Chapter 1: My Wolf
‘He’s changed in the last years. Locks himself in his study, with that elven girl. Used to clean for him and bring him drinks, things like that, but it’s been so long since any have seen her. Not just that, several times a month, he slips a list under the door, says he requires the most ghastly things. Blood and bits from creatures great and small. We figure he’s a scholar, he just means to study them or something, but no one really knows what he does with any of it…’
-Excerpt from a letter, dated 9:40 Dragon.
Victor glanced up from the notes he scrawled hurriedly to examine her. She writhed on the table, scraping deep gashes into the wood she laid upon, though she didn’t cry out, not this time. Years of practice, perhaps, but aside from tears streaking her marked face, she never screamed or begged, not anymore. Her body shook violently, arching up before she fell completely still, only the gentle movement of her chest indicating she was even still alive. This too was a normal reaction. Those before her had passed, too weak to withstand the side effects, but her, whether it was because she came from strong Dalish stock, or some other reason entirely, she had stood up to every test he had subjected her to, every attempt to improve her further. There were certainly promising results from them as well. Enhanced senses, her sense of smell better than most mabari now, among other improvements to her vision, her hearing. He had managed to affect her even on a cellular level, her body could heal faster than it should, further augmented by the new ability to wield her very bones as weapons, able to protrude them at will, ripping from her very body, only to heal almost instantly when she pulled them back in. Wounds inflicted on her still took time to heal, of course, but not more than a day or two at worst.
His motivation was largely in pursuit of knowledge, with this research, he would secure a place in the annals of history, and the awards, riches and recognition alone would make him famous. Still, there was more to it. His discreet support of Gaspard had reached his ears, and he had provided financial support, and a team to help him secure whatever odds and ends he required to further it. It was his ambition to see it on a larger scale, to create a perfect soldier, an unstoppable army that could garner support in his bid to oust Celene so he could usurp the throne, a result he wanted as well. It was nearing time for her first real trial. Divine Justinia had arranged a Conclave, and he intended to send her, a spy of sorts, and in the worst case scenario, to withstand any combat that might break out. Showing her off would be his moment of triumph. He just had to see her through this last round of experimentation, perhaps the most dangerous, a concoction of ground varghest scales, dragon’s blood and crushed wyvern bones. It was a wicked mix, and honestly, he could only guess at how it might augment her abilities, only that if it didn’t kill her, it would certainly be potent.
He reached for her hand, carefully drawing it back, away from himself. “Fenina dear, can you hear me? Show me again.”
She inhaled sharply, the flesh at her wrists ripping as her bones shot out, twisting to sharp points.
“Alright, now pull them back in, slowly.” he instructed.
Her breath caught, gritting her teeth as they pulled back in slowly. Once back in place, the skin sealed up again, same as usual. He couldn’t say if anything was different in the realm of her new skills, but perhaps it was too early to tell. There was time to look her over again before he sent her off, and if nothing new could be gleaned, he’d simply have to test her more thoroughly when she returned.
“Do you feel anything unusual?” he questioned, looking over the notes on his desk.
“When can I go home…?” she answered, avoiding his question.
He slowly paced closer, gripping her chin tightly, staring into her eyes, once the color of Lazurite, now a deep red, tinged in yellow around the edges. He had once told her that if she cooperated, at the end of his research, he would return her to the clan she had been stolen from, that he would do his best to find them if they had moved on, and escort her back. It wasn’t a lie, only that he didn’t consider his work anywhere near done. He had to show the results off, to prove it had been a raging success, and...of course he hadn’t truly expected her to live, despite how much stronger she was than the others. She was younger than the rest, but had been selected because his expert, one who had studied the Dalish from a distance, had indicated she was the most promising. First to her clan, one who had received her ‘adult’ markings, her vallaslin, two full years earlier than others. He had taken care to document well her appearance down to the smallest marks, and he had seen that hers extended down her throat, across her collarbone, along the back of her shoulders and down, on both sides. For someone her age to silently endure the pain it must have caused, it spoke volumes about her. It had to be an elf, no way a human would consent to be experimented on, and they were not as easy to force into a position of having it forced on them in the way an elf could. No one batted an eye at an elven servant in Orlais.
“You will go home when I am through with the research. Please answer my question, does anything feel unusual to you?” he repeated.
“Everything burns, like fire in my veins, it...is almost unbearable.” she mumbled.
Her hands clenching and relaxing in emphasis, though again, she didn’t cry out. A most admirable specimen indeed. He crossed the room, reaching for an ornate tray, carrying it back to her, hardly something even the most adventurous of palate would eat, but he had theorized it would help force her body to adapt to the changes he had encouraged.
“My wolf, please eat your dinner, you will need your strength for the trip. Ferelden is not as pleasant as Orlais, I will not have you collapsing in the Divine’s presence.” he ordered.
Her nose wrinkled at the scent, the air heavy with the stench of blood from the raw organs on the tray, bits of meat riddled through. She had been quizzed enough on her sense of smell to know that the menu today consisted entirely of wyvern meat, not an ounce of it cooked like she was little more than a wild beast, which, she reminded herself, was becoming truer by the day. At first, she had been what shems might consider more civilized than the Dalish were portrayed, even as a mage, she helped to hunt and learned to cook. It was a hard life, but she loved every minute of it, now...even in Orlais, where excess was the norm and servants were marginally well treated, more than they said of the slaves of Tevinter or the elves in Alienages, at least, it could hardly be said it compared to living in the forest. Raw meat, concoctions she often couldn’t identify...it was horrid.
“I’m not hungry.” she stated honestly.
The stench alone was enough to make her want to retch. She looked away, clutching her hand to her stomach in an attempt to still the nausea. He reached out again, squeezing her jaw tightly, enough to force her mouth open.
“You will eat, or I will grind it to paste and feed you myself.” he demanded.
For a man who used his brain more than his muscles, his grip was painful, enough to make her reconsider. He was admittedly less volatile than others, but the bruises and scars left from the past said he was by no means gentle. She looked over the tray, no hint of silverware. He was taking her name far too seriously if he meant her to eat like a dog. It was insulting, but with little choice between eating on her own or being spoonfed raw mush, this was the better option. At least she would be free to stretch the leash a little bit soon enough...
Fenina wakes up in a dungeon, unable to recall what happened.
It was a new sensation that roused her from her sleep, from the strange visions that swam in her mind, none of which made any sense. Her eyes opened to the dim light, the scent of burning torches her best clue as to where she was now. She was in a dungeon, the low levels of light suiting her fine, she could see almost as well in the dark as she could in the light, not that she’d ever thank the professor for it. Her clothes appeared to be intact, her hood still drawn up, slits in the sides for her ears, so she’d rarely, if ever, have a need to lower it. Her appearance had changed a lot in the time she spent away, and while her face was still mostly as it was, it was the eyes that frightened most. The color was not one found naturally, not on an elf at least, and her once rich golden mane was now a shocking white. The teeth, too, frightened some, for they were the teeth of a beast, not of a man. She hadn’t particularly noticed a physical difference anywhere below the neck, but then, none truly had occasion to see as much, save for the professor himself, ever meticulous in his observations.
The scent of rusted metal, dirt, and three..four...no, five different people surrounded her. She had frightened someone after all, she could smell it on them, a blend of fear, sweat and urine. On that note...she discreetly sniffed at the front of her tunic, the only thing she could reach with ease in her bound position. She smelled unpleasant, soaked in sweat, some fresh, some old...about three days, perhaps? No blood though, that was a promising sign, they hadn’t attacked her, but why she was waking up like this, in...wherever this was, she couldn’t recall. Her hand glowed, a new addition? Was this from that last test, or was this something else?
“You, tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now…” a woman’s voice told her.
Fenina flinched away from the sound, shaking her head roughly. “I’ll speak on whatever you like, though if it’s all the same to you, could you speak a little quieter? It’s like you’re yelling right in my ears…” she mumbled.
“The Conclave is destroyed, everyone who attended is dead, except for you.” she said, this time a fair bit quieter.
The Conclave...right, she had been sent to spy on the outcome, but for the life of her, she couldn’t recall the actual meeting itself. What happened there that resulted in everyone dying? If it had been because of her, she could surely have done a bit of damage, but there had been so many people, even with her augmented abilities, there was no way she took out everyone that was there, not alone. More than that, the absence of the scent of blood, or at the very least, the smell of soap, she hadn’t killed anyone. If no one bothered to bathe her as she slept, she would know it.
“I don’t recall what happened, but I can say with certainty, I did not kill anyone.” she told the woman.
“If you can’t remember, then how can you be so sure about that?” she asked.
That question said she knew nothing of what she had been through. It made her chuckle a little. It was normal to her now, but to have to explain, by comparison it might even make her seem a genius.
“Where to begin...hmmm...Just from the few minutes I’ve been awake, shall I tell you what I can sense?” she countered.
“I don’t see how this matters, but if you must.” she grunted.
“Five people aside from me in this room. One is quite frightened. Pissed himself. Yes, I can tell it was a man, women smell different. I’ve been here, unwashed, at least three days, The sweat on my clothes is varied in intensity, some is fresh, some is thicker, older. So three days. Your sword, recently polished, I would say yesterday, the scent is strong, but not as strong as if you had applied it today. The woman in the shadows, a spy, I might assume. The scent of birds is on her, but not on anyone else. You may wish to take that guard to the right outside. I can hear his breathing, it is labored, something in this room is affecting his breathing, he needs fresh air.” she explained as though it were all obvious.
“Is this true?” the woman asked him quietly.
He nodded, and she sent him out. She spoke briefly with the other woman, cautiously reaching for her hood. Fenina pulled away slightly, shaking her head again.
“Don’t…” she said. “You’ll not understand.”
The women exchanged glances, then nods, and she again reached for her hood, drawing it back. The one she identified as a spy said nothing, but the other one, the sharp intake of breath told her she was definitely surprised, unpleasantly so.
“Abomination?” she asked curiously, not to her directly, but the other woman.
“Perhaps I am. Maybe that’s the result. If you mean to suggest I am possessed, I am not. Never was. This is artificial.” she told them.
“Cassandra...you should show her.” the quiet woman told her.
She sighed, unlocking her shackles, drawing her up by the ropes that still held her hands together. Fenina dipped her head respectfully, frowning. “I’ll go wherever you wish, but I’d ask you to replace my hood. If I’ve been in here for several days, the sun will only hurt.”
Cassandra sighed again, yanking it back in place roughly, jerking her to follow. It didn’t matter, her mildly aggressive display was nothing compared to what she had been released from, she could handle it. Keeping her head down as she was led through the door, she heard angry, fearful whispers, to the people gathered around, watching her, she was a monster, the one who killed the Divine and tore the sky. She knew it would hurt, but she was curious now, interested in seeing what they imagined she had done. The strange light filtered in her eyes, almost blinding at first, subsiding slowly, and her first glimpse of the Breach came into view. It set her heart poundiing with uncertainty. Even from here, she could see debris rising up into it, the way it swirled, truly menacing, whatever it was, however it got there, it was clear enough that if it was left unchecked, it would certainly destroy anything it touched. The hole flared, streams of light spreading from it, and at the same time, her hand flickered, a burning wave of pain spread through it. She sunk to her knees, sucking in a sharp breath.
“Each time it expands, your mark spreads, and it is killing you. It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn’t much time…” she explained, gesturing to it.
So that was it. Somehow the strange glowing mark on her hand was connected to the hole that was detroying the world. Maybe it was her fault after all. The look on her face was one of questioning. She was waiting for her to offer her input on the situation, and it wasn’t just that. Cassandra wished to know if she would rather doom the world to die, and her with it, let the mark take her life while the Breach destroyed the rest, or if she would help them, try to close it and with it, save her own life. She had no great hatred for humans, even as she was bitter about the things she had endured until now, and honestly, if she failed, or did nothing, she was dead anyway. Why not give it a chance?
“I see...I can’t say whether it will work or not, but there’s no reason not to try. I don’t know what to do, but perhaps I’ll figure it out. Take me to it. I’ll do what I can.” she said, sighing.
At the end of the day, every moment she spent here, trying to fix the problem was a moment she was spared from returning to Orlais, a moment she could avoid whatever unpleasant thing the scholar planned for her that day, it was worth it, by comparison, this was a vacation. Cassandra gripped the ropes again, leading her along the path towards the gates, all eyes fixed angrily on her as they walked. They cared nothing for the truth, she didn’t even know the truth, but the fact was, the Divine was dead, and she had lived where no other did, it made sense to suspect she was responsible. Was there even a favorable outcome in a situation like this?
Chapter 3: Chained to the Past
Arriving in the Hinterlands leads to troubling memories.
Mild Gore warning?
No time to rest, the group consisting of fellow elven apostate Solas, witty dwarf Varric, and the Seeker set out at her side for the Hinterlands. The goal was fairly simple, extend the reach of the Inquisition and find Mother Giselle. That seemed simple enough until they reached the crossroads, caught up in a small scale battle between mages and Templars. Fenina turned her gaze to her hands nervously, flexing her fingers slowly. Her focus slipped, and she lost herself for a moment in her memories, breath shuddering out slowly.
“I have a special gift for you, my dear. Come with me for a moment, let us see what you can do with your new friend…” he urged eagerly.
Fenina followed him down the dark hall, entering a room she had never before been allowed into. He ushered her in first, pressing her forward with a hand on her lower back, an unfamiliar smile playing on his lips, one that sent her skin crawling in apprehension. What was he planning? She wouldn’t have to wonder long, a figure, bound to the wall at the neck looking up. She considered herself leashed as well, though her binds were not as literal as the one this man wore.
“What is this?” she asked curiously.
He smelled different, aside from the thin musk of soap, there was something more, a scent she couldn’t quite identify, earthy, but there was more besides. Had he worn the armor, it might have been obvious, but perhaps that he wasn’t was a test of its own.
“As a mage, this man is your enemy. A Templar, and he would see you in chains if he were freed.” he said, patting her head lightly. “Learn the smell, memorize it, and then, show me what you can do, kill him…”
Fenina shook her head slowly, her eyes meeting his pale, frightened ones. He was a prisoner in this place as she was. Faint, dried splashed of blood had dried along his brow, and she knew then, he had been caught off guard, kidnapped, brought here to test the results of what he had done this time.
“Ser...he has not wronged me personally, in fact, until now, I’ve not so much as seen a Templar. I have no desire, nor reason to kill him…” she mumbled.
Victor pushed her closer, in front of him now, close enough to see his features up close. Mythal, he looked scarcely older than her, maybe an adult, but just barely. She looked back again, her head tipped quizzically.
“This smell…lyrium?” she asked.
“Very good, my wolf. I shall have to test your memory on this later. I want you to know it well…” he told her.
His lips moved, but no words came out, silently begging her to spare him, to do whatever she could to see him out of this situation, knowing by the look in her eyes, she wanted no part of this either. She bobbed her head slightly, as if affirming something in her mind.
“I know it well enough now. May I be excused now?” she asked, hoping he would agree.
The expression on his face twisted, livid at her refusal. That look was more frightening than a bound Templar could ever be. He took only one step closer to her, still some feet away, but she knew that look said she had one last chance to obey willingly before he would punish her, force her to obey his wishes. She mouthed a silent apology to him, hands shaking, almost able to imagine what must be running through his mind at that moment. She didn’t have to guess, his voice escaping quietly,
“Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter...blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just…” he breathed, closing his eyes.
It was no longer fear, but silent acceptance, the urgent wish that his God would call him to his side. She brought her hands around his throat loosely, following the lines and curves of the collar holding him in place.
“Ir abelas…” she mumbled, quietly enough that she hoped Victor hadn’t overheard her. “I’ll make it quick, it is the only mercy I can offer you…”
Her hands held fast, the bones of her wrists twisting, ripping from her skin, quickly shooting through his neck, the sick crunch telling her enough. His neck had broken from the force of it, his head hanging forward limply, blood trickling along her bones, dripping slowly down her arms. Pulling back, her hands shook violently, staring in horror at the blood staining her hands. That was the first time she had ever taken a life needlessly, and it frightened her. Crumpling to her knees, she sagged almost lifelessly, uncaring as he scooped her up, dropping her over his shoulder to haul her back to the chamber he kept her in.
“You did well, you’ve exceeded my expectations immensely! Don’t look so sad, tonight, I’ll reward you well. What do you think? Something sweet? Perhaps you’d like some wine with your dinner. There’s time to consider it.” he hummed happily.
It was sick, wrong. Her stomach felt heavy, as though she’d never be able to eat again, would never feel hunger. She had done something she was not meant to do, and in her mind, there was no forgiving her weakness…
“Herald!” Cassandra shouted, calling her focus back, spooked by the sudden loud sound.
A horrifying scream, followed by a gurgle...she knew that sound, the last sound the dying sometimes made, a rattle almost. It was close, but she had seen no spells, no arrows, nothing to indicate anyone else had caused it. The sharp gasp she heard, and the piercing ache in her chest said everything. Her eyes fell downward, cringing at the sight, a mage, head trapped and impaled along her ribs, extended out from her body. She quickly retracted them, unsure when she had even done it, but it was too late, the woman collapsing limply, bleeding wounds down the sides of her head and neck, too late to fix. Her hand shook, fingertips smearing in the blood on her tunic, staring at it, her stomach lurching heavily.
“I...I didn’t mean…” she began, dashing off before she could finish the rest of her words.
Cassandra swept a hand through her short hair, losing sight of her quickly as she wove skillfully up the path and through the trees.
“I will go find her…” she said.
Solas held a hand up to stop her, shaking his head. “I do not mean to disagree with you, but I believe it would be better if myself or Varric were to go. No offense, but you may only frighten her, unless...you intend to kill her?”
Cassandra groaned in frustration. “I will not. We need her, and...being fair, stopping the fighting has resulted in all of us killing, perhaps it matters little how it is accomplished. I have questions, certainly, but retrieving the Herald safely is the first priority. I will instead meet with Mother Giselle, meet back here.”
Varric glanced up to Solas, gesturing for him to lead the way. When they were out of earshot, he spoke finally.
“What was that?” he asked. “Blood magic?”
Solas shook his head. “You saw it too. She used no blood, it was like an instinct. If this is magic, it is a kind I have not seen.”
He sighed, scratching at his chin. “Wonderful.”
Chapter 4: Found: One Herald
Fenina finds relief in her brief respite
Fenina slowed her pace, walking slowly now. She had no idea where she was, only that she had not yet left the Hinterlands. In another time, she might have thought her clan would find this place to their liking. Not now, not crawling with bandits and the like. Even here she couldn’t get away from people fleeing the chaos, a camp of refugees huddled around a small fire, splitting what little they had. The old ones gave up their food to the children. It brought a small smile to her face, that too, reminded her of home. At times when the hunting was scarce, and there was not enough to go around, sharing had become a lesson taken to heart. No...this wasn’t right either. She couldn’t say whether or not the Maker and his bride existed, past or present, but she was supposed to be the Herald of Andraste. She kept out of sight, lowering her hood, keeping the shadows. Her eyes adjusted quickly, flitting high and low for signs of movement. She stalked silently in the grass, taking in all the stimulation the land offered her and processing it.
Slipping into a grove of trees, she saw what she was after. A strong, robust ram, like a sign that it was meant for her to hunt. She glanced at her hands for a moment, it would be quick, easy, but it wasn’t right. She raised her hands, focusing her energy to her fingertips, weaving her spell cautiously, shards of ice hovering in the air. Releasing her hold on it, the chunks of ice flew quickly, piercing its hide, a startled cry escaping as it fell over. Rushing over, she lifted it onto her shoulders, grunting under the weight. Her steps were slowed with her burden, hauling it back towards the makeshift campsite. The family glanced up as she approached, noticing the glow emanating from her palm, lowering their heads thankfully. Setting the dead ram down, she nodded once.
“Many thanks and blessings for you, Herald.” an elderly woman said.
“Sathem. It’s dangerous this far out. Perhaps you might head closer to the Crossroads. It is secure now, the Inquisition will keep it safe.” she said quietly.
“Maker watch over you!” a younger man said, likely father to the children.
A little girl reached out to her, hugging around her legs tightly, grinning a smile filled with spaces.
“Marie, let go child.” the older woman scolded.
Hesitating, she lowered her palm to pat the girl’s head, completely expecting the worst. Instead, she let go, waving her off enthusiastically. Fenina walked away, amazed that nothing bad had happened. The contact had made her anxious, tense, and the fear that she would lose control again lingered in all reaches of her mind. Not watching where she was heading, she hit something solid, a faint grunt escaping her lips. Looking up finally, a hand reached out, resting lightly on her shoulder.
“That was a kind thing you did. I saw it all.” Solas said.
“As opposed to what I did earlier?” she asked, a self-deprecating smile emerging, the points of her sharp teeth showing.
“I would not judge it so quickly, I believe there’s more to you than you give yourself credit for.” he said.
Her eyes fell to the hand, still placed on her shoulder. “You’re not concerned about being this close?”
He shook his head, tightening his grasp in emphasis. “I am not. If you were going to hurt me, surely you would have done so already.”
“I don’t know that I can control it. Many of my abilities are not normal for me. I am still learning about them myself. I could hurt you without intending to…” she said, her head dropping.
“Oh, you found Prickles! I was worried we’d have to return to the Seeker without her.” Varric joked, ambling over.
“Is she very upset with me? Let me guess...I am to end up in shackles again?” she wondered.
“I don’t believe so. You are needed, even she would not throw away salvation so carelessly.” he said bluntly.
“This isn’t Orlais, this is Ferelden! You know how you clear your conscience here?” Varric asked.
“How?” she mumbled skeptically.
“With drinks. A lot of drinks.” he answered. “First round is on Chuckles.”
Solas lowered his brows irritably, almost scowling at the back of his head as they walked away. “I said no such thing!”
“Two elves beat one dwarf, one of you has to pay, and the kid’s miserable. You buy.” he explained.
“What manner of logic is that? I could see buying a drink for her, if she is as miserable as you say, but why for you?” he wondered.
“That’s my fee for teaching you about these things in the first place.” he said with a shrug.
“If you ask me, this is all moot unless we get back quickly. Cassandra might have you thrown in a cell with me if we dally too long.” she sighed.
The walk back went by slowly, despite stating they should return quickly. It was peppered with different subjects, some which she silently backed out of, and others which she gladly spoke of. Family being one, she loved talking about her family, about the things she missed. Varric too, enjoyed talking about home, to him, Kirkwall. Solas had little to say on that particular subject, though she and the dwarf had common ground as far as siblings.
“So I told you about my brother, your turn, how many siblings do you have?” he asked.
“Taron isa’ma’lin.” she said. “A twin brother, Eirlen...I suppose we’re not as similar as we were.”
She smiled that same defeated smile as before, drawing her hands together thoughtfully. “I suppose there must be at least one pretty one, right? “
Varric laughed at that. “And one with brains. Bartrand had business sense, but not much else for brains. I got both. We have that in common as well.”
“I can’t tell if…” she realized it was a compliment, bowing her head slightly. “Oh, you’re good.”
“I get that a lot.” he answered.
Solas pointed ahead, the Seeker catching notice of her immediately, a look of relief on her face until she glanced to Varric, quickly shifting to a look of disgust, a groaned ‘ugh’ reaching her ears even this far away from her.
“Still doesn’t like me, I see.” he muttered.
“Perhaps she’ll warm up to you.” she suggested.
“Perish the thought!” he groaned.
Chapter 5: Friendly Advice
The group returned to Haven, Varric grabbing her wrist, dragging Solas with as well. Cassandra seemed prepared to protest, but he had escaped with them before she could manage. Finding a table, he waved Flissa over, insisting the first round was on Solas, as he had mentioned previously. Solas had given up protesting, leaning back in his seat. Varric looked at her curiously, leaning a little closer, looking at her arm. On the way back, they had been ambushed by bandits, one particularly quick one managing to wound her arm pretty deeply. She brushed it off, and aside from cleaning it and wrapping it in a long scrap of fabric, it had largely gone forgotten. She appeared to be fairly competent in caring for it, but the sight of her bared arm without the bandage had reminded him. It should definitely have still been there.
“Your arm…” Solas began, though he stopped there as well, unsure what to say on the matter.
Her eyes flicked to it briefly, though her focus fell to the drink set in front of her. She sipped the foam gathered on the surface, shrugging at the mention. “Wasn’t serious. Don’t be concerned.”
“Prickles, I don’t think it was concern so much as disbelief.” Varric added.
“I don’t know how it works.” she mumbled, tracing the rim of her mug. “It never used to be that way, when I was home.”
“So all this weirdness, it wasn’t you? Someone actually did this to you?” Varric asked.
Solas glared at him from across the table, almost accusingly. It was an unusual expression for him, but he understood it without words, he was wondering how he could so casually bring up a subject like that. Given her reactions in the Hinterlands, it made sense that it was a matter to be broached carefully, but that wasn’t how he saw it. She was alive, had feelings, sure, but treating her so carefully seemed just as likely to isolate her instead of making her feel like they were people she could be friendly with and was not quite so removed from. She already knew she was different, and no amount of treating her like a friend would change that, but accepting it was another matter.
“Yes. A scholar with a dream. I suppose if you want something badly enough, there isn’t any cost too high to pay for that.” she said.
“You don’t have to--” Solas began, but Varric cut him off.
“What’s your dream, then? What would you pay any cost for?” he asked.
Fenina smiled, a small one, brittle. Unlike her brighter grin, her teeth were hidden. Her answer came without hesitation, however.
“I want to go home. I want to see my Kee...my mother, and my brother. I’d give anything for that.” she said. “I haven’t seen them in years. I was told I’d be able to go back soon, but every time I asked, it was always ‘You can go when the research is finished. You can go when the tests are finished, you can go when we show results.’
“Ask Ruffles. Between her and the nightingale, they can reach out to your clan, let them know how you’re doing.” Varric said, patting her hand gently.
The hand holding her mug tensed, gripping it so hard her fingertips turned white, shaking. A low growl broke at the base of her throat, just like that, she was angry . Her shoulders trembled slightly, the growl turning into a slight, defeated chuckle.
“You mean it’s that easy? I just ask, and they can do what I’ve tried to this long? All I endured, every time I swallowed back the pain and sickness and told myself to hold on a little more, and I could...they could find them that easily?” she asked in disbelief.
“Well, it might take time for a letter to reach them, but yeah. I have letters sent back to Kirkwall all the time, Leliana is good at tracking people down, your clan won’t stay missing for long.” he confirmed with a nod.
She gulped her ale, her jaw jutting forward defiantly. “I’m gonna kill him.”
Solas had simply listened, but now, he decided to ask. “Him?”
“Who he is doesn’t matter. This is my problem.” she huffed. “Cassandra mentioned we’ll need to go to Val Royeaux soon. I was dreading returning to Orlais, but maybe it won’t be so bad. I’ll ask if I can make a short side trip before we come back.”
Varric grimaced, holding up three fingers to the overwhelmed bar maiden. This was clearly not a one drink problem. It was the longest she had spoken of her life, and also, the angriest he’d ever seen the normally docile girl. He hadn’t known her for very long, but something about the idea of anyone messing up a sweetheart like her to the point of making her that angry was very nearly enough to make him want to kill the bastard, and he had no idea who ‘the bastard’ was. Maybe it was because she reminded him a little of Merrill, except with less blood and twine and more bones and puppy-like sniffing. Cassandra wouldn’t approve of any delays with the chantry, but maybe if he convinced Solas to join him in insisting they check it out, she might give in, albeit with a groan.
Trying to deviate the conversation to something more pleasant, Solas interjected with an abrupt switch in topic. “Your Keeper, you started to say it, but then you switched to mother…?”
She nodded slowly, almost guiltily, like she was concerned he found fault with that. “Vin. I meant just that. My mother is also the Keeper. If you’re worried about a conflict of interest, since I was First, don’t. My brother and I are, and have been the only two mages in the clan for as long as I can recall. I was just a little better than he is.”
“I was not concerned. I was only wondering if you meant what I assumed you intended to say.” he clarified with a slight smile.
“What I wonder is why ‘Prickles’. I don’t think I’m that grumpy…” she sighed.
“The bone thing. Looks prickly. I had a few others, but not nearly as appropriate.” he admitted.
Fenina giggled, covering her mouth. “ Elvar edhis…”
Solas tried to look serious, but he accidentally let a quiet laugh slip. Varric looked between them clearly missing the joke, waiting patiently for an explanation. Solas managed to compose himself enough to attempt to explain.
“The meaning is quite literal, so to get the joke, I suppose you might translate it as ‘boner’.” he said.
Varric laughed at that, shaking his head. “I can’t decide which is funnier, that it came from her, or that you said that with such a straight face.”
Solas gave him a strange look then. “Should I not? I’m no child. It’s not something to be said with shame or embarrassment, is it?”
Varric sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “And just like that, you’re back to normal, Chuckles.”
Val Royeaux was just as horrible as she remembered. Compared to this moment she had been waiting for? Chantry mothers and pointless interruptions could wait. Cassandra had been difficult to convince, but thanks to Varric and Solas insisting they had plenty of time, she caved. Fenina drew her hood as far down as she could, concerned that not possessing the keys would be a problem. No way she was knocking.
“Try opening it.” Cassandra suggested.
“Seeker, I very much doubt the entrance to someone's creepy secret hideout is just going to be-” Varric began.
Fenina stared at the door, grabbing the handle and yanking it. Rather than simply opening, it completely fell off its hinges. She stared at her hand in disbelief. Sure she was slightly stronger than most for a mage, she'd helped a lot with such things with her clan. There was one time a halla broke its leg, she carried it to one of the aravels so it could be patched up. That to her wasn't strange, she wasn't even the most physically strong member. Perhaps the hinges were rusted, though it could have been a side effect of that last round, she wasn't a scholar.
“Well. Nevermind.” Varric said with a smile.
“I guess we just go in?” Fenina shrugged.
Cassandra kept her hand on the hilt of her sword, Varric readying Bianca. Solas, on the other hand, seemed more curious about the rooms themselves. As much as she'd love to burn it down, she needed this, exploring quickly but thoroughly was the priority for her. She found a large leather bag, one that smelled terrible to her, but it would hold plenty. Stuffing anything that seemed important into it, she decided finding her target was the better option. She could look around after he was dealt with. Pulling her hood down, she tilted her head up, her nose twitching slightly. She hated what they must think of her, in a way hated herself for what she'd become.
“This way.” She whispered, waving them forward.
The scent led her upstairs, several floors up, to the top floor, in fact. She was never allowed on this floor. The end of the hall was the only place he could be, but the awful scent of rotting flesh was overwhelming. Something was off. Maybe it was a trap, maybe he left something to ward her off, knowing it would be too overwhelming for her. Not this time, not this close. She fished a length of fabric from her clothes, wrapping it as tightly as she could stand, her own scent all she could smell now. Pressing onward, she burst through the door, quickly stepping back. This was by far the most horrific thing she'd seen here.
“You don't want to see this. I'll go alone.” She sighed.
“I'm not letting you face this asshole alone.” Varric spat.
“He isn't here. Trust me on this. I wish I hadn't seen this. I...need to check.” Fenina mumbled, gagging slightly.
Shaking her head, she squatted down, trying to figure out what was a result of decay and what had been done. Several bodies littered the room, all crawling with maggots from what she could see, clearly they'd been there for a while. They still had flesh, but it had lost all shape, caving in on their bones. Some were missing their eyes, and from the marks, they'd been cut out, though she couldn't imagine why. For all she knew it was a message, they might have seen something they shouldn't. But that didn't explain why all the bodies were completely lacking their hearts. All expertly cut out, the only other thing of note being one body with the top of its skull completely cut away, missing its brain.
“This is sick...who would do such a thing?” Cassandra asked, her words muffled behind her sleeve.
“One Victor DesRosier. I'd suggest it was someone else but I remember his methods very clearly. There was no room for anything beyond a desire for knowledge and power. Things like kindness and mercy didn't exist for him.” She said, a weak smile hidden behind her makeshift mask.
“Maker, what did he do to you?” She sighed.
Fenina stood up, rummaging through the desk. His notes were still there, he'd never leave without these. If he left on his own, he brought a copy with him. She looked through it briefly, just to make sure. Tossing it over, Cassandra read a few pages, progressively turning whiter with each one. Cringing, she gave it back, already disturbed enough. Varric and Solas finally peered in, more than a little troubled by the sight. Gesturing to one of the bodies, she sighed.
“I know this woman. She was truly kind. I recall she had been vigorously warned away from me, on the basis I was dangerous, I'd only hurt her. Still, there were times when she'd sneak me scraps of food, real food. Usually only bread crusts or bits of fruit, but I couldn't have been happier. Something a beast wouldn't eat might as well have been the finest meal in all of Thedas.” She told them.
Checking to see if there was anything else worth taking, she headed back out. The rest of the manor should be fine. Nothing but things to rifle through and bad memories. Occasionally she'd stop to look in certain rooms, like she couldn't help but think about it.
“This was my room…” she mumbled.
“Prickles, this is hardly a room.” Varric said, none of his usual humor present.
It was more like a closet, really. Just a ratty blanket on the floor, cold, tiled floor. Fenina still recalled the first time she'd been in here. At the time, it didn't seem so bad, she was promised her assistance in his research was temporary and would absolutely benefit her clan. At first, it was nice. All she had to do was organize his books, a bit of light cleaning, bringing him his meals so he could keep working. It wasn't until it was too late that she realized it was all a lie. A ruse to lull her into a sense of trust. On the second floor, that was the testing area. Rooms where he tested her limits. Where she killed the man that still haunted her nightmares. The place she lost her humanity , if that word ever applied to an elf.
“We can go. This place clearly isn't comfortable for you. There's no need to subject yourself to these places further. You said he's not here, why stay?” Solas wondered.
Sniffling faintly, she pointed to the pack. “There's still use to this place. I might still be able to figure out where he went, what his plans were -- are. My comfort is meaningless if it means leaving pieces on the board.”
Varric nudged Cassandra, nodding towards the Herald. She put a hand on her shoulder.
“Varric, take her to the inn. We can leave in the morning. I believe everything else has been handled. A few of our men are around. Send whoever you find on the way back here. I'll stay behind. We’ll gather whatever we can take.” She said.
“No, I can - “ she declined.
Varric lightly held her arm, directing her to follow. Solas tagged along, deciding to find the scouts and soldiers instead. He wasn't quite willing to believe there was anyone in existence that fixated on tormenting one person. Motivated, power hungry, insane, sick, he could believe, but those type of people often tore through many, as quickly and efficiently as possible. This wouldn't be surprising except it really didn't feel personal. Changing direction on the way back to the room, they wound up at a tavern. Varric held up two fingers, sitting at a table.
“We may be in Orlais, but we mustn't forget the Ferelden way.” He told her.
Fenina took a seat, accepting the drink when it arrived. Was he trying to keep her calm? Maybe he was worried it bothered her a lot. It definitely did, but she had ideas on what to expect going in, not all of it was surprising.
“I'm fine.” She said.
“No, you aren't. You were lied to, hurt, treated like an animal. You're not fine.” He huffed.
“Alright. I'll live. I'm upset he wasn't there. He's a threat to my safety, I can't let him wander free where he could come after me.” She corrected herself.
“Might as well drink up. I’m getting several rounds. You're joining me for each.” He told her.
That made sense. She couldn't think about this if she couldn't think of anything. Not something she'd probably be able to do very often now. Apparently being the Herald of Andraste came with plenty of new responsibilities, more than she believed at least.
Val Royeaux was now behind them, thankfully. They’d returned with new allies, and it should have been a time to celebrate that small victory, but Fenina hid away in her room to pore over the papers and objects that had come back with them. She had time to relax, to plot out the next course of action, instead, she concerned herself entirely with interacting only when necessary. It was important to her, but it was worrisome how absorbed she was with it. Solas and Cassandra both insisted she probably would like very much not to be bothered at the time, but Varric wasn’t prepared to let it go that easily. Call it a habit, but meddling in other people’s lives was a hobby by now. He knocked lightly on the door, the sound of shuffling papers ceasing for only an instant before she finally called to him.
“Come in, Varric.” she muttered absently.
He closed the door behind him, grabbing a chair. Setting it opposite her, he sat down, reaching for one of the papers on the edge of the desk. He read through it slowly, trying to understand why anyone would even have occasion to think of these things. This particular page detailed a hypothesis that injecting her with the blood of a rabid wolf might supplement her senses. It didn’t stop there, apparently. He was so pleased with the results that for a solid month he decided to continue, her diet promptly changed to all manner of entrails and even ground bone, all wolf. He set it back down, looking completely disgusted with the idea. He wondered if all of it was more of the same, just crazed possibilities that he had somehow thought up and made a reality. She didn’t look up from the thick, well worn leather book in her hand. He recognized it as coming from his desk.
