s… alright,” he said slowly, still looking down at her with that same expression. “What were you dreaming about?”

“Nothing,” she said, turning onto her side and facing away from him. “It was just a nightmare.” She felt herself shaking still, her nerves refusing to settle even though she had known all along that she was dreaming. It was idiotic to be upset over things that had happened years ago and over losses that had not yet occurred. And if he did leave, then so much the better. It was better for him and that’s what she wanted.

Hawke heard him sigh heavily and felt the bed shift as his weight joined hers atop the mattress. Wide-eyed, she flipped to face him. “What are you doing?” she said, sounding almost alarmed.

He scowled at her as he pulled the blankets up over himself, settling back down against the pillows. “Just go to sleep. You’re fine.”

She stared at him while he lay on his back, his hands folded over his chest and his eyes trained on the ceiling.

“O…kay,” Hawke said slowly, trying to find some way of situating herself in such a way that she was not achingly aware of his presence in the bed beside her. It was entirely impossible; even lying as far from him as she could, she still found herself aware of his warmth. She still found herself deafened by the soft sound of his breathing.

“What were you really dreaming about?”

She looked over her shoulder at him and saw that he’d turned his head slightly to look at her. “Just… remembering. Remembering how easy it is to lose the people you love.”

A long moment of silence lapsed between them. “You said my name, you know. I heard you.”

Hawke felt herself trembling and wondered if her could feel her shuddering movement through the mattress. Sighing, she rolled to face him. “Sometimes it feels like I’m just waiting for the moment when you’ll leave me. I’m just… scared.” She pressed her face down into the pillows, partially muffling her words as she added quietly, “Nothing could be worse than that. Than living without you.”

When she lifted her head slightly, she saw that he was looking up at the ceiling once more, his brow drawn. “It wasn’t entirely pleasant for me either, you know. Even when I loathed you, it still pained me to be away from you.”

She felt her pulse quicken. “Past tense? So you don’t… loathe me still?”

His eyes flicked to her quickly. “No,” he told her quietly. “I don’t loathe you.”

He watched a broad smile spread across her face, as if he had given her the best news she had received in all her life. Her face brightened so beautifully when she smiled for him. It would be so easy then to reach out and pull her body towards his. To use this bed for its intended purpose and to feel her body joining with his and to feel her hair in his hands and her lips against his own and her breasts pressed to his chest and to—

“Goodnight, Hawke,” he said abruptly, looking up towards the ceiling once more and staring at it with great determination.

“Goodnight, Fenris,” she replied. He could hear the smile in her voice.

Chapter Text

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
-from “The Waste Land”, T.S. Eliot (lines 1-7)

Hawke woke slowly, lingering for a time in a state of neither sleep nor waking. With the blankets draped over both of their bodies, the bed had grown wonderfully warm. Her mind was hazy from the heat and comfort and, for a while, she believed that the body she felt against hers was somehow part of her dream. It felt like a dream—lying in the tranquil quiet of the room that remained darkened with the thick, crimson curtains still drawn across the windows. Sighing softly as she came into consciousness, Hawke’s eyes fluttered open slightly. Through her lashes, she saw Fenris’ face, with his eyes still closed and his jaw slightly slack in sleep. She smiled, making a small, contented sound, before furrowing her brow and opening her eyes fully. Hawke was reasonably certain that she was awake now, but the situation in which she found herself seemed preposterous to be real.

It seemed impossible that Fenris had truly come to her bed, if only to sleep. And yet, there he was beside her, his body pressed against her own. Over the course of the night, she must have somehow made her way across the mattress until she was beside him, her leg draped over his thighs and her arm possessively laid across his chest. It appeared that he had also shifted in the night, lifting one of his hands to clutch lightly onto her wrist. Her eyes were drawn to his long fingers, where they clung to her. She wondered, for a passing moment, if he had woken when she had first wrapped herself around him and if he had allowed her to do so. Of course, that would have been truly impossible. He must have been unaware of what she had done in her sleep and, when he woke, she was reasonably certain that he would be upset with her for holding onto him so cloyingly. With any luck, she would be able to edge away from him without arousing his attention.

She knew that she should pull away, but, for a moment at least, she allowed herself to look at him. It had been ages since they had been this close together and he looked so peaceful in his sleep, as his dark eyelashes fluttered almost imperceptibly against his cheeks. Hawke’s gaze wandered down to his lips, which were parted slightly as he lay beside her. She blushed, looking away quickly, and began to move away from him as hastily as she could without waking him.

She was groomed and dressed before he awoke and, when he said good morning, Hawke did her best to behave normally. She was uncertain what she should say about the night before or what it meant that he had felt comfortable enough to share her bed. She did know that is was probably best to make no mention of it. If she thanked him for comforting her, then she would likely do no more than embarrass him. Rather than making some clumsy attempt at conversation, Hawke simply proposed that they leave Athraim that day. Fenris agreed without resistance and they left the inn early, eager to leave the unseemly establishment behind them as soon as possible.

Brutus, they found, had been waiting expectantly for them beside the building’s entrance. He had caught himself a rabbit during the night, it seemed, and proudly offered it to Hawke as she rubbed his ears. She thanked him for the kind gesture, but allowed her mabari to eat his trophy. Brutus was crunching happily on the rabbit while Hawke led him and Fenris through the streets.

Athraim didn’t offer an overly large market, though there were a few stalls lining the road that wound past weathered storefronts. Hawke was pleased to see that the prices were fairly reasonable. She was trying not to think of it too much, but it did worry her that they didn’t have more gold with them. While it was true that she had gotten by on significantly less, she had gotten into the habit of spending recklessly since her elevation in Kirkwall. It felt odd and nerve-wracking to be haggling over prices once more. Fenris seemed comfortable enough leaving the choices of what to buy up to her and simply trailed a few paces behind her while she negotiated with merchants and purchased the most essential items they would need to travel in relative comfort.

The greatest difficulty, of course, came with procuring a device which would allow Hawke to effectively channel her magic. It had been ages since Hawke had had to find a new retailer for such supplies, but she knew from past experience that there was generally, in any given town, an unscrupulous merchant who had some supplies stored away in case any apostates should show an interest. Though Chantry law forbade mages from living outside of the Circle, vendors generally seemed to care more about gold than they did about defying the Chantry. However, the availability of supplies for mages was always rather limited and the prices were always rather high.

It did occur to Hawke that perhaps she could make due without anything to amplify her magic. These days, she was reticent to cast at all. Though she still did so on occasion, she had begun to feel less at ease with magic since she had seen what became of Orsino. Even a year ago, she might have made an argument that there were mages who could control their power and that she was among them. Her doubts about magic had been increasing since she had seen the Tevinter Imperium with her own eyes. What had happened with the First Enchanter had only served to solidify her mounting concerns. She wasn’t particularly fond of casting in front of Fenris, either. He never said anything about it or even looked at her strangely, but she knew well enough how much he hated mages. She was beginning to understand that sentiment.

Still, it seemed reckless to travel through Ferelden without so much as a staff or talisman. Fenris had a sword, but she wasn’t willing to entirely entrust their safety to him. In the event that they were attacked or injured, she’d like her magic to be at its most powerful. As discretely as she could, once they had bought everything else they needed, Hawke told Fenris that they would need to find a shop that sold equiptment for mages.

He lifted one of his eyebrows. “You most likely have a better understanding than I as to how such an enterprise might be accomplished,” he replied evenly.

“Right,” she said quietly, looking away from him and towards the signs that were mounted along the storefronts. Seeing a promising shop, Hawke began to make her way down the street, letting out a short, shrill whistle to Brutus so that he and Fenris would follow after her.

The air in the small, cramped store was stale and smelled heavily of dust. The windows, covered with grime, only allowed a limited amount of sunlight into the room. Within those narrow beams of light, bright flecks of dust danced lazily. As the door swung open and then shut, the dance of the dust became more frenetic.

The shopkeeper, who stood hunched over behind a long counter, did not appear to be an overly fastidious woman. Her entire aspect, and that shop itself, bespoke a certain degree of carelessness and decay. Her dress, though it was made of a fine gray broadcloth, had clearly been much worn and poorly looked after. Her auburn hair, which was littered with gray strands, was piled carelessly on top of her head with loose tendrils falling down in front of her wide, weather-beaten face. When Hawke and Fenris entered her shop, the woman lifted her eyes to them, surveying them nonchalantly before looking back to the box of threads that she had been sorting. “Haven’t seen you two around here before,”  she said as they drew nearer to the counter where she stood.

“We’re just passing through,” replied Hawke, glancing around the store. “We thought perhaps you might carry some items we might need for our travels.”

“What sort of thing you after?” asked the woman without looking up from her task.

Hawke shifted awkwardly. At least this woman didn’t seem the sort to run off to the Templars. “I was wondering if you had any… specialty items?” Hawke tried to convey what she was asking with her tone rather than with her words.

The woman lifted her keen gray eyes to Hawke’s face and then turned her gaze to Fenris. “So which of you is the mage, then?” asked the woman casually. “The elf? He one of those Dalish?” Her eyes lingered on Fenris’ markings and he narrowed his eyes bitterly, disliking being stared at for so long. The shopkeeper, sensing his apparent hostility, looked back to Hawke.

“No. He’s no mage,” said Hawke flatly.

The shopkeeper shrugged carelessly and went about rummaging behind the counter. “Fair enough,” she said. “It’s been ages since I’ve had a mage come through here. Always keep the goods on hand, just in case, but they never have sold well. Expect that will be turning around soon. Mages coming down from the Free Marches and all.”

Hawke furrowed her brow slightly. “The Free Marches?”

The woman glanced back over her shoulder at Hawke. “Surely you heard what went on there? I’ll wager that those Marchers will be running all over for a while ‘fore the Templars will be able to round ‘em up. With any luck, they’ll bring a little of their business my way before they get locked up.”

“With any luck,” echoed Hawke, smiling with polite acknowledgement. So people had heard about Kirkwall, then. Hawke was certain that there would be eventual ramifications for what had gone there, but she knew that she was not immediately recognizable enough that anyone in Ferelden would know her as the Champion of some distant city-state.

The shopkeeper laid out a small selection of supplies on the counter before Hawke. There was an array of brightly colored gemstones, several talismans, and two rather handsome staffs.

“One of these, then?” Fenris said, stepping forward and gesturing to the staffs with some distaste becoming evident on his face.

Hawke shook her head. “I can’t afford to be that ostentatious,” she replied in a hushed voice. The shopkeeper was going about straightening her shelves and was now far enough away that Hawke could safely add to Fenris, “In Kirkwall, I had some measure of freedom, but here in Ferelden… I’m just another apostate.” She reached forward and began to examine a particularly ornate pendant. Running her finger over the smooth sardonyx inset, she murmured, “I can’t believe I was ever so brazen as to walk into the Knight-Commander’s office with a staff in my hand.” Hawke scoffed, shaking her head. “I was so unbelievably conceited to think that I could behave that way and get away with it. I thought I was untouchable.” Her lips twisted into a bitter smile as she put the pendant back down on the counter.

While she had been speaking, Fenris had picked up a golden ring with a small garnet glittering in its delicate setting. He was turning it absently in his fingers, staring into the dark depths of the stone, as he said, “You behaved foolishly. I was always concerned for you when you went to the Gallows.” Putting the ring down, he added quietly, “And with the abomination, of all people. He seemed to have a certain abhorrence for caution and subtlety.”

Hawke glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “You worried about me?”

He scowled, not looking at her, but he did nod his head in tacit confirmation.

Hawke was aware that she was smiling, but fought back the expression and returned to rummaging through the supplies.

In the end, she chose a ring similar to one that she had worn while she and Fenris had been travelling south from Minrathous. She noticed it amongst the others specifically because the bright opal stone looked so similar to that old ring. In truth, opal was a poor conductor for the sort of spells that she preferred to cast, being better suited for healing than for offensive spells, but it was more affordable than other gemstones. Standing in the musty shop, she slid the ring carefully onto her right hand. She had always worn her rings there, on her second most ulnar finger, but it looked preposterous now. She lifted her hand into a ray of light, twitching her fingers so that the gemstone caught the sun. It was a moment before she noticed that Fenris was watching her. She cleared her throat and hastily took the ring off, moving it over to her left ring finger. “I’ll take this one,” she called to the proprietor.

The ring felt foreign on her hand and she found that she was continually toying with it as they made their way south from Athraim.

They weren’t far from the Imperial Highway, but they were in no hurry to reach it. There was only a mild risk in travelling down frequently traversed roads, but both Hawke and Fenris felt more comfortable when they were a little further from the observation of others. They did not go so far into the wilderness as they had when they had last travelled together, but instead followed a narrow, unpaved road that wound through a sparse forest which grew alongside an expansive river delta. As they moved onwards, Hawke and Fenris passed by the occasional traveller, but for the most part they had the road to themselves.

The weather was pleasant enough for travel. Brutus, for one, seemed thrilled to be outside and free to wander through a sea of fascinating new smells. Early on, he discovered the stripped shank of a mule deer alongside the road. He proudly brought his discovery back to Hawke, dropping it at her feet and barking insistently until she obligingly threw it off down the road for him to chase. Brutus persistently continued this game of fetch as their small party moved onwards through the woods. On occasion, he would bring his bone to Fenris, who, though he seemed startled to have been included, indulged the dog by joining in the game. Brutus was thrilled by this development; Fenris was able to throw much farther than Hawke could.

Even though the winter had passed and been replaced by the teasing warmth of spring, Hawke was reminded irresistibly of when she and Fenris had walked alongside one another through the snow. The air between them had been lighter then, but Hawke had to admit that she preferred it this way. Everything had been poisoned before, festering in the darkness as she perpetuated the lies that allowed him to trust her and to feel affection for her. The rotten decay had not been evident to him then, but she had been constantly aware of it. It was somehow easier now. Easier because she could remind herself he knew what she had done and had chosen to stay with her in spite of it. The weight of the lie was almost gone now, though she still carried the weight of everything else.

It wasn’t as awkward now as it had been only a few days before. They walked side by side, not nearly so close as they had once, but with less than an arm’s length between them. That was something, at least. While they walked, beneath the thin canopy of the birch trees, Hawke found her mind often wandering back to the night before. Her heart beat faster at the mere recollection and, once or twice, she was sure that she felt her cheeks reddening. He had told her that he would never forgive her and she was still entirely certain of the veracity of those words, but some part of her mind made her hope that he would one day feel comfortable enough in her company that he would be able to find some form of happiness. He didn’t loathe her anymore, and that was something she had never dared to hope for before. Of course, knowing that didn’t necessarily clarify much. She still hadn’t the faintest idea what he wanted their future to be.

Lacking that somewhat pivotal information, she turned her attentions to solving the concrete, solvable problems that were before them. She had never been particularly good at making plans, but she never did well without them either. If Fenris felt uneasy at all about their aimlessness, however, he was disguising it remarkably well. When he asked where exactly they were going, he spoke calmly, glancing over at her with an expression that suggested only mild curiosity.

She shrugged carelessly and gave him the answer that she had been intensely mulling over in her mind for the last half hour. “Redcliffe might do well enough,” she suggested. “The Blight left a lot of cities ravaged, but Redcliffe, supposedly, suffered the worst of it. It’s been a long while since then, I know, but there’s still a decent chance that there’s work available there for the people willing to do it. And it’s not that far from here, relatively speaking. What do you think?” She glanced over at him and found that he had looked forward once more, watching Brutus snuffling around loudly in a patch of honeysuckle that grew alongside the road.

“Very well,” Fenris answered. “Redcliffe it is, then.”

Hawke nodded, following Fenris’ line of sight with her own eyes. “I have no idea as to what sort of work we’re suited for, but I suppose we can always try to sort that out later.”

“That seems a reasonable course of action,” he said, bending forward to pick up the bone that the mabari had brought to him. He looked back at her once he had thrown the bone and, when his eyes met hers, Hawke could have sworn that he almost smiled.

She smiled in response to the expression that he had nearly made. “What sort of thing did you do before?” she asked. “For money, I mean. Before we met and after….” She trailed off, looking down at her feet and intentionally stubbing the toe of her boot against a rock.

“I stole,” he said simply. “I tried to work as a mercenary at first, but that drew unnecessary attention.”

Hawke nodded, laughing in way that she hoped sounded sufficiently light. “Well, I suppose we could always do that. We could become the most notorious bandits in Ferelden. Roaming the wilderness aimlessly and having all sorts of adventures. Like Black Fox.”

Fenris furrowed his brow slightly. “I’ve never heard of any Black Fox.”

She cocked her head to the side. “Did we never read those stories together? I don’t suppose you’d have heard of him under any other circumstances. It’s really more of an Orlesian saga, though most of the children in Ferelden still hear the stories when they’re growing up. I don’t think that the legends would have made their way as far north as Tevinter, in any case. Though I do seem to recall that there was one story about Black Fox kidnapping a Tevinter magister. My father told me the story.” She smiled a bit wistfully and added, “My father always told my brother and sister and I those sorts of stories while we were falling asleep. Even when Carver told him that we were too old for it, he kept telling us stories.”

Fenris watched her expression carefully while she spoke, then looked back down to the ground at the small clouds of dust that rose up around their feet. “That must have been very pleasant,” he said quietly. “To have a family.”

“I miss them,” she admitted, somehow keeping her voice even. When she glanced at his profile, she saw that his expression was pensive. “Do you remember anything?” she ventured softly. “About your family, I mean?”

When she saw the muscles of his jaw tighten, Hawke thought perhaps she should not have asked that question. “I remember my sister,” he said coldly. “I wish to remember no more than that.”

There was a silence that stretched between them in which they both remembered the day when Fenris had seen Varania again after all those years of separation. They hadn’t spoken of that day or of that memory for weeks now and they had never spoken of his sister before that moment. There was little from that day that he felt compelled to revisit in his mind, though the recollections of Varania did return to his mind at times, unbidden and unwelcome. Perhaps she was still alive, somewhere, though he doubted it. Danarius had offered to make her his apprentice, but Fenris had seen nothing of her while he was trapped in Minrathous. Whatever had become of her, he would likely never know.

As he considered this, Fenris felt Hawke’s fingertips brush lightly over his forearm as she reached across the space that separated them. The contact was fleeting and she drew back her hand quickly, but he understood the gesture. It was familiar—Hawke’s practice of touching him when she needed comfort or hoped to offer it. It had been a long while since she had attempted to initiate physical contact with him, but, strangely, he found something reassuring in the gentle brush of her skin over his own. His own response to her touch startled him slightly, and he glanced over at her with slightly widened eyes. She had turned away from him now, watching her mabari intently and allowing her hand to swing at her side once more. Though her expression appeared to be impassive, Fenris saw that she was blushing.

“I remember your brother,” he said suddenly, drawing her gaze back to him. When she met his eye, Fenris turned away. “I didn’t much care for him,” he added gruffly.

Hawke laughed warmly, shaking her head. “Well, no one really liked Carver,” she admitted. “He and I never particularly got along either, but I did love him. You can love someone without liking them, I suppose.”

Fenris frowned slightly but didn’t look at her. “Yes,” he said flatly. “I suppose that may be the case on occasion.”

If she sensed anything unusual about his tone, she concealed her awareness well. “So, you’ve continued recovering memories, then?” she asked. “There were still a great many missing fragments when we….” She stopped speaking abruptly and cleared her throat, lifting her eyes to stare intently at the branches that stretched overhead.

“There’s still some yet to be recovered, I am sure,” he told her. “Yet I believe I have regained a great many of the memories of what occurred during my years in Kirkwall.”

When she looked back at him, she looked a bit surprised. “Really? That was faster than I would have thought.”

“Once I recalled the worst of that time, the other memories came more rapidly,” he explained tersely.

“I’m glad,” she said softly. “At least, I’m mostly glad. There’s a part of me that’s… well, ashamed is far too mild a word for it. I’ve behaved so horribly towards you that it’s a bit agonizing to think that you’ve had to relive the memories. Not that I flatter myself that all your memories have been of me, but….” She shook her head, trailing off.

“It makes very little difference,” he told her coolly. “I am already well aware of the worst of your behavior. When I remember, on occasion, the more trivial instances of your barbarousness, I find they have little bearing on my opinion of you. My memories of you are so dissimilar to what you are now that it seems as though I'm remembering a different person entirely.” He shrugged cavalierly and turned his head so that she would not be able to see his expression.

In the trees overhead, he heard the irregular twittering of a nightingale. “But… it was me, Fenris,” Hawke murmured from beside him.

“That hasn’t escaped my notice,” he said darkly, his eyes wandering the trees overhead as he searched the leaves for the songbird.

“Of course,” she whispered. When he looked at her, he saw that her head was bowed and she was blinking with a deliberation that suggested that she was holding back tears.

It seemed odd to him that she should be embarrassed by his remembrance of instances of her unpleasantness that were, by comparison, remarkably insignificant. He had remembered, during these many nights, an endless array of examples of her callousness and her conceit and her blatant disregard for others. But that was not all he had remembered. There were other memories as well which, in all likelihood, she had not thought to consider.

He had remembered the weeks she had spent in Kirkwall, trying to convince him to let her teach him to read. He had thrown Shartan’s book at her, cutting her forehead, but she had come to him again the next day and entreated him again to let her help him. He had given in at last and, on one occasion, she had fallen asleep beside him, her head on his shoulder, and continued murmuring encouragement in her sleep. He had remembered also the generosity she had shown towards desperate elves, dropping coin into their hands whenever she passed through the Undercity. He remembered the kindness she had shown to Orana, offering her protection, work, and a place to live. There had been times when he caught brief glimpses of her potential for bravery and kindness and tenderness. It had been those brief glimpses that had held his attention all those years ago and, over the past weeks and months, he had witnessed that potential become nearly fully realized. He wondered if she was even aware of the alteration in herself. He thought for a moment that he should tell her, so that she might stop staring at the ground as if she were about to cry. He opened his mouth once, but couldn’t think quite how to begin and so decided against saying anything at all. Fenris stared at his feet, shuffling so that the clouds of dust grew larger.

Hawke wrapped her arms around herself and let the silence grow for a long while before attempting conversation again. When they spoke again, she no longer attempted to engage him in conversations about the past. She wanted to know what he had remembered and what he thought of what had come before, but his discomfort and irritation when she had tried to bring up the topic was enough to discourage her. Hawke did not even attempt to talk about her own memories of Ferelden, as most of them had to do with her family and he didn’t seem to enjoy talking about that either. She understood his resistance. The magisters had deprived him of so much in his life, not the least of which was his family. She hated the disparities in their backgrounds; it meant that no discussion of the past could be undertaken without vast differences in their perspectives.

Still, they were able to speak with relative equanimity about the general history and legends of Ferelden. Fenris, she found, enjoyed learning more about the land where they had found themselves and she had more than enough information to keep him diverted. Everything she knew, of course, she had learned from her father, but she didn’t mention him as they wound down the dusty road.

Though the awkwardness had, for the most part, abated, Hawke was still immensely uncomfortable. A little while after the sun had passed over the middle of the sky, she found that she was exhausted. She had been tired for a long while yet, but her muscles were beginning to tremble and she could feel a light dew of cold sweat rising on her skin. The short break that they had taken to eat had not been nearly enough to revitalize her after a morning of walking. Though their pace was not overly rushed and the even ground did not make for a strenuous hike, it was still difficult for Hawke to continue on for any great period of time. Her strength had been diminishing for some time and the two weeks aboard a ship had done nothing to improve her endurance. Still, neither Fenris nor Brutus seemed the least bit weary and she was reticent to tell Fenris how much she would have liked to stop. It was humiliating to be so weak. Once, not long ago, this distance would have given her no trouble at all and now it felt almost insurmountable. She tried to disguise her distress, fighting to keep her breathing even and keeping her arms wrapped around herself so that her shivering would not be noticeable. The temperature had dropped since the morning as clouds had rolled in to obscure the sun. The thick, dark clouds promised rain, as did a faint metallic scent in the air, and Hawke fervently wished that the rain would come soon so that she would have an excuse for asking to stop.

Her wishes yielded nothing. The sky was beginning to turn a dusky violet over the tops of the trees and clouds were still stalwartly holding on to whatever rain they might contain. The coming evening, however, was enough justification to ask for the relief she craved. She cleared her throat and said, as lightly as she could, “We should stop, shouldn’t we? It will be dark soon enough.”

Fenris offered no protest. “We’re in no hurry,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “We can make camp if you’d like.” Hawke sighed inaudibly, wishing she had asked to stop earlier.

They walked off into the woods, leaving the road behind them a ways and deciding to make camp nearby a small stream that babbled loudly through the trees. The clearing that they chose was not very large, but the ground was even and there was space enough for a tent and a campfire. In the interest of preserving their funds, Hawke had only bought enough treated canvas to create one shelter. It had seemed like a practical enough decision at the time, but that evening, as she and Fenris erected the tent together, she began to realize just how small the shelter they were to share was. The prospect of squeezing into that enclosed space with him was not altogether disagreeable to her, but she worried that it might make him uncomfortable. While it was true that he had slept beside her the night before, that proximity had been on his own terms rather than as the result of frugal necessity.

“Will you collect firewood?” she asked, looking over at him as they knelt beside one another, finishing driving pikes into the hard soil. “I have to place a protective barrier around the perimeter.”

Fenris nodded, rising to his feet. “Of course,” he said, turning from her and walking off slowly into the woods. Hawke followed him with her eyes, feeling herself flooding with anxiety. She had grown used to having him with her and, even when he was taciturn or cross with her, there was comfort in being in his presence. She felt vaguely nauseated as he disappeared into the trees. That weakness was even more humiliating than her physical frailty. With a heavy sigh, she rose to her feet. As she stood, her thighs almost gave out under her. She was at least glad that Fenris wasn’t there to see her stumbling.

He returned not long after she had put her spell in place. It was not a particularly strong barrier, but it would be enough to hold out wolves and other minor predators. Fenris began to stack the wood he had gathered at the center of a small circle of stones that Hawke had gathered together, using the last of her strength to do so. He noticed that she was trembling slightly as he went about his task and realized suddenly that she had probably overexerted herself that day. She had seemed to be fine as they walked together and, though he had considered that she must be tiring, she had never complained of weariness. He rose from the ground beside the fire pit and began to rummage through the pack he had carried with them. They had brought food enough for a few days, though the quantities would be fairly moderate. With some dried meat and rolls in his hands, he went to Hawke and offered them to her.

“Thank you,” she murmured, smiling up at him from where she sat. She placed most of the food he had given her in her lap and began to take large bites of one of the rolls of bread.

He watched her for a moment, glad to see that she wasn’t making a show of not being hungry. “Light a fire,” he said in low voice. “You’re shaking.”

She glanced towards the unlit logs. “Oh, yes, of course,” she muttered quickly. “I wasn’t sure if you’d rather use the flint.” Extending her hands, she conjured bright, ruddy flames, that soon flooded the small clearing with warmth and light. The dim gray of evening was banished and Fenris watched as Hawke sat, bathed in the golden glow of the fire. Shaking his head slightly, he turned from her and sat across the fire from her.

After a few moments, he wished that he had simply taken a seat beside her. He had made a habit of doing so when they had been travelling together before and it felt strangely awkward to have done something intentionally different. She seemed quite far away, though only the fire and a few feet of space divided them. When she looked up at him, smiling, he felt his heart beating faster. Fenris lowered his gaze, staring into the fire.

“We’re not actually going to be become bandits are we?” she asked suddenly, breaking the silence. Her smile grew somewhat sheepish when Fenris looked back at her, lifting one of his eyebrows. “Yes, I know that I’m being annoyingly practical.” She looked to her side, reaching out to scratch the ears of the mabari that had settled down beside her. “It’s just… I spent so many years establishing a stable life in Kirkwall and I suppose I’m just feeling a little adrift. I’m sorry if it bothers you.”

Fenris shook his head. “I don’t mind it,” he told her. “I’ve never attempted this before—settling somewhere without the intent of running. Surely you know how to proceed better than I.” In truth, he rather liked listening to her musings about the future. He had little to offer to her planning, but it was not lack of interest that generally kept him mute. Making plans for the future was rather vastly different from simply fleeing the past. It was all alien to him. He had never given much thought before to what tomorrow would bring. Still, it was pleasant to hear her speak of it and to know that she was considering her life with him.

Hawke brushed her hair behind her ear. “I think the best chance we have is finding work as mercenaries,” she said. “We don’t exactly have a wide array of skills in other areas.” Almost hopefully, she added, “You aren’t secretly a carpenter or something, are you?”

His lips turned upwards slightly at the corners. “I’m afraid not, no.”

“No, I didn’t think so,” she sighed. As she lifted her hands to her hair, absently beginning to undo her braid, Hawke’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. She no longer looked at Fenris, but kept her eyes trained on the dancing flames instead. “It seems inevitable, then. Though I will admit that the idea of killing for profit doesn’t exactly thrill me.” Combing her fingers through her loose hair, she let out a mirthless laugh. “I realize that, coming from me, that’s incredibly hypocritical, but it does feel wrong somehow.” Hawke lowered her hands and folded them in her lap, lifting her eyes just a little towards Fenris. “And I don’t like to think of you being in danger,” she finished quietly, tightening her hands together.

“I wouldn’t be in danger, Hawke. Not any more than I have been these last years.”

Hawke bowed her head once more. “Of course,” she muttered. He was right, she knew. For roughly six years, she had watched Fenris charge to the frontlines of battle while she was allowed to hang behind, casting her spells from a reasonably safe distance. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain to him that it felt as if she had more to lose now. Such a confession, she feared, might make it seem as if she had never valued her family or her friends. In truth, she had less to lose now than ever before. All she had was the man who sat across from her. Perhaps her anxiety and her worry stemmed from the fact that she was more aware of risk now than she had been in the past. When she had been younger, the thought that her friends and family could be killed in battle had never weighed heavily on her because it had not been something she had seriously considered as a possibility. She knew better than that now and her sense of youthful invulnerability had all but disappeared. The thought of Fenris fighting as a mercenary made her feel painfully anxious. How many mercenaries had fallen before her? How many wives had she deprived of their husbands and how many children had lost parents at her hands? Life was lost so easily. Death came swiftly and all it took to bring it about was one misstep. And to risk one’s life as a mercenary, fighting another man’s battle—it all seemed so senseless. She didn’t want to lose Fenris that way.

But the surge of worry she felt about such a future was too convoluted to explain, so she only looked off to the side, toying with the sleeve of her robes while she watched Brutus drifting off to sleep. In the clearing, there was only the sound of the mabari’s grunting breaths and the crackling of the fire. Fenris didn’t speak for a while and, when she looked up at him, Hawke found that he had been watching her. Smiling uncomfortably, she proffered a suggestion that had only just occurred to her. “There might be a safer way to support ourselves,” she said quietly. “Anders taught me enough, I think, that I could run a clinic. I would try to be a bit more subtle about the whole apostate thing than he was, obviously, but I could be an apothecary at least. I can craft some fairly marketable potions.”

Fenris bowed his head forward, his fists clenching tightly. Anders. He hated to think of him, even now. Fenris was aware that this reaction was ridiculous. The object of his ire had been eliminated and there was no longer anything to hate or to envy. And yet he found that it irked him to hear that name from Hawke’s lips. The mention of Anders reminded Fenris all too vividly of the years when she had been with the mage rather than him. He hadn’t understood fully what he felt at the time, but he had been envious. His attraction to her had never been something that he had understood or even named, thinking instead that the interest he felt in her and the agitation that he felt in her company had been a manifestation of his hatred for her. That had been partially true, but it was more than obvious to him now that hate had not been all he felt for her in those days. He had never liked to hear her speak the mage’s name. During the nights, when he had been without memory and without any sense of the past, he had heard her murmuring Anders’ name while she slept. He had hated the owner of that name from the first time he had heard her utter it. Whatever had truly passed between her and the abomination was something that he would never know and he would certainly never ask her. He would rather not know, in the end. Such things no longer had any bearing on the present. She was his now, Fenris knew. If he wanted her, he had only to cross the short distance between them and show her what he desired. She loved him and he remembered the silkiness of her skin and the warmth of her body as she had held him. He remembered it as if it were yesterday. Fenris glowered into the fire. He couldn’t allow himself to submit to such thoughts. Not yet.

When they had lain together, it had meant everything to him. When they lay together again, he knew it would also have meaning. There was not, in the act itself, any inherent significance. He knew that well enough. Yet, attached to that act, there was a great deal. That meaning and weight was created in the mind, but that did not make it any less real. If he allowed himself to hold her in that way again, it would become habit. They would lapse into a natural routine and behave as others did. It would be as though he had forgiven her. It would be as if the wounds had healed. He did not want her mistakenly believing that he had forgiven her and yet he didn’t wish to be so blunt as to explicitly tell her that he hadn’t.

He knew that he wanted to lay with her again, which he had not been entirely certain of even a week before. That in itself was progress. And he knew that, one day, he would like to lapse into a natural routine and he would like to behave normally and easily with her. Yet that day had not yet come. The memories returned less frequently now and the mere act of looking at her or touching her was no longer guaranteed to trigger some unpleasant recollection. But it wasn’t the same as it had been before—when he had wanted her wholly and honestly and without conflict.

A part of him doubted that he would ever have that purity of affection for her again. There was a darkness in everything now and he didn’t want to complicate matters further while everything was still so tainted. He didn’t want to, but he knew it was only a matter of time before he tired of waiting. He’d gone longer than this without touch, admittedly. He was no stranger to waiting. It was different now, however, than it had been in the past. Now, he was in the company of a woman who wanted him. A woman who loved him. If he asked anything of her, she would not refuse him. That made matters more difficult. He wasn’t a gelding, after all, and he was growing impatient.

When he lifted his gaze, Fenris saw that Hawke was staring at him with an expression of slight bemusement and concern. He realized that it had been too long since he’d spoken. He tried to think back to where the digression of his thoughts had begun. He realized that she expected him to respond in some way, but, Fenris only managed to say something noncommittal about how hers sounded like a feasible course of action. She sighed, but seemed contented enough with his response and allowed the conversation to turn away from that topic. Rather deliberately, she began talking about Redcliffe and the rumors she had heard about the Blight. With time, Hawke saw that Fenris seemed to have forgotten whatever had been bothering him as he stared into the fire.

The sun had set entirely by the time the first drops of rain fell. Brutus was the first to run into the tent, claiming an area for himself in the corner. Hawke tried, from the mouth of the tent, to urge him to sleep outside, but he huffed loudly in objection and she sighed heavily, wishing she had bothered to train some obedience into her mabari. “So there’s not going to be much room, then,” said Hawke looking over at Fenris.

He nodded his head. “Very well,” he replied, ducking into the tent without further preamble. Hawke remained standing in the rain for a moment longer, taking several steadying breaths before she joined Fenris in the tent.

The treated canvas of their shelter blocked out most of the light which emanated from the now sputtering campfire. As she fumbled around with the blankets, Hawke could only make out the vague outlines of Fenris’ body and the lump that was her mabari. “I’ll sleep beside Brutus,” she said, inching away from Fenris and towards where the dog lay. “You shouldn’t have to enjoy his musky odor all night.”

She thought she heard Fenris let out a breath of laughter, but she could not make out enough of his expression to make any firm guesses as to his mood. She could see, however, that he was stripping off his shirt before settling down beneath one of the blankets. That was wise, she thought, given that sleeping in wet clothes would only make the night all the more uncomfortable. Grateful for the privacy lent by darkness, Hawke removed her robe and dove quickly under the cover of her own blanket. As she lay her head down on the ground, Brutus rolled slightly to the side, the weight his large body tugging on her hair. Wincing slightly, Hawke yanked her hair free and turned onto her side with her hair tucked safely beneath her head.

The rain was falling more heavily as she tried fruitlessly to fall asleep. She could hear the patter of the heavy droplets as they broke against the canvas that stretched overhead. It was peaceful to listen to the rain and to the gentle huffing sounds of her dog’s breathing. In the darkness, she opened her eyes and looked towards where Fenris lay. The fire, it seemed, had been smothered by the rain and nearly all the meager light had faded from the tent now. She wondered for a moment if he had drifted off until she heard the faint chattering of his teeth clicking together intermittently. With the fire’s death, the night had grown colder, and the ground beneath them was taking on some of the rain’s chill. Before Hawke was fully aware of herself, she had moved closer to him, beginning to lift her blanket so that she might drape half of it over him. She became conscious of the gesture before she had carried it out and stopped herself before continuing. “Can I…?” she ventured in a whisper.

She heard the quiet rustling of his movement as he turned his head to look towards her. “Can you what?” he asked. She realized that the offered warmth of her blanket was invisible to him in the darkness.

“You’re cold,” she murmured. “Have some of my blanket.” Hawke reached out, laying the thick cloth across him carefully. As she drew back away from him, she felt his hand grab hold of hers.

She tensed immediately, paralyzed and unsure how she should respond. He said nothing, but maintained a light grip on her hand that kept her beside him. Fenris lay on his back, as he always seemed to, while she was pressed against his side with her arm trapped across his chest. Feeling her face burning, she leaned her head down and pressed her forehead against his bare shoulder. She was hiding, though she knew he couldn’t see her. He felt her breath brushing over his skin. She had begun to shake, though he doubted that it was from the cold. Experimentally, he ran his thumb over the back of her hand. He heard her teeth chatter together.

“Are you… comfortable?” she asked, sounding rather breathless and unsteady.

It was a question that he wasn’t quite sure how to answer. It was only that, when she had been drawing away from him, he had felt compelled to prevent her from doing so. There was comfort in her touch, though it also made him feel ill at ease. He would have preferred to say nothing and allow the night to pass without making comment on their proximity. Yet, she was still very stiff beside him and he felt her waiting expectantly for an answer.

“Very nearly,” he murmured, closing his eyes.

The answer seemed to satisfy her and he felt her relax against him, her warm breath still falling humidly over his skin. 

Chapter Text

An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
-from “To his Coy Mistress”, Andrew Marvell

Something about the town of Lonicera left Fenris feeling uneasy. It was rather cleaner than Athraim and had a good deal less mud than the unpaved road on which they had been traveling, but, in spite of the welcome absence of moist soil squelching between his toes, there was something decidedly unnerving about being in such close proximity to so many people. Lonicera’s population was not nearly so large as Kirkwall’s had been, but, on that pleasant, sunny day in spring, it seemed as if all of its people had flooded into the central plaza. Fenris had never cared for milling around in crowds and bumping shoulders with strangers, but it didn’t seem to be troubling Hawke in the least. She was smiling brightly, commenting about how beautiful the weather was after the last night’s rain. There was something almost infectious about her buoyancy and Fenris found that he was bothered less by the churning crowd when he glanced over at Hawke as her eyes roved over the rows of street vendors.

She’d found something on the street, it seemed—a long scrap of red fabric—and was absently attempting to braid it into her hair as they made their way through the streets. Fenris watched the quick flurries of her fingers as they played through her hair; she performed such menial, everyday tasks well in spite of the damage that she had suffered. He rather liked watching as she worked, weaving that shock of crimson through her sun-bleached hair.

She abandoned the effort suddenly, however, tugging the cloth free and letting her hair fall loose. Her eyes were still turned towards the street vendors and, as her smile turned into a slight frown, she came to a halt. When she looked over at Fenris, he saw that her brow was furrowed slightly. “I think… I think I recognize her,” Hawke murmured, shaking her head. She glanced back over her shoulder. “I’m just going to… check.” She was gone then, making her way swiftly through the crowd as that bright fabric, still clutched in her hand, fluttered behind her like a banner.

Fenris stared after her, shifting uneasily as a careless pedestrian brushed past him. Something about her sudden departure had left him feeling somewhat uncertain as to whether or not she wanted him to follow after her as she investigated her potential acquaintance. Faced with this uncertainty, he remained behind, only taking a few paces towards the market stall where Hawke now stood, speaking with a dark-haired woman who appeared to be more than a few years Hawke’s senior. As Fenris watched them, he saw the recognition dawning on the woman’s face as she and Hawke moved nearer together, both beginning to smile and converse animatedly.

It was pleasant to see Hawke smiling, even when he was only watching from a distance. She had been smiling easily that day, he had noticed. Since that morning, when they had left their tent together, she had seemed almost happy—laughing warmly and speaking with an energy and exuberance that she had been struggling to recover for some time. He knew well enough that her good humor was the result of the fact that they had spent the night in close proximity to one another and had arisen together. He had to admit that it hadn’t been a disagreeable way to pass the night. With the rain falling against their shelter and the air cooling outside, it had been comforting to feel the warmth of her body against his. Her skin was always so warm and she was so soft and gentle when she kept her arm draped over his chest and her head resting against his shoulder. Lying with her in this manner, he had slept more peacefully than he had in a long while.

That morning, for the first time in ages, she was still asleep when he awoke. That had been pleasant also—feeling her in his arms when he came into consciousness and peering over at her while she was still unaware of him. As the night had worn on, the blankets had fallen off her shoulders, leaving her nearly exposed down to her waist. He could feel her breasts pressing against his arm through the fabric of her slip. When he looked at her, he saw that the cloth was so thin that it was nearly transparent. He had wished passingly that the blankets had slid still further down so that he could make out more of the vague outlines of her body. In her sleep, she had sighed and drawn his gaze back to her face. Her hair was in disarray, loose strands of it clinging to her lips as she slept.

Hawke’s eyes had fluttered open when he had brushed her hair away from her face. She had sighed contentedly again, smiling faintly as she blinked sleepily up at him. It had taken her a moment, it seemed, to process just how close they were to one another and, when she had realized, she had blushed so prettily. She’d pulled away from him then, muttering incoherent apologies and hastily redressing herself in the robes she had cast off the night before. Altogether, it had not been a bad way to begin the day, though he had had to excuse himself for a while while he mulled over the way her body had felt against his.

Clearly, she had not been dissatisfied either. Her demeanor since that morning attested to her contentment. As Fenris watched her speaking with the woman he didn’t know, he thought about just how simple it was to please Hawke. She expected so very little of his affections that the slightest display of anything more than great contempt was enough to leave her elated. Something in that caused him to feel a pang of sadness. It was an odd sort of power to have—to be able to so profoundly effect the emotional state of another. Sometimes, he found himself wishing that he took fuller advantage of his ability to make her happy. Hawke was always so lovely when she smiled. When she looked at him, her face flooded with light, there was always a warmth to her expression that was absent whenever she looked at anyone else. It was a warmth that she reserved for him. It was almost a shame that he did not allow himself to see it more often.

As Fenris reflected on this, Hawke glanced over her shoulder at him. From the way she smiled and nodded towards him, Fenris got the impression that he had, in fact, been supposed to follow after her when she had left his side. She had been speaking with the other woman for a while now, however, and he could hardly go sidling over to them now without making an awkward mess of the whole business. Hunching his shoulders forward a bit, Fenris stared down at his feet and wished that Hawke would hurry up and come back to him. He was feeling immensely conspicuous at the moment, standing in the middle of the marketplace with no one beside him. Without Hawke to divert him, Fenris became aware of the eyes that flickered towards him, surveying his lyrium markings curiously. Yet another reason why he wasn’t fond of crowds.

Thankfully, she came back to him without much further delay. Though his discomfort began to abate once Hawke stood before him once more, Fenris still shifted his weight, continuing to look down at his own feet as he said, “A friend of yours, then?” There was something unsettling about the fact that, even this far from Kirkwall, there were names and faces that she would recognize that he would know nothing about. It would always be like that, he supposed. Her life was more complete than his.

Hawke nodded, brushing her hair back behind her ear as she smiled at him. His smile. “Not a friend, really,” she explained, shaking her head. “She’s a girl I met once or twice in Lothering. I used to live there, you know, before the Blight.” She shrugged her shoulders and added, “Really,  I only know Allison at all because she and Carver messed around for a while. I was surprised to see her though; I didn’t think that any of the others escaped the darkspawn hoard.” Her smile faded then and, before she lowered her eyes, he caught a glimpse of sadness entering into them. She toyed with the fabric she still held in her hands, wrapping it tightly around one of her fingers until the small appendage turned purple.

Fenris furrowed his brow. “You can speak to her for longer, if you’d like. I would go with you.” He glanced towards where the woman stood.

Hawke shook her head once more, looking back up towards Fenris. “No. There’s nothing to say, really. She would just ask about Carver and I wouldn’t know what to say.” Hawke cleared her throat and looked off past Fenris. Brutus butted her with his head and she reached down, stroking his ears, and made herself smile again. When she glanced back up at Fenris, however, he saw that her eyes had cooled.

“We can… what would you like?” he heard himself say awkwardly. It should have been so easy to say something that would make her smile real, but he couldn’t make himself form the right words. Even with his ineloquence, Hawke still laughed, brightening slightly.

“Let’s just stay here a bit longer,” she suggested, sounding somehow tired. “You don’t mind making so little progress today, do you?” He shook his head and remained with her as they lingered in the plaza, perusing goods that they couldn’t afford. They did, however, squander a small amount of their coin on a thick, well-worn anthology of stories and a slightly torn novella. Hawke claimed that these were necessities.

He was grateful when she led him away from the marketplace. She led him deeper into the town, winding through unfamiliar streets that neither of them knew, and somehow guided him to a quaint residential district that reminded him somewhat of where he had lived during his time in Kirkwall. The courtyard where they had found themselves, located at the center of a square of comfortable-looking manors, was free of jabbering pedestrians and prying eyes. The only sound was the relentless peeping of a songbird and the muted babbling of an ornate fountain. Hawke’s eyes roved over the fine homes that surrounded them and, when he observed her doing so, Fenris wondered if she might miss living in someplace like this and being surrounded by her fine things. But when she glanced of her shoulder at him, Fenris saw clearly enough that her smile was genuine again. “We didn’t have places like this in Lothering,” she commented, sitting down cross-legged on the edge of the fountain. “This place looks more like Orlais than Ferelden.” She looked away from Fenris, dipping her hand into the water. Brutus energetically followed her example and, placing his front paws on the edge of the fountain, began to drink loudly from it. Hawke laughed lightly, turning back to Fenris. “Do you want to sit for a while?” she asked. “We could read from one of those books; it won’t get dark for a few more hours, I don’t think.”

Fenris obliged her without argument, settling down close enough beside her that his leg brushed against her knee. Hawke glanced over at him, but couldn’t tell from his expression whether or not he was aware of the contact. She worried that the same could not be said of her; she was beginning to display embarrassingly evident signs of her awareness of him. All day, she knew that she had been behaving ludicrously. Her face had been coloring so frequently and so brightly that she was beginning to fear that fainting was a very real danger and her cheeks were beginning to physically ache from smiling. And now, with even the lightest touch, she was shaking with embarrassing, giddy excitement. It was humiliating, but that did nothing to dampen her spirits.

Hawke was familiar with most of the stories in the anthology they had purchased, as the majority of them were no more than elaborated version of Fereldan folktales, but she left the choice of what to read up to Fenris. He didn’t waste long with deliberation and simply opened the volume up to a random page and then turned back to the start of the chapter. Hawke stifled a smile; it was story that she and Bethany had read often in their adolescence but which Fenris would obviously hate. The first several pages started off well enough, but after that the story largely consisted of a poor peasant boy pining desperately after his high-born Orlesian love. Admittedly, the plot was extremely thin, but Bethany had always said that it was very romantic and, though she never would have admitted to it then, Hawke had thought so too. Fenris would die of boredom within the first ten pages.

“I don’t think you’ll like that one,” Hawke told him. “It’s all star-crossed lovers and other sentimental clichés.”

He glanced over at her, raising one of his eyebrows. “Why would you purchase a volume filled with stories that you have already read?”

She shrugged sheepishly. “Because I like the stories.” She gestured at the open page and added, “I like that story too, but believe me when I say that you won’t like it.”

“I’m sure it will be fine, Hawke,” he said flatly, looking back towards the book that lay across his lap and beginning to read aloud.

Almost immediately, he regretted not heeding her warning. He had never read more unbearable nonsense in all of his life, and Hawke had forced him to read through a good deal of foolishness in the past. Worse still, he could not simply move onto something else and admit that she had been right after he had ignored her advice. Still, the intonation in his voice must have given his boredom away because he could her fighting back laughter as he slogged through a particularly lengthy and over-written monologue about the hero’s deep emotional turmoil. Fenris found himself praying for darkness so that he would have an excuse to stop reading.

He complained of the darkness well before it actually made reading impossible.

Hawke nodded her head, not questioning his claims that he could no longer make out the letters. “Well, you did very well while it lasted,” she said, rising from where she sat and stretching her stiff limbs. Smiling, she added, “You made it through much more of that story than I thought you were going to.”

He sighed, his shoulders slouching forward slightly. “How you have read through that drivel on more than one occasion is entirely beyond my comprehension.”

She laughed, accepting the book as he held it out to her. “Well, it’s not as good as I remember. Though it sounded better with you reading it.”

“I very much doubt that,” he said flatly. As he stood, he groaned slightly as some feeling surged back into his legs. They had indeed been sitting for quite some time; Brutus had long since drifted off to sleep and had to be roused before they could leave to courtyard.

“Well, since it’s gotten so very dark,” began Hawke, glancing around the sun-drenched streets, “perhaps we should decide where we’re going to stay tonight.”

They’d be unable to pass the night anywhere very nice, given the limitation on their funds and the fact that Hawke felt uncomfortable forcing her mabari sleep out in the streets as he had in Athraim. Even in Ferelden, where dogs were part a long cultural tradition, there were few innkeepers willing to house a large, hairy beast in one of their rooms. It was only after inquiring at several places that they were able to find a tavern which rented rooms where the owner didn’t immediately reject the idea of Brutus spending the night under his roof. Still, the prospect did not seem to thrill the grizzled man who stood behind the bar, jangling the keys that he seemed hesitant to hand over .

“You can keep him quiet, can’t you?” the man said slowly, looking between Hawke and her mabari with evident trepidation.

She smiled, nodding her head reassuringly. “There won’t be any trouble, I assure. He’s very well-behaved.”

As if he intended to offer positive affirmation of his mistress’ words, Brutus let out a loud, happy bark. While the man narrowed his eyes at Hawke, she laughed awkwardly and smiled in a way that she hoped was winning. “He’s just excited,” she said. “He won’t make another sound.” Turning her head, she shot a stern look towards her dog, who hung his head abashedly and pawed the floor.

“Um hmm,” grumbled the man skeptically. “Just try to keep him under control.”

“I promise,” said Hawke demurely.

Grudgingly, the man held out the keys and dropped them into her hand. “It’s up the stairs. First door to your right.”

It was fairly evident, the moment they saw their room, why they had not been immediately dismissed for having an unkempt dog in their midst. There was clearly not a great deal of care put into the upkeep of their room, though that was not much of surprise considering how very little they had been charged for a night’s stay. The room was relatively cramped, boasting only a narrow bed, a nightstand, and an unstable-looking vanity.

The light was dim as they entered the room, with threadbare curtains hanging over the room’s single window. Hawke went forward, drawing the curtains to the side and letting in the faint, glowing light of advancing evening. Finding it insufficient, she moved about the room, lighting the sconces which were mounted on the walls. “There,” she murmured as the room filled with flickering light.

When she turned back towards Fenris, she found that he was staring with dismay at Brutus, who had leapt up onto the bed and was now sniffing around the pillows and leaving a fine snow of his fur across the bedding.

“Brutus!” Hawke scolded, advancing on him and attempting to convey an air of authority. “You can’t just go running around, doing whatever you like. Didn’t you consider that Fenris wouldn’t want your drool all over his pillow?”

Looking vaguely concerned by this reprimand, Brutus raised his head and looked inquisitively at Fenris.

It was a strange thing to respond to a dog’s tacit inquiry, but Fenris found that he was compelled to respond to the mabari’s questioning look. “It’s fine,” he muttered. This satisfied Brutus, who flopped down onto the bed and began to roll about happily.

Hawke sighed with exasperation. “I really am sorry that he’s not better behaved,” she said, glancing over at Fenris. “Aveline really was the only one who could ever control him. He just doesn’t respect my authority; I think he thinks of me more as a sister than as a master.”

Fenris shrugged his shoulders noncommittally and told Hawke that he really didn’t mind a little dog hair on his pillow. The bed was likely not the pinnacle of cleanliness even without Brutus’ interference. Hawke nodded, sitting down on the bed beside Brutus and scratching at his belly as he rolled onto his back, tongue lolling to the side. Her irritation with the dog never seemed to last long, Fenris noticed, and any annoyance that she did feel always seemed to be bordering on amusement. He watched her fondly scratching her unruly beast of pet and thought to himself that perhaps it wasn’t an altogether bad thing that Hawke felt some discomfort in demanding obedience from another living creature.

It was only once Brutus had flung himself off the bed and begun nosing about the room that Hawke stopped her petting. Freed from heaping attentions on her mabari, she lifted her eyes back to Fenris while she sat back against the headboard. “We’re not far from the Circle at Lake Calenhad,” she told him suddenly, shifting as she searched for a comfortable position on the hard, lumpy mattress. “I’m told that the lake is really very pretty, but we should probably avoid the docks, just to make sure we don’t run into any Templars. They might not realize immediately that I’m an apostate, but it’s probably safer to avoid them altogether.” As she spoke, she was surreptitiously opening the anthology of stories and thumbing through the pages for where they had left off. Though she was clearly trying to distract him with conversation, Fenris noticed nonetheless.

“You’re not going to keep reading that, are you?”

She laughed, though she did blush slightly with evident embarrassment. “Well, it’s almost over anyway. And we left off right before my favorite part,” she admitted.

Fenris surveyed her with mild bemusement. “It is entirely baffling to me that you have a favorite part.”

She narrowed her eyes slightly, her lips pursing as she suppressed a smile and attempted to look stern. “I don’t mock the stories you like, Fenris,” she said tartly. “Nor are you required to read along with me. It’s only a few more pages and we do have a second book specifically purchased for your reading pleasure.”

Grumbling all the while, he positioned himself on the bed beside her and took the book into his own hands. She was smiling as he began to read to her, even though he did everything in his power to inflect his tone with as much disapproval as was possible. She seemed contented enough, however, settling comfortably back against the headboard and brushing slightly against Fenris’ arm as she drew close enough to the see the page.

Somehow, she managed to be distracting without either speaking or moving. The longer they sat, with her elbow barely making contact with his arm, the more he became aware of the fact that they were currently seated on the bed that they would share that night. Neither of them had thought to inquire after a room with two beds and he wasn’t entirely sure that he would have wanted a separate bed even if one had been offered. There wasn’t really anything disagreeable about the prospect of spending the night beside her once more. He was comfortable with that much at least. Still, considering it, and what she might expect of him, did cause his mind to wander from the vacuous narrative that he was mindlessly reading over. His mind wandered far enough that, at one point, it escaped his attention that he had stopped reading.

She looked at him, her smile becoming quizzical. “What’s wrong? Do you really want to read something else that badly?” With a short, breathy laugh, she shook her head. “Alright, I’ll get the other book.”

She began to draw away from him to go in search of something else, but he stopped her, saying quickly, “No, this is fine.” He saw her mild confusion and realized that he had spoken a shade too abruptly. Clearing his throat, he added, “It’s almost over, anyway.”

“Alright then,” she said, leaning slightly against his shoulder once more. “Keep reading. They kiss soon.”

Fenris rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “Oh, joy,” he said dryly, turning away from her and glaring down at the open book. “I’m sure that moment of fleeting physical contact will merit the last thirty pages of agonizingly drawn-out suspense.”

She laughed, nudging his shoulder. “Come on,” she prompted, pointing to the sentence where he had drifted off.

He sighed. “’The moonlight caught dazzlingly against the fair waves of Claudette’s hair as she turned to face Sceolan, her sapphire eyes flooded with emotion. He might well have drowned in the deep, limpid pools of those wondrous eyes had he not been buoyed by her love. Through all the peril that lay before them and through all that had passed before, it was her beauty and her love which gave him the strength to carry on through all measure of suffering. Claudette held out her delicate hand to him, brushing her soft fingertips against his cheek. It mattered not that the battle raged on in the valley below or that her father’s men were hot in pursuit; all that mattered in that moment was the warmth of her touch as she stood, at last, within his reach. Even if they had only that brief, fleeting moment to share, it would be enough to satisfy him for an eternity.’” Fenris wondered how long it would take before these characters, suddenly becoming aware of their own stupidity, would just kill themselves. It couldn’t be much longer.

Fenris didn't reach the end of the story just then, though he did suffer through an excruciatingly detailed description of the young lovers embracing for what must have been a quarter of an hour. Before he reached the end, however, Brutus rescued him from proceeding. As the mabari let out a whine and pawed pointedly at the door, Hawke let out a sigh. “Well, we might as well stop there,” sighed Hawke. “They just end up killing themselves to keep from being divided.”

“I’m sorry I’ll miss it,” muttered Fenris, snapping the book shut and laying it aside.

Hawke laughed, shaking her head slightly as she crawled off the bed. Standing before the mirror that hung above the vanity and combing her fingers through her hair, Hawke smiled. “Thank you for indulging me,” she said as their eyes met in the mirror. “It might just be a silly story, but… I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders and turned away from the mirror. “I think it just reminds me of my sister. It’s the sort of thing she and I read together.”

He nodded his head once. “You were younger then; I suppose some errors in judgment can be forgiven.”

Hawke smiled crookedly. “Well, I do appreciate your tolerance, in any case.” She crossed to the door and placed her hand on the knob, glancing over her shoulder at Fenris before turning it. “After I get back, can you force me to eat something? I’m starving.”

Fenris almost smiled. “I’ll see what can be done about that.”

She smirked. “Thanks.” She turned from him then, letting the eager Brutus out of the room and following after him.

It was too quiet without her. He found himself wishing that he had just gone with her. He knew well enough that he would be entirely superfluous to the mission of accompanying her while she waited for the dog to defecate, but it felt strange to be sitting in that bed without her. The void she had left beside him was almost palpable. Sighing restlessly, he reopened the book and scanned over the last of the story. In truth, he found himself a little saddened when the lovers hurled themselves off a cliff together, drowning beneath the freezing waves of the sea. Fenris wondered if Hawke had cried when she was young, reading over these pages with the sister he’d never known. He glanced off towards the window, hoping that it wouldn’t be much longer before she returned.

He sighed, rising from the bed, and tried to look as if he was occupied; he didn’t want her come back and find him precisely where she had left him, as if he were incapable to passing the time while she was away. As it turned out, however, it was quite difficult to find something to do. All there was to do, aside from beginning to read something else, was to pace around the room. He found his way to window before long and peered down into the streets below.

Evening had passed into night and lanes were lit by the smoky flames of streetlights. In the dim light, Fenris could see Brutus’ massive form tearing wildly around in circles, only pausing for brief moments while he lifted his leg on carefully selected cobblestones. Hawke stood nearby, leaning back against the wall of a shop across the way. She was smiling up at him and Fenris realized the she must have been watching the illuminated window of their room. There was something vaguely embarrassing in being caught looking out at her, but then, she had been looking for him also. Hawke lifted her hand and waved slowly at him. Fenris returned the gesture before drawing away from the window, lying back across the bed. Their bed. He closed his eyes and blocked out the remainder of the room’s light by draping his forearm across his face.

When she returned, her cheeks were slightly flushed from the chill of the evening. “Brutus really lacks any concept of an appropriate timeframe for relieving himself,” she sighed, chafing warmth into her own arms. Reacting to this criticism, the mabari let out a low whine. “Well, I did tell you to hurry,” she said in response to his objection. Grumbling, Brutus curled up on the floor beside the bed. As the dog let out a yawn, Hawke turned her gaze to Fenris. “I asked the innkeeper if he’d let me take plates upstairs, but, believe it or not, he’s concerned about people spilling food on the sheets. So, if we want to eat, I suppose we’ll have to go downstairs.”

He groaned, rising from the bed. He would have preferred to avoid spending time in a barroom with rowdy drunkards, but he was, admittedly, willing to suffer through the stink of stale ale and sweat if it meant eating a warm meal. “Very well,” he said, moving to the door and holding it open as he waited for her exit the room. “Let’s see what fascinating new odors this establishment has to offer.”

The patrons seemed to have a less fragrant stench than those of the Hanged Man, which was something at least. And the food, though it lacked any particular culinary flair, was hot and not unpleasant. With Hawke beside him, it was almost possible to overlook the raucous bantering of drunkards and the faint stink of ale which unrelentingly flooded his nostrils.

“That dwarf sort of looks like Varric,” she said, leaning a bit closer so that he could hear her over the noise of the room.

Fenris glanced off towards where she was pointing and tilted his head to side as he surveyed the dwarf in question. “Similar chest hair, in any case” he commented, taking a swig from the mug that was before him.

Hawke smiled. “Or maybe being in a place like this just reminds me of him,” she shrugged.

“He would have come along, I’m sure, if you had asked it of him.”

She shook her head. “I know, but it didn’t seem like a good idea when I wasn’t sure that….” She trailed off, taking a sip of the tepid water she had been drinking.

“Surely you know that I’ll demand an end to that sentence,” he prompted.

Sighing, she turned her head to look at him. “I just wasn’t quite sure that you wouldn’t change your mind the moment we got away from Kirkwall. I didn’t want anyone to make you feel badly about it if you… well, if you decided to kill me.”

Fenris bowed his head, staring fixedly at his mug. “I wouldn’t have needed someone to make me feel badly about that, Hawke,” he murmured.

She watched his expression carefully, her brow furrowing. “I know that now,” she said softly. “But I still can’t quite believe it.”

He reached out, rotating his plate so that he would have something to do with his hands. “You’re finished, aren’t you?” he said, gesturing to her empty plate.

The abrupt change in conversation didn’t seem to faze her much, though it did take her a moment answer. “I’m finished,” she said.

“Good,” he said, standing as he spoke.

She followed suit, nodding her head and wishing that she hadn’t been so unbelievably stupid as to mention the past. Things had seemed almost simple for a briefest moment of time and now, once again, she had ruined everything by bringing up the fact that he had every cause to want her dead. “Alright, let’s go back to the room then,” she sighed, beginning to shuffle off towards the staircase with Fenris trailing wordlessly after her.

“You’re not leaving already, are you?” Hawke might not have known that the words were meant for her if the speaker hadn’t extended his foot in front of her, causing her to stumble before she caught herself.

As she stood upright, Hawke glowered at the owner of the foot that had nearly tripped her. Grinning broadly at her was a man with dark hair and an air of self-satisfaction that made her want to punch his teeth in. “And what business is that of yours?” she spat bitterly, folding her arms over her chest.

The man laughed. “Well, I did spend all afternoon asking at every inn in town to find out where you were staying. And then, I spent all evening drinking some truly piss-poor ale while I waited for you to come downstairs. The least you can do is give me a brief interlude with the great Champion of Kirkwall.”

Hawke felt her heart drop into the pit of her stomach. There was no reason for this man to know who she was. No good reason, in any case. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said dismissively. She was aware that Fenris had moved defensively closer to her, joining her in glowering at the stranger.

“Of course you do,” the man said, rising from his seat as he took a deep swill of his malodorous beverage. When his mug was drained, he set it down heavily on the table. “I got a description of you off of a pirate friend of mine-- little slip of a thing, yellow-eyes, ball-shriveling glower. Though Isabela really didn’t come close to doing you justice. She glossed over some of your more alluring attributes.” His gray eyes passed over her appreciatively. Hawke was glad that she had folded her arms over her chest.

“You know Isabela?” she said cautiously. “That’s really not much of a personal recommendation, you know.”

He laughed loudly, surprising Hawke enough that she started. “Well, that’s probably true, isn’t it? I heard you two lovely ladies ended on bad terms.” He shrugged his shoulders carelessly as he added, “But I think I can claim a closer connection—you and I are cousins, after all. Well, second-cousins, but that’s all semantics, isn’t it?” 

Hawke’s eyes widened slightly with dawning comprehension. “Diarmuid Amell,” she said. “Though I must ask why the Hero of Ferelden doesn’t have anything better to do with himself than asking around after a distant relative.”

“Relax, sweetheart, I haven’t been stalking you… much. I was only passing through on my way to the Circle to deal with some disturbances we’ve been having there. I came across a mutual acquaintance of ours, heard my little cousin was in town, and decided that I might as well have some familial bonding while I had the chance.”

“I didn’t tell anyone I was in town,” she said suspiciously.

Diarmuid’s lips twisted to the side as he lifted one of his dark eyebrows quizzically. “That’s not how the little shopkeep from Lothering tells it. What’s her name? Alice? Andrea?” He shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. I’d forgotten her ages ago. She had to remind me three times that I’d saved her life. I’d be embarrassed, but that sort of thing happens to me so often that I barely notice it anymore. Must happen to you too, given the name you’ve made for yourself.”

“I generally manage to remember the names of the people I’ve saved,” she replied coolly. Hawke found herself wishing that she had just electrocuted him the moment he had stuck his foot out in front of her. If she had just done that, then she would already be back in her room trying to find a comfortable way to strip down for bed in front of Fenris.

“Well, that’s more than I can say for myself,” Diarmuid acknowledged, bowing his head slightly. “Perhaps the taint is rotting my mind away already.” Turning his gaze to Fenris, he added, “Though I do remember hearing about you. The Tevinter fugitive, right?” As he spoke, his eyes traced over Fenris’ body, lingering too long and making Hawke wish violently that she possessed the physical strength to rip her fellow mage’s heart out of his chest. “They really are lovely markings. I don’t suppose you’d let me examine them more… thoroughly?”

Hawke pressed closer to Fenris, biting down on her own tongue to keep from spitting out a string of profanities. “No,” said Fenris coldly, her green eyes narrowing to slits. “I don’t suppose I would.”

Glancing between Hawke and Fenris’ unashamedly hostile expressions, Diarmuid relented, laughing lightly. “And I have clearly transgressed some boundary here. My apologies. Are you two involved, then?”

The air caught in Hawke’s throat as she opened her mouth to answer. She had been about to reply violently in the affirmative, but it occurred to her before she spoke that such an answer might appear to be overly presumptuous. Of course, she wanted to be able say that she and Fenris were involved, but he hadn’t said anything to that effect. Unsure of what exactly to say, Hawke stuttered, and looked over to Fenris. She found, to her great horror, that he was staring at her expectantly, as if he was irritated that she had not already given an answer. “We… we’re together.” Fenris continued staring at her and so, hastily, she stammered, “Well, travelling together. We’re travelling together.” Fenris looked away from her.

“I’m going back to the room,” said Fenris gruffly, already making his way towards the stairs.

“Wait, Fenris, I’ll come—”

“No,” he said flatly, looking back at Hawke. “You stay and make your acquaintance with the mage.”

She blinked. “Fenris, I’m going with you.”

He turned away. “Don’t trouble yourself.”

As Hawke stared speechlessly after Fenris, Diarmuid let out a low whistle. “Well, that was tense. You should go after someone a little less high-maintenance. Have yourself some fun while you’ve got youth and notoriety on your side.”

“You may be my cousin, but I swear to the Maker that I will rip off your testicles and shove them up your ass until you break,” she hissed with such vehemence that he took a step backwards, lifting his hands in surrender.

“Alright, I get it; you and the elf are exclusive.” Sighing, he sat back in the chair he had vacated and gestured for one of the barmaids to come forward to refill his mug. Hawke remained standing, her fists clenched tightly as she stared after Fenris. “I’ll behave myself if you have a drink with me,” wheedled Diarmuid, prodding her with the tip of his boot. She glared at him, her upper lip curling. “Come on. One drink.”

“I’m going back to my room,” she said acerbically.

“We both know you’re not,” he replied, smiling in a way that almost looked sympathetic. “The elf is angry with you.”

Hawke glowered. “If you hadn't flirted with him, then—”

“Then he’d still be pissed that you took a fucking hour to tell me that you were together.” He raised his refilled mug to his lips. There was foam on his lips when he lowered it. “Come on, little sis. I can be good company if you let me. It might not be so bad, really, to have some family in your life.” He gestured once more to the chair that was across the table from him. “One drink. Then you go back to your room and tell the elf that you’re eternally his and that you’re sorry.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she sat down. “I don’t drink.”

He lifted one of his eyebrows again, his eyes flitting down towards her navel. “Congratulations. Does the elf know?”

Hawke shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not like that. I can’t… I haven’t been well.” She cleared her throat. “And that would be impossible for a thousand other reasons, anyway.”

Across the table from her, he nodded slowly. “But you don’t drink?” She didn’t answer, her eyes drawn once more back towards the staircase. Diarmuid shook his head, laughing under his breath. “You know, I was expecting a little more depravity from you, sweets. I heard you were quite the minx back in Kirkwall.”

She didn’t look at him. “I was never a minx. I just acted like one,” she murmured.

“Oh, is that so?” He clucked his tongue loudly. “Well, you do have it bad for the elf, don’t you? I must admit, I’m jealous. It’s been ages since I was infatuated with someone. It’s such a thrill isn’t it?”

“I don’t know if ‘thrill’ is the right word,” she replied, turning her eyes back towards him.

He smirked, taking another sip of his ale. “Well, if it’s not thrilling, I have to say that you’re probably doing something wrong.” Hawke opened her mouth to reply, but he held up a hand. “I get it,” he added quietly. “Love hurts. Especially when it’s real.”

Hawke said nothing, choosing instead to bow her head and stub her toe repeatedly against the leg of the table.

“So what happened with you two?” she heard Diarmuid ask. “I know all that tension wasn’t just my doing.”

Hawke glowered down at her own clasped hands. “I’m not going to discuss this with you.”

He laughed again—that loud, infuriating laugh. “Oh, come now! Can’t I express concern about my favorite cousin’s love-life? Is it so wrong for me to go prodding around, trying to trick you into divulging the size of the elf's... attributes?”

“Is everything always about sex with you, or are you just particularly unhinged this evening?” she said icily, lifting her eyes just enough to glare at him.

He leaned back in his chair, smiling in spite of her bitterness. “A bit of both, I suppose,” he shrugged. “It’s not easy, you know—sitting across the table from my former lover’s paramour.” His eyes danced over her once more. “You’re prettier than I thought you’d be.” He sighed and took another drink from his mug. “I’d have liked you to be uglier.”

Hawke furrowed her brow for a moment before it dawned on her. “Anders?”

Diarmuid’s smile spread, something like bitterness entering into it. “Anders.” His smile fading, he added soberly, “Nate—Nathanial Howe—he told me that you two were together. Isabela fleshed it out with a few far too graphic descriptions that are now indelibly impressed on my memory.” Tilting his head towards the staircase, he added, “So how did that happen? You and the elf? I must admit, I was surprised to see you with someone else. Especially since…. Well, never mind.”

“It’s… complicated,” Hawke managed to say, feeling her muscles tightening uncomfortably. She’d start shaking soon, she knew. It was taking nearly all of her effort to remain steady in that moment. She had known, of course, that Diarmuid and Anders had been involved. It had been one of the reasons she’d hated even the mention of the Hero of Ferelden for so many years. It hadn’t occurred to her, however, that her cousin might not be very fond of her for much the same reason.

“It’s always complicated, isn’t it?” laughed Diarmuid, looking down into his mug and finding it nearly empty again. The bitter smile spread across his face once more and he shook his head, eyes closing for a moment. “Maker’s ass—Anders.” He laughed again, softly this time and almost to himself. “That fucker got me. Saw down to my soul and just… knew exactly who I was.” He shook his head, looking back up at Hawke and shrugging carelessly. “It wasn’t enough, I guess. He saw me, understood me, and I just wasn’t enough to hold his interest. Never thought I could love someone that much… and he left me so that he could get some sanctimonious spirit stuffed inside of him.” Hawke was quiet, unsure of what she should say. She really had never considered that, while she was failing to love Anders, someone else had wanted him. She bowed her head, swallowing hard.

“It’s fine, you know,” Diarmuid went on softly. “I’m glad that he wasn’t alone. I glad he had someone he loved. I wouldn’t want him to miss out on that just because it wasn’t me.”

She felt nauseated, her stomach turning and horrible knot rising in her throat. “You heard that….” She stopped halfway through her sentence, coughing and needing to wait for several long moments before she could speak again. “Anders died. Back in Kirkwall… he died.”

Diamuid nodded, eyeing her without any alteration to his expression. “Yeah, I heard what happened.” He drained his mug. “I heard you did it.”

She looked down. “I didn’t want to.”

“I know,” he laughed mirthlessly. “We’ve all done things we didn’t want to do. It’s what heroes do, little sis.”

She shook her head, feeling herself begin to tremble. “I’m not a hero,” she whispered.

“Semantics, lover,” he said dismissively. “You’re a champion—same damn thing. Different words for the person who makes the tough calls. It’s not all saving puppies, is it? Sometimes you have to make a choice that kills you. Sometimes you have to do things you can’t live with. Believe me… I know.”

She raised her eyes, her hands twisted in her lap. He’d stopped smiling, his expression flat and almost hollow, as he looked at her with eyes that looked much older than they were. “You’re not really how I thought you’d be,” she murmured, trying to make herself smile at him.

“Yeah,” he sighed, searching the room with his eyes for the barmaid and waving her over once more. “I’m not really how I thought I’d be either, but here I am… being like this.” He glanced back at Hawke, shrugging his shoulders. “And there you are…being like that. Life has a way of working people over.” He thanked the barmaid for the third pint that Hawke had seen him with that night.

“I—I said I’d stay for one drink,” she said softly. “I have to get back to Fenris.”

Diarmuid nodded deeply, his lips compressing into a line. “Right. The elf. So, what’s so special about him? What exactly is it about the new man that makes your heart go pitter-pat?”

She looked off back towards the staircase while Diarmuid drank. “I’m not sure you want to hear me talk about that.”

“No, please. I might not seem like the sentimental type, but I always enjoy watching people in love. So come on—why him? Out of all the people in the world, why is it him?”

Hawke knew well enough that he was baiting her—trying to lure her into some romantic confession that he would mock or sexualize or simply dismiss. And, if she was honest, it hadn’t really been something she’d given much thought to before he had asked her. She had never really considered that there might be someone for her aside from Fenris. Even now, such a thing seemed preposterous. It was just impossible. She wouldn’t know how to begin loving someone else. “I can’t really explain any of it,” sighed Hawke, relenting. “It’s hard to describe something so... all-encompassing. Sometimes I wish I could change things—make his life easier or something—but there’s nothing about him that I’d want to change. And I could list all the little things I love, but I wouldn’t be able to come close to explaining anything at all. There are a million things that I love about him, but ultimately I just… love him. Each one of those things, apart from him, would mean nothing to me. It’s the way those pieces come together that….” She shook her head. “I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. I’m not very good at any of this, really… but he still came back for me. And that….” She cleared her throat. “The fact that he sees anything in me at all will never stop amazing me.” She cocked her head to the side, eyes narrowing slightly. "Is that enough of a reason?"

He stared back at her blankly. “That was truly nauseating,” he said. When she only shrugged, he laughed and added lightly, “But I know how you feel. Or, I vaguely remember feeling something like that once. All those years ago, but it’s not the sort of thing you ever get over. I’m happy for you. Or I hate you. I’m not quite sure which it is, but I’ll get back to you on that.”

There was silence then, stretching between them as he drank and she bowed her head, wishing she was better at diffusing awkwardness. “I’m sorry,” she said suddenly. “About Anders.”

He shook his head, waving a hand at her dismissively. “Don’t be sorry. You did what you had to do... and it’s not your fault that he loved you and not me.”

“So, there's not... anyone else, then?" she asked, shifting in her chair.

His eyes widened. “For me?” With a breath of a laugh, Diarmuid shook his head. “No. Like I said… you can’t help who you love. And you can’t help who you stay in love with.” Shrugging again, he added, almost jocularly, “But it really is fine; sometimes it’s enough just to fuck someone for a while. Sometimes it’s not… but that's another story.” He stood suddenly, slamming his stein down on the table and allowing his gaze to wander around the room. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find someone to get my cock wet, since you’re clearly not up for it.” She made a small, derisive noise in her throat and Diarmuid looked back at her, smiling in a way that somehow didn’t make her want to break all his teeth. “It’ll be okay, you know,” he told her. “With you and the elf. Granted, I’m not sure what’s going on there… but I can tell that he loves you. And if that’s how it is—both of you loving each other—then it’ll work out eventually. One of these days, you’ll figure it out.” He clapped her on the shoulder as he began to walk past her. “It was nice to meet you, sugar-tits.” By the time she looked over her shoulder, he was already engaged in conversation with the barmaid and bringing a brilliant blush to her cheeks. Hawke sighed, shaking her head, and finally made her way towards the staircase.

She was glad to see that Fenris was still awake, though it was immediately apparent that he was upset with her. She couldn't really blame him for that. “You were downstairs for a while,” he observed coolly.

Hawke nodded, walking forward slowly and taking a tentative seat beside Fenris at the foot of the bed. “I guess so,” she acknowledged softly. “He wasn’t so bad, really, after the initial bouts of nausea-inducing unpleasantness.”

“I’m sure he was very pleasant indeed,” sneered Fenris. “I’m sure he went to every length to charm you, seeing as how you and I are merely traveling together.”

Hawke swallowed, looking down at Fenris' chest instead of meeting his eyes. “I shouldn’t have said that, Fenris. I just… I wasn’t sure how you wanted me to answer.” He said nothing, continuing instead to glower down at the floor where Brutus was sleeping. “Fenris, would you look at me?” sighed Hawke. Grudgingly, he lifted his eyes to hers, muttering something in Tevene that she couldn't understand.

“I love you, you know,” she said gently, moving a bit nearer to him and trying to ignore the ferocity of his glower. “And I didn’t mean to make you doubt that.” Lightly, she placed her hand on top of his. When he didn’t pull away, she let her fingers interweave with his. Though he didn’t move in response, she saw that his expression was softening. “I love you,” she repeated, smiling timidly. “I will always love you… until the day I die. And well after that, if there’s any way I can manage it.” She inclined her head slightly, her lips brushing against his shoulder. Even through the fabric of his shirt, he was acutely aware of her. She pulled away from him slowly, releasing her light hold on his hand and moving further onto the bed. “I’m going to sleep,” she said as his eyes trailed after her. Uncertainly, she glanced over her shoulder and added, “Or would you rather I…?” She cleared her throat, shaking her head. “I’m sure there are other rooms.”

“There’s no need for that,” he murmured, positioning himself on right side of the bed. He fell back on the pillows quite near to her, which was, admittedly, not entirely by chance.

“Do you want…?” she began softly before trailing off and needing to begin again. “We could… like last night….” She shook her head and added lamely, “If you wanted to, anyway.” Already anticipating being rejected, she began to move away from him.

“That would be fine, Hawke,” he muttered roughly, staring resolutely up at the ceiling. It grew impossible to keep his eyes fixed there, however, as she lay down beside him. With deliberate care, she seemed to have positioned herself so that their bodies were touching as little as possible. Rolling his eyes, Fenris extended his arm to the side and dragged her nearer to him, allowing her to pillow her head on his chest. It wasn’t so different, really, than it had been the night before; they were lying in much the same manner as they had been then. And yet the difference came, he felt, from the amount of consideration put into their positioning. The impulsivity was gone this time; she was beside him because he wished her to be. Because he had deliberately pulled her closer. But he wondered if she expected him to pull her closer still. It had been gnawing at him throughout the night—the thought that she had hesitated in answering the mage’s question because, in her mind, she didn’t really consider herself as being with him. Because he didn’t do the things with her that a man was supposed to do.

“You don’t wish that I were more like that mage, do you?” he muttered abruptly, his voice low. “That I would just… act?”

After a moment of her silence, he began to hope that she hadn’t heard him. It was evident, however, from the way she was looking at him with a slightly furrowed brow and surprised eyes, that she had indeed heard. “No,” she breathed softly. “I don’t need anything more than what you want to give. That’s all I’ll ever need from you.” He felt her hand shift slightly against his chest. He raised his hand to hers and let their fingers weave together once more. She pressed her head against his shoulder, smiling.

“That’s all?” His fingers tightened around hers.

She nodded, though she kept her head resting against him. “You’ve already given me more than I ever hoped for,” she said quietly, her body shaking a little as he pulled her a bit tighter to his side. He could feel her heart beating rapidly in her chest as he wrapped his arm around her.

The peace of the moment was effectively shattered when, immediately beside Fenris' ear, there was a loud whine. Apparently jealous of Fenris’ proximity to Hawke, Brutus had planted himself beside the bed with his large, square head resting on mattress.

Hawke groaned with exasperation. “Brutus, hush.” Sighing against Fenris’ shoulder, she added, with a weary yawn, “I really am sorry about him.”

“It’s fine,” grumbled Fenris, glaring bitterly at the ceiling. Someone was really going to have to teach that dog some manners.

Chapter Text

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me
In the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me….
-from Psalm 23, KJV

She was still having nightmares, he’d noticed. While his dreams had grown more tame—fusing fantasy with mild memories that no longer caused him real distress—she had begun to cry out in her sleep. It was, perhaps, not a new development, but something that he had only noticed since they’d begun sleeping beside one another. Her cries were not constant and did not wear on throughout the night, but there had been instances of evident distress without fail since that first night they had arrived in Ferelden. 

While she lay beside him in that hard, uncomfortable bed in Lonicera, Hawke had begun with her mewling only a few hours after they’d gotten to sleep. He had been surprised at first to hear the soft, muffled sound that accompanied the slight thrashing of her limbs. Throughout the day, she had seemed contented enough and yet, once her eyes were closed and her unconscious mind was left to wander freely, she began to whimper like a wounded animal. Woken by the sound, Fenris found himself, once more, unsure of exactly how he should proceed. Offering comfort, however small, was not something to which he had become accustomed and it seemed an especially daunting prospect to wake her while her face was so very near to his own and her leg, for whatever reason, was draped across him. Nevertheless, her suffering was quite evident and it felt somehow wrong to ignore it, even if it was no more than the product of her unconscious delusions. Sighing and attempting to move without being too abrupt, Fenris began to lightly pet her hair, murmuring softly that she should just be quiet. It hadn’t been much, really, and his words were not as tender as they might have been, but she did appear to be soothed. Breathing heavily, she had clung to him a bit more tightly and clutched onto the fabric of his shirt with desperately balled fists. Fenris noticed then that she was drooling rather copiously on his shoulder. He was grateful that they had fallen asleep fully clothed and that his shirt seemed to be absorbing the majority of the moisture. Even this observation, however, was just barely enough to quell the urge he had been experiencing to wake her and offer a more involved form of comfort. It was difficult to ignore the fact that the skirts of her robes had ridden up in the night and that the leg which was draped across him was entirely bare. It was still more difficult to ignore the fact that, as she shifted her hips against him, he could feel the pleasant warmth between her thighs. Insistently, he reminded himself that she had only just stopped crying and that he should really let her get some rest. With a light groan, Fenris had turned his eyes towards the corner of the room, where he found that her dog was glaring at them. Getting back to sleep proved extraordinarily difficult for Fenris that night.

Neither Fenris nor Hawke was particularly well-rested the following morning and, as they hiked into the mountains surrounding Lonicera after a night of fitful sleeping, Hawke’s intense weariness soon become clear. Thankfully, their plans for that day did not demand a great deal of physical exertion beyond their ascent into the mountains. Given that their journeys did not require any great haste and that the fare for their room above the tavern were fairly reasonable, Hawke had proposed that they might as well remain in town for another day or so. They were in no particular hurry to reach Redcliffe and there was, according to Hawke, a rather lovely lake just outside of Lonicera that she would like to see before they continued onwards. She admitted with a shrug that she had never actually seen the lake herself but that she had heard that its crystalline waters were truly exquisite.

It had taken Fenris a moment to agree to the plan, given that he suddenly found himself quite occupied with scowling down at the bread he had been eating. He didn’t need to ask who had told her about the lake; it was obvious enough from her expression and the change in her voice that it had been Anders. They were, after all, not so very far from the Circle Tower from which the abomination had been so fond of running away. The foul mood brought on by recollections of the mage abated, however, after the span of no more than a few moments. He had forgotten his annoyance almost entirely by the time that they were beside the clear waters of the lake.

Without any precise instructions as to how they were meant to get to where it was that they were going, Fenris and Hawke managed to get lost numerous times among the light woods that grew across the mountainsides. Early on in the afternoon, Hawke had instructed her mabari to sniff about after water and it was largely his keen nose that served to guide them as they climbed steadily to higher altitudes. In spite of a certain amount of aimless wandering, however, Hawke seemed to be enjoying herself. Fenris could tell that she was tired from the breathlessness of her voice and from the deep, purple circles beneath her eyes, but she was smiling when she spoke to him and he found himself almost tempted to return the expression. There was something oddly contagious about her warmth. Still, in spite of her chipper attitude, it was evident that she was relieved when the mabari’s howl heralded their arrival at the lake. It had perhaps been too ambitious of her to undertake such a lengthy hike while her body was still so weak. Even so, Fenris had to own that the sight before them was almost worth the amount of time and effort that it had taken to get there.

The afternoon sun glinted brightly across the smooth surface of the water as Fenris and Hawke emerged from the shadow of the birch trees that had stretched overhead. Fenris had never been particularly fond of wilderness or of mud, but there was something wonderfully pristine about the glittering clearing to which he couldn’t really object. When he glanced over at Hawke, her face bathed in golden light, he saw that her smile had broadened. The corner of his lip twitched upwards, vanishing the moment that she turned to him. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, the weariness of overexertion evident in her voice.

“It’s very nearly worth the several hundred times we lost our way,” he replied, shrugging his shoulders and glancing once more back towards the water’s edge. Brutus was now running madly along the shore, plunging into the lake and then racing out to shake himself dry before repeating the whole exercise over again.

“Well, I suppose it would have been clever of us to ask for directions while we were in town, but Brutus’ nose served almost as well as a map, I’d say.” As Hawke spoke, she moved forward from Fenris’ side, making her way towards the margin of lake and unceremoniously sitting down amongst the lush wildflowers that grew throughout the clearing. Fenris drifted forward as well, coming nearly to her side before stopping a pace or two behind her and staring down at his toes as he shoved them into a patch of clover. He raised his eyes as he heard her ask hesitantly, “Sit with me for a while?” Her smile was cautious, as if she were asking a great deal of him. Fenris felt something twisting in the pit of stomach.

With a heavy breath as if she had enormously inconvenienced him, Fenris sat down at her side, looking out over the trembling waves that danced before them. Beside him, Hawke began to flip through the pages of the book of stories that she had carried along with them. “Here,” she said simply, placing the open book in his lap. “You’ll like this one.”

Softly urging him to read, Hawke lay back in the grass. It was a long while before Fenris noticed that she had fallen asleep. He had glanced over at her incidentally and seen that her eyes had fallen closed and that her chest rose and fell with slow, steady breaths. It was hardly surprising, given that her restless night could hardly have been restorative. She looked so wonderfully peaceful then, asleep amongst the wildflowers and new spring grass. Any nightmares that had troubled her during the night seemed to have passed well away and, with her head pillowed on her forearm, she was finally getting the sleep that she so desperately needed. With a breath that was almost a laugh and a quirk of his lips that was almost a smile, Fenris turned his eyes back towards the story she had chosen and continued to murmur aloud while he read. As he did so, one of his hands wandered out to his side, falling onto her hair and beginning to toy with it absently. It was a passive sort of impulse more than it was a conscious decision, but, even as he became aware of what he did, Fenris allowed his hand to remain lost within the waves of her hair which had spilled tumultuously over the tender grass. She shifted slightly, murmuring something that he couldn’t quite make out, and letting out a little sigh. As she shifted, her cheek pressed harder against her arm, causing her features to scrunch together.

Fenris was becoming familiar with the way she looked during her unguarded moments—when she was relaxed and when she was unaware of being observed. There was something vaguely satisfying about knowing that he was one of the small number of men who had seen her while she was sleeping and vulnerable. That he was one of the few people that she had drooled on while lost in a dream. There was an intimacy in that which he has never given thought to before it had occurred. He would never have imagined the pleasure that could be derived from moments such as this. Winding a strand of her hair around his finger, Fenris wondered what she would think if she awoke then. Suddenly aware of himself and the odd expression that was no doubt in his eyes, Fenris drew his hand away quickly and turned his attention back to the book he’d been reading. However, he found it more difficult to focus on the words then. He had become distinctly aware of the sound of her breathing and the soft, contented sighs that escaped her throat intermittently. He found himself almost oblivious to everything else, almost deaf to everything aside from her breath, until his eardrums were nearly shattered by a high-pitched shriek which broke suddenly across the mountainside.

Brutus was tearing off into the woods towards the source of the sound before either Fenris or Hawke had the chance to respond to it.

“Brutus!” Hawke called as she was wrenched from sleep, stumbling onto her feet. “Shit,” she added in a whisper as he disappeared into the trees. Running her fingers anxiously back through her hair, she turned towards Fenris. “Fenris, I can’t just let him run off….”

With a curt nod, he looked off after the mabari. “Let’s go, then.”

Another scream, louder than before, echoed through the woods. Hawke panted, running at Fenris’ heels as they made their way through the trees towards the commotion. Mercifully, the surge of adrenaline that she had received upon waking was giving her the strength she needed to follow close behind him, though she was still panting after only a short ways. She cursed herself mentally for having raised such an aggressive and ill-mannered mabari. If she had only bothered to train Brutus to come when called, then she and Fenris wouldn’t be running off into some unknown peril. Of course, there was little chance that, even if Brutus hadn’t gone running off, then they would have allowed that voice to keep screaming with such terror.The nearer they drew, however, the more trepidation Hawke felt; Fenris didn’t even have a sword. Hawke sped her pace, managing to catch up to Fenris and, snatching his wrist, jerk him back just before they reached the source of the screams.

In the clearing before them, Hawke could make out the figures of three fully-armed Templars advancing on two cowering mages. It was a female mage who was screaming, her body arching possessively over a male who had already fallen to the ground. Her eyes widening, Hawke saw that the male was already twisting and contorting as the demon within him began to warp and change his body. “You can’t have him!” screamed the female, her words erupting from her so brutally that it sounded as if they must be tearing at her throat. “You can’t!” Her own shoulders, Hawke saw, seemed to be lifting, ripping at her robes as she continued to scream and her body began to dance with white and red light.

Hidden at the edge of the trees, growling and indicating towards the scene with frequent tilts of his head, was Brutus. “Yes, I see them,” whispered Hawke, ducking down behind a cluster of bushes and pulling Fenris down with her. There was the sound of heavy armor colliding with wood as the towering form of one of the abominations struck out with its arm, knocking back one of the Templars into a tree not far from where Hawke and the others hid.

“Hawke?” hissed Fenris, gesturing towards the abominations and looking at her almost indignantly.

“Fenris, you don’t have a sword,” she whispered hurriedly, “and I can’t cast in front of Templars.”

He sighed roughly. “I don’t need a sword, Hawke. And you should know as well as I that I cannot simply allow abominations to go free.”

Her fingers tightened on his wrist for a moment before she let go. “Be careful.”

“I will,” he assured her, reaching out to brush his hand lightly over hers before he stood.

Hawke let out a muted, pained whine as she watched Fenris charge forward with Brutus at his heels. She rose from where she sat, leaning against a tree so that she might have a better view of what was happening. The anxiety of knowing that he would fight without her aid was almost too much to bear and, as she clenched her fists at her sides, her fingernails sliced into her palms. It took everything that was in her to not instantaneously come to his aid, but she soon saw enough that he was proving quite capable of handling the situation on his own. She knew this of course, but the fear of losing him had made her almost forget his strength. He moved well, with an ease and speed that still astounded her. Almost smiling, Hawke allowed herself to relax somewhat. Even without a sword, he was able to tear so easily through the flesh of the abomination that engaged him. The monstrous creature struck out at Fenris with hulking limbs and vicious claws, but the elf was easily able to evade these strikes and to charge forward, his fists plunging into the abomination’s body and bringing back lumps of roughly torn flesh. Dark blood spewed from the opened wounds, showering over Fenris and running in rivers over the bright glow of his skin.

It was clear that his aid had been needed. The small contingent of Templars would have been easily overtaken by even a pair of abominations. Their clumsy swordplay and their heavy feet betrayed the fact that none of these Templars were very skilled. More than likely, these two mages had not been deemed much of a threat and a few novice Templars, looking to prove their mettle, had undertaken a mission which they had been too inexperienced to complete successfully. It was taking all three of them to pose even the slightest threat to one of the abominations while Fenris and Brutus attacked the second. The introduction of a glowing elf and a mabari hound had, admittedly, seemed to shock the Templars, but after a moment they had accepted the strange allies and continued to fight on desperately. They were doing a remarkably shabby job of it. As Fenris snapped the neck of the abomination that he’d been fighting, two of the Templars were violently thrown to the ground by the second abomination. Swiftly, Fenris rushed past the corpse of his kill and went to take on a new opponent.

The fight was wearing on too long, Hawke thought, and the two Templars that had been thrown back were taking altogether too much time to rise to their feet once more. Each time that the abomination struck out at Fenris, she felt as if her heart might explode. When the abomination made contact, she felt as if she had died. It was a quick movement, with the abomination swinging out with its gargantuan arm and raking its claws swiftly across Fenris’ chest. Fenris winced, drawing back a pace, while the abomination charged at him once more. By the time that Hawke felt the bolt of energy escaping from her hands, it was already too late. Helplessly, she watched at the scintillating stream of her magic shot through the air. She watched as the energy collided with the abomination, crackling over its skin while it roared in pain. Fenris hurled himself forward, snapping the abomination’s neck, but this went unseen by the Templars. All their eyes had turned towards the edge of the clearing where Hawke stood.

Hawke could feel all the color drain from her face as she stared back at the Templars. Their eyes passed over her curiously, flicking from her to Fenris and then back to her again. Fenris was beside her almost instantaneously, his jaw clenched and his eyes sparking with a feral possessiveness as he positioned his body slightly in front of hers. Hawke pressed close to him, hating herself for her own idiocy. What should have been an easily ended fight with a pair of abominations had now become far more complicated than it had needed to be.

“That wasn’t very bright of you, was it, mage?” said the tallest of the Templars, his voice rough and the corners of his lips lifted into a mirthless smile. “Casting in front of us?”

Hawke could hardly argue on that point. She had let years of habit take over for just a moment. Years of casting with impunity in a land where she had had power. And when she had seen him bleed, his eyes widening as he let out a hiss of stifled pain… well, she had reacted. “You needed help and we were helping you,” said Hawke coldly. “Obviously, I’m not a maleficar or we would have left you to those abominations.”

“That may well be,” shrugged a fair-haired Templar, still massaging his arm where an abomination had wrenched it. “But you are an apostate and we can hardly allow that, now can we?”

“Don’t be fools,” snapped Fenris, speaking before any words could leave Hawke’s mouth. “You should run, if you value your lives.” To punctuate Fenris’ words, Brutus let out a low, ominous growl from beside Hawke.

There was a moment of hesitation during which it truly seemed as though the Templars might heed Fenris’ warning. And then, quite suddenly, the tallest of the Templar laughed. “Oi, boys—I’ve just realized who that is,” he said, speaking to his comrades. “That there’s the little bitch who’s honey went and blew up the Grand Cleric.” Eyes flitting back towards Fenris and Hawke, he added, “Didn’t Lieutenant Oisin say she’d be traveling with some marked-up knife ear?”

Hawke felt her muscles tighten, her heart beating beyond her control as three sets of eyes passed predatorily over her. “So, the Champion of Kirkwall,” said the fair-haired Templar slowly, his grin broadening and his hand tightening around the hilt of his sword. “Pretty little thing. The men will have fun passing around your fabled cunt once we get you back to the Tower.”

The templar’s words were still hanging in the air when Fenris’ fist burst through his skull. Holding fast to the base of the templar’s tongue, Fenris roughly yanked his hand back, still clutching the bloodied mass of flesh in his hand. The templar fell to the ground, blood flowing freely from his mouth while his broken teeth fell onto the soil beside his bluntly torn tongue. A wordless, animalistic scream filled the clearing while the Templar writhed on the ground and Fenris snapped the neck of the tall fool who had come charging forward in defense of his fallen friend. The last, perhaps cleverer than his comrades, tried to run but was stopped abruptly when Fenris’ fist thrust through his back and ripped his heart free of his ribcage.

Though the three bodies were now bloodied on the ground, silence had not yet fallen. Fenris turned slowly and moved towards where the fair-haired Templar still writhed on the ground, still trying to scream while his own blood choked out his breath. Fenris stood towering over the agonized figure for a moment, his bare feet reddening against the wet soil. When he knelt, lowering himself slowly, Fenris craned his head forwards almost imperceptibly as he watched the pain and terror that contorted the Templar’s features as his life was agonizingly drained from him. Fenris reached forward, grasping lank hair tightly in his hand and yanking the Templar’s head back so that their eyes were forced to meet. “She is mine,” snarled Fenris, his face so near to the Templar’s that flecks of bloody breath splattered across his face. Silence finally fell then as Fenris snapped the Templar’s head swiftly to the side and left him still and broken on the ground.

Fenris remained knelt on the ground beside the corpse for a long moment afterwards, feeling the lyrium begin to die on his skin as he fought to calm himself. He felt himself shaking with an anger that he could just barely control. The idea that those men could have possibly thought that they had any claim on Hawke was abhorrent to him. They would have taken her. As if all that had passed meant nothing and was worth nothing. As if she did not already belong to another. She had sworn to him that she was his. And he had suffered for her. Suffered simply to get to the point where he could lie comfortably beside her. And they would have taken her from him as if it didn’t matter that he wanted her. It would have all been for nothing. Because she would be gone. And they would have been justified in taking her.

Fenris rose to his feet, his head bowed and his muscles still tensed.

“Fenris?” Hawke whispered, her voice low and cautious as she approached him. “Fenris, are you alright?”

He lifted his eyes from the bodies that lay at his feet and glanced towards her, his hands still clenched tightly into fists. “They could take you at any time. And they would be within their rights to do so,” he spat bitterly, anger and disgust still evident in his voice as he spoke.

Hawke nodded her head, coming to his side. “Well, that’s true. Just part of the wonderful life of a mage,” she said a bit absently, already beginning to examine the injuries he had sustained. “Oh Maker, Fenris! Your wrist!” she gasped as she saw the wounds that had opened as he’d torn the templar’s tongue free of his skull. With his wrist held gently in her hand, she ran her fingertips delicately over the gashes. “Oh, Fenris, I’m so sorry. If I had just controlled myself then—”

Fenris interrupted her, catching her under her chin with his free hand and bringing his mouth down over hers. Hawke felt herself suddenly paralyzed and utterly unable to respond as she felt the warmth of his lips moving against hers. The only response that she managed at all was releasing his wrist as her arms fell limply to her sides and her entire body refused to move in any of the ways she wanted it to. Fenris took advantage of the liberation of his hand by lifting it to the back of her head, tangling his bloodied fingers through her hair while he deepened their kiss. There was every chance that she would have fallen over then had his other hand not been firmly planted on the small of her back.

When their lips parted, Hawke realized that she hadn’t taken a breath in several long moments. Perhaps that was as good a reason as any for why she felt so very much like fainting. He lifted his hand, lightly brushing her hair from her eyes. The gesture left a viscid trail of blood across the bridge of her nose that she didn’t seem to notice. “I would never let them take you,” he breathed as she stared up at him with wide, uncomprehending eyes.

“You kissed me,” she whispered stupidly, unable to think of anything else to say aside from the immensely obvious.

“I did,” he replied simply, lightly running his thumb over her cheekbone as he gazed down into her face.

Hawke wished she could think coherently, but that was proving entirely beyond her ability. Tentatively, she lifted her arms to rest on his shoulders. She was blushing, she knew, and her head was filled with a fuzziness that was immensely disorienting. “Can I…?” she whispered shakily, her eyes flitting down to his lips to illustrate what she meant and yet was incapable of saying.

He didn’t answer with words, but closed the space between them, his hand cupping the back of her head once more as he brought her face to his. She stumbled forward against him, her legs trembling too violently to support her. Fenris caught her with one arm wrapping tightly around her waist and pulling her against him. Feeling his warmth against her and his lips over hers and smelling the faint blood on his skin mingling with his sweet breath, Hawke smiled against his kiss. She knew that she was kissing him poorly, unable to move her lips in response to his or even to keep her teeth from clumsily clinking against his. She shook against him, unable to ease the intensity of her grin or to hold back the giddy bursts of laughter that kept escaping from her. She tried to steady herself, wishing that she could remember how to be composed or seductive or sweet or demure or even just sane. But, in spite of her best efforts, all she could manage to be was happy. With any luck, he won’t think any less of her for that much.

Chapter Text

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
-from “She walks in Beauty”, Lord Byron

She was laughing against his mouth, he knew, though he felt relatively certain that it was not at him. He was barely aware of the sound. He was barely aware of anything. He knew nothing beyond that moment—as he pulled her closer and felt the warmth of her body as she shook against him. She was so easy to please—as she lifted her arms to wrap over his shoulders and smiled in response to his caresses. Her hands rose, playing across the nape of his neck and through his hair. Her touch sent a thrill across his skin, emanating from every point where her skin touched his. Echoing throughout his body from every point where her body came in contact with his own. “Hawke,” he groaned against her lips as her fingers clenched in his hair. She was so warm against him—almost soft and almost sweet and tasting of cloves as she had when he had slid his tongue into her mouth for the first time. He held her close against him, his hands clutched in her hair and against her back while her hips pressed closer to him.

His hold on her was steadying, firm and strong and filled with hunger. Hawke slowly returned to herself, her smile fading and her pulse quickening as he continued to kiss her. As he continued to explore her lips and her mouth with soft lips and an insistent tongue. His strength and his solidity guided her slowly back towards sanity, freeing her from the mad haze that had gripped her mind when he had first touched his lips to hers. Though she was still giddy and still overwhelmed, those things were subservient to the desire that his touch awakened in her. For so long, she had wanted this. For so long, she had been afraid to hope for it. Too afraid to hope for anything and not brave enough to let herself dream. Now, in his arms and pressed against his chest, she felt so many unacknowledged dreams coming into reality. She heard his voice as he breathed her name and felt his calloused fingers as they ran across any skin that her garments left exposed. Sighing, she tilted head to the side, giving him allowance to trail kisses along her throat. Eyes closed, she felt him. She felt every part of him. Taking breath in short gasps, she locked her fingers in his soft hair. Soft like feathers. Soft like his lips as they passed over her neck and as soft as the breath that passed from his lips and fell over her skin. She pulled his hair, dragging him back to her mouth once more and gasping against his lips as their bodies pressed together. Locked in his embrace, she felt his desire. Her own wanting was near painful as she felt her skin burning with heat and desperation. She had felt this heat before. This fire, this want. He had awakened it within her before. On the night when she had let herself forget. On the night when she had given over to him entirely and lost herself. When she had led him into the darkness and left them both stranded and alone in her shadows. Yes, she had felt that heat before.

Panting, she broke away. He trailed after her, following her hungrily, but she caught his wrist in her hand and brought it to her lips before his mouth could find hers once more. Lightly, carefully, she kissed the lacerations that had been opened by the templar’s teeth as Fenris’ hand had been within his skull. Her heart was pounding and so was his. She could feel his pulse against her lips and the blood that trickled from his torn skin. She held his wrist gently to her lips until she was sure that she could meet his gaze. Tentatively opening her eyes, she lifted her lips away from his wounds and glanced upwards towards his widened eyes. She smiled shyly, her lips wet from his kiss and red from his blood. Still holding his wrist, she murmured, “We have to treat your wounds, Fenris.”

His confusion showed in his expression and in his glazed-over eyes. Dazed, he cocked his head to the side, furrowing his brow and frowning slightly. “Hawke, I…,” he croaked, his voice rough and choked as he tried to speak.

She shook her head, turning from him and guiding him with his hand held in her own. She took him along through the forest, leading him back towards the lake that lay beyond the trees. Hawke was well aware that she was blushing horribly and was glad that Fenris, a pace or two behind her, could not see her face. All she held now was his hand and it ached not to embrace more of him. All of him. Moving through the woods, Hawke felt as if she might cry. Or vomit. She was not sure which. She wanted him so badly that it hurt. She wanted him so desperately that it felt as if she were denying herself air by pulling away from him. But she didn’t want him like that. Not while his blood was still hot after a fight and his adrenaline was still pumping through his veins and the bodies of the dead were still watching them with wide, unseeing eyes. She did not want to give him any more cause for regret when they were through. She did not want it to be as it had been the first time. Her hand tightening around his, Hawke felt the drying blood binding their skin together. Bowing her head, she walked more quickly across the rough floor of the forest and prayed silently that he would ask no questions.

“Take off your shirt,” she said firmly when they reached the lake.

“Pardon?”

She dropped his hand, turning to face him and yet averting her gaze while she ran her fingers back through her hair. “You have to wash the wounds. The ones on your chest from where the abomination scratched you as well as your wrist. I’m not very good at healing and I’m not going to risk you getting an infection because of my inadequacy.” She lifted her eyes to his and quickly lowered them once she saw the expression he wore.

“Very well, Hawke,” he murmured, as he stripped himself of his shirt and moved towards the water’s edge.

She watched as he waded into the clear water, the small waves dancing about his ankles as he moved into the lake. He did not wade deep, stopping when the water reached the middle of his calves. With cupped hands, he bent to the surface and took the cold water into his hands, lifting it to the bright slashes that the abomination’s claws had sliced across his chest. The water of the lake was cold and Hawke watched as he trembled slightly in response to the chill, his jaw clenching as he kept his teeth from chattering together. She wanted to warm him. She wanted to bend to his chest and close her teeth lightly against his chilled flesh. She wanted to awaken his nerves and make him shiver from her warmth. Hawke turned towards the trees, allowing him some measure of privacy as he splashed water over himself. It hurt; she felt certain she might cry. Either from happiness or from denial of her urges—she was not sure which.

“Hawke?”

She turned as he came towards her, his skin bright as the sunlight fell across the rivulets of water that streamed down his torso. Hawke hated her cheeks for blushing so brilliantly; she hated her eyes for lingering too long and her mind for imagining too vividly.

“Good,” she said hoarsely, smiling, “you’re clean.” She approached him, clearing her throat as she moved closer. “Can I…?” she asked, holding out her hands and stopping herself just before her palms met with his naked skin.

Fenris nodded, his eyes passing over her face in an evident examination. He was trying to read her, she knew, and gauge what she felt. He had kissed her… and he had meant it in that moment, she knew. Still flushed, Hawke touched her hands to his chest, running them lightly across smooth skin and tight muscle. Her breath shallow, Hawke closed her eyes and tried to focus on mending his injuries.

It was difficult to concentrate as she sent waves of power through his wounds, killing the bacteria that had already begun to multiply within the three long, thin cuts that the abomination had opened. One of the complexities of healing was that it forced the mage to become aware of the body that he or she was treating. To become aware of the heartbeat and the breath and organs and every inch of the delicate machine that was the body. The wounds across Fenris’ chest were superficial—the abomination had scarcely made contact—but it was still a challenge to piece his skin together while she was so aware of him. Standing only a few inches from her, his eyes on her while her eyes were closed and her hands remained against his bare chest for longer than was necessary. He had kissed her. Hawke drew back from him, opening her eyes to examine her handiwork.

“Those scars will fade over the next day or so,” she told him, her gaze travelling along the pink marks that extended across his pectorals. Examining his skin, her eyes caught on his lyrium tattoos and followed those lines as they wound downwards to the line of the trousers that hid him from view. She wanted to kneel before him and free him from the cloth that so rudely shielded his skin from her eager eyes. Clenching her jaw, she forced herself to look away.

“Would you give me your wrist?” she murmured, holding out her hands to him. He placed his wrist into her palms and she could sense that he was still watching her with great curiosity. She understood his confusion, though she knew that she would never be able to explain what she felt then. The desperate giddiness of desire that was just barely tempered by her tenuous sense of what was right. She breathed deeply, pouring herself into his wounds and closing them carefully.

“There,” she said, slowly releasing his wrist from her grasp. “Now, with any luck, no one will notice anything strange about the way we look as we go back into town. We don’t want anyone observing us too carefully.”

Fenris raised his hand to her cheek, gently running his fingers along the underside of her jaw. Hawke’s eyes widened, her heart thudding urgently. “In that case, you might consider washing the blood off your face,” he told her as his thumb stroked over her cheekbone. His eyes travelled over the redness that streaked her cheeks, her nose, her throat, her hair.

“Right,” said Hawke, stepping away from him and laughing nervously. “From when….” Her gaze landed on his lips before turning quickly towards the water. Clearing her throat, she moved to the lake and knelt down, splashing crisp water across her face and neck. She felt the fresh water flow down and soak into the fabric of her robes; it was lucky that she and Fenris had worn dark colors that day so that any stains would not be overly evident.

She was glad that she had an excuse to keep her back to him for a time. The cool water was soothing against the flush of her cheeks as she bent over the lake. She could almost feel him still against her lips. She could almost feel his hand on the small of her back and his leg pressing gently between her thighs and building slight friction there as their bodies shifted against one another. But he would not want her when his blood had cooled. Lowering her hands, she let the surface of the water calm and stared down at her reflection. She would not let herself forget again.

She was Elena Hawke, the daughter of Malcolm Hawke and the scion of the Amell line in Kirkwall. She was a conceited, selfish, barbaric mage who had sent Fenris back to a life of torture and slavery because she could not be bothered to spare him one moment of consideration. She was the woman who had taken him to her bed while he had believed that she was someone else—when she had let herself believe that she was who he wanted. But she would not forget again who she was.

She was happy with the promise that had been in his kiss. She was thrilled with the potential that there was in his touch. The chance that, one day, there might be more. And there might have been more then, amongst the leaves and dirt of the forest floor, if she had only let him continue. But Hawke knew well enough about men and their heat—the rush of their blood that made them altogether too prone to making poor decisions. If Fenris wanted her, when all was calm and when his eyes were clear, then he would have her. But not while he was drunk on blood and lust. Not when she would be just another thing for him to regret when the day was done.

Hawke wiped her face dry with her sleeve and looked back over her shoulder at Fenris. “Did I get it all?” she asked, gesturing to her face and turning it slightly from side so that he might be able to detect any remnants of blood that still colored her skin. Fenris’ eyes passed over her, confusion still faintly in his expression as he moved towards her for a closer examination. He bent towards her and she felt her breath catch.

“You’re clean,” he told her. His voice was still strained, as if he was actively holding back words he wanted to say. He said nothing further, however, and only let out a soft sigh that was almost lost in a breath. Fenris offered his hand to help her from the ground and she reached for him without hesitation. When she stumbled to her feet, she was standing quite near to him and he kept it so, closing his hand firmly around hers as she made a move to snatch it away. The proximity brought a flush to her face as she smiled at him, her lips looking soft and inviting as a rogue droplet of water dripped from her hair and ran across her cheek. He leaned nearer to her imperceptibly, feeling an impulse pass through him, but something stopped him before he moved any closer to her. There was something in her eyes that caught him off guard. It looked almost like fear. Gently, he stroked across the back of her hand with his thumb, grazing past where her knuckles met with knotted scars. Her hand was delicate in his—small and soft.

Hawke’s brow furrowed as she bowed her head. She lifted Fenris’ hand up to her lips, kissing lightly along the pale lyrium that was emblazoned across the back of his hand and trailing on towards his newly healed wrist. When she raised her eyes, lowering his hand and slipping hers from his grasp, she smiled sweetly. “You can… put your shirt back on,” she said, with only the slightest tremor of nerves in her voice. “We should get back to town before nightfall.”

He let out a grumbling sigh of resignation, turning from her and retrieving his discarded clothing from the ground. When he was dressed, Hawke gave a short, decisive sort of nod and turned her head back towards the water and called out after Brutus. As he came bounding out of the waves, Hawke moved towards Fenris, slipping her left hand comfortably into his and leading him off down the mountainside.

The woods was cooling as the day wore on and the shadows deepened beneath the canopy of leaves. For perhaps the first time in recent memory, Brutus remained at Hawke’s heels, trotting along beside her while she and Fenris made their way towards town, moving steadily through the flowering underbrush. Amongst the roots that rose beneath the trees, violets sprouted from the rich soil, hanging their dark heads melancholically.

“We’ll have to leave Lonicera quickly,” said Hawke, looking down at her feet as she avoided catching her boots on the wending vines and roots that sprawled across the mountainside. “The templars will notice soon enough that three of their Order have gone missing. We’ll have a few days, I’d wager, but we shouldn’t linger. There’s not much to tie us to their deaths, I shouldn’t think, but I’d rather not take a chance at discovery.”

“We shouldn’t move on to any other city after this, Hawke,” Fenris sighed. “My appearance is too distinctive, as is yours, and, the more exposure we have, the greater the chance that we’ll be recognized. And I shouldn’t like to risk someone attempting to take you from me again.” His hand tightened over hers as he spoke, his voice taking on an edge of reserved anger. Hawke felt her heart shudder, remembering the ferocity of his kiss.

Blushing, she pressed closer to his side. “I know. I don’t want to take that chance either.” Swiftly, she turned her head to the side and kissed him lightly on his upper arm. When she turned her head forward once more, her brow was drawn and something darkly pensive had entered her eyes. It did not escape her attention that, less that a year ago, she had allowed Fenris to be taken from her. Where she had refused to act, he had acted instinctively and immediately. And she had never doubted that he would do so. For even one moment, she had never considered that he might abandon her then. There was something painful in that—in the contrast between her weakness and his strength. Closing her eyes, Hawke tilted her head against Fenris’ shoulder and clenched her fingers tightly around his hand before, with a sigh, she stepped away from him. “We can’t go on to Redcliffe, then. We shouldn’t even try to find work, really. Not now, in any case. Not until the ashes are a bit more settled.” Quietly, she added, “If they ever do settle, that is.”

“Of course,” agreed Fenris with a curt nod of his head. “We were ill-qualified to recommend ourselves for most respectable work, in any case.”

“Very true,” Hawke smiled. “So, I suppose we’ll just… wander for a while. There’s enough unpopulated land in the Bannorn and further south that we should be able to disappear for a while. It won’t be very comfortable, I’m sure, but it will be safer that way.”

“I’ve lived under worse conditions, Hawke.”

“Of course,” she murmured, bowing her head.

His hand was warm in hers as his thumb stroked absently across the back of her hand. “I shouldn’t mind running this time; I’ve never had a companion before.”

Hawke failed to suppress her smile. “I look forward to it,” she said. “Getting lost with you.”

Fenris tugged sharply on her hand, causing her to stumble and crash lightly against his side. As she tripped against him, Fenris dropped her hand, wrapping his arm around the small of her waist instead and keeping her held tightly to him as they walked onwards. She remained beside him until they were within sight of the citizens that milled through the darkening streets of Lonicera.

As they approached the tavern where they’d made their stay, Hawke lifted her eyes towards Fenris. “One more night, do you think?” she asked softly. “We’ve already paid for today, so we might as well just leave in the morning.”

“Fair enough,” he agreed, glancing over at her.

Hawke smiled, reaching out for the tavern door before him. Wrenching the heavy wooden door ajar, she stepped to the side—more to allow her mabari entrance than for Fenris. The dog, however, seemed rather oblivious to her chivalry. “After you, boy,” she said, gesturing through the door so that Brutus might gain some understanding of her overtures. Rather than passing over the threshold, however, the mabari sat himself down on the cobblestones and continued to stare up at Hawke and Fenris with watery brown eyes. Hawke sighed, scowling slightly. “You know, I’m not going to hold the door for you all day, Brute.”