“I’m fine. I just had to know if there was anything useful in discovering where he might have gone. That and a desire to find out if there was a reason for it, a point to why it had to be me. Was it simply because I was gullible enough to believe his lies?” she sighed.
Kneading her brow tiredly, he noticed the puffy, dark bags under her eyes. She hadn’t slept since they’d returned, most likely. He wasn’t her father, it wasn’t his place to lecture her over it, not when he could understand the reasons behind it. Still, a friendly reminder was well within his duties as one of her companions.
“I hope you’ve at least slept a little.” he said.
Fenina glanced up for a second before returning to it. “I caught a short nap yesterday.”
“Ah. Good then, I suppose.” he said.
He had a pretty good feeling her idea of a short nap was less than an hour. She felt around the desk, briefly checking to make sure it was the right one. Passing it across, she paused to arch her back against the chair, the sound of several consecutive almost painful sounding cracks ringing out. Had she even moved from that spot?
“This was the last one. He didn’t record the results, and I can’t say in particular whether I’ve noticed any changes this time. I can’t tell if that means nothing happened or if I just haven’t been paying attention closely enough.” she said.
Varric took it from her, looking it over. How he came upon dragon parts was anyone’s guess. He knew very well that not many had the stones to try to take one on, the Pentaghast family an exception. He understood the appeal, a beast that strong, that legendary might well give her incredible powers if she made it through the shock that must be on the system. Obviously she lived, but like her, he noticed nothing really exceptionally draconic about her. The things his imagination conjured were obviously not the case. No wings, no scales, he hadn’t seen her breathing fire, nor could he reasonably encourage her to try and consume any, perhaps set her on fire to see if she could handle it. He would never want that for her, he’d barely want that for his worst enemy. He’d heard plenty of rumors of certain warriors who actively consumed the blood of dragons, though as he had heard, in a sense it had driven them mad. She seemed none the worse for the wear, still sane as far as he could say. As a mage, it might have worked differently for her. Maybe the rumors were full of shit anyway. Of course that didn’t mean there weren’t internal changes, things no one could see.
“The more I learn, the more I hate this guy. I dearly hope I’m with you when we find the bastard. I almost feel personally offended.” he snorted, handing it back.
“If that’s true, it would be a crime not to have you along.” she said quietly.
“Have you lent any thought to what you’ll do next?” he wondered.
Surprisingly, she finally put the book down. Rolling her shoulders, she stood up, pointing to the door. “I could use a short walk. Care to join me?”
Varric followed her, a little surprised that she’d put it aside at all. Her hood was down, and he knew it had everything to do with her eyes, not just the way they looked, but he knew by her expressions when it was down that the light hurt. Being the middle of the day already, the sight of so many people walking around didn’t seem strange to him at all. This didn’t need to be private, had she made a decision, she’d have simply stayed inside where civilian ears couldn’t hear. This was just a discussion of possibilities, he gathered.
“I haven’t really settled. I thought I’d at least meet with the mages and see how willing they are to lend assistance. I don’t mind Templars, nor would I refuse the aid if it was the better option, but I’m a little reticent. If the Lord Seeker is involved, I’m not certain I care to have to deal with him regularly.” she muttered.
Fenina stopped in her steps, turning slowly in a way that reminded him of a beast on the prowl. That was her noticing something out of the ordinary, but he had no chance to ask, watching her bolt off towards the yard. He sighed, rushing to follow her, mildly curious as to what she was after. She slid in the snow, nearly crashing into Cullen, managing to stop just short of him. He turned, raising a curious brow as to what the hurry was. She said nothing, brushing past him, shuffling through the rows in what he could only describe as a panic. Finally, she stopped in front of one of the men, her eyes fixed on the sword he held. Before anyone realized what was happening, she yanked it from his hand, tossing it like it might explode. On him in seconds, Cullen hurried over, concerned at what she might do. Her face a scant inch from the frightened man’s they picked up on the sound of rumbling low in her throat. Varric wasn’t prepared to pry them apart, and he had plenty of questions, too many to entice him into making the attempt. Cullen grabbed her shoulders, pulling her off him easily. She jerked against his hold until he restrained her, trapping her arms against her side, a full body hold required to keep her from breaking free.
“What is this about?” He asked sternly.
Her hood slipped down, and they shared a look of surprise. She looked almost hurt by his tone, like she was being scolded. Sure, she felt more than people tended to give her credit for, but it seemed a bit strange that such an obvious question would make her look moments from bursting into tears. Unable to move her hands properly, she nodded her head towards him.
“I smelled it all the way across the yard. That blade was coated in poison.” she whimpered defensively. “I didn’t want anyone to die.”
Varric bent to retrieve the sword. It certainly didn’t look any more dangerous than usual at first glance, but he turned the blade curiously. The sunlight reflected off a thin coating on the edge of the blade, confirming her words. Cullen frowned at that, staring at the man.
“Why would you go through the trouble to kill a recruit?” he questioned.
Far from denying it, the man began to laugh to himself as if he found the question amusing.
“It wasn’t for no recruit Commander .” he answered sarcastically. “It was for you.”
“I almost think you should have just let her do it.” Varric shrugged.
“I’d have let her, but even he deserves a fair hearing first. I don’t doubt the result will be the same, it will just take a little longer.” Cullen sighed. “Besides, I don’t feel right asking her to kill anymore than she’s already had to.”
His heartbeat picked up. He felt warm, it was nice. She didn’t like getting close to people, afraid of what might happen as a result. This was perhaps the first time she’d ever been this close to someone, and he’d willingly subjected himself to her. It still concerned her that he could get hurt, but it gave her a chance to make some interesting observations. He smelled nice, like oakmoss and elder flowers, but there was more too it just underneath, scents she couldn’t quite put a name to, only to say it wasn’t particularly unpleasant. The worn leather of his gloves still pressed against her sides, though his grip had lessened, light enough to make her wonder if perhaps it had slipped his mind that he was still holding onto her. Distracted, she barely noticed the man being hauled off, still laughing. Varric spoke with him a little longer, the conversation only ceasing when she finally decided to speak.
“Excuse me...but...can I go now?” she mumbled.
Cullen looked down, meeting her curious gaze for a few moments. It dawned on him that he hadn’t let her go. It was a subtle change, but she could tell the realization had for some reason made him nervous. The faintest blush stained his cheeks, and he quickly let go, unsure what to do with himself, he lightly patted her shoulders before taking a step back.
“Ah...I’m sorry about that. I trust I didn’t hurt you?” he asked.
“Of course not, please don’t worry about that.” she said dismissively.
“I thought...well, I suppose you already understand what I thought.” he sighed, almost disappointed with himself for judging so quickly.
“I do. I know very well what you must have thought, I understand. I’m certain there are plenty of others here who feel concerned with my presence far more. I...just thought it odd that a recruit would have need of a poisoned blade during training…” she mumbled.
“Look, I...I appreciate that. I’m sorry for restraining you like that. I didn’t consider you were trying to help, and...you’re not a prisoner anymore, there’s no cause for me to treat you with suspicion. I feel really just terrible about this…” he murmured.
“No, no...it’s fine, there’s no reason to apologize so profusely…” she tried to assure him. Finally, she reached up, her hands resting on his face to make sure he looked at her. “I know what I’ve become. I’m a monster, I get that people won’t understand, I get that people are still wary of me and what I might do. I feel the same way of myself. You don’t have to be sorry for it.”
Varric cleared his throat quietly, discreetly nudging his side. Seeing their Commander treating her like an actual person could only encourage others to trust her a little more freely. He might well have been tongue tied, the way he couldn’t string together a proper sentence without stammering. Strange how he could command these men and women so well, but she managed to make him forget just that quickly how words worked.
“You’re no monster. I don’t know what happened to you, I don’t know what makes you think so little of yourself, but I know what monsters really are. A true beast wouldn’t have tried to help as you did even as a prisoner, execution a possibility. You would not be lending us your diplomacy to help our cause.” he said finally. “You are wanted here, needed besides.”
“Aw. See that Prickles? I knew I wasn’t the only one who saw the good in you. Maybe now you can stop hiding away and start trying to socialize a little more.” Varric suggested.
“I’m not trying to avoid it...I just have a lot left to sort through and - “ Fenina began.
“And you’re worried not everyone will react so favorably.” he finished.
“You must understand, I’m still Dalish. I’m not used to being around humans at the best of times, now, like this? Whatever curiosity I had before has all but vanished for the most part. What human would honestly feel comfortable, say...sitting around and having a drink or two with me?” she challenged.
Varric could attest he had spent plenty of time doing just that, Solas too, though not much. Not once had a human so much as offered to join them. At least to him, it was pretty obvious that despite her insistence she didn’t want to be around people too closely, she was a very lonely person. He had to wonder if perhaps she agreed to lend her aid to the professor in the first place was not solely just to help but for the company. She seemed to convey a fondness for her family, but he got the strangest feeling they were a bit distant from her too. He could see no good reason to avoid her, even with the weird shit.
Demons appeared outside of Redcliffe with a strange form of magic no one seemed familiar with. Fenina impaled one against her arm, shaking it off, her face wrinkling in discomfort when it pulled back in. A stray question catching her off guard for just a moment.
“So is it just your arms and ribs that do that?” Varric wondered, aiming for one creeping up just behind Solas. “Those are the only things I’ve seen you do.”
Without any indication, she knelt down, her palms flat in front of her like she was prostrating herself before the king himself to beg his forgiveness. Her robes tore slightly in the back, a slightly grunt accompanying the bones that tore through her back, Solas took interest immediately in the way she still managed movement without it until he noticed it seemed to be growing rapidly. Whipping it up, it tore through the head of a terror demon, slumping when she pulled it back. Almost immediately, the excess broke off, and she retrieved it from the ground.
“I regret asking.” Varric said. “Kind of glad that was the last one…”
“How does that work, do you know?” Solas asked.
“Please don’t ask…” Cassandra sighed.
“I do now. Thanks to those notes I was able to discern it’s entirely due to a particular species of lizard, strangely enough. Apparently they’re only found in the Anderfels and procuring them was a problem for a while. Those particular lizards display extreme regeneration, and as a result, when I use it, my bones grow at a faster rate...however, my body can’t accommodate the extra bits, so they just fall off while my skin mends.” She explained, her tone between excitement at the knowledge, and being upset that it was forced on her.
“So why pick it up?” Cassandra asked.
“It’s disgusting.” She said simply. “Though I suppose it could probably still function as a weapon, I’ve never tried. For the record I mainly stick to using my arms because I can control those completely. The rest is at best a coin toss.” Pausing uncomfortably, she gestured ahead. “Can we just get this over with. I’d rather not discuss this anymore.”
Cassandra agreed, the group proceeding on towards the tavern, again presented with the news that their arrival was not as expected as they’d thought. One didn’t need a nose like hers to smell the setup here. Eventually, they were presented with a magister from Tevinter, far too nice in the way he was acting to not set off alarm bells. It was an act, and everyone knew it, he had answers for everything. Fenina folded her hands in front of her mouth, trying not to give him a chance to glean anything from her expressions. He was a mystery to her, there was nothing to understand from her senses. Whereas anyone else she could read quite well, she could tell nothing about him. If there was suspect magic in play here, she couldn’t identify it. Her mind was telling her everything about this was wrong, but there was no way to accurately explain why that would be. He made his exit, concerned for the well being of his son, who by comparison, she could read quite well.
He looked like he’d spent many a night awake, the pallor of his skin saying he was likely kept awake from illness, to say nothing of the scent of sickness thick on him. He didn’t have very long at all, and she had to wonder if his father was aware of that. He’d slipped a note into her hand when he pretended to collapse against her, unfolding it curiously. Now, if only to figure out which part was the actual setup, the original meeting or this one. Perhaps they worried the first trap wouldn’t spring and thought to plot a backup. Still, after discussing it, they decided the best course was to look into it, carefully.
Part of her wondered if she should have suspected the rift in the center of the chantry, demons falling to the floor, and unfamiliar mage helping to fight them off. Changing approaches, she shifted to casting spells, to the obvious relief of at least Cassandra. She understood the worry, but that didn’t stop the slight sting of still not being any closer to earning her trust. Anyone could waste words denying it when their own body could betray itself so easily to her. The woman still harbored a deep mistrust for her, whereas at least Josephine, Leliana and Cullen suggested the same, to a far lesser degree. Solas had been rather accommodating so far, but she got the strange feeling he would rather study her. Varric so far felt the most neutral, neither frightened or especially curious. She wished more people would be like that.
The man introduced himself as Dorian Pavus, and with the help of the Magister’s own son, they explained what was truly going on, the man going so far as to offer his assistance against him should they decide to pursue the mages. After they parted ways, they discussed what to do, agreeing that the original plan of staying in the village overnight was not a great plan anymore if someone was plotting against her. By the end of the night they could very nearly reach Haven, opting to make camp as close as they could manage and finish off the trip the next morning.
Cassandra decided to go further out to keep watch, and Varric turned in for the night, leaving her alone with Solas and one of the Inquisition scouts posted nearby.
“You’d really not rather go to sleep? I thought that was your entire thing?” she asked.
Of course he’d like to, but he caught on to Varric’s line of thinking, that if perhaps they treated her as if she were no different from anyone else in Haven, people might warm up to her faster. He had no idea how to make that work out here.
“I thought you might appreciate the company.” he said.
“So. What shall we do? Sit here and stare at the fire together? Craft stick people in the dirt?” she said, as if she knew he had no plan, as though she anticipated his inability to suggest anything on the spot. “Or...I could save you the trouble and you can go, if you wish.”
He sat stubbornly taller, thrown off by the way she seemed to read his thoughts so easily. He really didn’t have anything to suggest. He was unsure what else he might share with her, having talked a bit in between business on a few occasions.
“Uh...excuse me…” the scout interrupted.
She got a good look at the woman’s face. She looked young, bored by the inaction the night was offering up. Rummaging in a makeshift pocket in her uniform, she produced a deck of cards, holding them out.
“I didn’t mean to listen, but I heard it all. Y...you can use my cards if you like.” She suggested hesitantly.
It had the feel that she was worried about being scolded for not focusing on her assigned tasks. The hopeful look on her face was a silent plea for an invitation, an excuse to be relieved of her uneventful duties for a little while.
“Do you know how to play?” Fenina asked Solas.
“I know a bit.” he said. “Do you?”
“No, I’ve never had the chance to learn. My duties as First took up most of my time, and I’m afraid Victor was never one for games.” she shrugged. Looking at the woman, she thought about it for a moment. “Come, join us. If you can tolerate my failures as I try to learn, I don’t mind it…”
“Thank you, Herald!” she chirped, taking a seat by the fire, passing the deck to Solas while she took a moment to warm her hands by the fire. “‘M Lizzie by the way, Worship.”
Fenina offered Solas a wide eyed stare at the word ‘Worship’, wondering why someone would call her that. He bit back a laugh at her reaction. Nervously, she held her hand out, shaking it.
“It’s nice to meet you, Lizzie... “ she mumbled.
It almost felt surreal. This was probably the first time anyone genuinely seemed excited to see her. Mildly energized by that simple exchange, she put her focus into trying very hard to learn the rules of the game. Fenina found herself wondering if other people liked to play, something she could offer as a tentative basis for conversation.
Chapter 9: A Leader, A Shadow
This was new for her, she’d never actively approached someone on purpose with the intent of pushing anything. Now, here she was, pestering one of the deadliest people she could think of.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Leliana asked curiously.
“I...I want to go after the mages. Something about the whole situation isn’t sitting right with me, and I can’t set it aside in my head. I want to make it clear, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I, too, am a mage, or even that I don’t think the Templars are a worthy consideration. I feel it’s a situation that could become volatile if ignored…” she explained.
Leliana crossed her leg over her lap, reading through some of the updates one of her men had brought her. Taking the time to apprise him of her insights on the subject, she smiled, crumpling the report, holding it out in offering.
“Would you be so kind as to burn this for me?” she asked.
Fenina gave an absent nod, taking it from her, the parchment turning to ash in the span of seconds. Unoccupied again, she drummed her fingers against her knees busily, chewing the inside of her lip anxiously.
“I happen to agree with you. I think that’s the wiser course of action. I cannot promise anyone else will agree with you, but the choice will ultimately be left to you.” she said.
“Why to me? Why would anyone leave this kind of decision to a former prisoner, someone like me of all people. I don’t mean just the things that worry people, I mean the magic, the ears...all of it. As far as I was aware, humans don’t typically give this much power away so easily. What is the cost of such a decision?” she asked apprehensively.
“You already know the cost. People think you’ve been sent by Andraste, whether you have or not is not for me to decide, they look to you for hope, guidance. Of course the Breach is a matter only you seem equipped to deal with, a factor in this as well. What you choose will shape the future of Thedas. It is a burden no one wants to deal with, but which everyone will come to expect you to be able to handle, as Andraste’s Herald.” Leliana told her.
“I don’t want to add anymore wood to the fire here, it’s no secret to me that no one implicitly trusts me. I’m trying to improve that for myself, not make it worse. Cassandra was quite adamant she’d prefer the Templars, and I could guess very well that Cullen doesn’t particularly wish a bunch of mages hanging around. I couldn’t begin to think what Josephine might want…” she shrugged hopelessly.
“Josephine is a bit more open to the subject. I’m sure whatever you pick won’t trouble her one way or the other so long as it accomplishes what it was meant to and doesn’t blow up in our faces. An alliance with either has that potential. As much as you may not wish it, you will have to be the one to ensure the peace is kept, though you will not be alone in it. Cullen is more than capable of handling anyone who steps out of line, as can I. Cassandra can in a pinch, but I doubt she’ll involve herself as much. Believe it or not, even Josie can deal with a scuffle if it comes to it.” She said with a laugh.
“You’re asking me to bark at the sheep to keep them in order…” Fenina mumbled.
“I would never ask such a thing. I want to make this very clear. I do not see you as an animal. I see nothing beastly about you, nor do I fear you in the least. What I see is a frightened girl who was thrown into a situation she knows nothing about, and is doing the best she can. I will stand behind you on this, you won’t be alone.” She told her seriously. “So what I’m asking of you now is to go into that war room with your head held high and tell the others what it is you want to do.”
Her hand went to her arm, sweeping it loosely, staring at the ground. At that particular moment, asking such a thing felt impossible, but if she was so certain of the response, there was little course but to try. Exhaling slowly, she nodded, gesturing towards the chantry. If she was expected to do this much, it might be best to practice a little while she could. Cracking her neck to the sides, she rolled her shoulders like she was preparing for something more strenuous and physically taxing than the reality.
“Very well. Leliana, gather the others. I’ll be waiting inside.” she said.
It felt strange to say, like the words themselves were a taste she wasn’t sure she liked. Leliana strode off with purpose, and Fenina watched only a few seconds longer before heading inside. It felt uncomfortable standing so straight, almost rigid, a far cry from the normal way she carried herself, purposely trying to appear as small and inoffensive as possible in the vain hope people wouldn’t take too much notice of her, wouldn’t look too closely. She pushed open the door, surprised at just how much force it slammed open with, closing just as loudly. Out of view of anyone now, she flinched, the sound almost oppressive to her. She leaned against the table, pretending to take serious note of the happenings across the map, hoping her expression was one that said she was completely invested in some grand strategy to fix the problems presented. In truth, she was just trying to stop the tight knots growing in her stomach from worsening to the point of being physically sick. Throwing up in front of everyone was decidedly not in her agenda for the day, at least.
“Well, I’m curious to hear what she sees in all this. She’s seen both sides, she had to have lent it a lot of thought.” Josephine said, Cassandra, Cullen and Leliana trailing in behind her.
“Ah, you see? Already thinking ahead. That’s...actually a little impressive.” Cullen said.
That much was going well, thankfully. It did appear that she was lost in thought. How long was too long to wait to speak? No one taught her these things, and this was the first time she recalled a conscious, desperate wish that someone had.
“You called for us, Herald?” Cassandra said.
Fenina swept her tongue over her lower lip, trying to ease the intense dryness that struck her throat, the overly chapped feel that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Pushing up from the table, she forced herself to look each in the eye, consciously reminding herself that they expected a decision, a solid reason, not some meek attempt to stumble over a justification of her choices.
“I know what comes next. I’ve decided to go after the mages as my choice. Before anyone complains, I want it known this is not due to any particular affinity that I feel with them, or to serve as an extension of their rebellion. I will not be used so easily, and I stand firm in this. What I saw in Redcliffe worries me enough to want to take them off the board as a potential weapon against us, and would instead wield them as our own. I will secure the aid of the mages, and with their assistance, I will close the Breach.” She said, almost an order in its own right.
It was only too obvious there was some disagreement with her statement, Cassandra shifting uneasily in place, her arms folded tightly across her chest, Cullen kneading the back of his neck, his lips parted like he intended to say something, but neither did. It wasn’t that they were afraid to speak, that, she would have known immediately. Could it really be as simple as Leliana’s advice had worked better than she imagined? To her it hadn’t sounded especially commanding, but maybe her tone had left no room to argue.
“That just leaves figuring out how to get inside the castle…” Cassandra said.
“I don’t mean to be the one to ruin this, but I should remind everyone that even during the Blight, Redcliffe Castle didn’t fall. There’s no way in, it just isn’t going to work.” Cullen sighed.
“There has to be a way in. I’m not keen on the idea, but I’d take a water pipe, even a large enough sewer drain if I had no other choice. Multiple exits, a balcony, anything . Find me a way in and I can make this work.” Fenina said, pressing her fingertips against her temples. “Give me something.”
“There is a way in. The family could use it as an alternate means in or out of the castle without notice. We can use that. You, however, will be going through the front.” Leliana said.
“What have you got, and why don’t I think I’m going to like this?” she asked.
“The magister was displeased that your last meeting ended where it did and asked for you by name to appear in person, under the auspices of continuing where you left off.” Leliana said.
“Oh, lovely. One trap wasn’t enough, I see. Ma nuvenin. If he wishes to lure me into his net, then he’ll get it, I’m more than well equipped for getting out of it before he can catch me.” she growled aggressively.
“I don’t like this. Risking you is not an option. There has to be a different way to do this.” Cullen said, frowning.
“I’ve been under the impression these modifications were a curse. Let me at least make them my blessing for once. Let me discover for myself if I truly am more than a beast. It’s a lot to ask, but I am asking. Let me prove myself, give me the chance to show you I can be trusted.” she said.
Cassandra sighed. “I will put myself at your disposal. At the very least, you shouldn’t go alone.”
“Just remember, no unnecessary risks, you above all have to come back. Without you, this has all been pointless.” Josephine added.
“This is going to take some time to arrange, several days at least. If you’ve other matters to attend to, now would be an opportune time to handle them. Lady Montilyet has already said all that I would have said, no need to repeat it. If, instead you have nothing else to see to, it’s a fine time to rest up.” Cullen told her.
In fact there was something else for her to look into, a bit of business in the Storm Coast, and a matter Leliana herself had asked her to check out. Were it not for those, she might have settled on rest and perhaps another ill advised attempt at trying a little harder to fit in.
“That was all I had. I do have some business, I’ll set off in the morning. With any luck, by the time I return, preparations will be taken care of. We’re keeping a nice pace, I’d like to keep the momentum going while there’s little enough stopping us.” she said.
Fenina waited until everyone had left to make her exit, jumping nervously when someone grabbed her shoulder. It was Leliana, her appearance surprising enough that she completely missed her scent nearby. Her heart smashed into her chest loudly, though it settled quickly.
“Did you need something else?” she asked quietly.
“Only to say that you did very well in there. You looked and acted every bit the leader people are looking for.” she said.
“I’m no leader. You, Josephine, Cullen, Cassandra. The Inquisition has all the leadership it requires without me trying to make my ascendancy. I’ve neither the desire nor the will to lead anything, my lady.” she mumbled guiltily.
“You’re wrong about that. We assist the Inquisition, but there is no one actually in charge. There’s been no need for it, we are yet a small enough gathering that it isn’t problematic. Rest assured when I say that there has been no active search to change that either, no need to concern yourself with being volunteered for it either. I do suspect you have the potential to be a leader in you, however. I saw it very clearly in there.” she explained.
“If you knew how hard that was, you might change your mind about that.” she laughed.
“I wouldn’t. A good leader should be capable of making decisions even when they’re hard. Sometimes there are matters that are not so obvious, there isn’t always just black and white choices, areas become grey very easily, and someone who can choose, despite that, is what I would say constitutes a fine leader.” she said.
“If it came down to it, I’m sure I could, but again I remind you I’m not exactly what people want. Speaking strictly as a Dalish mage, I’m the last thing people would want. Even if I could ignore the rest, and even if everyone else could as well, there’s no way anyone would line up to follow me.” she said, frowning deeply.
“Theoretically, if you were to lead the Inquisition, I have no doubt people would fall in. I think you think very little of yourself, and honestly, I believe you’re wrong about who and what you are. You see only the monster you perceive yourself to be. At your core, you’re still the same girl you were before, you’re willfully blinding yourself to that side of yourself, and people are taking their cues from that. Give it a chance. Try to recall who you were and be that girl again, the response will reflect it.” Leliana said. “Watch closely. You’re afraid to hurt those you get close to, right?”
Fenina gave a slow nod, of course she was. How could she not be when the memory of someone dying against her own body was still fresh in her mind? Leliana reached for her hands, her palms flat against her own, raising them enough to bring them clearly into view.
“Don’t…” she said quietly.
“No, you will look as I’ve asked.” she said demandingly. “Look at this. I’m touching you of my own free will, and nothing has happened. Nothing is happening, and nothing will happen. Don’t you see? You can put yourself around others without fear of hurting them.”
It didn’t immediately quell the terror coursing through her entire body, but at least it seemed like she was right about it. So far, nothing had happened, a promising sign one might say. Her hands were warm, no pressure applied, a very gentle touch, foreign in its entirety. She could no longer remember the last time she found even the simplest appreciation for basic contact from before all this. She was tempted to believe it had to be Eirlen. If not him, then her mother, family of some kind, Victor didn’t touch her unless he had to, unless it was punishment or hauling her around if she refused to move at his command. No, she remembered being beaten quite clearly, the way he struck her mercilessly, kicked her until she curled up, unable to move from the sheer agony ripping through her, bruised and marked to the point she no longer recognized her own face in the shiny teapot he demanded she serve him from daily. Those first experiments had been hell, unable to heal half as quickly, he would only become more enraged if she didn’t see to his cleaning and serving him, even when all she could manage was to drag herself across the floor, barely conscious. Creators help her if she spilled even a drop with her shaking hands. It was impossible to think more of herself, when those memories flooded back every time she closed her eyes, woke her from a fragile sleep, or terrified her dreams when she dared to chance a deeper rest. Sighing, she stared at the woman in front of her.
“Perhaps I can, but I’ve been burned before. Others may learn to embrace me as I am, but it is not so easy to do the same.” she managed, pulling her hands away. “I may not look it, but I am just as afraid of others as they are of me.”
Echoing sentiments growing familiar to her these days, she shook her head in a way that said she pitied her. “What did that man do to you?”
Turning away, she took a few steps towards the door before she hung her head, her answer a quiet one. “He broke my spirit. I endeavor to put it together only to discover I don’t yet hold all the pieces. Perhaps someday, it will not be so hard.”
Cullen wasn’t used to being a messenger, but he was told this was important, that Fenina would definitely need to see the neatly rolled parchment Leliana handed him. The girl wasn’t particularly hard to find, hunched over under the shade of one of the few trees to be found in the yard, her hood further dimming the light that struck her eyes. He couldn’t imagine how sensitive they must be for her to so rarely be seen without it. Maybe it hurt, he didn’t really know, only that he’d seen her strange pupils at work, the thinnest of slits the few times he’d chance to see them. She was staring intently at something, and it only took following her line of sight to figure it out. When she returned, it was with a mercenary group, and a Warden, he couldn’t say where she’d found them, but he didn’t think to question the help the Inquisition was getting from the alliances she’d made.
“Is The Iron Bull the first Qunari you’ve seen?” he asked finally.
Fenina gave a slight nod, not looking away yet. “Have you seen many?”
“Plenty in Kirkwall. I dearly hope he’s not half as hostile…” he sighed. “Forgive me, I should be telling you you’ve done well, we asked you to look for opportunities, and you have…”
“I find him a little unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, I like him fine so far, just that I don’t know what to make of him. Did you know Qunari don’t get married? He told me as much, but I’m at a loss. Bonding is very important to my people, our numbers are low, we’re expected to settle down and have children. I can’t imagine anyone would be thrilled about the prospect of being bound to me like this.” she said, her thoughts trailing off.
Cullen sighed again, sinking to the ground next to her. It distracted her, staring at him like he’d just sat in ivy without realizing. Her gaze wandered over him briefly, before she diverted her attention instead to her hands. He never understood how she could be so observant all the time without looking half the time. He hadn’t had the stomach to read beyond one entry of the papers she’d brought back, and in truth, it made him feel even worse about the way he’d treated her. It was difficult to remember she was, at her core, just a very overwhelmed girl far from home. Varric had suggested if he felt so bad, maybe he should try a little harder to get to know her, good for a team dynamic or some such excuse.
“Do you mind if I sit here? I should have asked sooner…” he mumbled.
These little interactions often went over his head too, he was accustomed to focusing more on his duties than bothering with talking to people without need. The small things went forgotten so easily.
“It’s fine, as long as you don’t mind.” she said.
“Why would I mind? If anything, you saved my life, you haven’t exactly hurt me, I have no reason not to feel comfortable around you.” he said.
“That’s a lie.” she said, tapping her nose. “Your scent just changed. Still, I won’t lie, I appreciate the company.”
Okay, so maybe he was still just a little concerned she might not be able to control her abilities completely. He didn’t particularly want to find himself skewered by accident, but he kept reminding himself that she had yet to hurt anyone in the camp, though the opportunities were definitely plentiful if that was her goal. Frowning, he stared down at the parchment, handing it to her after a moment. Why was it so difficult to just stop worrying about her?
“What’s this?” she asked, her brows raised.
“I don’t actually know. I was asked to see that you got it, it’s supposed to be important.” he said.
Fenina unraveled it, her eyes widening immediately. Whatever it was was absolutely more important that he expected if it made her look that surprised. They darted back and forth, her lips moving just a little, like she wanted to read it out loud, but couldn’t manage. When she finished, she rolled it back up, looking for all the world like she was debating a serious matter with herself. Before he had a chance to question what she was thinking about, she flung herself at him, knocking him over with the force of the sudden embrace. He groaned at the impact, glancing up at her, her eyes lit up with what he could only assume was happiness, and the smile on her face was a genuine kind he had never seen. It was infectious, he couldn’t help but smile at...well, he still didn’t know what, but when she squeezed him tighter, it took several moments to realize he had returned the gesture without thinking about it. Embarrassment aside, he was fine, she was fine, she was this close, and nothing was happening.
“Good news, I take it?” he asked.
She slowly let go, sitting back up. Her hand shot out to pull him back up and she nodded eagerly. “It’s from my clan...I...thought maybe it’s been so long they’ve forgotten me, assumed me dead or something...my mother has missed me, the clan has been awaiting my return. I...I’m wanted after all. After all this, I am still wanted. They say she knows I have something important to do, and they’ll wait for me to come home. The really interesting part is some of them have volunteered to make the trip, to assist my efforts. My brother will be among them. He’s coming here!”
“That’s great news, I’m very happy to hear it. One less worry on your mind, right?” he asked.
That much he knew very well. Family was both a blessing and a curse, how long had he neglected to write to his family? Part of him hoped they’d just forget about him, but deep down he missed them dearly. Compared to most of the clans he heard about, hers sounded nice, willing to overlook the things forced on her, her long absence, and her presence in the service of humans, under the banner of a faith not their own? Very forgiving indeed.
“Yes, I am...relieved. Perhaps...maybe if my family can accept me even like this...maybe…” she stopped.
He figured he knew what she wanted to say, maybe she wouldn’t suffer for trying a little harder to connect with the people here. The thought must still worry her if she couldn’t finish it even now. He wasn’t good with these things, he didn’t like that look, but he wasn’t quite sure how to make it go away. Hesitantly, he put a hand on her head, patting gently. He thought better of it after it was too late, she wasn’t exactly a mabari, didn’t even look as out of place as she might have thought, save her eyes for the most part. Perhaps her teeth were a little sharper than they should be, but he was no expert on such things. Still, he’d heard somewhere she was a twin, and if her brother really was making the trip, it was at least an opportunity to get some idea of what she looked like before.
“Interesting…” she said quietly.
“What is?” he wondered.
“That fear. It’s gone, you smell completely different now…” she told him.
It was one she wasn’t quite familiar with, certainly, but fear had a very distinctive scent, and that wasn’t this. Maybe it just took some people a little longer than others to get past it? No. No questions, questions to her meant slowly turning into Victor. It meant getting too curious about dissecting the essence of people like they weren’t important beyond what they could be broken down into. People were more than a list of traits. Cullen sniffed his sleeves curiously, trying to decide if he could tell or not. He couldn’t, but perhaps it had to do with the cold. Mostly everyone seemed to live with a runny nose, whether they mentioned it or not, that was half the reason anyone bothered with the food they served, without being able to properly smell it, it wasn’t half bad. Fenina was probably the only one who seemed grateful for it, and didn’t look like she was miserable. He’d heard a rumor it was because she hadn’t eaten real food in ages, and even the slop here was better than nothing at all.
“I’ll uh...take your word for it.” he said decisively. “I should go. I have to get back to work. Although...If you’d like to talk again sometime, I wouldn’t mind that.”
She was inoffensive enough, the idea of subjecting himself to her presence for a while with no particular goals didn’t seem as bad as it had before. That was shocking enough to him, he liked to stay busy, and he had no great love for small talk. Varric had been trying to get people to get to know her anyway, maybe he was just better at that than he initially assumed.
“I…” she began uncertainly. “Sure, yeah. That sounds alright.”
Truthfully, most of the people here, she wasn’t quite sure about. Sera was too energetic for her, and Vivienne gave her that look she didn’t like, like she knew she was not only better than her, but everyone else as well. Bull was still an unknown to her, and Blackwall? Something was off about him, not afraid of her like most seemed to be, but his body language said he wasn’t exactly being honest when they spoke. The few topics they’d touched on hardly seemed worth lying over. Cullen was fine. She could handle being around him, and if he was the one bringing it up, that had to mean he wanted to, right? Wasn’t that supposed to be a good thing? There was so much she didn’t know, and it was unlikely she’d pick it up by just watching. Between Cullen, Varric and Leliana, maybe she could figure it out a little bit better.
“Well, I’m very glad to hear your news. I must apologize, but I really should get back to work.” he said.
“Yes. I have business as well, right? Getting ready to go…” she sighed, more a reminder to herself.
“Redcliffe.” he nodded. “I feel a little bad about always having to throw you at people who want you dead. I wish there was another way, but since you have the mark, you’re the one people want to deal with.”
“I’d like it if someone else could do it.” she admitted. “I really don’t like this much attention. Still, if it has to be me, I’ll see it through, and beyond that, I’ll come back. No one has seen all my tricks yet, I’m certain whatever happens, I can handle.”
“I don’t doubt that in the least.” he laughed.
Victor had done all this in the name of making her into the perfect weapon, and while it was certainly helping to keep her alive, she was most interested in showing him just how wrong he was in choosing her. When the Breach was sealed, maybe she could divert more of her focus to finding him, the sooner the better to remove that threat. She watched Cullen walk away, pushing herself to stand. That line of thinking had her motivated to get this done so she could focus on hunting her prey.
Fenina eyed the door suspiciously. Even with the advice Dorian had to offer, the idea of messing with something this serious was making her feel like maybe this was a bad idea after all. That or it could be that she woke up in pain the likes she hadn’t felt in sometime. It could just be after effects, but that concerned her, being at less than her best meant unnecessary risks, but it was too late to turn around now. Time magic was something foreign to her, and she had no idea how it would affect her, or the others for that matter. The only thing going her way was finding some clothes with plenty of extra give, enough that it was one less thing to worry about, and it looked cheap so there was no guilt in the idea that she might have to scrap it on return.
“I suppose I’m ready if you are.” she muttered.