Pointedly, Brutus looked from Hawke to Fenris and then back at his mistress. Letting out a high-pitched whine, he remained sitting just where he was.

Glancing towards Fenris, Hawke saw that he seemed to be interpreting the dogs behavior in much the same way as she. “I… he…,” she stammered.

Brutus huffed loudly, rising from where he sat, and turned, pattering off down the street and away from them. Hawke stood silently for a long moment before clearing her throat and ducking quickly into the tavern. “I guess he’d rather sleep outside tonight,” she rasped quietly as she and Fenris made their way up the stairs to their room.

“That would appear to be the case,” said Fenris, privately thinking that perhaps the mabari had an appropriate sense of boundaries after all.

However, the solitude with Hawke was not precisely what Fenris would have liked it to be. She seemed uncomfortable once they were alone in the room together and he was beginning to experience the creeping sensation that he had done something wrong. Her behavior since that afternoon had been erratic, to say the least, and, though that was not altogether out of the ordinary when it came to Hawke, he was surprised nevertheless. He had thought that he understood. She had made it clear, of course, that she expected no more than what he was willing to offer. She’d made it clear, with her laughter and her smiles, that signs of his affection pleased her. And yet, when he had kissed her, she had drawn away from him. And when he had looked into her eyes, he saw fear. Yes, she had spoken lightly while they walked back towards town together and, yes, she had seemed comfortable at his side, but she didn’t behave as he would have expected. He’d have thought that she’d be happy.

And yet, now that they were in the room together, she seemed agitated, pacing around in search of something to do and looking around at everything but him. Fenris stood beside the door, watching her, and wondering whether he ought to ask what was the matter. Wondering if he’d be able to ask why she looked so anxious. Shifting slightly, he wondered if she was afraid of him. Perhaps he had startled her by acting too suddenly. Perhaps he should have considered more carefully. That would have been impossible, however. He had needed to touch her then—to lay claim to her then. He still needed her, but she was standing in front of the mirror, her head bowed forward while she fixed her hair with shaking hands.

“Fenris, I…,” she began suddenly before trailing off. He stepped closer to her as she cleared her throat and began her second attempt at forcing out her words, “I know why Brutus left us alone tonight and I—I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything by a dog.”

Stifling a smile, he frowned instead. “Shockingly, that was not a very real danger, Hawke. Much though I value the opinion of your mabari, I wasn’t planning on letting him dictate my behavior.” His voice was low and, as he spoke, he reached out to her, catching a lock of her hair in his hand and running his fingers lightly over the fraying ends.

Hawke glanced towards his fingers before looking away quickly, beginning to shake slightly. “Good,” she murmured. “Because I… well, I…. I don’t want to rush this, Fenris.”

He drew back his hand. “Of course.” He shook his head, turning from her. He had thought he understood.

Eyes closed tight, Hawke lifted her hand to her hair, gently touching where his fingers had been. “I’m going downstairs to eat something. Come with me?”

“As you wish, Hawke,” he sighed, clenching and unclenching his fist at his side.

“We should change before we go downstairs,” she said quietly, her smile not quite reaching her eyes as she looked at him. “We’ve both got blood on our clothes and it might raise questions if someone noticed.”

She didn’t ask him to turn around, but he did so nonetheless. Running his hand over the back of his neck, he shook his head. Clearly, she had made a resolution at some point to be as baffling as possible. If so, she was doing a truly remarkable job of it.

He tried to forget his confusion while they sat together in the smoky haze of the tavern, surrounded by boisterous drunkards that seemed altogether too amused with themselves. Sitting quietly across from him, Hawke stared at her plate, bringing her food to her mouth in small spoonfuls while he tried to watch something other than the lovely way her mouth moved while she chewed. Feeling his gaze, she looked up at him, smiling almost as if with amusement. Looking down at the table, Fenris again experienced the feeling that he ought to say something. Still, it seemed impossible to broach the subject now. Some of his boldness from the afternoon had faded along with his anger and now he was left with only the gnawing sensation that he should do something and with the knowledge that he hadn’t the faintest idea what that something should be. There was, apparently, no way of telling how she would react to anything he did. He shifted, his legs splaying ever so slightly further apart. One of his knees brushed against Hawke beneath the cramped table and she started as if he had kicked her.

Looking back at him, she laughed nervously. “Sorry, my mind was elsewhere; I was surprised.”

He grumbled something about how the touch was accidental when she placed her hand on the table, her palm facing upwards and her fingers twitching in subtle invitation. When he met her eye, she smiled sheepishly. “If you wanted to touch me on purpose…,” she said quietly.

There was really no possible way of understanding.

He placed his hand onto hers. Her index finger played lightly over the inside of his wrist. “Thank you for today,” she said, the corner of her smile trembling. “For everything.”

“It was no trouble.”

“Still, I… I appreciate it.” Her expression was so soft and her hand was warm against his. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he murmured, looking back down towards the table when it became too much to keep looking into her eyes. She was doing a splendid job of being impossible. Even so, he couldn’t fully muster the will to be angry with her. Not when she spoke so gently and not when her eyes were so warm. It wasn’t so incomprehensible, perhaps, that she felt they shouldn’t go any further. Perhaps it had been presumptuous of him to suppose that she would want him whenever he wanted her. She didn’t want to rush. It was unexpected—though perhaps not so very unreasonable. He’d gone longer than this before; it shouldn’t be a bother. Still, he missed the softness of her lips already. He missed the smell of her hair and the soft, throaty moans that she made while she ground her hips against him. He missed the warmth of her in his arms. He hadn’t expected having that denied to him. With the knife clutched in his free hand, he stabbed restlessly at the food that remained on his plate.

She let go of his hand as they rose from the table and walked a few paces ahead of him as she moved up the staircase. He didn’t object to the change in their position; she moved well and following after left him with a rather pleasant vantage point. Still, when he felt a stirring, he looked away rather than being forced to deal with the consequences of watching her too long.

Hawke felt him watching her. As she unlocked the door to their room, she lowered her head, hoping that the falling curtain of her hair would hide her face from his view.

Again, she didn’t ask him to turn around while she undressed. Her words hadn’t been working correctly all night and, rather than attempting to sort through the awkwardness of preparing for bed within tight quarters, she kicked off her shoes and hurriedly stripped off her robes without any preamble; she was glad the light in the room had dimmed. She was down to her shift and beneath the blankets almost before Fenris realized what had happened. When she looked back at him, he was perfectly still and his eyes were wide.

“Do you… want to come to bed?” she asked quietly, plucking at a loose thread on a blanket while she spoke.

When he lay down beside her, still fully clothed, she seemed hesitant to move any closer to him. This dance, at least, was one with which he was familiar. Holding his arm out to his side, he made room for her to curl beside him. She smiled broadly, taking her place against him and resting her head on his chest. He wondered if she could hear his heart beating. Turning her head, she kissed his shoulder in that way she had and, when she looked up at his face once more she was smiling. “Goodnight, Fenris. I love you.”

He stared down at the crown of her head as she turned quickly away from him, her words still in the air. “Hawke, I….”

“Mmm?” she murmured, nuzzling against his shoulder as she made herself comfortable. He felt his stomach twisting.

“I.... We’ve a long way to travel tomorrow. Goodnight.”

He felt her nod her head against his shoulder and glanced down at her face when he couldn’t guess at her expression. Her eyes were closed already, her lips curved into a slight smile. She had looked so frightened that afternoon. He wasn’t entirely sure what she had feared, but, as she lay in his arms, she looked at peace. Safe within his arms, with the world shut outside. He pulled her slightly closer to him, and, with a little breath, she sighed. With a soft groan, he tilted his head to kiss her hair. Resigned, he let his head fall heavily back on the pillows and closed his eyes.

Hawke tried to keep herself steady—tried to measure her breath and to keep herself from shaking. With her cheek resting against his chest, she could hear his heart; she tried to match her heartbeat to his. It was a useless enterprise to calm herself fully while they were this close. Still, she felt herself easing towards sleep. The thud of his heart was steady and his arm pulled her close to him and his body was so warm.

Warm like summer. Cicadas trilling through the trees and an owl calling. Her bare feet breaking over twigs as she approached the yellow glow of the house, the smell of rosemary heavy in the air as she passed through the garden gate. The windows open, and the sound of voices drifting into the heavy heat of a summer night. She moved towards the open windows and the light that spilled out onto the ground. How old was I then? A girl. Just a little girl. They look so young, my parents. Rising onto her tiptoes, she peered through the window, unseen by her parents as they leaned close to one another, speaking in hushed voices. Her eyes were hot with tears—she’d dreamt they were dead. She was about to call out to them, reach out to them, when she heard her mother speak her name.

Why does she go to woods? What does she do there all day?

Her father sighed, his fingers raking back through his hair. “She’s fine, Leandra. She practices; she likes to be alone while she practices. It’s not so unusual for a mage.

She rested her fingers on the window sill, listening closer. Her mother paced; her father stood still, his head bowed. “All day, Malcolm? All day and at all hours of the night? It’s not right for a child to be alone that often. Maker, I feel like a terrible mother for even thinking it… but there’s something off about her. Something almost… cold. She’s not like the twins.

Her feet ached and she fell down from her tip-toes, turning and leaning with her back against the wall. There were shadows moving in the garden. Had it always been so dark amongst the flowers? She drifted further from the square of light that fell out of the window, moving towards the garden. But she still heard the voices. “Not all children are the same, Leandra. They develop differently. Ellie’s distant, I’ll grant you, but it’s no cause for concern.

I don’t know what will happen if you keep training her. How do we really know what she does in the woods all day, Malcolm? What happens when she stops coming home?

The woods lay beyond the garden. Dark silhouettes of thin branches stretching eagerly into the violet sky. In the wind, the branches waved, beckoning her forward. Her feet trampled through the garden as they carried her away from the voices; she broke the rosemary and its scent filled the air, trailing after her as she made her way towards the trees. I never stopped going home; there was no home to go back to.

The cicadas fell silent and, when the moon broke over the horizon, she realized that summer had ended. It was always winter in the forest. The moonlight shone across the snow, frozen over with ice and glinting like glass. She would be safe there until daybreak; safe as long as she stayed hidden. The light would show them. The winter wind chafed against her skin as she walked through the trees.

Through the shadows, she saw figures. Figures dark against the white snow. She drew closer, but they wouldn’t see her. She knew that they wouldn’t see her, not while they were so lost in each other. She felt herself smiling, watching from a distance while Fenris wrapped his arms around that happy version of herself. He held her as he had as they stood beside the bodies; he held her tightly and this time she wasn’t going to let him go.

Are you proud of yourself, sweet Elena? It’s quite an accomplishment, you know. Taming a wolf.” What was he doing in her woods? Coming towards her, his bare feet breaking through the glassy ice that protected the snow. Naked and erect and smiling, he moved through the trees, coming to stand beside her. She’d had a dream in which he’d died—but that had only been a dream. “I have to admit, you’ve trained him better than I ever could,” smirked Danarius, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pressing his lips to the crown of her head before stepping back and turning his eyes towards where Fenris still held her, still unseeing and unaware. But Danarius saw. “Your brave little warrior… too deluded to flee from his lovely new mistress. You’ve done a wonderful job with him.” He rubbed his wide, flat palm over her shoulder, pulling her tighter to his side. She could see their shadows blending together in a dark puddle on the snow.

No, I wasn’t trying to…,” she objected quietly. “I’m not like you.” She slid free of his arms, but his eyes followed after her. His naked skin was pale and gray as it caught the moonlight. She watched his feet breaking through the snow while he kept his eyes among the trees.

He’ll end just like the others, you know. You’ll see to that.”

She followed Danarius’ gaze. The moon was brighter now, illuminating the sepulchral branches and shedding glaring light on the corpses that dangled in a line, suspended from the trees and swaying slightly from the ropes that held them. Her father’s hollowed cheeks, Bethany’s still-staring eyes, Carver’s ashen skin, the threads tearing at the flesh that joined her mother’s head to a stranger’s body, Anders’ slashed and bloody skin hanging loosely over the reddened rope that was bound around his neck. She turned quickly away but the images of their bodies were branded within her eyes.

There, there,” said Danarius consolingly, stroking her back and sending shivers across her spine. “Don’t trouble your pretty head; you can’t keep pets forever.”

I loved them,” she murmured. “I love.

He laughed loudly in response, the sound grating against her ears. “Oh, do you? It’s precious that you believe yourself capable of that.” His hand continued to run over her, caressing her while she trembled violently under his touch. She knew she couldn’t run; he had taught her that much about power. Where had Fenris gone?

You ought to count the ropes, my lovely bird,” whispered Danarius against her ear, his lips wet against her skin.

Five,” Hawke whispered, her eyes passing quickly over the bodies and then falling swiftly back to the bright surface of the snow.

Count the ropes, lovely Hawke.”

Five,” she repeated insistently.

She felt the vibration of Danarius’ laughter as he held her fast against him. “Why can’t you see?

Seven.”

Who is the sixth for?” he breathed, his foul breath swirling in mist around his lips.

Him.”

And the seventh?

Me.

Why are you still here, then? Don’t little birds belong in trees?

She shook her head. “I’m not finished with him yet.”

Then you should hurry, little Hawke—the light is coming.

She furrowed her brow. “The light never comes.

Danarius laughed again, hollowly, catching her chin in his hand and turning her head towards the ground where Fenris’ body lay. His eyes were open still, large and green and empty in death. He lay, his neck broken to the side, and blood seeping from his wounds into the white glitter of the snow. Twin wounds wept beneath his lips where the lyrium had been gouged roughly away with a dull blade. His entire body had been stripped of his markings; the skin on his neck had been cut entirely away. Hawke knelt into the reddening snow, dipping her fingertips into the deep, carved valleys beneath his lips. “Did I do that?” she whispered.

Don’t you know?” chuckled Danarius, towering above her. “Now hurry, sweet Elena. There isn’t much time.

She rose from the ground, stooping to grasp Fenris’ skinned wrists in her hands and beginning to drag him towards where the others hung. She hadn’t gone far before she heard the pop and tear of his shoulders breaking free of their sockets.

His body is breaking,” she said, shaking her head as she continued dragging Fenris’ body through the snow. She was almost to the line of trees now and the vacant ropes that were waiting.

He is already broken. We made sure of that.

I’m sorry,” she murmured, staring down into the dead eyes that followed her.

No. You’re not,” Danarius laughed, his voice echoing through the trees as he trailed along after her and Fenris.

I am.

Then tell him to run,” sneered Danarius, gesturing towards Fenris with a fluid motion of his wizened hand.

Run,” she whispered softly, urgently.

He’s broken, Elena,” said Danarius, in the tone one might use with an especially dull-witted child. “He can’t run from you when he’s broken.”

I know,” she sighed, dropping his wrists into the snow. Reaching out, she snatched the sixth noose and, bending down, looped it around Fenris’ neck. “He never had a chance, did he?” she whispered, caressing his frozen cheek. Rising from the ground, she pulled the loose end of the rope until his body swung beside the others.

Danarius’ warm arm wrapped around her shoulders again, his hand clasping her arm tightly. “Count the ropes, little bird.”

Seven. I counted already. I told you already,” she said brusquely, watching as the wind made the bodies dance above her head.

Six, Elena. Six. The hero never dies.

I’m not a hero,” she objected quietly while the branches creaked loudly overhead.

You are to me, sweet girl,” he whispered, his eyes trained on the neat row of hanging corpses. “You do such lovely work, my dear.” Turning his head to her, he pressed his thick, cracking lips to her cheek. “And now, you live with it.” His arm was scalding as it tightened around her.

No,” she whispered, struggling against the pressure.

“Hawke?”

The light is coming, lovely Elena,” breathed Danarius, his breath wet and heavy against her neck.

It never comes.

“Hawke.”

She lifted her eyes towards the trees, certain she’d heard more than creaking from the branches overhead. “Can you hear the dead?” she murmured. Danarius’ arm was too warm, too tight around her; she felt herself suffocating.

“Elena, wake up.”

“Shh… I’m trying to listen.”

“Hawke, you’re dreaming.”

Hawke woke and, in that blurred moment between sleep and reality, she felt Danarius’ arm still around her. She jerked free from him. Shaking, she looked back towards where Fenris lay, his arm still outstretched towards her and his green eyes bright even in the darkness. She felt almost sick with relief and reached out to him, running her fingertips over the pale markings beneath his lips. His eyes widened with surprise, though his brow remained furrowed with concern. She felt frantic, trying and failing to stop trembling as he wrapped his arm around her once more, pulling her to his chest and running his hand lightly over her hair. Pressing her forehead against him and closing her eyes tightly, she had never felt like a greater idiot; she knew it had only been a dream. Of course it was a dream. “Fuck, I’m sorry,” she choked. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” Clamping her teeth down on the inside of her cheek, she fought back a dry sob.

“It’s fine,” he murmured, moving away from her slightly so that he could look into her face. “You’re alright?”

Hawke nodded shakily, unable to meet his eye. “It’s fine. Go back to sleep,” she said roughly. With a breathless laugh, she added, “It was just a stupid dream; I really am fine.”

“You’re still shaking, Hawke.”

“I know. I’ll try to stop,” she muttered, her voice muffled as she buried her face against him. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s… not what I meant.” Lightly, he trailed his fingers over her back, keeping his arms around her while she bit down harder on her inner cheek and fought desperately to keep her body still.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her hands clutching at the fabric of his shirt.

“I know,” he said quietly, drawing away from her enough that she could no longer hide her face. He placed his fingers beneath her chin and turned her face up towards his. “You’re alright; come here.” His lips pressed gently to her forehead before she shifted, running her hand up into his hair and directing his mouth to hers. Her lips were soft against his as her fingers ran through his hair and her other hand raked over his shoulder, her fingernails dragging against his shirt. It was unexpected, but not unwelcome. Cupping her cheek in his hand, he could almost feel the heat of her blush as he responded to her with a light, inquiring touch of his tongue against the closed line of her lips. Sighing softly, she opened her mouth to him. She seemed to grow steady as she adjusted against him, her arms tightening around him and her slight trembling fading away altogether. When they parted for a moment, their breath coming in short gasps, he smiled softly. “Better?”

She nodded, her eyes meeting his. “Thank you,” she murmured, her hand lowering from his hair to drift lightly over the lyrium markings that adorned the side of his neck. He almost shivered, feeling a faint thrill passing over his skin and the hairs on the nape of his neck rising; her touch was so gentle as her eyes flitted down to his lips. Smiling, she shook her head slightly and let out a small laugh. “I can’t believe you’re real,” she breathed, running her light fingers down across the collar of his shirt, brushing against his clavicle. “But then again, I would never be able to dream of someone so perfect.” Her eyes lifted to meet his but she looked away quickly.

He caught her hand in his as he pressed his lips to hers once more. Hawke felt her heart hammering, her nightmares falling away and fading. Shifting her hips closer to him, her thigh grazed against his; she could tell that he’d been aware of the contact when she felt his hand tighten over hers. There was a building urgency in his kiss as the arm that wrapped around her dragged her closer until her body was fully against him. Hawke did a poor job of stifling her gasp as she felt that he was hard. Experimentally, she ground her hips lightly against him; he responded with a faint groan, dropping her hand in favor of grabbing hold of her hips and pulling her tighter to him. As he shifted his hips against her, Hawke felt a quickening sensation within her that caused her to moan rather loudly against his lips. He responded to the sound with a short thrust of his hips against her.

Panting slightly, she pulled back from his lips. Opening his eyes to discern the cause of her retreat, he saw that she was smiling almost hopefully, though there was the faintest hint of confusion across her brow. “Do you want to…?” she asked, her voice quavering a little just before she trailed off.

“Evidently,” he murmured, almost smiling as he lifted his hand to brush away the tousled hair that had fallen into her face.

She blushed, her smile trembling a little on her lips. “Yes, I know… but with me?” Her voice was uncertain, breaking over the last word. He frowned slightly, seeing a trace of fear enter her eyes; the same fear he’d seen as they stood together amidst the mountains.

Yes, with her. Of course with her. There was no one else; there could be no one else. He wasn’t a fool—he knew what she’d done and he knew well enough that he’d never forget the past and that he could never forgive it. He’d discovered, however, that there was something that was stronger than his hate. Not something that erased it, but something that overpowered it. Something which he felt more intensely than any anger and which meant more to him than anything he’d ever felt before. When he looked at her, he felt a hundred different things at once, but there was one feeling that was more real than all the others.

He cupped her cheek before running his hand back and losing it within the waves of her hair. “Yes,” he told her gently. “With you.” He pressed his lips to hers once more, weaving his fingers through her hair, and tightening his other arm around her as he rolled onto his back, carrying her with him. She laughed happily as she lay across of his chest, her legs parting to rest on either side of him.

“You’re sure?” she murmured, sitting upright and examining his expression carefully.

“Hawke,” he said slowly, smiling crookedly. “I’m sure.” To assure her, he lifted his hips gently against her.

“Alright,” she replied, her expression brightening, “then put your arms over your head so I can take your shirt off.”

He helped her with the removal, lifting his torso slightly from the bed while she slid the shirt from his body. As the cloth fell to the floor, she ran her hands over the exposed skin of his shoulders, wandering down over his pectorals and passing exploratorily over his abdomen. As her hands drifted upwards once more, coming to rest against his chest, she rolled her hips gently against him and let out a soft, contented sigh. With a faint groan, he lifted his hands to her, running them up the length of her thighs until, beneath the thin cloth of her shift, he grasped firmly onto her hips. With a jolt of excitement, he realized she wasn’t wearing smallclothes. His eyes passed appreciatively over her, lingering on her erect nipples as they pressed against the fabric that fell over them, barely hiding them from his view.

“I suppose it’s only fair,” she said quietly, taking the hem of her shift into her hands and lifting it fluidly over her head, casting it aside.

He felt himself staring, almost transfixed, at the subtle curves of her chest as it rose and fell with her breath. She was bare in her entirety, her legs splayed apart against the tightening fabric that covered his erection. With his eyes drawn to where her hips pressed against his, Fenris’ hands journeyed upwards, cupping her breasts as his thumbs gently circled the eager buds of her nipples. The caress elicited a breathy gasp from her which drew his gaze upwards once more. She was blushing, her head bowed, and her eyes averted to the side.

“Don’t hide your eyes,” he murmured, raising one of his hands to chuck her lightly under the chin. When she looked back at him, her expression made him furrow his brow. “Do you not want to?” he asked, ceasing the soft movements of his hand over her breast.

The pink of her cheeks was bright even in the dim light of the room. “I want to,” she said, laughing a little breathlessly. “It’s just… would you believe that I’m scared? Terrified, in fact.”

“You don’t have to be,” he said softly, his hands gently resting against her thighs.

She leaned forward, kissing him. His chest was warm against her breasts and Hawke felt her heart thundering in response to the feel of his bare skin against her own. While her lips moved against his, he wrapped his arms around her, his fingers brushing lightly against her back. Smiling she drew away from him, readjusting herself.

“Where are you going?” he asked, his voice thick, as she crawled away from him.

“You’ll have to be undressed for this, Fenris,” she told him, kneeling beside his legs and bending forward to press her lips to the lyrium markings that passed across his hipbone. “Lift your hips a little,” she whispered against his skin as she began, with steady hands, to ease the last of his clothing off of him. His body aching with his growing need, Fenris watched as she stripped his clothes from his body, positioning herself between his legs once he was bare. Her left hand lightly traced over a line of lyrium that ran over his thigh. He watched her eyes as they passed over him; she lifted her eyes to his when her hand stilled, stopping just short of where he most wanted her touch. “Can I?”

He nodded as his response, his throat too dry to reliably form words.

Hawke bent over him once more, her lips brushing against his hipbone as her hand encircled his cock. She heard the low, hungry groan he let out as she ran her hand over him and smiled against his skin. With a soft moan, she kissed his markings, feeling them humming beneath her lips as they blazed to life within his skin. Such smooth skin—beneath her lips, against her palm. Lips still against his markings, she lifted her eyes back towards his face. She felt a churning within her to find him watching her, his eyes half-lidded and his mouth slightly open as he took in shallow, shuddering breaths.

She smiled, shifting her positioning and dipping forward to lightly lick clean a bead of glistening pre-cum that had leaked from his cock as she’d stroked along his shaft. She heard his breath catch and felt a thrill pass through her as she ran her tongue along his length, wetting him thoroughly before she took him into her mouth. Her hand still attending to parts that were beyond her, she sucked gently, the tip of her tongue lightly running over his slit as she tasted him. A desperate groan escaped his throat and she looked up at him once more. The sight of his face—every inch of it telling of his arousal—made her moan involuntarily.

She wanted him. All of him. Already, she could feel herself flooding with wetness. She’d wanted to taste him for so long. She loved the feel of him within her mouth; loved the feel of smooth skin against her tongue as she took him deeper, letting him press at the back of her throat. He let out a ragged gasp, his hand suddenly reaching down to grasp at her hair. Her body pulsing with need, she drew back, focusing her attentions to the head of his cock while her hand, tightening slightly around him, moved in time with the bobbing of her head.

She could feel her mind becoming hazy as she ran her tongue along the underside of his cock from root to tip. As she teased her tongue against the sensitive point where the head met with his shaft, Fenris swore roughly, his fingers tightening in her hair. Or she thought he swore; she couldn’t understand Tevene.

“Hawke, I—,” he groaned, sitting upright and abruptly tugging on her hair so that she lifted herself, her lips meeting with his as he dragged her to him. He felt her smiling against his mouth as she positioned herself in his lap, her legs on either side of him and his erection pressed between them. He could feel the heat and wetness between her legs as she undulated her hips against him. Panting against her lips, he responded by lifting his hips slightly against her. Hawke draped her arms over his shoulders, leaning back from their kiss while continuing the smooth, painfully enticing movements of her hips. “Can I?” she said breathlessly, her eyes filled with desire as they met with his own.

By way of a response, he grasped onto her hips with one hand and slid the other between her legs, stroking his fingers over her clit. With a short cry, she leaned closer to him, bowing her head against his shoulder while he slid his hand between her thighs. She was so wet—ready for him before he’d even touched her. She clung to him tightly, her fingernails biting at his skin as he moved in gentle, deliberate circles against the point of her sensitivity. She was shivering, gasping desperately, when he shifted his hand to his own cock and guided himself inside of her. A thrust of his hips only brought him a short ways inside of her, but she buried him the rest of the way, her body already shuddering as she began to rock her hips against him. His breath came roughly, her body warm and tight as she surrounded him. His hands clutching tightly onto her hips, he guided her movements, speeding her pace as he felt an ungovernable need building within him. He wouldn’t be able to last much longer—not when faced with her warmth and the way her breasts heaved with her every shuddering breath and the sound of her skin against his.

“Fuck, Fenris, I—,” she moaned as he slid his hand between her legs, using the moisture from their joining bodies to move his fingers easily against her. He felt her tighten, her body responding with urgent, uncontrolled contractions around him. His name tore from her mouth as she cried out, her hips bucking against him while he matched her movements, thrusting himself into her as she came.

Her movements stilled for a moment while she panted, recovering, but he couldn’t wait. He threw her back onto the bed, driving deeply into her with quick, frantic thrusts. Wordlessly, she cried out, lifting her legs to wrap around him as she bit down savagely on his shoulder. “No,” he panted, barely finding enough air in his lungs to get out the words, “let me hear you.”

Her fingernails raked across his shoulders, tearing at his skin as her back arched and another rough cry escaped her lips. “Fuck, Fenris, I need…,” she gasped, her body trembling as her eyes closed and her head rolled back against the bed. “Fuck, Fenris, please cum. Please, I—”

Her words were cut off as she screamed his name again, her body tightening around him so drastically that his movement was nearly impaired. “Please cum,” she groaned. “Cum… just cum inside.”

Fenris felt himself shuddering, happy to answer her pleas.

There was a pleasant emptiness that followed. As his body relaxed against hers, the light of his lyrium flickering into darkness, Fenris found that his mind was wonderfully blank. He felt her legs still around him and her fingers beginning to draw lazy circles on his back rather than tearing savagely against his skin. He had never felt this before. The calm after the storm. The quiet, peaceful safety in her arms. Breathing heavily, he brought his face to her hair, inhaling her scent.

“We are… alright? Aren’t we?” he heard her murmur softly, her breath falling over the perspiration that had risen on his skin.

He lifted himself slightly, examining her expression with his brow drawn. In her eyes, he could see traces of the suppressed concern that he had detected in her voice. “You’re worrying now?” he asked wonderingly, his voice low and still a little breathless.

Hawke smiled sheepishly, her warm hands playing softly over his shoulders. “Well… yes. I didn’t know if maybe…. Last time….” She sighed heavily, and turned her head to the side.

Shifting, Fenris kissed lightly along the exposed line of her neck. She shivered and, turning her face back towards him, placed her hands in his hair, guiding his lips back up to her mouth.

When he moved away from her, laying back on the bed, he took her with him, cradling her against his chest. “Fuck, I love you,” she whispered, her breath rushing over his skin. He tightened his embrace around her and she laughed under her breath, nipping lightly at his ear. Fenris tilted his head to the side, giving her room to explore while her lips began to pass over the side of his neck. His eyes closed, he felt the corners of his lips lifting into a smile as her hips began to undulate against him once more. Apparently, she was not quite worn out yet. Well, he hadn’t really any objections to that.

Sighing as if she were an enormous burden, Fenris responded to her undulations with indications of his own interest.

Chapter Text

I’m in love with the world
Through the eyes of a girl
Who’s still around the morning after.
We broke up a month ago
And I grew up, I didn’t know
I’d be around the morning after.
It’s always been wait and see
A happy day and then you pay
And feel like shit the morning after.
But now I feel changed around
And instead of falling down
I’m standing up the morning after.
-Say Yes, Elliott Smith

“Fenris?”

“Hm?”

“I need water.”

“You have legs.”

“Yes, but I’ve forgotten how to use them. Please?”

Fenris sighed heavily.  He would have much preferred to stay in bed. At that moment, a deep, all-consuming exhaustion had taken hold of him. Hawke, it seemed, was a difficult woman to tire. That was not, strictly speaking, an undesirable quality in a woman, but it had left him rather thoroughly spent. The whole of the room seemed to have slowed. The air was thick and almost humid and the solitary window was now fogged over, glowing with the light of the streetlamps that burned in the street below. Occasionally, a bead of condensation broke free on the glass, rolling slowly downwards and creating trails through the gathered fog. The weariness that had seeped down to his very bones seemed to have taken over everything. Even Hawke, at last, seemed sated. Aside, of course, from the small matter of the water that she now demanded. Well, he could hardly deny her that.

She lay beside him, curled close to his side with her head resting on his arm while she caught her breath. As he turned his head to the side, Fenris watched her lips part as she panted for air. He leaned towards her, pressing his lips swiftly to hers as he eased his arm out from beneath her head. She collapsed back onto the pillows as he rose slowly from the bed, trying not to show just how drained their exertions had left him. She was enthusiastic, he had to give her that. Simply walking the short distance to the vanity table, which supported a chipped earthenware pitcher and mug, seemed an almost insurmountable task. Still, it proved an entirely necessary enterprise. Once he had filled the mug to its brim, Fenris realized just how thirsty he had become. He drained the mug twice before filling it a third time and returning to Hawke.

She looked lovely—tangled in sheets and her hair in disarray, her skin glazed with a sheen of sweat and catching what little dim light there was in the room. His eyes travelled over the lines of her body, draped now in the sheet that had, through many launderings, been rendered soft and incredibly thin. Even with her bare skin hidden by that well-worn cloth, she appeared to be naked—the hills and shallow valleys of her figure were somehow accentuated by the way the fabric gathered and creased against her skin. For a long moment, Fenris stood at the bedside, almost entranced as he gazed down at her.

He had fallen in love with a dream once. With a perfect construction of a woman that he had built within his own mind from all the best pieces of Hawke. It was an odd sensation to find himself wanting the woman who lay before him rather than the woman he had created in his head. She was unlike his dream in so many ways but, in the wake of all that passed throughout the night, there was no tearing of an illusion. There was no fracturing dream that fell away to be replaced by nightmares. The woman who he had taken into his arms at the beginning was still with him in the end. She was flesh, blood, and reality. There was beauty in that too, it seemed. It was a different feeling, perhaps, than loving a dream, but he had learned that dreams were not made to endure the night. And what he felt then for the woman before him… he suspected that it would endure.

He had stared too long, perhaps, and her lips curved into a bashful smile. “What is it?” she asked, letting out a nervous laugh while her cheeks took on a deeper hue.

Fenris shook his head, almost smiling as he bowed his head. “Nothing,” he answered softly, offering her the mug of water that he had nearly forgot he was holding.

With a muted groan of effort, she sat upright, the sheets falling away from her torso as she accepted the drink from him. His eyes fell conspicuously to her chest and Hawke’s smile broadened slightly in spite of her efforts to suppress it. “Come back to bed, Fenris,” she said softly, her voice touched with a hint of amusement.

He obeyed her murmured command without objection. Exposure to the air had left his skin cool and, beneath the sheets, Hawke’s body was wonderfully warm. Drawing the blankets over himself, he settled against her, wrapping his arm around her hips while she remained upright, holding the mug steady as Fenris’ weight shifted the mattress. Fenris watched, his hand beginning to aimlessly run over the exposed skin of her lower back, as she brought the mug to her lips and drank deeply. When the water was drained away, she lowered the mug and wiped rogue droplets away from her mouth with the back of her hand. Smiling, she craned over Fenris so that she could place empty vessel on the bedside table. “Thank you, Fenris,” she sighed once her hands were empty and she was nestling down beside him.

The sheets clung to them, heavy and damp, as Hawke lay close to his side with her head on his chest and her arm draped across him. She did not lie entirely still, but began to absently stroke his arm with light fingers. Her breath came in deep, slow gusts against the dew of sweat that lingered on his bare skin. Wrapping his arm tighter around her, he held her tightly to him, his eyes closing.

Hawke sighed contentedly, turning her head to lightly press her lips to his chest. On his skin, she tasted traces of salt and caught the faint scent of sweat. With another soft sigh, she nuzzled closer to him. It was such a different sensation to lie beside him in this manner—when their clothes were stripped away and she could feel his body against hers with nothing between them. It was almost too much to believe. “I never thought I’d get to do this,” she murmured, her voice quiet and infused with awe. “To lie here with you. Like this.” She softly kissed his chest once more, her fingertips continuing to wander aimlessly against his arm and shoulder. “It’s almost better than when you’re inside me,” she breathed, almost inaudibly.

He did hear her, however, and, opening one of his eyes to glance towards her, made a short, indignant sound in his throat.

Hawke looked up at him, smiling. “I said almost,” she said with a slight blush. “Nothing could be better than that,” she added, her smile fading. She hid her face against him once more, her breath falling over his skin as she continued to murmur softly. “That little trick with your hips… the places you reach….” She broke off with a small, tremulous laugh. When she looked up to meet his eye once more, she was smiling with evident embarrassment. “Well… it feels nice,” she finished sheepishly.

Fenris twisted a lock of her hair around his finger. “Does it?” he murmured tranquilly, the corners of his lips lifting and his hand grazing fleetingly over her back as he continued to play lazily with her hair. He felt her quiver slightly against him and, encouraging this, he continued to run his fingertips against her skin.

Her glower was very much in the same spirit as a smile. “You know it does,” she replied, lifting herself so that her lips could meet with his. Her kiss was gentle, lasting for scarcely longer than a moment before she drew away once more and settled back into his arms. When she was resting comfortably against him again, Hawke yawned and closed her eyes. Fenris kept his gaze on her peaceful expression for a long moment before reaching across both of them and tucking the blankets securely over her shoulders. He saw her smile, though she kept her eyes shut.

She could feel his gaze still upon her for a moment thereafter, as he began to toy with her hair once more. It would be a struggle to go back to sleep, she knew. Though every inch of her body begged for rest, her nerves were alive and her mind was whirring. It still felt impossible somehow. She had kept reaching for him, continually in disbelief, but no amount of confirmation had proved to be enough. She doubted that it would ever be enough. Fenris could ride her until she broke to pieces and it would still never be enough to make her believe that it was real. Though perhaps that wasn’t such a terrible thing; she was more than willing to keep trying to achieve that impossible belief. She would have liked to stay awake forever, trying again and again to make herself accept that it was truly Fenris who held her. She had no wish to return to the cold darkness of the Fade when Fenris was so warm beside her. Still, she suspected that she might very well die of exhaustion and kill him in the process if they didn’t rest. They did, after all, have a long ways to travel when the morning came and the sky was already beginning to fade from black to gray. Forcing herself to make some attempt at getting to sleep, she listened to Fenris’ heartbeat and felt his steady breath as his chest rose and fell beneath her head. In one way or another, she must have managed to fall asleep because, when morning came, she found herself waking.

There was every chance that it may have been well past the first rays of daybreak; she had lost all concept of time and light that streamed through the window had a yellowing grayness to it that told of no specific time of day. Whether it was early or late, Fenris was sleeping as soundly as if it were the middle of the night. He was so perfectly still when Hawke awoke that, for one wretched, panicked moment, she feared that he was dead. It was only once she had heard his heartbeat and held her hand to feel the breath from his lips that she was able to sigh with relief. She allowed herself, after her brief, frenzied examination of his vital signs, to watch for a moment as he slept. He truly did look exhausted; perhaps she should have showed more restraint the night before. Smiling softly, she brushed his fair hair away from his forehead. She would let him rest for now. Hawke bent forward slightly, still fondly petting his hair as she kissed his brow. Drawing back, she began to crawl from bed, moving with care so as to not disturb Fenris.

Immediately, she fought back a hiss of discomfort. The mere act of sitting fully upright taught her of the great soreness of her abdomen that extended from her outermost muscles on down to the depths of her body. Crawling slowly from the bed, she found that walking was also a struggle. It felt very much like her hips had been dislocated and every one of her muscles had been strained. Perhaps that would teach her the importance of moderation if nothing else would. Still, there was something pleasurable even in the pain—an ache that throbbed where he had been inside of her. That ache, a reminder of what had passed during the night, sent a thrill through her as she limped towards the vanity to retrieve her hairbrush and begin to ready herself for the day.

Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she was rather glad that she had woken before Fenris. Morning had found her looking remarkably disheveled. It took several minutes to work the brush through the matted tangles that had formed in her hair and to make herself look reasonably presentable. No amount of grooming, however, could compensate for the fact that she desperately needed to bathe. Unfortunately, the small tub that sat beside the vanity was perhaps better suited in size for bathing a child than a grown woman. Made of wooden staves and bound together like a barrel, it was a little less than a foot in depth. The water which it held was tinged gray with soap left behind from the baths that and Fenris had taken the previous morning. Hawke could hardly afford to be overly particular, however. Her body still held traces of him—lingering between her legs and running in dried rivers over her thighs.

She lowered herself into the cramped, wooden tub and began to radiate magic to heat its cooled waters. The warmth of the water was a relief against her sore muscles and drew a sigh from her as she began to froth soap over her skin. It was a strange thing to scrub away the remnants of a night that still did not feel entirely real. She had to glance towards the bed intermittently just to make sure that Fenris was actually there. Her heartbeat began to quicken as she began to consider the fact that, sooner or later, he would wake. In the light of day, she wondered if he would see things differently. It was easy enough to lose sight of things in the darkness. She hoped that he hadn’t lost sight of her, only to see her more clearly when the sun rose. Trembling slightly, she tried to tell herself that she could bear it if he changed his mind. She never came close to convincing herself of it.

Hearing the bedframe creak, she turned her head towards the source of the sound. Fenris had arisen without her noticing and now, sitting at the foot of the bed with the sheets pooling in his lap, he watched her with some interest.

Hawke was struck by the sudden, irrational urge to cover herself and, on that impulse, she let the soap splash into the water and raised her hands to hide her breasts. The instant she did so, she saw Fenris lift one of his eyebrows, the corner of his mouth quirking upwards with amusement. Hawke let out a breath of laughter, realizing how ridiculous the gesture had been. Even with that realization, however, she still felt a shade of embarrassment rushing to her cheeks as she lowered her hands away from her chest. Still, she found that she was smiling.

“Good morning,” she said quietly, lowering her eyes and beginning to fumble around under the cloudy water to retrieve the fallen bar of soap.

“Good morning,” he echoed, his voice still rough from sleep.

When she glanced back towards him, she could see from his expression that he had regained much of his energy during those few fleeting hours of unconsciousness. Drawing her legs to her chest, she rested her chin on her knees. “Did you sleep alright?” she asked when his eyes met hers.

“I’ve no complaints,” he answered simply, his gaze continuing to shift in slow exploration of her exposed skin. She felt herself near shivering and hugged her legs tighter against herself.

“So, then… um… no regrets?” she stammered, far more inarticulately than she would have liked.

His eyes quickly lifted to hers, his brow furrowing slightly. For a long moment, he only stared at her; she bowed her head, looking down into the filmy water.

“Come back to bed, Hawke,” he said, his voice low.

She bit her lip to keep from smiling too broadly and only looked back at him when she felt reasonably certain that her expression did not betray absurd levels of giddiness. “I still have soap in my hair,” she told him apologetically.

“And?” he said, his shoulders slumping forward slightly. Hawke watched the play of sunlight and shadow over his skin as the muscles of his torso shifted.

“It won’t take long,” she smiled.

He groaned dejectedly, falling back on the bed. Grinning, Hawke arched over to bring her head to the water and began to hurriedly rinse the suds from her hair. It took every ounce of her strength to hold herself back until her hair had stopped foaming. She may have fallen somewhat short of total restraint, and there was every chance that there was still some residual soap in her hair when she rose from the bathtub.

Fenris lifted his head as he heard the splash of water raining down from her skin and hair as she stood. She gathered her hair in her hands, wringing the majority of the water from it, while rivers dripped down over her body. He felt himself reacting, his breath coming short and his heart racing as he saw how the sunlight caught against her wet skin. His hand tightened slightly on the blankets beside him as she smiled, her lips only parting slightly as she looked at him. It was a little unfair that she could be so beautiful while he was so sore.

Neglecting to wrap herself in a towel, she stepped from the bath and moved towards him, puddles forming around her feet with every step she took. She moved gracefully, though he could see the effort that it cost her to do so. On her first steps, she bit her lower lips, suppressing a whimper. Clearly, he was not alone in being a little the worse for wear that morning. Still, his eyes passed appreciatively over her as she came to the bedside. It was only when she crawled over him into the bed that he noticed something which caused his brow to furrow.

She caught sight of the expression as she lay down beside him and flash of concern passed over her face. “What’s wrong?” she asked, a hint of worry coming into her voice.

“You’re bruised,” he said quietly, reaching to run his fingertips delicately over the darkening marks on her skin. It was obvious enough where the marks had come from; they fit perfectly with the size of his hands and matched well the pattern of his fingers. He had been unaware that he was grabbing hold of her so tightly or that he had been moving against her forcefully enough to create bruises on her inner thighs. Perhaps he had allowed himself to get carried away. Lightly, he traced the patterns of the bruises; Hawke felt a thrill pass over her skin.

She smiled, drawing close enough to him to plant gentle kisses along his clavicle. “I don’t mind a few bruises, Fenris,” she whispered, leaving behind a trail of kisses as she made her way from his shoulder to the line of his jaw. Softly biting his ear, she ran one of her hands up to tangle with his hair.

He turned his face towards her, bringing his mouth down over hers as he wrapped an arm around her and brought her sprawling on top of him. She laughed a little breathlessly into the kiss as he continued to caress her thigh with lazy, spiraling movements. The water from her bath dripped against his skin and he felt shiver pass through him; he wasn’t entirely sure whether it was because of the chill of the water of because of her soft lips or if it was the feel of her bare skin pressed to his. Perhaps is was all of it together. Perhaps it was only that morning had come and he still felt in the light what he had felt in the darkness. He sighed, tilting his head against the hand that played through his hair.

Hawke broke free from his lips, travelling downwards to kiss along the side of his neck. She loved the long line of his neck, the smooth skin of his throat, the subdued hum of lyrium against her lips. These things were unique to Fenris and so unlike what she had known before. Everything was his alone and she was near ecstasy simply to have allowance to explore him. Even the scent of his skin was intoxicating. “You smell amazing,” she murmured, her lips brushing against his neck as she spoke.

“I highly doubt that,” he replied, sounding as if her comment had amused him.

Hawke smiled, her hand leaving his hair to run down across his chest. She had no intention of forcing the issue, but she truly did love the smell of sweat that remained on him from the night before. And, amidst that fragrance, she could detect traces of herself. His scent and hers mingling together on his skin. A soft, unbidden moan escaped her as she shifted against him, bringing her lips to his once more. She felt his hands tightening on her thighs, his fingers creating pressure against her bruises. The little thrill of pain seemed to bring her nerves to life all at once and she lightly undulated her hips against Fenris, almost unaware that she was doing so.

He was not so unaware her movements. He was acutely aware of every point where their bodies met: of her lips moving gently against his, of her soft breasts pressed to his chest, of her hand wandering down past his navel, of her hips thrusting invitingly as she lay on top of him. It was altogether too much to be borne with any degree of patience.

She gasped as he flipped her onto her back, laying between her thighs as he panted softly against her mouth. He heard her laugh once again, both her hands catching in his hair as she pulled him back from the kiss just enough so she could murmur, “You may have to be gentle with me this time, love.” If she had meant to encourage his restraint, then she really ought not have called him by that name. He felt himself throb in response to it as he kissed her once more, sliding his tongue eagerly into her mouth. He could almost taste the word still lingering there. Love.

“Gently,” she gasped as he rubbed the head of his cock over her entrance, deliberately making repeated contact with her clit as he did so.

“As you wish,” he groaned, thrusting slowly inside of her.

The tenderness that she felt from the night before had rendered her exquisitely responsive. His slightest movement wrought beautiful reactions from her. He moved slowly, carefully, and with a meticulous care that he had abandoned in the night. Against his ear, she murmured softly, her words almost lost amidst desperate gasps. “Fuck… I…nnn…fuck… Fenris.” He forced himself to keep his thrusts slow and deep. Such restraint proved more difficult as she ran her hands down from his shoulders, clawing along his back until she grasped his ass and began to spur him onward. “Fenris…I… harder.” Still, he moved slowly, deeply. Her back arched, her hands tightening against him. “Harder,” she panted, her head rolling back against the pillow. As he quickened his pace, a litany of words spilled from him. The King’s Tongue was lost to him then, as his mind blurred into wondrous chaos and his body was allowed to move with abandon. She moaned, her body tightening and a low, urgent whine tore from her throat. “Maker, I… Fenris, I’m close…. Fuck, I’m….”

Her muscles were beyond her control then and she felt herself shaking, convulsing around him as the warmth of his release filled her. She heard his low, rough cry and the jumbled stream of words she didn’t understand as his weight fell upon her. She burned with the warmth of his touch as her hands dragged up over his hips, his back, and settled against his shoulders. She loved the feel of his muscles, tensing and relaxing beneath smooth, damp skin. She sighed, holding him close as she listened to the murmured words that sounded like the senseless song of a bird as he panted against her neck. Stunned and smiling, she swept her fingertips over his skin.

“I think I’m going to have to learn Tevene,” she murmured breathlessly. “If I’m ever going to understand what you say during.”

He let out a short laugh, rolling to the side so as not to crush her beneath his weight. Still, he kept his arm around her, pulling her to his side as he tried to regain control over his breathing. “Would you like me to teach you?” he asked dazedly, his body relaxing against the hard, irregular lumps of the mattress.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” she replied, her fingertips beginning to stroke up and down the length of his arm once more.

On the contrary, he rather liked the idea. Of having something to teach her and of bringing new words onto her lips. Still, the idea of teaching her the meanings of some of his more explicit utterances was vaguely embarrassing. He’d rather she didn’t know the precise meanings of a number of the words he breathed against her skin. Perhaps he could simply give her the most mundane possible definitions and spare them both the blushes.

“Perhaps tonight,” he told her, stroking the back of his hand over her exposed neck, passing down over her collarbone.

Smiling, she placed her hands on the nape of his neck and drew him close. She had kissed him thoroughly, nearly awakening a new reaction from him, before she groaned and pulled away. He made a sound of protest, bringing his lips down over hers once more and clasping onto her hips eagerly. Even so, she drew back once more, letting out a small, remorseful sigh. “Fenris, if we start this up again, we’ll have to pay for another day,” she murmured with infuriating pragmatism.

“I’ve no objections to that,” he told her, locking his fingers in the loose chaos of her hair and kissing her coaxingly. As she sighed against his mouth, her hips grinding softly against him, he was sure that he had her. In spite of this, however, she pulled back from him once more, suppressing a smile as she extricated herself from his arms. “Come now, Fenris,” she sighed. “We have to leave sometime or other.”

Falling back despondently amongst the pillows, he watched her crawl from the bed and begin her search for appropriate clothing to wear out into the world. It was not altogether unpleasant to watch as she dressed, though he would have much preferred that she remain naked in the bed beside him. Fenris was still sprawled across the blankets by the time that she was fully clothed, running a brush through her hair. He remained unrepentant as she turned to him, attempting to keep her expression stern in spite of the fact that she was clearly fighting back a smile. “Come on,” she sighed. “You can’t stay in bed forever.” When her gaze flicked downwards over him, he saw her forbidding expression falter and a blush rise to her cheeks. Quietly she added, shifting her weight a bit awkwardly, “Tonight. We can… again.” She cleared her throat, turning back to face the mirror. “If you’d like.”

At last, he rose reluctantly from the bed and went to her, wrapping his arms around her as he kissed the crown of her head. “Tonight,” he assured her, meeting her eyes in their reflection as he stood behind her. Her blush deepened as his hands glided over her abdomen, skimming down over her hipbones. Her heard her gasp as he ground slightly against her. Pulling away, he smiled, beginning to search for the clothes she had stripped him of the night before. He was a little surprised to find that they had flown so far when she had cast them aside. It took a moment to dress himself and to ensure that he had gathered together their meager possessions. When he finally turned back to Hawke, he found that she was still standing before the mirror, looking down thoughtfully at a length of red fabric that she had wound around her wrist.

“What is that?” he asked, his voice low.

Hawke’s looked up to see his furrowed brow and his eyes fixed on her wrist. She felt a small thrill of panic as it dawned on her just how idiotic a notion it had been. While braiding the cloth absently into her hair while Fenris dressed, some fool notion had struck her and, in a moment of impulse, she had simply tied the fabric around her wrist. She hadn’t thought that Fenris would notice, but now, seeing his expression, she suddenly felt incredibly presumptuous and amazingly stupid. She shook her head, averting her gaze as she pressed the toe of her boot harshly against the floor. “Oh… I… there’s this tradition that I heard of and I….” She lost the ability to continue with her hapless stammering and swallowed, shaking her head again. In the moment, when she hadn’t imagined what he’d think when he saw, she had liked to think of having some physical sign that she belonged to him. She now found herself wishing violently that she had kept her foolish, sentimental notions inside her head where they belonged instead of binding them around her wrist for everyone to see. “It was just a thought,” she finished lamely.

“I’m familiar with the tradition,” he said brusquely, crossing to her and holding out his hand. “Give it here.”

Hawke kept her head bowed as she quickly untied the loose knot. “I’m sorry, this was stupid,” she muttered hurriedly. Placing the fabric in his hand, she felt her face burning. “I shouldn’t have presumed to….”

He ignored her, lifting the cloth to his teeth and tearing a small notch at its edge before ripping it lengthwise down the middle. Reaching out to her, he grabbed her hand and then proceeded to swiftly bind one half of the cloth around her wrist. “There,” he said gruffly once he had finished. Lifting his hand to her cheek, he leaned forward to lightly press his lips against her forehead. “You’re mine,” he murmured as he slipped the second half of the thin, fraying fabric into her hand. Taking a step away from her, he held out his own hand, looking at her expectantly while she stared at him blankly. It was a moment before she could think coherently enough to move towards him, beginning to tie the cloth around his wrist while her hands trembled uncontrollably.

“And you… I….” She shook her head, looking up at him a bit helplessly.

“And I am yours,” he said softly, bending closer to touch his lips to hers.

Chapter Text

In the end, it was rather more than a little past noon by the time that Hawke was able to successfully find her way out of the room she and Fenris had rented. She had made it no more that a few steps over the threshold, however, when Fenris’ hand closed around her wrist, pulling her back towards him. Indulgently, she allowed him to kiss her once more, wrapping her arms around his shoulders while he pulled her closer. With the door to their room still open and with her body only partially in the hallway, she sighed against his lips. Moving even a few feet away from the bed was proving to be immensely difficult. It took an extraordinary amount of self-control for her to pull away from his kiss. A little breathless and still clinging to him, she said regretfully, “We really do have to go now.”

“So you’ve been saying,” he murmured, speaking as his lips brushed against the side of her neck. “Though you have proved distractible.”

She laughed, tilting her head involuntarily to the side as she felt his warm breath and soft lips against her skin. “Well, you’ve proved distracting,” she retorted weakly, her hand grazing over the nape of his neck and catching his hair. “That’s hardly my fault,” she added, gently tugging his hair until he brought his mouth back to hers. His hands clutching her hips, he drew her to him. They adjusted against one another, each a little off-balance, until Hawke’s back was supported against the doorframe. Drained and dizzy, she would have loved nothing more than to stumble back towards the bed with him. His hands, leaving her hips to skim up her torso, brushed lightly against the sides of her breasts. She felt a faint, nearly painful clenching in the pit of her stomach as she ground her hips reflexively. Even so, there was an undeniable pragmatism within her that compelled her to pull away from the kiss, groaning softly in protest of her own practicality. He mimicked the sound, his brow furrowing as she looked up at him apologetically. “We really do have to go,” she said once more. “That tavern keeper—Carruthers or Cooper or whatever his name is—is going to charge us for another night if we stay any longer.” Fenris made a faint noise of objection, but she only sighed ruefully in response. “We’re quite poor now, Fenris.” Her fingertips teased over the nape of his neck and she added, smiling softly, “And  besides… we don’t strictly require a bed for any of this.”

“I suppose it’s just as well,” sighed Fenris, allowing her to duck out of his arms. “The ground will likely prove to be more comfortable than that mattress, in any case.”

It felt strange to be apart from him, even though there was little more than a foot between them. She felt oddly naked without his arms draped around her, without the warmth of his body against hers. Hawke would have liked to press close to him once more as they finally made their way down the hallway, moving towards the stairs, but she wasn’t entirely certain that he would appreciate her hanging off of him as they moved down into the sight of the tavern’s patrons. It was one thing to be affectionate behind closed doors, but he didn’t seem precisely the sort to be overly demonstrative in public. Which was well enough, really, considering that she had always had a certain measure of discomfort with such ostentatious displays. She had allowed it on rare occasions, but she’d always found public cavorting to be an unnecessary aspect of a relationship and one which generally caused others to stare excessively. Of course, she wouldn’t have minded being stared at just then. She rather liked the idea of being seen with Fenris and of having people know that she belonged to him. Toying with the red cloth around her wrist, she smiled, bowing her head. Still, Fenris had always been rather averse to being gawked at and they would be conspicuous enough without her glomming onto him. Clasping her hands together behind her back, Hawke fought the intense temptation to catch hold of him as they made their way down the narrow staircase. Something in her expression or manner must have betrayed her inner conflict, because she heard Fenris let out a rough breath of amusement as he reached out to her, loosely draping his arm over her shoulders once more. The sudden relief of being pulled against his side almost made her laugh, but she choked back the sound and hid her grin by bowing her forehead quickly against his shoulder.

For the sake of discretion, it was fortunate that there were few prying eyes in the largely vacant tavern. Unfortunately, that vacancy meant that, as Fenris and Hawke entered the room, the sound of their footsteps instantaneously drew the attention of the tavern owner—Carruthers or whatever his name was. Standing behind the bar, meticulously running a rag over the wooden countertop that was clearly beyond help, he lifted his head and, eyes widening, called out, “Ser Lyna!”

Hawke winced, her eyes pinching shut automatically. “Well, it looks like we’ll have to pay for another day,” she sighed as she opened her eyes to look up at Fenris. With a crooked smile, she added, “Though perhaps it was worth it to spend the morning with you.”

He lifted one of his eyebrows. “Perhaps?” he echoed in a convincing impression of indignation.

Her smile broadened. She rather liked it when he pressed for compliments; it gave her license to be embarrassing. “Alright, if you really must know, this has been the single best day of my life. Does that satisfy you?” She was a little proud of herself for managing to sound exasperated with him.

His lips quirked slightly into a hint of a smile and she suspected that, if they had been alone, he would have kissed her then. As it was, he only hugged her slightly tighter to his side and murmured gruffly, “I’m nowhere near satisfied.”

With a gust of a laugh, she shrugged his arm off her shoulders, catching his wrist to drag him off towards the bar where the tavern keeper stood, staring at them expectantly.

“So, what do we owe you?” she asked grudgingly as she and Fenris came to a stop before the bar. As she spoke, she preemptively began to fish about in her satchel for loose coin while keeping a hold on Fenris’ wrist with her spare hand. He did not resist the contact, but adjusted her hold on him slightly, interlocking their fingers as much as was possible with her right hand.  Hawke smiled, squeezing Fenris’ hand, before lifting her eyes back to stare at Carruthers, who had not yet given her an answer regarding their payment.

When she saw the tavern keeper’s expression, she knit her brow slightly with a mild rush of confusion. Granted, her interactions with the man had been limited during her brief stay in his establishment, but she had seen enough of his typical behavior to know that something had altered in his manner. Though he had been tolerant enough to allow a mabari to lodge beneath his roof, Carruthers was a brusque man who was, in many ways, ill-suited to play the gracious host to travellers who might wish to stay within his cramped accommodations. He had never shown Hawke or Fenris any particular courtesy during their stay and it was odd to see him smiling at her now with an air of subservience that reminded her vaguely of how she had been treated in Kirkwall. In a sudden, panicked moment, she wondered if he had discovered who she was. Of course, he had called her by the assumed name she had given and she very much doubted that, if he were aware of her true identity, it would make much of difference in his treatment of her. After all, she was a long way from Kirkwall.

“You owe nothing more, I assure you,” the man insisted, shaking his graying head. “On the contrary,” he continued, yellowed teeth flashing as he continued to smile, “I have something for you.” Then, in an almost excited whisper, he added, “From the Hero of Ferelden.”

Eyes widening with dawning comprehension, Hawke nodded her head. The reverence in his tone told her that any respect he showed her now was the direct result of the fact that she could claim acquaintance with the famed Diarmuid Amell. It made sense, she supposed; he had, after all, saved all of Ferelden from sharing the same fate as Lothering. Still, when he was mentioned, Hawke fought back a low groan. She hoped that Diarmuid, in a drunken bout of honesty, hadn’t revealed any hint about his relation to her or her true identity. She didn’t want it to be overly easy for any questing swords of the Chantry to track her and Fenris through Ferelden. If these last days in Lonicera had taught her anything, it was that the Templars were unlikely to be dismissive of the role she had played in the Free Marches.

In spite of this welling concern about the extent of Diarmuid’s discretion, Hawke kept her expression impassive, only tilting her head slightly to the side as she asked, “He left something for me, did he?” She tried to inflect her voice with a meager hint of surprise that such a distinguished figure would show her such honor, but she found that she only sounded rather bored. It was moderately irritating to discover that her acting skills had atrophied so dramatically since she had taken her first trepidatious steps into honesty.

The tavern keeper nodded, already beginning to search beneath the bar for what the Hero of Ferelden had left behind. “Oh, yes,” he told her, loudly knocking aside two mugs in his search. “He was very insistent that this should reach you.” Carruthers let out a short sound of triumph as he stood fully upright once more, proudly laying Diarmuid’s gift out on the weathered surface of the bar.

Hawke let out an uncertain, tremulous laugh as she stared down at the offering. “A bell collar?” she said, reaching out and tentatively grabbing hold of the collar between her thumb and forefinger. As she lifted it into the air, the delicate silver bell which hung from it jangled sweetly. “If he expects me to wear this,” she began, her eyes tracing around the small, well-worn circle of studded leather, “then I’m afraid it’s several sizes too small.”

“Hmm, pity,” sighed Fenris, absently running his thumb over the back of her hand as he watched her gingerly handling Diarmuid’s enigmatic gift. Hawke smirked impishly at Fenris before lifting the necklace before her eyes and reading the words which were inscribed on the tarnished tag which dangled beside the softly ringing bell. With a cut-off sound that was somewhere between a gasp and laugh, she took her hand away from Fenris’ and lifted her shaking fingers to run lightly over the engraved lettering.

Fenris stared down at her, his eyes holding some hint of his surprise, as she murmured, entirely to herself, “Ha. Ser Pounce-a-lot.” She seemed transfixed, her lips trapped in a faint smile and her breath seeming to be caught in her throat as she watched the tag and bell trembling along with the shaking of her hands. The light caught softly against the shining surface of the bell and a darting point of reflected light danced across Hawke’s face as Fenris watched the sudden changing of her expression. With a jolt, he became aware that her eyes were seeing something very far away. Even as she stared at the object she held in her hands, she saw something that was well beyond his own sight. He hated the distance as her mind took turns that he couldn’t understand.

“What is it?” he asked, his voice sounding more abrupt than he had intended.

Her eyes flitted up towards him, but turned quickly away again as she said mutedly, her eyes shining, “It’s just a collar.” Her voice sounded strained as she added, “It belonged to….” She trailed off, but it was already clear to Fenris who had once owned that collar. Fenris’ jaw tightened, his teeth gritting together. Her mage. Anders could still draw her away from him, making her seem so far beyond his reach, just as she had been through the passing of so many years. At his side, Fenris’ hand contracted quickly into a fist before he forced his fingers to relax.

He was relieved when Hawke slipped the collar out of sight into her satchel. Her brow was drawn, though he could see plainly enough that it was proving difficult for her to keep stronger signs of emotion from creeping onto her face. When she looked back at the proprietor, who had been watching her curiously, Hawke’s expression was stiff. “Did he say anything about it?” she asked quietly.

Carruthers shrugged his thin shoulders, already holding out his hand to place a scroll of parchment on the bar. “He only said that I was to get it to you, Ser, though he left this letter with the instruction that I should pass it along to you.”

Hawke saw, as soon as she broke the wax seal and unfurled the scroll, that Diarmuid had used altogether too large a piece of parchment for the amount of words that he had actually chosen to commit to the page. In lazily scrawled script, he’d written simply, “Here’s to moving on. Good luck, little sister.” A vast empty expanse of blank parchment stretched between those words and the hastily scribbled afterthought, “Send my love to Fenris.”

Hawke stared at the page for longer than was necessary, wishing that Diarmuid could have spared a few extra moments of time to write something with a speck more clarity. She was unsure, really, if he meant to signify that he intended to move on or if he meant to make her feel guilt for having done so. Regardless of his intentions, however, she found that she was grateful for the memento. She had left so much behind in Kirkwall, carrying with her no remembrances of her family or her friends. It hardly mattered, for the most part. Though she hated to leave the few cherished possessions of her family behind, it didn’t hurt even a fraction as much as their deaths had. Those wounds had never healed perfectly but, she had had time to make her adjustments where her family was concerned. Anders had been taken recently and altogether too suddenly. In splash of blood and a hail of wreckage and flames, he was gone. Even his corpse was gone, leaving nothing but ash and black scorch marks where fire had licked against the streets of Lowtown. There had been nothing left of him but the ghost in her mind. She was glad to have some small reminder of him now. Some artifact from a time when he had been happy and alive and free from Templars, Justice, and his desperate vengeance.

Tucking Diarmuid’s short missive away, Hawke pressed against Fenris, closing her eyes for a moment as she wrapped her arm around his waist. When she felt the weight of his arm over her shoulders, she sighed involuntarily. Settling against him, she smiled. Opening her eyes, she nodded in acknowledgement towards Carruthers, who was now pretending to wipe a mug clean. “Thank you for getting that to me,” she told him, her voice hushed but even.

After a brief parting exchange, Hawke turned from the man and guided Fenris towards the exit. As they moved just past the hearing of the proprietor, she cleared her throat lightly and looked up at Fenris with a warm smile. “My bastard cousin sends his regards.” In response, Fenris rolled his eyes, groaning scornfully. Hawke laughed, tilting her head against his shoulder, and sighed, “Well, we don’t choose our family.”

Though she heard nothing but a slight exhalation, she felt Fenris’ shoulders shake as if with laughter. “Oh, he’s your family now, is he?” he said drily. “I seem to recall a time when you found that point to be highly contentious.

“Well, yes,” she owned. “But I was just being difficult.”

“A habit of yours, apparently.” His hold on her slackened slightly as he pushed on the door, holding it open as they made their way into the blaring light of day. Hawke grimaced, squinting her eyes. She could have done with a little less sunshine after a night with so little sleep. She also could have done without the sudden, ear-splitting bark that broke through the street the moment that she and Fenris emerged from the tavern.

An hour or two past dawn, Brutus had stationed himself outside of the tavern, waiting patiently for Hawke while picking over the meaty corpse of a muskrat that he’d successfully killed outside of town. He had had to wait for longer than he had expected, though the time had afforded the opportunity to play a game of fetch with a small girl before the child’s mother had dragged her away, scolding her loudly about the dangers of playing with strange dogs. Brutus had become quite bored after that and was thrilled when the door opened and he caught Hawke’s scent on the air. Leaping up from where he lay, the mabari rushed towards his mistress, barking enthusiastically while she praised him for waiting so patiently. Though he was muddy and splattered with muskrat blood, Hawke rubbed his ears with both hands as he continued to let out short huffs of barely contained excitement. Hawke seemed to be in especially good spirits that day and it wasn’t hard to guess why. As he blatantly butted his muzzle between his mistress’ legs, Brutus smelled the elf all over her. The mabari felt a little surge of smug pride for the role that he had played in Hawke’s happiness. He had been scolded often enough when he’d barged into the room while she mated with the one who smelled like cat; he was glad that he’d thought to give Hawke proper distance with this one. Turning quickly to elf, Brutus flicked his large, flat tongue quickly against the back of Fenris’ hand. Even before Fenris had wiped the ample drool away, Brutus had turned abruptly, snatched up the thick, scaly tail of his kill, and started off down the road that led southwards out of town.

Hawke stared after her pet and laughed lightly. “Well, at least he’s not mad at me for leaving him outside all night,” she said, slipping her hand back into Fenris’ and lifting her eyes to his face. “Shall we?” she added, tilting her head in the direction Brutus had gone. Fenris nodded and, her smile spreading, they made their way after Brutus and away from Lonicera.

Without any particular destination in mind or any precise roads to travel, Fenris and Hawke angled roughly to the southeast, moving towards the heart of the Bannorn as the days wore on. Actually forming any concrete plans was a complete impossibility, given that they would neither be able to settle anywhere for long nor find any form of occupation. Hawke had never travelled in quite that fashion before. Whenever they had had to leave home during her youth, her father had chosen their next destination and had done so with such certainty that Hawke had never felt aimless even when they were wandering. When her father was gone, she had tried to lead with the same conviction. She had always been most at ease when she had purpose and when she had a specific goal in mind. Meandering had never suited her well, though she found she rather liked it with Fenris for company. She was anchored now, not to a place or to a purpose, but to a person. Wherever their erratic journey led them, Hawke felt steady in Fenris’ presence. If they never settled, she would voice no objection. They were capable enough of surviving in the wilderness on their own. Fenris was a competent hunter and, when nightfall came, they slept with the knowledge that Hawke’s protective spells would keep minor predators at bay while their fire kept them warm.

Hawke loved those nights. After a day of slowly weaving through the open fields and light wooded stretches of Ferelden, they would arbitrarily choose a spot of even ground to make camp. Generally, she and Fenris set up camp well before sunset. There was no rush, after all, to get to anywhere in particular and there were enjoyable ways to pass their time together that more or less required them to halt their progress for a time.

Whenever they made camp for the evening, Brutus generally drifted away from Hawke and Fenris for a time. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the mabari was deliberately giving them a certain amount of space. Even during the day, when he trotted along at their side, Brutus treated them with tolerant exasperation, as if they were two pups playing rather too energetically with one another. There were times, of course, when the mabari demanded Hawke’s affection or pestered Fenris to throw a stick for him, but, on the whole, he allowed his mistress her fun with her new playmate. Brutus knew, after all, how prone to ridiculousness mated pairs were during the spring.

The temperate weather of springtime meant that travelling was a good deal less strenuous than it had been during the winter months when Fenris and Hawke had made their way to Kirkwall from Tevinter. Even this far south, the snow had melted entirely away and there seemed little chance of any sudden frosts. Everything was vibrant and green with the new growth of the season and days of idyllic sun were interrupted only sporadically by heavy showers. During her time in the north, Hawke had never noticed how much she missed the turning of the seasons in Ferelden. The weather had always been pleasant enough in Kirkwall, but there was never the sudden and dramatic explosion of greenery after a long, white winter. The seemingly ceaseless gray months and heavy chill of Ferelden’s winter was worth the glorious flowering that followed.

Fenris, however, seemed a little less pleased with the springtime than Hawke was. Though he appreciated the bright days of warmth and sunshine, the occasional days of rain were an enormous annoyance. Ferelden’s dark, rich soil always hungrily soaked up the heavy drops of rain and turned into a thick, sticky paste. He had never been particularly fond of the mud. With every step he took, it squished up between his toes, oozing out over the tops of his feet. It was during those times when he would look down with some envy at the soft, supple leather of Hawke’s boots.

Hawke noticed him glowering down at the mud during a day of especially heavy downpour. He was glaring at the audibly squelching mud with such vehemence that she almost laughed. She stifled the sound, however, thinking that he probably wouldn’t enjoy being laughed at while he looked so miserable. Breaking free of the light hold he maintained on her while they walked, she knelt down to the damp ground and began to swiftly loosen the laces on her boots.He stood above her, his brow furrowed with confusion, while she attempted to ease her shoes from her feet without toppling over into the mud. “Is there any particular reason you’ve chosen to abandon your boots?” he asked as he offered his hand to help her from the ground once she had rid herself of her stockings.

Rising quickly to her toes, she gave him a swift peck on the cheek. “Solidarity,” she explained, smiling brightly.

He rolled his eyes, but bent to kiss her before they made their way onward.

It quickly became clear to Hawke that trudging through Ferelden without shoes had been an ill-conceived notion. Her boots, dangling by their laces from her hand, often hit against the side of her leg and left large, dark spots of filth on her already soaked robes and the wet earth beneath her feet was a good deal colder than she had anticipated. She also observed, with a great swelling of sympathy for Fenris, that there were many more sharp stones mixed in with the soil than she would have expected. After stepping on several jagged rocks and wincing with embarrassing volume, Hawke grudgingly admitted defeat and suggested that they stop for the night. It was, of course, nowhere near sunset, but Fenris voiced no objections. He would be loth to admit it, but there was something in her short cries of pain that had made him eager to make her cry out it another way. When he dragged her into their tent, she hadn’t even had time to clean the clotted mud from her feet.

Of course, it was scarcely noticeable that their blankets gathered a little additional mud. General filth simply seemed to be an unavoidable consequence of travelling through Ferelden. There was no longer anything in their possession that wasn’t thoroughly coated with a layer of dirt. At night, they slept underneath blankets that were already covered with cracking patches of dried mud and during the day they dressed in clothes that were a uniform shade of grayish brown, regardless of whatever color they had once been. They had grown more than a little neglectful of things such as washing their clothing. The intention to be hygienic was often there and, more than once, Hawke had complained that her socks were perpetually damp and flaking with dirt, but she found that Fenris generally managed to find ways of diverting her attention before she actually managed to gather together their things for laundering. It was fortunate that they hadn’t recently ventured near civilization because they were both stunningly disheveled. A week’s worth of travel and several nights of rather frantic exertions had left them looking decidedly unkempt.

Hawke absently considered exactly how bedraggled they have become the morning after her ill-fated attempt to mimic the shoelessness of the elves. She could tell upon waking that the heavy showers of the day before had given way during the night. Sunlight filtered through the thick canvas that sheltered her and Fenris, illuminating him with a faint, fulvous glow as he slept beside her. The air had warmed also and, sometime over the course of the night, Fenris had managed to squirm almost entirely free of the blankets. She smiled, softly kissing his bare chest before drawing back slightly to watch the shifting shadows that his dark eyelashes cast upon his cheeks. Then, with a muted sigh, she lay down beside him, reaching out to twist a lock of his hair around her finger. She’d noticed lately how long his hair had grown. It fell across his eyes with increasing frequency these days and, as she ran her fingers gently through it, Hawke realized that it had become rather matted. This was not altogether surprising, given that she could not remember the last time she had seen him take a comb to it. Come to that, she couldn’t remember the last time that she had brushed her own hair. It had been several days at the very least. Her hair had become rather matted as well and the dry, frayed ends scratched unpleasantly against her back now that she thought of it.

As of yet, he didn’t seem to be perturbed by how unkempt she had become, but, as she considered it, she noticed a very definite grunginess. The fingers that played with his white hair were caked with filth and, as her eyes flitted across his sleeping face, she realized that he was covered in a thin layer of dirt as well. Sooner or later, she realized, it would become imperative to bathe. Once they had done so, however, there would be nothing clean to wear. Hawke groaned faintly, inclining her head to nuzzle against Fenris’ shoulder. She had never realized before just what an ordeal it was to maintain a passable level of cleanliness; she would so much rather expend her energy in ways other than scrubbing stains from her clothing.

Fenris woke, feeling the soft tickle of her hair, and, with his eyes still closed, reached out to hug her to his chest. In the mornings, whenever she woke before him, she always seemed to tease him into waking by gently nudging against him, pressing her lips softly to his skin. Her touch was always light at first, almost tentative, as though she hadn’t quite adjusted to having the liberty of touching him whenever she chose. It was only when he woke and drew her closer that she grew bolder, bringing her lips to his. Sleepily, he sighed against her mouth, pulling her into his arms so that she was sprawled on top of him. Hawke adjusted herself, making herself comfortable, before drawing away ever so slightly from his kiss. “’Morning, love,” she murmured, her lips still brushing against his as she spoke.

He lifted his hands to brush her hair back from her face. “Good morning, Hawke,” he returned softly, his voice still thick with sleep. Tangling his fingers with the chaos of her hair, he pulled her head down to close the breath of space between their lips. He felt that she was smiling as he moved his lips against hers. He’d come to greatly appreciate the blissful torpor of mornings. Though they woke early, they never left their shelter with any particular urgency. The seclusion of the tent suited his sensibilities, with Hawke nestled close to him and the world shut outside. She always allowed him to hold her for as long as he chose, letting him monopolize her. Perhaps that’s what he enjoyed best about the beginning of the day. He had never had anyone who was so completely his before and it was during that time, when they were utterly alone together and the whole of the day stretched promisingly before them, that he was most aware that she was his. Whatever the day brought, she would face it alongside him. There was an almost astounding amount of comfort in that knowledge. With a low moan, he wrapped his arms around her; he could feel the muscles of her lower back shift beneath her smooth skin as she moved her hips invitingly against him. He smiled against her kiss.

The heaviness of sleep spanned into early day and, when he took her, it was with a slow, steady languor that built gradually. When they parted, each panting slightly and glazed with a fresh dew of perspiration, he found that he felt more restored than he had upon first waking. He rolled to the side, removing his weight from her, and sighed contently, feeling simultaneously dazed and alert. As she pillowed her head against his arm, he smiled fondly at her. It was a moment before he became aware of the fact that he was doing so. The awareness of it made him suddenly self-conscious, but he allowed his expression to remain soft as she reached for him, brushing his hair behind his ear and returning his smile with one of her own.

“I’ve never seen your hair this long before,” she murmured, continuing to lightly run her fingers over his hair after she had swept it away from his forehead.

He nodded. “I haven’t had the opportunity to cut it for some time now.”

She chuckled under her breath, her hand trailing down to rest against his shoulder. “I didn’t know that you cut your own hair.”

Fenris lifted one of his eyebrows, absently stroking his hand over her skin as he looked over at her. “And how did you imagine that it stayed relatively the same length throughout the many years of our acquaintance?”

She shrugged. “I suppose I never thought about it.” Smiling, she added, “I still can’t really imagine you sitting in front of a mirror, scissors in hand, grooming yourself.”

He let out a breath of laughter. “Perhaps ‘grooming’ is too generous a word. Saying that I just hacked away at it would probably be a more accurate characterization of the process.”

“I could do it for you,” she suggested, twirling a lock of his hair around her finger. “I think there are some scissors in that little sewing kit and I need to cut my hair anyway.”

He furrowed his brow. “Is this your delicate way of hinting that my hair’s gotten too long?”

“Not at all. I like your hair. This is my delicate way of asking you to help me cut my hair. I’m not convinced that I can do it left-handed.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your hair.”

Hawke smiled crookedly. “Fenris, I haven’t cut my hair in almost four years; I think its time has come. And besides, we could stand to devote a few passing hours to personal hygiene. Everything we own has acquired a decidedly musky odor that I’m sure neither of us would miss.”

He exhaled heavily. “You’re not going to relent until you’ve got me scrubbing socks again, are you?”

She grinned. “That’s more or less the gist of it, yes.”

“Then it appears I have no choice,” he sighed. He would have been hard-pressed to object too strenuously to anything she said then, while his body was still wonderfully relaxed and her bare chest was pressed against him. In any case, she did make a valid point. He’d never been overly fond of washing clothes, but it might be a pleasant change of pace to wear something that didn’t smell overwhelmingly of stale sweat and the faint promise of mildew. Even so, he didn’t approach the prospect of a day spent on grooming and laundering with any great enthusiasm and it was a long while before he was able to muster the will to extricate himself from the warmth of Hawke’s embrace and leave the shelter of the tent behind them.

It didn’t prove to be altogether unpleasant, however, once he was seated on a fallen log with her fingers brushing gently through his hair. Her fingernails raked lightly against his scalp as she said cautiously, “Now, you can still change your mind, you know. Your hair really does look fine as it is and a blindfolded drunk would probably be more competent with these scissors than I am with my left hand.”

Having seen the staggering illegibility of her handwriting, he didn’t doubt that that was the case. However, he didn’t think that there was anyone else that he’d rather have softly toying with his hair. “I’ve never been overly invested in my appearance, Hawke,” he assured her. “No matter the degree of your ineptitude, I’m sure I’ll voice no complaint.”

“Well, your confidence is certainly inspiring,” she replied flatly as she began to clumsily crop off the hair at the nape of his neck. It proved a bit more difficult than she had expected. She’d expected to be able to make a relatively neat job of it, given that his hair was quite short and not styled with any particular fastidiousness. However, her hands kept shaking as she tried to gather small portions of his hair in between the pinkie and ring finger of her right hand and cut away the tips of the gathered hair with the scissors she held in her left hand. Whenever she let his hair fall back into place, it never looked quite right and, when she tried to repair the situation by chopping off the uneven portions, she seldom achieved a better result.

A thick snow of white hair had fallen to the ground in alarmingly large clumps before Fenris cleared his throat and said, “Hawke… while it’s true that I’m not particularly inclined towards vanity, I would appreciate it if you would attempt not to leave me entirely bald.”

She laughed, lowering the shears and lightly tousling his mangled hair. It looked a little better when it was in slight disarray. Sighing, she walked around to kneel in front of him as she surveyed the results of her work. “It’s really not so different from the way you usually wear it,” she observed, feeling a slight rush of relief that she hadn’t marred him too badly. “All rakish and wild.” Laying the scissors aside, she rose to her feet once more. “Still beautiful as always,” she added as she bent to kiss the crown of his head.

A smile played at the corner of his lips. “That’s not an adjective customarily applied to men.”

She shrugged, taking a seat on the log beside him. “Well, it’s true anyway,” she told him casually, picking up the scissors once more and holding them out in offering to him.

He preformed the task with a good deal more skill than she had, having the advantage of full use of both his hands. Even so, he didn’t enjoy the process. He rather liked her hair—the way it felt in his hands, the way it caught the light, the way it fanned out against the blankets when she was beneath him—and it seemed a pity to watch it piling in dead heaps on the ground. She had to keep spurring him on, urging him into taking off a good deal more than he would have liked. She, at least, seemed pleased with the result and rewarded him well, draping her arms over his shoulders and sighing softly against his mouth as she kissed him. Her touch—her hands tightening against him as she dragged him closer—made him pliant enough that he forgot to offer any resistance when she asked him to gather their soiled clothing together for laundering.

A short walk from where they’d made camp, beyond a thin grove of trees, the ground was flooded from the previous day’s rainfall. The river had swelled over and brown with disturbed soil and churned silt. Still, even discolored water was better than nothing and, when she came to a pebbled stretch of the shore, Hawke knelt beside the river and heaped what clothing and blankets she had carried on the stones beside her. Fenris, coming to regret how easily he had allowed himself to be coerced into this course of action, sighed loudly as he sat beside her. His sound of reluctance only made her laugh, however, as she assured him that it wouldn’t take very long and he would be glad when she no longer smelled of sour sweat. He murmured that he’d found nothing the matter with her scent, but she suffered no further objections and thrust a bar of lye into his hands.

“You know, you were a lot more agreeable the last time I dragged you into this,” she said, beginning to soak a heavily caked robe in the murky water.

“Yes, well, I’d yet to recall how intensely I dislike domestic drudgery,” he grumbled, working soap into the underarms of one of his shirts.

She laughed lightly. “And suddenly the squalor in which you lived makes perfect sense.”

He glanced over at her. Throughout the years that had passed in Kirkwall, she had always made complaint about the disrepair of his environment whenever she paid him a call. Though it should not have been, it was almost startling when she showed some small continuity with the past. It called forth a sudden image of her surveying his appropriated mansion with evident disdain; her words then had been almost as they were now, but there had been nothing of her smile then or of the warmth that was now in her eyes as she returned his gaze. Fenris almost smiled, shaking his head slightly as he looked back towards the task at hand. Through all those years, he never would have thought that his life would lead him here—squatting beside a river with Hawke and scrubbing industriously at a shirt because she had asked it of him. True, there were times when, in some fevered daydream, he had envisioned a future with her. But it was never tame or peaceful or even pleasant. When he had passingly considered what a life with Hawke might hold, he had never thought that he would be happy. It was odd to find himself so. When his lips curved into a subdued hint of a smile, she caught the subtle turn of his expression and grinned.

She tried to make sure that her staring was not inordinately overt, but it proved difficult not to simply ogle him openly. Proximity to Fenris had, for some time now, been nearly all it took to trigger a cavalcade of rather indelicate thoughts; it was still a fairly recent development that she had been given license to act on those impulses and, at times, the knowledge that she was allowed to touch him was mildly overwhelming. Every moment that she didn’t take advantage of that privilege almost seemed like a wasted opportunity. She was forced to repeatedly remind herself that she had come to the riverside with concrete objectives in mind that did not involve tearing his clothes off and pinning him to the ground. She knew that, with time, her exuberance would fade and she would regain her ability to focus, but, as it was, it was incredibly challenging to remember what exactly it was that she was supposed to be doing. Absentmindedly scrubbing her wash against the rocky riverbed, she fell to staring at Fenris’ hands and imagining all the parts of her that he had caressed just that morning.

It spite of her efforts, her staring had become fairly noticeable. Fenris noticed that she hadn’t actually looked back to the article of clothing she held for well over a minute. She had, however, been staring so fixedly at his hands that she hadn’t even noticed that he was watching her. It was only when he cleared his throat that she lifted her eyes, looking as though he had just shaken her out a trance. When he smirked, lifting one of his eyebrows satirically, she responded with a sheepish smile. “I was being obvious again, wasn’t I?”

“You haven’t been discreet, no. You haven’t moved for quite some time now and your robes have slowly been absorbing a massive quantity of water without attracting your notice.”

She looked down to her sleeves, which had fallen down her arm without her notice and were now wet up to her elbows. Evidently, that proved to be all the motivation she needed to strip off the clothes she wore and cast them aside. She did so with purposeful carelessness, promptly returning to her chore. “Well, I suppose I had to wash that robe anyway,” she said with a shrug. In an effort to maintain her pretended nonchalance, she fought back a self-satisfied smile as she heard him choke on air.

The sunlight that shone brightly down on them caught brilliantly on her skin as she leaned out over the river’s edge, wrist-deep in water as she feigned attention to her washing. Fenris, at that moment, forgot entirely what he had been doing before she stripped bare. He had seen her undressed times beyond the counting, but he had never yet seen her so while the sun was high overhead. Though he had taken her during the day numerous times, struck by sudden impulse as they were travelling, the act was generally performed with great urgency and they only tore aside enough clothing to allow for their bodies to properly join together. During their nights and as they met the dawn in one another’s arms, the light that came to them through the walls of their tent was filtered and golden. It was another thing altogether to see her in the vivid, pure light that fell over them then. It left him almost uncertain of how to proceed—his mind suddenly blank—and he found himself with nothing to do but stare at her, his eyes dancing madly over exposed flesh and unable to settle on any one point. She seemed oblivious to his gaze until, quite suddenly, she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and smirked with evident self-satisfaction. He was saved the trouble to discovering some means of response when she came towards him over the stony shore and, with tented fingers against his chest, pushed him back to the ground.

A smile spread across his lips as she straddled him, sitting upright with her hands flat on his chest and her eyes fixed on his. Hawke relished the way he looked at her then, with such heat and desire. It had never mattered much to her before if men wanted her—she had always taken it rather for granted that they did—but she had come to yearn for the hunger that filled Fenris’ eyes when he looked upon her. It was a hunger that went beyond anything she had seen in a man’s eyes before. His wanting, so deep and all-encompassing, reminded her of his possession of her. Of her possession of him. She grinned, catching his wrist in her hand and running her fingers over the red cloth that had become nearly blackened with soil and sweat. With the hand that Hawke did not hold captive, Fenris stroked lightly over her thigh, his grip tightening as he grabbed hold of her hip. He held fast to her, directing her to grind against him and, pliantly, she followed his guidance. He was clothed still, but, as she moved her body on top of his, she became aware of the excitement he felt. She felt an anticipatory thrill pass over her, causing gooseflesh to sweep across her skin. Fenris took in a sharp breath of air as she thrust her hips against him with increased vigor, signifying her own growing need for him. With low groan, he grasped her hips with both hands, encouraging her swift, rough movements. Hawke moaned softly, her head rolling back and her back arching, as his fingers pressed deeply into old bruises born of his madly clutching hands.

He had made no move yet to rid himself of his clothes, content thus far to watch her and to feel the pressure building within him as her body moved against his. She made no effort to strip him bare either; in those moments, she reveled in his growing need and fed her own pleasure through stoking his desire for her. She wanted to prolong it—to keep his eyes fixed on her with that powerful, aching need. Grinning, she leaned forward, slatting her mouth over his and receiving his tongue as it slipped past her lips. She could almost taste his eagerness.

Fenris had surrendered to her, loosing himself to the sensations that her body awoke in his, when suddenly her warmth and weight were gone from him. His eyes opening abruptly, Fenris made an instinctive sound of protest, only to have the sound lost amidst the sudden cacophony of splashing water. By the time that he had clamored into a seated position, turning his eyes towards the river, Hawke had already rushed well past the shoreline and was standing in water that rose to her hips. She’d come to a stop there, facing him with an impish grin twisting her lips.

He met her grin with a glower. “You’re being deliberately difficult,” he reprimanded, straining to sound stern through the cloud of lust that still pulsed within him.

Hawke’s smile didn’t fade as she walked backwards into the river, wading slowing and carefully towards deeper waters. “You would have me take you while stale sweat lingers on your skin?” she called back to him, her voice teasing. “I would rather you were scrubbed clean, so that I can savor your taste as I drink you in.” She laughed at the widening of his eyes and brushed her hair behind her ear as a blush spread across her cheeks, brought on by the boldness of her own words. “If you’d like, that is,” she added lamely, shrugging her shoulders.

Fenris felt a sharp throb of wanting within him and fought the urge to smile. He did not wish to encourage her teasing, though he found that the perverse strain of his character was excited by the dance, by her falling back and inviting him to pursue. It was an odd thing—he would have thought before that lying with a woman so frequently would sate his hunger, but his coupling with Hawke seemed only to have served to awaken a voracious appetite within him. Increasingly, he found himself craving her. When she asked him to follow after her, he had no choice but to give chase.

Still, he attempted to make some show of resistance, grumbling loudly as he rose from the ground and began to remove his clothes. When he lifted his eyes and saw the breadth of her grin, he narrowed his eyes. “I find you to be intensely irritating,” he said coldly as he stepped free of his discarded heap of clothing and moved towards her with an eagerness that he hoped wasn’t overly obvious. She only laughed at his words, however, before taking in a deep breath and disappearing below the surface of the water.

The water was biting against his flesh as he waded deeper, his feet slipping against the slick dusting of silt that coated the rocky bed of the river. With such poor clarity, he tripped more than once over the stones and tangled weeds that were beneath his feet. When the water lapped at his chest and his feet were as firmly planted as he could reasonably hope for them to be, Fenris cast a wary eye over the trembling waves. He had just felt a stab of panic, worrying after Hawke’s whereabouts, when she burst out of the water beside him, breathless but smiling.

“Thank you,” she said tenderly, her wet body gliding against his as she placed a hand on the nape of his neck to pull his lips down to hers, “for coming after me.” Her kiss was lighter and gentler than he would have expected as the waves of the river broke against their bodies. She held the contact for a long moment, moving her lips softly against his and letting the water’s current jostle them against one another, before she ended their embrace and, floating on her back, swam away from him with strong strokes.

He felt his frustration mounting along with his desire as she drifted beyond his reach, kicking her legs lazily to keep herself aloft as she lay stretched across the rippling surface of the water. Her back was arched, her breasts thrust out of the cloudy water and glistening beneath the sun’s rays was she floated over the waves. With a soft growl, Fenris struck out after her, cutting swiftly through the water and dragging her to him with his arms wrapped around her waist. She allowed him to lay firm hold of her this time, lifting her own arms around his shoulders and clumsily churning the water with her legs in an effort to keep her head above the water. As she clung to Fenris, she felt their bodies rise and fall weightlessly with each wave that swept past them. There was a feverish earnestness in his embrace now—in the low moans that rumbled in his chest and in his hard arousal that was pressed between them. Of course, she would not be able to make proper use of that part of him while the water swirled around them and they could scarcely achieve a firm hold on one another. Panting against his mouth, Hawke swam for shallower waters, guiding him along with her.

Fenris took advantage of having a firm foothold the moment that the water rose only to his chest. Reaching down to clasp her thighs, he lifted her until their hips were in line. Responding to his lead, Hawke parted her legs, wrapping them around him while his hands grabbed hold of her ass and pulled her tighter against him. Her hands clutching at his shoulders and her breath coming shallowly, Hawke’s teeth grazed against his lower lip as Fenris rubbed his erection against her with short thrusts of his hips. Hawke groaned into his kiss; much though she would have liked to have him immediately, she had some reservations about their choice of locale. She anticipated that their joining would be rough enough as it was without filthy water serving as a remarkably poor lubricant. She considered, as she felt an aching thrill pass through her, simply putting such concerns aside, but practicality won out and she heard herself laugh apologetically, “This is never going to work, Fenris; I want you inside me, not swamp water.”

Kissing where her neck met with her shoulder, he grunted wordlessly and began to stumble towards the still shallower waters that lapped along the shore. She laughed as they made clumsy progress over the riverbed, almost tripping several times before finally tumbling down near the shore. They hadn’t fully made the way to solid ground and the water still licked around her as Fenris lay between her thighs, reaching down between them to run diligent fingers over her to return some of the moisture that the river had washed away. She required little attention before moaning softly beside his ear, “Now. Hurry, now.” Her thighs were warm against his skin, tightening slightly on either side of him as she urged him on with desperate little gasps. He smiled, his teeth dragging gently over the side of her throat, as he drove himself inside of her.

Hawke moaned, her head hitting harshly against the pebbled ground as it fell back. She barely noticed the sharp contact of stone against skull or the jagged rocks that abraded her back as Fenris thrust within her with rough desperation. He hit deeply within her, drawing a soft whimper from her throat before she adjusted to him. Her efforts to make him give chase had made him frantic and, as they rutted together, Hawke was glad for the isolation offered by the wilderness; she was doing a remarkably poor job of controlling the volume of her cries. Of course, it was a challenge to show any form of control when he was like this—desperate and feral and full of need that he was unable to temper with self-restraint. Every nerve of her body was awakened by his touch. She was almost overwhelmed by the heat of his body against her—inside of her—as the cool water lapped at her skin. Groaning, she tore at him with clenching hands.

Fenris hissed as he felt the bite of her fingernails against his shoulders; he responded by closing his teeth sharply against the side of her neck. She gasped, bucking her hips against him, and panted, “Harder. Fuck, Maker, harder.” He grinned against her skin as he began to move within her with purposeful savagery, making her cry out in a ragged, almost unintelligible litany of curses.

He liked her lack of subtlety when she felt pleasure. He liked the harsh rasp of her breath, the frantic scrape of her fingernails against his skin, the coarse profanities that spilled from her as he moved within her. There was nothing delicate in her enjoyment—nothing cloying or feigned. Her need for him was almost animalistic, yet he was never unaware that the intensity of her desperation stemmed from the fact that he was the one who held her. No one had ever wanted him with that passion. He had had women before, of course. There had been no more than a handful, but there had been a few women close to Danarius who had been bold enough to let a slave inside of them. It had never been the way it was with Hawke, however. He had always been pulled away or thrown off before he could come to completion. He had never been allowed to stay to the end, to finish what he started. With Hawke, he was always allowed to stay inside. She always pulled him closer towards his finish—bringing her lips to his, wrapping her legs around him, urging him on. She always held fast to him during and gently afterwards. The fingers that raked against him while they writhed together relaxed in the wake, tracing over his skin. Her harsh, desperate cries became softly murmured words. She gave him all the things he had dreamed of; she gave him things that he had never even imagined. He’d never considered the pleasure of lingering inside a woman—of feeling the sensations shift and change as he softened. No one had ever given him that privilege. No matter his experience, Hawke seemed to perpetually offer pleasures he had never thought to desire. She was an impossible woman in so many ways—impossible to believe, impossible to bear, impossible to let go. There was no greater pain or pleasure than loving a woman like that.

She was tight around him, clenching around him, as he let go. The quake ran through him, like a cold rush over him while warmth prickled across his skin. His muscles tense and his head light, he bowed his forehead against hers and tried to regain his ability to form cogent thought. So close to her, he caught his reflection in her eyes as she smiled up at him. He shivered as her soft hands swept over his hips and her body clenched around him in the aftershock of her own climax. “Sanctatis Elena,” he exhaled gruffly against her ear.

Her eyes closed as his breath fell over her wet skin. Smiling, she murmured, “Lupa errumabas steripio.”

Fenris drew back from her, looking down into her face as he chuckled under his breath; his body shook slightly with the laughter and she let out a small gasp as he shifted inside of her. “Evidently you’ve learned a few new words,” he said, rolling to the side with a faint groan and collapsing back in the shallow water.

“I have a good teacher.”

He let out another breath of laughter, his eyelids falling shut heavily. “Surely not very good,” he replied lazily, “if you’ve been encouraged to say such things.”

“Mmm,” she sighed noncommittally, her eyes fixing on the cloudless blue dome of the sky. As her eyes fluttered shut, her hand wandering out to the side to interlock with Fenris’, she listened to the heaviness of their breath. Her heart was still beating quickly, the blood rushing audibly in her ears with each pulse. Not far off, amongst the reeds that grew along the shore, she heard the exuberant twittering of birds as the lot of them frantically searched for mates. Hawke smiled, her fingers tightening slightly against Fenris’ hand, as she thought how very fortunate she was to have already found a mate of her own. “Maker, I love it when you want me like that,” she murmured, turning onto her side and pressing her body to his once more.

“I always want you,” he replied, his eyes opening as he rolled his head to face towards her. Lifting his hand, he brushed wet locks of hair back behind her ear. She lifted her hand to catch his hand as he began to pull it away. A soft smile lifted the corners of her mouth.

“Though the downside of your vigorousness, I suppose, if that there’s a distinct possibility that I’ll be unable to swim back to shore,” she sighed, trailing light fingertips over his chest as she rested his head against his shoulder.

“It may have escaped your notice, but we have already found our way to the shore. A subtle thing, yes, but true nonetheless.”

She scowled. “I did mean the other shore, Fenris; you know, the one where all of our clothing is.”

“Ah, yes… that.” Fenris heaved a heavy sigh. “I do hope that you don’t plan to immediately coerce me into continuing with the wash?”

“What would be the point in that?” she smiled, nuzzling against his shoulder. “We’d only get distracted again. And besides, we don’t really need clothes anyway.”

In the long moments that followed, they came close to drifting off to sleep alongside the river itself before the chill of the water reminded them that it would soon become a necessity to return to the warmth of blankets and a crackling fire. With clumsy strokes, Fenris and Hawke somehow managed to cross the river and retrieve their clothes which had been left unwashed along the riverbank. Naked and with their arms heaped with laundry, they made their way back to their campground, where Hawke quickly awoke a fire among the ashes of the fire that had burned the night before.

As she warmed herself beside the flames, she heard Brutus huff loudly. When she turned her eyes towards him, she suspected that there was some disapproval in his brown eyes. She smiled sheepishly as her mabari turned and trotted away from camp, shaking his head.

“You know, sometimes I wish he weren’t so smart,” she sighed as Fenris, sitting beside her, draped a heavy fur over her bare shoulders. “He’s become awfully judgmental lately.”

“I suspect he misses having your exclusive attention,” Fenris said, slipping beneath the same fur that covered her. Hawke grinned, sitting astride Fenris’ lap as he leaned back against a fallen log. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling their torsos together, as she softly kissed his cheek.

“I suppose I should give poor Brutus a bit more of my time,” she owned, lifting her hands to play with Fenris’ damp hair. “Which would be a good deal easier if you weren’t so distracting.”

“You have my apologies, then.” His hands ran absently over her back as the warmth of the fur and fire alleviated the chill of their shivering bodies.

Smiling, she relaxed into his arms, continuing to toy with his hair. “I really did do an appalling job with this,” she laughed, marveling at the awkward points that his hair was forming as it dried. “I’ll just leave it to you in the future; clearly, I’m hopeless at it.”

“It’s an acquired talent,” he shrugged.

“Hm, well, I suppose I really haven’t ever had any practice,” she admitted. “My mother always cut my hair,” she added, with a nostalgic wistfulness creeping into her expression. “Even after we came to Kirkwall, she did it just like she did when we were children.” Hawke laughed under her breath, bowing her head forward against Fenris shoulder. “It’s one of my strongest memories from childhood, really—mother sitting us all down in a line and going down the row with a pair of scissors in hand. She was always so meticulous about it. Trying to make us look presentable. Just because we never saw anyone was no excuse to run around looking like little savages, she said.”

Her breath was warm as she let out another little gust of laughter. Fenris’ hands grazed up along her spine and lifted to catch the freshly hewn tips of her loose hair. He closed his eyes, holding her a little tighter to him. “I rather like you a little savage,” he murmured softly. “Naked and wrapped in furs.” He rested his chin on her shoulder, tilting his head against hers. “It suits you.”

When she pulled back slightly, her eyes meeting his, he saw that the sadness he had heard in her voice was gone from her expression now. She leaned forward, kissing him gently, and he smiled against her lips.

They remained together, wrapped within the warmth of the furs, for a long while. They parted only for a brief moment when Fenris faced the cold of the air in order to retrieve a book, which she read from quietly while they nestled together. It was an old edition, full of familiar folktales, but with a few more modern stories scattered throughout. In an effort to offer Fenris some of Ferelden’s history, she read to him from a story that chronicled and romanticized the reclamation of Ferelden’s throne from the Orlesian oppressors. She had heard this same tale many times in her youth and, though the words were unchanged, the story was entirely different from what she remembered. It was awkward now to remember a time when Loghain Mac Tir had been considered a hero—a military genius and an almost deified figure. She had always thought so, always admired him; she’d never quite been able to believe what she’d heard about Ostagar.

“My brother and I sometimes played that we were the rebels when we were growing up,” said Hawke as she was explaining the oddity of the story’s characterization of Loghain, “and I always made him let me pretend to be Loghain instead of Maric, which Carver said was ridiculous because I don’t have dark hair. But I always beat him out in the end. Growing up, the legend that surrounded Loghain was just so… romantic. The idea of a hero rising from nothing? Well… I always wanted to be like him.” Hawke laughed, shaking her head as she stared down at the page. “In the end, I guess I sort of was,” she finished quietly. Her brow furrowing, she added, seemingly to herself, “How can he live with it… after everything he’s done?” Her fingers traced thoughtfully over the words before her. “I wonder if he’s even sorry.”

“I think you’ll find that yours is rather a unique disposition, Elena,” Fenris murmured, brushing her hair away from her neck and exposing it to the soft touch of his lips. Her eyelids fluttered shut as he trailed light kisses towards her shoulder. “Not everyone has your depths,” he added, his voice low and thick.

She smiled, snapping the book shut and lifting one of her hands to cup the back of his head. “Care to go back to the tent and explore them?”

Without reply, he gathered her hastily into his arms and rose from the ground, staggering towards the waiting mouth of their shelter. Laughing, she tossed the book carelessly in the general direction of their supplies. As it collided roughly with her satchel, something within the pack rang softly, though she was barely aware of the sound as Fenris’ lips closed over hers.

As they lay together that night, with her nestled against his chest, she smiled absently to herself while her fingers traced over the markings that adorned his arms. Evening had darkened into her favorite sort of night. When the air was cooled after a warm day and yet was not joined by the falling of new rain. Beyond the canvas walls of their tent, she could hear the calls of owls as they swept down for their prey. Within their shelter, there was only the sound of Fenris’ breath as he fell to sleep ahead of her. His breath and his heartbeat, heard as she pressed her ear to his chest, soothed her. She enjoyed the privilege of being near enough to hear these signs of life and of being able to press against his body as they lay together. No matter the chill of the nights, she and Fenris seldom slept clothed any longer. It was a small luxury—a sign of their solitude and their freedom with one another. When she lay against him during the nights, she reveled in the feel of his skin. He slept on his back, his arm around her, and always pulled her close as they drifted off towards sleep. She had never, in all her life, felt smaller or more bare than she did when she was in his arms. It was a new sensation, and one she quite enjoyed. With her head on his chest and his arm around her, she felt safe.

Their positioning often shifted during the night, altered as sleep was interrupted by dreaming. Nightmares came to her often and, less frequently, visited him as well. On the occasions when his dreams were dark enough to wake him, Fenris rarely volunteered what the subject matter of those dreams had been. At times, he would speak softly of mages and of a time before their meeting, but, more often than not, he held his tongue. Silently, his eyes clouded with memories, he would pull her tightly against him while she planted soft kisses against his skin and murmured tender, reassuring nonsense until he fell back to sleep. That was generally the way of things, but it was different when he had dreamt of her. Instead of pulling her close, he would hold her away from her, staring at her. He would keep her at a slight distance for a long while, searching her face. It had surprised her the first time it had happened; the expression in his eyes held such confusion, as though he did not quite know who it was that he woke beside. She had not tried to touch him then and had offered no softly cooed words of reassurance. Instead, she had remained still, staring back at him. Slowly, he always came back to her, his eyes focusing once more as his disorientation seemed to fade. Once he was sure of the woman he held, he drew her back to him, holding her close and kissing her hair.

Hawke always struggled to fall asleep after Fenris had suffered through one of those dreams. There were so many years that had passed when she had half hated and half admired him; so many years when he had been caught between loathing her and loving her. Those years were full of memories. Whenever he looked upon her with that expression of mingling confusion and horror, she always wondered what his mind had shown him during the night. She wondered which cruel words had played for his ears again, which mocking smile had been flashed his way, which arrogant abuse of power he had witnessed once more. She wondered if he remembered Tevinter and everything that she had brought upon him there. Every time that he pulled her to him after dreaming of her, she was surprised. Merely attempting to guess at what he had remembered—running over in her own mind all that had passed during those wretched years—repulsed her. She wished that she could shove away that part of herself rather than living with it forever within her. When she remembered all she had done, she felt like an abomination—possessed by some fetid, foul spirit that could, at any moment, warp and change her into something monstrous… hollowing her out to make a home for itself. When Fenris held her to him again, she often came near weeping with relief and pity. It was so wretchedly unfair that she was blessed with having him while he was cursed with her.

Even so, she felt more secure while in his arms than she had ever felt in her life. He saw her—down even to the darkness, he saw her. She had always kept so much of herself hidden behind bright smiles and high walls and bold, brazen words. She knew now why she had remained so guarded; there was no feeling so terrible as when he looked at her, his eyes flooded with horror and disappointment, and saw all the wreckage that was scattered within her. But, at the same moment there was nothing better than knowing that he had truly seen down to her core. He had seen the worst of her, but he was with her still.

She had never had much faith in the longevity of affection. She’d harboured the unrelenting suspicion that love was never without conditions. In spite of what people said, there was nothing fixed or permanent about the sentiment. With enough time, it could fade; with the wrong step, it could die. She had always suspected that, if someone saw down to the depths of her, then there would be no one who would stay true to the pretty, poetic pledges uttered in the night. One false step, one wrong word, one unfortunate revelation. It was only a matter of time. She would test claims of love sometimes—being deliberately cold, purposely causing pain, exploring the limits of what she could do before it proved to be too much. She gave them fleeting glimpses of her darkness before losing her boldness and retreating to hide behind her mask and her blithe, empty smiles. There was no truth in that. It was never real.

But Fenris had seen the worst of her, hadn’t he? And yet he still held her. It was an awful and wonderful thing to be as exposed as she was with him. And, when she woke from her own nightmares, he brought her comfort with his warm arms and with the steady beating of his heart.

When he woke her from her dreams that night, she reached for him instinctively, seeking him out for comfort. But, when she rolled towards him, extending her arms for him to hold her, she found that he had turned onto his side, facing away from her. Her mind still clouded from the unconscious torment of her dreams, she let out a small whine of protest. It was oddly disorienting to have him shake her free of her nightmares only to have him turn from her. For a foggy, confused moment, she wondered if he had dreamt of something horrible that she had done to him, but then she remembered that she had been the one roused from a nightmare and not him.

Her brow furrowing, she stared with blurry eyes at the nape of his neck and the fall of his pale hair. He said nothing in the darkness and, when she let out another soft whine, he did not seem to hear her. “Are you… are you mad at me?” she asked dazedly, her voice a little ragged from sleep. He said nothing, responding only with a low grunt. Frantically, she tried to recall what she might have done to make him withdraw. Granted, he had plenty of reasons to be upset with her, but there seemed to be nothing new that she could think of. He had seemed contented enough as they had drifted off together. He had held her as always, kissed her as always, played gently with her hair as he always did. Her dazed mind tried to make sense of it as she reached out to tentatively touch his shoulder. When she lay her hand upon him, he shrugged sharply, jerking away from the contact. With her mind coming into focus, she felt a thrill of panic course through her. “Fenris, what did I do?” she asked, her eyes widening. “I don’t know what I did.”

After a short span of silence, he sighed. “You were calling out for your mage,” he answered roughly, neglecting to conceal any of the loathing he felt. “Anders.” He remained facing away from her, the muscles of his shoulders tightening with the aversion he felt towards uttering that name.

“Oh,” she said quietly, hugging her arms to her chest. Yes, she had been dreaming of Anders. Of her family and of Fenris and of all the people that she had hurt and destroyed. Tilting her chin down towards her chest, she murmured, “I can’t control who I dream about, Fenris.” Lifting her eyes to stare once more at the back of his head, she added softly, “And I dreamt of you also.”

This seemed to do little to assuage his anger. With a loud huff of bitter laughter, he said dryly, “Oh? What a marvelous thing to share with your abomination.”

Hawke frowned, finding herself at a loss for words. She had never anticipated waking to such a discussion. She had never anticipated having to discuss Anders with Fenris at all, if she was honest. True, there had always been animosity between them, but it astounded her that the mere mention of Anders’ name could still arouse so much resentment in Fenris. “Is that honestly why you’re upset with me?” she asked breathlessly, trying to understand how he could be so upset over a name muttered while she was unconscious. “Fenris… he was my friend. And I killed him. It would be unnatural not to think of him.”

Rolling to face her, she saw the etched lines of irritation between his knit brows. “He was more than your friend, Hawke,” he said with a bitterness that surprised her.

She was also surprised to find a knot swelling in her throat which made speech exceedingly difficult. When she did force out words, she found that they sounded hoarse. “Yes, he was more than my friend,” she choked, suddenly becoming aware that she was near crying. “He was an enormous part of my life for so many years.” She deepened the inclination of her head, trying to hide the fact that her eyes had begun to overflow. “And maybe I didn’t always agree with everything he did or love him the way I love you, but he was important to me. He was my friend… my teacher… my first.” It proved more painful to speak of Anders than she would have thought. She heard her voice break like a child’s and felt the swell of irritation building within her. “And I can’t believe that you’re upset with me right now because my friend is dead. And I… and I’ll never see him again. Or hear his voice. Or…. And I love you more than anything, but… he mattered to me and I… and I….” Her voice cracked and she realized that, just then, she wouldn’t be able to say what she had done to Anders. She could only bring herself to say, “And he’s dead.” Lifting her hands, she hid her face in a futile effort to conceal the tears that she knew were becoming increasingly evident. She felt a mounting irritation with herself for getting so agitated over a shadow of a memory.

Fenris stared at her, his expression of annoyance giving way to one of concern. When he had heard her low, repeated cries for the mage, he had felt a sudden swelling of anger. Even in sleep, her face had held such intense distress and her voice had been so desperate. As irrational as he knew his jealousy was, he hadn’t wanted to offer her comfort while her mind was full of another man. To hold her in his arms while she trembled and lamented the passing of her former lover—it had all seemed so immensely distasteful to him until he heard the quavering of her voice and saw the suppressed shaking of her shoulders as she fought back her tears. Fenris shifted towards her, wrapping both his arms around her while she kept her face hidden behind her hands. He heard her sniff wetly as he cradled her to his chest, whispering softly that she shouldn’t cry. This seemed to have rather the opposite effect that he had hoped for, serving instead to make her sob with increasing volume. Still, he held her close, murmuring some nonsense words that he hoped were reassuring. Stroking his hands over her back, he bent his head to kiss the top of her head. Such caresses seemed to comfort her and, with time, her tears seemed to subside. He suspected that he had successfully soothed her when she inched upwards against him, kissing his lips lightly while the moisture of her tears transferred to his cheek. Fenris lowered his hands to the small of her back, spreading flat palms over her skin.

Hawke pulled away from his lips, keeping her face near to his and her eyes closed, and whispered thickly, “I’m sorry for crying.”

He brought one of his hands to toy with the ends of her hair. “I’m sorry your friend is dead,” he replied quietly.

“So am I,” she murmured, smiling softly. She wasn’t entirely sure that she believed him, but it was enough to hear him speak the words. “And I’m sorry for saying someone else’s name… but know that I always, always dream of you.”

“I know. I was behaving like a child.”

Fenris heard her let out a little breath of relieved laughter, brushing her lips quickly against his before she wriggled down, settling against his chest with her arms around him and their thighs pressed close together. He maintained a tight, protective hold on her as she tried to fall back asleep. He knew that sleep would come less readily to him. It was absurd, he knew, but the thought of Anders still nettled him. The thought that the mage had once held her this way, offering her warmth and comfort when she needed it. He hated the idea of her with him. Of her with anyone, really. But Anders was the only one of her lovers he could name—the only face that he could conjure when, in odious moments, he found himself picturing her in the arms of someone else. As he was trying to dismiss such unpleasant imagining from his mind, a thought abruptly occurred to Fenris. He furrowed his brow, recalling what she had said offhandedly while her voice was still rough with tears. “The mage was the first you…?” he heard himself ask, his internal musings unintentionally giving themselves voice.

Hawke drew back from him, looking up into his face with some measure of surprise. He was relieved, at least, that she did not appear to be upset by his tactless inquiry. “Well, yes.” She tilted her head to the side, her lips turning into a slight frown. “But you knew that, didn’t you? I was given to understand that it was something you all gossiped about when my back was turned.”

“It was something that was never discussed within my hearing,” he replied, his voice low. She heard him let out a low groan as his arms tightened around her to the extent that she had to gasp as her ribcage compressed slightly under the pressure of his embrace. “It makes me hate him all the more; I would have thought that to be impossible,” he added gruffly, burying his face in her hair.

It had never occurred to Hawke before that Fenris might feel jealousy directed towards Anders. They had hated each other, to be sure, but she had never suspected that she was the root of any of that enmity. Nuzzling slightly closer to him, she smiled against his shoulder before lightly kissing his skin. “It’s never been like this before,” she told him softly, adjusting herself within his arms so her face was even with his. Lifting her hands, she gently tangled them in his hair as she met his eye. “You… you’re the first I’ve ever loved.” Lightly, she touched her lips to his. “You’re my everything.”

She kissed sweetly, coaxingly. He had never doubted, of course, that she was his or that her love for him was total. Still, there was something comforting in her words. In knowing that, in this at least, their experience was matched. “You’re mine as well,” he muttered hesitantly, embarrassment almost halting the words. “The first.”

She smiled at him through the darkness before bringing her lips swiftly back to his. For a long while, they remained twined together in this manner, offering each other soft reassurances, before she came to rest in the circle of his arms and finally eased back into sleep. 

Chapter Text

“It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you.”

-A Room with a View, E.M. Forster

The air smelled like shit. Fenris’ nose crinkled with disgust as he fought to keep from inhaling too much of the odor, but Hawke was unperturbed by the heavy stench that wafted off of the nearby farmland. Though her father had never been what anyone might call a farmer, their family had always kept a small garden which supplied them with fresh herbs and vegetables. Hawke was familiar with the scent of freshly tilled soil churned together with the turkey dung that her father had used to fertilize the plants. Unpleasant though the smell of manure was, it now held some strange, nostalgic quality. She remembered the dirt that had clung to her father’s weathered hands when he had come back from the garden, his face shining slightly with sweat and his cheeks reddened from sunshine. Smiling wistfully at the memory, Hawke wound her arm through the crook of Fenris’ elbow and, resting her head against his shoulder, tilted her face upwards to catch of glimpse of his expression. Seeing how he grimaced against the smell, she laughed under her breath. Perhaps he would have preferred travelling through the forest to skirting alongside the fragrant farmlands of the Bannorn.

After several sun-filled days, they had finally managed to complete the cumbersome task of laundering their clothing and bedding. With fresh clothes at last, Hawke had thought that they looked civilized enough to safely walk along populated roads without attracting any unwanted attention to themselves. She had made the assumption that Fenris, with his bare feet, might prefer traversing relatively smooth roads to trudging along the rocky, pitted paths that they had been using of late. She had failed to consider the fact that the time for planting spring wheat had arrived and that the air would be pungent with the reek of fertilizer. Fenris did seem to be adjusting to the smell, but it was clear that he was still acutely aware of it and that he found it immensely distasteful. As Hawke pressed close to his side, she tried to conjure some image of him tending a garden as her father had. Though she was accustomed to the sight of Fenris’ hands caked with blood, it was nearly impossible to imagine them crusted with soil after a long afternoon spent planting vegetables. She supposed that, when the time inevitably came for them to settle in one place, she would simply have to take on the responsibility of gardening herself. Granted, she had a rather tragic history with maintaining plants, but she knew that one of them would invariably have to assume the chore. Winters in Ferelden were harsh and, when she was a young girl, the preserves that her mother had stored away had proved to be an absolute necessity. Food was always scarce when the weather grew cold and it would be difficult to get by on hunting alone once the snow began to fall.