Unsure what to expect, she’d settled on bringing Solas, Dorian and Iron Bull, the latter because he looked plenty sturdy, and if nothing else, he could probably completely block anything just by virtue of being so huge . Put him in between her and whatever was trying to attack, and she imagined there were few places as safe to stand. They nodded, and she walked in, trying to keep her expression as blank as she could. Tipping him off right away was a terrible plan. Didn’t matter, she could already figure out the setup. None of these guards belonged here, they were his people. Leliana’s men should very nearly be in place, she only had to buy a few minutes. She recalled very clearly that they spoke, but it wasn’t much longer after that the world went dark and she felt wet and cold.
“Are you alright?” Dorian asked.
Pushing herself up, she shook her hands vigorously, trying to dry them off. Her pupils relaxed, widening to accommodate the dimmer light. It looked like a dungeon. Why was it always a dungeon?
“I’m fine, I think.” she sighed.
A few guards broke into the room, startled by the noise. Dorian backed away, ice and fire slinging past her quickly. She flicked her wrist firmly, one of her bones extending out far enough for her to grab. No time like the present to test her pending theory. Holding it loosely, it felt plenty solid, and they were supposed to be more solid than was normal, surely it could hold up to a steel sword any day. Battle was like a dance, every swing and step a calculated maneuver that asked a person to be light on their feet one moment and sturdily planted the next, the blocks and counters all an intricate addition to it. If anything, while she was still plenty graceful in her steps, she was no soldier, and it was hard to get in decent blows without losing ground to block when needed. Between Dorian and her, they fell quickly enough, but it was still quite obvious she could use a little practice. The idea to try and fire smaller bits of bones like projectiles had also crossed her mind a time or two, but the knowledge that it would likely hurt quite a lot held her back. This was no place to mess around with new strategies. At least she could credit Varric with adding to the possibilities, Bianca was an unexpected inspiration after all.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” He asked, following her through the halls “It looks like it should hurt a lot.”
“I’m used to this much. It doesn’t hurt as much as you think.” she said.
Holding up her arm to show him, he poked the spot curiously, the feeling completely solid. No trace of the opened wound remained, and yet the one she held was still there. He had never seen anything like it, though that served to remind her that he hadn’t yet been apprised of her unique nature , to put it delicately. Strangely, it didn’t seem to put him off in the same way it had others, he was clearly more curious than disgusted.
“You do this often?” he wondered.
Fenina stopped, sniffing the air curiously. “Looks like the others are down here.” judging by the rows of cells, this was the the actual castle dungeon. “Yes. I do it often. Before you ask, no, it is not the only such thing I can use.”
“That seems useful. No concern about losing your weapons, at least.” he suggested.
“I’m never unarmed. Without your staff, you can still cast spells. I can too.” she said.
He laughed, and she didn’t understand why. She didn’t think there was anything humorous about such a topic.
“ Unarmed. You used your arm. It’s funny.” he mumbled, trying to explain it.
Solas was the first one they came across, and he wasn’t looking good in the least. He looked sick, smelled like death. He said as much after the initial surprise of seeing them alive had worn off, he was dying. A year into the future and things had changed this much. Worse than she suspected then, although it occurred to her, if they weren’t meant to exist in this future, and they were sent from the past, the real Solas and Bull were probably still back in the room. It made her wonder if somehow the year long gap would have affected them in any way.
“Can you keep up? I know Bull is still down here too, but if you’re in this condition...he must be about the same. Dorian and I can handle this if you’re not up to it.” she said quietly.
“Missing out on this is not in my plans. I’m coming with.” he said.
Bull, if anything, seemed more uncomfortably surprised than Solas had been, and had spent quite a time arguing their existence before the shock wore off. Bull wanted to fight, and yet somehow that was no longer surprising to her, he liked the challenge. Not her, fighting was never something she enjoyed, and it was only out of necessity at first. That until it was beaten into her that she had no choices anymore, even here, now, that lesson hadn’t left her. When it came to it, there was no more hesitation once she determined there was no option for discourse. This darker future wasn’t the reality, not yet, not unless they couldn’t get back. Things done here could yet be erased, and something inside her said there was no point in holding anything back, no point in trying to spare anyone this time.
“You don’t look so well, are you alright?” Solas asked.
She snapped to attention, the faint hum of a foreign need pushed back. Something was certainly wrong, but it was something she couldn’t even begin to put her finger on. The burning in her veins, the fog in her mind, and the pain, even now it hadn’t subsided. It was like fighting with herself for control of something she didn’t understand.
“Yes...I’m fine. Let’s not waste anymore time. If we can stop this we should figure out how to get to Alexius, and go from there…” she hissed through her teeth.
“Boss, you’re not okay…” Bull muttered.
She was shaking visibly, the color in her skin gone in favor of an almost deathly pallor. Dorian reached for her arm again, wondering if perhaps she wasn’t as fixed as she looked. No blood, no wound, still no reason for her to look that way.
“I’ll survive. If we must talk, let’s do it while we’re moving.” she huffed. “This is nothing new. The last round didn’t appear to do anything, I think it’s catching up to me. Whatever it’s doing was only delayed, I’m trying to hold it back as much as I can.”
“If that is indeed the case, we should hurry. This only gets more perilous if this gets any worse.” Solas said.
“I won’t hurt you. There’s nothing to concern yourself with, I can still walk, I can still fight. Don’t write me off just yet…” Fenina said.
Chapter 12: We Ourselves Must Walk The Path
In the aftermath of Redcliffe, Dorian recounts what he remembers. Solas tries to find the connections to her present condition. Fenina doesn't want to wait to tackle the Breach.
Dorian paced the edge of her bed, having rifled through the crates of dusty books that were anything but helpful. As he suspected, aside from her, he was the only one who remembered what happened in the future they saw. He didn’t feel the need to share everything about what happened, not and let at least three people know the awful ends they met. He took a seat at the edge of her bed, Redcliffe had been a week past, the mages allied with the Inquisition, but shortly after they left the castle, Fenina dropped, out cold and struggling for this long. The healers had tried to counteract whatever was happening with her, but had made no progress. It was actually Cassandra who practically ordered Solas to see what he could do to help, since he had apparently been the one to keep the magical mark on her hand from killing her.
“I’m at a loss as to why you’re so troubled by a girl you barely know.” Solas commented.
He tested her temperature with a frustrated sigh. Still burning up, not even a slight change in that, not for the better at least. It would have been helpful if Victor’s notes were more inclusive, more thorough, better still, if they had him in a position where he couldn’t escape and managed to get him to talk, he could help her more effectively. Of course, he also couldn’t say what might have occurred while they were absent from the room, he had heard only that the castle was filled with red lyrium, that it was to the point of people turning into it to be harvested for more. She’d been exposed to plenty without ill effect, and she didn’t display any of the symptoms Varric had mentioned his brother had.
“She tried to protect me. I told her I’d protect her .” Dorian muttered. “I can’t help but feel like this is at least partially my fault. I pushed her into helping the mages, I got us stuck in that future, and I am the reason she’s like this.”
“As I recall, you prevented Alexius from obliterating her from history entirely. That has to count for something.” Solas said. “What do you mean she tried to protect you?”
Answering that question might yield something useful, or maybe not, he couldn’t possibly know without first hearing what had occurred.
“We were making good time, reached Alexius without much trouble. I was trying to undo the spell, and...something happened, and demons broke in. I told her we shouldn’t move, or it could cause trouble we didn’t need. I saw her hit her knees, and her flesh was moving. She looked scared, I remember the fear in her eyes vividly, every time I close my eyes. I knew whatever was happening had to hurt, she scraped gashes in her legs, bit her lip bloody, and the sound , that sound was so unsettling. A screeching howl that would make the Maker himself jump…” He recounted quietly.
“Yes, I understand, but I need to know what physically happened to her. This is important, I might be able to narrow down the list of possibilities…” he said.
Her pulse had been weak and thready earlier, but now, now it was racing. He could practically hear her heart and he wasn’t particularly in a proximity where he should hear it. Despite how hot she felt, her breath shuddered like she was freezing, her hands clammy and shaking. More responsive than she had been, but it wasn’t enough. He glanced up to make sure Dorian hadn’t left already, he was still there, but he seemed distracted. Perhaps he was trying to recall the situation, he was giving him the benefit of the doubt that he hadn’t simply drifted off in thought on him.
“Dorian?” Solas says.
“Like wings, that’s the only way to describe it. It was like the wings on the dragon statues back home. Bone, obviously, somewhere between hollow in places and very thick in other places. I knew it had to hurt from the start, but she shielded us with them, kept the demons away even after parts of them began to fracture. I figured it was a one time thing, they fell off shortly before we went through. She shouldn’t be like this, nothing happened that should have caused this.” Dorian blurted.
“No, that may be just the thing. Whatever is happening this time is perhaps more strain than her body was prepared for. If it was delayed for so long, then it’s possible it built up with no other way out then to attack her from the inside. If true, I’d guess there’s not much to be done except to letter her rest up and try to tackle the fever at least.” Solas sighed.
It wasn’t the conclusion he hoped to reach, if it were something like a simple cold-related illness he could have had her up and walking. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be a problem too big to fix, like the mark flaring up uncontrollably. She’d survived plenty of this, the entire reason she was a necessity to the research in the first place, the man might have administered it knowing it might kill her, but understanding that progressing with it meant he had little choice but to risk her. One thing he hadn’t realized was just how many scars she had for someone who could heal the way she could. Leliana had dropped by to change her clothes, after a healer had washed her down, and he couldn’t help but notice the way they stood out. There was nothing she had brought back to explain those, and Solas had a chance to see that he was nothing if not meticulous in the way he recorded everything obsessively. The one conclusion he could draw from that is that he didn’t include them because he had caused them. They weren’t a result of what he had been trying to do, so to him they weren’t important details. Certainly it would also explain the almost skittish way he’d seen her react around some people, especially if they caught her off guard.
“I can’t help but wonder what she must have been like before all of this.” he mumbled, more to himself.
“I find it curious that you would assume her any different. The wrapping might be different, but that doesn’t have to mean the present is.” Dorian shrugged.
“Is that more of a statement on her or you. A reminder that you claim to be different from others of your homelands?” Solas asked skeptically.
Before they could discuss it further, the door opened and Cullen walked in, sighing. “No change?”
“Not much yet, but I believe she’ll be fine in a few days. Are the mages already ready to leave?” Solas asked.
“No, not yet. Apparently they’re still trying to make demands. We’re having some trouble handling it, I was told to take a moment to check on her and report back, so we can try to prepare what we can without her. When she wakes up, I’m certain she’ll be pleased to hear we can move with little trouble. Um...when she’s ready, of course. I don’t think anyone expects her to hop out of bed and be ready to leave right away.” he said, quickly explaining himself.
“I have a feeling that might be exactly what you should expect. She really hasn’t struck me as someone who puts things off for too long. Besides, I’m certain she already knew to expect that she might have to help keep the mages under control, Leliana mentioned as much when she stopped by before.” Solas said.
He checked again, her pulse was still far faster than it should be, and it still seemed like she was burning up at an unsafe degree. Solas stood up, preparing to take a short break to stretch, when he noticed Cullen’s sudden attention on her. Glancing back over her shoulder, she sat up slowly, her movements slow and jerky, like she was having trouble convincing her body to cooperate with her brain.
“Herald, are you --” Cullen began.
Fenina hastily grabbed the pillow, holding it like a shield over her head. The bare light in the room felt almost blinding at the moment. She nodded slowly, clearing her throat quietly.
“I’m feeling better.” she said.
“You shouldn’t try to move so quickly, you have a very high fever and your heart is working overtime.” Solas cautioned.
Turning her palms up, she examined them curiously like she’d never seen them before. After a few moments, she brought her arm to her lips, shrugging. “I don’t feel warmer than usual. I need to get up, how long have I been asleep?”
“A week.” Dorian and Cullen said almost in unison.
That news seemed to surprise her, but instead of questioning it, she tried instead to get up. Had Dorian not been so quick on his feet, she would have toppled to the floor. He barely managed to snag her arm on her way down.
“Perhaps you really should lay back down.” he sighed.
“Give me a bit, my legs fell asleep, that’s all.” she said. “Besides, if I couldn’t do that much, I feel like that would mean after all this, I’m defective, somehow broken. I refuse to accept that. I’m not going down from this, I’m stronger than that. I will not let him win.”
Her voice was breaking, almost distressed towards the end. Her hands were shaking, whatever had struck her mind was troubling her. After a minute or so, she pushed Dorian’s hand from hers, crossing the short distance to the door, more stable this time. Cullen couldn’t help but wonder if she was really alright or if she was just pushing herself more than she needed to. If she wasn’t well, she was free to rest longer while they had a chance, the Breach was still stable, the mages weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere, it’s not like anyone would tell her she couldn’t. That in mind, what could possibly be the reason to want to deal with it when she wasn’t at her best?
“I really think this isn’t a smart idea.” Solas told her.
“And I really think I don’t like that hole staying up there. I can do something about it, I intend to. Then, I should be free to resume my own search, yes?” she said.
“If all goes as it should, then I imagine you’ll have plenty of time to do so, yes. I’m certain Leliana and her men are more than capable of helping you out with that as well, since resources won’t be focused on dealin with the Breach any longer.” Cullen said.
“Wonderful. Then what are we waiting for?” she asked.
Chapter 13: The Beast Inside
The first quote is actually from All Hope Is Gone (by Slipknot). I almost went with Bat Country.
"He who makes a beast out of themselves, gets rid of the pain of being a man."
But I figured this painted the picture better than I could.
“The Hell is humongous, the Devil’s among us and we will burn because we won’t unite.” - A mysterious scrap of paper found wedged under a book in the Herald’s home.
The camp came to life with song and dance, barely a soul in Haven not celebrating the closure of the Breach, save for the Herald herself, labored enough as it was by trying to keep herself on her feet. Whatever was waging a war on her this time was enough to make what appeared to be the very act of living a gargantuan effort. A young elven healer managed to talk her into sitting long enough for him to look at her, though she tried to shoo him away. Eventually, she relented, hunched over on a low stone wall while he tried his best to ease her discomforts, though any could see the tension in the picture was entirely due to what she thought she might do to him. When he was certain there was nothing else he could do for her, he spoke with her at length, trying to keep her calm. That was about the time the alarm sounded, trouble coming down the mountains. Josephine hauled the man away, ushered off with whoever else she could round to the Chantry, those with no proficiency in combat, those simply too old to outlast a fight like this, and the locals mostly. A fair number of wounded, leaving what looked to be a dismal force of remaining soldiers, and the mages.
Fenina forced herself back to her feet, heading for the gate, an arm slung across her chest like she was trying to keep all her insides from spilling out on her, though there were no wounds. Her fingertips dug into her shoulder, trying very hard to look like it wasn’t as agonizing as the feeling truly was.
“Where do you need me, Commander?’ She asked.
Cullen turned around, about to suggest some places she might be useful until he saw her. The sheer amount of men to the opposition made this scenario likely enough to end in death as it was, they simply weren’t ready for a battle like this, and without her, that was a guarantee. He knew that, knew how many lives would be on his head for this, but there was no helping it.
“You’re in no shape to fight. Just...go to the Chantry. All we can do now is wait…” Cullen sighed.
“I’m staying put. I will not hide like some mouse and wait for the end to claim me!” She snarled.
Cullen stared at her for a moment. She had never once taken a tone that serious, that dangerous . It just wasn’t her, she was gentle, quiet, and kept to herself to avoid hurting others. It was like she’d changed in seconds, but in a flash, she was back again.
“I’m sorry...let me stay. This is what I was made for…let me fulfill my purpose... “ she mumbled.
Cullen frowned. She had a life before all this, family, maybe friends, other people who meant so much more for her than this, and somehow she had been brainwashed, twisted to believe her only meaning was to fight, when it was clear she took no pleasure in it, didn’t like the way it felt to kill someone. If he had any other options, he’d have insisted she flee, the best chance for Thedas was if she ran as far away as she could.
“You have me at a disadvantage here. Any chance we might have requires all able hands…” he sighed. “You’re in no condition, you’re barely standing and despite what Solas says, I’m not sure you’re in any condition to be trying to fight. The Breach took all you had…”
“Wouldn’t you really like to see?” she asked curiously.
“See what?” Cullen asked almost bitterly.
It was clear he had nothing for this, no strategies for such a sudden war breaking out on their doorstep, and Haven was cluttered, no way around without getting directly in the way.
“If your Maker really sent me?” she asked gently.
He looked like he was lending it consideration, before he shook his head. “I don’t need proof. Faith means we don’t always see what we want, but that shouldn’t blunt our belief. You came to us when we needed you most, fought alongside us even when you began as our prisoner. You stuck with us through the fear and the doubt and the way you’ve been treated. You don’t need a magical mark for me to believe what they say.”
“Then do me a favor…” she asked.
She clenched her teeth, hissing a heavy breath out between them, nails digging painfully into her palms, her body stiffening visibly for a second before she staved it off again.
“What do you need?” he questioned.
He put his hands on her shoulders, trying to both keep her on her feet and stabilize her enough to keep her from falling.
“Get everyone out of here. Get to the Chantry.” she begged.
“Why? You have no chance if we abandon you now…” he told her.
“Because...I can’t hold this back for much longer, I’m...afraid. I may be more of a danger to you and the others if you stay, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I don’t want you to have to see what I might do...I can’t...I can’t.” she gasped.
Fenina hurriedly brushed his hands away, pushing him back from her. He finally relented, sounding the retreat. Maybe she imagined it, but she could have sworn she saw a young man tailing after him as waves of soldiers and mages retreated on his command. She watched them disappear, just in time for waves of Templars to smash through the gates, a dragon overhead. Her blood felt like it was burning in her veins, and her vision swam before her.
“Alright Victor, let’s see what you’ve done this time…” she groaned, sinking to her knees. Falling over like she was prostrating herself before the swarm, the last pang of full consciousness hit her. “Elgar’nan...ma halani... “
Then there was nothing. Cold, darkness, and fading sounds. This must be what death felt like, all that was left was for Falon’Din to take her hand and guide her.
Like a cold spark, her body rose, like she was in there, but as an unwilling witness. She dashed towards the room she stayed in, catching her reflection in the shattered glass. It wasn’t her, she wasn’t in there anymore, her eyes dead, blank, black . It was like being consumed from the inside out by fire, and a power she didn’t know she had filled her, compounded with something else entirely, an overflow of magical energy, a sense that she had to do whatever it took to escape this alive. Whatever it took to eliminate the threat, anything .
The air around her swirled, crackled with intense energy, bolts of lightning crashing all around her, leaving scorched marks on the ground, her steps melting the snow under her feet. All she could do was watch as the Templars finally reached her, bones shooting out from bloody flesh all over, and if she could think at all, she might have laughed at how suddenly accurate ‘Prickles’ was. One by one, she pierced, slashed and stabbed through the smaller group, more coming her way. The scent of blood hung thick in the air, putrefaction and the scent of lyrium, in itself twisted and tainted like the men and women it riddled.
Something jerked her back by her hood, just dark enough to see better than normal, dark enough to not hurt. She slammed back into the creature, her spine impaled against him, but his hold not weakening. Another approached from the front, and this time she was ready for it. Her head snapped forward, a solid crack connecting with his, though he recovered quickly. She lunged forward, her teeth clenching at his throat, jerking away, the tang of metal in her mouth, quickly spat out, but not enough to erase the memory of the taste. The air held the scent of burning flesh, a sign some of the intense bolts had found their targets.
Fire burst forth from her palms, licking her bones, her nose wrinkling at the way it smelled. The scene around Haven as she bounded from group to group was one of carnage, rent limbs and sundered skulls, the snow a red field of grotesque flowers. She reached the end of the path, staring up at the trebuchet in thought. That might work. Undeterred, she spun the dial, pushing her body to the limits, her bones erupting all over, a barrier to getting too close while she worked. Between that and the lightning, she managed to get it set up entirely, before the dragon returned, a wall of flame standing between her and the beast, a figure walking through it like it barely realized it had. All she could do was watch as he spoke, raised her up, tried to pry the anchor from her hand, and yet, there was nothing. No feeling beyond the intensity of the fire raging through her, nothing but to watch like she was helpless to do anything but stare out windows instead of seeing through eyes. Only certain things he said stayed in her mind, resonated in her skull, and it seemed like luck that the way he threw her, hitting the mechanism just right to set it off.
She collapsed, rolling through a broken tunnel of some sort. Little by little, she was starting to fight it back again, bits of her seeping back through, shattering the glass that separated her from this...this...thing that had taken over. Examining herself while she wandered through the tunnel, she frowned. Her clothes were stained in blood, bits of things she didn’t want to think about strewn through her hair, her chin itching with drying patches of blood. She didn’t want to think about it, not and realize she had just become every bit the monster she feared she was. Tripping on a ledge, she fell face first in the snow, feeling it melting quickly against her bloodied clothes. Some of her bones retracted back in where others fell off as the wounds they left mended quickly. She could see nothing in the distance, even as she fought hard enough to wrest control from the surge of dormant dragon’s blood.
The very last thing she could recall was the sound of voices as the world once again spun into darkness all around her, the feeling of being lifted and carried, though she couldn’t say who or why. Only that if she was still in danger, she had absolutely nothing left, no more inside to keep fighting, to struggle to cling to life just a moment longer, if it came to it.
Fenina awoke to the same healer she’d seen in Haven hovering over her. She was in a bed she didn’t recognize, kept warm by blankets and a pleasantly crackling fireplace. She opened her mouth to speak, but just that simple action incited a wave of pain through her whole body.
“You shouldn’t move yet. Whatever you did put quite a lot of strain on your entire body, it might be a little while before I can make a dent in this damage…” he told her.
She had pushed it quite far, perhaps it was the wisest option to do as he suggested and stay put. That didn’t change the fact that she had plenty of questions on her mind. He seemed to realize this, setting the cloth he held back into the bowl resting on his lap.
“You have questions...let me see if I can guess them.” he said with a kindly smile. He thoughtfully curled his finger against his chin, trying to imagine what she could be thinking. “I’m a new face, I know. I was actually sent here ahead of your clan, my own had too many mages, you see, and I was taken in, but your Keeper asked that I come here first to take care of you.”
That sounded like her. However distant the rest of the clan felt to her, her mother tried very hard to make her path easier on her. Turns out sending a healer was probably the best gift she could have offered. Fenina managed a slight nod as if to assure him she understood.
“My name is Alwyn.” he told her. “If you’d like the more mundane details, I was born in Antiva, well, the outskirts really...I’m twenty five. Yes, yes, I’m aware I’m older than you, I’m certain you probably thought I wasn’t, right?”
She bit back a laugh, nodding again. She’d thought him maybe around eighteen at most, but it was a mild surprise to learn he was older. The question most on her mind was whether he knew of her relatively unique circumstances. It would be fortuitous if he had some ideas on the matter. Fenina had already given up hope of ever returning to the person she used to be, but if he could somehow lessen the effects, make it manageable, there was nothing she could offer him in return, she had nothing of great enough value in her mind.
His hair was white, a little paler than hers, but his eyes, they were vivid, bright, and made him look more like a work of art than a flesh and blood man. Probably not a bad thing he had taken to healing. Imagine if he had been caught too, he might have actually had it worse off than she did, not something she took lightly. Truthfully, torture and pain only worked for so long before the risk of death was too high. Victor wouldn’t have wanted to lose his pet , his greatest success. Not without need, at least. Perhaps she was simply more resilient than she realized, his attempts to starve her into obedience had failed, partly thanks to the kind woman laying dead in his office, and partly thanks to the need to keep feeding her to ensure his desired changes took place, as absolutely revolting as it was, it was still enough to keep her going. She found herself staring out the window, past the rails of the balcony. The sun was shining, it was warm outside for the season, but it didn’t feel good, not as good as it used to. She felt a hand against her cheek, gently guiding her to look at him once more. He smiled brighter, gesturing around the room before he once more reached for the cloth, wringing it out before laying it over her forehead.
“Your friend, Solas I believe he said his name was. He found this place. The Commander was quite insistent that everything else could wait until you had been tended to properly and were back on your feet.” he told her. “Skyhold, they’re calling it.”
Fenina couldn’t help but ask, even as it wove a fresh layer of pain through her head. How badly did she push herself if this was how she felt? She always healed just fine on her own, but if even that was failing her, it must have been a lot worse than it seemed in the moment.
“Was there something I...ah..ooh…” she gasped. “I needed to see to?”
Alwyn bit his lip, standing to rush to the desk to get her some cold water to drink. He knew it would hurt, but it had been two days that she’d gone without food or water, and while she probably didn’t feel up to eating just yet, she needed the water. He helped her sit up, holding the glass for her while she struggled to drink.
“There is. I’m not really supposed to discuss it, but I’ve been told when you wake up to let Cassandra know, I’ve sent along a messenger, but I really think they’d rather wait until you’re up and about to worry about it.” he told her.
Of course, they’d informed him of what they’d like to do, but they didn’t quite want her to know just yet. Whether it was an attempt to hide it from her until she felt like she couldn’t refuse, or if it really was for her benefit, he couldn’t quite say, only that it wasn’t his business to inform her of the business of people higher up than he was. Instead, he decided it was a better option to change the subject.
“Clan Lavellan has been informed of the new location, thankfully they hadn’t made it as far as Haven, I would grieve the loss as well…” he said. “They should arrive soon enough. On...perhaps a less pleasant topic, one I rather hate bringing up...I’ve had a chance to look over the notes obtained in Orlais in the hopes it might assist me in your care. I couldn’t help but notice...some of the marks I saw were undocumented, some of those scars look...quite deep.”
Fenina dug her teeth hard into her lip, unsure if she had really bitten hard enough to taste blood, or if it was her imagination. Either way, in a few moments the slight pain was gone, and a quick check of her lower lip told her it had already healed. At least she hadn’t lost it completely. Of all the results, that was probably the only one she was actually grateful for. Without that, who knew how many times she would have died, but it wasn’t something she’d ever thank him for. Alwyn gently shushed her, holding his finger to her lips, but not quite touching. He was kind, gentle and all the things she’d stopped expecting from other people, but he also seemed to mind her space. Just in the short time she was conscious, he had refrained from touching her for the most part unless it was needed. It reminded her a little of home, before everything fell apart.
“You don’t have to speak, as I said I know it must hurt to keep trying. I’m certain the medicine I gave you is probably wearing off. I’ll make more shortly. That man...that scholar ...he hurt you, didn’t he? Not all this...I mean...he hurt you beyond that, didn’t he?” he asked hesitantly.
Fenina slowly licked her lips, pointing to the water again. He held it for her until she gave him a sign she was alright. She nodded only once, like it hurt enough just to admit it. Like if she just pretended hard enough, she could make it go away, it had never happened if only she kept thinking it hadn’t. She’d never really thought she was anything special, but she wasn’t weak either, and to know someone like that had ‘put her in her place’ so easily made her realize she hadn’t begun as strong as she thought she was.
“I’m very sorry.” he said. “I’m uncertain what use I could be to you, but if you do think I could help, I would be interested in helping with the search to find him. Something to consider later. Although...and I’m really not just saying this because I disapprove of violence, that’s not entirely it. I think if you find him...you should let him live. He has the answers you need, he might be made to talk, to confess something that might help you, but he can’t talk if he’s dead.”
It was a different perspective. The entire time, she wasn’t quite so ashamed to admit the reason she wanted to find him was entirely to kill him, to know she’d never again have to look over her shoulder, or worry about him somehow getting to her, even through the Inquisition. He wasn’t particularly strong by himself, but he was manipulative, a liar with a silver tongue, and not the harmless kinds that existed here. There was every reason to believe he could definitely still get to her as it was now. As much as she needed that revenge, that satisfaction , he raised an interesting point. Was it worth it to kill him if he had any information that was even remotely useful to her? If there was a way to reverse it, or at least tone it down a little, did that make it worth sparing his life? He could still lie about the answers, tell them something that might only kill her, or maybe he’d keep his silence anyway. Assuming he did feel chatty, and didn’t lie about it, there was no reason to leave him to it when he’d outlived his usefulness. He could still die after that. Was this the kind of thing Leliana had to think about? It certainly seemed that way in Haven.
“You’re right…” she said. “How long, do you think? Until I can get up?”
Alwyn lent the question some thought. Taking into consideration how quickly she normally healed, despite how grievously she’d wracked her body, enough that some of her muscles had torn from the strain, a few of her bones had fractured, it was a lot to consider. Normally, he’d say a day or two at most, but this was unlike anything documented on her.
“Perhaps a week. Maybe less if you’re very lucky. I do hope you find my company pleasant enough, as I’ve been assigned to care for you, I’m afraid we’ll become quite close very shortly.” he sighed.
“Why?” she asked.
He hadn’t wanted to say so openly, it felt like somehow it was invading her privacy enough by just being here, but she deserved the honesty at least.
“Leliana helped me bathe you, I didn’t think you’d feel comfortable with a man you’ve barely noticed touching you in such a way, but as I am the one who has been caring for you, I have seen...more than you’d probably like.” he said.
She waved a hand halfheartedly, like the news didn’t trouble her in the least. It used to, but not so much anymore. She’d noted before that Victor kept meticulous notes, liked to keep track of all the changes, and that often meant being on the unpleasant end of his cold and logical stare with nothing in the way to keep her modest. He knew the location of every scar, every mark, every flaw on her skin, right down to the number and placement of all her freckles. Perhaps not everyone escaped such scrutiny without a problem, but in her mind, there were no great mysteries left to her unusual body, there was no reason to be nervous about a healer seeing her in her smallclothes. He didn’t seem the type to be interested in hurting her in any way, it wasn’t quite as troublesome.
“It’s alright. That’s part of the job, isn’t it?” she murmured.
“I suppose you have a point there.” he said.
There was a knock on the door, he imagined it was probably one of the important people coming to check on her, and it provided him with just the right opening to grab his supplies. If he didn’t get that medicine in time, she’d just end up in more pain than she had to be. The door opened and Leliana came up the stairs, torn between being relieved to see she was awake now, and realizing just how bad it must be for her to still be in bed. Nothing had kept her down before, and that seemed to suggest it was rather serious.
“I came by to see how she was doing.” she said.
“And to make sure I didn’t tell her anything I shouldn’t, right?” Alwyn laughed.
“That too, but that was secondary. Do you need anything? Fresh clothes, something to eat?” she asked.
Fenina took a moment to take stock of herself, as best she could at the moment. She finally shook her head slowly. “I’m fine for now, I think.”
“Alright. Well...if you don’t mind, I thought I’d keep you company for a bit. We’re trying to make repairs as quickly as we can, but we have to wait for our professionals to arrive. Cullen has set up guard rotations, arranged the barracks for the men and we’ve established patrol routes. For the time being we’re at a bit of a standstill. Varric won’t stop asking about you, he swears he has something important to tell you when you’re better.” she explained.
“Yes, please stay.” she said.
Alwyn stopped her long enough to give her the medicine, mixed into the rest of her water. She wasn’t familiar with someone trying to remove her pain instead of causing it, but she imagined all she had to do was drink the rest of the water. At her insistence, she tried to hold the glass, her hands shaking slightly, but otherwise holding steady for her. She drank the rest, though her face said everything, too bitter, not to her liking, but then that probably wasn’t the point of it. Leliana helped her back down while Alwyn put his things back into his bag.
“Would you prefer I leave for now so you can talk in peace?” he asked curiously.
Maybe it was wrong, but he hadn’t treated her any differently than if she were just like anyone else. It was nice, she couldn’t pick up on any trace of fear or discomfort, and while she couldn’t imagine he’d want to be here any longer than he needed to be, he probably needed food and sleep and a break in general, but just for a little longer, just a bit more.
“No...if you don’t mind...I mean.” she said.
“Very well, then I’ll stay as long as you’d like.” he said warmly.
Not even a hint of being bothered by it. Maybe he really didn’t mind staying. It didn’t look like she’d be able to get up and go see Solas and Varric for a few days at least, and he wasn’t bothering her, she felt like being a little bit greedy as long as people were willing to keep her company.
Varric pulled up a chair, taking a brief look around the room. Nice room, Josephine put a lot of thought into it despite how quickly it had to be thrown together. Alwyn returned not long after he got there, hauling a bag of fresh supplies and a small tray of food. He set it carefully on the stand next to her, observing her lack of interest curiously.
“You need to eat eventually. I know you must still have a lot on your mind, but you need your strength if you intend to improve.” Alwyn said gently. He pointed to the small pieces of coated fruit on a small plate next to a bowl of soup and some bread, all easy things she should be able to handle. “Lady Montilyet asked me to bring those for you.”
“How are you feeling Prickles? Any better. Last time I seen you awake...I wasn’t sure you’d make it. So I thought I’d come see you in person.” Varric said.
Alwyn glanced up at the nickname, mildly interested in why such a thing made her smile like that. It sounded to him more like an insult than a term said with affection, but it wasn’t his place to say anything about it, especially if it was something friendly they shared. It sounded like she had suffered, and maybe it had everything to do with her being an elf like him, but he wanted to make sure people treated her decently.
“Calm down, kid.” he laughed. “I’m not here to eat her. You elves taste gamey.”
“He’s joking.” Fenina quickly clarified.
“I had hoped so. I was thinking human might be better. More meat on them.” Alwyn said with a nervous chuckle.
“I’m not sure if he’s joking.” she admitted.
“I am, I can assure you.” he mumbled.
“Cullen stopped by much?” Varric asked.
“Once, to read me reports for some reason. I’m not quite sure why I need to know half of the things in them…” she said.
“Ahh, that explains why he’s just been pacing by the door. Still working up to it.” Varric laughed.
“Do I still make him nervous?” she asked worriedly.
Varric looked at her seriously, trying to decide if she was pulling his leg or not. “I don’t think that’s the reason.”
“Well, that’s good…” she mumbled.
Really, she was relieved. They’d seemingly been getting along a little bit better lately, and to have to try and repair damage of that kind wasn’t something she really knew how to do just yet. It wasn’t quite as clear then why he might have a problem coming in to talk again if he wasn’t concerned about something. Come to think of it, Varric was acting a little strangely too. She couldn’t pinpoint it, ever since he learned how sensitive her nose was, he’d taken to using something stronger, something not quite overwhelming, but enough that she couldn’t even tell what it was supposed to smell like, let alone her usual cues for gleaning information about people. He had something to discuss, but he seemed to be in no rush to talk, whether it was because of Alwyn or another reason was the mystery. He’d done nothing unusual, and she hadn’t picked up on anything out of the ordinary about him. By all observations, he was taking his tasks seriously, and she was feeling a little better, if he was trying to cause her harm there would be little point in making her better first. At least she supposed if killing someone was the intent, the most efficient method would be quick and quiet, not drawn out over time, where any number of things could go wrong, to say nothing of the time given to get caught. He stood by her side, trying to direct her attention back to the tray, trying to think of some way to get her interested in it.
It was difficult to think about when the smell of burnt flesh was still fresh on her mind, the sharp tang of blood still rising back up when she thought she’d finally put it away, and then there was the chill licking at the wounds in her bones and inciting new and uncomfortable pains through her muscles whenever she tried to move. That and the lingering memories of the things she had done, the lack of control she felt still shaking her up made for a decidedly grim mood. She stared up at him, and that was a mistake, he had a strange look in his eyes that made saying refusing very difficult for reasons she couldn’t begin to fathom. Reluctantly, she nodded, and he took a seat on the other side, in case she needed help. Two of the fractures he had mentioned were in her arms, one on her left forearm, the other in her right hand. The reports had indicated those close enough to slightly make out what was happening was that she had been thrown hard into the trebuchet and fell down a hole. What was more of a miracle was how she managed to keep going in this condition up a mountain as far as she made it. Perhaps the hostile cold had served to make her unaware of the damage between numbing and sharp blasts of freezing wind and snow.
Fenina made four solid attempts to not need any assistance in the matter, taking the last of her patience for the task with it. She sighed, her head thumping against the headboard audibly. It was just another reminder of things she wanted to forget, that somehow, for all the so called improvements and the little fixes he claimed she needed, she could still be hurt. Even now, with no clue if he was even planning anything, that he was still getting to her. How could he still be causing her problems when she’d essentially been free of him since the Conclave?
“Don’t be so discouraged. It will take time.” Alwyn told her.
“Tell you what. Finish that and maybe I’ll teach you some games.” Varric offered.
“I’ve already agreed, isn’t that enough?” she mumbled.