Of course, it would be a long while yet before they would have to trouble themselves with such practicalities. Summer had not yet come to Ferelden and it would be months still before the trees began to lose the leaves that now covered their branches with brilliant verdancy. Until that time came, it was highly unlikely that Hawke would find herself motivated to consider a matter so trivial as how they would sustain themselves through the cold months ahead. For the time being, she found herself preoccupied with the slight parting of Fenris’ lips as he took breath through his mouth in an effort to catch as little as possible of the assaultive odor that hung in the air. Hawke nudged him gently, drawing his gaze down to her and smiling broadly as their eyes met. The hint of a frown he had been wearing shifted into a subtle smile as he leaned down to lightly kiss her sunburnt cheek. He lingered after doing so, burying his face in her hair on the pretext of inhaling her scent rather the fumes that the rising wind carried towards them.

As Fenris clung to her, Hawke was pleased to have him so close. Even she, with her abnormally warm blood and her thick wool dress, was feeling the chill of the day. It was not altogether unusual in springtime for a few lovely days to be followed by scattered storms and, judging from the dark wall of clouds that lay in the distance, it wouldn’t be much longer before the rain began to fall. Already, the blustering wind and the metallic scent in the air told of the coming showers. Even Brutus seemed ill at ease, frequently whining and shifting uncertainly as he looked up at the darkening sky. A low, heavy cloud suddenly obscured the sun and, as the road they travelled darkened with shadow, Brutus reared up abruptly and let out a sharp bark. Hawke scarcely had time to react before the mabari fled from her side, racing off into a thin, weedy copse of trees that stretched along the margin of the road. Mildly alarmed at the severity of his reaction, Hawke called after him. Brutus did not return to her call and, when she shouted out his name once more, she was answered only by the frantic rustling of the underbrush and susurrant chorus of the wind through the trees.

“Brutus!” she shouted again, moving towards the trees. At last, he came bounding out from amongst the thickets. Though he came forward, however, his attention seemed to be held but whatever had drawn him away from Hawke’s side. Running her hand over Brutus’ ears, Hawke squinted off into the dusky shadows that danced over the undergrowth beneath trees. She saw nothing however and, when she looked down at Brutus for some clue, he did not seem to be alarmed. Shaking her head, Hawke glanced at Fenris and said, “It must have been a squirrel or something.”

“Perhaps,” he said, his brow furrowing and his gaze pulled towards the trees as his hand continued to absently stroke Hawke’s arm. She smiled, moving so she stood before him and rose to her toes, tacitly inviting a kiss. His eyes were drawn back to Hawke and, pausing with her near the center of the road, he brought his lips to hers. Hawke wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him firmly against her and, for a protracted moment, they remained entangled with one another. They failed even to notice the rattle of a merchant’s cart as it rolled on past them, raising a cloud of dust in its wake. The red particles, still aloft in the breeze, swirled around Fenris and Hawke as they parted. Flushed, she moved to stand beside him again and, sliding her hand into his, began down the road once more.

Hawke relished the easiness that had developed with Fenris during these days of travel. However, the better things were Fenris, the slower their progress through Ferelden became. During those glorious, sunny days that had come before the darkening of the skies, she and Fenris had found themselves wasting several days by remaining camped in one place, beside a small grove of willows that wept over the mirror of a clear pond. It had not been a deliberate choice to stay, but they had found themselves lingering and quite forgetting that they were not necessarily meant to remain in any one location for too long. It had been ages since they had discussed where they were actually going. For all Hawke knew, they were simply bound to spend the rest of their lives as wandering nomads. Such a prospect didn’t trouble her overmuch, though, if they did plan to brave a Ferelden winter with only their thin tent to guard them from the elements, then she would definitely need to invest in some heavier clothing and sturdier boots. Hawke seldom considered such things, however.

In her more lucid moments, when she was able to think beyond the warm arm that encircled her shoulders, she still experienced brief returns to coherent thought. She was sure that, one day, her former mental faculties would be restored to their normal functioning, but, having never been giddily in love before, she was not entirely certain how long that would take. During transitory, sparkling moments of competence—infrequent though they were—she sometimes had the clarity to consider what the upcoming months would bring. Her life, of course, was very much intertwined with Fenris’ and he tended to rather dominate her musings about what the future would hold. She thought about what it might be like to lapse into a normal, ordinary routine with him. She had gotten a taste of it during those few days that they had spent amongst the willows. When they had finally decided to move on from that place, Hawke had found, much to her own surprise, that she was hesitant to gather their supplies together once more. She would miss the slow mornings spent making breakfast together and the afternoons spent lackadaisically patching torn clothing. This came to her as something of a shock. She had always pitied the smallness of her mother’s life, with its tiny scope that extended no further than the small circle of their family. As a child, she had always wanted something larger. She had yearned for power and excitement and for the immortality that comes with becoming a legend. Growing older had never altered these early ambitions. But of course, she had already led the life she had dreamt of as a child. Both she and Fenris had already lived lives filled with adventure and chaos and glory. And now she found herself imagining what it might be like to fall asleep in the same bed every night with the same small stretch of ceiling overhead.

It was never a musing that occupied her mind for long, or even one that she ever consciously entertained for more than the most fleeting of moments, but it was a growing inclination within her. From time to time, she did find herself wondering if she was even suited for an ordinary life or if Fenris would grow bored with her once they were confined together in one small house on one small plot of land in one small corner of the vast world. She wondered if he would feel confined again, chained again, if they limited themselves to only a miniscule portion of what the world of infinite possibilities had to offer. She had no desire to anchor Fenris or to make him feel trapped and, in all honestly, she was certain that she would miss drifting about wherever they chose.

This passed swiftly over Hawke’s mind as she glanced off over the long, parallel lines of the furrows that had been carved into the fields. Her thoughts were quickly diverted, however, by another sudden bark from Brutus. He was not amongst the wooded portion of the landscape this time, but was instead pawing at a solitary ash tree with his eyes trained on a nest of birds overhead. Hawke sighed exasperatedly. “Brute!” she shouted as her pet began to hurl himself energetically at the trunk of the tree, shaking it and threatening to dislodge the small, peeping chicks from its branches. Brutus turned back to her, letting out a plaintive whine before looking back up towards the frantically chirping birds. “I know, I know,” said Hawke understandingly. “I’m sure they look delicious, but they’re too small. Barely more than a mouthful.”

With a huff of grudging acceptance, Brutus turned from the tree and trotted back to Hawke. As he reached her side, he butted his head against her leg and, in reward for the restraint he had just showed, she reached down to stroke his head and ruffle his ears fondly. Contentedly, he let out a low rumbling sound that might almost have been called a purr. Brutus grew restless not long afterwards, however, and, as their trio continued down the road, the mabari kept sniffing the air and whining at intervals. At last, Hawke sighed and, turning to Fenris, said, “I think he must be hungry. Care to settle in so you boys can have a hunt?”

“As long as we settle far from that foul stench, I’ll voice no objection.”

Hawke laughed, shaking her head. “Well, you are definitely not suited for life as a farmer,” she remarked quietly, her eyes falling incidentally upon a small speck of a farmhouse that stood beyond the fields.

Fenris raised one of his eyebrows quizzically. “Was that ever in question?”

“No, I suppose not,” she replied as they veered away from the road and made their way towards a series of gently rolling hills that lay in the direction of the sinking sun.

When they came to a stop for the evening, sheltered by the surrounding slopes and a grove of oaks, Hawke and Fenris put together their campsite with the effortlessness that comes of much practice. Once their tent was erected and a circle of stones placed to form a makeshift fire pit, Fenris led Brutus off towards a promising woodland that might offer game. The hunt was never particularly challenging this time of year, when animals were plentiful. It was made still easier by the cooperation that had arisen between Fenris and Hawke’s mabari. They made very compatible hunting partners. Brutus, with this keen nose, was able to sniff out prey and lead Fenris to where the creatures hid. Then, with boundless enthusiasm, Brutus would flush out the game while Fenris, with practiced precision and speed, killed the animals which fled from the questing dog. When the prize for their efforts was won, Brutus was always given his fair share of the meat and, occasionally, affectionate praise from Fenris. Brutus enjoyed whatever praise he received almost more than his meals; he had come to approve of Hawke’s mate.

While Fenris and the mabari began their hunt, Hawke remained behind and dealt with a few remaining matters around camp. Once alone, she promptly conjured a golden blaze into life in the fire pit. The wind, even with the surrounding hills, was still bitter and seemed to be growing colder as the evening progressed. The warmth of the fire washed over her pleasantly and, though she would have very much liked to settle down beside the flames, she began the process of casting her customary shield around the perimeter of the campsite. It was not particularly strong magic, but it was still something that she preferred to do while Fenris was absent; it always made her self-conscious to walk around the camp, magic spilling from her hands, while Fenris sat perfectly still and glowered at her. He recognized the necessity of protecting themselves through the night, but Hawke suspected that Fenris was more comfortable with the general knowledge that she was a mage than he was with specific, concrete displays of her power.

It was only once the protective barrier was in place and there were no more spells to cast that Hawke settled beside the fire. Bathed in its light and wonderful heat, Hawke sighed contentedly and watched the spastic dance of the flames. Though she felt relaxed, it was almost eerily calm without either Fenris or Brutus nearby. There was peace in solitude, it was true, and she no longer felt the clenching panic that had once plagued her whenever Fenris left her side, but Hawke did feel a twinge of loneliness. It was odd; she never used to get lonely. Pulling her knees to her chest and closing her eyes, she listened absently to the rustling song of the trees and the percussive beating of the canvas as the wind broke against the tent.

She didn’t hear Fenris’ footsteps as he returned, bearing a haul of rabbits that he and Brutus had flushed out of a small warren. Fenris smiled, watching the firelight wash over her, and he might have kept Hawke in ignorance of his presence for a moment longer, but Brutus rushed forward and licked Hawke’s face in greeting. Sputtering and wiping drool from her face, she laughed and looked up to meet Fenris’ eye. He shrugged apologetically on behalf of the mabari before wordlessly holding out his offering of four plump rabbits.

He was able to strip them of their skins with quick, deft movements. He held each freshly prepared rabbit out to Hawke, who suspended them close to the fire on makeshift spits. The fire burned brilliantly before them as Fenris slipped another smooth, pink rabbit into her hand. His fingers remained against hers for a moment as she accepted the slick body from him. She looked up at Fenris and, seeing the heat in his eyes, laughed at how ill-timed his desire was.

“Wash your hands before supper,” she told him, teasingly imitating the stern maternal authority of her mother.

With a lopsided quirk of a smile, Fenris rose obligingly from the fireside. Before he went to follow her orders, however, he circled around to where she knelt and, stooping, kissed her swiftly on the crown of her head. “As you wish,” he murmured quietly, straightening once more and beginning to walk away from the fire.

Her eyes followed him. “Use soap!” she called after him. His shoulders shook with a silent laugh as he went to retrieve the bar of lye from their supplies.

They had not settled so close to a proper water source as they typically did, but there was a narrow trickling of water that babbled around the base of one of the grassy hills. It was a short walk to it, relatively, but, in the dimming light, Fenris stumbled more than once over the uneven ground. Hawke watched him all the while, turning the spits with automatic carelessness while, Brutus, not needing to trouble himself with inconsequential things like cooking, gnawed noisily on the haunch of his own meal.

When Fenris returned, Hawke rose, extending her hand and accepting the soap that he held out to her. “Keep an eye on them, will you?” she said, gesturing towards the lightly browning rabbits with a tilt of her head. Fenris nodded, sitting down in exactly the space that she had vacated upon standing. He began turning the rabbits far more frequently than was required of him while Hawke went off in the direction of the narrow stream.

Off to the west, sinking into a flat stretch of plain, the bright orb of the sun turned crimson and bled orange light into the dark clouds that lay across the horizon. To the east, where the sky was purpled and blackening with incipient night, Hawke fancied that she saw the core of the embankment of clouds pulse with a shiver of lightning. It was surely raining elsewhere in the Bannorn that night. She hoped that the storm would pass them by.

Beside the stream, she knelt, wet up to the elbows and thoroughly frothing soap over her hands. As she washed the suds from herself, splashing about noisily, Hawke lifted her eyes and stared off towards the light that emanated from the campfire. The branches that she and Fenris had used to fuel the flames had perhaps been too green, she realized, as she watched lazy spirals of smoke rise into the thickening darkness of the sky. Beside that smoking fire, she clearly discerned Fenris’ shape. He was fully illuminated, casting a long shadow outwards towards the edge of their camp. Even at this distance, she could tell that his head was turned towards her. He watched the spot where he knew she was in spite of the fact that, in this dusky light, he could only see her faintest outline. Hawke smiled to herself, sitting back on the damp stones, and watched him stare blindly into the darkness after her.

“Fuck,” she breathed, her voice touched with wonderment as well as the faint, thrilling fear that comes of having a heart that no longer beats within the body. Shaking her head but smiling still, she rose from the ground and wiped her wet hands against her clothes before making her way back to Fenris.

The light barrier of her spell brushed harmlessly against her skin as she passed through it and, either from that tingling magic or from Fenris’ soft smile, she felt a thrill pass over her skin. Clumsily falling to her knees beside him and smiling more broadly than was strictly dignified, she rested her arms on his shoulders and leaned forward to press her lips to his. If he found the unprovoked enthusiasm with which she kissed him surprising, he did not show it. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her so she toppled into his lap. Hawke gasped as her balance gave way, but relaxed easily against him once he held her. Her hand stroking over the nape of his neck, she sighed softly as his tongue lightly touched against hers. She would have happily remained so longer, but Fenris broke their kiss and said, regret evident in his thick voice, “The rabbits will burn.” It was regrettable, but true and, grumbling bitterly, Hawke slid free of Fenris’ embrace and removed their dinner from the fire.

Even when the food was simple and entirely unseasoned, Hawke always seemed to have a natural appetite at the end of the day. She barely noticed the change in her own behavior, but Fenris was aware of it. Her manners left something to be desired in terms of delicacy, but he was always relieved when she ate without his prompting. Though Fenris had lessened his interference with her habits, he had nevertheless continued to observe her carefully. Even as her ribs grew less visible and her hips grew softer beneath his hands, he thought it unwise to become inattentive; he knew well enough that he had greater concern for her wellbeing than she had for herself. It was a relief to watch her returning to health though, granted, there were aspects of her recovery that had caught him off guard. The blood had been… surprising… though, in hindsight, he ought to have been more alarmed by its absence. Slowly, her body was building back to its natural functioning. She was no longer overly tired by their travel and, when he looked at the curves of her breasts and the gentle widening of her hips, he could almost imagine that this was what her robes had hidden from him through all those years in Kirkwall. Almost. They would get there faster, he was sure, if he had something to offer her besides gamey meats. He wondered passingly if she liked cakes and how feasible it would be to steal them for her. 

In his contemplation of her health, Fenris had begun to stare rather too intently at her figure, chewing with his mouth hanging open and his brow drawn as if he were in very serious thought. When his eyes rose incidentally to her face, Hawke was grinning broadly. Sheepishly, he bowed his head to stare down at the rabbit he’d been absentmindedly consuming. He heard her stifle a laugh before she said lightly, “Well, that’s a change of pace; usually, I’m the one blatantly leching over dinner.”

He cleared his throat and pretended that he hadn’t heard her. This only served to make her laugh again, but her muted amusement was lost beneath the scrambling sound of Brutus suddenly rising to his feet. His nose raised to the wind, the mabari spun crazily in a series of rapid circles while Hawke and Fenris watched with widened eyes. “He’s been on edge all day,” said Hawke slowly, rising from the ground and staring into the blackness where Brutus’ eyes were now fixed.

“The storm?” offered Fenris, his low, cautious voice suggesting that not even he believed that to be the cause of the mabari’s agitation. Keeping his eyes fixed on the impenetrable darkness beyond their campground, Fenris reached out to the side and felt for where he had laid his sword. His hand tightening around the hilt, Fenris rose slowly from the ground, standing at Hawke’s side.

“There’s something out there,” she whispered, stepping closer towards the transparent shield that separated them from the darkness. As if in confirmation of her words, Brutus let out a low growl.

“Let it come.” Fenris stepped out in front of Hawke, but Brutus went even beyond him, rushing suddenly through the protective barrier and disappearing beyond their sight.

“Brutus!” Hawke called after him.

She was answered only with a single, loud yelp that broke through the darkness.

Instantaneously, her hand flared with a brilliant green glow that swelled around her skin before she hurled a blinding sphere of light into the blackness. Her spell cast its ethereal light down onto the long, waving grasses of the hillside and the dark, hulking shape that was coming forward from the shadows.

His sword held aloft and ready to strike, Fenris watched as Brutus trotted briskly back through Hawke’s spell with his tail wagging and his pink tongue lolling out and flopping about with each of his buoyant steps forward.

Fenris stared indignantly at the beast as, after licking Hawke’s hand, it sat down at their feet and looked innocently up at them. Hawke seemed to share in some of Fenris’ indignation. “Brutus,” she snapped, “what in the name of Andraste’s flaming ass are you thinking? You can’t just run off like that!” In spite of her irritation, however, it was clear that any anger she felt was the result of worry; as she shouted at him, she knelt beside her dog, wrapping her arms around him and petting him with a vigor that didn’t exactly seem in accordance with the harsh tone of her voice.

“Hawke….”

She lifted her eyes to Fenris and then followed his gaze out to where the light of her spell still hovered in the air. Amongst the tall grasses, she saw something shift.

As Hawke’s hold on him loosened, Brutus broke free from her and, barking excitedly, trotted back to the barrier where he continued to stand, his tail wagging so frantically that it shook the entire lower half of his body.

Coming forward from the otherworldly green light into the blazing, golden warmth of the fire’s glow, came a low, crouching creature. At first, Hawke could discern little about the animal aside from the fact that it was immensely hairy, but, as it came forward out of the grass and cowered at the edge of her barrier, she realized that it was, in fact, a very small wolf. Small enough that she might almost have mistaken it for a coyote had its softly rounded ears and blunt, square snout not clearly marked it for what it was. Though its head was lowered, Hawke still caught sight of fresh wounds on its muzzle that, if she had to hazard a guess, had probably been opened by Brutus. Hawke stared at her pet. “Is that what all this has been about?” she said incredulously. “A tiny slip of a wolf?”

Brutus let out a cheerful yip of confirmation and, in her mabari’s brown eyes, Hawke thought she detected some measure of pride in his discovery. She sighed heavily, both relieved and irritated that all the commotion had come to nothing.

Fenris, however, did not seem as willing to dismiss the potential threat. “We should remain vigilant; its pack may still be close by.”

Hawke, draining of the adrenaline that had built up moments earlier, stared appraisingly at the animal. It was still hunched submissively, the ample fluff of its tail tucked between its legs, while Brutus sniffed intrusively around its hindquarters. “I think it’s alone,” Hawke said thoughtfully. “There are some older bite marks on its muzzle and ears; I don’t think that it has a pack anymore.”

With a blunt thrust of his snout, Brutus nudged his newfound discovery sharply on the underside of its belly. Bowing to the pressure of the larger beast, the biddable wolf fell to the side and lay motionless on its back while Brutus continued his inspection. Reflexively demonstrating surrender, it licked at Brutus’ face. Once more, the powerful wagging of his own tail seemed in danger of knocking Brutus off his feet. Hawke laughed but, when she glanced over at Fenris, she saw that he looked pensive rather than amused. His blade, still clutched in his hand, caught the light of the fire as he shifted his grip.

“Don’t hurt it,” Hawke said gently, placing light fingertips on the back of his hand. “I don’t think it’s a threat. It can’t even get through the barrier.”

Fenris glanced over at her, looking mildly insulted that she had found it necessary to warn him off the creature. “I wasn’t planning on killing it out of hand,” he said crossly, “but we can’t have it nosing about either.”

Hawke sighed, removing her hand from Fenris’, and looked back to where Brutus was now batting at the hapless wolf’s tail as though it were an incredibly thrilling toy. “Well, what are we going to do? Throw rocks at it until it goes away?”

“I’ve heard worse propositions,” Fenris grumbled.

“Oh, come now, there’s no reason to be so dour. That thing’s half the size of Brutus; there’s no reason why we can’t give it a scrap of food and send it on its way.”

Fenris stared at her as if unable to comprehend the sheer depths of her idiocy. “If you feed it, it will never leave, Hawke,” he said in a stern tone. His gravity amused her, but she kept from laughing for fear of offending him while he had such a serious air.

Nevertheless, an irrepressible smile did contort her lips. “If we keep it, I’ll let you choose his name,” she said wheedlingly, as if such a thing would be an enormous inducement.

Exasperated, Fenris let out a rough sigh. “I am not going to choose its name,” he told her firmly. “We are not keeping a wild animal.”

Hawke shrugged, looking back to where Brutus was bouncing in excited circles. “Alright,” sighed Hawke resignedly. “We can just call him Wolf until you think of something better.”

“We’re not calling him anything. We’re not keeping it.”

“Not forever,” she replied, abandoning her tone of light teasing, “but I don’t see the harm in letting him stay for a little while. He’s so small; I doubt he can even make it on his own.”

Fenris faced her, torn between annoyance and grudging amusement at her obstinacy. He only allowed hard disapproval to show in his expression, however, which she countered with a cajoling smile. “It’s a wild animal,” he reminded her, his tone betraying that he was already in danger of bending to her will. “If it is incapable of surviving in the wild, that is no concern of ours.”

Sensing his susceptibly to her, Hawke pouted childishly, thrusting out her lower lip and batting her wide eyes at him. He scowled at her. “That won’t work.”

Her pout broke suddenly into a bright smile. “It won’t?”

Fenris looked from Hawke to the cavorting beasts and then turned his gaze back to her. Sighing heavily, he walked off towards the fire pit with the tip of his sword dragging through the dirt as he went. “Have you always had this proclivity for coddling vicious animals or is this a recent development?” he asked dryly, dropping his sword to the ground beside their supplies. “Will you be wanting a dragonling next?”

“Now that you mention it, I have always thought that they had a certain kittenish charm.”

“Oh?” he returned, sitting down sulkily beside the fire. “Then I’ll just go fetch one, shall I?”

With a low chuckle, Hawke turned from Fenris and, with a wave of her hand, sent her barrier splintering into showering sparks of light. Brutus lifted his head and, with a short bark, seemed to covey to his new friend that it was alright to stand. With Brutus hovering at his side, the wolf tentatively made his way into camp. Sniffing the air, the lean creature drifted towards the bones of the rabbits that Fenris and Hawke had been devouring. Ears pricking, he moved towards the two whole rabbits that remained uneaten, but Brutus let out warning growl that stilled the wolf. Tail tucking between his legs once more, the wolf took a series of short, staggering steps towards Fenris before flopping over onto the ground beside the elf. This gesture of docility, however, did not appear to soften Fenris, who merely scowled at the white belly and throat that were offered to him. Hawke let out a snort of laughter and Fenris lifted his eyes to her. “This is idiocy,” he said flatly.

Hawke approached Fenris, ruffling his hair fondly before lowering herself down behind him, running her hands from his hair to his shoulders and grazing on downwards over his abdomen until her flattened palms came to rest against his navel. “Oh, it’s not so bad,” she murmured sweetly in Fenris’ ear. “Brutus will keep him in line. He’s been begging for a pet of his own for ages, anyway.”

“In that case, Brutus can feed him,” Fenris said, turning his head towards where Hawke hovered about beside his shoulder. “I do not hunt for the pleasure of sharing your supper with something that, under other circumstances, would happily tear out your throat.”

Hawke smiled at Fenris’ aggrieved acquiescence and nuzzled affectionately against his neck, trailing soft kisses up towards his ear. “Brute, take your little friend hunting,” she ordered coolly, drawing away from her fond ministrations only long enough to issue the command to her pet. As Brutus began to escort his new companion away from camp, Hawke settled down comfortably behind Fenris, sitting on the ground with her legs splayed apart and pressing in on either side of him. “There. Problem solved,” she said, returning to the process of littering Fenris’ neck with kisses.

His head tilted involuntarily to the side as her teeth grazed enticingly against his skin, giving rise to a pleasurable thrill of yearning within him. “Hawke…,” he said gravely, trying to maintain a certain degree of grave composure as one of her hands slid from his abdomen down into his lap.

Perceiving his continued displeasure, Hawke ceased her coaxing caresses and, in a tone that conveyed her appreciation for his concern, said, “Fenris, I’m not a complete dunce; I do plan on putting up a shield around our tent tonight. A stronger one than usual. I don’t want to take any reckless chances either, love, but I couldn’t just leave that scrawny thing whimpering there all night. Brutus asks very little of me and, if he wants a pet, then I can hardly deny him one.” With a spreading smile, she added, “Especially not if it means that he’ll have someone to keep him busy while you and I are alone together.” Her hand shifted with slow deliberation between his legs and his eyes closed, his breath catching. “Do you… want to be alone together?” she said quietly, her lips brushing against the shell of his ear.

He nodded his assent and, hastily rising, they withdrew to their tent. Already stripping off his shirt as he ducked into their shelter, Fenris said with gentle reproof, “You’re too soft, Hawke. Taking in wild animals.”

She smiled as he knelt down in the blankets beside her. “Too soft?” she echoed. “Well, that’s certainly something I’ve never been accused of before.” She leaned closer to him, swiftly touching her lips to his bare chest, before she sat back and said apologetically, “Now, before I forget, I’m afraid I’ll need to concentrate for a moment.”

Fenris was about to speak when her eyes closed and her magic flared, emanating from her suddenly and sweeping outwards towards the periphery of the tent, forming into a barrier just beyond the canvas walls of their shelter. Fenris gasped, the words he had been about to utter dying in his throat. He felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise as her power washed over him. The whole of his body shuddered with response to the stinging galvanization of his lyrium markings as they reacted with her magic. His eyes closed, his muscles tensing as he fought to diminish the unwelcome sensation that coursed through him.

It was an unusual thing for him to be so very near to her while she was casting. He was always aware of the magic within her when their bodies came in contact, but, when her power swelled, the intensity of it startled him. Truly, the response in his skin was not entirely unpleasant and he might have almost been able to enjoy the delicate twinge of pain that could so easily be mistaken for pleasure. But it was so revoltingly familiar a feeling—the rush of magic, the ache of his skin, the sudden, sickening pulse within him. Overcome by the vague feeling of nausea, Fenris inhaled shakily. He was just barely able to compose himself by the time she was done casting and the crackle of magic faded slightly from the air.

“There,” she said. “We can sleep safely now.”

He nodded, even managing something like a smile, and, unaware of his discomfort, Hawke slipped easily back into to the conversation they had been having moments earlier. “I suppose it’s only that animals are a bit easier for me than people.” As she spoke, she casually began to disrobe. “They never expect you to be more than what you are.” As she lifted her dress over her head, her hair caught against her collar and, when she tossed the garment aside, her loose tresses fell tumultuously down once more. “They never look at you like you’re a monster.” Fenris nodded again, though he was not quite sure what she had said.

She looked lovely, left wearing only a thin shift made of soft, white muslin that had been rendered semi-transparent with many washings. That pale, thin cloth fell over the peaks of her breasts and gathered in a rumpled pile of folds across her lap. Unbidden, it flashed across Fenris’ mind that she looked as beautiful then, kneeling before him in that tent, as she had when he had seen her in Minrathous. Dressed in white, with her shining hair cascading over her shoulders and falling in waves around her smiling face. Fenris swallowed, looking away from her quickly. It was ridiculous. Shaking his head and blinking his eyes shut several times in quick succession, he tried to rid himself of the sickness that seemed to be firmly rooted in the pit of his stomach. That ridiculous, nauseating sense of familiarity. There was something in the hum of her spell closing in around the tent, in the electric thrill of lyrium in his skin, that had rendered him too vulnerable to memory. It was nonsense; he had seen her in that same white shift a hundred thousand times over, seen her smiling at him times beyond counting. There was no possible reason for him to be reminded of her as she was then—an ivory splash in the crowd, her bright eyes piercing the clouds that had fallen over his vision.

Her eyes—brilliant and glimmering and colored like honey. He would have named the color yellow, but she didn’t care for that, did she? Gold, then. Golden eyes that had fixed solely on him. He remembered the sadness and the horror that had filled those eyes as she looked upon him. She had seen. She had seen everything. The white cloth of her dress had moved smoothly over her skin as she drifted towards him. Her hair had fallen down over her shoulders, loose and shining, just as it did now. Her lips had curved into a smile, as they did now. And the air had burned with magic, prickling over his skin, as her voice rang through the hall. “A shiny little wolf at the end of a gilded leash. I wonder if I can teach him to heel.” He shook his head again, closing his eyes tightly as he forced his mind to clear. When he was convinced of his own steadiness, Fenris lifted his gaze back to her once more. She was smiling no longer, he found, but was watching him with an expression of earnest concern.

“Fenris?” She reached out to him, laying her hand over his. He noticed then that his hands had tightened into fists. “Fenris?” she repeated gently, her soft voice forming a question out of the word.

“You… wore white in Tevinter,” he said hoarsely. He had meant the remark to sound inconsequential, but his voice came to him more roughly than he had expected and managed to convey the agitation that he had been trying to suppress. He let out a mirthless breath of laughter, but quickly regretted it; the laugh made him seem on the brink of madness rather than conveying the carelessness that he had intended.

Her light caresses over the back of his tensed hand stilled abruptly. “Oh.” She drew her hand away from him, laying it on her own knee as she bowed her head.

Fenris wished that he had just held his tongue and allowed the moment to pass. He could have so easily told her that nothing was the matter. He might have said that he wished that she wouldn’t use magic in front of him. He could have said any number of things that would not have made her respond in that weak, despondent voice. He meant to remedy it quickly and, when he lifted his eyes, he intended to smile nonchalantly—perhaps with a touch of bitterness, but with a general carelessness that would betray nothing. And then, as quickly as he could, he would convince her to dismiss the matter and they would have to discuss it no further. Yet, when he did meet her eyes, they brimmed with the same sadness that had filled them when he had seen her through the crowd. When she had seen him. Instead of smiling as he had meant to, Fenris felt his expression hardening.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said abruptly, his tone harsher than he had expected it to be.

She looked confused by his request. “What?” she asked uncertainly.

“You’re remembering.”

She opened her mouth and appeared as if she was about to deny his accusation, but then stopped herself before speaking and let out a heavy, wordless breath instead of her words. When she opened her mouth a second time, she said haltingly, “I didn’t mean to… remember.”

“Don’t,” he said flatly. She only stared at him then, her eyes still filled with that maddening sadness, and he felt his irritation increase. “I never wanted this,” he added sharply, his voice becoming louder. “I never wanted any of you to know what my life was.”

Hawke’s brow furrowed. “Fenris,” she said, her voice painfully gentle, “you have nothing to be ashamed of. None of that was your fault.”

He exhaled a violent epithet. “I know it wasn’t my fault!” he said disdainfully. “How could it have been my fault? I was a slave; I had no choice but to obey my master’s commands.”

“Fenris, I—”

He interrupted her, letting out a short string of murmured curses, as he ran his hand agitatedly through his hair and tried to calm himself. “I never wanted your pity,” he managed to say, with strained evenness. “Not yours.”

“It’s not pity, Fenris,” she said quietly, reaching out to rest her hand on the taut muscles of his forearm. “Believe me, it’s not. But… do you honestly expect me not to think about what I did to you?”

He jerked his arm away from her touch. “You didn’t do that to me, they did,” he hissed through gritted teeth, only managing to keep his voice measured through some form of miracle.

“Fenris, I’m sorry, but—”

“I don’t want your apologies either!” He wished that she would stop staring back at him with those wide, doleful eyes. Those eyes in which he could see all her profound and aching pity. He could feel them searing into him; he could feel her thoughts returning to the same night as his own. “I… I cannot do this,” he murmured, shaking his head and averting his eyes. “I can’t.” When he left the tent, Fenris feared that Hawke would follow after him, prolonging the sickening moment still further.

She did not, however, and, when he left their campsite, he did so alone.

Walking without direction but with purpose, he made his way over a series of hillocks. Fuming, Fenris cursed the simple comingling of otherwise insignificant factors that had left him so exposed to her. If it had not been for the hum of magic in the air, or if he had not met her eyes just then, or if she not worn that shift, or if the wind had simply blown in a different direction, then perhaps he would not have felt that wretched twisting in the pit of his stomach. It had been ages since he had thought of it. Time and circumstance had led him to develop a distinct talent for forcing back the memories of smooth hands on his skin and rough bodies invading his own. For over ten years, he had been perfecting that skill. And, if it had only been that—if it had only been another violation like the hundreds before it—then he might have been able to dismiss it from his mind. But it wasn’t just that. It was that she had been there. That she had seen his degradation. It was exactly the humiliation that Danarius had intended. He’d meant to debase Fenris in front of Hawke. The show had been for her, but Fenris knew that the punishment had been for him. Because Danarius had known.

Reaching the tallest peak of a small cluster of hills, each seeming to be built lazily upwards off the curves of the other, Fenris sat, facing east towards where a veil of dark clouds pressed in around the pale fragment of the moon. All around him, the tall grasses swayed, rolling like waves as the rising gales of wind washed over them. He didn’t care to, but Fenris remembered the sway of the ship that had carried him to Tevinter. Chained, not only with iron but with magic, he had been confined for endless days in the pitch blackness of a rank cell. Sightless and alone, he had only been aware of the pitch of the ship as it rose and fell with the swell of the sea. His body slack with defeat, his head had lolled from side to side. His heart, with each pulse, seemed to send a thud of dull pain through him. In the darkness, he had seen her. An hundred times in every moment, he had seen her turning her head towards him while her lips formed the words that had doomed him. He was left depleted, hollow, empty. Danarius needn’t have added to the torture; it was enough simply to live with the memory of what she had done and the dread of what his life would become. Even so, his master had come to him. The light of the open door had broken through Fenris’ blackness and Danarius had joined him there. The green glow of the magister’s magic was blinding after so many days spent in endless night.

Fenris had shut his eyes against the light, but he had seen his master’s shadow as it passed over his closed eyelids. He had heard the cluck of Danarius’ mocking tongue as he drew closer. “What’s this, my sweet, melancholy Fenris? Still pining after your lover?”

Fenris had opened his eyes, looking neither directly at his master nor the glowing orb of light. “That bitch was never my—”

He began roughly, his voice breaking from thirst and lack of use, but Danarius’ merry, lilting laughter had cut off his words. “No, of course not; she would never have you.” Fenris had growled, snarling wordlessly, as Danarius leaned closer. “You forget, my little Fenris, that I can see inside that precious head of yours.” Fenris had felt that all-too-familiar prickle of magic against his temple as Danarius had trailed his fingertips lightly through his hair. Those foul fingers meandered down over Fenris’ skin, coming to rest against his bicep. Danarius traced over a series of round, puckered scars that marred the skin between the winding lines of lyrium. “She healed these for you, didn’t she?” sneered Danarius, his voice like oil. “Alone with you beside the fire, she ran her fine, soft fingertips over your lovely skin.” Danarius’ touch was light, grazing over the faintly raised scars. “And all you could think was how beautiful she was, your eyes fixating on that charming little freckle just below her clavicle.” A low laugh rumbled almost inaudibly in the mage’s throat as he stood fully upright. “How badly you wanted to touch her… make her squirm… make her scream… fill her with your fucking knife-ear seed!” The boot that slammed into Fenris’ ribcage came suddenly, unexpectedly, as Danarius’ words abruptly rose into a roar on his final words. The second kick hit Fenris squarely in the sternum and, falling forward against the chains that bound him, he coughed for air.

Danarius’ agitation had been clear as he paced back and forth. But he kept himself calm, laughing again. With a tight smile on his face, he had turned back to Fenris. “But you disgusted her,” hissed Danarius snidely. “She knew what you are.” Danarius lowered himself once more, bringing his lips to Fenris’ ear. “What you’re good for.”

Fenris had turned his head quickly, lunging towards the magister as much as his bindings would allow, but Danarius had drawn back, laughing with delight in the face of Fenris’ fury.

Even when Hawke had been entirely erased from Fenris’ mind, Danarius had still punished him for it. For wanting someone else, for thinking of someone else, for having desires of his own. Danarius would not suffer that in his slave. It had not been enough for him to deprive Fenris of his freedom; he had needed to destroy everything that Fenris had built during those years. He had had to destroy whatever respect Hawke might have felt for Fenris—to erase the memories she had of him as a free man and replace them with the image of a writhing slave. Months had passed in Tevinter and no one had touched him. Not until she was there, not until it was for her amusement.

But she hadn’t been amused; she had been horrified. And, in that moment, when Hawke had watched him robbed of his strength, Danarius had smiled. “Even at your strongest, you were still just a fragile little toy, weren’t you?

The clouds overhead, blushing silver at their margins, drifted over the moon and cloaked all the night in darkness. Drawing his knees to his chest, Fenris bent his head forward, his eyes closing tightly and teeth clenching together to the point of pain. She had still not followed after him. He wondered if she would.

Staring at the entrance of their tent, Hawke waited for Fenris to return. She didn’t suppose that he would want her company then and, if she did go to him, she wasn’t sure what she could possibly say. His experiences were so far beyond her ken that she could scarcely begin to fathom what he might need from her. She wanted to be beside him then, to hold him if he would allow it. It ached to think of him in the dark with only his memories. Hawke groaned, burrowing beneath the blankets, and tried not to imagine him all alone. He hadn’t wanted to see her face then and she could hardly blame him for his aversion. After all she had done to him, it was a wonder that he managed to remain so composed. She had treated a decade of his struggle for freedom as if it were completely meaningless; she had robbed him of everything that made him who he was and thrown him into the custody of an even greater monster than herself. All she could do was stay away from him, as she should have done in the first place.

But the wind was rising and Fenris always grew cold so easily.

She fought the selfish impulse for a moment before rising from the ground, gathering a thick fur in her arms and leaving the tent. Sometime since Fenris’ departure, Brutus had returned to the camp and was now curled beside the gently crackling fire with his hirsute companion. The mabari lifted his head as Hawke emerged from her shelter and, for lack of better options, she asked, “Have you seen Fenris?”

Brutus let out a low woof before looking back towards the hills the lay beyond the fire’s glow.

“Thanks,” murmured Hawke, hugging the furs more tightly to her chest as she moved in the direction Fenris had gone.

It was a while before she caught sight of Fenris’ dark form, protruding above the natural curve of the hill and silhouetted against the sky as the drifting clouds suddenly stripped the moon bare. Heart thundering, she climbed the gentle slope as the swaying sea of grass beat against her bare legs. She saw as she approached that Fenris was shivering as the wind broke over his skin.

The fur she’d carried fell heavily beside him and he lifted his eyes to her. “I thought you might be cold,” Hawke murmured, shivering herself and shifting uncomfortably as he stared at her wordlessly.

Fenris looked away from her, gazing off at the bright crescent that hung above the horizon. Though he still trembled, the blanket beside him remained untouched. Hawke watched his firm, unmoved profile for a moment before she said softly, “Do you want me to go?”

Fenris gave no reply and remained as stiff and motionless as he had been upon her arrival. Hawke nodded, turning from him, and had nearly left his side when she felt his cold hand close suddenly around her wrist. It shocked her and, when she looked back at him, her eyes were wide. Fenris’ gaze was not on her but was focused on the ground before him. His hand slid from her wrist, dropping to the ground as he pulled the fur to himself. Slowly, Hawke sat beside him, hugging her knees to her chest and trying to keep from shaking.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No.” She barely heard him, but she saw his lips move.

Hawke nodded, looking off towards the pinpricks of light that glimmered in the darkness overhead. She would have liked to touch him, to tell him she loved him. She hugged her legs closer. “Okay.”

The wind howled and her fingernails bit into the skin of her arms as she trembled. Everything in the fields before her was discolored by the moonlight, the white wildflowers glowing and the hills colored with the graying purple of shadow. She pressed her chin against her knees, trying to keep her teeth from chattering together. Silently, the massive clouds moved in their slow procession across the horizon.

“Fenris?”

Far off, thunder thrummed across the plains. “Yes?”

Watching him out of the corner of her eye, Hawke spoke in a voice that barely rose above the sound of the wind. “You said you didn’t want my pity… and it made me think that maybe I haven’t been clear about something.”

His eyes closed, his brows drawing together. “Hawke…,” he sighed wearily.

“Please let me say this,” she said, her voice breaking slightly. She cleared her throat before continuing, her voice low. “I have never pitied you, Fenris. I can’t express how sorry I am for what I’ve done, but, when I look at you… it’s never pity that I feel. It’s… awe.” Her fingernails dragged against her skin. “I’ve never known anyone with your strength. Or your courage. Your resilience. And I just… I love you for it.” He remained still, his head bowed and his eyes continually fixed on the ground. “I’m sorry,” she finished softly, shaking her head. “I’ll be quiet now.”

He glanced towards her. He remembered again the expression in her eyes when she had looked at him; no one had ever looked at him that way before. At times, it felt as if that was the first time he had truly seen her—the girl who was beside him then rather than the one who had come before. The person who had once treated him as though he were nothing was the first person who had looked at him as if he had worth. The same woman who now looked at him as though he were everything. It was as if they had met twice, lived twice, divided and re-formed such that nothing made sense anymore. Everything had warped and shifted until the object of his greatest loathing had transformed into the only person he wanted with him for the remainder of his life. There was no sense in that, or in what he felt as he looked upon her, studying her soft expression. Her hair looked pale in the moonlight, lifting with the wind and whipping across her face. She closed her eyes.

“I have never hated anyone more than I hated you,” he said, almost marveling at the truth in those words. The corners of her lips twitched into a melancholy smile and, lifting her hand to sweep her loose hair away from her face, she nodded. When her eyes opened, she averted her gaze, staring at something far beyond him. “I’ve never loved anything as I love you,” he added quietly.

Her eyes were drawn quickly back to him. Her lips parted slightly, but all that came from them was a small, strangled sound. Shaking her head, she looked away quickly. Hawke swallowed, doubting her ability to form words. “Thank you,” she managed at last, her voice choked. She reached for him, her fingers tightening in the furs that were draped over him. Fenris lifted his hand to hers, gripping it tightly, and her lips trembled into a slight smile. Moving closer, she drew his hand towards her and, bowing her head, pressed her lips to the red cloth he wore about his wrist.

Fenris pulled her closer, wrapping her in the blanket he wore over his shoulders. Her forehead pressed to his, Hawke wound her arm around the small of his back. He held her at his side for a long while after that and, in spite of the wind and in spite of the cold, neither of them thought to suggest that they return to the shelter of their tent. Among the waving grasses and covered by a single fur, they lay together on the hillside, enfolded in one another’s arms without considering progressing any further. Hawke held him close and, as she stroked his hair with gentle repetition, Fenris fell asleep with his head resting on her arm. His breath was warm against the thin cloth that covered her skin and, closing her own eyes, Hawke cradled him to her chest and allowed herself to pass into sleep.

Fenris woke early, as the dim light of the rising sun broke through the cover of the clouds. In the night, dew had formed across the hills and Hawke, lying beside him, shone slightly with the water that had beaded on her skin. When her eyelashes fluttered in sleep, a drop trembled for a moment before rolling in a crooked trail over her cheek. Fenris stared at her for a moment, his brow furrowed in thought, before lifting his hand to her cheek and brushing away the damp hair that clung to her skin. She woke at his touch and smiled, reaching out to him and returning his gesture. Her fingers played through his hair before her hand slid down to cup his cheek. Raising himself slightly above her, Fenris brought his lips to hers as she lay back in the grass. Her hands dragged against the fabric of his shirt as he lay over her.

He pulled away from her as the first fat drops of rain began to fall against his skin, running in cold trails over the nape of his neck. Propping himself above her, Fenris watched as the water ran from his hair and dripped against her cheek. Smiling, she shifted her hips against him. “We should go home,” she murmured, her hands lifting to tangle in his hair.

“If you say so,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her forehead before drawing back, taking her hands to pull her from the ground with him. The sky blazed with a sudden flash of lightning and, quickly, they returned to the barely adequate shelter of their tent.

The earth had turned to mud and the streams had turned to rivers before the clouds finally dissipated. Her eyes turned towards the bright skies, almost blinding in the purity of their blue, Hawke knew nonetheless that the rain would soon return. In the past days, the gray-green hue of the clouds told that the weather had turned and there would be many storms ahead before summer came. As Hawke stood, eyes trained on the sky, Fenris stood behind her, his arms around her and his face buried in her hair. His arms were warm and his touch was reassuring, but, in the days that had gone by, she had still found herself shifting uncomfortably with recurrent twinges of anxiety.

She had long struggled with her own memories of Tevinter and what she had done to Fenris. She had known also that, in spite of the fact that he allowed her to lie with him, it had not ceased to plague him either. His nightmares and haunted gaze had alerted her to that, but so much of what he thought or felt or feared had been unspoken, communicated only by the ghosts that sometimes passed over his eyes. The fleeting broaching of the subject now weighed on her. Her thoughts now turned more frequently to what she had done and, though she felt the warmth of his arms, she felt also the cold swelling of guilt within her. Still, she held her tongue, knowing that to mention it again would only distress him further. She tried, to the best of her ability, to shield him from her thoughts.

Fenris had noticed. Her attention seemed to wander more frequently, her laughter was less ready, and, perhaps most glaringly of all, her manners while eating had become less savage. She picked at her food delicately, her brow furrowing, and often forgot to take a bite at all until Fenris reminded her. It had only been a handful of days, but her behavior was troubling. At times, when they lay together, his hands passed over the parallel lines of scars across her thighs and he was reminded of the strange recesses of her mind that he didn’t fully understand. Her silent retreat worried him.

He asked no questions of her, however, until several days had passed. She had just roused him from a nightmare—the recurrence of a memory from four years earlier—when he held her at a slight distance, taking his time, as he always did, to arrange the events of the past into their proper order. It was a struggle, at times, to find his way out of the foggy disarray of his memory and return to the present but, when he saw her looking back at him, it was always easier to remind himself where the chaos of the past had led him. Usually, she met his gaze with a solidity that steadied him, drawing him back to her. That night, however, she lowered her gaze, turning her head slightly to the side as he studied her. Placing his hand beneath her chin, Fenris insistently turned her face back towards him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his brow furrowing.

She smiled bemusedly. “Nothing.”

“Hawke.”

“It’s nothing,” she insisted, her smile fading. “Only that….” She shook her head and then, returning her smile to her lips if not her eyes, repeated, “Nothing.” Hawke leaned closer to him, pressing her body against his and, as she ran her hand over his bare shoulders, she lightly kissed his cheek.

“I am capable of losing my patience,” Fenris told her flatly, turning onto his side and holding her away from himself once more. “What’s wrong?”

She sighed heavily and rolled onto her back, lifting one of her hands to run across her closed eyes. “Sometimes, I…,” she began unsteadily before stopping and clearing her throat and making a second attempt. “I have been so unfair to you,” she sighed. “Letting myself get carried away. Letting myself be happy.” She removed her hand from her eyes, turning her head to the side and meeting his gaze. “I should have given you a chance to find someone better. I should have run from you.”

“Could you do that?” he asked, his rough voice hiding the edge of anger he felt.

No. “I could have tried,” she answered softly. “I promised you, didn’t I?” She had promised when his love was young, when it was still filled with such confusion and such hate. If she had kept to her word then, then he might have forgotten everything he felt for her aside from his justifiable hatred. He might have found the sort of woman he deserved. “I swore I wouldn’t let you end up with someone like me.”

Fenris groaned, falling onto his back and staring up towards the canvas that stretched overhead. “Hawke, I thought we were through with this foolishness.”

“I know,” she said apologetically. She had thought so too, but, when she had heard him actually say what she had long known, she had fully felt her wretched inadequacy as the recipient of his love. “I do know. It’s just… sometimes I can’t help but think how selfish it was of me to stay.”

I stayed,” he corrected, his voice rising and his eyes turning back to her. “Why is it you always insist on diminishing my role in this?” He turned onto his side again, propping himself on his elbow and glowering at her through the faint light the seeped into their tent from the nearby fire.

“You had nowhere else to go.”

His hand suddenly came to her neck with barely perceptible weight. “I did go.” His fingers tightened against her throat, only slightly increasing the pressure, as he leaned closer to her. Her eyes fluttered shut as she tilted her head back against the blankets. “Or had you forgotten?”

“I remember,” she murmured, her words vibrating against his palm.

“Then remember also that this was my choice.” His hand left her throat, grazing lightly down over her arm to grasp her wrist. “I stayed because I wished to see who you would become.” As he moved himself above her, trapping her wrists above her head, he added firmly, “My decisions are my own, Hawke. You have not yet made me regret them.”

She sighed softly. It had been his choice to make, but he had chosen foolishly. Though perhaps love was never rational or wise. Perhaps it did not need to be. Whether or not she was deserving of it, he had given himself to her.

“You can’t know how lucky I feel… that you chose me,” she murmured, wishing that her hands were free so that she might reach up to brush his hair from his eyes. “I just love you so much.” She almost laughed as the words left her mouth; they were so horribly insufficient.

“I’m well aware of it.” His lips brushed against her throat as his hand tightened on her wrists. “You know what I feel for you,” he whispered, lightly kissing her clavicle.

“I do,” she breathed, her lips turning softly into a smile. “I’ll try to be worthy of it.”

He almost smiled as he brought his lips to hers.

Chapter Text

Fenris woke abruptly, sitting nearly upright before falling back to his elbows and staring abstractedly into the darkness. The fire beyond their tent had sputtered out over the course of the night and the moon, swelled to a solid wedge in the sky, only cast a pale light through the veil of clouds that hung over the dark dome of the night sky. As the hours had passed since sunset, the light shower of that afternoon had increased substantially and the falling droplets of rain caught the light of the moon and, just beyond the entrance of the tent, shone like fragments of shattered glass tumbling down to earth.

Fenris breathed deeply, his heart thudding loudly in his chest, as he tried to reorient himself after a confused memory that had been blurred by passing years. It was clear, even when he had been in his unconscious state, that the truth of the events he had recalled had been layered with fiction. They flashed together, the reality and his own imaginings, in a discordant disarray. It wasn’t altogether unprecedented; there were a number of memories that were fragmented and fused with his own impressions rather than simply consisting of a whole, untarnished vision of what had occurred. It was obvious to him, from the way this memory had presented within his dreams, that he had thought of it often. He had called it into his mind frequently and elaborated on the actual events substantially. Rather like a letter, folded and creased after many readings, with the original words blurred by time and then filled in with sentiment and nonsense.

Still, as he lay in the tent, gazing into the darkness, Fenris was relatively certain that he could distinguish what had been truth from what had merely been conjured by his own mind. The memory came to him from a period of time from which he had already retrieved much of what had been lost, and it fell relatively quickly into the logical progression of events. Even so, he was somewhat dazed as he shifted his gaze from the darkness outside of the tent to the dark figure beside him. In the shadows, he could scarcely make out her expression, though he saw that her eyes were open and turned towards him.

Though her brow was drawn with mild concern, Hawke smiled at him through the dim light as she reached out her hand timidly and grazed the exposed skin of his shoulder with her fingertips. At her touch, he lifted his hand to hers, holding it gently against his chest. Her hand was cool, warmed by his, as, for a moment, they lay beside one another without speaking. At his touch, Hawke moved slightly closer to him and pressed her lips gently to his shoulder. This close, she could hear his breath, still a bit ragged and shallow after his sudden waking. Outside, beyond the tent and beyond them, a trilling bird cried out in agitation. The rain fell harder now, filling the air with a gentle yet insistent pattering as it hit heavily against the canvas of the tent. When Fenris’ breathing was lost beneath that percussive sound and Hawke saw the hard lines of his expression soften, she asked quietly, “Nightmare?”

It was not a question she would have asked before, but something had shifted during those weeks of springtime storms. Fenris had begun, tentatively at first, to speak to her of the memories that came to him in the night. He had told her before about small, scattered pieces, but the information he offered now was more complete. In the past, any words that spilled free from him upon waking seemed as if they were spoken accidentally, breaking free of his lips because he was unable to restrain them during those first agitated, disorienting moments after waking. The revelations seemed meant for her ears now. He always spoke quietly, his voice low but deliberate, and his eyes lifting only at intervals to meet with hers. The struggle it caused him to speak of the years that had come before was evident and it was never more apparent than when he spoke of what he remembered about Hawke. He always spoke more haltingly, his eye contact becoming more infrequent, when his memories had been of her. Then, as he fell silent after speaking, his eyes would turn back towards hers, holding her gaze until she quietly murmured answers to questions he couldn’t find the voice to ask.

He had first begun to tell her of his retrieved memories cautiously, almost out of curiosity more than anything else. It had occurred to him, as he awoke beside her atop the grassy slope of a hillside, that she had words within her that had the power to alleviate some of the aching pain of old wounds. She was able to speak words that surprised him and that offered some small sliver of comfort. The prospect of that—of hearing what she might say—was enough to urge him past the embarrassment that had often stilled his tongue when he had fleetingly considered discussing some fragment of their shared past. He was often hesitant to speak, knowing that to do so would be an admission of the indelible impression that even the most trivial instances of her callousness had made within him. Fenris had never made it his common practice to discuss sentiment or to reveal too conspicuously any pain that he might feel, and the process of doing so was as awkward as he might have imagined if he had ever given it any consideration. Still, he found that Hawke’s soft, earnest responses compensated somewhat for the dignity he sacrificed in admitting that her past actions and words had been driven deeply into his mind.

It had surprised her the first time that Fenris, upon being shaken from his restless sleep, began to tell her what had passed through his unconsciousness. She had faltered the first time, uncertain just how much she should say or what was better left unsaid. Still, in spite of this uncertainty, it was a relief to know the source of the shadows that rose in his eyes when he woke. It was a relief to have the chance to apologize for transgressions that had long since passed but which had continued to haunt her. She grew more certain of herself the next time he shared his recovered memory with her and something vaguely approximating easiness that arisen between them when his sleep was next dogged by the past.

She had never invited him to speak of his dreams, however, and that night, even as her short query passed her lips, Hawke wondered if she had perhaps transgressed some boundary. Fenris did not seem off-put by her question however, and, with a casualness that relieved her immensely, he replied, “A memory. Of you, in fact.” His head rolled to the side, facing towards her, and, in the darkness, she thought she saw the corners of his lips lifting into a hint of a smile. “Hardly unpleasant,” Fenris added, lifting his hand from hers momentarily to smooth the furrows between her brows. Hawke smiled, leaning her forehead into his touch.

“I wasn’t aware that you had any pleasant memories of me,” she said, a thread of genuine surprise in her voice. She saw one of his brows arch, almost as if with amusement, and she added hastily, “From before, I mean.”

“They’re few in number, admittedly,” he returned, his voice still thick with sleep, “but I am not without them entirely. Though it may be an exaggeration to characterize this particular memory as a pleasant one,” he clarified. “It was merely not… unpleasant.” Hawke nodded, refraining from pressing him for anything further though she would  have very much liked to. Fenris cleared his throat with a muted cough before explaining, “You were… in a state of undress. In the Hanged Man, if memory serves.” He spoke evenly, though there did seem to by a dry hint of amusement in his tone.

Hawke’s eyes widened with momentary surprise before she blushed brilliantly with remembrance and groaned, “Ugh, I didn’t realize you’d been there for that.” Her head dropped forward heavily against him as she hid her face. It hadn’t come to her immediately, but, when it did, the memory made her cringe. Admittedly, she did not have the most precise recollection of the night of which Fenris spoke; she had been drunk beyond the telling of it and had somehow become entangled in a game of cards in which articles of clothing served as currency. It had been some fool idea of Isabela’s, no doubt. Fortunately, as far as Hawke could remember, she had by no means been the most exposed participant in the game and had never found herself entirely without clothes. Even so, she had been rather more bare than she was proud of and would have, in all likelihood, exposed herself still further had not Anders, in all his glorious sobriety, draped her over his shoulder and carried her from the Hanged Man. “Andraste’s ass, that’s embarrassing,” Hawke mumbled, her words muffled as she spoke into Fenris’ shoulder.

“I have seen you in less, Hawke,” he reminded her.

“Well, that’s true,” she owned, lifting her head and glancing down at the blankets that lay over her otherwise naked skin. “Were you there long? I suppose your memory of that night is clearer than mine,” she said curiously, trying to dismiss the aftershocks of embarrassment that kept her cheeks burning. Then, mild alarm suddenly entering her voice, she added, “You weren’t playing as well, were you?”

“I was not,” Fenris replied flatly. “I had only just arrived as you were… unburdening yourself of your blouse.”

He cleared his throat again and Hawke let out another pained groan. As she vaguely recalled, she had been particularly ostentatious about relieving herself of that particular garment. With a sigh, she shook her head. “Yes, well,” she began, fidgeting slightly against Fenris, “I wasn’t necessarily at my most composed in those days—what with the drinking and the fact that I’d apparently thought it would be a wonderful idea to take up with the lyrium again.” She tried to smile sheepishly, but her expression was more self-deprecating than she had intended. “It wasn’t a terrific time for me,” she finished, keeping her tone light in spite of the gravity that had arisen into her eyes.

Fenris nodded, turning his head and looking up towards the canvas. In the moonlight, he could make out the dark trails of rainwater that ran erratically over the treated fabric. “Yes, I remember,” he said, running his calloused fingertips in gentle, repetitious strokes over her forearm. “You’d just lost your mother.”

Her expression registered the surprise she felt. She would not have expected Fenris to have noticed any marked change in her during that time and she certainly would not have thought that he would have correctly guessed the cause for her degenerating behavior. Just after her mother’s passing, she had labored under the delusion that she was handling the loss well. She had always thought of herself as someone who handled such losses gracefully. As if it were some sort of victory not to cry. As if it were some sign of strength to laugh through the pain and as if all that mattered was keeping her grief concealed from anyone who might try to comfort her. Hawke hadn’t even noticed herself deadening, blocking out the last remaining traces of anything that made her soft. She’d fooled herself into thinking that she wasn’t suffering and she had thought that she had fooled the others as well. They had seemed to think that she was alright, in any case. She had been offered condolences over the course of the first week that had followed her mother’s death, but it had gone unmentioned afterwards by all save Anders. Only a few weeks later, Aveline had come to her, relying on Hawke to deal with the Qunari threat. Only a few weeks after her mother died, and Isabela was stabbing Hawke in the back over some relic. Hawke’s life had changed then and, though she had scarcely noticed it, she had changed as well. But Fenris had noticed. And he had remembered.

Fenris’ fingertips trailed from her forearm to her wrist before lazily circling across the back of her hand. Absently, he ran his fingers over her knuckles, grazing lightly over scar tissue, before he closed his hand over hers once more. Hawke’s brow furrowed with thought as she heard herself say quietly, “You came to me. The night my mother died… you came.”

Turning his face towards her once more, Fenris met her gaze evenly. “I did.”

“And I told you to go.”

“You did,” he confirmed, inclining his head in a slight nod. “Rather violently, as I recall.”

The lines on Hawke’s brow deepened and, as she pressed her forehead to Fenris’ shoulder once more, he slid his arm around her and pulled her to him so that her head rested on his chest. “Were you in love with me?” Her voice was little more than a whisper, but Fenris heard her distinctly even over the continued song of the falling rain. For a long moment, he listened to the rain, with his hand motionless against Hawke’s shoulder blade as he felt her warm, steady breath against his skin.

“No,” he answered finally, his voice low. “There were times when I feared I was… but I know now that it was only the palest shadow.” With a light touch, his hand trailed over her shoulder as he lifted it to toy with of her hair. Her hand that he held to his chest pulled from his grasp only to swiftly catch hold of his wrist. Lifting her head just slightly, she held his palm to her lips. Fenris could feel that she was smiling and felt his own lips mirroring her expression. “I did think of you often,” he continued softly as her eyes lifted to meet with his. “On quiet nights, when I found myself alone, it was always your image that fell across my eyes.” Even in the darkness, he saw her cheeks coloring. She shifted against him, moving upwards to bring her lips to his cheek. Fenris twisted a lock of her hair around his finger, his eyes closing for a moment. He cleared his throat, deliberately lightening his tone as he added, “I believe I can safely assume that you never felt anything of the kind for me?”

Pulling away from him a bit, Hawke looked down into Fenris’ face as if taken aback. Perhaps his question was understandable, given how everything had turned out, but, as she recalled, she had spent the better part of a year aggressively flirting with him in a misguided effort to win his approval. “Have you not remembered the night we met? I practically hurled myself at your feet,” she said, an irrepressible smile spreading over her face. “You were less than receptive.”

The corner of his lips twitched. “Ah, yes. That charming exchange,” he said dryly, breaking eye contact with her briefly to glance off in reminiscence. She felt a slight tug at her hair as he continued to play with it. “Perhaps that was not your moment of keenest wit,” Fenris concluded, meeting her gaze once more as he allowed her to see his smile.

She shrugged. “Well, I was young and you were beautiful,” she said in casual defense of herself. “I hadn’t yet mastered the art of subtle flirtation.”

“You’ve still not mastered that art,” he returned, lifting his head slightly off the ground to bring his lips to hers. Her teeth clinked against his as she tried to return his kiss in spite of the fact that she was grinning. Still, Fenris persisted until she relaxed against him, her smile fading as her lips moved gently against his.

Just as the kiss began to deepen, Hawke parted from him enough to murmur, “I suppose I’ll just have to keep practicing my flirtation.” Her smile resurfacing, she adjusted so that she lay atop him, her legs parting to rest on either side of him as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. “With any luck, I’ll become better at it,” she added in a whisper, returning to his kiss as her hips shifted teasingly against him. Against her mouth, Fenris laughed.

In spite of the rain, it was a relatively warm night that held the humid promise of warmer days to come and, perhaps, the near arrival of summer storms. Of late, the days had seemed to be growing longer and it was only a few brief hours after Fenris and Hawke had fallen back to sleep before they were reawakened by the first light of dawn. Their limbs were still entangled as they awoke amongst the disarray of their blankets. There was always an undeniable languor that followed a disrupted night and, groaning softly as sunlight seeped into their tent, Hawke hid her face against Fenris’ neck to shield her eyes from the light. With his own eyes still closed, Fenris sighed and held her until, grudgingly, she accepted the fact that she would be unable to get back to sleep. The tent had proved resilient enough against the elements, but it had not been built to accommodate long mornings spent in protracted sleep.

“Well, I think it’s stopped raining, in any case,” grumbled Hawke as she rubbed her eyes and slowly sat upright.

“So it would seem,” sighed Fenris through a yawn. As he rose from the ground, groaning from the effort of doing so, he glowered unproductively in the general direction of the sun. It might have been nice if the cover of clouds had lingered at least long enough to allow them to compensate for the rest that they had lost in the night, but the weather had proved fairly uncooperative of late. Insistently, the sun set the sky ablaze with bright fingers of yellow light as Hawke and Fenris began the slow deconstruction of their campsite.

Repetition ought to have made the process of clearing the camp effortless, but a recent introduction to their small band of wanderers was proving to be a disruption. Over the past several days, Fenris had had to tolerate the small, gray shadow that seemed constantly to be trailing after him. The scrawny wolf that Brutus had so insistently brought into their lives seemed to have taken a liking to the elf. While Fenris was attempting to gather together the few possessions that he and Hawke carried with them, the animal scuttled along at his feet, emitting a high-pitched whine until Fenris finally acknowledged its presence with a short, light pat on the top of its head. Fenris couldn’t be certain, but he suspected that Hawke’s mabari was somehow responsible for misleading the wolf into believing that Fenris could be won over with repeated demonstrations of submission. On more that one occasion, Fenris had very nearly tripped over the slinking creature as it flopped down at his feet with its belly offered to him. It was an annoyance, to say the least. Hawke, however, seemed endlessly amused by the animal’s seeming devotion to Fenris. To her credit, she did manage to suppress her laughter on the few occasions when Fenris actually did stumble over the creature.

When the wolf got underfoot for perhaps the hundredth time that morning, Fenris heaved a heavy sigh and, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, commanded Brutus to take care of the situation. Obligingly, the mabari came to Fenris’ aid and nudged his friend towards the edge of the campsite, where they waited patiently for their two-legged companions to finish packing.

Though the wolf was, to Fenris’ mind, a bit of a nuisance and bit of a menace, he did have to admit that he was glad that Brutus had a playmate. The mabari—hulking, energetic beast that he was—had massive stores of energy to expend and it was a relief that Brutus had found a new source of entertainment. That day, while travelling down a narrow, obsolete stretch of road that connected two towns which had emptied during the Blight, the mabari and the wolf invented a game for themselves to pass the time. Or, more accurately, Brutus invented the game and his wolf complied with the understood terms. Brutus would drop a stick at the wolf’s feet, who would then pick it up and run off ahead down the road while Brutus lightly gave chase. The wolf’s flight never lasted long, however, as he would soon panic with the huge mabari at his heels and simply dropped the stick altogether, surrendering to Brutus with his tail between his legs. Undiscouraged, Brutus would snatch the stick from where it lay and run off while the wolf, regaining interest in the game, would follow after in swift pursuit. They continued in this manner with great enthusiasm while Fenris and Hawke, somewhat more lackadaisically, walked along behind them.

Hawke laughed, watching as the frantic animals circled back towards the slower members of the party, and then lifted her gaze to Fenris. “See?” she grinned. “If Wolf weren’t here, you’d be the one forced to play fetch with Brute.”

Fenris made a short, derisive sound. “Yes, your feral beast has proved to be an invaluable addition to our party. I will try to remind myself of these moments as he mauls us in our sleep.”

Hawke laughed again and, his lips quirking to the side in what was almost a smile, Fenris draped his arm over her shoulders. Instantly, she pressed closer, sighing contentedly as she tilted her head against him. She smiled, her eyes bright as they caught the sunlight that filtered down through the branches that arched overhead. Above the canopy, scattered clouds drifted through the sky, concealing and exposing the sun at intervals. Varying by the moment, the road that Fenris and Hawke travelled was alternately in light or shadow. When the sun shone down through the trees, the day felt as warm and pleasant as the brilliant dawn had seemed to promise, but, as clouds rolled across the sky and the road darkened, it felt as if another burst of rain might not be far off. Fenris was learning that springtime in Ferelden was immensely unpredictable. Hawke seemed to have a fairly good sense of when the weather would turn, but he had yet to become accustomed to reading the subtle changes of the winds and shifts in the temperature. Of course, that was to be expected, given that she had spent much of her young life here and he had not. Stroking Hawke’s upper arm absently, Fenris wondered how long it would be before he understood this land as well as she did. He had time to learn. Time to acquaint himself with Ferelden and time to build a life there with Hawke. He gave her a sidelong glance and, while her eyes were forward, watching the play of her pets, the corners of Fenris’ lips lifted.

He’d been honest in saying that he had not been in love with her. What he had felt in Kirkwall was not what he felt for her now. Love, he suspected, was never true unless it could at least be spoken aloud. And, in Kirkwall, he had hardly been able to own to feeling anything for her besides hate and grudging attraction. Even admitting to himself that he found her physical form appealing had tormented him at the time. He had always blamed Hawke for somehow forcing him into feeling desire for her rather than bearing the responsibility for it himself. In his most irrational moments, he had almost convinced himself that she was beautiful for the sole purpose of tormenting him.

Granted, his attraction to her and the growing fascination he’d felt through the years had not been purely superficial. That was the most that he had ever recognized in his own mind, but he knew enough now to realize that there had been hidden parts of her that had captivated him. These aspects of her, subtle though they were at the time, had created something within him that was the beginning of an inclination that would become love. But he had not loved her then and she had certainly not loved him. Perhaps it might have been easier if he had simply felt for her at that time as he did now, and if she had somehow come to feel the same. It would have spared them both a great deal of pain, in any case. But, when that thought passingly crossed his mind, Fenris found he was relieved that he had not loved the girl in Kirkwall. He couldn’t begin to imagine who she would have become if he had been with her then, but he knew that she would not have become the woman who walked beside him—the woman who was tucked comfortably beneath his arm with head resting against his shoulder and her eyes fixed on the road ahead. She would not have been his Hawke.

Hawke felt the pressure of his hand against her shoulder increase slightly and glanced towards him. When her eyes met with his, Fenris looked ahead quickly, trying to appear as if he had not been staring at her for an extended period of time. There was something decidedly pensive in his expression—in the hint of a frown on his lips and in his knitted brow. Hawke smiled, letting out a breath of laughter, as she abruptly stopped walking. When Fenris looked back at her, she rose suddenly to her toes and kissed him swiftly on the cheek. It had been rather too unexpected for him to react and, when Hawke fell back to the flats of her feet, his eyes were widened slightly and the furrows were gone from his brow. As she fought to keep from grinning too broadly, Fenris watched her teeth catch against her lower lip. His eyes lingered for a moment on her mouth as she wrapped her arms over his shoulders. “You’re so handsome when you brood,” she grinned, her hand running over the nape of his neck and before tangling with his hair.

Fenris scowled. “I was not brooding,” he replied flatly.

Managing to disguise her smile as a frown, Hawke nodded knowingly. “No, of course not.” She stepped closer, standing fully against him, as she added in a low whisper, “But you’re still handsome.” Fenris made a short sound of demurral in this throat but, when she lifted to her toes once more, he obliged her with a kiss. His hands sliding down to her hips, Fenris held her close. She made a small, contented sound against his mouth, her hands tightening in his hair, and Fenris felt himself respond to her. He didn’t know where their future would lead, or what their lives might have been under other circumstances, but it was impossible to imagine someone he would have rather been with in that moment.

Overhead, the braches rustled together as the breeze swelled and rushed through the trees. The wind was shifting and, as the afternoon wore on, the spans of sunshine grew less frequent and the clouds thickened, darkening at their cores. Fenris and Hawke were not to be spared further rain, it seemed and, though Fenris hadn’t the faintest notion how she was able to tell, Hawke said that the oncoming storm would be worse than what had passed the night before. The air, still warm, was becoming increasingly humid and, when she breathed deeply, Hawke thought she could smell the faint, metallic scent that so often precedes lightning. Looking up at the graying fragments of sky that she could see through the leaves, Hawke suggested that they should make their way towards flat plains rather than remaining beneath the trees. Fenris agreed without argument, remembering the tree limb that had nearly crushed their tent when last a violent storm had hit. Whistling for Brutus and Wolf to follow, Hawke began to lead Fenris away from the road and eastwards towards the thinning of the forest.

They had been doing a poor job of tracking their progress on the map, but, with a vague idea of where she was headed, Hawke was able to guide them free of the woods. They had not been as near to the edge of the forest as she had expected, however, and the clouds had long since opened by the time that she and Fenris found themselves approaching an expansive clearing. The ground was low where they had found themselves and the dark soil, which was coated with thick moss and bracken, squelched beneath Fenris’ feet. Seeking higher elevation, they made their way up the slight slope of a hill that stood against the darkening sky. As they crested the hill, Hawke’s brow furrowed.

They were free of the trees now and, below the hill, there was the vast stretch of even ground that they had sought. Solitary, amongst a waving sea of overgrown grasses, was the slouching form of a dilapidated cottage. From her elevated position, Hawke could see that a portion of the thatch roof had caved in and been left unrepaired. “Well, it looks more or less abandoned,” she observed, turning to Fenris. “We could always go and have a poke around while we’re here. It might not be a bad place to weather the storm.”

Rainwater was already coursing down Fenris’ face, dripping irritatingly from his hair and down into his eyes. Blinking back the water, he replied, “It couldn’t do any harm.” Admittedly, he did not relish the idea of having to construct a shelter while the increasingly frigid rain continued to pummel them.

They had seen a few such houses while making their way south. Even in their attempts to avoid civilization, it had been inevitable that they would stumble across signs of life on occasion. Though it was not always the case, Hawke had noticed that more than a few of the houses that they had come across were abandoned. She’d seen broken windows, collapsing fences, and farmlands that were entirely untended. Through all the years that had passed since the Blight, there was still evidence of it in the Bannorn. In rural areas such as these, more isolated families had fled for the protection offered by city walls. Even where the darkspawn had not swept through, the threat they posed had been enough to cause unrest. Anything could have happened to the people who once lived within the stone walls of the small, derelict cottage. Perhaps they had survived the Blight, safe within the walls of some far off city. Perhaps not.

The cottage was not so different in structure, Hawke noticed, from her family’s home in Lothering. That house had been abandoned as well, left unattended and decaying. Hawke wondered if her home was still there amongst the wreckage of the town that had been too blighted to be rebuilt. She doubted that it still stood; Lothering was beyond saving. Frowning slightly, Hawke realized that she and Fenris might not be altogether far off from the ashes where Lothering had once stood. No more than a few weeks away, in any case. Of course, there was no way of knowing with any degree of certainty; she really had done an appalling job of tracking their journey.

As she drew nearer to the house, Hawke nearly tripped over a broken stone that had been hidden amongst the wild growth of the grass. Looking down, she realized that someone had long ago laid a path of carefully placed flagstones. The years had broken them and covered the smooth stone with green moss, but the trail still led towards the gate that now hung broken from its hinges. A fence, it seemed, had once separated the small plot on which the cottage was built from the fields that lay beyond it. The fence was in a state of disrepair, just as everything else, with the black paint chipping away from its wooden posts. Moving through the gate, Hawke thought she caught the scent of rosemary. Perhaps there had been a garden here once, but, if there had been, it had long since been overtaken by weeds and a chaotic blur of wildflowers.

The air smelled sweetly of flowers mixing with rain. A reckless growth of vines had climbed the house, clinging to its eves and weaving over the rough surface of its stones. Bright clusters of purple blossoms hung in lush bunches from the vines, wet and heavy with rain. The blooms dangled down over the few windows the house boasted and a thick veil of flowers hung in front of the weathered door. Hawke inhaled deeply, smiling at the familiar fragrance of wisteria mingling with the scent of damp earth.

It was Brutus who first reached the house itself. While Fenris and Hawke lingered on the flagstone path, the mabari raced forward and trotted up the uneven steps that led to the front porch. After sniffing energetically for a moment, however, he lost interest altogether and decided that it was a better use of his time to go tearing off through the grass.

“At least he tested those steps for us,” said Hawke as she tentatively climbed the stairs.

“What happened to the people who lived here, do you think?” mused Fenris, trailing lightly after her. When he stood beside Hawke on the porch, looking thoughtfully at the door that was almost entirely obscured by wisteria, Fenris heard something rustling overhead. Turning his gaze up towards the eves, he saw a pale bird watching them suspiciously as she sat atop her hatchlings.

“Same thing that happened to my family, I expect,” replied Hawke simply, reaching out to push vines aside. When she was able to uncover the doorknob, she turned it without any real expectation of success. The door, however, opened to her light touch, and swung inwards into the unlit cavern of the cottage. Hawke laughed under her breath, shaking her head. “They didn’t even bother locking the door.” Now that she thought of it, neither had she when she’d left home.

Everything seemed undisturbed, left untouched through the passage of many years. There were signs, here and there, that the house had been turned over by hurried hands. The drawers of the dresser were left open and their contents had spilled onto the floor and been left there. What little furniture there was was covered with dust and animal droppings. Beneath the hole in the roof, the floorboards were rotted away, blackened from continuous exposure to the elements. The rain fell steadily through that gaping opening and collected in the depressed collapse of the floor. Investigating, Hawke drifted deeper into the house, moving towards the compromised flooring. Though she stopped far from where the wood weakened, Fenris still placed his hand on her shoulder, pulling her back slightly. “Use caution,” he warned quietly, when she lifted her eyes to his. “This place is hardly an example of enduring construction.”

Hawke smiled at his concern. “I’ll be careful,” she said quietly, looking up to glimpse the clouded sky through the collapsed ceiling. Perched in the rafters, were two fledgling owls that peered down at her with cold, yellow eyes. She smiled to herself; at least the owls had probably cut down on any mice. It wouldn’t be a bad place to weather the storm.

Peeling away from Fenris, Hawke moved towards a sturdy table that had been shoved to the side of the room. Absently, she ran her hand over the smooth oak surface, blazing a meandering trail through the dust and debris that had accumulated through the years. The family, whoever they were, must have left in a hurry; the table was still set with rough plates. Frowning slightly, Hawke set an overturned goblet upright. “People lived here once,” she murmured, almost to herself. “Brushed their hair, ate their meals, spent their nights.” She paced around the table as she spoke, pushing in the chairs that had been left out. Reaching down, she retrieved a small, moldering doll from the seat of one of the chairs. “Had children,” she continued quietly, rubbing dust away from its button eyes. “Just a boring, ordinary life.” Placing the doll carefully back in its chair, Hawke lifted her gaze to Fenris. He stood across the table, hands planted firmly on the back of a chair, and his eyes trained on her. “If I said I wanted that, would you want it too?” she asked softly, her voice barely audible over the plash of raindrops falling against the floor and the rattle of wind colliding with the cracked windowpanes.

Fenris was grateful for the light that streamed down through the damaged roof; he would not have wanted to miss her expression because of darkness. Her eyes were bright, questioning, as if she was unsure of what his answer would be. The foolishness of her uncertainty brought a smile to his lips. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Hawke crossed to him quickly, lifting her hands to his hair and pulling his mouth to hers. It had been foolish, but she had wondered. Wondered if perhaps he was not quite so tired of adventure as she was and if the life she now wanted would bore him. “We could stay here, you know,” she said softly against his lips as she stood within the warm circle of his arms. “Just for a little while. Just until the storm ends.”

Three days passed in their entirety before the rain ceased. A few days longer, the clouds lingered. When at last the blazing sun returned, Hawke suggested that they should leave the crumbling cottage behind. She would make the same suggestion many more times in the days and weeks that followed but, in one way or another, and without quite meaning to do so, they made themselves at home.

Chapter Text

The sun had long since set and Hawke had still not come home. Beyond the cracked windows of the cottage, the night was dark and, inside, where the fire blazed on the hearth, Fenris waited impatiently. On any given day, this was always his least favorite time: the hours that spanned between Hawke’s departure and her return. The day had begun well enough, with her lips pressing to his forehead and her hand gliding down beneath the blankets to brush over his hipbone as he eased into consciousness. Hawke had brought him into waking gently, her hips rolling against him as her fingers ran through hair and her lips spilled soft, sweet words against his ear. It had been early when she roused him and the light that seeped into the room blushed with the rose-gold of morning. When she rose from their bed, leaving him tangled in the sheets, the sunlight made her skin glow. Still catching his breath, Fenris had watched her appreciatively as she made her way across the room. Lean muscles shifted beneath her smooth skin as she lowered herself into the bathtub, and, dazedly, Fenris smiled.

Her eyes, at intervals, had lifted to meet alluringly with his as she went about preparing for the day. Scrubbing her skin clean, brushing her hair, reddening her lips with a tinted cream from one of her jars. When she’d come to the bedside, asking him to help lace her into her dress, her skin had smelled of lavender and rosemary. His fingers toying with her laces, Fenris had kissed the still exposed skin of her lower back, breathing in the clean, fresh scent. She’d laughed quietly, but he saw a shiver pass over her. She was always wonderfully responsive to his touch, continuing to react in small, subtle ways as he drew the fabric of her dress together. It was very much counter to his instincts to dress her and he privately mourned each small portion of her skin that disappeared beneath her clothes. When Fenris had finished his task, tightening the last of her laces, Hawke had turned back to him, stooping over the bed, and kissed him. Her gloved hands had rested against his chest, easing him back onto the bed with light pressure.

But that had been hours ago. Since then, Fenris had exhausted most of the activities he typically used to fill the days. He’d gone hunting with the mabari, swept the floors twice, meticulously polished the wardrobe, and filled in five pages of his leather-bound journal with an excruciatingly detailed account of his limited activities. After that, it became a greater challenge to keep himself reasonably occupied. There wasn’t a book in the house that he had not read at least twice, and that included the silly stories of which Hawke was so very fond. He’d allowed Hawke’s pets to draw him outdoors for a while and entertained them with a game of fetch that dragged on for such an extended period of time that Fenris had found himself marveling that the intense focus of the beasts. When the sun had set, he’d gone back inside and found himself suddenly without any means of diversion. Without Hawke, time always seemed to move slowly. It was oddly frustrating to find himself so affected by her absence. He always managed to fill the time in ways that were not wholly uninteresting, but there always seemed to be this persistent awareness that she was not there.

Still, he tried to force himself to show patience. He tried to remind himself that his perception of time was likely warped and that there was every chance that the sun had not set so very long ago after all. Tensely, Fenris sat in an awkwardly reconstructed chair and tapped his fingers absently against the leather upholstery. Like every other item of furniture in the house, the chair had required a good deal of work before it could be used. Re-stuffed and re-upholstered, it was serviceable enough for sitting in stiffly while trying to keep from glancing too frequently towards the door. Brutus and Wolf were curled at the foot of chair, whining occasionally to invite Fenris’ attention. Automatically, he reached down to them, scratching behind their ears. He tried to devote himself to that simple task, clearing his mind of all thoughts about the passage of time. However, after several minutes that stretched to feel like an hour, Fenris let out an exasperated sigh and rose quickly from his chair. Brutus growled, irritated by the sudden cessation of petting, but Fenris ignored the sound and made his way hurriedly to the exit.

As he opened the door, letting in a warm gust of night air, the dog and the wolf abruptly rushed out onto the porch before darting with sudden exuberance into the garden. Beyond the porch, just alongside the flagstone path that meandered away from the foot of the stairs, Hawke had planted a sprawling, chaotic growth of herbs interspersed with bright flowers. Along the fence, winding around the freshly painted posts, grew twining vines of jasmine. The white blossoms were open, bright beneath the light of a thin crescent moon, and filled the air with their fragrance. Summer had come, warm and glorious, and the night still held some of the humid heat of day as Fenris moved past the garden gate and the fragrant rosemary bushes that grew there.

“Stay,” he ordered softly to the animals as they trailed at his feet. He was conspicuous enough in town without a wolf and a mabari trotting along at his heels. The animals made noises of complaint, but fell back; they’d learned to obey Fenris, though Hawke’s authority was still largely ignored.

Fenris didn’t mind braving the walk alone. Since he and Hawke had stumbled upon the rundown cottage that now served as their home, Fenris had become well-acquainted with the surrounding area. Even in the darkness of night, he was able to make his way easily over the trail that he and Hawke had worn through the overgrown terrain. It was fortunate that repetition and habit guided him through the night, because the darkness that had fallen over the plains was nearly total. Overhead, the black dome of the sky was pierced with bright stars, but the thin moon only cast pale light over the wavering grasses that trembled under the gentle caress of the summer breeze. Beyond a thin line of trees that buzzed with the trilling song of cicadas, Fenris could hear the discordant chorus of bullfrogs that croaked exuberantly from the nearby marsh. He and Hawke had settled not far from apparent wilderness but, they had soon discovered, they weren’t altogether far from a settlement. Avaltolla, near where they had found themselves, was such a small town that not even Hawke had heard of it. It was isolated, with its population largely composed of farmers and the tradesmen who served them. With vast stretches of farmland and empty plains between Avaltolla and the nearest city, the news and rumors that reached the population were much delayed. There, the trouble in the Free Marches seemed to be a very distant thing indeed. It was rarely mentioned at all and, on the rare occasion when the subject arose, the information had generally become so distorted that it bore little resemblance to the truth. That, at least, was a small blessing.

That night, the lights of Avaltolla glittered brilliantly ahead. As he drew closer to them, Fenris realized that it must not be so very late after all; people were still awake, moving about their homes and shops. Once again, he had severely misjudged the passage of time in Hawke’s absence. Still, he had no intention of turning back now. Trudging along the familiar path he often travelled to retrieve her, Fenris had gradually found himself increasingly eager to see Hawke. The thought of returning home without her was intolerable. In any case, she’d never expressed anger before when he’d come for her while she was still working; perhaps he could afford to test her patience a little further.

Situated along the solitary, unpaved road that wound through Avaltolla, was the only tavern that the town had to offer. On that balmy summer night, the windows and the shutters had been flung open to allow fresh air to waft into the tavern. Orange light and bright laughter spilled out of the open windows as Fenris approached the humble building. The upkeep of the establishment was hardly laudatory, but Fenris had often observed that it was significantly less fetid than the Hanged Man, which was a vast improvement as far as he was concerned. Though he had never gone as a patron, Fenris was familiar with the place and with its usual clientele. He didn’t particularly enjoy being well-known in such circles, but he supposed that it was one of the disadvantages of living in a small town. Eager to avoid any undue attention, he slunk through the door with as much subtlety as he could manage.

His eyes sought out Hawke immediately as he quietly eased the door shut behind him. She had not noticed his arrival, but he caught sight of her almost instantaneously. Across the room, beside one of the small, round tables that was situated in the corner, she stood with a frothing mug of ale in her hand. Smiling, she placed the mug on the table in front of a young man who was annoyingly good-looking, and tall even while seated. Fenris noticed, to his great annoyance, that the man stared down Hawke’s bodice as she bent over to set his drink before him. Apparently, the young man was trying to engage her in conversation, because, as she stood straight once more, she laughed and nodded in response to whatever he had said. Fenris scowled, swallowing his irritation. The fault, he realized, was not with Hawke. He knew her expressions well enough to see that her smile was strained and that she was trying to politely make her excuses and get back to work. Still, Fenris hated it when other people stared at her in that way. He knew very well that he was being overly possessive, but one of his least favorite things about her finding employment was that he was now expected to share her. He didn’t have to share her in any way of significance, of course, but it was irritating enough that others could look at her and think of her if they so chose. He’d allowed himself to become accustomed to being the only person in her life. He had been the only one she spoke to, the only person whose eyes fell upon her. During her first days working in town, Fenris had felt a twinge of jealousy each time she told him of her day and spoke a name that wasn’t his. It had been terribly irrational, he knew, but he had still felt it. He had even been jealous of the little slip of a barmaid who worked alongside Hawke because she was with Hawke during the times when he was not.

Still, Fenris more or less understood why she had chosen to work in a tavern, of all the unsavory places. She’d explained that it allowed her to keep an open ear out for any drunken banter that might indicate trouble for the both of them. Far though they were from Kirkwall, news of what had happened there had reached Ferelden. If gossip suggested that she had any connection to those events, then Hawke wanted to be among the first to hear it so that she and Fenris would have a chance to react promptly. In addition to that possible advantage, she had also pointed out that it might be rather nice to have some small source of income. When winter came, it certainly couldn’t do them any harm to have a little extra coin lying around in the event that their supplies ran low. It was logical, pragmatic. He’d give her credit for that much.

Fenris, still not calling attention to himself, leaned back against the wall beside the doorframe and watched her casually. It was interesting, at times, to observe her when she was unconscious that he did so. Privately, Fenris always felt a little pleased that her eyes never focused on any one man for too long. She seemed pleasant, charming, but always vaguely distracted. Fenris was glad also to see that she seemed to be growing increasingly irritated with the young man who was speaking animatedly to her. The lad—Laurence, Fenris thought the name was, though perhaps he’d remembered it incorrectly—appeared to have said something suggestive or perhaps crass, because Hawke was smiling in that that tight way of hers that Fenris had come to recognize as a grimace. He smirked to himself, watching as Hawke stiffened and folded her arms over her chest defensively. For all the annoyance that Fenris routinely felt with anyone who had the nerve to gaze overlong at Hawke, he did have to admit that he was coming to take some small pleasure in it. There was something gratifying about having something that other men coveted. He had never had anything before that anyone else wanted. He remembered well enough what it was like to be the man watching Hawke from across the barroom, forced to keep his distance. Fenris hoped that he had at least managed to be a bit more subtle about his own leering than the current batch of lechers.

Hawke had managed to excuse herself at last from Laurence’s tableside and, rolling her eyes the moment her back was turned, she made her way towards the common-looking girl who was tending bar. They shared a quick, whispered exchange that made the other girl laugh before she set off with a tray full of mugs and went to a particularly rowdy table. Hawke leaned forward, her back to Fenris and her forearms resting on the wooden countertop of the bar. Fenris wondered if he ought to approach her then, but instead he found himself watching as she drummed her fingers absently against the countertop. It was barely noticeable that the index and middle finger of her right hand did not move along with the others. She had taken care to protect her identity before ever venturing into town, and the delicate leather gloves she now wore were a necessary part of her disguise. Hawke had put a good deal of effort into modeling a realistic rendering of the missing portion of her hand that fit inside her right glove. It was a convincing enough prosthesis, though perhaps it was a bit eccentric for a tavern wench to be perpetually wearing gloves. The other alterations to her appearance had been easier to her to make. It had been simple enough to abandon the ring she had used to amplify her power as well as all other signs that might mark her as a mage. She had dyed her hair also, rendering it a deep shade of brown that might as well have been black. It had been unsettling at first, but Fenris found that he was adjusting well to the alterations. He’d grown almost fond of the hair, at least; it brought out her eyes.

Hawke sighed, her bare shoulders lifting and falling, before she stood upright once more and turned. As she did so, brushing her dark hair over her shoulder, she caught sight of Fenris at last. The moment her eyes met with his, he felt a thrill pass through him. Her expression changed suddenly, her smile transmuting from something feigned and empty into something of genuine delight. The smile that had only ever been directed at him. His own lips curved in response as he stepped away from the wall, beginning to move towards her.

“Theron!” Hawke exclaimed loudly, rushing to him much faster than he was approaching her and launching herself into his arms with her legs wrapping firmly around his waist. As she collided with him, Fenris let out a surprised exhalation, stumbling backwards slightly while he brought his hands automatically to her thighs to support her. The eyes of nearly every patron in the bar had trailed after her as she went tearing towards Fenris and, as she clung to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and nuzzling fondly against his neck, there were low whistles from throughout the room. She hardly seemed to notice, however, running one hand over the nape of his neck while the other ran through his hair. “My Fenris,” she breathed, her lips lightly brushing against his own as, with a gentle tug on his hair, she pulled him into her kiss. He allowed it, holding her tightly against him in spite of the fact that the whistles around the room were growing louder and were now accompanied by scattered hooting.

“You’re increasingly humiliating to be seen with,” Fenris murmured, his eyes still closed and his breath uneven, as she began to plant carefully placed kisses along the lyrium lines on the side of his neck.

“Mmm, I know. I’m unbearable,” she said almost unintelligibly against his skin. Then, frowning slightly, she drew back just enough to observe his expression and asked, a bit cautiously, “Do you want me to stop?”

He smiled, running one of his hands from her thigh to stroke over her lower back. “You’re free to be as demonstrative as you’d like.”

Hawke’s eyes shifted quickly from his eyes to his lips as a grin spread over her face. “Careful. I may just take you up on that.”

“Within reason,” Fenris qualified, managing to look stern in spite of his amusement.

Pouting childishly, Hawke loosened her hold on him and began to regain her footing on the ground. Fenris released her and, with her pout lifting quickly into a smile, she began to straighten the skirts of her dress.

“Thank you,” she said, pecking him swiftly on the cheek, “for coming to walk me home.” Taking a step back, she cocked her head to side and asked penitently, “I didn’t keep you waiting too long, did I?”

“I grew impatient,” Fenris answered, shrugging his shoulders carelessly.

Hawke nodded solemnly, though she would have liked to grin. It was an understatement, to say the least. The sun had set little more than an hour ago and she was meant to work for a few more hours still. He had missed her, it seemed, and entirely lost track of time in the process. She would have liked to throw herself at him again, but she sensed that any further public displays of her affection would embarrass him.

Fenris was beginning to come for her just after sunset with increasing frequency these days. Now that they were relatively certain that he would not be recognized and lead to their detection, Fenris was able to move with greater freedom through the town. During their first weeks in Avaltolla, Hawke and Fenris had been immensely wary of being identified. They’d been especially cautious when it came to Fenris. His appearance, after all, was quite distinctive. Hawke had begun to feel more secure, however, after working in Rosamund’s Place for a short while and realizing exactly how distorted the rumors that passed through town were.

There were stories about the Champion of Kirkwall, but little of the truth had been preserved through retellings. According to gossip, she had lost her entire hand from the wrist down while battling the valiant Knight-Commander Meredith. Apparently, the Knight-Captain now wore her hand perpetually around his neck while perusing her in a relentless quest for justice. She had fled the city, apparently, with the very mage who had destroyed the Chantry and murdered the Grand Cleric, along with so many other innocents.

That part of the story—the part about Anders—stung. But, when she thought of it, perhaps his death was not widely known. Perhaps there were those who did not think he had truly died; she had, after all, burned his remains. It would be easy enough to claim that he still lived. And perhaps he still would live, had she known what she knew now. She had murdered him, in part, because she believed it was the merciful thing to do. She believed that she was saving him from the inevitable guilt that he would one day feel. But, when she had thrust her blade into his throat, she had also believed that she would be stopping a war. She had wanted to appear impartial, rational, level-headed. She had thought that she would be able to preserve the peace, to reason with the Knight-Commander. Had she known that such a thing were impossible, Hawke wondered if she would have killed Anders after all. Perhaps she might have just let him go, watched his back as he walked away from her instead of feeling his hot blood pouring over her skin. But there was no point wishing that she had acted differently. She had learned enough times that the past was unalterable and that sin could never be erased with regret or tears. But it was painful, nevertheless, to hear people say that she had been complicit with Anders’ crimes. It was painful to hear that there might actually be a war on the horizon and that everyone believed she was the instigator.

Of course, she could say nothing in her own defense. She was Hawke no longer; she was just a barmaid who knew no more than anyone else about what had become of the Champion of Kirkwall. And, in spite of the pain brought on by false reports, she was grateful to hear no mention of Fenris. She had thought, after the confrontation with the Templars that she and Fenris had had outside of Lonicera, that the fact that she was travelling with him would become widely known. Perhaps, in some places, that version of the story was being told, but it was not the common tale in this town. It made it safer for Fenris to seen, which was a relief for the both of them. Here, he was not a fugitive or the companion to some renegade mage. Here, he was only the mysterious Dalish elf who had taken up with a human girl. It was to both of their advantage that the Dalish were so infrequently seen and so poorly understood; Fenris never would have been able to pass for one of their kind otherwise. Only the relative ignorance of human society preserved the ruse. And it was only this ruse, and the false identities that he and Hawke had concocted, that allowed Fenris to make himself known in the village. When he grew tired of waiting for Hawke to come home, he was able to come fetch her. As their sense of safety increased, so too did his visits to the tavern. She was always glad to see him, though it did mean that she was fast becoming the most unreliable employee that Rosamund’s Place had ever seen. Fond though her employer was of her, Hawke suspected that it was only a matter of time before she would be let go. Which was just as well, really—she enjoyed working, but she enjoyed being with Fenris more. As far as she was concerned, her priorities were entirely in order.

Hawke slid her hand into Fenris’. “We’ll get home soon,” she said, still smiling brightly. “I just have to make my excuses to Cooper and we can be on our way.” Turning, and retaining a firm hold on his hand, she led Fenris towards the back of the barroom, where Cooper, the fairly agreeable man who had consented to hire her, kept his office.

After three quick raps of her knuckles against the door, a squat, ruddy-faced man appeared in the doorway and glanced from Hawke to Fenris with a look of comprehension. He sighed and Hawke, smiling apologetically, said, “Coop, I’m sorry to do this to you, but you don’t mind if I leave a little early do you? I’m sure Tamsin will be able to handle things in my absence.” With an inclination of her head, she indicated towards Fenris, who stood a pace or two behind her. Cooper, who had become accustomed enough to Hawke’s unpredictable hours, nodded. He was a sweet man, which was fortunate, considering that anyone less forgiving would have fired her almost immediately.

“Well,” Cooper said, frowning slightly, “you should talk to Tamsin first, but I don’t see why it should be an issue.” As he spoke, his eyes kept passing from Hawke to Fenris, who was shifting a bit awkwardly.

Hawke had made the introduction several times already, but she found that Fenris was most comfortable when she integrated him into the conversation. Gesturing between the two men as if it had just occurred to her that she had been rude, she said casually, “Oh, and you remember my husband, of course?”

The tavern keeper extended his hand to Fenris, smiling broadly. “Theron, yes, of course. Good to see you again.”

Fenris shook the hand that was offered him and nodded. “Always a pleasure,” he said quietly as he dropped Cooper’s hand and moved to stand at Hawke’s side.

It was still odd to be called by a name other than his own. It was doubtful that Fenris would ever become quite accustomed to it. Even getting to the point where they could use one another’s false names convincingly had taken a good deal of practice. Simply selecting aliases had, of course, been an ordeal as well. They had only bothered to do so once it became clear that they were unlikely to leave their rundown little hovel with any great haste. There seemed to be a permanence to the names they selected this time, which added difficulty to a process that they had typically undertaken impulsively in the past. It would have been too easy to track them, Hawke said, if they continued to use the same pseudonyms they’d been using since arriving in Ferelden. Hawke had frowned after saying this, looking pensive for a long moment while Fenris watched her without any particular opinion about the whole business of names. As she mused, however, he watched her grow progressively more somber until he began to feel that she was taking the trivial selection of aliases altogether too seriously. When next she spoke, however, Fenris came to understand the reason for her gravity.

“Would you like me to call you… Leto?” she had asked haltingly. “When we’re alone together, I mean. I don’t think that it’s a good idea to use it in public anymore, but it is the name you were born with. Would you… rather I called you that?” As she had spoken, she’d plucked at the fabric of her dress, only meeting his eye furtively.

“Instead of the name he gave me, you mean?” Fenris had answered flatly, though without any real irritation.

“Yes,” she’d confirmed quietly.

She had been nervous, hesitant to mention Danarius in his presence. Fenris had understood her reticence; it was still not a topic which he could discuss with total equanimity. “It is unnecessary,” he’d replied, keeping his voice deliberately calm. “Perhaps it is the name I was born with, but it is not the life I remember. Fenris is all I have ever known. This is all I have ever been.” His voice had remained even as he said the words, but Fenris became aware that an edge of bitterness had colored them. The dormant anger that he felt over the life that had been stolen from him resurfaced, frothing within him as he recalled the last time he had been named. The Little Wolf. Fenris. When his name had been chosen for him then, there had been no soft hand resting on his forearm and no gentle voice asking if there was some other name he might prefer. Fenris had closed his eyes, allowing himself to fully feel Hawke’s touch, and forced himself to return to the present… with her. Her fingertips had been light on his arm, tracing in circles. When he had opened his eyes to meet with hers, she had smiled. Leaning forward, she’d pressed her soft lips to his cheek for a brief moment before she drew back and murmured, “Thank you.”

With his lips quirking to the side in a lopsided smile, Fenris had let out a short breath of a laugh. “And just what am I being thanked for this time?”

Hawke had shrugged her shoulders, appearing almost blasé in spite of the tenderness that there was in her eyes. “For being the man you are,” she’d answered matter-of-factly. “For letting me love you.” Her smile broadened as her fingers followed slowly over the lyrium markings that had been written on his skin. Her touch created scarcely any pressure, but he had felt it intensely as it began to stir something in him. “Just… thank you,” she’d added quietly, her hand coming to rest on the band of fabric that was bound around his wrist.

“There’s… no thanks required,” he’d replied softly. “Your love… it has….” He’d meant to maintain eye contact, but lost it somehow, finding himself staring instead at her hand resting against his wrist. Fenris turned his hand to clutch onto hers as he cleared his throat and added lamely, “It has meant a lot to me. I’ve never felt… not for anyone but you.” He’d hoped to say something more articulate or, at the very least, more direct.

Still, Hawke had smiled. “I know,” she’d said, leaning in once more and kissing him gently as he continued to search for better words to say. Fenris was grateful to her for not compelling him to say anything further. She already knew, she already understood. Fenris had sighed against her lips, pulling her closer, winding his arms around her and forgetting that he’d been trying to speak.

In the end, when they had finally managed to return to the task at hand, Fenris had been utterly at a loss as to what he ought to be called and had settled on a name chosen quite at random from one of Hawke’s idiotic novellas. She’d followed suit, selecting a name from a book of folktales she’d read often as a child. Perhaps stranger than being called by his assumed name was hearing Hawke referred to by hers.

“Servana!” The name sounded loudly across the barroom as Tamsin, balancing a tray of empty mugs on her hand, approached Hawke with a harried expression. “Are you leaving, then?” she asked when she reached them, sliding the tray she carried onto the top of an empty table. With a nod to Fenris, she added, “Theron dear, always good to see you.” The barmaid’s eyes lingered on him for a long moment after she’d offered her greeting and, smiling warmly, she folded her arms across her chest, deepening the already deep valley of her exposed cleavage. Observing this, Hawke bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. It had been evident for some time that her young coworker admired Fenris but, tragically for Tamsin, he never seemed to notice. The girl’s attempt to appear to her best advantage in front of him was met with only a short nod of acknowledgement from Fenris as he lifted his arm to drape over Hawke’s shoulder.

“I was thinking of leaving, yes,” Hawke said, tilting her head to rest against Fenris. “If it’s alright with you, that is?” added Hawke, smiling hopefully at Tamsin, who glanced off to cast an eye over the scattered groupings of patrons who still needed their mugs refilled.

“Well, I’ll leave this to you girls,” said Cooper hurriedly, ducking into his office to avoid any potential conflict that might arise between his employees.

Tamsin’s eyes trailed after him before she looked back at Hawke and shrugged her shoulders. “I can handle it. Half of these idiots will leave when you do, anyway. Laurence, in any case,” she said, glancing over her shoulder towards the young man that Hawke had been serving earlier. Fenris noticed that Laurence, still nursing his ale, looked away quickly when Tamsin’s eyes fell on him. He’d been staring, though that was common enough when Hawke and Fenris were out together. It was difficult to avoid drawing attention. “Ugh, he’s sickeningly obvious,” muttered Tamsin, speaking to Hawke. Then, turning her attention to Fenris, she added, “You may want to defend your wife’s honor.”

Hawke felt Fenris’ arm tighten slightly around him and she pressed herself closer to his side in response. “I’ve considered it,” Fenris said darkly, stroking his hand over Hawke’s upper arm as he spoke.

Hawke chuckled under her breath. “Well, it’s so difficult to discourage them, isn’t it?” she said, looking from Tamsin to Fenris. “You know men: they interpret basic civility as flirtation.”

“In that case, perhaps you ought to be uncivil,” grumbled Fenris, his eyes narrowing as he looked again towards where Laurence sat.

Hawke slid her arm around Fenris, running her fingertips lightly over the side of his hip. “Men are capable of interpreting incivility as flirtation as well, sweetheart,” she told him softly. “It’s one of the deepest faults with your sex.”

Fenris exhaled derisively, though he couldn’t really bring himself to argue with her final point. After all, he had been guilty of it himself in the past. With her, no less.

“You’d think that they would have learned by now not to try anything with Servana, of all people,” sighed Tamsin, her eyes flitting between Fenris and Hawke. “Considering how disgustingly gooey you two are whenever you’re in public.” She followed this statement with an exaggerated roll of her eyes, but quickly undercut herself by adding hopefully, “I don’t suppose that there’s anyone else in your clan who might be available and, for instance, interested in meeting a nice human girl?”

Fenris lifted one of his dark eyebrows, seeming surprised by her request. “My clan is still in Nevarra, to my knowledge,” he answered with practiced ease. Then, turning his head to the side and speaking mostly into Hawke’s hair, he added, “And, if my taste is any indication, elves don’t much care for nice girls.” Unsuccessfully, Hawke fought back a laugh that came out as a snort. She turned her head, hiding her face against Fenris’ shoulder.

“Ugh,” groaned Tamsin as she watched them. “Why is it that you have all the luck? You get to go home with your handsome elven husband and I have to stay here while drunkards breathe on my neck.” Shaking her head, she concluded, “It really isn’t the least bit fair.”

“Believe me, I know,” murmured Hawke, smiling softly as she looked up at Fenris. “I really don’t deserve you, do I?”

He leaned closer, kissing her cheek. He lingered near to her, his lips grazing momentarily against the shell of her ear as he added, in a low breath that brushed over her skin, “When I get you home, I’ll give you what you deserve.”

Hawke felt a pleasurable squirming from within her as her cheeks flushed with brilliant color. Fenris, however, drew back from her casually, with only the slightest glint of heat in his eyes. Aware that she was only a few short feet from someone with whom she would have to work in the future, Hawke did her very best to keep herself from throwing Fenris down on the table. She did, after all, have some small sense of decorum. “That’s a promise?” she said evenly, her lips twisting into an irrepressible smile. Fenris nodded, the corner of his lips quirking slightly upwards as he held her gaze.

“Well!” exclaimed Hawke abruptly, looking back towards Tamsin with a broad grin. “I have to go fairly immediately. You’re fine, aren’t you? Good, you’re fine.”

Fenris was already dragging her towards the exit, his hand locked firmly around her wrist. Hawke laughed as she stumbled along after him, bumping clumsily against a chair.

“Theron! You two are coming to Tabitha’s engagement dinner, aren’t you?” Fenris heard Tamsin call after them.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he called back brusquely, guiding Hawke out through the exit.

No sooner than the door had swung shut behind them than had Hawke, with strength that truly was astounding for someone of her size, thrown Fenris back against the wall. Her hands were pressed against his chest, knocking him back, until they grazed up past his shoulders and tangled with his hair. She pulled his face to hers, already panting with enthusiasm. Her lips were soft as she eagerly ground her hips against him. Fenris locked his arms around her, lifting her slightly from the ground, and pulled her closer to him. She sighed, rolling her hips in slow, careful undulations. Fenris had only just begun to appreciate the still lingering scent of lavender on her skin, however, when the door of the bar was flung open and an old man stumbled forth to disrupt their solitude. Hawke pulled back from Fenris as the warbling sound of the drunkard’s laughter trembled through the night air.

“Give it her good, son!” the man slurred loudly as he disappeared down the one road that ran through the center of town.

Hawke sighed dejectedly as she lowered herself down once more to the flats of her feet. “I hate being in public,” she groaned. “It’s been altogether too long since you had me up against a wall.”

“Yes, it has truly been a great span of time since yesterday evening,” he said dryly, brushing her hair behind her ear and admiring the dark, scattered bruises he had left on her neck the day before.

“Mm, is that all? I could have sworn it had been longer.” She held him close still, burying her face against his chest and sighing softly. “Maker’s breath, you smell good,” she murmured appreciatively against his shirt, her fingers tightening against the thin fabric. “I forgot how rank humans are.” She inhaled again, deeply, and let out a low sigh that verged on being a moan. “Mmm, I missed your scent.” She ran her hands down from his shoulders, grazing down over his arms. “I missed your skin. Your voice. Your… everything.” She stepped closer as her eyes lifted to meet with his and her hands slid down to his hips. “I missed you so much today,” she said, smiling.

“So I’m gathering,” he said, reaching up to brush her hair back behind her ear. He kept his hand to her, cupping her cheek as she tilted her head into his open palm. She made a soft sound in her throat, her eyes fluttering shut, as she continued to roll her hips instinctively against him. Her body was warm and the quiet, contented sounds she made as he touched her seemed to rush through his blood, filling him with a sensation that was entirely inappropriate given their current circumstances. Not far from where they stood, Fenris was aware of a dangling lantern that shed pooling yellow light upon them. He was aware also of one of Hawke’s hands leaving his hip and gliding easily between their bodies, between his legs. Fenris gasped sharply, his head snapping back and colliding with the wall, as her fingertips traced teasingly over him. Her teeth caught against her lower lip as she smiled up at him, her eyes holding with his as her hand moved slowly, diligently over his length. It would have been impossible not to feel a response. Slouching back against the wall, Fenris felt a shiver pass over his skin as her thumb ran in small, gentle circles against the head of his cock. Even through the delicate leather of her glove, he could feel the heat of her hand. He was so aware of her touch as his breath caught in his throat, his jaw slackening as he choked in a gasp of air.

“Fuck, I missed you,” she whispered, leaning into him and kissing where his neck joined with his shoulder. His arms wrapped around Hawke, Fenris’ hands tightened on her hips as she rocked gently against him. His thigh was between her legs, against her heat, as she moved slowly, carefully. Holding her firmly, Fenris controlled the short thrusts of her hips as her hand moved with increased fervor against his rapidly hardening erection. In synchrony, they took in ragged breaths of air. The night was humid and, already, Fenris felt sweat beading on his skin. Against the side of his throat, Hawke’s teeth dragged tantalizingly over his lyrium brands.

From inside the tavern, there was laughter and the persistent sound of conversation. Hawke seemed oblivious to it, however, as her hand left him to graze up beneath the hem of his shirt, only to slide down once more, this time slipping beneath his clothes. Fenris sucked in air through clenched teeth, trying to retain his tenuous hold on his self-control. “Maker, I want you now,” she groaned, her lips against his skin as her hand teasing over him, daring him to lose control of himself.

He was on the razor edge of his own sanity. During their time wandering through the heart of Ferelden, Fenris and Hawke had grown used to being able to have each other at an impulse. Readjusting to society was proving to be more taxing than either of them had anticipated. When Hawke had first begun to spend her days and evenings working at Rosamund’s, the hours of separation had been nearly unbearable. Spoiled and used to having her within reach, Fenris had been filled with impossible, aching desire that grew exponentially throughout the day. He’d forgotten so much of what he’d once known about self-control. The first night that he had come to retrieve Hawke from the tavern—the first night that he had dared to risk their detection—she had pulled him around to the side of the building the moment the door had swung shut behind them. There, in the shadows where a row of tattered rosebushes grew, they had fallen down into the soft mulch, groping at one another like adolescents in the first heat of youth. He’d hitched her skirts up around her hips and freed himself from his clothing just enough that he could enter her there, lying behind the scant shield of thorny bushes that barely guarded them from the sight of any curious passersby. His hand across her mouth, and hers against his, they had bitten back groans during that frantic, clumsy rutting.

That sort of behavior—puerile and risky as it was—was unadvisable, however. And, in all honesty, it was not the sort of thing that Fenris preferred. He’d never cared for having a spectacle made of an activity that, in his opinion, really ought to be kept private. He valued discretion, though it was sometimes difficult to remind himself of that fact when he was in Hawke’s presence. Still, over the many nights that had passed in Avaltolla, Fenris flattered himself that he had developed more restraint than he had had at the beginning.

Fenris was panting beneath her attentions but, tilting his head to glance down at her, he tried to focus his eyes. “We could be seen… Servana,” he reminded her slowly, his voice strained.

Groaning regretfully, Hawke stilled against him before easing away, taking a step back and smoothing her rumpled skirts with trembling hands. She was not terribly fond of delayed gratification and the effort it took to hold herself back was evident in her expression as she smiled at Fenris and stammered, “Y-yes, you’re right.” She shook her head, laughing lightly under her breath as she folded her hands together to combat the temptation to reach out to touch him once more. “Of course you’re right,” she added, smiling sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to control myself.”

Still slumped back against the wall, his breath short and his body urging him to pull Hawke back to him, Fenris smirked crookedly. “That apology is… entirely superfluous, I assure you,” he said, his voice rough and breaking slightly. “Though I have no wish to start something that we will be unable to finish.”

Hawke’s eyes lowered from his, passing down to the tightened fabric that strained to accommodate the evidence of his arousal. She bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, fighting back her own desire. Meeting his gaze once more, Hawke cleared her throat. “You have no idea how badly I want to finish,” she said tremulously, the corners of her lips shaking in an unsteady smile.

Fenris let out a short, strangled sort of laugh. “You’re certainly not alone in that.” He glanced off towards the warmly glowing lantern and the open window from which raucous laughter emitted from within the bar. Turning back to Hawke, Fenris said thickly, “Let’s get you home.”

Stepping away from the wall, Fenris moved towards Hawke, draping his arm loosely over her shoulder as they began to make their way into the darkness that lay beyond the lights of town.

It was times like this, when she was rejoined with Fenris after a long day of separation, when Hawke felt most tempted to give up her job entirely. Some distant, practical part of her mind reminded her that they needed coin and that Fenris, an elf, would have a difficult time finding work wherever they might find themselves. She reminded herself also that the appearance of normalcy was important. She needed all the trappings of a normal life—a job, friends and acquaintances, a healthy interest in social functions—in order to discourage any rumors about her being an apostate. If they were going to remain here, and it seemed every day to become clearer that they would, then it was imperative that she and Fenris appear to be fairly ordinary members of society. Reclusiveness, at this juncture, was hardly to their advantage.

As of yet, Hawke had heard nothing that might indicate any suspicions directed towards her. Rumors, more than anything else, seemed to circulate about her highly imprudent marriage. One of the elements of her fictitious life with Fenris was the claim that they’d been formally wed in the eyes of the Maker; it had seemed to be the conventional thing to do and less scandalous than an unmarried man and woman living together in sin. Still, Hawke had failed to consider that a wedded elf and human were equally scandalous in the eyes of some. It had been made clear to her, through covert glances and overheard conversations, that there were those in town who found it very distasteful to be in such close proximity to one of those wild Dalish. From what she’d come to understand, it was widely felt that she ought to have been more judicious in her choice of partner. There were even, at times, rather loud complaints about elves stealing away human women, which was certainly not something that Hawke had ever heard of happening with any regularity.

The gossip about her and Fenris had infuriated her the moment she’d become aware of it. She had, after hearing some slurring drunk moaning about her belonging to some savage elf, vented loudly to Fenris about the nerve of ignorant fools who had the unforgivable audacity to pass judgment on him simply for being Dalish. She’d gone on for perhaps a quarter of an hour before Fenris, somewhat less irate than Hawke was, had pointed out that he was not, in fact, Dalish and that there was really no need for her to be offended on his behalf. Whatever the truth of his origins was, however, Hawke remained defensive and easily nettled where Fenris was concerned. The idea that anyone dared to find fault with him infuriated her.

Still, Hawke comforted herself with the notion that, as long as the townsfolk were all aflutter over the false story that she and Fenris had concocted, then there was less of a chance that they would become suspicious of the truth. Thus far, their lies had proved to be satisfactorily convincing. It was a plausible enough story that a common human girl and a Dalish elf had taken up together and gotten themselves ostracized from their own communities, forcing them to start their lives anew elsewhere. If the truth came out—if people began to suspect that there was an apostate living in the cottage near the marshy glen—then Hawke and Fenris were prepared to leave expeditiously. Hawke would rather it didn’t come to that, however. She had become attached to Avaltolla and the small home that she and Fenris had put together there. She would rather not have to leave anytime soon. It did not escape her notice that Fenris seemed to be settling as well and she hated the idea of having to uproot him so soon simply because she was a wanted apostate. She wanted to give him a normal life, though, as a mage, she doubted that such a thing would ever truly be possible. She wondered if this was what her father had felt when he’d dragged her mother away from her calm, stable life. It truly was astounding what people were willing to sacrifice for the sake of love. Smiling fondly, Hawke pressed closer to Fenris’ side. He’d given up so much for her; she tried her best to make it worth his while.

In the near distance, Hawke saw the shape of their house—a large, black shape in the indigo haze of night. The windows shone slightly with the warm russet light of the fire that Fenris had left burning on the hearth. It was odd, really, that she was able to take such comfort in the mere sight of a building. Four simple stone walls, a clumsily patched-together roof—it should not have brought her the sense of security that it did. But, as she drew closer, with Fenris’ arm around her, she felt as she had as a child. Returning to a place where she belonged with someone she belonged to. Nuzzling against him, her head against his shoulder, Hawke smiled to herself. He smiled as well, though she did not see it, and bent to kiss the top of her head. She sighed contentedly, her arm tightening around the small of his waist as she looked off towards a cloud of fireflies that swirled above a patch of rhododendrons she’d planted a short time ago. She and Fenris were drawing near the fence now, lingering for a moment beside the gate, both watching the chaotic dance of the fireflies.