Damn, she really was more troubled than she looked. Haven had bothered him too, of course, it bothered everyone, but despite that, she’d been the one who chose to stay behind and deal with it. She lived through something that should have claimed the lives of everyone there, they’d done the impossible and survived it, she’d come back. That she was only as bad off as she was should have been something to celebrate, but he could see the gears turning ceaselessly through the blank expression in her eyes. As odd as they were, even if she had been unaware, her eyes said absolutely everything. Right now, they spoke of an emptiness that she wasn’t sure what to do with. In anyone else he’d absolutely suggest she’d completely lost her will to live, but this was Fenina, and she didn’t give up, if anything it just took her time to process certain events.
It looked rather automatic, but she stopped fighting it at least. It was also nice to see someone who didn’t appear to be reticent about being in her presence. There weren’t many who didn’t particularly worry about her one way or another, and fewer still who had learned to accept her. He had to be doing plenty of good for her, but at the same time, there was something weird about him. No one was that clean, he hadn’t found much on him, and a chat with the spymaster yielded the same results. No trouble in his past, nothing out of the ordinary, there was just nothing, and that was the problem. The problem was that if he was hiding something buried so deep it was forgotten, and he wasn’t doing anything suspicious or unusual, they likely would have a hard time figuring it out until he’d already done something. Still, he liked to think of himself as a good friend, and to him that meant trying to keep an eye on her as much as possible so if he tried to cause her harm, he wouldn’t have very much of a window to do it. No doubt Leliana read into his suspicions and intended to watch her as well, the only way she could possibly be more secure is if Cullen either sent some soldiers to keep watch, or sat there himself, and that wasn’t likely to happen.
“I’ll see about some tea today, when you’re done. I imagine you must be sick of plain water by now.” Alwyn said with a smile.
“Mhm.” Fenina agreed.
Really, it was almost unsettling watching the nearly mechanical way she reacted to everything. Nearly done though, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a deck of cards. He had intended to be able to spend some time catching up with her alone, but he had a purpose too. If that meant letting him play too, it was no great hardship. His main concern was that for as well as she could read and understand people, Alwyn had to get very close quicker than anyone could ensure he wasn’t going to be a problem, and she seemed rather comfortable with his presence. It was going to be troublesome if he got to her, and she couldn’t retain her objectivity where he was concerned.
“Later, I’d really like to know what you had to tell me.” She said.
“Oh, right.” he muttered. “I have a friend that wants to meet you. He might be able to offer you some useful information, but I’d like to keep it kind of quiet. I...may have told Cassandra that I couldn’t find him. I’d consider it a close personal favor if you wouldn’t let her know.”
“Cassandra and I don’t talk much. I’m not certain she’s fully convinced I’m not an abomination yet...she’s not unkind to me, just...I feel like she doesn’t like me much. By which I mean I’m not going to tell her.” Fenina said.
“I didn’t think you would, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.” he shrugged.
“Are you just trying to distract me so I wouldn’t notice the card you slid back up your sleeve?” she asked quietly.
Varric shrugged, pulling it back out. That might work fine on some people, but he supposed it wasn’t very likely he’d get away with that with her. Far from being upset by the action though, she actually smiled, only a bit, but he’d got a reaction from her. At least that was a good enough sign she was going to be alright after all.
Alwyn pushed her to a stop in a quiet, somewhat private corner of the yard, her first actual look at Skyhold. It was quite an impressive place after all, and as a minor blessing, it was warm outside. He’d taken the liberty of covering her up with lighter blankets before bringing her outside. Josephine had been able to requisition a few wheeled chairs for just such incidents as this, allowing her a bit of mobility while she was mending. He’d put her in the shade so she’d be comfortable enough, but she kept her hood up even then.
“Still too bright here?” he asked.
“No...it’s not that.” she said.
“Is something wrong? Perhaps I can help.” he offered.
“I doubt that very much. People don’t like my eyes. I don’t like my eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally jumped at the sight of them and I live with them. I like it better this way.” she told him.
Alwyn frowned at that. He bent just enough to lower it, her discomfort obvious in the way she tried to pull away, to keep them closed.
“Let me see, please?” he asked.
Fenina reluctantly opened her eyes, staring up at him. He’d been caring for her without concern this whole time, but this was different in her mind, he shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable just to make her feel like she fit here a little better, if that was the goal.
“You don’t have to go out of your way to be nice. My feelings won’t be hurt.” she told him.
He lightly snagged her chin, tilting her head up to get a better look before he let go, smiling again. “I’m not going out of my way. Is it truly so hard to believe someone might like you just because? Besides, I happen to find them interesting. I’ve never seen a color like this, the way the red melts into the yellow, there’s a little flare of orange to them. You worry too much, you’re very pretty, I think.”
Her face felt warm, probably saying something when Solas had previously insisted she was running hotter than should be safe. He didn’t give her the feeling he was lying, but that was the first time anyone had told her anything of the sort. It was surprising to hear that, even if it might still be a lie, how anyone could think such a thing of her like this. She wasn’t what she’d consider ugly either, but pretty was out of her range too, she preferred to think ‘plain’ was fitting.
“Thank you.” she said after a far too long pause.
“You’re blushing. Have I embarrassed you, my lady?” he teased.
“I...maybe a little bit. I wasn’t exactly expecting to hear that.” she admitted.
Across the yard, Varric, Cullen and Leliana watched them. Nothing had turned up no matter how deeply they dug, but something wasn’t sitting right with them. Josephine didn’t seem to understand the concern, although she offered to make a few discreet inquiries into the matter, but whether she’d managed with all her work was a mystery.
“I can’t be the only one thinking he’s plotting something.” Cullen muttered.
“I think so too. People aren’t usually that nice just because.” Varric agreed.
“Look closer.” Leliana said. “Whatever he’s telling her clearly has her interest. It could be that he really does like her, maybe she’s warming up to him. Or...it could be that he’s trying to get to her. I couldn’t begin to guess at his motives for doing so, but I don’t trust this. For now, until we have something solid, I think it best we keep our interference to a minimum and see where this goes.”
“Have we at least been able to confirm his story? Does her clan even know him? It’s been no secret who her clan is, it’s been discussed freely about Haven, it’s possible he overheard and made it up.” Cullen suggested.
“We have not.” Leliana sighed. “Her brother and a few others are due here in a few more days, my scouts have kept me updated on their progress. I’m certain if they know him, her brother should be able to confirm his story. I’ve contacted a few sources in Antiva, and that’s about the extent of the information I can say is true. He was born to a clan near the Antivan border, and I’ve been informed he was First to his Keeper, a very gifted healer. I’m told he has absolutely no offensive magic whatsoever, and a background in herbalism. As far as her care goes, she could likely ask for no better, but I’m not satisfied with that.”
“I’d look into a connection with the Crows, but that seems very unlikely for their preferences. It’s at least plausible he really was sent ahead in case she had need of a healer, but the timing is still strange.” Varric said.
“Right. Showed up not long before Haven fell, why that time specifically? We received the letter from her Keeper before then, if she sent him ahead, he should have arrived well before she closed the Breach.” Cullen added. “Yet he shows up just before she leaves to tend to it? I don’t suspect he’s working for Corypheus, I don’t mean to sound like I’m implying that at all...only that I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t who he said he was.”
“I don’t like this. She’s my friend, I can’t just sit around and wait until something bad happens to her to figure out what the kid is hiding. I have my own sources, I’ll do my own digging. We can be indignant about the situation all we like but if the best we have is wait and see? That’s completely unacceptable.” Varric told them. “With that approach, you might as well spring this whole ‘Inquisitor’ thing on her before you don’t have a chance.”
Far from arguing the point, Cullen seemed to share the sentiment. “Maybe we should . She doesn’t have to be on her feet yet to hear us out and decide if she’s willing to accept.”
Leliana frowned, but relented. “I’ll go find Josephine and Cassandra and we’ll talk.”
Varric kept an eye on him, like slowly watching him cross an invisible line between strictly business and something else entirely. At the very least, he didn’t seem to be alone in the idea that he might be taking advantage of her.
“Can you really do it?” Cullen asked. “Figure out what he’s hiding?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll be damned if I just want to give him the chance to do something.” he growled.
“Might want to get on it soon.” he said, gesturing to the two.
“So, I’m curious…” Alwyn began quietly.
“What about?” Fenina asked.
“When I get you back on your feet...what would you say to letting me take you for a proper walk. Somewhere nice.” he asked.
“I’d say that sounds nice, but I’d also admit to wondering why you’d want to.” she said.
“I think I’d like to get to know you better.” He said. “Nothing more or less than trying to ease your burdens just a bit. I’m not fit for combat, my lady, all I can do is take care of you. I regret that I was unable to be of more use in Haven, but I’m glad for whatever I can do for you now.”
She bit her lip lightly, curling her fingers in the folds of the blankets like she was thinking it over. Cullen and Varric approached before she could answer, thankful that Leliana, Josephine and Cassandra had gathered quickly enough to interrupt whatever was going on.
“Is something wrong?” She asked hesitantly.
“Not particularly. We wanted to wait until you were feeling better, but as long as you’re out and about, we thought we’d discuss it with you now.” Leliana said.
“Oh...well, of course, by all means, I seem to have nothing but time at the moment.” She said with a nervous smile.
Cassandra stared at Alwyn almost severely, but he didn’t seem bothered by it. “I’ll have to ask you to wait for her. We will of course bring her back unharmed.”
Alwyn nodded understandingly. “I’ll wait here then. I’m afraid I don’t have anything else to tend to in the meantime.”
Cullen stood a little taller at that. “We can discuss that later. There’s plenty to be done around here, there’s surely something you’re capable of helping with.”
“I...had thought I mentioned I didn’t want to lead anything.” Fenina said hesitantly.
“You have, but that was some time ago.” Leliana said. “It’s gotten to a point that we’re less effective without a leader, and you are who the people want.”
“I’m not sure if I believe that.” she said.
Cullen swept a hand against his neck with a quiet sigh. He really didn’t think forcing her into this was the best course of action, but there was a generous line between forcing someone and convincing them. He was just trying to decide which he was about to do.
“Well...in all fairness, almost everyone here knows precisely what you did for them at Haven, they credit you with saving their lives, and beyond that you had already endeared yourself to them just by being the Herald. You’ve been doing the leading this whole time, whether you’ve realized it or not.” he told her truthfully.
“I’ve done nothing special. I did what I was told to do. Beyond that, I did what I felt was right. As far as Haven, I’d rather not be reminded of what I did. It was not as valiant as you make it sound.” Fenina was quick to disagree.
“Would your family not find it impressive what we have here? It’s all because of you. Your actions convinced these people to join up, to find purpose and live with hope. You gave them that choice, I think they would be most impressed at how far you’ve come.” Josephine said.
Fenina let her head fall into her hands, sighing quietly to herself. Varric, who had managed to tag along largely unnoticed in the room, lightly patted her shoulder. Really, he was concerned she’d already pushed it a bit too much, but she wasn’t particularly fragile. In any normal circumstance, he’d write it off as stress, and suggest she just needed time to consider it. There wasn’t much time now, not with Corypheus as their sworn enemy, a guarantee he’d come back to try and bring her down again if only because she personally ruined whatever plans he had.
“You alright?” he asked quietly.
“I’m fine, I just...wasn’t expecting this.” she admitted quietly. “I’m not sure what to say…”
Cassandra looked poised to say something, either an attempt to add onto what everyone had already said, or perhaps trying to shoo him out of the private room. Leliana raised a hand, interested in seeing what the silver-tongued dwarf might manage with her. Varric had after all been one of the first to accept her unfailingly despite her differences, and they were fairly certain his insistence that he was her friend at least was mutual. Maybe he could figure it out.
“I’m sure no one wants to shove you into this, but you’re not alone. Isn’t it at least a slight improvement that everyone likes you enough to want you to lead them? You thought no one would want to get close. They’re still here, everyone out there is still here, I’m still here. You’ve pushed no one away, isn’t that a good sign? What’s to stop you from giving it a shot, maybe you’re not great or you decide it’s not for you, but that’s a decision for later. There’s no good reason not to see what happens, at the very least.” He told her.
He gently squeezed her shoulder, and her hand came up, brushing against it for a moment. It was like she wasn’t sure if she was going to try and move it or wanted to keep it where it was, this wasn’t something she was familiar with. Fenina raised her head finally, looking around the table. Leliana was smiling, and there was a warmth to it that felt very different from when they first met, Josephine stood next to her, strangely at ease despite the extra work she’d been given. Cullen no longer looked away from her, in fact staring directly at her now, like he was waiting with interest to hear what she’d decide. It had only been a few months at best, but they’d all changed. Even Cassandra hardly seemed as brash and abrasive as she’d initially taken her for. She didn’t want to ask, afraid they’d all insist it was somehow her doing, it was hard enough to have an entire village swearing she was sent for some matter of divine importance, but this, these were people from all over Thedas, some who had never even met her, had only heard the stories. She couldn’t ask them to put their trust in her when she wasn’t even sure if she could control herself, prevent another incident like Haven. She could absolutely still lose her ability to fight against the mad sensations waging a personal war inside her.
Her eyes fell back on Varric, biting the inside of her lip as a way to keep her focus, to stay grounded while she lent it a little more thought. Clearly this wasn’t something they were forced into springing on her, their arguments didn’t bear the hallmarks of falsities, but she had to wonder what specifically she had done to make them think she was the best choice they had, surely there were others more qualified, people they’d have preferred over her.
“I make no promises. I might be awful at this, and I’m not even sure where to start…” she said uneasily.
“You won’t have to do it all alone. Josie, Cullen and myself are here to assist you in anyway you need.” Leliana told her.
“My door is always open. If you need something, or it gets overwhelming, I’ll always make time for you.” Cullen added.
Leliana covered her mouth, suppressing a quiet chuckle at the serious way he said it. He shot her a curious, if uneasy look like he had said something completely strange without realizing it. Josephine, on the other hand, kept her focus on her.
“Does this mean you’ll do it?” She asked.
“I’ll give it a try. That’s all I’m willing to promise. I will do my best, just don’t blame me if my best isn’t enough.” she relented.
Josephine seemed to delight in the news, immediately picking up her writing station. “This is wonderful news. Perhaps a small celebration is in order, nothing too over the top, but no doubt those here could use some good news.”
“You’re telling everyone?” Fenina asked nervously.
“Of course. They’ve been anxiously awaiting word on whether you’d accept or not.” Cassandra said bluntly.
“So...they...really wanted me for this?” she questioned.
“We would not have lied for the sake of convincing you.” Cullen said.
The curious glance he gave to Leliana suggested he might have thought she would , but there was no other indication that they were just trying to get her to agree.
“Since I’ve agreed, maybe now you can explain to me what I’m supposed to do, exactly.” she said.
“Right. We should have explained that first…” Cullen sighed. “Mostly, it will be as it has been, you’re still the only one who can seal rifts, which unfortunately means you’ll have to go out to tend to those, the main difference is that every decision will be yours to control. Leliana, Josephine and myself will tend to the day to day, I’ll still be responsible for keeping our army together, of course, but if there’s anything you don’t approve of, you’ll be able to change it. Josephine tells us you’ll be in charge of judgment of our prisoners, and those looking to deal with the Inquisition will meet with you, naturally this means you have the final say, you’ll speak for the Inquisition as a whole. It...probably sounds more dire than it truly is.”
So that was the truth of what an Inquisitor was. Normally, she might believe they were just looking for someone to assign blame to if things went poorly, but they seemed to have no problem with the idea that she just might not be as good as they thought she was. She already said she’d give it a try, she wouldn’t go back on her word, but it sounded bloody well intimidating to her. Varric seemed to pick up on that, nudging her arm slightly.
“A lot to take in, isn’t it? What do you say we take some time to work this out?” he asked.
“I’m guessing that’s your way of telling me ‘we could probably use a drink’?” she replied.
“You’ve already got it all figured out.” he said. “Yes, I mean let’s get drinks. Curly, you in?”
He had no problem with it being just the two of them, just like in Val Royeaux, but he knew it might be more comfortable for her to have others with, and honestly, he didn’t particularly feel like inviting Alwyn with, not while he still thought he was up to something. People liked to believe that is was easy to get someone drunk and make them spill everything, but Leliana and The Iron Bull would likely disagree with that. The people that were actually good at hiding their past usually knew how to keep their silence even drunk. That and he seemed so concerned with health that he probably didn’t even drink.
“I really shouldn’t, I have --.” Cullen began. He saw the look she gave him, almost somewhat...hopeful? Reluctantly, he gave in. “Of course. Just give me a bit, I’ll make time.”
Varric gestured to the chair. “I can take her.”
“Alright. I’ll meet you there.” he assured them.
“I’ll make the proper arrangements for the party.” Josephine said. Pausing to think it over, she changed her mind. “Perhaps if I were to invite a few people, I could secure a few favors.”
Leliana pointed to the door. “I’ll get back to my own work. She’ll be thinking about this for a while.”
Chapter 18: Cold As A Winter's Morning
Varric, Cullen and Fenina were in the middle of talking over their third round, when Leliana walked in. Cullen sighed, shaking his head slowly.
“Maker, I hope she’s not here for me…” he muttered.
“Didn’t we just get done seeing her?” Varric added.
“Inquisitor, you have a guest.” she said.
“Since when did you become a messenger?” Fenina asked with a slow chuckle.
“Normally I’m not. I just thought this guest was one worth announcing personally.” she told her. Heading back to the door, she leaned out, waving to someone they couldn’t see. “In here.”
“Ten silvers on it being some noble that came to ask for your hand in person.” Varric laughed.
“Don’t even suggest that.” Cullen huffed. “She’s not the only one who would suffer for that. I despise having to change everything just to make someone who thinks their important happy.”
A figure walked in, immediately drawing the attention of the entire tavern. It was little wonder why, this stranger had full, soft lips, a wealth of golden-white waves, and eyes that were as alluring as they were cold, a stormy, dark blue, verging on black. This guest of hers had the same sweeping marks cascading along the underside of those intense eyes. Fenina’s eyes lit up, a look like she was aching to get up and rush over crossing her face, his gaze falling to the chair she sat in, realizing that she couldn’t at the moment. Completely ignoring Cullen and Varric, he knelt in front of her, taking hold of her hands until she winced, realizing he had accidentally hit a sore spot.
“What has happened to you?” he asked quietly.
“It’s nothing. I just need a little time to finish healing.” she told him.
Cullen seemed to realize exactly who this was now that he’d seen and heard enough to make the connection. “Your brother then? Eirlen, was it?”
Eirlen looked up, glancing back to see who was speaking to him. He scoffed quietly, turning his focus back. “You can just forget about it.”
“I’m...sorry?” he asked, confused.
“Templar. Human. Like I want someone like you looking at my sister.” he said.
Varric laughed at that, watching him progressively work his way through what he was insinuating. Cullen looked very much like he was about to say something, but Varric shook his head. “Let it go. That’s a war you won’t win.”
“But I wasn’t --” he began.
“That you know of.” Varric corrected.
Maybe it was best just to keep quiet where she was concerned, he clearly wasn’t about to believe he had no idea what he meant by such a thing. Instead, he mirrored Varric, leaned back in his seat, glancing between the two. They were twins, trying to picture her looking more like him than this was difficult, there was still a faint hint of blonde to her white locks, about the same length, same markings in the same color, same eye shape and nose, lips, even their eyebrows were styled the same way, though his left one was marked with a long, thin scar that somehow managed to look like it belonged their. The biggest difference left between them was the color of her eyes, that and the sharpest of her teeth, only noticed when she smiled, which in itself was fairly rare. Something to think about, there had to be other ways besides drinking and playing cards that might make her a little happier.
“I can feel you staring. Knock it off.” He said.
“Hard to dislike the guy.” Varric said. “He’s so nice .”
“Don’t mind him. He’s not been around humans much. He’s really very sweet once you get to know him.” Fenina quickly informed them.
“I came here for your sake. I don’t care to know these people.” he told her.
“For my sake?” she asked quietly.
He stared at her like she was asking the hardest thing from him. Instead of answering right away, he lifted a lock of her hair, examining the color in silence, shaking his head.
“I’ll consider it.” he said stubbornly.
It felt like a little of her old self might be slipping through. Neither knew her personally before this, her brother was the only one who might confirm that, but it seemed like they might have almost been polar opposites. To the outside viewer, she appeared to be almost gentle, a voice of reason, whereas he seemed driven more by emotion and acted swiftly, if a little brashly. He looked like he fell more into a protector’s role. Cullen looked very unsure of how to conduct himself in a way that might make him less suspicious of his presence, but Varric saw a potential ally in him. If he was willing to speak in such a way to the Commander of the Inquisition’s army? No doubt he’d do just about anything to keep someone else from causing her harm.
“I suppose we should think about getting you back. No doubt Alwyn is worried you’ll catch a cold or something by now.” Varric said, bumping his knee against Cullen’s, trying to get him on the same page. “Right?”
“Huh? Oh. Yes, that’s a good idea.” he said.
His lack of reaction was something else. He didn’t feel threatened by the name or the comments, maybe it was possible he actually did know him. Eirlen studied her reaction to it, deciding in a matter of moments that it wasn’t worth getting excited over, there was nothing pleading or fearful in her eyes, no signs that the idea of going back distressed her.
“I suppose I could stand to go back. I’m a little tired…” she admitted.
“I’ll take her back. I have something I need to discuss with him anyway.” he said.
“So you know him then?” Cullen asked.
“Of course I know him. Didn’t he tell you as much? He was brought into our clan and our mother decided he’d be of more use to her.” he said as though it should have been obvious.
“One mystery down.” Varric murmured.
Cullen waited until Leliana followed them out, giving it a little longer for them to get out of earshot. Taking a drink, he shrugged.
“So they know him.” he said.
“Yep. That doesn’t explain why it doesn’t make me feel any less suspicious.” he said. “What about you?”
“It’s possible he managed to hide it even from them.” he suggested. Grimacing, he continued. “I’m not sure what to make of her brother, either. I’d like to see him put somewhere he’d fit in well, but I get the feeling he’s going to be hard to work with.”
Varric shook his head. “Curly, you’re not thinking big enough. He’s just seen his sister, seen what’s already been done to her and the results of Haven, she can’t even walk on her own yet. Of course he’s concerned, but may I suggest you keep him with her for now? Give them time to catch up, but beyond that, if he’s around her, what could really happen?”
“I suppose that’s true enough. Not just from our mystery healer, but from anyone, I suspect.” he agreed. Frowning though, he sighed. “He couldn’t possibly believe I meant to try something on her, that’s just ridiculous.”
Varric shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that. Maybe you don’t notice, but may I say I could see how he might get that impression.”
“You may not .” Cullen huffed. “It was your advice that I reach out to her, that she needed friends.”
“You know what it’s like to feel like you don’t fit in, that everyone can see the things you’re trying not to think about. I can see it in the way you carry yourself. You know perhaps better than anyone what that does to you, of course you’re the obvious choice to help her out a little.” he said.
“Says the man who smiles the most around her.” Cullen observed.
“Come on, Bianca can hear you.” Varric said.
“Hiding behind your crossbow isn’t very convincing.” he snorted. “It wouldn’t work the same for everyone.” Cullen rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, not something he was seen very often without, even here. “Lucy here is my lady, I couldn’t possibly be interested in any real woman.”
“First, that’s a terrible impression of me. Second, you just made up that name, and you treat your sword like a tool, not something you love.” Varric criticized. “And lastly, we’re just friends. Even without Bianca in the picture, we’d only be friends.”
“You forget I know you, Tethras. You don’t even bother to hide the fact that you lie so often it’s safe enough to assume most of what you say is buried in a lie. If you didn’t like her, even a little, you’d do better by saying you did, you know most would assume the opposite is the truth.” He pointed out.
Varric scowled at him for just a moment, finishing off his drink. “Don’t you have some work to do, or a dummy to beat up?”
“ You just want me to go away so I don’t figure you out entirely.” Cullen shrugged. “Lucky for you, I do have work to get back to...about Alwyn...you will let me know if you find anything, right?”
“Of course. Never know when she might have need of someone as giant and armored as you.” he laughed.
Two days after Eirlen and the others arrived, he had been given access to the notes and journals, Leliana offering them in the hopes that maybe the poor girl wouldn’t have to discuss it for the hundredth time. That was another case of no information. She managed to confirm people knew her captor, even found people who remembered seeing him bring her in two years prior to her arrival at Haven. There were remnants of letters found that described the changes in his habits and personality over that time, but it seemed he proved rather elusive afterwards. No one recalled seeing him since before the Conclave, he probably suspected she might inform someone of what he had done and had cleared out shortly after she left, managed to avoid being seen by any who might have recognized him.
It didn’t make sense to her. She was clearly his best hope to accomplish his ends, she’d personally read through every scrap brought back at least a dozen times, trying to find anything overlooked, but that was horrid in its own right. Before her, he’d managed to secure a human subject, who died shortly after, three other elves, two from an alienage and one other Dalish subject, all dead. He’d expressed an interest in obtaining a Qunari or a Dwarf if Fenina hadn’t shown promise. He’d written a number of times how she had become his favorite, disturbingly referring to her as though he fetishized her for some reason, bordering on worship, at odds with the results of his affection . She’d seen all of the scars he’d left on her, had enough experience in torture to know the cause of some as well. Despite all of those things, he still left without any means of getting her back, no way to keep track of her progress, nothing to show to his benefactor. To what end? He wouldn’t simply waste his best shot at getting everything he could conceivably want?
Leliana’s eyes widened, a thought making her uneasy. What if he hadn’t given up on her? She kept files and reports on absolutely everyone in Skyhold, she didn’t like to take chances, but only the most curious one's warranted multiple updates. It was entirely possible he had someone on the inside, someone inconspicuous enough to go unnoticed, but close enough to keep an eye on her and safely report back without drawing attention or suspicion. It was definitely worth looking into, and it inspired her to seek out Fenina to try an offer a warning. Alwyn had mentioned earlier she might be able to handle a short walk, and that he intended to take her around the keep if she could handle it, but by the sound of it, they’d made a small detour. Leliana flattened her back against the stone, carefully peering around the corner when she heard them talking, trying to keep an eye on them without interrupting directly. She was prepared to intervene in a matter of seconds if it looked like she might be in danger. It was difficult to hear the conversation clearly, but what she could hear surprised her.
Not much on the young elf, but appearances were certainly deceptive. He looked like the kind of person who was quiet, mostly kept to himself, but the direct way he spoke to her wasn’t the hallmarks of a mild and introverted person.
“You really are lovely. Exquisite, I would go so far to say.” he told her.
“Now I know you’re lying.” she said.
“Look at me…” he requested seriously.
Leliana strained to try and hear more, until someone tapped her shoulder. She whipped around to see Cullen standing there, arms folded over his chest like he was silently judging her for spying so openly on others, about to ask who it was this time before she yanked him down by his mantle, putting a finger to her lips and nodding back towards them.
“You’re spying on her now?” he hissed quietly.
They’d long since determined she was no threat, not directly. She’d never have been offered the position if she wasn’t fit to be trusted. She shushed him again, covering her mouth to avoid drawing attention at what she saw. Cullen withdrew back into the hall, his face red, this definitely wasn’t something they should be seeing. Especially as the Inquisitor, she deserved a fair bit more privacy than he felt they were giving her.
Alwyn gently tipped her head up, kissing her lightly, breaking it after a moment. She stared at him like he had to be coming down with something, clearly curious about the reasoning behind it. He shook his head, pressing his finger to her lips.
“I tried to tell you. I like you, and I’d very much like to do that again, if you have no objections, my lady.” he said, cutting off any questions.
He carefully drew her back to him, his hands cupping her face lightly. Leliana had to hold back a slight chuckle at the way she reacted, her hands fidgeting restlessly, trying to figure out what she was going for. Oh yes, she remembered her first kiss too. He didn’t look like he was planning to attack her with anything but possibly his tongue. She creeped back in, waving Cullen to follow, not stopping until they were face to face with Josephine in her office.
“Now maybe you’d care to explain what that was about?” Cullen asked.
“I was trying to find her to warn her.” Leliana said guiltlessly. “I was thinking about it earlier, and I think there’s a possibility there’s someone here spying for our violent little scholar.”
“How could that happen?” Josephine asked worriedly.
“It’s not a guarantee, and they may not be within Skyhold. She’s been all the way out to the Storm Coast, I’ll have to check the old reports to figure out who was watching over the camps at the times she was away. I’m not writing off the possibility that this potential spy is a scout.” Leliana said.
“What evidence do we have that this is a credible threat?”” Cullen questioned.
“I wondered why he would give up the chase. You’ve all read his notes, the letters, all of it. You know how important she was to the success of his research, he spent the better part of two years working on perfecting her to his specifications. He wouldn’t have left anything to chance, if someone had followed her to the Conclave, they likely died, but that would be enough to give him an idea of where to look for her. He won’t come personally, but that convinces me that he has some way to keep track of her. I’m certain someone who comes into contact with her on at least an occasional basis has been planted here. Unfortunately that doesn’t narrow the range of possible suspects.” Leliana explained.
“I suppose a hunch is better than nothing. I won’t ask my men to assist with this if there’s even a chance one of them is your spy.” he sighed. “I doubt I’ll be of use in this application, but if there’s something I can do to help, I will.”
Josephine frowned slightly. “I’m not certain my contacts will be of use for this, but I’m willing to search through the records, try to weed out anyone that either hasn’t met her or hasn’t been around her much, maybe do something to lighten the load.”
Eirlen wandered in after knocking twice, though banging was probably a better word for it. He glanced around the large office curiously, looking between the three of them. He didn’t say anything at first, and each had pretty much already mentally tried to guess at the reason he was here. Leliana wondered if maybe he was looking for his sister, Cullen figured it might be another accusation of some sort of improper conduct, and Josie hadn’t quite known what to think, momentarily forgetting what she was doing entirely. It was a strange thing to realize she might be staring at the mirror image of the Inquisitor. His expression was completely unreadable, almost shocking them when he offered a very slight bow.
“I’m sorry for interrupting, the others asked that I see what they could do to help around here.” He said quietly.
“We’ll talk with them later and see where they’ll fit best.” Leliana assured him. “How are you liking it here.”
“My mother and I have been trying to find Fenina for so long. We almost didn’t dare to hope you were telling the truth with that letter.” he said flatly. “I don’t know what to make of the people here, I don’t know what to make of your cause. I know you have one hell of an Inquisitor, and I know that anyone who tries to hurt her will find themselves lacking pieces of themselves. That said, this is a lovely castle.”
There was something strangely charming to a person who could speak so coldly and still somehow still offer a compliment with it. Eirlen stepped closer to Cullen, looking up at him quietly, bobbing his head once.
“I apologize for how I acted in the tavern. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re probably just fine. You have to understand, I’ve already lost my sister once. I can’t lose her again, and family or not, I can’t let her like a human.” he said.
“I wouldn’t worry about that. I don’t think she has any interest in me to begin with. I can guarantee you I think she’s more interested in someone else.” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Maker, that makes it sound like I do like her, doesn’t it. You know what I mean. I hope.”
“You’re digging yourself a deeper hole.” Leliana murmured.
“I thought so.” he sighed.
Fenina heaved a deep breath, laughing to herself, the act of getting away from the keep unnoticed somehow a thrilling rush, both her brother and Alwyn left in the dust, barely managing to talk The Iron Bull and Varric into following her, Cole showing up a bit after, having followed out of sheer curiosity. Bull set Varric down, having grabbed the back of his duster and carrying him when it seemed like someone might be a bit close to finding them. It wasn’t particularly that she wasn’t allowed to leave, only that she didn’t particularly want to involve her brother, and didn’t need a healer tailing her to tend to her scrapes and minor inconveniences.
“So…” Varric said after catching his breath. “We lost them. Where are we going?”
“That’s me then. I can answer that one.” A familiar voice said, coming out of a thick grove of trees.
“Hawke, what in the blazes are you doing out here? You were supposed to wait with me on the battlements.” he commented.
“Cassandra must be furious.” Bull said, following it with a rough chuckle.
“Hey, when a lady asks you to meet her somewhere, you don’t ask a lot of questions.” he said with a shrug that seemed to indicate he had no serious answer planned. “You got this one, right?”
“It didn’t take much to overhear the possibility it was ‘the Champion’, and that Cassandra was barely holding it together, just in case it wasn’t him.” she said, matching Hawke’s shrug. “I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t think it through well at all. I managed to uh...sniff him out. We spoke briefly, and I told him to meet me here. To discuss the situation he mentioned in Crestwood.”
“Okay, I knew that nose had to be useful for tracking. Pay up.” Bull snorted.
Varric complained under his breath, rummaging in his pocket for a handful of coins. “Bet’s a bet. Still...yeah, running might have been the more suspect thing.”
“Well, my original plan was just to get this trip started, and then when I got back I was just going to say it was some not-quite-so-obviously fake noble that vaguely sounds like a Marcher name, and spare you the fuss.” she admitted with a nervous half-laugh.
“Wow. Prickles, you actually thought of me, I’m touched.” he said, grinning slightly.
“Yeah...but about that, we should probably put a little more distance between us. Even I’m winded, and somehow I still get the impression she might actually catch up to us.” Fenina muttered. “That’s honestly a mildly terrifying thought.”
That being said, Varric fell silent, gesturing to the group to keep going, conversation falling away for the good hour or so until they decided it was safe to set up camp for the night. Unfortunately, they had only packed one decent sized tent, too small for everyone, deciding to draw lots for who got to sleep in it. Bull got a long stick and shrugged, propping himself against a boulder, arms thrown behind his head like it didn’t bother him in the least. Hawke grimaced slightly when he drew the other long one, trying to decide if there was even a comfortable option on the ground.
“I really don’t mind sleeping outside…” Fenina offered quietly.
“Really? Are you sure?” Hawke asked hopefully.
Varric shot him a severe look, almost unheard of for him. He put his arm out in front of her to stop her from making good on that offer. “Don’t even think about it. The bedroll isn’t much better than the ground as it is.”
Cole held the twig up curiously, following her in the tent, meaning Varric himself had the last twig. Hawke eyed it curiously for a moment, before a wide grin spread across his face. “So now I get it. I don’t blame you, lot nicer to sleep next to her than me, right?”
“Only you’d be such an ass about it.” he sighed. Pressing his palm to his brow, he shook his head. “It just doesn’t sit right with me. I saw where she was being kept. I don’t - You know what? Nevermind.”
“That’s awfully touchy. Haven’t seen you this worked up since...was it Bartrand or that time Isabella hid Bianca and I didn’t tell you where she put it?” Hawke mused quietly.
“Neither. It was the time those mercs came after us after you said their leader looked like the backside of an ancient nug.” he reminded him.
“Oh...yeah, that was it. Point is...I think you fancy her.” he said. Bull’s snores punctuated the lengthy silence, helpfully covering up the awkward attempt to figure out just how to answer the accusation. “Varric Tethras at a loss for words. Wait until I tell Aveline.”
“You’re not the first to suggest that. You’re wrong, but at least there’s some consolation to be had somewhere in that.” he said finally.
Hawke nodded towards the tent, not bothered by his unusual behavior. It was entertaining to see him out of his element. He was friends with him for many reasons, the lack of boredom surrounding him was just a bonus. Varric shot him one last look as he ducked into the tent, frowning slightly at the lack of reasonable space available, camping was never comfortable even when there was room, this wasn’t much different. He laid down with a quiet groan, every muscle in his back protesting. Once he’d managed to settle down as best as could be asked for, he took a moment to check on her, rolled onto her stomach, her face smushed into the thin pillow like she was trying to hide in it. It couldn’t have been too comfortable. Against his better judgment, he sat back up, carefully reaching to turn her head enough so she wouldn’t accidentally suffocate herself in her sleep. About to lay back down, he looked back, thinking it over for a moment.
Surely it was said looking for some kind of reaction, there really was no need to think about it at all. Her hair smelled like embrium and dawn lotus. Not a bad thing, and as different as she must have been, if she really looked like her brother, she wasn’t bad looking in the least, not to him anyway. She was likeable enough, he didn’t really have any notable complaints about her. He stretched back out, shaking his head with an almost inaudible laugh. He wasn’t really relationship material, and he still wasn’t quite sure why it mattered, or why the statement stuck with him enough to lend it any consideration anyway. She’d make someone a good wife. Someone, anyone that wasn’t him. Preferably someone other than Alwyn. Hell, even Hawke. Even Cullen, literally anyone but him.
“He did that on purpose.” He mumbled under his breath, realizing he’d accomplished the goal of messing with his head, something he hadn’t really managed before, not for lack of trying. “Ass.”