After a moment, Fenris glanced down to catch Hawke’s expression—her tranquil smile, her eyes that were bright even in faint light of the moon. “Are the summers long in Ferelden?” he asked quietly, stroking over her arm gently with the backs of his fingers.

“Not long enough,” she told him, looking up to meet his gaze.

“Pity,” he sighed, staring back over the garden that surrounded the cottage. “I was enjoying the warmth.”

Hawke made a soft, enigmatic sound, privately thinking that she’d been enjoying the warmth as well; Fenris so seldom wore clothing when it was hot outside, which was something that she’d certainly come to appreciate. She followed the line of his sight towards the glowing windows of the house, where the clusters of wisteria waved lazily as balmy gusts of air brushed against them. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Hawke marveled. “I don’t think that I’ve ever lived anywhere more beautiful.”

“I always imagined you’d prefer something a bit more… spacious. Like your estate.”

Hawke shook her head, her eyes still wandering over the flowering cascades of growth that dripped over the cottage. “This is better.”

Fenris looked down at her thoughtfully. “You don’t miss it?” he asked mutedly. “Your life in Kirkwall?” He couldn’t imagine that she had ever harbored ambitions of becoming a tavern girl while she was ascending the social ladder in the Free Marches. He did, after all, vaguely remember what she had said shortly after they’d met; he’d asked what sort of mage she was and she’d told him readily enough that she was the sort of mage who sought fame and fortune above all else.  Though, now that he had come to understand Hawke better, Fenris suspected that she’d only said as much because she’d known that it would anger him. Still, he wondered.

She shrugged, reaching forward to rest her hands on the uppermost rail of the fence. “Not really,” Hawke replied honestly. “I miss the people sometimes, but, other than that, there’s really not much to miss.”

“Other than power, position, and financial security, of course,” he said dryly.

Hawke laughed under her breath, bowing her head as she stared thoughtfully down at the short rosemary shrubs that were just beginning to flourish. “Well, yes, those things obviously. But I don’t think that I’d trade what I have now for some gold and a fancy title. And power is only useful when you’re willing to lord it over others.” She shook her head. “And the moment you’re willing to do that, you’ve already become a monster.” Fenris’ expression changed as he watched her speak, but it had become unreadable by the time she looked up at him again. When she smiled, her lips only curving slightly, his eyes flickered down quickly to her mouth. “I wouldn’t give this up for anything.” Her hand rose to his cheek, trailing down to skim along his jawline.

His brow furrowed, glancing down at her hand out of the corner of his eye.

“I love you,” he heard himself say abruptly, the words almost inaudible. “As you are now.”

She laughed, looking a bit confused as to what had suddenly brought this on. “I love you, too,” she told him, running her hand back into his hair. Hawke’s smile softened slightly as, with a gentle pressure applied to the nape of his neck, she pulled him down to her. Her lips moved slowly against his as he wound his arms around her. Fenris wondered if she was even aware of it—of how different her words now were from the answer she had given so many years ago. If he asked her now what she sought, he wondered how she would answer. He suspected that he would be pleased with the answer she would give.

When her lips left his, one of her hands leaving his hair to take his hand, she laughed again, softly. She shook her head; it was so impossible to believe that she could be so lucky.

His hand cupped her cheek; her eyes closing, her smiling fading, she leaned into his touch. His palm was warm against her skin as he swept his lightly calloused thumb against her cheekbone. “Hawke,” he said softly as her eyes fluttered open and met his. “Come inside.”

The fire on the hearth had burned low in Fenris’ absence and, as he stooped before it, Hawke’s eyes passed over the small interior room of the house. She could always, just from a cursory glance, tell how he had passed the day without her. She saw the fresh game, cooked and set out on the table, saw the ink well and quill lying beside the journal she had bought for him the week before, saw the conspicuous absence of all dust and cobwebs and the way that the dresser now gleamed in the orange light of the fire. Glancing at Fenris, knelt beside the hearth as he arranged new logs on the fire, Hawke smiled to herself.

She suspected that he made such an effort to improve their home on her account, considering that he had certainly not bothered to do so when he had lived alone. He troubled himself to keep the place clean, as he had not done before, and even went so far as to attempt to repair the damage that time and obsolescence had done to the cottage. Still, it was difficult to acknowledge the things that he did and the improvements he made because, whenever she drew attention to such things, he seemed to grow cross and taciturn. After a few attempts at praising his upkeep of their home, Hawke had learned that Fenris did not take compliments gracefully or with the pride that men, in her experience, generally did. Perhaps it embarrassed him.

Hawke was forced, then, to be indirect and say things in a roundabout manner such as, “This is nice, don’t you think?” while gesturing to something that he had done in her absence. She did so with casual dismissiveness, as if the ceiling had somehow patched itself and the chair leg had miraculously ceased to wobble of its own accord. It was only in this way that she was able to acknowledge the work he did on her account without embarrassing him in the process. She could have ignored his efforts altogether, she supposed, but it felt wrong to do so and she did insist on making him aware that she had noticed even if it did make him uncomfortable. Usually, he responded to her casual comments by shrugging noncommittally and grumbling, “I suppose it’s alright.” It worked will enough, really, and Hawke often found ways of expressing her gratitude more effectively than she was able to with words.

“The wardrobe looks nice,” she observed as Fenris rose from the fireside and took a few strides towards her.

Fenris looked over his shoulder at the piece of furniture in question and then back at Hawke. “If you say so,” he shrugged.

She placed her hands on his shoulders, pulling him firmly so that he stumbled against her. “I do say so,” she said, kissing his chin swiftly.

Fenris sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. “It’s just furniture, Hawke.”

“And it looks nice,” she said, smiling innocently as she ran one of her hands to his chest, appreciating the feel of hard, solid muscle beneath her touch. Though she had run her hands over him many times, felt nearly every inch of his body, there was still pleasure in it. Still that electric thrill of discovery that coursed through her when she took the liberty of touching him. There was such comfort and delight in it—in knowing that he had given her this privilege of intimacy and in knowing that he allowed her touch because he loved her, because he trusted her enough to give himself to her. That knowledge was intoxicating, addictive. When she was alone with him, it was impossible to resist.

He caught the hand that rested on his chest, holding it lightly in his grasp as he lifted it to his lips. His head bowed close to her hand, he shifted his hold on it, pulling her glove away and dropping it carelessly to the floor. “The other,” he said in an undertone, his lips brushing against her exposed knuckles. He let go of her left hand, holding his open palm out to her expectantly. Removing her right hand from his shoulder, she placed it into his waiting palm. Her cheeks flushed slightly as he stripped her of her second glove, as well as the prosthetic fingers that filled it. For a second time, her kissed her knuckles softly, his eyes closing and his dark lashes falling against his cheeks, casting fringed shadows. It made her blush deepen, seeing his lips coming so close to her mottled scar tissue. “You don’t have to,” Hawke mumbled quietly.

He raised his eyes to hers, his lips barely pulling away from her hand as he ran a gentle fingertip over the gnarled, discolored skin of a wound hastily and poorly healed. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

Shaking her head, she let out a small, awkward laugh. “No, I suppose not.” She took a step closer to him, trapping their clasped hands between their bodies. “I guess I’ll just count myself lucky that you don’t mind a certain level of deformity.”

He lifted one of his dark brows, looking down at her thoughtfully. In truth, the absence of a few fingers was not something he often noticed and, when he did, it was not with displeasure. Even in utter darkness, he would be able to distinguish her touch from any other. Her hands—Hawke’s hands—which had become so familiar to him now and which set her apart from all the others that clutched onto him in the past. “There are few things about your physical aspect that I would change,” Fenris told her, his fingers tightening around hers, “and your injury is certainly not among them.”

Her cheeks were still pink, but Fenris could tell from her smirk that she had forgotten her mild discomfort. “Few but not none?” she said with feigned incredulity. “I’m almost hesitant to ask what it is about my appearance that you would alter.”

The scars on her legs, because she had broken in his absence and because they reminded him of it. “Your hair,” he replied evenly, dropping her hand and taking up a small handful of her dark hair into his grasp. “It’s odd to see you with an unfamiliar color. I’ve yet to grow accustomed to it.”

She must not have been offended by his response because she kissed him again and laughed softly against his mouth. “I’ll return it to my natural color once everything is settled,” she said when she pulled away from him. “Though not any sooner than that, obviously.”

“Well, it’s something to look forward to, in any case.” He twisted her hair around his index finger; it really was a lovely color.

He leaned in closer to her once more, losing one his hand entirely in her loose hair as the other, splay-fingered on her lower back, held her firmly to him. There was no cause for restraint any longer; within these walls, she was his alone to do with what he liked. After a day of waiting, after a walk home during which he had ached with unfulfilled yearning… he was ready, eager. The heat of the crackling fire washed over him as, once more, she ran her hands from his shoulders down along the taut, corded muscles of his back. Through thin fabric, he felt her fingernails dragging against his clothes. Her hands reached the hem, pulling at it, as she made soft sounds against his mouth. Then, more deafeningly than any other sound in the room, Fenris’ stomach growled.

He would have liked to ignore the sound, but Hawke pulled away, shaking slightly with suppressed laughter. “Have you not eaten yet?” she asked, grinning up at him.

He shifted a bit awkwardly. “I… prefer not to eat without you,” he admitted. “It’s… habit.”

She laughed. “Do I have to start worrying about you now?”

He shrugged. “If you’d like. I enjoy your concern.”

Hawke rolled her eyes, stepping away from him but grabbing hold of his hand as she walked backwards towards the table. “Come along, Fenris. Let’s see what you made for supper.”

On most mornings, and on afternoons when she did not have to go to work, Hawke assumed the responsibility of preparing meals. At night, however, the task always fell to Fenris. There was something soothing, she had found, in watching him cook. He lacked a certain culinary finesse, it was true, and had apparently never heard that spices could be used to season a dish, but he was sufficiently capable as far as she was concerned. There was something a bit mesmerizing about watching his long, quick fingers as he stripped game of its hide or a bird of its feathers. She had grown fond of his hands—narrow, and deft, but strong like the rest of him. When he spoke, she watched his hands often as he gestured with them unnecessarily. It was a habit of his, an old tendency, that amused her. He was so skilled with those hands and, when he prepared a meal for the both of them, she always found herself watching him with some measure of interest. It never bothered her if the results of his labor were bland or, as they often were, somewhat burnt. Even years of eating Orana’s wonderful cooking had not left Hawke with much of a refined palette and, in all honesty, Fenris could prepare burnt toast and fish guts and she would still eat it with enthusiasm. It was another of the things that he did for her, to take care of her. She relished it.

“There’s quail, of course. Vegetables. And, um, currants. From your garden,” Fenris told her as she parted from him and took her seat at the table.

“It looks delicious. All of it,” she observed, hiding her smile from him. There was still, after all this time, a somewhat ridiculous level of delight in the fact that he went to the trouble of gathering berries from the garden because he knew that she liked them. It was certainly not for his own pleasure; currants—the ones that she had planted because they reminded her of the woods she’d played in as a child—were rather tart, which had made Fenris’ nose crinkle with disgust when he’d first eaten them.

Hawke began heaping food on her own plate and, as she did so, Fenris retrieved a bottle of wine and two porcelain cups from the cabinet. One of the benefits of working in a tavern was that Hawke was generally able to get a decent price on bottles; they had managed to put together a fairly sizable collection of fairly atrocious wine. Of late, Hawke had been wondering how Fenris might like running a vineyard of their own, if the situation with mages ever calmed down enough for them to live somewhere with any degree of permanence.

Fenris placed a small cup on the table beside Hawke’s plate once the wine was uncorked and, holding the open bottle poised above her cup, looked at her inquisitively. When she nodded, he began to pour as thin stream of garnet liquid into the chipped teacup.

“That should do it. Thank you, love,” she told him when the amount was sufficient. As Fenris began to pour wine for himself, Hawke piled generous heaps of food on his plate. His stomach had continued to make small squelching sounds as he’d been pouring the wine and it was clear that he had indeed gone a long while between meals. The fact that he had waited for her only added to the myriad of reasons why she wanted to propel herself on top of him. Hawke reminded herself, however, that he was hungry and, in point of fact, so was she. She hadn’t had a meal since that morning, though she’d rather forgotten about food entirely once she’d seen Fenris standing in the tavern, leaning against the wall and waiting for her to look his way. It was altogether too easy to forget things when she was around him.

Fenris found that he was equally prone to distractibility when he was in Hawke’s company. Even as he ate large bites of quail, he was not fully aware of what he was doing. His eyes were drawn to Hawke as she popped the small, red currants into her mouth, taking sips of wine intermittently. He had grown fond of nights such as this—being shut away with her, away from everything else. Just the two of them, with no prying eyes and no false names. She seemed most at ease when they were alone together, her shoulders relaxing forward and her forced smiles fading away.

He watched as she lifted her teacup to her lips, tilting her head back slightly as she drank. Her lips were red and vaguely wet as she glanced over at him, lowering her cup back down to the table. Fenris cleared his throat, looking back down at his plate as Hawke’s lips curved into a smile. Being caught staring was always mildly embarrassing, though they were both guilty of it. When she looked away from him, his eyes wandered absentmindedly back to her. Her hair, glossy and loose, slipped away from her shoulders, which were left bare by her dress. The sort of dress that women in Ferelden seemed to be wearing during those summer months—fitted to the hip with a neckline that left very little to the imagination. Nevertheless, he found he used his imagination as his eyes passed over her. He knew her body well, knew the details of it, but he imagined rediscovering those familiar aspects of her as he stripped her bare. He imagined the soft sounds she’d make, the way she’d sigh as he kissed along the curves of her breasts, the way she would open to him as they fell back across the bed.

Fenris could tell that she was aware of his gaze upon her and that she was fighting to keep from laughing at him. She laughed easily when they were alone, when she was happy and when she felt safe.

He wanted to reach out to her; he’d grown so tired of waiting. Even with his hunger, which he seemed to be becoming even more conscious of as he ate, his mind kept returning to other immediate urges. He wanted to taste those reddened lips. He wanted to taste her tongue, sweet from wine and tart from currants, as it slid inside his mouth.

“Hawke,” Fenris said hoarsely, drawing her eyes suddenly back to him.

She smiled, licking the juice of a burst currant berry from her fingertip. “Fenris,” she replied, almost teasingly.

“Come here.”

Her smile crooked to the side, becoming a smirk. “You’ve barely eaten anything, love,” she noted, looking at his plate. “I thought you were hungry.”

She was doing this to him deliberately. His eyes trailed over her—slowly, taking her in. “Starving.”

Her smile flickered, her breath hitching dryly in her throat. His voice, the way it thickened and dropped lower when he wanted her, was infinitely more intoxicating than any wine. It was more intoxicating than anything, really. His desire. For her.

Hawke rose from her chair, slowly with her eyes never leaving his, and came to stand before him. She did not lower himself to him immediately, standing instead with her hands clasped together behind her back as he looked up at her warmly, the corner of his mouth twisting as if he were on the verge of a smile.

Fenris pushed back his chair from the table, the legs scraping against the floor, but remained seated. Lifting one of his hands from his knee, he reached for her, catching the linen skirts of her dress and pulling gently on her as she took a step closer to him, standing between his parted legs. Hawke grinned as he toyed experimentally with the fabric of her dress, rubbing the dark cloth between his thumb as forefinger. She looked well in this color, he thought privately. A deep, bloody red that was black in the firelight. It suited her. It would suit her still better when it was on the floor.

“Turn around,” he ordered softly, his hand rising from her skirts to trail over her abdomen.

She bit her lip, inclining her head slightly as her cheeks flushed with rosy color. Reaching out, Hawke ruffled her fingers through Fenris’ hair fondly. “As always, I am yours to command,” she said quietly, dropping her hand from his hair as she turned to face away from him.

He noticed that her arms were trembling slightly as he grazed his fingertip along the line of the laces that rose up along the center of her back. That morning, tying her into her dress, he had hidden her away; now, it was his privilege to leave her undone. His touch was almost weightless as his hand rose to sweep over her faintly protruding shoulder blades. He heard her sigh faintly—a low, throaty sound—and knew how acutely she was aware of him. He slipped his fingers against the knot he’d tied at dawn and began to ease apart the delicate, intersecting ties that bound her bodice together. Parting the fabric of her dress, the fastenings still crossing over her skin as he loosened them, Fenris bent forward to press his lips against newly exposed skin. She shivered, breathing unevenly, as she felt his breath falling over the small of her back. His kiss against her spine, Fenris’ hands trailed to her sides, running in lazily circles over her hips before his hold on her tightened, clutching onto her firmly.

“Strip,” he murmured against her skin, speaking between kisses.

He lessened the pressure of his hold on her hips as she began to turn to face him once more. She was smiling, radiant from the warmth of the fire and from her own excitement. Her clothes hung from her precariously now, likely to fall away from her entirely if she were to so much as shrug her shoulders. Hawke stepped away from him, lifting her hands to the sleeves of her dress and easing them off her arms. Fenris’ eyes fell hungrily over her naked skin as she pulled her bodice down away from her torso. Lamentably, her breasts were still hidden from him by her breastband, but there was still much to admire. She’d stopped wearing her flimsy slips entirely, complaining of the summer heat, and, as her dress glided down past her hips and pooled at her feet, she was left standing only in her meager undergarments. The scant, black fabric offered only the barest illusion of modesty.

Her underclothes were always black these days. She’d not worn white since he had mentioned that it held some association with Tevinter. While they’d been travelling, she dyed everything she owned purple with the juice of gathered berries, but, now that they’d come to town, she’d bought new things. Everything dark, everything with his tastes in mind.

“Hawke…,” he breathed, his voice rough and ragged already.

She grinned, enjoying his appreciation of her, and turned slowly in place. She had stepped, as she shed her dress, just beyond his reach and now, his eyes inextricably fixed on her, Fenris rose from her chair and moved towards her. Hawke fell back from him, taking a stride away for each step he took forward. She laughed as he lifted his eyes to hers and made a gruff sound of annoyance in his throat.

“It’s a bit unfair, you know,” she said, a note of playful reproof in her voice, “for you to ask me to strip bare while you remain fully clothed.”

Again, he made a rough sound of irritation as, rolling his eyes, he rid himself of his shirt. “Satisfied?” he grumbled, holding out his hands to her in an invitation for her to approach.

Hawke shrugged her shoulders, obligingly coming forward to stand in the circle of his waiting arms. “No,” she answered, wrapping her arms around him, “but I’m sure you’ll get me there.” Her palms were open on his back, lightly running over hard muscle, as she pulled him firmly against herself.

Fenris lowered his mouth over hers, his hands cradling the back of her head and his fingers tangled in her hair. His mouth was sweet—always sweet—as she parted her lips to the soft, probing inquiry of his tongue. She heard his low groan, felt it rumble in his chest and throat, as his arms tightened around her. The compression, the weight of his embrace, almost robbed her of breath as he leaned into her, arching her backwards slightly over the arms that held her. He had her balanced on her toes and leaning back, supported almost entirely by his strength. Their bodies forced flush together, Hawke rejoiced in the feel of him. The bare skin of his torso against hers. The firm solidity of muscles shifting beneath his warm skin. His hands catching her hair, roughly pulling at it, as he bent back her head to deepen their kiss. With their hips were pressed together, moving in a steady rhythm that neither of them controlled, she felt that he was hard. She moaned against his mouth, feeling an eager quickening sensation twisting within her. Her skin, burning with heat where their bodies made contact, overwhelmed her with the feeling of nerves blazing into life.

Hawke loved being in his arms. Loved the preamble that led to their coupling. When they were close, each of them being swept up into a frenzied state of desperation, they were able to communicate something deep and honest which could not be expressed with the inexact exchange of words. They could express their need, articulating wordlessly that they fit with one another, belonged with one another.

Hawke’s hands dragged down over his back, skimming roughly over lyrium lines, as she reached to pull urgently at the clothes he still wore. Fenris aided her effort, letting go of her as he hastily squirmed free of his clothing. As he lost his hold on her, Hawke fell back a pace or two and laughed at his eagerness. Fenris responded, grinning as he came towards her once more. He caught her, dragging her into his arms even as he took a few staggering steps forward. Hawke gasped as they collided with the table, setting the flatware clattering noisily against the plates. Fenris ignored the sound, pressing her more forcefully against the table with short thrust of his hips against hers. A giddy, breathless sort of laugh caught in her throat, coming out as a strangled little sound as he removed one of his hands from her hip and slid it between her legs.

“I have spent all day craving you,” he groaned, his mouth and words pressed against the side of her neck. As he spoke, his hand rose along the inside of her leg and reached the apex of her thighs. She wore her underclothes still, shielding her from his direct touch, but he felt the wet heat of her arousal against his hand and made a low, hungry sound in his throat. “Already?” he breathed, his fingers, gliding between her and her clothes and dipping shallowly inside of her.

Hawke bowed her head against her shoulder, breathless and mindlessly kissing any skin her lips could find. She shivered as his rough thumb pressed to her clit, rubbing at her with a swift, firm stroke through her underclothes. “You haven’t been the only one left wanting,” she said thickly. “I’ve been aching for you since the moment your body left mine this morning.” Her lips trailed upwards along his neck, finding his ear as she added softly, “I can’t live without my soul inside of me.”

Fenris grinned, his teeth closing lightly on her throat as he stifled an unsteady laugh. She said such things sometimes—calling him her heart, her soul. As if he were something that could not be divided from her, something that was an inherent, inseparable part of her. And he wanted to be a part of her—inside of her, completing her, finishing her. His hands, both coming to her hips, eased her smallclothes down past her thighs. When his hands moved to her back, eagerly fumbling with the fastenings of her breastband, he felt Hawke shifting as she kicked her smallclothes off her feet.

Fenris stepped back when she was bare in her entirety, surveying her with a slow, trailing glance. The color of her cheeks deepened as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Leaning back, her hands resting on the weathered wood of the tabletop, she bowed her head. Her hair, in curling locks, tumbled in front of her face and partially obscured the swelled curves of her breasts from his view. She looked… perfect. Whole again, like herself again. Like something out of the most perverse, impossible fantasies he’d entertained during his years in Kirkwall.

She lifted her gaze to him once more, looking at him through lowered lashes while her lips curved in a small, almost shy smile. Fenris felt his heart shudder, his blood responding and charging with a scalding, almost painful heat.

He was against her again quickly, closing the space, lifting her onto the table as his lips slatted over hers. He felt her breathing unevenly, her chest rising and falling with shaking breaths, as she wound her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist. The table rattled noisily as he pressed his hips forward, feeling her slick, ready heat against him. Not inside yet, but close. His eyes clenched shut as he envisioned taking that first plunge, burying himself within her. But not yet. Not just yet.

Hawke’s breath rattled as she broke their kiss, letting out a low, desperate whine. Her hips rocked as she rubbed herself over him, inviting him. “Please,” she gasped, her fingernails biting sharply into his shoulder blades. “Please.”

Fenris laughed roughly at her impatience. “You’ve been kept waiting too long,” he murmured with a light, almost imperceptible increase of the pressure between their bodies.

Her pupils were blown with desire, blackening her eyes, as her hand slid between their bodies and lightly ran over the smooth head of his cock. “Don’t make me wait any longer.”

Fenris smiled, almost smugly, as his hands grazed upwards over her thighs. He fully intended to make her wait for him; he’d waited for her all day.

He kissed her, his teeth dragging against her lower lip as he pulled away, and then, with an easy grace, lowered himself to his knees before her. Hawke’s eyes followed his descent, widening slightly as she watched him kneel between her legs. Then, abruptly, she laughed. “Dear Maker, Fenris, you’re so fucking cruel.”

He shrugged as he placed his hands on her inner thighs and spread her legs farther to the sides. “You’ll tolerate it, I expect.”

She was smiling, shaking her head as he held her gaze for a long moment. His hands moved slowly, progressing gradually over smooth skin. When he broke eye contact, bowing his head, he turned to kiss the inside of her thigh; a familiar gesture and one which he had repeated unfailingly since the first time that her legs had parted for him. His lips held to her skin, his hands stilling momentarily against her thighs as he lingered there. Inhaling deeply, he caught her faint scent and made a low sound of gratification that rumbled from his chest. He never tired of exploring her, of getting lost between her thighs. His lips moved, trailing kisses in a slow procession along the line of her thigh as one of her hands came to lightly run through his hair. Her hands were warm, gentle; her thighs were soft.

Beneath his lips, Fenris felt faintly raised scar tissue. His eyelids lifted and, blearily, he saw the still-pink lines. His brows drew together as his eyes closed again and his lips held to that skin.

It was better for both of them now, he reminded himself. Both of them with their scars, both of them still healing.

His lips left her, his eyes opening and lifting to meet with hers. Her hand was still against his hair, almost petting over it. Fenris smiled, tilting his head against her palm, before he leaned closer once more and kissed her again, more deliberately this time. Hawke took in a short gasp of air, her fingers tightening in his hair.

It felt as though her entire body, her entire consciousness, was concentrated where his mouth was pressed to her flesh. Her eyes closed, her body exquisitely aware of the light suction of his mouth against her as his tongue moved over her in long, almost languid strokes. He was steady, controlled, sure of himself and of his pace. He took his time, awakening her slowly.

When he flicked the tip of his tongue suddenly against her clit, Hawke let out a short, almost surprised cry. Fenris laughed, warm breath falling against her as his hands stoked with hypnotizing repetition over her thighs.

He tasted her, his tongue circling with careful attention over the point of her sensitivity. He was slow at first, steadily galvanizing her nerves and making her acutely reception to pleasure. As her breath grew shorter—her thighs trembling slightly and her hips shifting in short, needy thrusts—he increased the speed and pressure of his delicately flicking tongue. She heard a thick, hungry sound in his throat and felt an almost dizzying thrill pass through her. When his green eyes lifted to hers, it almost finished her. She could tell from the light within them that he was smiling.

With much practice and much repetition, he had come to understand her body well. He had specialized knowledge of the delicate balance of pressure, of pace, and of persistence, that she most preferred. Fenris took a certain delight in being able to take full advantage of his understanding of her. He had learned that, after her climax, she was almost painfully sensitive to touch. If he relented during those moments, she would shiver as a long, tremulous pleasure coursed through her. If he kept touching her, if he persisted—he could push her over the edge again. The second time would be sharp, acute. Pleasure that felt almost like pain or pain that was confused for pleasure. Only sometimes did he take advantage of that sensitivity, bringing her easily to a bright, shattering orgasm that made her scream.

He’d asked once, of course, if he was allowed. She had laughed and assured him that he most certainly was. It was like lying on the shore, she said, trying to catch her breath as wave after wave kept crashing down over her. Waves washing over her, bitingly cold and burning hot in one moment, that left her light-headed and gasping and trapped in a blinding, brilliant place at the edge of sanity.

He could delay her pleasure also. He had learned to dance along the brink of her climax—bringing her close to the end, making her breath come short and her hand ball to a fist in his hair—before he’d relent slightly, moving his tongue against her with maddeningly slow, deliberate strokes. He could bring her close, perilously close, to the edge time and time again until she was panting and begging for him to finish her. Only then—only when she was writhing with unrestrained desperation and calling out for him with frantic, feral cries—only then would he guide her to the ending that she craved.

That night, as he knelt beside the table with her spread out before him, Fenris made her beg.

She fell back against the table, one of her legs dangling over his shoulder, as she fought for air. Fenris could hear her ragged breath as she moaned his name. Her voice—thick and hungry and calling for him, wanting him—drew a groan from him in response, his voice humming against her.

One of his hands left her thigh, skimming upwards over her hipbone and resting open-palmed against her abdomen. Beneath her skin, which was beaded with perspiration, he could feel her muscles tightening as her body responded to him. Rapidly, almost spasmodically, her back arched and her hips rolled against the table and his mouth. One of her hands, the one not locked in his hair, toyed with her breasts. Fenris, his eyes open and looking over her, panted roughly against her as he watched her fingers playing across the erect buds of her nipples.

It was too much.

He rose from the floor almost clumsily, his eyes fogged over and his mind entirely unfocused. His mouth removed from her, Hawke let out a desperate keening sound. “Fenris, Maker, Fenris, please. Please, I need you,” she pleaded, her voice breaking roughly over the outpouring of words.

She was wet, glossy, as he rubbed the head of his cock over her, feeling her against him. Fenris groaned, a tense hand pressed to her navel as his thumb rubbed urgently against her. He stayed outside of her, breathing in shuddering gasps, as he finally brought her to the end that she’d been aching for.

“Fenris! Fuck!” she cried, the words tearing from her violently, as he thrust into her just as she’d reached her climax. Tight and flooded with arousal, she closed in around him, her inner muscles twitching with convulsive pleasure. The sound he made then, as he buried himself in her, was almost animal.

Her body rose and fell, arching and then slamming back against the wooden tabletop, as he began to move within her. He heard the slap of her skin against the wood and of her body against his own. He was unaware of what he was saying—a senseless blend of curses that spilled in a coarse litany from his mouth—but she was echoing him with rough, ragged profanities of her own. She reached for him, extending her arms and grasping hold of his hips to spur him on. She held him as best she could, hands clawing at his skin and her legs wrapped around his thighs.

He hit deep within her, moving roughly with each uncontrolled thrust of his hips. He held Hawke tightly, his hands where her hips met with thigh, as he kept her where he wanted her. Beneath them, the table was shaking. Fenris was oblivious to it, oblivious to nearly everything, as he leaned forward, arcing over her and bringing his mouth to the side of her throat.

Her head rolled to the side as he kissed her neck, his teeth scraping against her skin as she gasped and groaned his name. She was on edge again, sensitive from her first climax and, as her fingernails bit into his skin, Fenris bit against her shoulder. His pulse was thundering in his ears, almost deafening him and, when her muscles contracted erratically around his length, he was entirely unable to discern what she was saying. He felt her body drawing him in and groaned, his own mind fogging over and his sanity slipping.

Hawke laughed unevenly, a bit delirious as her body trembled beneath his. “Fuck, I love you.” She kissed his shoulder, tongue dipping against his skin.

Fenris groaned again in response to her words. “Again,” he said breathlessly, thrusting rapidly within her.

Hawke was smiling, giddy again and lost in him. “I love you,” she repeated tremulously.

“Fuck, Elena, I’m close,” he panted, his face buried against her and her whole body wrapped around him. “Elena, I’m so close.”

His eyesight was blurred and his mind drifting off into a thick, bright haze. He fought to slow his pace, trying to gather his consciousness and regain enough clarity to speak intelligibly. “Should I…?” he managed, fighting against instinct and beginning to draw out of her warm, wet depths.

She let out a whine of protest, her hands tightening against his shoulders. “Don’t leave me,” she breathed.

Fenris smiled, driving back into her and eliciting a low moan from her in response. His hands left her hips, planting on the table beside her as he lifted himself, meeting her eye and holding that contact during his last final thrusts.

Fenris lost the last of his control, spilling himself inside of her as he fell into oblivion. His hips jerked as shuddering, reverberating tremors passed through the whole of his body. The weight of his torso collapsed forward, his body pressing against Hawke’s as he gasped for air shakily. She was panting as well, also unsteady and also struggling to regain control of her breath and her body.

Returning to their immediate reality was not a quick thing for Fenris. For a long while, both aware and unaware in the same instant, he remained slouched forward over Hawke with his trembling legs offering scarcely any support. He came back to himself gradually, with Hawke’s lips against his ear. She was mumbling sweetly, saying combinations of words that he knew made sense in spite of the fact that he could make no sense of them.

Fenris kissed the side of her neck, trailing along her jawline, before he softly, almost chastely, pressed his lips to hers. Gently, he eased out of her, lifting his weight from her body and standing upright at last. He felt his knees give slightly and, with a feel stumbling steps, made his way back to the chair he’d left vacant when he and Hawke had been distracted by one another. His body melted back, depleted and heavy in the wake. The room was pleasant, tranquil and warm, as he glanced back towards the table where Hawke remained reclined.

Making faint sounds of effort, she heaved herself up into a seated position on the edge of the table. Hawke felt a trace of Fenris spill from her, flowing down to collect in a small puddle on the tabletop. She shook her head, smiling ruefully, and looked over at Fenris. “You know, we might have chosen somewhere a bit more sanitary to do that,” she observed.

Fenris shrugged his shoulder languidly. “A fair point,” he agreed, smiling crookedly as his eyes slowly passed over her. In the firelight, the glaze of damp perspiration on her skin shone faintly. The table, also, bore telltale evidence of their fervent joining. “There’s a chance that, in the impulse of the moment, I may have overlooked certain factors with regard to the selection of the locale.”

When Hawke exhaled, it was almost a laugh. “That’s not the only problem, either. Our poor timing has presented me with the added dilemma of choosing between two very primal desires,” she said, slipping off the edge of the table and standing unsteadily on her own wobbling legs. “I can’t seem to choose between eating and lying in bed for the remainder of my life,” she concluded, looking off fondly towards the bed and then back at their uneaten meal.

“Quite the dilemma, to be sure,” Fenris agreed, nodding gravely, “but one with a simple enough solution.”

He had regained just enough of his strength to rise from his chair and gather Hawke easily into his arms. She laughed, both as he carried her to the bed and as he unceremoniously dropped her down upon it. Lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows, Hawke watched as Fenris returned to the table and gathered together their abandoned plates of food. He looked well in the warm glow of the fire, with his skin bright and still slick with sweat. She grinned as he returned to the bed, placing the plates carefully atop the blankets. “There,” he said. “After we’ve used the table for the bed’s intended purpose, this seems only fitting.”

“That’s very rational of you, Fenris dear.”

He kissed her forehead swiftly before leaving once more to retrieve the open bottle of wine. Leaving their cups behind, he drank directly from the bottle as he walked back towards her. At the bedside, Fenris offered the bottle to Hawke, but she shook her head, already picking greedily at quail meat with her fingertips.Fenris lay beside her as she ate and watched as she ate with a somewhat dazed expression, still seeming to be in the lull of a postcoital haze.

“Maker, I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” Hawke managed to say somewhat intelligibly through a large mouthful of food.

“Hmm,” murmured Fenris noncommittally, his eyes trailing down the line of her back to the curving rise of her ass. One hand clutching loosely onto his bottle of wine, he reached out with the other to stroke along her spine. Though she shuddered, her lips curving into a slight smile, Hawke offered no other reaction until he began to sweep light fingertips over the backs of her thighs.

Her mouth full, Hawke laughed, and shot him a glare that she probably meant to seem withering. Instead, she looked mildly amused. “That’s incredibly distracting, you know,” she said sternly. “I am trying to eat.”

“I’m not stopping you,” he shrugged, his hand dipping slightly between her thighs and feeling the wetness that lingered there.

Hawke shook her head, laughing under her breath. “You never tire, do you?” she marveled. “And I was given to understand that all men tired of their women… given enough time.”

Fenris placed the wine bottle on the floor before repositioning himself to kiss along her lower back. “You’re mine,” he said softly. “I will never tire of you.”

With a pursed smile, Hawke lifted one of her eyebrows. “So, you will indulge me again, then?”

As she looked over her shoulder at him, his head was nestled in the small of her back with his eyes turned towards her. “I seem to recall that, just moments ago, you were complaining that you had not yet fed to your satisfaction,” he smirked.

“True,” she acknowledged, her slow smile spreading. “There is something that I desperately need to taste.”

Slipping out from underneath him, she knelt atop the mattress. Anticipating her, his lips twisting into a smile, Fenris rolled onto his back. With a short nod of appreciation, Hawke crawled to straddle his legs. Her breasts brushed against his thighs as she leaned forward, kissing along his hipbones before she ran her tongue over his cock. Fenris grinned, already feeling a slight stirring of interest, as her eyes lifted to his.

Hawke sighed thickly, making a low sound of appreciation as she lifted her hand to stroke lightly over him while she spoke. “I can still taste it,” she murmured. “Yours and mine.” Her hold on him was firm as her hand slid along his length, gliding over his tip before lowering once more. “Make it a point to last,” she said as she brought her lips close to him once more. “I want to savor this.”

She pressed his tip against her lips, sinking down over him. “I will attempt to outlast your attentions,” Fenris replied, almost dryly.

Hawke pulled up over him, her mouth leaving him with an audibly wet sound. “You’re free to try,” she said, before descending on him again.

Of course, there was only so much a man can withstand. And Fenris could certainly not withstand her, though he did make a valiant showing in the effort.

Morning found them both in disarray and, when Fenris began to drift slowly back into consciousness, he discovered that his body was weighted with a deep, heavy weariness. Pleasantly drained and still half-asleep, he pressed close to Hawke, pulling her against his chest while she continued sleeping soundly. Lightly, he ran his hand over the subtle outline of her hipbone and then on down to the smooth skin of her outer thigh. She sighed in her sleep, one of her hands rising to curl limply against his chest. Smiling wearily, Fenris bowed his head into her hair. This scent had become comforting to him now—rosemary, lavender, and traces of elfroot. The smell of the poultices she crafted. Fenris hand tightened against the supple flesh of her thigh as he breathed her in, his eyes closing.

Hawke felt the slight increase of pressure created by his hand. “You’re awake?” she murmured, nuzzling closer to his chest and not bothering to open her eyes.

He nodded. “Barely.”

“Did we sleep in?” she asked, her fingers spreading against his bare chest and her lips kissing absently over his skin.

“Very likely. Will Cooper be upset, do you think?”

Her hair tickled against his skin as she shook her head. “Mm, no. Coop never opens while the Chantry is holding service, so you have me for the whole day.” She finally opened her eyes, shimmying up against Fenris slightly to kiss him just below his lips. He tilted his face down to her, bringing their mouths together. For a protracted, languorous moment, they remained with their lips pressed lazily together. When she pulled away from him, Hawke began to stroke over Fenris’ hair with almost weightless fingers, smiling as she relaxed in his arms. “We don’t even have to get out of bed,” she said, sighing contentedly

Fenris nodded, leaning in to press his lips to her cheek and tightening the hold of his arm around her. When he drew back from her, however, his brow was furrowed slightly. “You… believe in the Maker, yes?” he ventured, speaking haltingly.

Hawke laughed at the oddity of the sudden question. “Yes…,” she answered, lifting one of her eyebrows quizzically.

“Yet you do not go to prayer with the others,” he persisted, looking at her thoughtfully.

“Well, I’ve never been very devout, obviously,” Hawke acknowledged impassively. Then, as something occurred to her, she extricated herself from his arm enough to prop herself up on one of her elbows as she surveyed his expression. “Would you like to go?” she asked him curiously, sounding mildly surprised. “I mean, I know that you went sometimes in Kirkwall….”

“No,” Fenris broke in hastily, shaking his head. “I was not raised with religion.” He rolled onto his back, staring up at the patched ceiling overhead. “Or, if I was, I have no memory of it,” he continued flatly. “Any faith I have now is… fluctuating.” His eyes returned to hers fleetingly as he added, “But I did not wish to keep you from prayer if you wished to go. I would accompany you… if you so desired.”

Smiling, Hawke bent to kiss his forehead. It was a sweet suggestion for him to make, if entirely unnecessary. “Don’t worry,” she assured him as she leaned back against the headboard with the blankets pooling across her lap. “I’ve never felt very at ease with the Chantry. Mages aren’t exactly made to feel welcome, you know. What with being cursed by the Maker and all.”

Fenris rolled onto his side, his arm falling heavily over her thighs as he looked up at her with his brows drawing together once more. “Do you… believe that?” he asked, his voice low.

“Maybe,” she answered quietly, playing absently with his hair as she spoke. “I’ve seen so much evil committed by mages. Orsino, Quentin, Danarius, more blood mages than I can count, me….” Hawke shook her head, twisting his fair hair around her index finger. “When I think about how many mages I have seen corrupted by this power… it’s almost impossible to believe that it could be good.” Half a breath still in her throat and a few words still rising to her tongue, Hawke halted, stopping herself from continuing. This was not, ordinarily, the sort of thing that she liked to discuss with him. He was not fond of mages; she did not expect him to be. Still, he had asked. He had asked her what she thought and the answer she’d given thus far seemed incomplete somehow. She cleared her throat, meeting his gaze hesitantly. “But it’s a part of who I am, and I wouldn’t wish it away even if I could,” she continued, speaking softly. “Without my magic, I don’t think that my family and I would have even made it to Kirkwall. And I definitely never would have gotten work with Athenril. I never would have been able to put my mother back in her family’s estate. And Anso wouldn’t have come to me about some stolen goods in the Alienage. I never would have met you. I wouldn’t be here with you now.” She smiled, her fingers weaving gently through his hair as he looked up at her gravely. “It does scare me sometimes,” she admitted, her brief smile waning. “This capacity for darkness that there is in me. Whether it’s the magic or if it’s just… me… I don’t know.” Hawke cleared her throat again, roughly, and, when she finished speaking, it was in a whisper. “But it is a part of me. It’s made me who I am. And I wouldn’t change that about myself.”

There were still lines between Fenris’ brows as he looked up at her pensively and she felt a small swelling of nervousness within her. She had seen the way magic affected him. The way her magic affected him. Perhaps she’d have been better off holding her tongue; giving half an answer would have surely sufficed.

Fenris sighed heavily, pushing himself off the bed enough to bring his face level with hers.

“My own mage,” he murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. His lips quirked to the side in a crooked, suppressed smile as he lifted one of his hands to cup her cheek. “I would not have thought I’d ever have one in my keeping.”

Hawke felt a surge of relief pass through her. “Happily yours,” she smiled, turning her head to press a tender kiss to the inside of his wrist. “Always.”

Chapter Text

“…I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

 

By the time that summer might almost have been called fall, Fenris and Hawke had managed to become reasonably established within the limited society that Avaltolla had to offer. They were not, of course, established as people of any great importance, nor were they considered to be very respectable, but they were well-known enough about town that they had received invitations to attend Tabitha Fletcher’s wedding. Tabitha was not considered to be a person of any particular importance either, but her wedding to a wealthy merchant’s son was the subject of much conversation prior to the day itself. From the moment that the engagement had been announced, local gossips had begun to whisper excitedly about the elaborate festivities that Tabitha’s father was financing in order to present his daughter to her best advantage when she made her transition into married life.

Gossip also held that her father had been ardently opposed to the local tavern wench and her elven husband being in attendance at the most joyous affair, but Tabitha, always eager to make an impression, had insisted on inviting them as something of a novelty. As so often happened, she was given her way.

Fenris would have much preferred to be left out of the invitation, but, when he had suggested avoiding the wedding altogether, Hawke had scowled so persuasively that, in the end, he felt obliged to attend. Politely dejected and concealing his distaste for the whole business, Fenris sat patiently beside Hawke for the entirety of the official ceremony. It was ghastly, of course, and only enjoyable for those few guests who were directly related to the bride or, to a lesser extent, the groom. For all the others, tightly packed together on the hard pews of the Chantry, the service was tolerable only because it offered a brief respite from the balmy heat of the outdoors.

After the appropriately bland vows had been exchanged, the amassed guests shuffled in disorderly lines out of the Chantry and began to migrate collectively in the vague direction of the field where the reception was to take place. Neither Hawke nor Fenris had any inkling as to where they were meant to be going, but, fortunately, a small number of more well-informed guests had taken it upon themselves to herd wanderers towards the correct destination.

It may not have been entirely fashionable to host such a gathering in an open field, but the bride’s extensive list of guests had ensured that no building in town would be large enough to accommodate them. Thus, some measure of creativity had gone into the event’s planning and a small portion of the outdoors had been groomed until it was deemed suitable for the revelry ahead. During the past several days, the slightly-raised stretch of land had been meticulously stripped of the bracken that had grown thickly over the ground during the summer months. As the guests gathered there, what little remained of the growth was trampled flat into a glossy, green mat over the earth. Around the perimeter of the deliberate clearing, towering wooden poles had been erected and adorned with colorful banners and lush boughs of summer lilac. Perhaps it was these decorations, carefully strung by friends and well-wishers of the newly joined couple, that contributed to the air of merriment that swept quickly through the party, but Hawke, for her part, was inclined to attribute the bright spirits to the generous casks of ale which were proving to be so popular among the guests.

During the early stages of the celebration, as merry good humor began to slowly devolve into a more pronounced rowdiness, Hawke and Fenris remained mostly apart from the frenetic heart of the festivities. Which is to say that, though they watched from the periphery, neither of them could be persuaded to actually take a place in the figure of dancers that paraded themselves energetically at the center of the clearing. Of course, even given this reluctance on their part, the bride was still pleased with herself for having thought to invite them. They filled their decorative function well. Hawke—or rather Servana, as she was known to everyone but Fenris—had a valuable aesthetic quality that contributed to the beauty of the occasion in a way that bundled flowers and gauzy streamers simply could not. Fenris—who, as the only elf in town, was the true novelty of the pair—looked wonderfully exotic beside his wife and had somehow been coerced into dressing in appropriately vibrant colors rather than wearing his customary head-to-toe black. Any observer could see that he was uncomfortable, but his mere presence was causing such a stir that the bride hardly noticed his sullen expression. For weeks to come, everyone would be talking about how she had managed to get a real Dalish elf to come to her wedding.

Hawke had quickly become cognizant of the fact that she and Fenris had been invited largely because it would set tongues wagging. This knowledge didn’t exactly cause her any great distress, however, as the only reason she had accepted the invitation in the first place was for the sake of appearances. Attending a wedding seemed like just the sort of thing that would delight an ordinary person—a person not living with the ever-present fear of being found out as an apostate. Maintaining the illusion of normality was worth spending a few hours in a manner that she did not expect to be especially entertaining.

In truth, Hawke found more enjoyment than she had anticipated. It was easy enough, once she set about it, to strike up genial conversation with the other guests, though she knew them only a little. She was, after all, hardly a stranger to socializing with large groups of people with whom she’d only just been acquainted. The countless formal galas and masquerade balls that she had attended during her time as the Champion of Kirkwall had left her fully prepared to carry on pleasant conversations that were entirely devoid of actual content. Without even being conscious of doing so, she slipped effortlessly into the practiced social graces that she had cultivated so carefully during her years in the Free Marches.

Fenris, however, lacked the same ability to interact amicably with people he neither knew nor liked. In all fairness, he hadn’t the same level of practice with it as Hawke had. He had never had any particular urge to blindly seek out companionship and, in his youth, the parties that he’d been asked to attend had never been the sort where he had been expected to hold a civilized conversation. As a consequence, being amidst a crowd of relative strangers tended to leave him feeling somewhat apprehensive. Adding to his discomfort was the fact that, even with his eyes resolutely trained on the ground, he could sense that he was being watched curiously by the other guests. He had never been overly fond of being stared at, but he tried to dismiss the awkwardness he felt for Hawke’s sake. He didn’t want her to feel as though she was strapped with a great, gloomy shadow blundering along at her side.

To distract himself from his own uneasiness, Fenris turned his attention to the warmth of the gloved hand that rested lightly on his arm. As Hawke spoke, making some casual remark that sparked a bright burst of laughter from the couple she was addressing, she tightened her fingers reassuringly against Fenris’ forearm and moved to press closer to his side. Feeling her brush against him, Fenris lifted his gaze and glanced sidelong at her expression. After a moment, without realizing that he was doing so, he mirrored her smile.

It was a curious thing to watch Hawke’s interactions. Fenris had almost forgotten that she was capable of this. This easy ability of hers to create the impression of friendship with people whom she had known for little more than a moment. It should not have surprised him, really, but it had been a long while since he had observed Hawke under such conditions. There had been glimpses, perhaps, but he had not seen Hawke exert the full force of her charm on anyone since they’d left Kirkwall. Of course, in those days, he had thought of her as being unctuous rather than charming. Time had a way of altering perspective, he supposed. Though perhaps her manner had actually altered over the years, becoming more genuine and softening into something that was far more winning than all the brash certainty that she had affected when he’d first known her.

It wasn’t long, however, before Fenris discovered that there was a significant disadvantage to having a charming partner: people liked her. Ordinarily, this wasn’t something that would be considered a negative by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly began to present problems as the afternoon wore on. Alcohol, and the feeling of reckless frivolity that festive occasions tend to evoke, made the other guests bold. Several of the town’s young men, many of whom were patrons of Rosamund’s Place and could claim a superficial acquaintance with Hawke, greeted her with more enthusiasm than seemed strictly appropriate. That, in and of itself, wasn’t especially troubling. Fenris, having more or less adjusted to the fact that other men admired Hawke, had reached the point where he could, with minimal effort, contain the hostility he felt towards anyone who expressed attraction to her. Nevertheless, Fenris found himself a bit at a loss as to how to react when a young man approached him and asked for permission to dance with Hawke. Rather than attempting to form a response, Fenris looked to Hawke, his expression prompting her to answer the request on her own behalf.

Without pause, she said easily, “Naturally, I wish I could, but, as it so happens, I’m absolutely parched at the moment and was just about to take advantage of the refreshments.” Smiling, she added, “Perhaps another time, Davis.”

Davis, as the young man was apparently called, looked put out as he excused himself, but Fenris noticed that he didn’t seem to have any trouble finding a different dance partner. As he watched Davis lead a curly-haired girl towards the center of the clearing, it abruptly occurred to Fenris that perhaps Hawke would have liked to dance, but had been discouraged from doing so when she had seen Fenris’ evident surprise.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said, glancing over at Hawke, who was in the process of carefully adjusting one of her gloves.

“Do what?” she asked, looking up at him with mild confusion.

Fenris shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You needn’t refuse men on my account,” he clarified. “If you like to dance, that is.”

Hawke failed to entirely suppress a burst of laughter and it came out as snort. “I don’t like to dance, Fenris,” she assured him, matter-of-factly. “I’m very bad at it.” She could see that this information came as a relief to Fenris, as if he had been harboring some fear that she might try to entice him into dancing with her at some point in the near future. With a fond, lop-sided smile, Hawke continued, “You might have seen exactly how bad I am if you had accepted just one of my many invitations to all those galas in Kirkwall. I must have asked you at least a dozen times.”

Fenris arched one of his eyebrows, but she could see that the corner of his mouth was lifting with amusement. “I always assumed that you extended those invitations for the sole purpose of irritating me,” he said dryly.

Hawke grinned and, with a shrug of feigned capitulation, drawled, “Well, that’s true. My primary objective was, as always, to annoy you. But that doesn’t change the fact that you would have found it to be immensely entertaining. I really am spectacularly clumsy for an otherwise coordinated person.”

“A shame I refused, in that case. And now, of course, I’ll forever be denied the pleasure, given that I no longer enjoy your humiliation to the extent I once did.” Fenris sighed mournfully, as though missing the chance to revel in her ungainliness was indeed a profound loss, but he was smiling as he leaned in to press his lips against Hawke’s cheek. When he drew back, her eyes were filled with the sort of soft invitation that was generally only directed at him while they were alone together. Valiantly fighting the urge to pull Hawke closer than would be strictly decent given the setting, Fenris cleared his throat and took half a step away from her.

“You said you wanted a drink,” he said, his voice a little ragged and betraying that he would have liked nothing more than to be apart from the others just then.

It took Hawke a moment to remember when she had said anything of the kind. “Ah, yes, my clever excuse,” she said, when it dawned on her. “I suppose I really should follow through on that. Wouldn’t want poor Davis to think that I rejected him on a pretense.” With an inviting smile, she inclined her head towards one of the many kegs that lined the clearing. “Shall we?”

After having spent so much time beneath the beating rays of the sun, the ale wasn’t exactly as chilled as one might hope, but it was refreshing enough and, after three brimming mugs each, neither Hawke nor Fenris were feeling particularly aggrieved about the temperature of the brew. It was during this time, when Hawke’s head was pleasantly fuzzy and her temperament suitably cheerful, when Davis returned to ask again if she’d join him for a dance. Unable to come up with another excuse in an expeditious fashion, she found herself compelled to accept the offer.

Once she was among the other dancers, on the arm of a partner who wasn’t particularly graceful himself, Hawke tripped awkwardly through the figures of a reel with which she had absolutely no familiarity. The ale she had consumed just prior did nothing to improve her coordination, though it did serve to slightly alleviate the embarrassment she might have otherwise felt under such conditions.

Still, in spite of her poor performance on the dance floor, Hawke found herself obliged to accept two more offers after the first song had ended. After her initial agreement to join in the dancing, it became more difficult to delicately refuse the others who approached her.

The first two dances, though they did little to increase Hawke’s general enjoyment of the pastime, were not altogether unpleasant. She liked her dance partners well enough and the brisk tempo of the music ensured a certain degree of lively conviviality. The third dance, however, distinguished itself by being significantly more tedious than the two that had preceded it. For one thing, the song itself was quite slow, making Hawke’s numerous missteps all the more apparent. The true irritant, however, was the fact that it was Laurence who had dragged her wordlessly into the formation without giving her an opportunity to reject him. Hawke knew Laurence only from their brief interactions at the tavern, but that had been more than sufficient for her to form a judgment as to the quality of his character.

He was the sort of man who could not be dissuaded from the notion that a simple flash of his white teeth was enough to make him utterly irresistible to all women. He held little esteem for the objects of his fancy, seeming to believe that they existed purely to serve his interest, and his good opinion of his own merits far outstripped his estimation of anyone else. Hawke had seen enough of Laurence’s behavior to know that his attention to her was hardly flattering. It had long been clear that his tastes were fairly undiscriminating and that his preference for her stemmed largely from his bitterness that she preferred an elf to him. A year ago, she would have made her distaste for him perfectly plain, but now, as an apostate with none of the security that a title and wealth had once afforded her, Hawke suffered his existence with as much patience as she could manage. Laurence seemed the sort of man who would happily make her life difficult, if she were to wound his pride too severely.

Thankfully, Hawke found that she was able to ignore him fairly effectively during the short span of time that they were dancing opposite one another. Laurence seemed content to yammer on, mostly to himself, and little of what he said required an actual response from Hawke. The content of his monologue, for the most part, seemed designed to leave her in awe of his cleverness, brawn, and success with other women. The only thread of his speech that caught her attention for more than a moment was, unfortunately, something in which she could not allow herself to show any marked interest. Too briefly, he spoke about shifting politics and rumors he had heard about templar raids in the area. Though Laurence had finally stumbled upon a topic that aroused her interest, Hawke feigned apathy, schooling her expression into one of neutrality and detachment. Laurence moved on from the subject swiftly, rambling instead about some other matter, and so the brief spark of interest that Hawke had had in his conversation died quickly.

Increasingly bored by the company of her dance partner, Hawke allowed her attention to wander away from him entirely. While she was scanning the onlookers who lined the clearing, it occurred to her that she had left Fenris on his own for the duration of nearly three complete numbers. She didn’t have any doubts as to his ability to function without her, but she did have some growing curiosity as to how he had been occupying himself in her absence. She sought him out in the crowd of guests, glancing over her shoulder somewhat surreptitiously as Laurence continued to steer her about the dance floor.

When Hawke did catch sight of him, her face split into a wide grin. Fenris had withdrawn to the very farthest reaches of the gathering, making a clear effort to avoid the other revelers, but his attempt to isolate himself had been tragically thwarted by a rather brazen group of children who had, apparently, not yet learned about the indelicacy of staring. All of the children were quite small, and much too young to find enjoyment in the other entertainments the wedding had to offer, but they did seem to be tremendously interested in Fenris. While he stood with his arms folded, resolutely ignoring them, a cluster of nearly a dozen children had congregated to openly gawp at him. Throughout the course of the afternoon, Hawke had overheard parents issuing numerous warnings about approaching the Dalish, but the children seemed happy enough to ignore those warnings, drawing closer to Fenris at intervals and staring up at him with wide, awe-filled eyes.

The group chattered amongst themselves, their whispered conversation becoming increasingly animated, until, at last, a small red-headed girl darted forward from the others, proving her bravery by standing directly in front of Fenris. He still seemed to be intent on ignoring her, but that became measurably more difficult when she began to tug on the hem of his shirt. Even then, he might have continued to ignore her, had she not said something to draw his attention. Hawke had no way of knowing what the girl had said, but, whatever it was, it seemed to take Fenris by surprise. In all the time she had known him, Hawke had never seen his eyebrows raise quite so dramatically.

After shifting his weight somewhat awkwardly and staring at the child as though he couldn’t quite fathom her existence, Fenris, to the little girl’s delight, stooped down slightly until he was low enough for the girl, straining on her tip-toes, to eagerly grab hold of his ears. Realizing what the girl must have asked of Fenris, Hawke bit her lip to keep from laughing. It wasn’t so odd a request, really, to come from a child who had never seen an elf’s pointed ears before, but it struck Hawke as a bit remarkable that Fenris, however grudgingly, had actually given in to such an appeal.

Emboldened by the first’s success, the other children rushed forward en masse, swamping Fenris as they clamored for a chance to fondle his ears. Hawke was almost tempted to intervene, but Fenris was proving himself to be tolerant beyond reasonable expectation as the mob of children pulled him down to roughly their same level. Hawke smiled softly to herself, almost imagining that she could hear Fenris’ dejected sighs as small, chubby hands patted the sides of his head. She wasn’t sure why exactly, but there was something about Fenris’ disgruntled acceptance of the attention that Hawke found strangely endearing.

Finally, the song came to a close, freeing Hawke to return to Fenris’ side. Laurence, however, seemed ignorant of the fact that Hawke wished to be rid of him and, when the dance ended, he retained his hold on her hand. “Another spin around the floor?” he suggested with a half-smile that was not quite as charming as he believed it to be.