Chapter 21: Fragments of Reality
Alwyn did a careful search of the area, walking into the crowded inn. He’d only been to Redcliffe once before, and taverns were too obvious for this sort of thing. The Inquisition maintained a presence in the area and beyond that, he already suspected he was being watched. He eyed the door with a heavy sigh, trying to mentally prepare for this. He hated dealing with these people, but it couldn’t be helped. He closed the door quietly behind him, jolting slightly when it wasn’t at all who he had come to expect. Usually it was some tough looking merc sent to deal with him, but not this time.
“I was given to understand you didn’t want to risk being this close.” he said simply.
The man draped an arm against the back of his chair, drawing one leg across the other. Dressed down today, it seemed, even went without the mask he usually wore when he actually did see to his own business. His free hand raked through short brown hair, not bothering to answer initially, instead handing him a piece of paper. Typical. He was used to fetching harder to procure materials, but this was nothing like he was used to. He already had several ideas of what he was trying to accomplish with these, and it didn’t sit well with him at all.
“I don’t. I was simply in the area on business already.” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “How is she?”
“How do you think she is?” he asked, shifting uncomfortably in place. “She’s only just recovered from a traumatic experience, one that damaged her greatly, and you’re asking me how she is. I haven’t exactly been keeping notes, and beyond that, she got away from me.”
His mouth briefly quirked, nearing a frown, though he quickly managed to maintain his neutral expression. “How exactly did that happen? You assured me you could keep an eye on her.”
“She snuck out, by the time I realized it, it was too late. She’ll come back, she has to.” he said. “Look. I know what you intend for these items, and I draw the line here. I can’t do that to her.”
The man rolled his eyes like it wasn’t exactly the first time he had said as much, only this time, he grinned. “You’re backing out, knowing what that means?”
Alwyn flinched, hoping that his threats had been empty after all. “You wouldn’t. You need me.”
He chuckled at that, shaking his head. “You were always disposable. Even she isn’t irreplaceable, only that I don’t want to have to start fresh, not when I have the perfect specimen.”
“It’s always so clinical with you. This is sick and you know it. I can’t put her through that, not to mention I can’t even begin to imagine the reaction. This is beyond dangerous, and if she snaps…”
“You weren’t supposed to get involved with her personally. I warned you. The girl belongs to me, you were only supposed to watch her.” he said.
“She’s so much more than you give her credit for. She’s no animal, she’s a person, with thoughts and feelings, ambitions and hopes, you can’t take that away from her. No matter how many times you try, you’ll never truly have her. I’ve spent so long watching her, it felt like I already knew her when I finally met her, and she’s much more than I expected. You might pull my strings, but you can’t control how I feel.” Alwyn spat.
“You’re awfully defiant. Here I thought I’d finally gotten you to heel, it seems there’s more work to be done. Get what I asked. Do as I’ve asked, or the next time you hear from me, it’ll be more than just a finger I bring you.” he threatened.
Alwyn’s stomach rolled violently at the reminder. He had even thought it might not be his, but the markings on it left no doubt. Hanging his head, he weighed his options. He could certainly tell someone, but they’d never find him by the time they arrived, he didn’t go anywhere without prior knowledge of even the most hidden of escape routes, and that would just end up revealing his connection to him. Really the only option was to do as he was told and bide his time until he managed to figure out where he held his hostage, hopefully before he had the chance to do any further harm.
“I’ll kill…” he stopped, even had he had the chance, he wasn’t built for combat, he knew that. “I’ll do it. I just...need to know why? If you value her so much, what do you gain from continuing to do this to her? Why torture her?”
He smiled, shrugging. “Have you never heard the saying ‘you always hurt those you love’? She has become so beautiful since the first test. The more I hurt her, the more beautiful she’ll become. All I need is one shot for Gaspard to see what it is I’ve done, and everything I’ve worked for is all but assured. I can’t present him something unfinished.”
“That’s not love. You don’t even know what that word means. I’d like to believe you’ve already taken everything I cherished, but you’ve taken more from her.” he sighed. “Besides, I don’t know how you expect her to not notice. That’s assuming I can get past her brother…”
Alwyn’s eyes widened, clapping his hands over his mouth. So far, he hadn’t been aware that he had shown up, and given the most extreme of the ingredients, he had the worst feeling he had just made a grave error.
“Her brother, you say?” he hummed. “Ahh, the true struggle has arrived. Do I need a backup, or would he serve me better by…” he paused to chuckle at his own thoughts before saying it outright. “Being served to her?”
“Don’t do this. Please...I can’t do that, not to him or to her. Of the options, the second would be more merciful, no one should have to endure what you’ve made her deal with, and I know your methods...if he were turned over to you, he’d fight it every step of the way, and I can’t imagine how that would end. I said I’d do it, the least you could do is leave him out of it entirely.” he argued.
“More merciful? I can’t understand why you still don’t see it. I’ve been nothing but merciful. I’ve saved her, risen her to heights she could only dream of, history will remember her as the pioneer of my new methods, all future conflicts will end swiftly, and her name will be right there with mine. Although...if you believe it to be more merciful, then I suggest you take it from him and see that she gets it. That or you will be bringing him to me. I’ll leave the choice entirely up to you. How about this for incentive. If you do well, I’ll let you see him. If you don’t...it’ll be him enhancing her further.” he suggested.
Alwyn shuddered violently, barely managing to avoid being sick over the scenarios playing through his mind. None of those were choices at all. Kill Eirlen, turn him over where he might still die, more painfully than he might if he killed him, or...no, he couldn’t let his mind go there.
“You don’t need to do that. I’ll see it done…” he said, completely broken by the threats. “When she returns, I’ll make sure that she gets these.”
“Good boy.” he praised. “Take good care of my wolf, I want her at her best for our reunion. And remember, if you touch what belongs to me, you’ll regret it. Now get out of my sight, looking at you has already put me off my tea.”
Alwyn turned to leave, stopping one last time. “There is a special place for people like you. The world can’t be rid of you soon enough, Victor.”
The group had made camp with Crestwood safely behind them. Hawke and Fenina staying up, Hawke to keep watch, and her simply because everything about the place was keeping her awake. The smell of putrefaction and low tide alone more than enough to keep just about anyone from getting to sleep. Varric, Bull and Cole had already turned in for the night, and that left her perched by the fire, exchanging glances with him, like they were both uncomfortable with the silence, but not quite sure what to say. Hawke decided to make an attempt, unsure what else to do.
“So I think I’ll stick around. You...uh...don’t mind that, do you?” he asked.
“I’m not sure why what I mind matters.” she said with a faint laugh.
“Well, you are the Inquisitor. It is up to you.” he reminded her.
She seemed to have forgotten about it, a slow nod of realization her only immediate response. “Right...I am, aren’t I? It’s fine with me. I’m sure Varric will be happy to have you around. Cassandra, maybe not so much. I can never tell with her.”
“She’ll get over it.” he laughed.
“I’m more concerned about what she actually plans to do with Varric.” she said. “I can probably keep him out of the dungeons, but I can’t stop her from tossing him across the yard…”
“Too bad. The dungeons have so much potential.” he shrugged. “He might like that too much.”
He could see she didn’t get the joke by the blank look on her face. Sighing, he leaned back, propping himself up on his elbows. “He’ll be fine. He’s not as weak as he might seem, and don’t let him fool you, he’s a hell of a lot sharper than he lets on.”
She said nothing, instead fishing her scarf from her hood and drawing it up over her nose. He didn’t blame her, the place was pungent enough to a normal person, it had to be overwhelming to her.
“I don’t know much about you, just what I’ve overheard.” he said.
“Well, then we’re on even ground.” she told him. “I’d imagine that means you have questions. You may as well ask.”
“Well...thing is...I was wondering how you got separated from your clan. Merrill made it look easy, but I feel like leaving your clan isn’t something most do willingly.” he said.
“It’s easier than it seems. You can be exiled from your clan, and while it’s possible another might let you in, I think most are just left on their own.” she told him.
“That’s shitty.” he said.
“I don’t know what it’s like to have a human family, but I imagine it must be pretty similar to moving away from them.” she shrugged.
“It varies. I mostly got along with mine.” he told her.
“You don’t see them much?” she wondered.
“They’re...gone.” he said quietly. “My father died before the blight, Carver died fleeing Lothering for Kirkwall, Ogre split him practically in half. Bethany died in the Deep Roads, and my mom…” he stopped, taking a deep breath, like he wasn’t sure if he was ready to talk about it openly. “My mom was kidnapped and turned into a walking corpse made of a lot of people by a blood mage. Because she looked like someone else. Of course my Uncle and I don’t get along very well, but go figure he’s still kicking.”
Fenina bit her lip, unsure what to say. That was terrible, even for her, to lose everything like that, she couldn’t begin to imagine knowing that you’d never see them ever again. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
He took a deep breath, shaking his head. “No, it’s alright. You had no way of knowing. Besides, I asked first. You don’t have to tell me.”
“My father died about four years ago. I was out looking for herbs. I found him by the river, part of him had been eaten by animals, and what was left barely resembled him at all. My mother is the Keeper of our clan, she’s alright. My brother, well, you probably seen him around, the pretty one with the attitude.” she said with a quiet laugh. “The rest of the clan felt...distant...but, it was comfortable.”
“It sounds like even before all the really bad shit it was already pretty rough.” he said, sitting back up. He rubbed his elbows with a sigh. “So what happened?”
She clutched the back of her neck, exhaling in a loud puff. “I was a fool. Naive. Perhaps too trusting.”
“It can’t be as bad as that.” he disagreed.
“There were bandits by the camp, so I thought to chase them off. I was injured, and...well...Victor saved me.” she said. “He told me that he wanted to help my clan, and that if I’d help him out for a little while, he’d be able to do that. I thought he meant it, thought it would be a quick trip, so it never crossed my mind to tell anyone. I ended up in Orlais, and it was fine for a while. Until I learned the truth, he arranged the attack, and rescuing me was just a benefit. He got his subject, and didn’t have to pay them.”
“I don’t mean to push the subject, but you’re not exactly helpless now, why didn’t you try to kill him and escape?” Hawke asked.
“I thought about it. I realized that if I did somehow manage, I had no idea where my clan was, I didn’t know how to reach them. I had no money to board a ship back to the Marches to try and find them, and I worried what might happen if I did get free. Beyond that, I was afraid. If I didn’t succeed, what he might do in retaliation. It was a prison, but it was better than the alternative, nothing was ideal, but I was fed and clean, and a bed, If I did as I was told, I avoided the punishments.” she explained, shifting to drag her knees up to her chest, curling her arms around her knees. “So there it is, the exclusive story. Inquisitor Lavellan is a bloody coward who couldn’t even stand up to one man.”
Hawke hesitated, reaching a hand out to her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. “You want to talk failure, this war? I let it happen. My... friend ...was responsible.”
“What happened?” she asked curiously.
“I knew things weren’t going well. I could sense how unstable he was getting, but he assured me it was fine, he could control it. He told me he wanted my help to get a few things to try and separate himself from the spirit living in him. I had a feeling he wasn’t telling me the truth, but I cared about him a lot. I thought maybe whatever he was doing, he’d just...let it go. He ended up blowing up the chantry in Kirkwall, and the Knight-Commander snapped, wanted to use it as a reason to purge all the circle mages, and a full scale battle erupted. As an added bonus, I let him live, told him to get out while he could. I knew it was wrong, but...I couldn’t see him killed, I didn’t want that.” he said.
“You cared about him a lot. I believe it isn’t a crime to want to protect those you love.” she said.
“I tried telling myself that too, it doesn’t help much.” he admitted. “How is it you can be so understanding and forgiving with others, and yet you don’t seem like you can do the same for yourself?”
“Because of me, I exposed my clan to the possibility of attack. I voluntarily left them to accompany a human, grounds for exile in most cases in itself, and I let him turn me into this and did nothing. Could you forgive yourself for that? Could you even stand to look at yourself?” she questioned, slightly agitated at the thought.
“What exactly is it you see when you look in the mirror?” he wondered.
“I see a monster, a hideous thing that should never have come into creation. I see myself coming apart and something else falling out.” she told him.
He shook his head, his hand falling back to his side. “Let me just be blunt here then. You’re no monster. When I look at you, I see a girl afraid of coming up short. You’re tense, you’re not letting yourself relax.” he shrugged. “I suspect I’ll get hit for this, and I’m alright with that, but believe me, if you think you’re ugly, you’re wrong.”
She turned her focus to him, and for a moment, he thought she really might hit him. Instead, he could barely make out a faint blush, a slight smile. She laughed, not the usual, held back quiet one, but an actual laugh. Shaking her head, she glanced away. “Maybe my eyes aren’t the problem. You need to have your head looked at.”
Tapping his head lightly, he grinned. “I’m sure they wouldn’t find anything up there.” pausing, he shrugged. “I’m serious, you know. I’m not just saying that to stroke your ego. If you even have one.”
Fenina took a deep breath. It was no wonder Varric liked him, he seemed to have a gift for making even the worst things feel a little bit better. “I’m starting to think having you around is going to be interesting, Hawke.”
He fell back, looking up at the sky, a few stars visible amid the sea of dark clouds. “Have you noticed?”
She nodded her head towards the tent curiously. “You mean about Varric being up?” Gesturing to her ears, she added. “My other senses aren’t quite as strong as my nose, but better than average at least.”
“So it’ll be very hard to sneak up on you. Good to know.” he joked.
“Mhm. Something will usually give you away. Best chance is when I’m sleeping, if you can catch me in a deep enough one.” she said.
“Ooh, confident. Most people wouldn’t give up their weakness.” he said.
“I’m fairly sure Leliana would be the only one with half a chance to manage.” she shrugged.
“That seems a little scary though.” he admitted.
“Probably. I like to think I’d take too much effort to kill though.” she said. “Besides, I think we’re on good terms. I should probably make sure of that, actually…”
The group arrived in the middle of the day, and predictably, mostly everyone was furious that she had taken off without telling anyone. The complaints ceased when they noticed she had Hawke with her, and the attention shifted to him instead. Glad for the break, she reached for Varric’s wrist, attempting to sneak off to the tavern with him, feeling only slightly guilty for abandoning Hawke to deal with the crowd on his own. Strangely, Alwyn and Eirlen were completely absent from the crowd, that much was surprising, but she was looking forward to a few moments to breathe, no questions asked.
“This really does stress you out, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“Not as much, I just...I’m not in the mood to deal with people just yet.” she admitted. “In small doses, it’s absolutely fine, but too many at once makes me anxious.”
“I think I get that.” he said.
Fenina left to get the drinks, returning fairly quickly, pulling her legs up, so her feet rested precariously on the edge of the seat.
“Where do you think they are?” he wondered.
The absence of her brother and the healer didn’t escape his notice either. Part of him hoped that Eirlen had found something and was confronting him about it, but that was probably too much to ask. Instead of answering, she gave a half-hearted shrug, her eyes obscured behind her hood, no way to gather what she might be thinking or feeling. That shrug could have meant many things. Don’t know, don’t care, even I’m just glad they’re not bothering me too.
“They’ll show up.” she said finally. She took a moment to take a drink, and the energy between them suggested she must have been looking right at him, but again he really couldn’t tell. “I imagine you heard everything. Didn’t you?”
That. He wondered why it never came up if they both knew he was awake. “I wasn’t trying to listen for once. I just couldn’t sleep.”
“I believe that.” she laughed, though it was a short one. “You should have come out. I very rarely bite.”
He grinned at that. “That’s really too bad.”
“It’d hurt. A lot.” she said. “Come to think of it, I suppose Bull would probably like that.”
He was sitting with his men at the opposite side of the tavern, but as if he had sensed someone talking about him, he looked around the room curiously before shrugging and returning to his drink.. Varric sighed, leaning back in his seat.
“Is there something on your mind?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing to worry about.”
Before she could press the issue, Hawke staggered in, collapsing into a seat by the wall, glancing between the two, seconds before he brought his head to rest on the table.
“Mythal’enaste, what did I leave you to?” she gasped. “I’m so sorry.”
He quickly sat up, forcing a smile, dropping his hand on hers. “You did nothing wrong.”
“No, I did. I left you out there so I didn’t have to deal with them.” she said.
“Well, yeah, there’s that I guess. Still, can’t just let you feel bad about it. I’d have done the same.” he admitted.
“Most would.” Varric added.
Tipping her drink back, she eyed the stairs. She put her hands on the table, raising slightly from her seat. Clearly, she was planning a quick getaway.
“I know I haven’t hit the showers yet, but I can’t be that bad…” Hawke said.
“Not you. My brother. Need a head start, he’s faster than I am.” she muttered.
She pushed her chair back with her foot, rounding the table slowly, making sure he wouldn’t see her between the people she moved between. When she was clear, she made a dash for the stairs, reaching the third before he caught her by the collar.
“Not so much as a note. I thought someone took you.” he said sternly. “Again.”
“You would have insisted on following me.” she said.
“What’s wrong with that?” he asked.
“I don’t need a guard. I’m not going to get hurt.” she told him bluntly.
Eirlen sighed and set her down, his stormy eyes focused on hers intently. “Yet when I came here, you couldn’t even walk.”
Her head dropped at the reminder. He had her there, her only good argument shot down just that quickly. Once, she would have cherished getting to spend time with him, but now that feeling of happiness turned to concern. It would kill her if she hurt him by accident, and she didn’t think he quite understood that she wasn’t the same person he knew. Saying that out loud was something she didn’t want to do.
“You can relax. I don’t have anywhere to be for a little while. I’ll be around, so you can watch me all you like if it makes you feel better.” she told him.
He smiled, gently patting her shoulder. “How much trouble can you get in here?”
“Plenty.” she joked.
He seemed to remember something, pointing to the door. “I almost forgot. Alwyn said he needed to see you. It might have been important, you should hurry.”
Fenina sighed. She hadn’t taken any new injuries, she was out of bed and walking, if this was a check up, there was no cause for it. Then again, he might have thought of something that could actually help her condition. Thinking that, she headed for his room, if he wasn’t there it was possible he might be in the gardens, but his quarters were closer. Knocking first, she walked in, stopping almost immediately when she noticed his tunic was off.
“I’m sorry. I can wait outside, if you need a moment.” she suggested.
“It’s fine, I was just tending to an old injury…” he said.
The question in her mind was which one . He had more than she did, and the various patterns said she wasn’t the only one who had been on the receiving end of many different kinds of injuries. He pulled his tunic back on before she had too long to look, and at least in her mind it made sense.
“I was told you needed to see me, but I’m really just fine.” she told him.
His expression became hard to read, a pile of medicinal flowers dulling her sense of smell too much to pick up on why he looked so serious suddenly. He turned to grab a glass, holding it out to her.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if this will help, but it might help.” he said.
She gave it a curious sniff, not able to identify what in it. He hadn’t hurt her yet, and like she thought before, he had plenty of chances before now. Shrugging, she drank it down, the taste every bit as bitter as she expected it would be. Handing him the empty cup, she gestured to his arm.
“Looks like you’re bleeding. You should fix that, right?” she asked.
He glanced to his arm, quickly heading to clean it up. “Hey, I’m happy you’re back, but...I need to take care of this...Can I see you later?”
Reaching for the door, she nodded. “Sure. I should get back to work anyway…”
She closed the door on her way out, thinking it over for a moment. That was a little bit unusual, although he was a healer, and he probably didn’t want to bother the others. Still, even though she couldn’t tell for sure, he struck her as being nervous. Maybe she was already overthinking it.
Fenina looked around her room, unsure how she got there, or why the small group surrounding her bed looked so concerned. Cullen and Leliana exchanged quiet whispers that couldn’t overcome the pounding in her head, Varric and Hawke staring at her with there arms held across their chests, not like they were trying to keep her away, but more like...no good, she couldn’t find the words either. Eirlen saw the way she jolted upright out of bed and quickly moved the others aside so she could sprint for the bathroom, shaking his head worriedly.
“What have you done to her? She wasn’t like this before.” he asked accusingly.
“Us? We’ve done nothing to her. I’m still working through everyone who had contact with her since.” Leliana said.
“Maybe she caught one of your diseases. She’s getting sick just by being around you or something.” he suggested.
“Ah, now this reminds me of home.” Hawke beamed cheerily.
Cullen sighed. He understood that much at least. They’d had no luck finding anything in common, but he had siblings, he knew what it was like to worry for them. “I get that you’re worried, but hurling accusations won’t figure out what’s wrong now.”
Eirlen huffed under his breath, but relented eventually. “Fine. have you found anything ?”
“Unfortunately, considering how many people are here, it’s hard to rule anything out. It’s possible this wasn’t something malicious, perhaps she simply caught a bug.” Leliana said.
“I guess that could be the case. You can harden up your body all you like, and your insides might still get you.” he sighed. “I’ll make myself useful and go find the healer.”
When he left, they looked between each other, and at least for Varric, it made sense.
“He’s not right here to wipe her nose? Interesting.” he muttered.
“Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him around at all today.” Cullen said,.
“Yeah, he took off last night, I saw him leave while I was demolishing the dum...I mean, I saw him take off last night before I went to bed.” Hawke said.
Cassandra was already suspicious about the story they’d fed her about finding Hawke by accident. Now she was furious that all the training dummies in the yard were little more than smouldering craters. He didn’t want it to accidentally get back to her that he was the cause.
“Now where would such a clean healer go? One who supposedly is only here to care for the Inquisitor, and so late…”Leliana wondered.
Varric looked to Hawke for a moment and he nodded, turning to leave. “I’ll be back much faster anyway, I take bigger steps than you do.”
“Brag a little more, Hawke. A little louder too, I can’t here you down here.” he said sarcastically.
“I’m going to check on her, it’s too quiet.” Leliana sighed.
She knocked on the door a few times before going in. Eirlen returned shortly after, a look of disgust on his face.
“I couldn’t find him. Typical, whenever you need someone, they’re always gone. I’ve found one of your healers, let’s hope she knows what she’s doing.” he said, rolling his eyes.
Leliana came back out, supporting her, though she looked much worse than she went in, her eyes so bloodshot they looked almost completely red, save for her irises, her skin pallid and clearly struggling without her support. Now they were beginning to see the resemblance to her brother, trying to push her hands away, grumbling under her breath.
“I can manage, I...no, let go...I don’t need help.” she complained.
Against her better judgment, she slowly let go, watching her manage two of the steps back to her bed before she tumbled over in a heap.
“Did anything unusual happen last night?” Cullen asked.
“I knew what I was doing. I’ll be fine.” she said.
“What happened?” Varric asked, pushing himself off the wall.
“Alwyn said he had something that might help me get rid of… all of this .” she told him, gesturing to herself as a whole. “He said it might not work though. Feel like shit. I’m guessing that means it must be working.”
“What was in it?” Leliana asked. “That was a lot of blood, it could have been poison…”
“No, it wasn’t that. Maybe the plants I saw? There were some I couldn’t identify, and they smelled too strongly to tell what was in it. I’m sure it’s nothing worse than I’ve had before, although...it did taste a little like something. I can’t quite remember. Give me a moment to think of it, and maybe I can…” she sighed.
Cullen moved to try to help her, but like with Leliana, she quickly deflected the attempt, pulling herself closer to the bed stubbornly, pushing herself up enough to climb back in with a sigh. She draped her arm over her eyes to block out the excess light filtering in through the windows, trying to tempt the memory back into her mind. Almost immediately, she wished she hadn’t. Haven came back in a blur, the sights, the sounds, the smells, all the screaming. The way it felt to have no control over herself, to not know why she was moving without thought. The feeling of flesh tearing between her teeth, and the sharp tang of blood. She sat up quickly, covering her mouth like she might be sick again. Her eyes had a look of deep regret displayed prominently.
“Blood. That explains why he wanted me out...so I wouldn’t figure it out. The plants were there so I wouldn’t notice it…” she mumbled, the realization hitting her.
Eirlen frowned, moving to sit by her. “I’ll stay with you. I can’t leave you alone like this. Few souls are as close as we are, so no matter what happens, you’ll have me…”
Fenina leaned against his shoulder, rubbing her eyes slowly. “At least there’s that…”
‘What’s going on?” Cullen quietly asked.
“She’s consumed elven blood. It’s forbidden in our clan, and as First, she will have to tell our mother. With luck, she won’t be cast out, but if she is….I plan to join her in exile.” he said.
“Oh, I’m certain he has a pretty damn good reason for this .” Varric sighed.
“If this is my punishment, I hope it works….” she groaned.
“Let’s not worry about that for now, see? I’ve brought a healer, this one is human, but perhaps he can still make you feel better.” he told her.
“I’m so tired…” she murmured.
“No, no. You have to stay awake for now. Stay with me, okay?” he asked.
“I’ll try…” she said behind a yawn.
Another flaw. Another problem. Such a simple thing could make her feel this badly. No, it couldn’t simply be that, there had to be some other thing mixed into it, surely. Still, nothing Victor gave her was quite as morbid to her as the idea of eating a part of her own kind. Then again, perhaps that was intended from the very beginning. Make her think he was done with her, that she might have escaped and not had to deal with anything more from him. Some way, somehow, he was still getting to her. Alwyn was too kind, no way he knew it was off limits, unless he had reason to believe it might work. Thinking about it too hard made her head pound again. Better to try and clear her mind, nothing worse than being tired than being in too much pain to sleep and tired.
Chapter 25: Good Idea, Bad Idea
Redcliffe. Being back here was just a reminder of what happened before. Varric’s suggestion. Get out of Skyhold for a time, get away from all the people begging for her attention, just the two of them. He was pretty much a safe bet, he wasn’t grating, she trusted him and more importantly, trusted herself around him. They’d spoken at length about many things, how she felt about Eirlen really. How she regretted feeling like she couldn’t even risk hugging him now, how she felt violated somehow, like she was filthy and toxic. How she didn’t blame Alwyn at all, that he was simply trying to help, and that she wasn’t sure she felt anything for him. They spoke of how she used to imagine finding someone who was meant just for her, but that she thought it was better that she put that dream away. They spoke of her bitterness towards Victor, how she was certain he intended to isolate her like this from the start. Split her from her family, make it so she couldn’t go back, and couldn’t get close to anyone ever again. How she suspected he wanted her to feel like the only option she had was to go crawling back to him.
“I’d never let that happen.” he said offhandedly. “Bianca’s certainly looking forward to the day we meet this bastard.”
Fenina rubbed at her eyes, stinging from a mix of tears that were threatening the corners of her eyes and the bright light in the tavern. Varric seemed to take notice, reaching over to pull her hood down a little lower, moving closer to try and block out some of it. She didn’t flinch away from him like she did with others. It was refreshing to know she at least trusted herself with him. He used to worry about what might happen if she accidentally lost control, but against her perceptions, she had far better control than she thought. He didn’t want to imagine the things he’d read, he knew there was more that wasn’t in there, and he had to wonder just what point he had gotten to that made her feel like she couldn’t risk putting others at risk, that she just had no control over what she could do.
“For what it’s worth, I actually like your eyes.” he said.
They said there was truth in wine, and perhaps he was just being a little too honest. Granted, this wasn’t wine, and they’d been there for hours, long enough that the sun was already setting. Too late to head back tonight. He’d already got a room for the night -- two beds, nothing for her to worry about. They’d slept far closer on the road, it didn’t bother him in the least, but he knew how she’d feel about getting too close, not when she was one giant open wound right now.
“Funny...I don’t know why, but I believe it when you say it.” she mumbled.
“Hilarious when you consider I’m known for exaggerating and I’m a self-admitted liar. For the record, I’m not lying, but I’m just saying, you might have very poor taste.” he laughed.
“Probably. I mean, I am the one who believed the man who claimed to want to help protect my clan.” she snorted. “I might just be a bit too naive.”
“Prickles, you’re fine. You usually have pretty good judgment, you don’t enjoy killing people, that much is plain to anyone, and yet you keep trying even knowing people might just hurt you again.” he said, patting her shoulder. “You’re fine. It’s everyone else.”
“Ah, so I’m getting the reverse of the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ cliche. Feels great.” she said sarcastically.
Varric didn’t like how miserable she looked. He couldn’t imagine how it felt to know she was just waiting for the axe to drop, word from her own mother whether or not she’d become effectively abandoned by her own family. Too heavy. Needed a new topic.
“What do you think of Cullen?” he asked
“What a strange question…” she said. “He’s alright. I like him well enough, we’re getting along a little better lately, I think...I can’t quite put my finger on it, but he still seems nervous about being around me…”
Varric laughed again, shaking his head. “Your brother really got him flustered. He thinks Cullen really likes you, and now he has him rethinking everything he says and does to make sure it doesn’t seem like it.”
“That explains a lot. Eirlen doesn’t trust humans much. He thinks anyone who spends more than a few minutes near an elf is up to something.” she giggled.
He actually missed that sound. She didn’t smile or laugh enough these days, and that frown of hers was a bit too depressing even for him. She yawned, and he left a pile of coins on the table, helping her to her feet. She didn’t resist, draping her arm around his shoulders for support. She wasn’t much taller than he was, tall enough to be obviously not a dwarf, but shorter than humans, unlike most of the elves he’d met. His arm reached around her waist, leading her up to the room he’d reserved. She was warmer than he figured she might be, enough to momentarily distract him from the tune she had started to hum under her breath. He knew it, or at least it sounded familiar. Some Orlesian children’s song about a bird or something. He stopped by the bed, letting her sit down before he meant to go to the other side of the room.
She slid down, accidentally pulling him with her. He sighed, working to stand back up, though curiosity made him look. He almost wished he hadn’t. She looked comfortable, at peace for once, and he found himself thinking, for just a moment, it must have been what she was like before. He looked away, trying to put it away, leave it in the back of his mind to be forgotten again, hopefully as quickly as it had come up.
“Varric…” she said quietly.
“Yeah, Prickles?” he asked, unable to hide the sliver of nervousness in his voice. “Something on your mind?”
Her eyes were barely open, he’d have thought her asleep if he couldn’t see a hint of red just under her long lashes. “You smell good. Reminds me of home…”
He wasn’t particularly surprised. He smelled like a mix of blood lotus, elfroot and embrium, he hadn’t really wanted to say anything about it, but his brother had asked for his help in getting ahold of some for her, said it would cheer her up. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed before, but the smell of it all had lingered in his clothes.
“Well, if it makes you happy, I’m glad.” he said with a slight shrug.
He needed to get away. Something was strange, and he wasn’t quite sure what it was. She was like a rift in that moment, he felt like he had no control over the pull he felt. Swearing under his breath, he leaned in, kissing her, it was just a moment, but enough to figure it out. She shifted, lazily opening her eyes, though she said nothing. He was glad for that silence. Maybe there was still time to play it off like it was an accident and get away. She smiled a little, though it seemed like she was exhausted, too tired to notice with any real clarity. He had to get away. He grimaced, looking away, getting up and crossing to the other bed. She squeezed her pillow, and dozed off moments later. He faced the wall, any desire to sleep replaced with cursing himself for...whatever the hell had possessed him to do that. He blamed Hawke. Everything had been fine until he had to go and poke at him. He could have lived his life blissfully unaware that she interested him in any way. But he had to go and point it out. What happened next? Would she wake up and demand her distance? Or would she cross the freaking map to get away from him?
That was half the problem. She wasn’t like that. She would go back to Skyhold, back to the role that had been pushed on her, and let the world weigh her down, same as ever. Sure, if he decided to be honest, he didn’t want that. He wanted to do whatever it took to erase anything that troubled her. Another part of him wanted to get up and leave and never look back. To keep right on avoiding anything that tried to stick to him. Hell he was good at that now. Practically professional. That wasn’t exactly an option, not with the world still in trouble. If he ran now it would be the last thing he did. He’d regret it too much, and that was another part of the problem. This was, at least in his mind, partly his fault, after all.
The return to Skyhold was filled with chaos. Hawke had returned and found Alwyn, however there was no chance to ask whether or not his ‘cure’ was intentionally laced with elven blood or not, whatever happened, he was in no position to talk about it, completely unconscious his body laced in bloody gashes including a long one across his throat. Whatever happened, someone intended to kill him, and while the healers agreed he could be saved, it would take time, a full team and days at the very least. Fenina sat by his bed for a time, guilt creeping in at the sight of him. She might not have done this, but that she wasn’t even aware of where he went, let alone what happened made her feel like she’d already failed somehow.
Hawke kept watch with her, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but the others are asking that we head out to the Western Approach soon…”
Glad for the distraction, she pushed herself to stand, grabbing her pack. It didn’t feel right to leave him like this, however, Eirlen agreed to keep an eye on him in her place, though it came with plenty of complaint that he’d much rather go with to make sure she’d be alright.
“Are you really sure you want me babysitting him instead of coming with?” he asked for what felt like the millionth time.
“Hawke, Varric and Solas are coming with. Trust me, I’m in good hands. Couldn’t be safer…” she assured him.
“Fine…” he relented. “The blonde one wanted to speak with you before you leave.”
That was something. Still not ready to call him by his name or at the very least, his title. She wasn’t far off from the war room where he was likely to be found with the others, a quick matter to see to before they could leave. She didn’t stop until her hands hit the table, leaning against it out of habit.
“You wanted to see me?” she asked, not bothering to look.
“It’s...well…” he muttered. “There’s no easy way to say this, but there’s a problem with your clan.”
Her head shot up, pupils little more than pinpoints when the light filtering through the window hit her. “What sort of problem?”
“There’s been problems with local humans. Bandits, raiders. They’re having trouble keeping them at bay, and they reached out to us for help. It’s...a very big deal for the dalish to accept aid from humans, but they seem to accept that we’re not holding you captive at the very least.” Leliana explained.
“Respectfully, let my men handle this. They’re trained for this. I can send a small but capable force to keep them back and allow your clan to get out. They’ll stay on until such a time that your family is safe…” Cullen suggested.
It was a sound idea, but at the same time, it was a lot to risk. If anything went wrong, it wouldn’t be his men that caught the backlash...She squinted, looking between Leliana and Josephine as if asking what they’d recommend.
“I could send spies. This sounds suspicious enough to warrant investigation, and my people are well trained as well, it is an option.” Leliana suggested uneasily.
No, that was definitely no good. If her people were caught digging, they would not only retaliate, but would likely brand themselves as enemies and opposers of the Inquisition, and considering it was put on her to lead, she had to at least try to think of what was best for all parties, though it was difficult to care about it when her family was in danger.
“I could enlist the aid of Duke Antoine. These bandits could pose a problem for the city as well, and he has been very open of his support of the Inquisition. I don’t see why we can’t simply ask for his help in protecting your clan, since it would indeed benefit all parties.” Josephine said.
Fenina palmed her face, nervously fidgeting in place. Cullen was the obvious answer, but there was too much risk. Josephine had a point, if it benefitted this Duke, and aided an ally, it would be a simple and quick ask to protect her clan. Really, it was in his best interest. As Inquisitor, he would be doing her a personal favor, one she’d no doubt have to repay later. Cullen seemed not to like the idea she presented, but he kept his silence, waiting for her decision. When she said nothing, he finally decided to ask.
“Inquisitor...what do you want to do?” he asked quietly.
“Josephine, how quickly can we get word to them? I need to know which option will get people there quickest. This is a matter of importance.” she asked.
“Your clan is near Wycome. With our messengers, we can get word to them in a matter of hours, and within the day we should see a responsive action.” she replied.
She raked her nails through her scalp roughly, wincing when it scraped almost painfully for a moment. “Josephine, I’m placing that which I hold most precious in your care...please...please, help them.” she said.
“Of course. It will be done.” She said, immediately penning the letter.
“I really think this is a bad idea…” Cullen sighed.
“I...I need to get going. I’m not getting anything done standing here worrying...Right...before I go…” she paused at the door. “Did they happen to say anything about what happened?”
“No...I’m sorry. I’m sure they’ll get back to you when they’re in the clear…” he said apologetically.
“I understand...hold down the fort. I’ll try to make this quick.” she sighed.
She slowly pulled her hood up on the way to the front gate, her heart hammering in her chest with worry. It was important to focus, but how could she when she knew her family was struggling on their own. As much as she wanted to pretend her or Eirlen would have made all the difference, the truth was harder to accept that they wouldn’t have been much help if all their hunters were barely making a dent. Hawke frowned at the look on her face. She looked distraught, and he wasn’t sure if he should say anything or not. Varric beat him to it.
“Hey...you okay?” he asked quietly.
“No. Not really. I should be there. I should be home, I never should have left. They wouldn’t be in this mess if I had never left…” she muttered. “I’d have never been at the Conclave, never been like this, and they wouldn’t be in this mess…”
Hawke knew the feeling well. Regretting everything leading up to the deaths of his family, blaming himself for everything that went wrong and considering for days on end where he could have made the difference if he’d have only done something differently. Her clan wasn’t gone, they still had a fighting chance, it was too soon for regret. He held open his arms in offering, and against her better judgment, she accepted the hug, keeping it brief. This was enough of a problem without adding in the potential to hurt someone else too.
“It’s going to be alright. It’s not over yet, you have to keep going.” he told her.
“I know...it just doesn’t feel right.” she said.
Her legs felt weak, like they wouldn’t be able to support any attempt to walk, but she pushed on, leading the way towards the Western Approach, silently offering everything she could if the creators would only watch over them. Her servitude, her soul, even her magic, whatever it would take to appease them. She barely heard his next statement, but it seemed directed at Varric this time.
“For someone who got away for a bit, you look more tense than when you left.” he commented.
Varric’s steps faltered only for a moment, recalling the inexplicable need to kiss her that he’d felt, the way her lips felt nothing like he imagined it might be. She hadn’t mentioned it, and that worried him a little. She wasn’t trying to avoid him, or she’d have just picked someone else to go in his place, but that left him wondering if she even noticed, and if she did, whether she was bothered by it. Still, maybe it was possible she knew that it was eating away at him, and didn’t feel like making it worse by talking about it. Hawke grinned broadly then, prodding at his cheek.
“Varric, you’re actually blushing! Aveline isn’t going to believe this!” he said gleefully.
“Hawke, have I ever told you that you talk too much?” he grumbled.
“Several times. I have no plans to shut up.” he said with a shrug.
“Maybe you need to start.” he said.
“May I suggest we save this for when we make camp for the night?” Solas interjected
“Please...thank you.” Fenina murmured, echoing the sentiment.
Varric and Hawke nodded, falling silent. She had a lot on her mind, there was no need to add more with their squabbles. It was too quiet though. It was never this quiet. Over time, she had gotten rather accustomed to the banter and conversations that filled these trips, and the silence felt too palpable, too wrong. It was too much like the way she was when they first met, that trip to the Hinterlands that ended in her racing off, horrified at what she’d done. All the regret...or was it shame? In the world wasn’t enough to deter him from wanting to make a difference somehow. Still, Hawke seemed like he could like her, and she wasn’t particularly trying to keep him away. He was charming, funny, strong. Plenty of things he’d happily claim about himself, but he had no doubt he could be a lot better for her than he ever could. She was a hard read though. Swore she wasn’t interested in pursuing anyone, but there were times when there seemed to be some sort of interest, but not enough or not obvious enough to tell. He just needed her to show some sign, and maybe he could stop thinking of her like they were a thing that could happen. Maybe talking to him was a good idea. For once, he could try being totally honest, and maybe he’d do that friend thing and step in, save him from himself. Of course with him, it was just as likely he’d just clue her in on it and back away laughing about it.
Hawke stared up at the sky like it held some unusually deep meaning. The stars were out tonight, clear out here. Nothing like he had gotten used to. Fenina claimed she couldn’t sleep, and Solas had already taken off for the night. Varric was up because he claimed it was his turn for watch, but he knew better. Whether or not he wanted to admit it, it was only too obvious he had a soft spot for the Inquisitor, knowing him as well as he did it was probably just a way to make sure she wasn’t thinking about the what-ifs. Varric didn’t like a severe atmosphere.
“So. I hear you’re the First in your clan. I know a little about that. My friend back was also First for hers. She filled me in, a little.” Hawke said.
“Really? Do tell.” she said.
There wasn’t even a hint of emotion to her voice. It was almost a mechanical reply, but at least it seemed like she was trying to keep up with what was going on to some extent.
“You’ll inherit control of your clan someday, and you learn old stories and stuff, right?” he said.
“I suppose that’s true. If something happened...yes, I’d be the next Keeper. I learned the old writing, language, old magic...stories too.” she said quietly.
“I remember she told my dog a story once. Do you have a favorite?” he asked.
She shook her head slightly. “Not really.” she mumbled. “But...there was a short one they used to tell us as children. It was a fable, about the consequences of being too prideful. I didn’t care for it then, but it’s stuck with me the last few years…”
“Do...I mean, is it alright to ask you to tell it to me?” Hawke wondered.
Merrill was a bit of an exception. She taught him a lot about Dalish culture, probably more than was alright with most elves, so he had no real idea what the acceptable boundaries were, or if it might seem offensive. Normally he didn’t care who he pissed off, but she reminded him a lot of himself in plenty of ways, and maybe it was that, but he didn’t really want to upset her.
“I...guess it’s fine if you really want to hear it…” she agreed after a time.
Pushing herself to sit up against the wall of rock at her back, she brought her legs up to her chest, her arms resting on her knees. Her tongue brushed against her lips like they had suddenly gone dry, but in all fairness, it was getting drier the closer they got to the Approach.
“There once was a powerful lord, he had conquered many lands, and boasted a number of people gathered under his banner from all the places he had taken. He thought his was the pinnacle of power and thought himself invincible, blessed by the gods themselves. His people had all but given up, relenting to his rule without question, they weren’t fighters, but farmers, peasants, all losing hope in returning to the lives they once led. After a time, they found comfort in knowing they at least had each other. Family, children, things that could be protected if they only kept their heads down and tried not to draw the lord’s ire.” she said. “So one day...a young boy, frail and untrained, decided they’d been ground down under his heel for far too long, he was tired of the way they were treated, and though he had no chance of winning, he approached the throne. The lord looked on, asking only who he thought he was to disturb him.”
She paused, reaching for a flask, cleverly using a small touch of energy to cool it off before taking a sip. They’d passed a stream on the way to the camp, and had taken care to stock up on water while they could. She said nothing after she put it back, stretching slightly.
“What did he say?” Hawke wondered.
“The boy didn’t bow, didn’t submit in anyway. He stood tall, staring up at the arrogant lord and said ‘Gold or Worn, our armor is not so different. I may be just a dog, by my teeth are no less ferocious than yours…’. The lord laughed, rising from his throne. He drew his blade and approached the defenseless boy. He expected him to fight, to struggle, but he stood still, watching as the man fell to his knees. The boy turned, walking out of the room.” she said.
“Why did the lord collapse?” he asked.
“In his pride, he told himself he couldn’t be beaten, no one was strong or clever enough to stand up to him.Years had passed, and he neglected his own care to make sure he never let anyone get the better of him. He grew sick and feeble without ever noticing, seeing himself as he had been when he conquered the lands. The boy discovered a way out, had bought time for them to escape. Left the lord to pick himself back up, sitting on his throne in halls that echoed in their emptiness...It is an imperfect story, but it is meant to be simple enough for children to understand, to get the message that being too prideful causes us to become blind to the truth, foolish enough to think ourselves above being outsmarted or defeated.”
Hawke didn’t need to ask to understand the reason it had been present on her mind for so long. It was hope for her. She saw herself as the young boy, waiting out her chance to permanently slip free of the crutches of the one holding her captive. Free though she was now, even he could understand that escaping a situation wasn’t always enough to get it off your mind. That much reminded him a lot of Fenris. He often spoke of feeling like he couldn’t outrun his past, and how even without an enemy, he still didn’t really feel it. Even after Danarius had been dead, he still looked over his shoulder, for years, he’d been jumpy and tense. Honestly, it was a bit surprising she wasn’t more paranoid about the situation. He supposed what had been done to her served her well in that regard. She said before it was almost impossible to catch her completely off guard, and he gathered she was a light sleeper. He saw the way she plotted escape routes in the tavern while she was trying to avoid her brother. Some part of it was still on her heels, but she was surviving.
“I understand…” he said, his tone indicating it had nothing to do with the story. “Believe me.”
She slumped back down, nodding slowly. “I do. As much as I try to judge it like any other person, it’s a curse. You’re clean.”
Fenina tapped her nose with a heavy sigh. He almost pitied her. Might as well be able to tell exactly what people were thinking with senses like that. Maybe she couldn’t read minds, but that had to be damn close. He frowned a little at the thought, feeling a small hint of shame that it even crossed his mind, but he saw the less than demure implications of such a thing. That had to be unpleasant at best, and awkward as hell at worst. How do you look someone in the eye, knowing what they were up to? He couldn’t even begin to imagine. Travelling with the Iron Bull was probably more awful than most might think it was. Unexpectedly, she changed the subject, staring up at the sky.
“I wanted to like him. He was the first person who ever really seemed to want to get that close…” she sighed. “Something is off about him. I felt like I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t remember why. He smelled strangely. Not quite like he was anxious, but I can’t quite place that either…”
“Who?” Varric asked curiously. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew exactly who she was referring to.
“Alwyn. Something...isn’t right about him.” she said.
He was surprised it took her so long to catch up to his and Cullen’s hunch that something was definitely buried there. It was curious that she said she felt like she had seen him before. They’d only met in Haven, didn’t exactly leave a lot of time for deja vu. The worst of it should have been that his suspicions were likely correct if even she thought he was hiding something. In his mind, the worst of it ended up being that his mind unhelpfully decided to focus on the information that she didn’t like him . This wasn’t good at all. As much of a risk as it was to bring it up, something had to be done. He stood up, glancing to her for just a moment.
“Hey, Hawke. I need to stretch my legs for a bit, want to walk with me?” he asked.
“Huh? I…” he stopped, noting how serious he looked. “Sure. Will you be alright alone, Fen?”
She shifted her gaze from the night sky to Hawke, nodding slowly, her hands coming off her knees just a bit. “Not exactly helpless, after all.”
Somehow, it had slipped his mind entirely that everything had been done to her with the purpose of making her as strong and indestructible as possible. She just...didn’t look sturdy. If he didn’t know anything was different about her, it could even be said that she looked a little on the frail side, but then, he hadn’t really seen many Dalish elves to begin with, the clan he had contact with had that look to them too. He crossed his arms loosely over his chest, following his friend away from the camp. Unlike him to look like that, and even less like him to want to get away, just the two of them. Had to be something he didn’t want her overhearing, a thought reinforced by just how far away he was going before he stopped. She mentioned her sense of smell was the best, but that her other senses weren’t as strong. Above average didn’t mean this level of security measure.
“About her then. What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I have some questions for you. Maybe one of the many favors you owe me…” Varric sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
The story is very very loosely based on The Rains of Castamere.
Varric hadn’t said a word. He said he needed to talk, yet here he was, more quiet than he’d ever seen him like he was still trying to figure out how to bring it up.
“What’s so complicated about this?” he said. “It’s all too obvious you like her. Well, at least it’s plenty obvious to me, never seen you like this before.”
“Hawke.” he said, trying to stop him with just that one word.
“You haven’t gone mute. Good, I was worried.” he laughed. “So...wanna tell me why we’re out here like this yet, or…?”
His hands fidgeted restlessly like he just wasn’t sure what to do with them, his head down nearly to his chest. Whatever it was, it was really bothering him. Probably not a good idea to joke around too much, then.
“Why didn’t you ever settle down?” he asked finally.
“Just never felt right. I mean you already know about Anders, I thought maybe that was it, but...I honestly couldn’t begin to say where he went after I left him go. I’m not even sure I was actually in love with him and not just...taken by the things he said and did.” he shrugged. It wasn’t particularly a sore spot for him, but there was a hint of guilt that he’d let it blind him so much to how far he had fallen without him noticing. “Why do you ask?”
“What do you think of her? I’ve seen the way you look at her sometimes. I might be mistaken, but I’ve seen that look before.” he said.
“She’s difficult not to like. Wears everything on her sleeves, there’s no great mystery to what she thinks or feels, and I guess I can understand where a lot of it is coming from. We’re not so different. She’s a kind girl, not at all like she should be considering everything she’s had thrown at her. She doesn’t seem as bitter or irredeemable as you’d think she should be.” he sighed, ruffling his hair anxiously. “Why do you ask?”
“I kissed her, Hawke. I didn’t mean to. Not sure why, but I did.” he said. “It’s driving me mad. She hasn’t said a word about it, and I don’t know what’s going through her mind. You know me. I don’t get that close to anyone, It’s just...not me.”
Hawke grinned at that. “You’re finally growing up, I’m so proud of you. Here I thought it was just me you didn’t like.”
Varric snorted at that. “Please, you were never seriously interested.”
“And if I had been, would that have made any difference at all?” Hawke asked.
“Probably not. I mean...it’s really a lot more complicated than it has any right to be.” he sighed, kneading his brow.
“You mean Bianca. The real one, not the crossbow. Someday, I’m gonna get that story out of you.” Hawke said.
“Yes, and no...I guess it does have to do with her...a little. You know I can’t tell you about that. It’s better I don’t put you at anymore risk. You draw enough of your own trouble without my adding to it.” he said, managing only the hollowest of smiles.
“Maybe I’m missing the point, but if you like her, why not just ask her how she feels about you? You can’t live your life on memories, not healthy. Give it a chance, I mean, really, what’s the absolute worst that could happen?” he shrugged.
“I can think of plenty of things.” he said pointedly.
“Well, you write a lot, I’m sure if you thought about it, you could come up with a million things, some even involving giants and dragons, no doubt. Realistically, what? She says she’s not interested? A few days of wounded pride to have your answer.” he muttered. “Really, what’s stopping you?”
“She’s just a kid, Hawke. Too old for her. She’s a bit taller than I like. Never really been interested in elves. She might actually kill me. If she doesn’t, no doubt Eirlen would have something to say about it. That whole elven biological imperative. No doubt someone has plans for her anyway, plans that don’t involve someone like me.” he rattled off.
Hawke’s head shook a little faster each time. “Varric, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m not that much younger than you are. She’s an adult, you’re only choosing to see her as a kid so you have a reason to deny it. I’m a fair bit taller than her, maybe she doesn’t like that? Maybe she doesn’t like humans. You said you’re not afraid of her, and while I’m not either, that doesn’t mean I’m not actually in any danger either. Most of your reasons apply to me in some way or another. Plus, her brother really doesn’t like the idea of her being with a human. Specifically a human. So if anything, I’d be in some trouble.”
He had a fair point there at least. Eirlen probably wouldn’t let it go so easily if she showed back up on his arm. That hadn’t stopped him from ignoring his friendly advice before. He liked crazy, liked danger. Fenina wasn’t crazy, and she had a handle on the danger bit, it seemed. More than she was willing to admit, he’d probably be just fine.
“What are you really asking me, here...you said something about cashing in a favor.” he asked.
“Take care of her.” he said.
Hawke stared at him seriously. Unbelievable. Practically owned up to his interest in her, and instead of taking any sort of risk, he was trying to pawn her off on him. Not that he was particularly complaining about it, but still, this had to be the first time he’d ever known him to do something he would definitely consider cowardly.
“And if she’s not even a little bit interested, aren’t you right back where you started?” he asked.
“Please. You won Marethari over, Merrill really looked up to you. You’re probably catnip to elves.” he snorted.
“Her name has something to do with wolves, based solely on what Fenris told me. Have you ever seen a dog take interest in catnip?” he said jokingly.
“Can you help or not?” Varric asked pointedly.
Hawke sighed heavily, unfolding his arms. Really he should have just said no. This was his problem to handle. Suppose it could still work. Maybe he doesn’t like the idea as much as he thinks he does, maybe he ruffles his feathers enough to change his mind. Always a possibility it could backfire though, he had to prepare for anything, maybe she ended up liking him. He could live with that, there were plenty of things a lot worse than a pretty girl having interest.
“I guess.” he relented. “I don’t get it, but whatever happens, you brought this on yourself.”
“Hawke…” he said, stopping him again before he could leave.
“What is it now?” he asked.
“Friends or not...you hurt her, and I won’t let it stand.” he threatened.
“Right. I expected no less. Better get back before she starts to think we ran out on her.” he said.
They made it to the edge of the campsite. Fenina was nowhere in sight, not until they looked up. She appeared to have changed into something less stifling, looked Qunari in nature, covered in ropes and plush-looking pants, hanging upside down from a nearby tree. For as scrawny as she seemed, there was no question it had to be solid muscle. Her legs locked around the branch, holding herself out enough to grab at some fruit, carefully dropping it to the base of the tree. Hawke watched her curiously before it occurred to him to check on his friend. He stared up at her, his expression completely unreadable.
“Sure you’re not having second thoughts?” Hawke asked with a light chuckle.
“Why would you think that?” he questioned.
“Just asking.” he said. “Strong legs...maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”
“Don’t even think about it.” Varric muttered.
“Contradictory, isn’t that? You expect me to not only win her over and take interest in me, but I’m not allowed to think of her like that . Not sure how your relationships have gone, but it usually comes up at some point. Not a human-exclusive thing. Or did you think elves just split off into more elves? They have to come from somewhere.” he reminded him quietly.
“Thanks for that.” Varric said. “Very enlightening.”
Eventually, she let go, holding on just enough to ensure she wouldn’t land improperly, dusting herself off when she hit the ground. Fenina finally seemed to notice they had returned, hauling her bounty back by the tents. “Found something to eat. Thought I couldn’t be the only one who was hungry.”
“What is this?” Hawke asked.
“I really don’t know, but I tried one already, and it’s pretty good.” she shrugged.
“Prickles, what if it was poisonous?” Varric asked.
“Then I suppose I would have gotten sick?” She shrugged.
He was prepared to remind her to take better care of herself until he caught sight of her skin. He hadn’t wanted to look too closely, not when more of her was on display than he’d seen until now, but that was the problem. He could see too much. Her arms, up her shoulders, down her stomach, all marked in scars both deep and faded. She turned just a bit, and while he couldn’t see everything, he saw more marks along the bits of her back that he could see. There was no great mystery as to how they got there, he already knew. His anxiety was quickly replaced by something he was far more comfortable with, anger.
“Never seen this outfit before. You look nice.” Hawke said.
“Ah...thank you.” she said. “It’s just...a bit warmer than I’ve gotten used to. I figure we’re about to the desert, it’ll only get worse.”
“Speaking of that. We should at least try to get some rest before the sun comes back up. Got a lot of ground to cover tomorrow…” Hawke reminded her.
“I’ll turn in after this…” she relented.
“Not asking you to sleep if you can’t, but the rest can’t hurt.” he said. “What about you, Varric? You planning to sleep?”
He shook his head slightly. “Someone should stay up.”
Fenina looked up from the odd fruit. “I can do it. I don’t need as much sleep as I used to. I’ll take care of it.”
“No.” he said sternly, frowning at how it sounded. Lightening up a little, he forced a smile. “I can handle it. Trust me.”
“If you’re sure…” she mumbled.
“I am. Just get some rest. Cassandra wouldn’t be too happy if I had to tell her I slept while her illustrious chosen was left to suffer overnight.” it was a lie, he wouldn’t have told her anyway, but it was better than telling her he was worried for her and would just prefer it if she got some rest instead of staying up to deal with a hell of a lot of nothing.
She stared at him like she already knew everything on his mind. It was dark out, and she wore no hood at the moment, and for just a moment, he thought he understood the truth of why people felt uncomfortable about them. Nothing to do with the colors, or the way they looked at all, but everything to do with the way she looked at you. He thought she might say something just then, but she turned, ducking into the tent with a half-mumbled ‘good night’ that felt far too empty. Maybe he was mistaken, but there was something off about the way she was acting. Like she didn’t like the idea of being sent off like that, it made sense considering all the shit weighing on her. Trying this hard to do her job, knowing she left the fate of her entire family in the hands of a bunch of people that weren’t her. Her brother left behind, and even Alwyn in the condition he’d been recovered in. No doubt she was feeling an entire range of things she wasn’t comfortable with. Then there was him, she trusted him, opened up to him, and he’d just basically told her to deal with it by opting to stay up and away from her. Hawke polished off another fruit before he caught the look he was giving him. He nodded to the tent like he was trying to tell him without saying it that he should keep an eye on her. Hawke frowned at him, hoping he didn’t miss the obvious disappointment on his face before he gave in and turned in for the night. It felt like a personal failure on his part, the people person who never shied away from anyone avoiding his own friends like a coward, simply because he felt like he was getting a little too close.
“Looks like it’s just us, tonight.” He said, laying Bianca across his lap.
He glanced down at it for a bit, shaking his head with a sigh before he set it off to the side. No comfort even in that. Hawke had a fair enough point. Maybe it was all an excuse, there was nothing to really hold onto in his past, nothing he could hide behind, not really. So Bianca was an excuse, and the idea of Hawke trying to put the moves on Fenina made him a little bit jealous, but he’d asked for this. He chickened out over nothing more severe than a quick kiss he wasn’t even sure if she had even noticed. It didn’t make a ton of sense, actually. Maybe staying up was a mistake too, left him with too much time to think, and the things on his mind were only making him feel worse. Couldn’t think of her either, not without remembering the exact placement of every mark he had seen, every little blemish inflicted on her. He couldn’t imagine anyone sick enough to get a thrill out of hurting someone who had done nothing to them. There was no fucking cure. He had no proof, but he was sure about that. The suggestion of leaving her captor intact after all he put her through because there might be a way to fix it seemed like an excuse meant to keep her from getting a little piece of mind.
Saving him meant any chance of her ever having the ability to sleep without fear, or the memory of being back there? Gone. It had taken much more than killing Danarius to get Fenris in a place where he could breathe, a ton more. Even he wasn’t completely healed. Revenge didn’t fix everything, hell, in some cases it only made matters worse, but it shouldn’t be up to anyone but her, how she chose to handle him when they finally caught up to him. No good. Even when he tried not to think of anything, she was still the first thing coming to mind. Objectivity was supposed to be something he was good at. Shouldn’t be this hard to just be a decent friend, someone she could turn to without his mind running off without him. Dwarves weren’t even supposed to be this imaginative. It was fitting somehow. Hawke was the one who made him aware of his own interest, it should fall to him to fix it.
Fenina hated fighting, hated the way blood left a stain on her she felt she couldn’t wash away. That had gone out the window the moment she noticed raiders in the Approach. The promising lead was not far off, but it might as well have been halfway across Thedas with the way she insisted on hunting down every single one. All that was left was a trail of corpses, pierced and broken, like a bread crumb trail pointing the way right to them.
“Right...it’s…” Hawke began, not wanting to finish it.
It was how she claimed she was caught in the first place. He’d hired a bunch of thugs to attack, only to save her from them himself. Man thought ahead, that much he was willing to concede. He had to wonder though, if no one had shown up to try and fend them off, would they have just pressed in for her clan? She hadn’t slept much the night before, and they’d spent some time talking. Enough to learn a few things he wasn’t too fond of hearing. She didn’t want to sleep because it put her right back there with him. She didn’t eat as much these days because it made her feel sick. Everything made her jumpy, even (though fully unwilling to admit it) the sound of the heavy doors in the keep. She admitted that she thought at times everything could be solved if she wasn’t a part of the equation anymore, but that she was too much of a coward to let herself give up. That she hated being Inquisitor because she wasn’t fit to lead anything, not like this.
He knew all of those feelings well. He still had trouble sleeping, when all he saw were the faces of his mother, of Bethany and Carver, wanting to suffer like it might give him peace of mind, throwing himself into every scrap and scuffle, intentionally pissing people off in the hope that maybe it might ease the ache. Even the thought that at least if he died maybe he’d see them again. Knowing that there was no way anyone would let him have that. He wasn’t about to tell anyone the things she told him, not his place to repeat it, or the way she curled up in his arms and cried half the night before she wore herself out and fell asleep. He looked over to Varric, shaking his head to himself. It could have been him. Should have been him, but no. He was busy keeping his distance like it was going to make some sort of difference.
“Hey...I’ll tell you what. Calm down, focus on me, alright? We get through this, I’ll show you something special, okay?” He told her quietly.
Holding out his hand, she stared at him like she didn’t recognize him. Eventually, she shook her head like she had regained control of her mind. She raised her hand, but held back. He closed the gap, holding onto it loosely so she didn’t feel trapped.
“That’s right...you’re back now…” he spoke softly, and she responded to it.
It was a little trick Anders taught him. When he couldn’t get out of his own thoughts or away from the memories, he’d hold his hand and talk him through it. He smiled, leaning a little closer.
“Not even a little curious?” he wondered.
She squeezed his hand when she heard a sudden yip, her head whipping back and forth trying to find the source.
“I’ve learned not to ask what the surprise usually is. It’s never good.” she mumbled.
“Just a fennec. It’s fine...it’s not going to hurt you.” he said. “Trust me. I have only the best surprises.”
“Carta assassins don’t usually count as good surprises, Hawke. Facing down Templars in the Gallows? Not good. Blown up chantry? Also bad.” Varric rattled off.
Hawke shot him an accusatory look, though he didn’t seem to be watching at the moment. “You’re not helping. In fact, you’re being every bit the ass that you claim I am.”
“I’ll be right back...will you be alright?” he asked.
“Mhm…” she nodded.
Hawke grabbed Varric by the shoulder, practically yanking him away, glaring down at him.
“What now?” he asked.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I warned you. This is exactly what you asked for, I’m doing this for you. She’s going through a rough time right now, I’m trying to keep her calm so she doesn’t go off. You’re not helping. She’s supposed to be your friend, but right now, I get the feeling you’re trying to push her to do something.” he lectured.
“We’re not far off. Aren’t you worried about Stroud?” he asked.
“Changing the subject isn’t working. I know you too well, Varric. Just...thought you were better at this whole concern thing than this. Maybe I was wrong.” he sighed.
“Hawke…” he said.
It was a rather curious tone he took, one that actually threw him off. “What?”
“Where is she?” he asked, gesturing behind him.
Hawke reluctantly turned away, fulling expecting it to be an attempt to distract him, but it wasn’t. She wasn’t where he left her, nowhere in sight, actually. She was fast, but she couldn’t have gotten all that far, not far enough to lose her in a place like this, mostly flat ground with a clear view for quite a distance. She was just gone. Varric pushed him aside, prepping another bolt just in case. Dashing over to the spot, he stared at the sand.
“There’s prints we can follow, but we should hurry. The wind picks up again, it’ll just cover them up.” he said.
“Now you’re actually worried.” Hawke grunted.
“I was worried before. I never stop worrying about her.” he admitted.
“Doesn’t show. You’re coming off more like Bartrand now.” he said.
“I’m going to take that. Just this once. I’d waste the time and effort hitting you for that, but it would waste what little time we have to figure out where she got to.” Varric muttered.
It took far longer than they intended to find her, Stroud being the one who actually pointed her out. She’d scrambled up to the top of the broken pillars, watching from above before she leapt down to clear it out. The three walked in, demon corpses and dead warden mages strewn across the area, blood seeping into the dusty stone. Fenina was perched on top of a barrel, bottle in hand, unable to look at them even as they approached.
“He got away.” she said.
“Who?” Varric wondered.
“Tevinter man. Don’t remember his name, but I meant to take him out. He slipped away in the chaos.” she sighed. “There was nothing I could do for them but offer a quick death...I didn’t want to do it.”
Varric knelt to examine them closer. True to her word, she had made it quick. Either a single pierce through the head or chest, this wasn’t anger, this was mercy. The only mercy she could give them. This guilt looked far different from the Hinterlands, completely accepted as an unfortunate accident. This felt entirely different. Hawke took a seat on a different barrel, holding out his hand. She put the bottle in it and he took a drink, holding it out to Varric. He sighed, taking it from him. Warden shit, not bad, but also to be expected with them bleeding out on the ground like this. They always seemed to have some handy. Even Anders occasionally surprised them, producing them from seemingly nowhere.
“So what will you do now, Hawke?” Stroud asked.
“Adamant. That’s what I heard.” Fenina muttered.
“Then that’s where we’re going. We clear this out, then...what was it you mentioned Varric?” he asked.
“Then we go to Orlais and save the Empress’ ass. We do that, maybe we flush Corypheus out of hiding and we take him out finally.” he said.
“That’s the plan then.” Hawke said.
“Well...I’ll go scout ahead while I wait for your forces. I’ll send word if the situation changes.” Stroud sighed.
Fenina shifted uneasily, finally looking up. “Can we go home now? I...want to make sure everything is alright. I don’t feel so well. I think something might be wrong.”
That had to be the first time she’d ever referred to Skyhold as ‘home’. Might still be too soon on word from her clan, but they could understand the urgency. She’d want to check in anyway, plenty to do. No doubt Hawke would be pretty interested in showing her whatever it was he meant to. Hopefully it wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. Then again, he did have a habit for finding interesting things on occasion, maybe it would be beneficial.
Days later, they reached the gates again, Cullen’s pacing and the look on his face enough to say that there was nothing good in the moment. Solas wandered off on his own, and Varric envied him. He’d kept telling himself the tavern was the right place to go, but that look worried even him. It stung a little bit, watching the way she reached for Hawke’s hand like she knew it wasn’t going to be easy to deal with and she needed the extra support. It was what he asked for, sure, but it hadn’t been that long, he could still clearly remember a time when he would have tried his damndest to make sure she was alright. He didn’t really want to acknowledge that he felt anything more than friendship for her, but Hawke wasn’t wrong. He’d pushed himself too far away. Maybe he was just a little bit too good at shoving aside his feelings.
“Cullen...you look like you have news…” Fenina said, nothing but apprehension and nerves.
He swallowed hard, and Varric could see the way her eyes darted to his throat, like that was her answer. Definitely not good then. He sighed, raking a hand through his hair, and the desire to run away, to have literally anyone else in his place was written plainly on his face.
“Is this about my clan?” she asked worriedly.
Cullen said something so unlike himself that Varric wasn’t sure he heard right.
“Perhaps we should...get a drink. I think I’ll need it too…” he sighed.
The group shuffled to the tavern, taking a table at the top, as far away from the conversation and ruckus as they could get. Despite it being his suggestion, he stared into his mug in silence for a time before he took a drink. He produced a folded letter, holding it out to her.
“This isn’t it. Just thought you should see this first. Maybe it’ll soften things a little…” he said.
Fenina opened it curiously, scanning through it before huffing out a sigh of relief. She looked like for once in her life, everything was falling into place, just the way she hoped it would go.
“They’ve chosen to overlook matters.” she said. Despite her obvious relief, it was like she was fighting another side of herself, shaking her head. “They shouldn’t make me the exception to the rule. I could have lived with it.”
“I...wish I could say that was all it was.” he sighed.
How bad was it that this is where Cullen ended up? Most of his problems ended up being worked out through training regiments and sitting over the map, glaring accusingly at the little markers like they had personally insulted him. He wasn’t good at dealing with people in this capacity, and probably far less with her. She was something of an unknown to him, someone who he couldn’t predict, how she’d take to bad news, if she might lash out, whether or not she could even control how she would react. The strangest bit was wondering how they managed to get away this long without Eirlen looming over his shoulder making sure he wasn’t trying to proposition her. Hell, Hawke would have probably been in some trouble too, the familiar way he sat next to her, hand still loosely curled around hers. It was actually something worth noting that this was the first time he actually found himself wishing he was just a little more like his friend. Cullen drained his cup, mentally debating another round. He waited for it to arrive before he finally spoke again.
“I want to say I’m sorry in advance.” he sighed.
“You’ve not done anything wrong that I’m aware of…” she said hesitantly.
“While you were away...we lost track of your brother. We have...reason to believe he didn’t leave willingly. His room was...it was bad, but outside, we could find few signs of where he went, who might have had a hand in his disappearance...We don’t know anything…” he admitted.
Her heart broke in that moment, she didn’t have to say a word for it to etch itself in her entire being. Her shoulders sagged, and her head dropped. She looked like everything she’d been holding in had just disappeared all at once.
“Don’t ask me how, but I know exactly what happened…” she growled.
Careful not to hurt anyone, her hand left her drink, digging deep trails in the worn wooden table, her teeth scraping into her lip, sealing up moments later. At least her healing seemed to be back to normal, it never sat well with him to see her injured.
“What do you mean?” Cullen asked.
“Victor. He’s trying to draw me out. Certainly not him, he never does his own work. Someone infiltrated and took him. A move to force my hand. He wants me to find him, and no doubt when I do, he’ll attract me with the promise of getting him back, but he won’t let him go. Why settle for one when you can have both, after all…” she hissed. Breaking into a string of angrily muttered curses that needed no expertise to understand the intent behind them, she let go finally, pushing herself to stand. “I won’t be pushed around like this.”
“Inquisitor...Fenina...please, think this through. Please use your head, don’t rush off like this, something like this, we need a plan for, we can’t risk anything happening to you.” Cullen warned.
She shot him a glare like she knew innately it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with the mark on her hand. It softened quickly though, realizing after a short time that he had actually used her name. It seemed to momentarily calm her down enough to think it through. Varric was certain he knew where her priorities would lie, but he was completely wrong, and that was the real surprise. Family was everything to her, this was getting to her in a way he hadn’t seen anything get to her.
“Send word to whoever you need to. I know it takes a long time to get anyone gathered. Adamant won’t wait. In the meantime, once everyone has been notified, have Leliana look into anything she can get her hands on. I need a break. Something to take my mind off this. Victor won’t kill him. There’d be nothing in it for him unless he knows I’ve taken the bait.” she said.
Cullen stared at her seriously for just a moment, like it was the first time he was really seeing her. He downed his drink, standing up. This had to be the first time she was really showing herself to be the leader they were hoping for. Varric had to bite his knuckle to avoid laughing. For just a moment, he had seen a side to her he never knew existed, and that side was a lot like Curly, only less severe and stuffy.
“I’ll get right on it.” He said, rushing out like he was glad to have something to do.
Varric thought perhaps that was his cue to suggest something to take her mind off it, and he had plenty of ideas. Drinking wasn’t the only thing useful for distracting someone from the shitty things going on around them. It hurt, actual physical hurt, when instead, she reached for Hawke’s arm, shrugging idly.
“You said you had something to show me?” she said.
“So I did. Who am I to keep you waiting?” he said with a grin.
Varric slumped back in his seat, watching them walk away. Why did it hurt? He shouldn’t care what she did, and he was the one who tried to push Hawke to step in for him. He wasn’t relationship material, and he wasn’t doing anyone much good clinging to old memories. Not like him to be sentimental either. Varric sighed, standing up, going only as far as he needed to see where they were going. They headed for the gate, and he breathed a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t beelining for her room like he suspected he might. He had no idea why that was comforting, he hadn’t recalled anything specific that would explain why he cared beyond trying to convince himself it was his responsibility as a friend to make sure she didn’t get into more trouble than she could handle. Hawke was a good guy, sure, but he was a special kind of trouble, after all. He stared at the gouges in the table, brushing his fingers over them curiously. Well, Leliana might be better, but sometimes an extra set of eyes was useful. Not doing anything good just sitting here with his thoughts, maybe he could find something overlooked or maybe call in a few favors to try and track the bastard down. It would kill her if he managed to ruin her brother in the same ways he had ruined her, and that had to mean something.
Hawke was definitely something else. What was by all accounts a two week trip one way had somehow managed to take only days. The location had her a little suspicious. Didn’t seem to be anything there, not until he opened a door she hadn’t noticed. Whatever this place was, it strongly reminded her of a cave, but lived in, like someone went to a lot of trouble to stay hidden. Hawke greeted someone, but she hadn’t noticed who until she pressed further in to investigate a curious pile of books. Eerie how this place managed to go undetected even to her. She picked up a piece of paper, tipping her head curiously. The script in the borders was elvhen, the kind that few aside from Keepers knew. Looked like it was for a weapon of some sort, but using the forge wasn’t something she liked to do, too loud. Hawke waved her over when he managed to get her to look up.
“Come over here. This is what I wanted you to see.” he said.
She set the schematic down, crossing the room to take a closer look at the mirror he stood in front of. It looked like any old mirror, but it felt way different to her.
“What is this? Some sort of magic?” she wondered.
Hawke gave a slight shrug, leaning in to speak like it was private. “Don’t tell Varric, but I used this once. Got rid of a bad gash I had on my jaw, I managed to convince him he completely imagined it was ever there.”
“I won’t. Promise.” she said quietly. “So then...this could…”
She didn’t want to give herself hope, not when nothing seemed to be going right lately. Her lips thinned into a tight line at the face that stared back at her. She hated that face, the one that just served to remind her how different she was.
“Just close your eyes. Think about it. I like you like this, Varric likes you like this…” he sighed. “But it’s your choice.”
Fenina nibbled her lip anxiously, shaking her head. “Could you...is it weird to ask you to turn around?”