Hawke slipped her hand from his grasp, taking a step back and smiling with as much politeness as she could muster under the circumstances. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” she said, not bothering to sound in the least bit sincere.

Laurence furrowed his brow, simultaneously confused and indignant as he struggled vainly to comprehend her rejection. “Why not?”

Hawke was walking backwards, already making her retreat, as she reiterated blandly, “It’s just impossible.” The music recommenced, but Hawke, finally free of a partner, gladly turned away from the forming ring of dancers and made her way back to Fenris.

He was still kneeling on the ground, tolerating the rough treatment his ears were receiving with rapidly diminishing patience. Hawke stood for a moment, quietly appreciating the scene, before finally taking pity on Fenris and shooing the children away from him. They scattered quickly, all seeming quite pleased with the success of their enterprise.

Fenris, once he was rid of the burden of fulfilling the children’s curiosity, stood fully upright and let out a sigh of obvious relief.

Hawke grinned. “I have to admit, Fenris: I’m a little surprised that you’re incapable of defending yourself against a hoard of infants.”

Fenris lifted his shoulders in a small shrug as he brushed traces of dirt from his clothing. “They had me outnumbered,” he replied mildly. “It’s lucky you came when you did,” he added, looking up at her with a crooked smile. “There were moments when I genuinely feared for the safety of my ears.”

“Well, they are very nice ears,” Hawke said, stepping in close and placing a lingering kiss on Fenris’ cheek. Trailing soft kisses along his jawline, she added in a murmur, “I quite like to play with them myself.” Hawke punctuated the remark with a light nip at his earlobe.

“You’re gentler.”

Hawke let out a huff of laughter, moving just far enough away from Fenris to avoid offending anyone who might happen to catch sight of them. “I find that hard to believe; I use my teeth.”

“Yes, but you use them so well,” Fenris smirked, wrapping his arms around her waist to prevent her from moving back any farther.

Hawke’s reply was on the tip of her tongue, but she was cut off by someone saying tentatively, “Servana?”

With a soft sigh of irritation, Hawke turned towards the boy who had so cautiously drawn her attention. She had an indistinct memory of having served him once or twice in the tavern, which naturally meant that any partiality he felt towards her was directly correlated with the fact that she was a distributor of alcohol. The younger clientele seemed to be particularly susceptible to that brand of affection.

“Yes?” Hawke said, putting a great deal of effort into keeping her tone civil.

The boy smiled hopefully, shifting his weight in a manner that she might have found endearing under different circumstances. As it was, however, she couldn’t quite smother the annoyance his interruption woke in her. “Would you consider… maybe… this dance?” asked the boy inarticulately, the color rising rapidly in his cheeks as he attempted to maintain steady eye contact with Hawke.

Rejoining the swirl of dancers was one of the very last things that Hawke wanted to do at that particular moment, but, with Fenris’ arm still resting around her back, an intriguing thought occurred to her. “I’m afraid I can’t,” she told the boy regretfully. “I’m going to dance with my husband.”

Hawke’s declaration caused Fenris’ brows to shoot upwards, nearly disappearing into his hair. “No, you’re not,” he protested, his eyes widening in alarm.

Hawke was well-versed enough in Fenris’ reactions to judge that he was merely feeling a general reluctance to make a fool of himself, rather than being genuinely panicked. Ordinarily, she might have allowed him to forego the mild humiliation of joining in the afternoon’s amusements, but, as she had already suffered through such punishment, it felt only fair that he should endure the same fate.

When Hawke met Fenris’ objection with a cajoling smile and a soft, flutter of eyelashes, Fenris added gruffly, “I don’t dance.”

“Oh yes, you do,” she insisted, grinning brilliantly as she sensed his already weakening resolve. Then, more gently, she added, “Please?”

Fenris glared at her, but the expression lacked any true heat and, when Hawke tugged experimentally on Fenris’ wrist, she found that he followed her willingly.

As she was pulling Fenris along towards the other couples, she shouted back a few perfunctory words of apology towards the boy who was left staring after them. Hawke would have liked to be the sort of person who could muster more guilt over having refused his offer so rudely, but, after wasting so much of the day on polite formalities, her patience for convention had worn thin.

Hawke held fast to Fenris’ hand as she led him closer to where the band played. He dragged his feet only a little, offering minimal resistance, but he made sure that his face registered the full force of his reluctance. Unfortunately, Hawke seemed to have developed an immunity to even his most disgruntled expressions, and she retained her same brilliant smile as she positioned them amongst the other dancers. Fenris cast an appraising eye over the assembled couples before looking back at Hawke with the most disapproving scowl he could manage. “I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m meant to be doing,” he said, crossing his arms petulantly, “and, from what I’ve seen, neither have you.”

Hawke’s smile softened as she stepped closer, lifting his arms away from his chest and placing them around herself instead. “Don’t worry about it,” she murmured, her breath gusting past his ear as she draped her arms over his shoulders. “Just hold me.”

He could still feel the brush of her words against his throat as she began to roll her hips against his in almost lazy circles that somehow kept time with the song. His responses to her closeness, and to the warm press of her body against his, were so ingrained that Fenris, oblivious to the setting, pulled her closer, his hands splayed over her hips as he held her to him. It was automatic, matching her movements, allowing himself to be guided by the pull and pressure of her body against his.

After an afternoon of attempting to maintain an appropriate distance from her, the relief of having Hawke in his arms was enough for Fenris to momentarily forget the discomfort he felt in a crowd. He lost himself in the familiar way her fingertips swept across the nape of his neck, and in the flex of lean muscle beneath his hands as he flattened his palms over her lower back. The strangeness of holding her so close, when there were so many eyes to see them, did not occur to him until, absently, his gaze drifted over the other dancers. The careful distance between partners was preserved as they circled one another, only their palms chancing to brush together. There wasn’t another couple in the assembly that had fallen against one another as Fenris and Hawke had and, in fact, more than a few disapproving stares seemed to condemn their proximity.

Odd, really, the Fereldan refusal to acknowledge intimacy in public, when dancing as Hawke and Fenris were would not have been at all out of place in Tevinter. It occurred to Fenris, in a moment so mundane that he hardly noticed it, that Hawke must have learned this particular style of dance during her brief time in Minrathous. She must have chosen to mimic it based on the admittedly correct assumption that anything else would be utterly foreign to him. The thought almost passed without his fully noticing it, but he caught it just before it left his consciousness.

It was a surreal thing to have a reaction to the absence of an emotion. It was strange and surprising to realize that the memory of Tevinter, and of what had brought Hawke there, had failed to pain him. On the heels of that surprise, he felt a small surge of something like triumph. Because the past, somehow, had become less important than the present. Because the girl in his arms had become more important to him than how she had come to be there. Because Danarius, as determined as he had been to destroy every source of Fenris’ happiness, had been unable to destroy the things that mattered most.

“What’s wrong?”

Hawke’s voice took Fenris by surprise, pulling him suddenly from his reverie. It was only then that he realized that he’d stopped swaying along with the music, pulling away from Hawke enough to stare thoughtfully into her face. Her brow was furrowed with mild concern, her eyes flickering with interest over his expression.

“Nothing,” he said, lifting a hand to lightly cup her cheek. “Nothing at all.”

Hawke looked as if she might like to question him further, but she only smiled, turning into Fenris’ touch and pressing her lips to his open palm. The song was far from ending, with the band still playing their slow, plaintive melody, but Hawke and Fenris were anchored, motionless, while the others moved around them.

“Come away with me for a while,” Hawke said, when she looked back at Fenris.

His brow arched, his lips twisting into a wry smirk. “And risk the unpardonable rudeness of leaving without making the proper excuses to our host?”

Hawke glowered for effect, making special effort to hide any amusement. “Oh, aren’t you a wit,” she said flatly, already beginning to lead Fenris off past the boundary of the makeshift dance floor.

Fenris trailed contentedly after Hawke as she led the way through the many rises and falls of the unkempt fields. They ambled along without any particular direction, pleased simply to be away from the company of others. More than once, Hawke suddenly changed course, veering towards some object or other that had drawn her interest. It had been many years since Fenris had first noticed her magpie-like tendency to collect odds and ends, so he was not altogether surprised when she set about piecing together a bouquet from various mismatched wildflowers. Of course, as had often happened when they were Kirkwall, Fenris found that he was charged with carrying the bulk of her bounty. Fortunately, he was allowed to abandon the bundles of flowers when it turned out that they really were attracting an astonishing amount of bees.

By that time, Hawke noticed that they had drawn quite near to a familiar copse of trees that grew around a well-shaded pond. The pond wasn’t so very far away from their cottage, and so it seemed a pleasant enough place to linger for a while before retiring for the evening.

Arched over the pond was a large bridge, painted an ox-blood red that was beginning to chip away after too many passed seasons without a fresh finish. After meandering around the circumference of the pond a time or two, Hawke made her way onto the bridge with Fenris following more than a few paces behind her. Elevated as it was, the midpoint of the bridge offered some rather picturesque views of the surrounding terrain. Hawke paused there, waiting for Fenris to draw alongside her, before calling his attention to the way the sun was melting like wax into the flat line of the horizon. He made a soft sound of appreciation as Hawke, motivated perhaps by the hope for a better view, climbed easily onto the railing and assumed a perch high above the water. Fenris, for his part, kept his feet firmly planted on the bridge, leaning against the rail as he listened impassively to the trees that rustled overhead and the fiddles that still whined in the distance.

Later in the evening, as more young people began to peel away from the festivities, the area would likely be swarming with young couples seeking the illusion of privacy. It did lend itself to a feeling of romance, with willows alongside the water, the sky arching overhead, and the crosshatching branches of birch trees darkening against the sky with the fading lights.

But as it was, an hour or two before nightfall, Fenris and Hawke had the bridge to themselves. They stood together in silence, enjoying the peace that came with solitude. The sky bled from orange to red as the sun sunk still lower, and Hawke’s eyes flicked in turn from the brilliance of the sunset itself to its trembling reflection in the pond. Her gaze cast downwards, she leaned forward slightly and released the last of the flowers that she had been gathering earlier. From where he stood, Fenris could see only her profile, yet he could still make out her wistful smile as she watched the ripples spreading across the pond when the lilac sprig landed on its surface. He glanced down briefly, watching the blurred shape of Hawke’s reflection as the lilac floated across it. When he turned his eyes back to Hawke, she seemed wholly unaware of his gaze, having already turned her attention back to the horizon.

She looked lovely, dressed in an apple green that he had hated until he had seen her wearing it. Standing as she was, so elevated above her surroundings, the slow breeze often caught against the thin fabric of her skirts, causing them to swell and fall like the sails of a ship. Though it was late in the day, the heat of the afternoon still clung to the air, making Fenris grateful for the cool gusts that kept the humidity from stagnating against his skin. The wind, light though it was, seemed to come as something of an annoyance to Hawke, who, after tolerating the constant brush of fabric against her legs for more than a few moments, stooped down to gather the hem of her skirts into her hands. Fenris watched the baring of new skin with some interest as she stood upright once more, the fabric skimming over her legs as she rose.

She had taken off her stiff, leather shoes earlier, abandoning them somewhere around the perimeter of the pond in favor of feeling the grass beneath her feet. Balancing atop the rail of the bridge, her toes curled over the edge, flexing occasionally as she seemed to test the balance of her position. The railing was actually quite wide and the risk of Hawke losing her footing seemed quite unlikely, but Fenris observed her carefully nonetheless. He’d never been particularly fond of heights himself and, though he knew that Hawke didn’t have the same fear, he still felt a twinge of uneasiness when she seemed determined to tempt gravity.

She seemed confident in her security, however, as she began to walk along the line of the railing, pointing her toes exaggeratedly with each step as if she were a performer atop a high wire.

“Be careful,” said Fenris mildly, glancing from Hawke down to the rocks that protruded intermittently from the surface of the pond below.

She turned towards him, pivoting easily where she stood. “I have impeccable balance, Fenris,” she assured him primly, a hint of amusement playing at the corners of her lips. “The only way I’ll fall is if I jump.” As she spoke, she began to cross back towards where he stood, still keeping her toes delicately pointed.

Fenris lifted his eyebrows, allowing himself a subdued smile. “Then I strongly urge you not to jump.”

“Well, I don’t know,” she mused, the corner of her mouth twitching to the side as though she were tempted to smile. “I’ve never flown before; it could be interesting.” In illustration, Hawke lifted her arms to her sides, spreading them like the wings of a bird about to take flight. Fenris rolled his eyes at the pantomime and the quirk of Hawke’s lips twisted into a playful smile.

“Hm, yes,” Fenris replied dryly. “Though I think you’ll find it to be a very short flight, ending in a rather sharp collision with some extremely jagged rocks.”

Underneath his even tone, and behind his warning, Hawke knew that there was genuine concern for her safety. Of course, she was in no real jeopardy, and Hawke was inclined to believe that Fenris’ moderate fear of heights played no small part in his concern, but she still took a peevish sort of delight in making him worry. There was something so novel and so wonderful in the sensation of being cared for. She wasn’t much accustomed to having someone love her enough to fret over her safety, but it was something she could certainly get used to. Deliberately causing Fenris anxiety, however, was not something that she particularly enjoyed, so, with a sigh, Hawke lowered her arms once more and assumed a steadier stance on the railing.

“You’d be upset, wouldn’t you?” she said, looking down at him thoughtfully.

Though she had meant the question entirely in jest, her tone betrayed a bit more sentiment than she would have liked. Fortunately, Fenris didn’t call attention to it, letting her vulnerability slip by without remark. “Yes. Very,” he answered coolly, nodding once in confirmation of his words.

“Would you cry?” Hawke prodded further, her smile broadening at his admission.

For her more overt teasing, Hawke was rewarded with a truly exaggerated roll of the eyes from Fenris. Still, he played along with her, making a low sound of contemplation as he pretended to consider his response. “Perhaps,” he drawled, taking a few steps towards where she stood.

Hawke felt an involuntary sort of flutter at the sight of him standing beneath her, his head coming only a little higher than her hips and his gaze passing slowly over her exposed thighs.Almost reflexively, she reached down to run her gloved fingers through his hair. “Well, in that case, I suppose I’ll just have to stick around a while longer,” she said, looking down at him fondly as he lifted his gaze to meet hers.

Fenris huffed out a short laugh. “Much appreciated,” he said, reaching out to lightly pass his fingertips over the backs of the legs. His hands were cool against her skin and the careless circles that he traced over her thighs seemed to bring all her nerves to life. With a contented sigh and a lazy smile, Hawke lifted the hem of her skirts still higher, giving his hands more space to explore. He hummed appreciatively at the gesture, tilting his head forward to press his forehead lightly against her while his palms grazed upwards over her bare skin. Hawke shuddered again, laughing a little breathlessly.

She could feel his breath, warm and bit uneven, as his hands moved in an achingly slow caress, from her thighs on upwards to her hips. They lingered there for a moment, tightening briefly against soft flesh, until his grip suddenly shifted to her waist instead. With a firm hold on her, Fenris easily lifted Hawke down from her perch atop the rails, swinging her down onto the planks beside him. She laughed brightly at the abruptness of it, stumbling into his chest as he set her down.

Hawke remained pressed against him, savoring the faint smell of sunlight and sweat that had seeped into his clothes, before pulling back just enough to meet his gaze. She noted that there was a distinct smugness to his expression, as though he were quite pleased with himself for having finally gotten her off the railing successfully. “You worry about me,” she observed, almost wonderingly, as one of her hands, in an automatic gesture, lifted to brush his hair from his eyes.

The hint of self-satisfaction left Fenris’ face in an instant, replaced by a flickering of something rather like shy embarrassment. “It’s… something of a habit,” he said, smiling almost apologetically at the admission. “I do know that it’s unnecessary.”

Hawke shook her head, raising slightly to press a soft kiss to his cheek. “It’s alright,” she whispered, speaking the words against his skin. “I like that you worry.” She thought that, perhaps, she should not have embarrassed Fenris by calling attention to the subtle display of his affection for her, but the novelty of being cared for was something she had not yet gotten past.

He didn’t seem too put off by the exchange, however; when Hawke draped her arms over his shoulders, Fenris pulled her closer, making a low, contented sound in his throat as his bowed his head into her shoulder. She shuddered softly at the feel of his fingertips skimming over the small of her back, raising to toy with the ends of her hair. Hawke’s eyes fell shut, her body pressing into Fenris in a vain effort to close the nonexistent space between them. He seemed to welcome the gesture, nuzzling softly against her neck as his arms tightened almost painfully around her. The pressure was gone in an instant, however, his body easing slightly against hers as he drew away just a little. “Would you like to return to the others?” he murmured.

“You’ve suffered enough for one day,” she replied, shaking her head. “And it’s too hot to dance, anyway.”

“Home, then?” he sighed, with obvious relief.

“Home,” she agreed. When she and Fenris parted, she cast her eye quickly over the bridge, furrowing her brow when she didn’t see what she was looking for. Cocking her head, Hawke turned back to Fenris, hoping that his memory was superior to her own. “My shoes?”

“By the water. Shall I?”

“If you wouldn’t mind.”

Fenris nodded once, going off to retrieve Hawke’s abandoned shoes while she smiled gratefully after him. He returned swiftly enough, as he generally seemed to have a better recollection of where Hawke left her things than she did. The reverse also seemed to be true, for whatever reason.

Hawke leaned back against the rail of the bridge, lifting one of her feet and wiggling it pointedly as Fenris approached her, her boots dangling by their laces from his fingers. He rolled his eyes. “You’re not a child, Hawke. You can tie your own laces.” He dropped the shoes at her feet with a loud thud.

“Spoilsport,” she grinned, kneeling down before him and balancing with one hand braced against his leg as she pulled her boots back on. Truth be told, it would have been a simpler process altogether without using Fenris for support, but it was much more enjoyable to hear the sharp intake of his breath when she was at his feet with her hand on his thigh. When she stood upright once more, Hawke took some satisfaction in seeing how dazed Fenris looked, his eyes unfocused. With a triumphant smile, she slid her hand into his and tugged firmly. “Come on,” she said, beginning to walk backwards down the arch of the bridge. “Home.” Fenris followed after her, retaining his hold on her hand as they moved to solid ground.

They were relatively close to home, which was a mercy, considering the fact that the afternoon heat didn’t seem to be abating, even though the sun was setting. Hawke, as a native Fereldan, complained of the heat far more than Fenris, but even he had to admit that the evening was excessively warm. It was a relief to see their home, and the promise of shade, drawing into view.

The night-blooming flowers that grew over the fence and along the eves of the cottage were already opening as Fenris and Hawke passed into the garden. At the muffled slam of the gate behind them, Brutus, suddenly on the alert, popped his head up from behind a mid-sized azalea bush. When he saw familiar faces, Brutus’ tongue lolled out happily before he promptly returned to digging a deep hole that seemed destined to be the resting place for the large femur that was lying on the ground beside him. The wolf seemed to be in charge of keeping a watchful eye on the prize while Brutus forged a more secure hiding place. The idea of the canines digging up the garden wasn’t exactly something that thrilled Hawke, but, given that her mabari would be unlikely to give up his enterprise even if she were to reprimand him, she decided not to bother. The effort would only cost her more time outdoors in the stifling heat.

The door to the cottage had not yet swung fully closed before Hawke hastily began to strip off the clothes that had been suffocating her all day. “Oh, thank the Maker,” she sighed with relief as new air kissed against her naked skin. “I think that confounded dress was trying to murder me.” As if to emphasize her abhorrence of her clothing, Hawke tore off her gloves as though they had gravely offended her and hurled them down to floor, where they landed beside the bright puddle of her gown.

Fenris knew that the somewhat ostentatious removal of clothing was not for his benefit, but that knowledge didn’t prevent him from experiencing a small flush of arousal and he watched her fumbling to untie her underclothes, finally leaving herself entirely bare. He could sympathize with the desire to be rid of the confines of unnecessarily rigid formal attire, but he decided to forego the pleasure of shedding his own clothing in favor of drawing closer to Hawke.

There was something enticing in resting his hands on the bare curve of his ass while he was still fully-clothed. Smooth, warm skin that was entirely his to explore while she ground her hips slightly against the coarse fabric of his pants. He reciprocated, moving his thigh to offer a taste of the friction that she clearly craved. Hawke sounded her appreciation with a low, contented sigh that verged on becoming a moan just before he caught her mouth with his own. She followed the guiding hand that he buried in her hair, tilting her head back as he eased his tongue between her readily parting lips. Slowly, Fenris enjoyed the taste of her—like cloves and citrus. He sighed to echo hers, tightening his arms around her until, suddenly, she winced and made a move to pull away. Fenris let her go immediately, watching with a furrowed brow as she massaged her side with a pained expression.

“Are you alright?” he asked, gently placing his hand over hers.

“Fine,” she assured him. “I’m just not used to having a corset crushing in around my ribcage all day. Fell out of the habit. I swear, even my tits are sore.”

Fenris huffed out a laugh. “I didn’t even know that was possible,” he said, his gaze dropping momentarily from Hawke’s face and then flicking quickly upwards once more.

“Neither did I,” she shrugged, “but here we are.” With an apologetic little quirk of the lips, she added, “Sorry… but, for the time being, I think you’ll just have settle for enjoying the view.”

Fenris was about to assure Hawke that he’d make no attempts to coerce contact while she was feeling poorly, but, as she turned and began to saunter away from him with a deliberately mocking sway to her hips, he groaned with bitter amusement. “Cruel,” he noted, shaking his head.

Hawke glanced back over her shoulder, looking suspiciously smug. “Well, you knew I was cruel when you ran off with me.”

“Hm, fair enough,” said Fenris evenly, watching with a lopsided smile as she made a show of bending over to open one of the small-paned windows beside their bed.

She remained there for a moment, enjoying the feeling of a cooling breeze against her skin. On the light breaths of air, she could smell the faint scent of the tomato plants mingling with the heavy perfume of the wisteria coming off over the gardens. Inhaling the sweet, earthy scent, Hawke rested her hands on the windowsill and leaned out into the evening air until the sudden creak of the bedframe drew her attention. She turned to see Fenris collapsing heavily onto the bed. While her back was turned, he seemed to have rid himself of his shirt and now, half-dressed, he sprawled out on top of the blankets with a sigh of contentment.

Hawke ran her teeth over her lower lip, biting back an embarrassingly fond smile. He had indulged her so wonderfully that day, attending the wedding of a virtual stranger when he would have obviously preferred to stay home. It must have been a bit exhausting for him to tolerate the frenzied throng of people who’d been closing in around them from all directions since midday. Even Hawke had to admit that it had taken a great deal out of her, and she was fairly adept at small talk and tolerating insipidity.

Still vaguely sore after spending so long on her feet, she groaned with relief as she fell back onto the bed beside Fenris. Hawke heard him make a sound almost like a laugh as he shifted towards one side of the bed to make room for her.

The heat—thick and almost palpable—formed a wall between their bodies as they stretched wearily. On balmy nights such as this, when the mere thought of skin against skin seemed to exacerbate the heat, there was always a brief span of time when they lay together across the bed while retaining some physical distance.

It was inevitable, however, that time would erode that distance. Neither of them chose to do so exactly, but they always seemed to shift slowly closer together. They were both half-asleep shortly after lying back on the bed, but somehow, over the passage of a quarter of an hour, Hawke and Fenris both managed to make their way to the center of the bed, their bodies overlapping considerably.

Hawke lay on her back, her head turned to the side as she watched the green flash of fireflies that drifted outside the open window. Fenris, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly slack as if in sleep, lay prone between her parted legs with his cheek pillowed on her abdomen. Hawke allowed this, in spite of the fact that she could feel a film of beaded sweat building in the places where his skin was against hers. Automatically, thoughtlessly, she reached down and played with his hair. As her fingernails raked over his scalp, she heard him sigh sleepily. Hawke could feel his breath against her hipbone and, in spite of the temperature, she felt a chill pass over her skin. Smiling to herself, she trailed her fingers from his hair to the shell of his ear. Perhaps it tickled, because Fenris laughed softly and, as the muffled sound was still rumbling in his throat, he turned his head and kissed her navel. Her eyes closing, Hawke relaxed back into the mattress.

“It’s such a relief to be alone with you,” she said, as she traced around the edges of Fenris’ ear. “I think your influence may be turning me into a recluse.”

“It’s the small victories that bring me the most pleasure,” he sighed contentedly. “All things, considered, however, it was a fairly inoffensive social occasion.

“I’ll make sure to convey your enthusiastic praise to the bride, when next I see her,” said Hawke, glancing down at his peaceful expression.

“Please do,” he murmured, nuzzling against her fondly and pressing his lips briefly to her hipbone before looking up at her, his chin resting on her abdomen. “You certainly seemed to be enjoying yourself, in any event,” he added, with a curl to his lips that hinted at constrained amusement. “I wasn’t aware that I had quite so many rivals attempting to steal you away from me. There seemed an unending line of admirers waiting to claim your next dance.”

“Jealous?” Hawke grinned, wagging her eyebrows at him.

Fenris raised his shoulders in the nearest approximation of a shrug as it was possible to accomplish while lying down. “Infrequently. I flatter myself that you can be trusted, even when in the arms of another man.” As he spoke, voice even and utterly nonchalant, one of his fingertips dragged slowly upwards along the center of her torso before beginning to trace imaginary patterns over her breasts.

“You’d be correct in that assumption,” she said, impassively watching the lazy journey that Fenris’ hand was making over her skin. He tapped slowly along her collarbone, seeming to enjoy, without premeditation or any particular intent, the simple act of touching her. Hawke’s lips twitched into a smile for the barest of moments before her expression grew serious at the memory of something she’d heard during the short time that she and Fenris had been separated at the wedding.

“I gathered some interesting information, however, during my brief-yet-memorable time with another,” she began, clearing her throat softly before she elaborated. “Laurence, specifically. You know him—the tall, good-looking one with the air of intense self-satisfaction.” Fenris frowned at the identifier, but allowed Hawke to continue without interruption. “He mentioned that there’ve been templars coming into town, recruiting. He said that they sought him out specifically, but that’s very obviously bullshit. Still… I think that there may be some truth to the fact that they’re trying to expand their numbers. A few of the other boys mentioned it as well, in passing. I didn’t want to press anyone further, of course, but… it would be nice to know what’s happening. Someone said something about templars wanting to split away from the Chantry, to hunt apostates with less regulation.” Hawke shook her head, closing her eyes at the thought. “Maybe it’s not true,” she said quietly. “But that’s the rumor.”

Hawke felt Fenris’ hand against her cheek and opened her eyes, smiling down at him ruefully.

“We’ll survive,” Fenris assured her, stroking his thumb over her cheekbone. “You’re a clever girl, Hawke. For as long as we’ve been here, you’ve managed to remain undetected. And if, by some chance they do discover what you are,” he continued, lips turning to reveal a smirk that was almost feral, “you will not face them alone.”

“I know,” she said, smiling as he kissed her abdomen again, lingering this time with his lips warm and soft against her skin. “Still,” she added, sighing a little wistfully as she cast her gaze around the room, “I’ll be sorry when we have to leave this place.”

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, that Hawke would be forced to flee her home for the sake of self-preservation. Leaving her manor in Kirkwall was only the most recent in a long series of evacuations. Enough times in her childhood, the threat of discovery had torn her family away from homes where they had only just been beginning to settle. She dreaded it now more than she ever had before. It was tempting—perhaps too much so—to lapse into complacence, pretending that she and Fenris could lead stable, normal lives, free of the threat of detection. But, there were certain realities to life as a mage, and it was only a matter of time before this house, which felt increasingly like a home and which bore signs of Fenris’ labor in each patched bit of ceiling and mended floorboard, would be nothing more than a memory left behind them.

“I hate doing this to you,” admitted Hawke, carding her fingers through Fenris’s hair in an absent gesture. “Taking you away from your home….”

“Hawke,” Fenris interrupted, arching his eyebrow in clear indication that he thought she was being ridiculous, “I’ve known you for nearly a decade; we’ve only been here for three months. My home is with you. Wherever that may be.”

Hawke huffed out a laugh. “Three months? Has it really been that long?”

“Approximately, yes.” Fenris inclined his head in a slight nod of confirmation, before resting his cheek against her stomach, his eyelids fluttering slightly as if he might fall asleep. Gently, Hawke began to stroke her hand over Fenris’ hair, earning a satisfied rumble from his chest.

It was a little amazing, now that she thought of it. Three months. Granted, they had been together for a bit longer than that before arriving in Avatolla, but it was still so short a time when compared to the many years that she had known Fenris. Maker, she’d practically been a child when they’d met; when she’d alternated in rapid turns between throwing herself at him and deliberately infuriating him because, frankly, it had been too easy to resist. There’d been so many years wasted, so much pain caused unnecessarily. Instead of all the time they might have had, she and Fenris had only shared, perhaps, three seasons together. Less that that, really, considering how much of that time had been tainted with dishonesty and faded memories.

She had experienced only a few short months of what might have been years of happiness.

Suddenly, eyes widening, her body stiffened. A few months.

Involuntarily, Hawke’s fingernails tightened around Fenris’ hair, pulling enough that he drew in a sharp breath. She forced herself to relax, murmuring a quick apology before saying, “Fenris, could you get me some water?” She colored her voice with just the barest trace of a whine, as she always did when she was pleading with him to do something that she could easily do herself. It was important that he shouldn’t notice anything peculiar about her behavior. Already, she was worried he’d notice how rapidly her heart was beating.

Fenris lifted his head, glancing towards the water pitcher they kept on their bedside tale. “We ran through it this morning,” he sighed. “I’ll have to go out to the rain barrel.” He didn’t sound as though the prospect of doing so pleased him, but, nevertheless, he lifted himself away from Hawke and pecked her swiftly on the cheek before he eased off the bed. “I’ll be back,” he said, groaning slightly as he stood upright and shuffled wearily out the door.

Hawke remained still for a moment after the door had swung shut, waiting until she could be sure that Fenris had moved at least a few paces away from the house. When she felt reasonably certain that he wasn’t going to turn back for something that he’d forgotten, she scrambled from the bed and crossed hurriedly to the polished slab of metal that they’d mounted on the wall in place of a more extravagant mirror.

She had known, of course, that the water pitcher was empty and that Fenris would have to leave the room to fulfill her request. It wasn’t the most elegant way to claim a few moments alone, but she hadn’t the mental clarity to think of something better. Fenris wouldn’t be gone for long, but it would have to be long enough.

Shaking with restrained panic, Hawke took a step closer to the mirror and began to examine her reflection.

There was nothing obviously amiss. There was no alteration to her body that was dramatic enough to serve as definitive proof. That offered little comfort, however. There was nothing to conclusively dismiss her mounting concerns.

“Fuck,” Hawke hissed, turning again to the side, searching for some exact angle that would settle things once and for all. “Fuck,” she breathed, closing her eyes in an attempt to gain control of the discordant thoughts that were running riot through her head.

She ran the dates three or four times to confirm what she already knew. Fenris was right; it had been roughly three months since they had stumbled upon this house. And, in those three months, she had bled only once. And she couldn’t even recall exactly when that had been.

Hawke ran her teeth harshly over her lower lip. “Idiot.”

She had never really made a habit of keeping track of her cycles. Even when she was at full health, there was months when she didn’t bleed. Stress, sometimes, or an unusual spike in activity. And during the first weeks that she and Fenris had spent in Ferelden, when they’d been sleeping in tents and wandering aimlessly through the country, there certainly hadn’t been any point to consulting calendars. With the state her body had been in at the time, she hadn’t been anywhere near healthy enough to bleed.

Standing in front of the mirror, hands resting over a flat abdomen, Hawke couldn’t help thinking that her current situation could be related to the months that she had spent neglecting her own care. Maybe it was a remote possibility, but it wasn’t beyond reason to think that her body had been harmed after so much time spent in a precarious state.

She could imagine it—telling Fenris, filling him with false hope… and then telling him that she had been wrong. She could imagine watching his face fall, his eyes filling with disappointment; she could envision his expression all too vividly. The idea of offering him something, only to later snatch it away…. She couldn’t tell him. Not until she knew with absolute certainty.

“Okay,” she exhaled heavily. “Okay, what am I supposed to do?”

She could think of nothing, and it was so frustratingly fruitless to stand in front of her reflection, looking in vain effort for something that simply wasn’t visible. Searching for answers in flesh that revealed nothing. It was the same thing that had irritated her endlessly when she had attempted to make a study of healing. There were too many hidden intricacies to the human body. Too much was hidden beneath the skin, invisible to the eye.

“And, you’re an idiot twice over,” Hawke muttered to herself when the obvious idea struck her. How many hours had she spent being instructed to detect the internal mechanisms of the body? How often had her father taught her to sense the depth of a wound simply by pressing her hands to the surface of the skin and focusing her mind? How many times had Anders offered the same instruction to her, delving into deeper magics and teaching her far more than she had ever cared to learn? She should have thought of it immediately.

Of course, she ran into the same trouble that she always did with extremely subtle magic. Focusing, particularly when her adrenaline was running high, was not an easy thing. With the unknown time of Fenris’ return drawing closer, she felt the pressure of time constraints as she attempted to center herself. Taking in deep drags of air, Hawke closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind in the same way she did when she was mending arteries or muscles back together. She could feel the magic pooling in the palms of her hands as she, ever so carefully, directed all her awareness and energy inwards. Changing nothing—only searching—she explored.

And there it was. The tiny pulse of a heart beating. Just a flickering, really, but still distinct. Like a galloping or water rushing over stones.

She drew away quickly, jerking her hands away as if merely resting her hands against her abdomen would somehow damage the small, delicate source of the heartbeat. As her magic receded, flowing unfocused through her once more, Hawke let out a short, startled laugh.

There was no reason to be shocked. She knew that. There was no excuse for any level of surprise. If anything, this was to be expected. It wasn’t as though she had been careful lately. It wasn’t as though she had ever been careful. Maker, why had it never occurred to her to take precautions?

Granted, her parents had never educated their daughters in this area. They’d never spoken in anything but vague terms about sex and had certainly never taken it upon themselves to go into detail about methods of preventing conception. But that was no excuse. Hawke hadn’t remained ignorant for long. Isabela’s company made ignorance of any kind a relative impossibility.

Yet, in spite of her theoretical knowledge, Hawke had never had to apply such methods to her own behavior. When she had asked Anders if they ought to take preventative measures, he had explained grudgingly that the Joining had left him infertile. At the time, the information had utterly delighted her, freeing her of any of the hesitation she might have otherwise felt about their physical relationship. She had loved that she could be careless, reckless, with Anders.

And with Fenris? Well, she really ought to have done something.

Yes, she had thought of it occasionally. Abstractly, at least. She had recognized that it was a possibility, but it had always seemed like a very distant concept. The idea that she could actually feel the heart of some foreign growth inside of her had always seemed like madness. The sort of thing that might happen to other women, but not to her. She had known that it was a reality, but it had never felt real. It had never felt like anything more than theory. Even now, the reality was a difficult thing to fully comprehend.

Hawke let out a slow breath, placing her hands over her midriff again. It was easier, this time, to seek out that beating heart. Without the initial shock of discovery, she could focus on it, following the quick, steady trip of the movement. It was easy, this time, to lose herself in it. Again, she laughed, but, this time, it was a different sound.

When she opened her eyes, after standing fascinated for an indeterminate amount of time, Hawke realized that she was smiling. True, her face was entirely drained of color, but the smile was definitely there. Taken aback, Hawke suddenly found herself wondering if she was happy.

She was not unhappy, in any case, and she figured that counted for something. And, during the past several months, when she’d considered this abstract possibility, having a child hadn’t seemed as unbearable a prospect as it had when she was younger. Still, reality was somewhat more daunting than a mere possibility. There was, at that very moment, something small, and growing, and very much alive inside of her. Something so fragile and breakable. And that something already depended on her for its continued existence. Her. The idea that any living thing would be foolish enough to depend on her was mind-boggling.

But she would have to make time for those thoughts later. At the moment, there were more immediate concerns she would have to address. First and foremost, there was the matter of Fenris. She was going to have to tell him. He’d be back soon and knew her well enough to recognize when she was preoccupied with something of importance. Her expression would betray the state of her mind and, when Fenris inevitably inquired, she could hardly be expected to lie convincingly while feeling so flustered. And, besides that, there was no reason to lie. Not that she could think of, anyway. Fenris would be happy. He’d actively sought out his own relations, to disastrous effect, but with this… he would finally have a family. So would she, come to that. After so many years spent with no one, both she and Fenris would have family again. Someone who would belong to both of them, sharing both their bloodlines. It was a little incredible.

Still, she wished that, at some point in her life, she had given some passing consideration to what she might say in this situation. She couldn’t think of a single conceivable way to phrase it to him, or to herself, that didn’t seem terrifying.

Hawke was preoccupied enough with the precise selection of words that she failed to the notice as the door opened behind her and, when it thudded shut, the shock of the noise was enough that she let out a loud squawk of surprise. The extent of the overreaction drew a short snort of laughter from Fenris, but the amusement was quickly replaced with a furrowed brow when he noticed the oddity of her expression.

“Are you alright?” he asked, crossing to the kitchen table and unburdening himself of a sloshing bucket of water. As he spoke, Fenris’ eyes never left her, seeming to perform a cursory check for any physical harm that may have come to her in his absence.

His gaze, though it was without any particular heat or desire, somehow served to make Hawke feel uncomfortably exposed. Her nakedness, which she had hardly been aware of when she and Fenris were in bed together, suddenly left her feeling stripped bare. Blushing, she stumbled back towards the bed and snatched up a sheet to wrap around herself.

“You surprised me,” Hawke laughed awkwardly as she tucked the sheet under her arms, keeping it in place as she took a seat at the foot of bed.

Fenris tilted his head to the side, surveying her. “You look…,” he began before shaking his head, failing to find the appropriate ending to his thought. He settled for a slight shrug instead, folding his arms over his chest as he looked at her somewhat expectantly. When she didn’t volunteer any further information, he made another attempt, asking cautiously, “What’s wrong?”

Hawke opened and closed her mouth twice before she actually managed to successfully form any words. “Nothing’s wrong,” she said, her voice sounding rather more strained than she had imagined. Clearing her throat, she added lightly, “I don’t know why this is so embarrassing.” She dropped her gaze away from Fenris, watching her hands as they twisted the fabric of the sheet that pooled in her lap. “I know there’s no reason to feel so… exposed.”

When she looked up again, Hawke saw that Fenris’ initial confusion had given way to concern. “Hawke,” he began gravely, “would you please tell me that you’re alright?”

“I’m alright,” she assured him, making an effort to smile in a way that she hoped didn’t look entirely overwhelmed. “Really, I’m fine. I’m just… well, I’m pregnant.” The words were so small once they had left her; Hawke couldn’t believe she had been so afraid of saying them.

But Fenris didn’t seem to have quite grasped what she’d said. He leaned forward slightly, as if, somehow, he had misheard her. “What?”

“I’m pregnant,” she repeated, feeling the words more thoroughly this time. Perhaps they were not as terrifying as she’d made them out to be, but they still felt strange. Particularly when they were met with the most bewildered expression that she’d ever seen on Fenris’ face.

He gaped at her, eyes dropping down to the blanket that obscured her body from view. Clearly searching for some evident change in her figure, he stared, remaining perfectly still for a long moment before, at last, he met Hawke’s eye once more. She arched an eyebrow at him, but the silence that had fallen continued to pulse between them until, finally, he choked out, “Mine?”

Any awkwardness that Hawke had felt prior to her confession was erased by the awestruck incredulity in Fenris’ voice. She laughed brightly, grinning. “Of course yours, you beautiful idiot. What do you take me for?”

Fenris pounced, rushing forward quickly and enfolding Hawke in his arms with such enthusiasm that it sent her toppling backwards onto the mattress. Hawke laughed with delight, responding to the embrace and pulling Fenris to her until they were both sprawled on the bed, his weight not resting entirely on her, though he pressed his lips to hers with astonishing forcefulness. A force that Hawke was happy to match.

She felt so overcome with relief. She had known, with almost total certainty, that Fenris wouldn’t be upset by the news, but there was still something reassuring in feeling the intensity of his joy as he held her. She hadn’t imagined the full strength of his reaction—the way she could feel his mouth twisting into a smile against her lips, the way she could feel him shake with broken laughter, the way he couldn’t seem to let go of her for even a moment. It was more than she could have hoped for.

It was a while before Fenris ended their kiss. It looked as though it cost him a great deal to do so, but they both needed a chance to catch their breath. He didn’t pull away entirely, instead holding himself slightly above her, keeping their foreheads tilted together as he gathered himself. When his breath was reasonably even, Fenris placed one soft kiss against Hawke’s lips before lifting himself off of her altogether, motivated as much by a desire to regain control of his thoughts as he was by concern that he might inadvertently crush her.

He sat on the bed beside her, so close that he wouldn’t have to give up contact. It was impossible to keep himself from touching her with light, almost restless, caresses. He couldn’t bring his hand to rest until he placed it tentatively on her belly. Hawke arched slightly into his touch before flattening back on the mattress, deliberately lying as evenly as possible, in spite of the fact that she knew well enough that there’d be no detectable changes for his questing hand to feel. Still, he took in deep, rasping breath of air and stared in open wonderment at where his palm lay flat over her navel. Hawke felt her throat tighten, her eyes growing hot, and lifted her own hand to rest over Fenris’.

He glanced up to meet her eye, seeming a little dazed, and cleared his throat roughly. After a few short breaths that sounded as though they might have been the beginnings of sentences, Fenris managed to get out, “I… will you…?” He shook his head, clearing his throat again before he made a second attempt. “When will you show?” he asked breathlessly, sliding his hand slowly beneath the sheet she’d wrapped around herself until he met with bare skin. “When will I be able to see?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” she admitted, matching his hushed tones. “Soon? Within a few weeks, I should think. It’s early yet, but it shouldn’t be long.” A bit sheepishly, she added, “I don’t know as much about this as I should. I was never interested in learning the particulars and… well, I never had to consider the specifics before I was with you.”

Fenris nodded once, still looking deep in thought as he stroked his hand over her abdomen in slow, entranced circles.

“And you’re sure?” His voice broke on the question, his expression painfully earnest.

“I’m sure.” Hawke closed her hand over Fenris’, squeezing in gentle reassurance. He sighed, lips flickering into a quick smile, before he glanced up again. “I wasn’t at first,” Hawke told him, rubbing her thumb soothingly over the back of his hand, “but I made certain. Magic, you know.” Hawke remembered the sensation of that small, fluttering heartbeat and was struck once more by the strangeness of it. “I felt its heart beating,” she confessed, her smile trembling into a grin. “It has a heartbeat.”

Fenris turned her hand over, locking their fingers together, as he let out a shaky breath of disbelief. “I wish I could…,” he began softly, his gaze holding on where there hands were intertwined. He let his sentence wander away from him, silence stretching for a moment before he unhurriedly picked his thought back up again. “I wish I could feel it as you do.”

Hawke lifted his hand to her lips, kissing it tenderly before laying it back over her stomach. “Soon.”

Fenris nodded, leaning forward to kiss her brow. When he sat upright once more, she followed suit, letting the sheets fall away from her as she reached out to fondly cup Fenris’ cheek. “Soon, you’ll be able to see. It will probably kick and everything.”

As soon as she said the words, it occurred to her that they were very true. Given the suddenness of the realization that she was, in fact, pregnant, Hawke hadn’t yet given time to considering what that pregnancy would actually entail. She’d thought about how small and vulnerable the life in her was as at that precise moment, without sparing a great deal of concern for how large it would become. Which was nothing, of course, in comparison with the monumental task of actually raising a child. “Maker, this is terrifying,” she said, taking a shuddering breath to steady herself.

“Are you upset?” Fenris asked, looking at her with a genuine confusion that was more endearing than it had any right to be. It was as though it had never occurred to him that anyone might receive the news of pregnancy with anything other than absolute, undiluted delight.

“No!” Hawke insisted too loudly, preemptively cutting off Fenris’ descent into worry as quickly as possible. Still, the forcefulness of her denial seemed to take him aback, so, more calmly, she added, “I’m not upset. Not exactly. It’s just… taking a bit of time to get used to, I think.”

Fenris nodded in understanding, but he dropped his gaze and Hawke saw a trace of concern crossing his expression as he turned his attention to staring fixedly at his own hands. “We never discussed it, that’s true,” he said haltingly, “but I thought that….” He broke off, shaking his head as though he found the struggle to find words intensely frustrating. When he was able to force himself to continue in spite of his obvious discomfort, he spoke with a gruff rapidity, finding it easier to speak when he didn’t linger too long on any one word. “It’s not as though I believed we were making any special effort to that end, but I didn’t think that you would mind, necessarily, if something like this were to occur.”

Fenris felt Hawke’s fingertips underneath his chin, compelling him to look up into her eyes. It was a gentle touch, but he still obeyed, lifting his chin and meeting her gaze levelly. Her expression was earnest, but tender. “Fenris, I’m not upset,” she reiterated, seeming sincere in spite of the slight tremor in her voice. “I want this. I do. It just comes as a surprise, is all.”

He didn’t want to press further. He would have much preferred simply to let it lie, but he still found himself saying, much to his own embarrassment, “But… surely you must have realized this was a possibility.” Fenris could feel the color rising to his cheeks as he added, in a murmur that he genuinely hoped was inaudible, “You’ve never been overly particular as to where I… finish.” He knew that she had heard him when he saw a blush coming to her cheeks that matched his own. As the words replayed humiliatingly in his own mind, Fenris realized that it sounded as if he were blaming Hawke, rather than himself. In a hurried attempt to correct the error, he stammered, “I… I should have been more careful. I’m sorry.”

She laughed, the trilling burst of true amusement sending a wave of relief washing over him. If she were truly agitated or aggrieved, then Hawke’s laughter would have sounded strained and stilted, the way it always did when she was displeased. She was alright, then. Hawke never was prone to raw enthusiasm without first thinking the matter through thoroughly. Fenris leaned forward, swiftly kissing her before sitting back on his heels.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Hawke smiled, reaching out to rest her hands on his thighs. She stroked twice, reassuringly, before continuing. “I did realize that babies weren’t actually brought by kindly Fade spirits.” This professed knowledge didn’t keep her from blushing at the acknowledgement, “I did realize that this is what happens when people… do what we do together. It’s just taking me a while to adjust to the reality of it.” She shook her head, letting out a rough little sigh. “I know it’s ridiculous.”

“It’s not ridiculous. Some uncertainty is to be expected; we didn’t exactly plan for this.”

“But we didn’t exactly do anything to prevent it, either,” she murmured, with a quick rise and fall of her shoulders. “I want this. I won’t pretend that I’m not afraid, but it seems… alright, somehow.”

Fenris reached out to her, catching a loose stand of her hair in his hand and running it fondly between his thumb and forefinger. “What’s there to be afraid of?”

She closed her eyes for a moment before making any attempt to explain. “It’s not just one thing. It’s… a thousand things. All manageable on their own, but terrifying when they’re taken as a whole. The idea of having a life that depends on us, of having our lives irrevocably changed, of wondering if our relationship will be able to take the strain of….” Her voice caught, the act of expressing all her concerns seemingly bringing them all bubbling up to lodge in her throat. Hawke coughed to clear them away, but did not continue.

“The strain of what?” Fenris prompted, winding her lock of hair around his finger three times before releasing it in favor to resting his hand on her cheek.

Hawke sighed, biting her lips brutally as though she hated them for the words that were about to slip past them. “I really didn’t want to mention this now, but… I am a mage.”

“Shockingly, I was aware of that fact, Hawke,” Fenris said dryly, his lips quirking to the side.

Hawke forced herself to press onwards. “Yes, but… well, so is Varania. And Diarmuid. And Bethany. And my father.” She made a rough, frustrated sound in her throat, looking at him as if she were imploring him to catch her meaning before she had to state it outright. “There’s magic in both of our lines, Fenris. And there’s every chance—a very good chance, in fact—that any child we have together will be a mage.”

Fenris nodded. “Yes,” he said simply, “that thought had occurred to me, as well.”

Hawke shook her head as if he hadn’t understood her. “Raising a child is going to be hard enough, Fenris… but you should have seen what my parents went through with me. It’s daunting enough to imagine raising a child without the added concern that they’ll become an abomination.” She exhaled heavily, her brow knitting together as she bowed her head. “And it’s difficult, with children, to teach them what it means to be a mage, but I don’t want ours to ever feel anything but proud of what they are. And… and I know that you’ve been accepting of me—more so than I ever would have thought—but… watching your own child grow up as a mage, casting spells….” She turned her eyes back towards his, concluding wearily, “It would be a lot for anyone to deal with, Fenris.”

Fenris wished that there was no validity to what she was saying. He wished that he could offer her an ardent denial, a firm declaration that he had no reservations whatsoever about their child developing magical abilities. If nothing else, he would have liked to be a better liar, so that maybe he could offer a convincing lie. But, as it was, there was only the truth. “It’s a complication,” Fenris confessed, his voice muted but sincere. “But it’s a complication that’s utterly insignificant when measured against… this.” Gently, he trailed his hand down from her cheek until it rested against her abdomen once more. He lay his palm flat to her skin, his fingers splayed, and shook his head in faint wonder. “Everything else is insignificant.”

“So, you’re still happy?”

“Beyond that.”

With light pressure of his hand against her ribcage, Fenris urged Hawke down until she collapsed onto her back. He followed after, falling between her legs as she parted them to accommodate him. Hawke chuckled affectionately as he nuzzled closer, burying his face between her swelled breasts and delivering countless soft kisses as he began to inch slowly southwards along the planes of her torso. He moved languidly, his lips dragging over her skin, until he could press a final, lingering kiss against her belly.

“This is ours,” he said reverently, his heart beating faster at just the thought of it. “Ours.” He shook his head, a little laugh of disbelief shivering past his lips. “You can’t imagine what that means. In Tevinter… children are so often separated from their parents, sold to new masters. As I was. I never thought I would have this—a child, a wife, a family.” He lifted his gaze to meet Hawke’s, smiling. “I never even dared to hope for it. And to have all this with you….” He broke off, throat becoming too rough for any further explanations. There were no words, in any case; he could speak for an eternity without ever happening upon a way to express what it truly meant to be building a family with Hawke. Anything he could say would be insufficient. So, he only smiled, looking up at her and hoping that she understood.

Hawke smiled back at him, nodding. “I know,” she said, voice breaking and her eyes almost wet. “Me, too.”

They didn’t bother with words for a long while after that. Silence, more warm and comforting than either of them had ever known it to be, fell gently over them as, with light caresses and soft touches, they shared sentiments that would only have been muddied by any other form of communication.

It wasn’t until morning, when the pink fingers of dawn stretched across the rumpled bed linens, that Hawke said quietly, “We’ll have to leave soon. While I can still travel.”

“Where would you like to go?” asked Fenris, his voice still thick with sleep as he spoke into her hair.

“Far from here. Far from everything,” she replied evenly. “South, maybe, towards the Wilds. We can lose ourselves there. Disappear completely.” She trailed a fingertip over the line of Fenris’ spine, holding him securely against her as she envisioned their future. “We can’t risk the templars following us, or finding us. Not now. Not with what we have to lose.”

Fenris propped himself up on one elbow, meeting Hawke’s gaze solidly. “Hawke, everything will be alright,” he said, with the same firm conviction that she felt. “We’ll go, we’ll disappear, we’ll survive. No matter what comes, it’ll be alright.”

“Yes,” she breathed, leaning in until their lips met. “We’ll be alright.”

Chapter Text

Dear Varric,

I gathered, from the tone of your letter, that you may be under the impression that this renewed correspondence might come as a surprise to me, perhaps even an unwelcome surprise. I can assure you that, on both counts, nothing could be further from the truth. I happened upon your messenger bird on my way home from delivering a particularly stubborn child and, when I saw the scroll tied to its leg, I knew at once that it had to be a letter of yours. Our parting may have been abrupt, but I always knew that there was no way that you would simply be content to watch Fenris and me vanish over the horizon. You never could stand an unfinished story, eh? It seems only right that your men have been keeping you apprised of our whereabouts. Is it strange that that lends me some degree of comfort? Perhaps it’s the familiarity of knowing that you still have my back.

Now, as you’ve assured me that your correspondences are no longer being monitored, I will be more candid than I might be otherwise. That having been said, I would still greatly appreciate it if you would burn this letter the moment it’s been read. I’m sure you have ways of keeping it secure, but I’d really rather the whole thing was disposed of altogether. I’ve stumbled upon more than a few scraps of paper over the years that were simply brimming with private, intimate details, and I’d hate to think that the information I plan to share might be seen by any eyes but yours.

So, down to business, then. First and foremost, I happened upon a copy of The Tale of the Champion during one of my infrequent visits to civilization. Interesting little story. A few of the characters even reminded me of people I know. I, for one, enjoyed the romantic subplot between the heroine and the renegade mage. Fenris, however, could have done without that bit. He’s lucky that I find jealousy so becoming.

In any case, I noticed that you left out a few of the more sordid details. Excellent judgment, really. It might have been a bit… impossible… to endear me to your readers if they knew about my unfortunate foray into the slave trade. (Fenris, who is reading over my shoulder and generally making a nuisance of himself, has just scoffed rather loudly and said, “Oh? Is that what we’re calling it now?” He makes a good point, but there isn’t really an easy way to refer to what happened. Let’s just be glad that it’s over. Magisters dead, memories recovered, Fenris free. As it should be.) Anyway, I wanted to thank you. You didn’t have to make any attempt to tell my story and you certainly didn’t have to do so while endeavoring to keep whatever remains of my good name intact. It means a lot to me, Varric. So, thank you.

And now, to spare you the pain of one of my maudlin moments of earnest emotion, I’ll move on. After all, you didn’t write to me for the sole purpose of exchanging in pleasantries. You’re a man with a mission, I dare say. So, I’ll get to the point. Yes, I can help you. Quite by coincidence, my cousin Amell (yes, Varric, the famous one) put me in contact with a Grey Warden who just may have information that could benefit the Inquisition. It’s too sensitive to put on paper, but I’ll come north soon and help in whatever way I can.

Fenris, however, will not be joining me, for reasons that I hope you’ll keep confidential. Naturally, I have great faith in your judgment, and the fact that you hold your friends in the Inquisition in such high regard speaks volumes to their credit, but I would still rather they know as little as possible about my current situation. I’ve made more than a few enemies over the years and I’m rather leery of sharing anything too personal with anyone even vaguely associated with the Chantry. Or with the mage rebellion. Or with the Templars, for that matter. And I gather your little band of heroes has ties to all these groups, and quite a few more. There are still a great many people who do not look kindly on the role I played in Kirkwall, and I’d rather they learn as little of me as possible. I’m sorry to put so fine a point on it, but I failed my family after the Fifth Blight and I won’t let that happen again. I need to know that no one will seek them out while I’m away.

So, family. I’m sure all those plurals didn’t sneak past you, but I may as well make it plain. Your men may very well have told you this already, but Fenris and I discovered, some time ago, that having inordinate amounts of reckless, energetic sex has some extremely predictable consequences. (Fenris, who is still looming, by the way, has just mumbled something about how I may as well draw you a diagram. I’m fairly certain that he’s just being his usual wry self, but I’m choosing to take his suggestion at face-value. Towards the end of this letter, I’ll make sure to include several tasteful sketches of how babies, and ours in particular, are made. Actually, forget tasteful. The sketches are going to be extremely lewd. And Fenris has just flicked my ear and is threatening to do so again, so forget the sketches. Sorry. You’ll have to use your imagination.)

She’s a girl. Our baby, that is. And she’s perfect. My opinion may be a touch biased, being the mother and all, but it’s true. I wish you could see her in person, honestly. Her features aren’t quite elven, obviously, but there’s still so much of her father in her. Same perpetual scowl, same broody brow. Which is actually a bit precious on a small child, let me tell you. You should see Fenris with her; it’s perhaps the most tooth-achingly sweet thing I’ve ever seen. There’s baby-talk involved, but that’s all I’ll say. I think Fenris might flick my ear again if I go on for too long about what a big softie he is. (And there’s the ear-flick. Well, can’t say I didn’t have it coming.)

Needless to say, Fenris will be taking care of Kore while I’m away. Oh! That’s her name, by the way. Named for Fenris’ mother. We considered Leandra, of course, but… I don’t know. My mother had her whole life with her children, you know? I think that, after everything, there ought to be some sign to show that Fenris’ mother is remembered. Maybe Leandra or Bethany for the next one, eh? (Fenris has just coughed very loudly and asked why I’m just assuming the next one will be a girl. Again, he makes a good point. Carver, then. Or Leto. There, that’s the one.)

So, since I would like very much to return to my boring, domestic little life once all this is over, I need to know that you won’t tell anyone else where to find me. I don’t care what you say. Just say that I was off killing demons, or some nonsense. I just… if they know how much I have to lose, I’m afraid they’ll take it from me. Paranoid, I know, but you’re the one who taught me never to show my cards. I wouldn’t leave at all, but I’d like very much if the world didn’t end, and, if I can help stop that from happening, then I will. I have to, I think. After everything.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on for long enough and, if I write much more, I’m fairly certain that the poor bird is going to collapse long before it reaches your rookery. I’ll close by saying that I’ve missed you and, despite the circumstances, I look forward to seeing you soon.

Affectionately,

Elena Hawke

P.S. Fenris has just scribbled out a short note that he’d like me to send along with this letter. I know the contents of it are a bit hostile, but look how lovely his penmanship is. Those elegant flourishes on the letter F. And he does it so quickly! I’ll shut up about it now, but I’m honestly envious. I spend my whole life attempting to write prettily, and he outstrips me almost immediately. It’s maddening.

>*<*>*<

Greetings, Varric.

She’s coming home safely. I am sure you understand that this is non-negotiable and any harm that comes to her will be returned to you tenfold.

Fond Regards,

Fenris Hawke