Hawke laughed at that, but turned his back to her. Maybe it was meant to be something of a surprise, but he didn’t mind if it made her feel a little better. Logic told her it was likely only a cosmetic difference, but that was enough to her. She’d deal with sensitive eyes if they were hers . Her eyes closed slowly, like the idea of willingly cutting off one of her senses, even temporarily made her nervous. Trying to recapture it in her mind, she smiled, just a little. There wasn’t much difference between her and her brother, and she thought of everything, the deep color of his... their eyes, a long golden mane, and the barely there freckles he hated people noticing. She always liked them, her mother telling her it was stardust, and the way it made her feel maybe just a little bit special. Yeah. That felt about right. Opening her eyes, she stared dumbly for a few moments. Just like he said, it had been just that simple to at least look like she should. She couldn’t wait to show Eirlen...right...no, she had to tackle a demon army first and hope they were able to find him quickly.
“Can I look yet?” Hawke wondered.
“Oh! Right...of course, sorry about that.” she mumbled apologetically.
Hawke turned to face her, and he froze for a moment. He could only assume that was what she had always looked like before everything went to hell for her. Maker, she was the spitten image of her overprotective sibling. He tried not to, but his eyes wandered a little lower for just a moment. Not exactly the same, he reminded himself. No, she was different alright, a little less abrasive too, but being completely fair, the very thing he was concerned with happening had crossed his mind at least once. Maybe more than once.
“I...what do you think?” she asked, her fingertips steepled together almost worriedly.
He reached a hand out, ruffling her hair enough to mess it up just a bit. “Very cute. Please never say that to your brother, I will absolutely deny I ever said it.”
She was twitchy enough without making her feel like she had more to worry about, or he might have pointed out just how much more attention she was likely to get. If she hadn’t caught the way people had dropped everything to look at her brother, she certainly was scheduled for a repeat now. Oh, if Varric wasn’t already at least a little jealous, he would be. He was a stubborn man, and it did feel a little bit like having an ulterior motive, but he had a feeling he knew exactly what it would take to get him to change his mind. Showing up with her on his arm looking like this was only the first step.
Hawke led her back out, stopping just outside the door with a snort. “Varric once mentioned this is where he got Bianca, in a barrel labelled ‘swag’. Don’t know about you, but I didn’t see anything like that, good to see he hasn’t stopped avoiding the subject.”
Fenina shrugged a single shoulder. “I tried asking a few times. The story always changes, but I think I might have it figured out.”
“Bianca has to be a girl, right?” Hawke asked, wondering if his theory was right.
“I’d say. I’m trying to imagine what kind of girl you’d have to hide like that, and honestly, the only thing I can come up with is someone like Leliana. Can’t exactly bring an assassin home for dinner.” she said with a quiet giggle.
“I suppose she could be Carta. I’d say she could be human too, but knowing Varric, she’s probably a dwarf…” he deduced.
“I wonder if she broke him…” she mused. “I’ve seen plenty of women fawn over him in my time with the Inquisition. He never seems even a little interested.”
The ship wasn’t set to return until the morning, camping out by the sea sounded strangely peaceful to him, and she didn’t seem to mind when they stopped at the campsite. Hawke stared down at the fire, unsure why it felt so strangely embarrassing to ask such an easy question.
“What about you? So far I’ve only heard regret that you don’t like the healer. You must have some sort of interest in someone?” he asked.
Fenina tipped her head up in thought, lending the question an appropriate measure of thought. “I mean I guess I’ve thought about it a little bit. Some people make me more curious than others. It shouldn’t be anymore than a point of thought.”
“Oh? Anyone in particular?” he pressed.
Mostly he was hoping she’d actually mention Varric specifically, so he could throw it at him for consideration, but there was a small part of him secretly hoping he was on the list at least. He wasn’t sure if it was for the sake of knowing he was doing his part, or if it was because he actually wanted her to like him. He grinned at the way her face flushed a little at the question.
“I...no one really.” she mumbled.
“Come on, I’m not going to yell it to all of Thedas. You can tell me.” he said.
Fenina offered an uncertain raise of her shoulders that couldn’t really be called a shrug but more like she was simply asking herself if it was fine to trust him or not and had reached no certain conclusions.
“Maybe I’ll tell you later…” she finally said. “I need to think about it.”
She was getting that look on her face, like her mind was going places she didn’t like again. Shock seemed to work just as well as comfort, and it was with that in mind he decided to borrow a page from Isabela’s book. Of course he knew somewhere deep down that this might actually get him hurt, but maybe not.
“Pink.” he said.
“Huh? Pink what?” she asked quietly.
“Trying to guess the color of your underwear.” he said.
Her face turned almost as red as the marks on her face, sliding her tongue thoughtfully across her lips like she was having trouble processing the comment. Eventually, she shook her head slowly.
“Not pink.” she said.
“Hmm...red?” he tried again.
“Nope.” she said.
“White?” he tried. “Will you even tell me if I’m right?”
She gave a slight nod. “I’ll tell you. Wrong.”
Hawke sighed, scratching his chin slightly. “Black”
Again, she shook her head. “Nope.”
He frowned at that. He was running out of ideas, sweeping a hand through his hair with a heavy sigh. “Maybe this isn’t the best game after all.” He was going to regret this one way or another, that much was certain. “Are you...you are wearing some, right?”
Her cheeks puffed out, gusting a slow breath like she wasn’t sure she wanted to answer it suddenly, but she had said she would. Didn’t make it feel any less embarrassing.
“I didn’t particularly want to deal with sea water soaking through my clothes…” she huffed almost grumpily.
The Maker never felt further away than he did in that moment. He found himself reciting bits of the chant of light in his mind, the really boring bits that usually had him snoozing, falling silent for a time.
“Nice weather. Not too cold, not too warm…” he muttered.
“A lot better than the desert.” she said. Prodding at her arm, she sighed. “My skin still feels sore. My clan doesn’t particularly tan well, we’re a pale bunch…”
“Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” he said. Thinking for a bit for anything less awkward to talk about, he didn’t mind doing a little digging. “So...no romance for you, has it always been that way? Illicit handholding, sneaky kisses out in the woods, anything like that?”
“I...no, Alwyn was the first time I’d ever been kissed...I’m not sure it was right, I didn’t really feel anything...I thought it was supposed to be different.” she admitted.
“Nothing since?” he wondered.
“Careful, Hawke. I might get the impression you’re asking for something other than something to talk about.” she said.
He was, but that was beside the point. “Would that be awful?”
She shrugged. “You’re very kind, I like having you around. Although I have to admit, I’m not quite sure what to think of all the hair. Elves don’t grow it well...I’m sure it’s not just me, but it’s odd to me.”
He didn’t particularly have a problem with losing his beard, had on and off before, it was nice to change it up from time to time, but Varric? Not a chance. Wonder what he’d make of knowing that there was someone who might not swoon over the chest hair?
“I’ll go first then. No lie, I’ve never kissed a woman before.” he shrugged, hoping that might make her more inclined to answer.
“I haven’t either.” she said flatly. After a moment, she sighed. “Maybe it sounds strange, but I feel like I remember something...maybe I imagined it, some half-hazy dream.”
“Oh? And if it were a dream, who do you think it was?” he asked.
Her hands fidgeted nervously against her knees, wondering if perhaps it was strange to think of him in such a way. “Varric...that can’t be right though…” she admitted. Clinging to the distraction, she glanced up finally. “Have you really only kissed men?”
So she sort of remembered it, and the look on her face didn’t seem like she was particularly troubled by the thought, maybe she didn’t mind the idea as much as Varric worried about. He nodded after a moment.
“Well, one man. Varric likes his stories, but the truth is Anders had my attention from the first time I saw him. Maybe the women I knew just weren’t my type, or maybe I got too close to them and couldn’t imagine something else between us...I’m not sure.”
“I don’t know that I have a type. Maybe that’s for the best. What’s the use in desiring things you shouldn’t have?” she muttered.
“Who says you shouldn’t?” he asked. “I’d really like to know.”
Her eyes fell to her feet, and she looked for all the world like she didn’t quite understand the question, or like it didn’t make much sense to her.
“It’s not specifically anything anyone said. Just that...I’m not exactly normal. I don’t want to hurt anyone, and more than that, I don’t want to…” she trailed off quietly.
“Don’t want to...what? Let things get too physical? Don’t want to get hurt?” he guessed.
“I don’t want to fall in love.” she said.
He understood that sentiment completely. Why put yourself out there knowing how easily everything could be stolen from you. Even now she was keenly aware that her family was in danger, that one misstep could mean the end of her brother, and the idea of facing an army with far less forces was trouble. A free enemy, one that knew precisely how to bend her to his will without even being near her. Still, even though it had ended less than ideally, he had no doubt he had no desire to purge the memories. He didn’t want to trade that time for anything, and he wondered if she understood that good could still come out of bad things. It was getting late...maybe it was best to leave it there. No need to put her on the defensive unintentionally.
“I think I’ll turn in for the night. Coming with?” he asked. “This is a safe area, no need to keep watch tonight.”
She said nothing, nodding quietly. Following him into the tent, he took one side, unsure what to do with all the space with just the two of them. She seemed to have the same idea, tentatively testing the extra area as if seeing how much she could relax without getting into his space. The girl clearly had very little idea of just how small she seemed to others. Hell, fully stretching out, he took up a little less than half the tent, and she was built smaller, she had plenty of room. He stared at her, trying to memorize the way she looked, mostly because he knew if he didn’t let it sink in now, the morning was only going to be weird for him when he woke up next to someone he definitely didn’t fall asleep next to, only to look like an idiot for forgetting.
Hawke slung his arms under her thighs, carefully hitching her up a little more. They’d arrived after dark, and she hadn’t slept well on the ship, now comfortably clinging to his back, her arms loosely draped over his shoulder. She’d made a point of mentioning she was a light sleeper, and he’d been very careful not to disturb her, the light sound of her breathing only interrupted for a moment as he ascended the stairs with a soft whine. He gently nudged open the door to the hall that led to her room with his foot, trying to be as quiet as possible in closing it behind him. He went up the last set of stairs, mildly surprised to see a certain dwarf busily rearranging a few things on her desk. Hawke bit his lip to avoid laughing, no interest didn’t usually mean ‘sneak in while the Inquisitor is away and fix the mess the chilly breeze made of her effects’.
Hawke glanced back a few times to make sure he didn’t miss the edge of her bed, slowly unwrapping her arms from around him, hoping she wouldn’t slip off when he moved. Thankfully, she didn’t, though the minute he went to move her into what he hoped was a more comfortable position, her eyes flickered slightly, staring up at him before her shoulder twitched in a lazy shrug, dozing back off after a few moments. He tugged the blanket over her, turning to note that Varric had taken note of the strange situation unfolding in front of him. The man looked like he had a thousand questions and thoughts buzzing in his mind, but this was not the place to talk. Instead, he waved him to follow out of the room, back to his usual spot at the end of the hall where he was certain they wouldn’t be a nuisance.
“So. You were gone a while.” he said conversationally.
“Sorry, dad.” Hawke sighed.
“If I was your dad, you’d have been over my knee a long time ago.” Varric snorted.
“Sounds kinky, tell me more.” Hawke joked.
“You know damn well you’re too big for my lap.” he sighed. “What exactly happened?”
Hawke shrugged, grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, it was absolutely magical. Perfection. Starlight and silence, uninterrupted. Soft light, soft music, and the most beautiful woman this side of the Waking Sea.”
Varric rolled his eyes. “You’re a terrible storyteller. And you know exactly what I mean. She didn’t leave like that.”
“Who says it was a story? I’ve always been popular with women. Is it so hard to believe maybe it was exactly what I said?” He said in mock offense. “Good sir, I don’t take kindly to such assaults on my character.”
“You have no character.” Varric deadpanned.
Hawke studied his hands for a moment, his gloves more worn than they were when he left. She had a point about sea water after all. He could feel the grit of salt rubbing abrasively against his skin under his clothes and somehow, he looked like his nice, fresh leathers had aged a decade over a few days.
“I took her to the Black Emporium.” he admitted. “Look, I get the feeling she can’t be fixed, the least I could do was try to make her feel a little better about it. You should have seen how happy she looked...Like...maybe she could forget everything that happened, if only for a little while. It was worth it.”
Varric frowned a little at that. He couldn’t say if it was the idea of changing her after everyone had just started to accept her as she was or the idea of him seeing her smile like that that was getting under his skin.
“So how did you manage to convince her to let you carry her?” he wondered.
She just didn’t get that close to people. It was no great secret to those close enough to her that she worried about the possibility of hurting someone. Hawke was persuasive as ever, but he was doubtful he was that good .
“No convincing needed. I pay attention. She finally fell asleep a few hours out, and me, being the stuff of legends, managed to pick her up and very carefully haul her to the comfort of her bed. Were I among the Avvar, that might well be enough to count as marriage, you know.” he laughed.
“The world is grateful for that particular stroke of luck. I don’t think anyone would want to be married to you, Hawke.” he snarked.
“That hurts. I’m not that bad. Besides, could be worse. I could be a grizzled old dwarf who only remembers love when it’s on paper.” he joked.
“Grizzled...old? I’ll have you know I’m neither of those things.” he said.
“Just...too old for her, that was what you said, wasn’t it?” he asked. “If that’s still the case, I’m beginning to think I’ll happily take her completely off the market.”
“Don’t you think I know you’re just trying to bother me with that?” Varric asked. “I know you.”
Hawke leaned in by his ear, keeping his tone playful, almost like a child’s mocking sing-song way of speaking. “She wasn’t wearing underwear.”
Varric glared at the wall opposite from them. He wouldn’t have bothered to rub it in if he didn’t know that was the case. Still, he wasn’t about to let himself be baited. “What about it?”
“I also happen to know she at least sort of remembers a certain someone kissing her.” he continued.
He froze at that. As much as he didn’t want to care, and wanted to pretend he wasn’t at least a little interested in hearing this, he was. He wanted to know, hell, some part of him needed to know.
“She didn’t say as much, but I know that look. She didn’t exactly hate it, you know.” he said, resuming his normal way of speaking. “Though, you’ll never believe it.”
“What?” Varric asked suspiciously.
“She’s not into the hair.” he said.
“Then aren’t you also out?” he wondered. “Remember, I’ve seen you without a shirt, looks a tiny forest all over you.” he paused, a solitary ‘ha’ emphasizing his thoughts. “Come to think of it, Curly’s awfully smooth. Oh, there’s so much potential to screw with him.”
Once her brother had been found, it would be entertaining to say the least to keep throwing her at him, if only to watch his priceless reactions. He couldn’t follow that thought, not when Hawke had successfully brought back the memory he had, at least for a few days, considered fully buried, put away as some sort of drunken mishap. No, now he was again cursed to remember everything in vivid detail. He should be more concerned with the pending trip to Adamant, not the way her hair framed her face, or how warm she felt.
“Anything in particular happen while we were away?” Hawke wondered.
“Healer woke up. For all the good it’s done, he can’t speak. Don’t know if it’s permanent or not, but he hasn’t been able to offer anything of use. Claimed he didn’t know who attacked him, that he doesn’t remember why he left.” Varric shrugged. “So far the only update on her brother is that the trail was lost somewhere in Orlais. I figured it would have led back to Val Royeaux, you know as well as I do some people are stupid enough to go back to old hideouts when they think it’s safe. Unfortunately, our man apparently isn’t as prone to missteps as I’d have liked to hope.”
“He seems to have a fondness for our good Lady Lavellan, maybe he’d be more open with her.” Hawke suggested. “If you ask me, it’s too many coincidences, they’re probably related.”
“That’s a terrible idea. I doubt she’d want to be left alone with him after what he…” Varric sighed, shaking his head. “Wait, since when did you decide she’s your Lady Lavellan?”
Hawke put a hand to his chest like it really hurt. “Hey, I stayed didn’t I? I didn’t exactly mean to, but since I’m here, I like to think of myself as an unofficial member of this little group of misfits. Besides, you told me to take her off your hands, which is turning out not to be as bad as I imagined it to be.”
“ Little. Because thousands of people are clearly little more than a half-packed tavern.” he snorted. “I told you to take care of her. I meant keeping an eye on her, look out for her, have her back. I didn’t mean get close enough to put any appendages near her.”
“Oh? That’s not the impression I got. I have had her back, I’ve been doing my best to help her out. If you’re too much of a fool to take your chances when it’s this plain to me that you care about her in more than a friendly way. I’m not a monster, or do you really see me as the kind of man who takes advantage?” he frowned. “I waited three years for Anders to come around. I’m nothing if not a gentleman.”
Varric kneaded his brow, nodding. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insinuate that.”
“You’re out of practice, friend. Maybe it’s time to leave Bianca in the past and move on before you forget how.” Hawke told him.
“Does she even know what you are yet? Or are you still hiding it from her? I recall your favorite mage only found out before you parted ways. If you’re fostering so much trust, I’d imagine you would have told her already.” Varric said.
Hawke, tugged at his collar nervously. That was enough to tell him he hadn’t particularly decided to share the real reason he thought he had to leave Kirkwall either. He claimed it had everything to do with trying to stave off a possible Exalted March after the incident in the Gallows, but that was a lie. Said he’d have shown up sooner if he knew the Inquisitor wasn’t some stuck up, self-righteous creep, that he was an ‘unofficial’ member of the Inquisition now. The real reason had to be far less complicated than that. Aside from the fact that he wasn’t even bothering to hide the fact that he had pretty much always been an open apostate? It had everything to do with the little tricks he was clearly keeping to himself. Probably for the best, Cassandra would be furious. No doubt even Prickles would be more than a little wary of him if she knew.
“I’ll tell her.” He swore.
“You won’t.” Varric said knowingly.
“You won’t either. I know you trust me, trust that I’m not planning to keep it from her at least.” he sighed. “I just...have to figure out how exactly I’m supposed to bring it up.”
Fenina took a seat on the edge of Alwyn’s bed. Varric had insisted this wasn’t a necessary thing, but Hawke’s reasoning had been pretty sound. If he might offer her more information than anyone else, it was definitely a needed move. Besides that, the heavy weight in the pit of her stomach was one she identified as guilt. Part of her believed this had to be her fault, that maybe he realized how she’d react and left as a means to apologize. He quickly pushed himself to sit up, unable to manage much more than that, smiling, though it faded away almost as quickly as it hit.
You shouldn’t have come.
She stared at the pages of parchment on his lap, pointing to his throat as if to indicate speaking wasn’t going to be an option. Hopefully it wasn’t a permanent thing, he had a rather likeable voice, and it seemed odd not to hear it.
“I wanted to see you.” she said. “I...are you upset with me? I understand if you blame me for this.” she sighed.
Don’t blame you at all. It isn’t that I don’t want to see you, I do. Shouldn’t have extended so much effort for someone like me.
“I could certainly say the same. You wouldn’t have saved me after Haven if you knew the things I’d done.” Fenina muttered.
Is Eirlen mad at me?
“I don’t think so...he’s missing too. I saw his room, he didn’t leave willingly.” she told him.
The walls have ears...need you to come closer.
Fenina wasn’t quite sure why he was worried. She doubted anyone was close enough to read what he was writing, and hearing only half the conversation didn’t seem likely to raise any concern. Regardless, she moved closer, leaning further in at his beckoning. He felt weak, his hand barely coming to rest on her chin, drawing her close enough to feel his breathing at her ear. For once, she was thankful for her better than average hearing, it was difficult to understand his barely spoken words enough as it was.
“H...He... d-d-did this.” he managed. There was a strange coldness when she glanced in his eyes that she had never seen. “K...kill...him.”
She was about to speak, but he shook his head, gesturing to his ear as if to indicate this shouldn’t be something to risk anyone overhearing.
“Victor?” she asked quietly.
He managed a solid nod. Frowning again, he tried to speak, unable to this time, the attempt more exhausting than it should have been. Tapping on the paper to draw her attention, he quickly scribbled something down.
Kill him. I know what I said before, but he’s too dangerous. There’s so much you don’t know. So much I want to tell you, I regret not having the courage to tell you before. I just...liked how you looked at me. I didn’t want you to hate me.
Her heart felt like it sank. She had a feeling Victor had something to do with his disappearance, but she was both willing to accept and hoping it was just a case of paranoia. He still didn’t feel malicious to her, but she had been wrong before. Whatever he wanted to say, she was probably willing to forgive if the reason was good enough, but she didn’t want to say she wouldn’t hate him, not without knowing.
“Get better first. I’ll take it better if you can tell me yourself…” she said.
He nodded again, writing something down again. As if to indicate he wanted to end the conversation there, he folded it up tightly, pressing it into her hands. Fenina eyed the paper, carefully tucking it away safely in her clothes. She slowly got up, looking back at him before she left. How much of it was true, she couldn’t verify, and in her mind it seemed like something best kept to herself until she knew for sure what to think about it. Hawke and Varric looked at her expectantly when she rejoined them in the hall.
“I’m sorry. He seemed exhausted. I didn’t want to push him too hard. I couldn’t get anything of use just yet. I’ll try again when we return. He needs time to rest up first.” she lied.
“Right. About that, Curly says it’ll be a few more days based on updates. Something about the siege equipment being slower to move than people.” Varric said with a shrug.
“I...that’s fine. I suppose there’s always more that I could do. Josephine mentioned a bunch of forms that need my approval, if not my signature…” she sighed heavily. “Had I known how much paperwork was involved, I would have been more vehement in my refusals.”
“Too late now.” Varric said, smiling. “I heard there’s some nice perks though. Get to pick the decor, get spoiled by our Ambassador? Antivan brandy isn’t the greatest, but it’s better than some of the shit they serve here. All else fails? There’s always us.”
Hawke put his hand in front of his mouth to avoid laughing openly at the way he was clearly changing his mind again. He didn’t exactly like being as distant from her as he tried to be, and it was only his great fortune that these more subtle interactions still largely went over her head. That was a point he could mark under his own name. He never had to be subtle, not really. He didn’t mind being completely obvious, and so far, she didn’t seem terribly troubled by it.
“Hawke.” she said abruptly.
“Gavin.” he replied. “Hawke is too much like a title.”
Fenina stared at him seriously for a moment, glancing to Varric quizzically as if she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the information.
“Gavin…?” she repeated.
“My name. Hawke is my family name.” he told her.
“I see…” she mumbled. Noticing how many people were gathered in the halls, she consciously forced herself to stand as straight as she could, despite how uncomfortable it felt, clearing her throat before trying what she hoped was a more leader-like tone. “About last night. Thank you. It would have been embarrassing to wake up in the Marches.”
Hawke couldn’t hold back this time, laughing at the sudden shift. “Nice try. Keep working on it. Anyway, you didn’t need to thank me. Just trying to watch out for you.”
She exhaled in a sharp puff, allowing herself to relax again. “Was it really that bad?”
“A little bit.” he admitted. “Don’t worry. I’ve done this before, I’ll help you out later.”
“Hawke, you were an apostate in the middle of a city. You got away with everything because Aveline kept a lot of what you did quiet. You antagonized poor Curly and annoyed Meredith. How is that even a little similar?” Varric wondered.
“I did get the Qunari out of Kirkwall.” he pointed out. “I got their book back from Isabela. Also, there was the whole bit with getting rid of the Winters and forcing a bunch of Tevinter slavers into very early retirement?”
“Your boyfriend blew up the chantry and started a war.” He said.
Hawke crossed his arms defensively, sighing out loud. “That wasn’t my fault. He said I was helping him. I thought he meant getting Justice out of him, not raining gory bits all over Kirkwall.”
Fenina wasn’t quite sure what the whole story was there, her clan hadn’t been in the Marches at the time, but Varric had told her enough about him well before he showed up. Regaled her with tales that really gave her the impression that despite the way they acted around each other that Hawke was easily his favorite person. No one spoke that highly about someone so often unless they really meant it. It was also pretty comforting to know that she wasn’t the only one who could be more than a little naive. The only difference was with him it was love of someone he considered special, with her, it was love of her family. Something crawled back into her mind, something she’d thought about since the moment she began suspecting Victor was trying to get to her. Better to handle it now than to have to scramble to get it done with very little time.
“Ah...right. I had some important matters I had to see to. It’s...sort of personal though. Herald’s rest, an hour from now?” she asked.
“We should be free to -” Varric began.
“It’s a date, see you there.” Hawke finished for him.
Varric patted his arm slowly, forcing a relaxed smile until well after she’d disappeared into the forge before kicking his shin. Hawke hopped around, biting back a groan, glaring daggers at him.
“What did I do wrong this time?” he grumbled.
“It’s a date.” he repeated mockingly. “Seriously...you’re an ass.”
“So you’ve mentioned and I still don’t get it.” he complained.
“I’ll explain it to you when you’re old enough.” Varric retorted.
“Hey, what do you think she has to do though? Not much down in the forge, I don’t think she likes it much. Haven’t heard any stories or songs about her prowess for modifying or forging anything, so the only thing left is...uh…” he said, tapping his head like he couldn’t quite picture what else was down there.
“Dagna. Could be she needs something special. Or it could just be that she’s passing on a message for the blacksmith. Probably weapon or armor requisitions. Who knows.” Varric shrugged. “Got a question for you.”
“Okay?” he said.
“What you said before. Did you mean that?” he asked.
“About being interested in her?” Hawke wondered.
He looked away, and he’d have sworn he could see just the slightest suggestion of a blush staining his face. Varric knew a lie when he heard one more often than not. Hell, the biggest lie he’d ever managed was insisting he was fine every time it felt like his world and everything in it had ended. Better to be honest, probably.
“Not at first. I know it hasn’t been all that long since you brought it up. She’s sort of growing on me. Varric, you know me, women aren’t generally my thing, but yeah. I think I like her.” he shrugged.
“You think?” he wondered skeptically.
“I like what I’ve seen, what I’ve witnessed. I could never say with any certainty without knowing if there was any sort of spark…” he sighed. “Why?”
“I was just curious.” he said.
Varric was an admitted liar. Hawke never bothered to worry about it, he wasn’t exactly an idiot when it came to uncovering the truth in the things he said. This? This was a flat out lie. There was more to it, something he wasn’t going to share.
“I have to ask. Aveline likes very thorough updates, especially when it comes to you. Wants to make sure you’re not making trouble here.” Hawke teased.
“Aveline has enough to worry about without worrying about what I’m doing.” Varric said.
“I told her that. She doesn’t listen. Says she can manage worrying about Kirkwall and us.” Hawke replied.
Okay, so if he really squinted at it, he wasn’t really sure if it was actually just making sure his friend would actually show her an appropriate measure of care and concern, or if it might actually be a touch of jealousy. He’d never really had to worry about their friends treating Hawke right, he was fine without that level of attention. Jealousy? He wasn’t even sure if he’d ever felt that before either. Maybe he was just overthinking it, and it wasn’t really either. Could be all he needed was a snack. Maybe a drink. Possibly a nap.
Hawke was about to inquire as to what to occupy their wait with, though the sight of Fiona leaving the library and making her way to the forge served as enough of a distraction to entirely forget the question.
“A mage, and Inquisitor and an Arcanist walk into a forge...what’s the punchline?” Hawke wondered.
“I’m not sure, but it sounds like the beginning of an interesting joke.” Varric shrugged.
I swear this is going to stop burning soon enough.
Hawke leaned against the wall, staying quiet for the most part, something which was infinitely surprising to Varric. The man simply couldn’t pass up on the chance to get in a smartass comment or just fill uncomfortable silences with idle chatter. He had a guess as to why though. Probably at least a little similar to his reasoning. They’d be setting off for Adamant in the morning, and if the way her hands were shaking said anything, it’s that she was less than thrilled to be rushing off into another battle.
“I’m not ready for this.” she finally said. “I’ve been trying to avoid fighting since…”
“Haven.” Varric finished.
“You don’t know what happened...I don’t want to go through that again.” she muttered.
“You did what you had to. Sometimes surviving means doing shit you don’t want to do.” Varric said.
“I lost control of everything, don’t you get it? It felt like I was moving on my own. I had a front seat to the terrible things I could do, and I couldn’t stop myself.” she spat. “It was horrifying. If I were anyone else, I wouldn’t have hesitated to put me down.”
“But you’re not anyone else. You’re the Inquisitor, and that battle saved a lot of lives. Think poorly of yourself all you like, just make sure you think of all those people who would never have made it this far without that.” Varric reminded her.
Hawke frowned slightly. It seemed a little bit too harsh to use that against her. He opted not to say anything about it, no point in making more of an issue out of it than it needed to be. He didn’t really want to think about that time, but he wasn’t particularly proud of the rage he had flown into after he saw what happened to his mother, caused more damage than he needed. He hadn’t left his home in...must have been awfully close to a full month before Aveline all but dragged him out by his ear and forced him to go on patrol with her just so he’d do something other than sit around and beat himself up over it. If he had taken it more seriously, made the connection with those damned lilies right off, it might have never happened. Fine. Maybe that was just what she needed. Someone to force her to take her mind off it. He pushed off from the wall, snagging her by the crook of her elbow, leading her outside.
“Ah! What the...Gavin...Hawke? What are you doing?” she questioned pointlessly.
Varric rolled his eyes, following after a few moments, unsure what it was he was doing. It almost reminded him of the way Aveline or Isabela occasionally drug people around before they roughed someone up. Either he wasn’t trying to start a fight and he was just being an idiot, or he was, and it was like as not very much going to end very badly for him. He finally slowed to a halt by the garden, staring down at her.
“We all do things we regret. Tomorrow is going to be rough. A demon army? That doesn’t sound like a walk in the gardens, now does it?” he asked. “So for today, just enjoy this. Don’t think about what comes next. Focus on this, on yourself...on me…”
He fell silent, seemingly startled by his own request. She kept her eyes fixed on the uneven cracks in the stone, her shoulders bunching up and then dropping in a gesture that couldn’t even be considered a proper shrug, just a sort of grudging acceptance, followed by a half-nod. His hand landed on her cheek, almost hesitantly, gentle, directing her to look up at him. Her skin was a lot softer than he suspected it might be, and like this? Her eyes reminded him of the rough, churning waves of the Waking Sea the day they left for Kirkwall.
Somewhere behind them, Varric cleared his throat, taking a long, slow breath. It was probably quite the feat to keep pace with him. He barely heard it, honestly, too busy studying her, the way her brows raised up in a wordless question, inclining slightly into his touch almost curiously like she wasn’t sure what to think of it, her lips slightly parted like she meant to say something, but had completely forgotten what it was. Oh, she knew exactly what to think. Wondering why this sort of contact felt unfamiliar, whether or not she found it pleasant, to which she finally decided she did, the slight roughness of his fingers a strangely pleasant contrast.
“Hawke? Hello?” Varric called to him.
“Sorry.” he muttered.
Leaning in, she gasped, her hands immediately snagging on his sleeves. It was a hard to describe sensation, almost like he was stealing her breath, or maybe she was the one doing it. Everything tangled up in her mind until it didn’t. Her eyelids dropped heavily, and she slowly found herself letting go, her arms dropping uselessly to her sides. His left hand shifted from her shoulder to her back, bringing her just a little closer. He didn’t do things by half-measures, he could say that much at least. He only had a moment to consider what he was doing before he had already done it. As impulsive as it was, he was a more than a little startled at the realization that it very nearly felt like his heart had started back up. He felt her chest tighten against his and he broke the kiss with a sharp gasp. Her face was a shade of pink he couldn’t think of a word for, but pink was enough for him. He licked his lips slowly, like he was still trying to work his way through it all, unconsciously mirroring her.
Varric didn’t want to hear or see anymore, all but ignored at the moment, he turned away. Seemed like as good a time as any for a drink. Or four. That’s what was most upsetting. He specifically asked for this, so he didn’t have to think about her anymore, and yet some part of him assumed they really wouldn’t hit it off, that he was playing it more as a joke to goad him into doing something. It almost felt like a betrayal of sorts. His best friend acting like that? Knowing full well he was right there, could see exactly what was happening. If someone had simply told him it happened, he’d have very quickly dismissed it, but to see it? To know that everyone in those gardens was seeing it too? It hurt more than he’d have liked to admit. He still wasn’t really sure what to think about it either. He had never intended to try for more than being friends with her, it really shouldn’t have mattered who she spent time with. It did. A lot. He shook his head as if trying to clear it from his mind. Him and Hawke having a serious discussion was clearly never not on the table, they spoke of a great many things. It was starting to look like he finally had to address it with her now. What the hell was he supposed to say?
‘Hey, surprise, I like you. It’s alright though, I’m too damn hung up on someone I can’t have to want to actually be with you, but the more you know, right?’
It was selfish. Of course it was. He wasn’t in the mood to get burned a second time, and he was pretty sure it really wouldn’t ever work out. Someone like her? She’d probably eventually want all the things he wasn’t about. Things Hawke actually could give her, but that wasn’t what he wanted. If he just managed to separate himself from the equation, sure, maybe a few years down the road, they get married, maybe even have a few kids. Hawke would probably eventually wear her Keeper down, and insert himself in her clan somehow. Him? Varric never wanted marriage, didn’t want kids. He didn’t really want to try and live among the Dalish, and she wasn’t going to abandon her clan for him, for a dodgy life avoiding assassins and thugs in Kirkwall. There were a million things he could say to kill the idea before it had a chance to grow. Yet even mentally reviewing them, seriously examining the reasons in depth hadn’t done anything to nip the odd bit of jealousy he felt. He had seen the lukewarm way she regarded Alwyn, and it didn’t compare in any way to the reaction Hawke had pried from her. That difference was worlds apart, and he hadn’t even done that much. The faintest hint of a kiss had him completely a wreck, and he made it look like it was the easiest thing in the world to do. Varric eyed his ale irritably. This was an all night sort of problem.
“Was it awful?” he asked quietly.
“I was about to ask you that.” she admitted. “I...think I liked that.”
Hawke tipped his head slightly, brushing her hair out of her face. “I’m not so sure.”
Fenina looked like she wasn’t sure what to make of that, until he smiled, laughing more to himself than anything.
“What do you say we try again? Purely for research, of course.” he said.
She seemed intensely aware that people were staring, and she quickly shook her head. “Maybe not here…”
He laughed again, curious to see her reaction. Looping his arm in hers, he leaned in, keeping his voice low, he jokingly asked “So, your place or mine?”
Varric seemed to have left at some point, probably for the best, he wouldn’t have found it nearly as amusing. Surprisingly, she actually got the joke this time, bumping her shoulder into him with a small giggle. So far, he was doing pretty well with keeping her mind off what tomorrow would bring, even if he had somewhat gone off the path he intended.
Varric sat with Fenina on the ride to Adamant, Hawke having been arranged to sit with Bull and Solas for the trip, and Cullen was probably off trying to brief his men on what to expect. He had thought it might be difficult, but it was obvious there was something else on her mind. Her eyes were a sort of red that said she’d spent a good while crying, but now her face was set sternly, the faintest of trembling in her hands, and in her lower lip like she was battling not to break down right there.
“You okay? You don’t look so good.” Varric asked quietly.
“I’m not, no.” she said. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
He didn’t particularly want to pry, but at the same time, he almost needed to make sure she was alright. He shrugged uncertainly. “I have a pretty sturdy shoulder.”
She wasn’t one for getting close. He knew that, knew right off she’d probably refuse his offer, and that was fine. Instead, she crossed to his side, falling over like her body had simply forgotten how to move, her head falling to rest partly on his shoulder and half on his chest. He carefully curled an arm around her, not quite sure how to sit comfortably like this and hopefully without adding to whatever was bothering her.
She couldn’t really explain it except to say that maybe the still-lingering smells that reminded her of home were soothing to her, made her feel like she could tell him anything and he might just sit there and run his fingers through her hair, a reassuring comfort that would never fail to calm her down and ease her into an easier sleep.
“Whatever it is, I’ll listen.” he offered.
His hand idly twisted strands of her hair between his fingers, and it carried the feeling he didn’t so much realize he was doing it, but it helped, and she didn’t want to point it out, content to enjoy the familiar comfort of such contact, one of very few things that actually made her feel safe instead of hurting in some deep and indescribable way.
“I just...had a bad dream. That’s all...it’s probably stupid. Laughable even.” she sighed.
Despite that, she wasn’t laughing, not even a hint of a smile on her face. She was warm, and soft, and plenty of things he couldn’t exactly recall Bianca being. She wasn’t like her at all, but maybe that was half of the reason he felt inexplicably drawn to her so much. Bianca didn’t need anyone, but her? She was an entire bundle of need, with very few outlets, someone he could actually help somehow that managed to make him feel more than a little useful. He hadn’t felt that in a long time, not since Hawke had lost his mother, or maybe it was after Anders had been sent off. Never actually saw himself as any sort of protector, that was more Aveline’s business, someone more like Fenris. Him? He figured he was good for a few laughs, a story that could take your mind off anything, but that was about it.
“Tell me about it. I don’t know if I can fix it, but you never know.’ he said.
“I just remember...I turned in a bit earlier than usual. Cullen made sure to tell me we were planning to set off early in the morning and I should rest while I could. I don’t usually sleep very deeply anyway, but I must have...I just remember being back there. This one specific memory, just repeating, and I couldn’t wake up…” she murmured.
Varric bit his tongue so he wouldn’t be tempted to interrupt by reminding her just how much he hated him. He didn’t even know the guy, and maybe under any other circumstances, he might well have seemed a decent guy, he’d have given him half a chance, but anyone that could do the things he had read, hell, spent entirely too long accidentally imagining? There was no chance, nothing he could ever say to justify his actions. He felt her fingers dig into his coat slightly like just thinking about it had her ready to head for the nearest place she deemed safe from him. Really, what could be safer than a Warden fortress filled with demons for keeping other assholes away? He sounded like a coward anyway, he was fairly sure there was next to no chance of him actually showing up.
“I’m listening.” he told her.
Somewhere along the way, his fingers had stopped twisting in her hair, and he hadn’t really even noticed the way his whole hand was doing slow laps over her head. The only thing he really noticed was the way she loosened her grip just a touch.
“It was fairly early on, after I finally realized I wasn’t just there to clean or carry books. He sat in this chair, it was pretty at the time, but I grew to hate it, like it was the whole reason for everything. I could at least manage to hate a chair, even if I couldn’t openly tell him I hated him.” she sighed, like it was pathetic and she knew it. “He told me to bring his afternoon tea, and I remember I tripped on the edge of the rug. I broke the cup, and he...I never seen anyone so fast. I remember the way he shouted at me, the awful things he said, and...the way he hit me. I thought maybe that was it, but he wasn’t done. He grabbed the pot and struck me with it until I stopped moving. I think I passed out, but all I could see when I woke up were the bruises and burns left on my skin, and all I could do was curl up and cry…”
She shrugged helplessly, burying her face against his shoulder with a quiet, almost inaudible whimper.
“Why me? Why did they choose me? I’m not strong, or stable, I’m damaged. I shouldn’t be fit to lead anything. The only thing I can do to help is close rifts, I don’t know anything about the things that have been asked of me...It’s all...just so much.” she muttered.
Varric wasn’t sure what to say. Sure, he could spin a story, or lie if needed. Telling her everything was going to be alright was nothing but bullshit. This was heavy, too heavy for something so generic, but there was nothing coming to mind that he could say to fix it. Sighing to himself, he brought his arm around her, watching the way she turned, knees drawn to her chest staring up at him. She didn’t look like she was about to complain, or like this was only adding to her worries. The way she looked said she understood the silence and was comfortable with it. Maybe she just knew there were no magical words to fix it, and it was enough that he was trying to help.
That was the exact moment his mind chose to remind him of what exactly they were heading out to do. A demon army. The last time she faced an army, she barely survived, and those were still effectively just humans in armor, sure the red lyrium made them stronger, but really, at the core it wasn’t anything like this was going to be. No doubt they’d have to fight Wardens, well known for being relatively decent combatants at the worst of times, and demons besides. They were likely already possessed, they’d hardly know the difference. Her though? He wasn’t entirely sure how it worked specifically, only that demons and mages certainly didn’t go together, didn’t play nicely with them. The possibility that even she could become possessed hadn’t failed to come up in his thoughts at least three times so far.
He wasn’t quite sure if she was thinking about it at all, but it had to be there somewhere. Beyond that, she wasn’t exactly stupid, surely she already knew all the lives in her hands. Cullen, his men, himself, Bull, Solas, even Hawke. Yes, even Hawke wasn’t immune from death, and this could be the day that everything ended for all of them. Maybe she does the impossible again and comes out on the other side of it just fine. Maybe not. Maybe the end of the Wardens, the start of the fall of Orlais, and the beginning of Corypheus’ apocalyptic plans.
The last time...it was strange to think about it like that. Over the top gestures weren’t his style, and who knew, maybe it was the worst possible time, but he couldn’t quite march off to his possible death without knowing for sure. Without letting her know. It was awkward, positioned like this, it wasn’t exactly easy to bend to her current level, but he didn’t mind it. She wasn’t exactly an easy person in any right. Most still weren’t sure how to get to know her, still weren’t sure how to talk to her, or bring up any sort of official business yet. All of it was new in a way no one really expected. Not every day your chosen leader had what could be compared to a giant set of jaws in her exploding ribs, or could probably skewer at least three people on her arm without issue, save the one of morality. She certainly was one of a kind, and in a way, that was a very good thing, the idea of others being forced into undergoing the very same thing was far from a happy one. Besides, it was better that way, made her special in every way. Not just unique in what she could do, that hardly mattered. But in how aware of the world it had made her, how she seemed to know with just a look whether you were possessed of anything good.
His eyes had closed at some point, and he became consciously aware of the way his lips met hers. He snuck a glance just long enough to see what, if any reaction she had managed. Her eyes, too, were closed, and his fingers came to a stop somewhere at the base of her neck. This wasn’t exactly the blink-and-you’d-miss-it kiss from Redcliffe, this was something he hadn’t planned on repeating, the exact reason he had gone to Hawke in the first place. That he’d actually be jealous of him wasn’t in his plans either, or that it would look like it was going so well. There wasn’t a lot that needed to be said with her, no grand statements about how this could be the last time they saw each other, or how he couldn’t really explain the compulsive feeling behind the need to kiss her again. No wasted sentiment on how unusually good it felt to hold her like this, even as it was actually doing a number on his neck and back. He broke the kiss finally, keenly aware that his lungs felt like they were burning, and he had lost track of just how long he’d spent like that. Fenina said nothing at first, her eyes slow to open, distracted by the unsteady rise and fall of her chest with her evening breathing. When she did, it wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“It was you…” she said quietly. “I didn’t imagine it, did I?”
Varric smiled just a little. “It was me. Surprise.”
Not a very good surprise, probably, but hey, it was something.
“You’re blushing.” she observed curiously.
“This wasn’t exactly how I thought my day would go. I think a little blushing is warranted.” Varric mumbled.
“You may be right.” she admitted, feeling a warmth rising in her cheeks, wondering if her hood would be enough to hide it. “I’m not...not really used to people being so kind to me yet.”
He sighed to himself, tracing a finger against her cheek and down her jaw slowly. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t be, would you?”
Maybe if they made it out of this, he’d put a little more work into looking busier than usual. Hawke was a sarcastic ass, but he was plenty kind, surely if anyone could put her back together, it was him. If he chose to be honest with himself, and he rarely chose that, he always sort of liked that there was so much distance and a ring in the way of him and Bianca. The idea of commitment wasn’t inherently scary, but it really just wasn’t his style. Once her and Hawke hit it off, maybe they’d settle down on the other side of this. That was definitely for the best. That was what made him feel a little better at least.
“Varric?” she said quietly.
“Yeah, Prickles?” he replied.
“It’s...alright to be nervous, right?” she asked.
“Are you getting nervous?” he wondered.
“I feel like my heart might explode.” She told him.
“Probably then. I feel like that too.” he admitted.
No, the idea of dying today was definitely not in his plans, even as it seemed more likely. Though a sliver of him had to wonder if it really was that causing the feeling. There was another consideration lingering somewhere in the back of his mind. If he ever did go after her, what would that do to Hawke? Didn’t take a seer to know he was definitely interested, at least more than he was keen to be, either way, someone in the equation was likely to get hurt, and he really didn’t want it to be him. Preferably no one, but that was unrealistic. The carriage lurched to a halt, pulling him from his thoughts, his awareness returning to the way she was seated by him. Better not to invite questions, at the very least. That thought occurred to her as well, or something did anyway. She reluctantly sat up, brushing her thumbs against her wrapped ankles, having decided before they even took off that she just didn’t want to wear boots.
“Don’t your feet get hurt like that?” he asked. “Noticed Solas doesn’t like shoes either.”
“Ahh. Sometimes. Sharp rocks and spiny plants can sometimes make my feet bleed, but it doesn’t bother me. I heal very quickly usually. At most it’s inconvenient. Though I don’t expect a lot of plants here. Mostly sand, I thought.” she said with a shrug. “I suppose there’s a little walking involved in getting to the gates...should go and see.”
I'll be honest, I hate writing about Adamant. Forewarning, I may skip to the Fade, or at least past the Justinia bit to gathering the memories and dealing with the Nightmare. Sorry about that, this is my personal shortcoming.
So this is after escaping the Fade. For some reason, I couldn't get my brain to cooperate. I like this though.
It had to be a dream. She hadn’t thought much of those times in so long, it was easy to forget they ever existed. Either that or this was death and she was stuck reliving the parts of her past she regretted most. At first there was pain, but now it sort of felt like she was floating, and then still, and then there was something warm and comforting wrapping around her, slipping into her conscious mind just enough to make her uncertain of the truth of her fate.
“Come on Fen...wake up.” she heard faintly.
“I’m sure it’s doing something, I can still feel her heart.” another voice said.
But it felt so far away, like background noise in her memories.
“Minette, you’ve done enough. Come, sit with me.” Victor said quietly. “I’ve received some monts-blancs today, and I think you’ve earned a reward for your efforts.”
“I still haven’t finished with the sweeping yet…” she said nervously.
“It will keep a while longer.” he said.
Gesturing her over again, she nodded, crossing the spacious room to take a seat next to him. It hadn’t deterred her in the least when his hand wrapped her shoulder, pulling her closer to show her some drawings. Ordinary things, plants, animals, buildings. Diagrams of things beyond her understanding, but he was a man of knowledge, surely this was equal parts fascination and study.
“What do you think? Did I capture your likeness well enough?” he asked.
Sliding a picture he had meticulously drawn of her, both front-facing and both sides of her face, she stared at it for a few moments. Honestly, it was a little disturbing to see herself like that, but at the same time, every freckle, every mark was perfectly in place, and she had to admit it was lovely. Surely he had taken some liberties.
“It’s...very nice.” she began uncertainly. “Although, I’m not certain I live up to this.”
His fingertip ran along her brow, over the bridge of her nose, over her cheeks and across her lips before he regarded the drawing again. “No, I think I’ve captured you perfectly. You’re quite fetching, unspoiled in every way. The isolation you must have lived in has left you untouched by all that might have corrupted you.”
Victor reached for a second glass, pouring some wine to go with the airy desserts, handing it to her. Her first taste of such a thing. One she admittedly never developed a great fondness for, the aftertaste a bit more bitter than she liked, not compared to the mild sweetness of the confection he offered.
“Fen? Can you hear me?” the nervous voice asked.
Where was that coming from? It didn’t make any sense to her. Only that she was grateful for it, those little interruptions momentarily jabbed into the discomfort she felt, reliving such things, a reminder of just how naive she had really been, how easily he had tricked her into thinking he was a good man.
“It’s time for bed. I still haven’t managed to get your room set up. Tonight you may share with me. My bed has room enough for both of us.” he told her.
“I really don’t mind sleeping somewhere else. I...I shouldn’t.” she murmured quietly. “It’s forbidden in my clan…”
He smiled, and again she had been taken in far too easily by his seemingly trustworthy look, or maybe it was the openness she had mistakenly convinced herself was there.
“They are not here to see. You need to rest, and you are a valued assistant. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t tend to your comforts too. I’ll hear nothing more of it, if you’re that unsure, I’ll stay up until you fall asleep.” he suggested.
“I couldn’t ask that, your work, you said it was important. You need the rest more than I do. I’m sorry to cause trouble, I’ll go with you…” she murmured.
“Good girl.” he praised.
Victor waited for Fenina to crawl into the sprawling, ornate bed, cautiously testing the edge before she slowly stretched out. Her head hit the pillows, and he pulled the covers up for her, climbing in beside her, turning his back to her. Part of her wouldn’t have found his company so objectionable if it had stayed that way, but it wasn’t for very long. A scheme to earn her trust, to make her believe she had some sort of choice in the matter. He had even gone with her at times, showed her around the cities and countryside, allowed her to leave his side for a short while at a time before they’d return back. All too soon, there were reasons she couldn’t leave, and the small treats he gave her turned to steadily worse meals, the gentle way he examined her features became new additions to the collection of scars mapping her body.
The only thing that never really changed was the way he praised her. Like the more monstrous he made her, the more he’d tell her she was nearing perfection, how lovely she was becoming. She was the fool who fell for it, let it happen instead of seeing through it and escaping when she had the chance, not until it was already far too late. A simple snap of his fingers enough to put rebellious thoughts to rest.
One small, insignificant gesture was enough to put her in her place, to make her heel like a trained dog at the foot of her master, prepared to do whatever it was he demanded of her, purely out of fear of being punished yet again, or perhaps more out of a desire to try and appease him so he might be a little more merciful towards her.
“Damn it, Prickles, don’t do this. Not after all you’ve been through.” Varric groused.
“Hey, I see her eyes moving. She’s coming around, I think.” Hawke said excitedly.
The ground was cold, rough, and despite that, she still felt the lingering warmth by the time her mind finally decided to tell her to wake up. Raising her head, she tried to take stock of herself as best she could in the fog crawling through her head. Everything looked like it was still there, though her robes were in dire need of replacement, jagged tears in places where she guessed her ribs had torn through, her sleeves shredded up, that much she remembered as being not long after they made it up to the wall to help the soldiers get up. She couldn’t quite think of anything that might have made her feel quite like she had been run over by a pride demon. She’d survived the fall with everyone else, and she remembered the fade well, gathering up fragments of her memories that she wasn’t even aware she’d been missing. No, now it made sense. The Nightmare they’d faced, she couldn’t quite recall the details of the fight, only that if they were all there, they must have survived.
“What happened?” she asked quietly. “Is...all of this...mine?”
Hawke bit his lip, hanging his head like he didn’t really want to answer that question. It seemed it wasn’t necessary anyway. She propped herself up on her elbows, looking around. Stroud was missing. Hawke bore fresh marks along his arms, his hands still resting on her side gently. From the looks of all the blood staining her skin and her robes? She must have scared them considerably.
“You’re...you’re a…” she didn’t want to say it.
“I’m a blood mage, yes.” he admitted. “Look, I meant to tell you sooner, I figured you should hear it from me. You shouldn’t have had to find out this way. I know, but...I...he... we were worried about you. You didn’t wake up, and there were wounds everywhere, I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“You’ve consorted with demons.” she said almost icily.
“No! Actually, I’ve been rather good about not dealing with them. You see...it’s sort of a misconception that you only learn from demons. I was taught…” he said, before realizing she was probably not in the mood for a story right now. “We won, or so I thought. The others got out alright, but then the Nightmare got back up. We knew the only way to get you out was to leave someone behind, and as much as I thought it should be me...Stroud said someone had to get you out of there safely, and he decided I knew you a little better, that you should see a familiar face when you woke up.”
Hunching over, she made a low rumble in the back of her throat, tugging at her hair for a few moments before her nails raked down her face, the shallow marks healing up quickly enough to seem like they could have been imagined. “I didn’t want this. I didn’t want anyone to die, not for my sake.” Eyeing him quietly, she shook her head. “About this...I’m not really sure what to say. I need time to think. Don’t mistake it for fear or hatred. I’m thankful you saved me…I just need…something, I’m not even sure… ´´
“I understand...Cullen and his men are eager to be away from this place, let’s get back to the carriage. We can discuss it whenever you’re ready. Although...considering the arrangements, it’ll have to wait until we return to Skyhold. I suspect you’ll need at least that long as it is.” He sighed.
So much had changed in the span of a week. None of it for the better. Here they were outside an entrance to the Deep Roads, Fen wasting no time in cutting down anything in the way of the door, Carta, no less. Hawke had kept a close eye on her, admitted to him she hadn’t slept or eaten much since their return. Didn’t even bother bringing up the matter of the blood magic. Not when they returned to an anxious Josephine clutching a letter. Clan Lavellan was dead. A few scattered reports of a small number of survivors, most likely fleeing to find another to take them in. Her world may as well have ended that day, the way she carried herself.
Bianca had shown up at Skyhold, offering a lead on Corypheus’ supply of red lyrium. Varric hadn’t intended to bother her, but here they were anyway. She dragged herself out of her room as a personal favor to him, not out of a desire to cripple Corypheus’ supply lines, but because it was him asking. Then of course, he hadn’t quite forgotten the way she flinched just at the sight or smell of lyrium, the way she reacted in the Hinterlands on that very first trip out of Haven. He had never actually asked why, it hadn’t seemed important at the time, and more often now, he found himself wanting to know absolutely everything. He wanted to know why the subject made her look like she might be sick, what happened to make her avoid meeting someone’s gaze when they spoke at times, all of it, he wanted to know, but he couldn’t figure out how to ask. How it was supposed to be that you just dig into all the awful shit and really try to understand if there was no tactful way to ask.
“Smugglers.” she said quietly. “Door’s clear at least.”
“Prickles...no...Fen, we don’t have to go in there if you don’t want to. We can find a different way to deal with this.” Varric said.
“We’re already here. It would be a waste to turn around now.” She said. “I know how you feel about caves. I can see perfectly well in the dark, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Not for nothing, but honestly I don’t think he’s worried about that so much as you.” Hawke told her.
“Why? I’ll be fine. I was created for this. I mean, really. What’s the worst that could happen?” she shrugged, her tone dead and cold.
“You could die, you’ve never been in the Deep Roads, have you? Collapses, obviously there’s people here, we’ve already seen Carta activity. All of that is dangerous, but there’s a distinct possibility that there’s even darkspawn here. You could be tainted. Which either means you die, or we all do.” Varric reminded her. “Not that this even really counts as being the Deep Roads, we are fairly close to the surface still.”
“I’ll make sure you both get out.” she said as if the idea didn’t concern her as much. After a bit, she paused, sighing to herself as she looked around. “I hate that word. Tainted. ”
“It’s an apt description, at the very least. That’s how Wesley went.” Hawke shrugged.
“It’s about time you got here. I thought you weren’t going to show.” Bianca said.
“You didn’t have to wait inside.” Varric pointed out.
“Yet here I am.” She said. “We need to hurry, they’re hauling it out without any kind of protection. Be careful, it’s kind of confusing down here.”
Fenina said nothing, exhaling slowly, examining the area for a few moments before she passed them by. “Don’t worry. I can figure it out.”
Bianca crossed her arms curiously, watching the way she tipped her head up, not really even watching where she was walking. Raising her right hand out, her bones tore through her skin, piercing through a dwarf that seemed to be hiding in wait for them to pass, her left flicking out to catch a few more off guard before she dashed up a set of stone-carved stairs.
“What exactly is she doing?” Bianca asked quietly.
“Fen is...a different sort of woman entirely.” Hawke said. “You’ll see.”
“I’m already seeing it. She’s not even looking, how can she tell where they are?” Bianca pressed.
“She can tell alot by smell. I’ve seen her do some incredible things. Smelled poison on a blade half a camp away, she knows the scent of lyrium better than most. I didn’t even know it actually had a smell. At least, not like this. I knew it did when it’s been refined for use, but then you don’t live in Kirkwall and not get used to it.” Varric muttered.
“I don’t know that I believe that.” Bianca said.
She paused at a row of doors, leaning almost close enough to rest her ear on it, her eyes closing slowly. Shaking her head, she skipped past them, hurrying down another set of stairs before she stopped.
“Great. There’s the darkspawn. Did you have to jinx us?” Hawke groused.
“They were probably here long before I was. This isn’t particularly my fault.” Varric replied.
Fenina hunched over, squatting down in the hopes they might not notice. The source appeared to be a large opening, easily sealed if she could just clear the few out here out. She pulled her bones back, the wounds mending rapidly. Victor did appreciate the opportunities to educate her, even later on. No one would take a fool seriously, he had said. They hadn’t covered darkspawn, it wasn’t particularly his field of study, but he had made passing mention to sickness relating to blighted creatures being spread through fluid contact. Best not to risk it too much by leaving openings. Holding out her hands, she made a slow, graceful series of gestures, thorned vines rising from the depths of a particularly long fall, crushing some entirely before casting them off, others swept off the edge. She sealed the entrance, huffing slow breaths like the strain had been more than usual.
“That’s a new trick.” Varric commented.
“It’s actually one that predates all of this.” She said, gesturing to herself. “Remember, as First to my clan I had access to magic only taught among Firsts by their Keepers. I haven’t used it until now because it’s not something done lightly, not in front of…”
“In front of non-elves.” Bianca finished, rolling her eyes.
“Probably humans, actually. Humans seem to make up the bulk of Templar forces, it makes sense not to identify yourself as a hedge mage, and an apostate at all besides. It’s easy to understand when the threat of being taken from your home and thrown in a place like the Gallows is a very real one.” Hawke explained.
“It is as he says. We learn to control our gifts so we don’t stand out. Being among nature gives us an advantage to learning nature-based spells with ease. It’s only taught and passed to the First because they are either the only option, the strongest, most controlled option, or the most willing to learn and understand when to use it.” Fenina explained. “You may have noticed Eirlen is in fact, not a mage.”
“Not actually.” Varric said. “I noticed he doesn’t carry a staff, but neither do you. I suppose it could be assumed by the fact he hadn’t tried to set Cullen on fire for talking to you. Probably not for lack of trying.”
Fen actually smiled at that, like thinking about him somehow managed to crack through her just a bit. It vanished shortly after though. “He’s probably the best archer I know. Makes Sera look like she’s a complete beginner. If he really wanted Cullen out of the way, he’d have done it.”
“That’s a little more frightening than people think you are, actually. At least you’d hesitate a while first.” Hawke laughed.
Hawke took a few moments to double check that it was completely sealed off, seemingly satisfied with the results. Bianca appeared to have completely devoted her focus to talking with Varric, either explaining what was happening here, or expressing her worry over him. Despite that, she seemed like a tough woman, the kind who simply didn’t let people push her around. She could understand him liking someone like that. At least in her mind, that was the sort of attitude that people expected and wanted from her, but whatever fire she had in her before had been thoroughly smothered out. She had gotten just a touch back, but the loss of her family made her feel as though she just had nothing left.
She followed the lyrium scent, keeping an eye on the path ahead, but it did nothing to stop the conversation going on behind them. Hawke caught up with her, looping his arm through hers, leaning just close enough to speak privately with her.
“Does it bother you? They do have a history after all. I mean...sending assassins after him? Now that I think about it, I wonder if half those assassins I assumed were meant for me were actually there for him?” He suggested.
She didn’t so much as laugh or crack a smile. She looked devastated, but who knew how much of that was her own thoughts, her family, and how much had to do with the increasingly flirty way she was speaking to him. Varric, as ever was a hard read, he played everything cool, and he wasn’t sure how he was feeling about the situation himself.
“She’s lying, you know. I don’t know about what, but she’s been lying since Skyhold.” Fenina finally admitted.
“Bianca being able to run the doors here makes sense. She already said she’d been down here before, and putting in doors isn’t all that impressive on its own. You know, I once had to replace a door to my home too. Isabela made some rather lewd ‘art’ on the inside…” he groaned distastefully. “It wasn’t exactly that small.”
Varric’s head shot up at that, glancing between the two, wondering what exactly it was that he missed to only catch that bit. He would have opted to believe he wouldn’t move quite that fast if he hadn’t seen the way he kissed her. Then again, he might not have believed his taste was men at all, had he not known about his preferences for years.
“You two look cozy.” He said finally, trying to hide the suspiciousness in his tone. “Just a friendly little stroll through a lyrium-filled cave filled with smugglers. Why not.”
“Don’t worry about that. Look, we’re almost there.” Bianca told him.
“Take a step to your right, Varric.” Fenina said. “You’re too close to the edge.”
He took a step, chancing a look only after he’d already moved, realizing he actually was pretty close to taking a tumble down. Bianca walked ahead of him, sealing up the entrance before brushing her hands together.
“There you go. They’re not getting in this way, at least.” Bianca announced.
Fen nodded towards the way out. Before she could take a step, Varric grabbed her wrist loosely, indicating she should wait a little longer.
“I take it you know it was her?” Fenina asked.
“I figured it out…” Varric said. “What did you do?”
“I was curious. I wanted to figure it out. You know, if things had gone differently, it could have been you, not your brother.” Bianca told him.
“If things had been different, I would never have let Bethany talk me into coming with. Or maybe I’d have begged Anders to come along. I doubt he could have cured it, but maybe he could have done some Warden thing…” Hawke muttered.
“If things had gone differently, Varric wouldn’t have been here to tell Cassandra his story, maybe things would have been different and he’d be in my place.” Fen added. “A lot would be different.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Varric.” Hawke said. “I’d miss you too much. Plus, I don’t want her job.”
“Thanks. Very touching…” Varric snorted. “Either way, you put this on us! You dragged the Inquisitor into this, and you put my friend in danger.”
“It’s blighted.” Bianca said.
“I don’t care, you even put yourself at risk. I told you what it does, and you deliberately ignored my warnings. Let’s get out of here, Fen...I’ll make this right when we get back. Hawke, watch your step. Bianca...don’t you think you should get going before someone misses you?”
“Varric...I was only trying to help…” she said quietly.
Hawke and Varric began to head out. Bianca yanked Fenina down closer, staring at her seriously. “I want to make this clear. Get him killed, and I’ll feed you your own eyeballs, Inquisitor.”
Bianca let go of her sleeve nearly a shove, but not quite. Fenina curled her hands one over the other at her chest, nodding slowly. It might have made her laugh before. Clearly she had no idea how ridiculous it would have sounded to her, had she cared to fight back, Bianca wouldn’t stand a chance. Now, now it was only too much of a punch to the gut. A reminder that she had made the wrong choice, and it cost her her entire clan very nearly. Eirlen was still missing, Alwyn still unable to talk, though he had managed to get out of bed finally, according to the reports. All failures she had taken personally. Losing Varric too? It might actually kill her, knowing that she had somehow cost her closest friend his life would crush her entirely.
Varric let go of Hawke’s shoulder, turning slowly to face them. “I don’t think I heard that right. I’m sure I didn’t just hear you threaten her.”
“I didn’t know you were so involved in the cause to leap to the Inquisitor’s defense.” Bianca said.
“She’s not just the Inquisitor. She’s important to me, alright? Don’t you get that? I don’t want you threatening her. Fen has been through more shit than any kid should have to go through. She’s lost a lot, and this job wasn’t even one she wanted. I don’t appreciate you treating her like that.” Varric spat.
“I’ve never seen you like this. Clearly these two are more important to you than I expected. I suppose I really should go. Wouldn’t want to offend your precious friends.” she said, pushing past him on her way out.
Fenina watched her go, frowning a little. “Is it really okay to leave it like that?”
Varric waved a dismissive hand. “She’ll get over it. We’re technically not even supposed to be in the same country at the same time anyway…”
Hawke prodded the back of his head with an impish grin. “Varric Tethras, do you know what you just did?”
Varric turned with an exaggerated sigh. “Enlighten me.”
“You just told her off in defense of Lady Lavellan here. Someone might get the wrong idea and think you actually care about her.” Hawke told him teasingly.
Rather than deny it, his shoulder rose and fell in a lazy shrug. “Yeah...That’s true…”
Hawke stared at him seriously, not quite sure he understood. “Wait, it’s true that’s what you did, or that you like her?”
Varric furrowed his brow. “Yes.”
Hawke gave up trying to get him to answer the question in a sensible way, instead, content to follow her lead back out. Honestly, he hadn’t paid attention to the path they took, and Varric had as much ‘stone sense’ as a dead pigeon, so it made sense to follow her.
“Is it true blood magic can affect people far away?” she asked quietly.
“I’ve never actually tried. I think so, at least it looked like Merrill could sometimes…” Hawke shrugged. “Why do you ask?”
Fenina bit her lip slowly, unable to look at him. “I have something I want you to hold onto. I’ll give it to you when we get back.”
“What is it with no one answering my questions today?” Hawke asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it here.” she told him.
“By the way, Hawke.” Varric said.
“Hm?” Hawke hummed quietly.
“About what I asked? You don’t need to anymore. I’ll take care of my own business.” He said.
Varric sat at the wide desk, kicking himself mentally. Hawke hadn’t explained a thing, but he left holding something wrapped in a red cloth, wearing an unusually grim expression. He’d been the one to ask if he’d keep an eye on her as well, so it had to be fairly serious, whatever it was. So far, so quiet. Fen had disappeared for a time to take a bath, but not long enough for him to think she fell asleep or anything. She came out shaking her fingers in her hair, turning her head from one side to the other before she seemed satisfied. At a guess, she’d probably taken a liking to the Qunari style of dress, he could easily place the outfit as being exactly the same as the one she had worn before save for the colors.
There was of course the tray left largely untouched that he’d meant to remind her of, but on closer inspection, she had actually eaten something. As far as he knew, she seemed to be doing a little bit better, That or she just lost the battle with her stomach finally and had to give in. She reached across the desk for what he had initially assumed to be a bottle of wine, pouring a glass before he realized the color wasn’t one he’d seen. Didn’t smell too much like wine either.
She took a drink, seeming to notice the strange look he was giving her. “I’d offer, but this is medicine. Hawke was kind enough to bring it by. I asked for this bottle, less questions.”
Anders must have taken the time to teach him a few things. That or one of his old smuggler friends might have taught him. “I take it you really haven’t been sleeping much?”
“I did the first night, and a little since…” she shrugged. “I’m not concerned.”
Varric leaned across the table, prodding her brow in annoyance. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? You’re never concerned about yourself. Any excuse would do, wouldn’t it? People are nervous around you, someone might get hurt. The healer you don’t exactly like gets hurt and somehow that’s your fault. I’m not saying I don’t understand why you’re upset now, I’m just saying this is just another thing you’re blaming on yourself and it isn’t you.”
She loosely grasped her arm, idly tracing a small, but deep mark on her skin, diverting her attention to the balcony like she was already looking for the quickest escape. He had to have hit the nail right on the head with that one. Being confronted with it had her wanting to run.
“You’re not wrong.” she admitted finally. “I don’t like getting close to people. They get hurt, I get hurt, the reasons don’t matter so much. It’s just easier that way.”
He cocked his head and stared at her seriously for a few moments. “I’m just wondering why you still don’t understand you’re not a thing. Everything breaks, wears down, and if you’re lucky it can be repaired. You’re a living person, you need to repair too. I don’t want to see what happens when you break.”
“I’ve been lucky. I survived the Conclave, two trips into the Fade, Haven, Adamant...people don’t have that kind of luck for long. We both know between Corypheus, and this, something’s going to catch up to me eventually. I’m doing what I can to even the odds in my favor, I am trying. I’m just...not very good at it yet.” she sighed. Finishing her drink, she kneaded her temples, stretching slowly like everything ached. “I won’t ask you to stay if you don’t want to. That said, you’re welcome to...no...that’s not right…”
“What?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, let me try again…” she sighed. “ I would like it if you stayed…”
Sure, he could have chalked it up to plenty of things. She was lonely, maybe even scared, Hawke had been trying his best to help, a dozen other things he could consider it. That didn’t stop him from smiling over it though. She’d personally asked him to stay, and that much wasn’t a thing that usually happened, her specifying anything was something she wanted. Always something else that topped her reasoning, whether it was her brother, her clan, or the Inquisition itself. It had been a point of conversation plenty of times, mostly himself, Solas, Iron Bull and Dorian usually. Wondering if there was anything at all she actually had an invested interest in. Hobbies, curiosity, anything resembling a personal desire in. Dorian even jokingly suggested even a Desire demon would be disappointed. Plenty of people were easy enough to read. Money, women, men, power, influence, how easily had the people Hawke trusted most, himself included, had let him down so quickly for the right offer. Her though? She already had it.
She had more power and influence than she was okay with, the coffers were overflowing, and she wasn’t particularly short on admirers both men and women even with himself and Hawke out of the equation completely. The only thing she might want was Victor completely out of the way. There’s no way she’d bargain that away to anyone else. He recognized the look on her face when she spoke of him. She wanted to be the one to do it, and truthfully it might make her feel better. Usually, he’d agree revenge didn’t always solve problems, but her? It could work. From a literary standpoint? Perfect. The mistreated slave escapes, and comes back to return every bit of pain in kind? That was poetic. Add in that he made her this way and being able to use it all against him was just more satisfying.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he found himself studying her a little more closely. He hadn’t spent much time looking last time, but with little enough else to he took to looking now. Her skin was marked with faint freckles, heavily concentrated on her shoulders, a touch darker since their return from the desert, but smooth between the other marks. Those he both did and did not want to know about, some places simply seemed more discolored than scarred, the aftermath not enough to leave more than that. There were places where it seemed she had lost small bits of herself, and others that were raised. Still, it looked like they weren’t as bad as he expected. It was bizarre to consider that was him holding back. He remembered enough to suspect he didn’t see any of it as anything more than some twisted impression of what love looked like.
It was very quiet, he realized, snapping out of his thoughts to make sure she was even still there. Fen was already out, the slow rise and fall of her chest and the faint sound of breathing said she was fine at least. He watched her a little longer before he turned his back to her, unsure if he’d even be able to sleep like this. True, they’d slept closer than this plenty of times on the road, but this and that were different entirely. He could justify it all he wanted, it wouldn’t change the strange way it felt to be in her room, in her bed, this close to her. Bianca was gone, and hadn’t quite calmed down even as she shrunk in the distance. Despite what he’d said, he wasn’t even sure what he was doing just yet. Yeah, he’d basically openly admitted that he cared about Fen, but that wasn’t like him, this was all weird. Hopefully she wasn’t in a hurry for him to elaborate, he had no answers to give anyone just yet...
It was going to be longer, but I wanted to split it up a bit. The next chapter might be a little different from this.
Varric and Fen have a somewhat serious conversation
Varric woke up about three hours after he laid down. Fenina wasn’t in the bed, instead sitting out on the balcony, staring up at the sky. He climbed out of bed, grabbing his duster on the way over. He opened the door, closing it behind him, depositing his coat over her shoulders. Rather than argue the point, she nodded her head slightly, pulling the edges closer.
“Thank you.” she murmured.
“You don’t have to thank me.” he said. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Did I wake you up? I tried to be quiet.” Fenina said apologetically.
“What was it this time?” Varric wondered.
“Nothing in particular…” she said. “I can’t pin it down to any one thing.”
Varric slid an arm around her, and she crumpled, leaned against his chest with a heavy sigh. Hanging his head, he figured it was probably a good time to speak his mind.
“Fen, I gotta be honest here.” he began quietly. “I’m probably the worst person for you.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, distracting herself with a loose thread on his tunic. “Sorry, some things still go over my head…”
“I mean you deserve someone who wants to do right by you. Someone who can give you the things you should have. I’m not saying it needs to be Hawke, but someone like that, someone who’s actually capable of settling down.” he told her quietly. “Someone who loves you.”
Fenina backed away from him quickly, like he’d physically burned her. Her nose wrinkled and her hands curled into tight fists. He didn’t understand, and that might have been half the problem between them, maybe they just weren’t as open as they’d like to be. Lying and stretching the truth had become second nature to him, more ingrained than actually telling the honest truth, and she held so much inside he wasn’t quite sure anyone could truly understand her anyway. Not unless she decided to let it all out, and to some extent that worried him.
“Hey, I didn’t think it would bother you that much…” Varric mumbled.
“I don’t want to hear those words, not from you, Hawke or anyone else…” she said. “I couldn’t even tell my brother that...I should have...I...didn’t get a chance to tell my mother either…”
“I’ve been really trying to mind my own business, but I have to know this. What happened?” Varric asked seriously.
“Come now, do you still not know the routine?” Victor asked. “Clothes off, I need to record everything perfectly, I’ll be expected to replicate this, it’s very important.”
There was no point to complaining about it anymore. Not when the punishment would be so much worse if she didn’t comply. She dropped her clothes in a messy heap at her feet, slinging an arm across her chest, tucking her hand protectively between her thighs. He circled her like prey, and she could feel the sting of his eyes raking every inch of her body. Occasionally, he’d lean close enough to feel his breath on her skin, his fingers prodding and poking at certain marks, referencing his charts and notes obsessively to ensure he kept track of anything that changed. He had only to snap his fingers and demand she move her hands away before she obeyed, curling her fists at her sides, her chin raised defiantly.
“Such a proud creature, aren’t you? I’ve always loved that about you. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, how gruesome the task I set before you, you always do what I tell you to. Such a good girl.” he praised.
Saying nothing, she stared up at the sky through the glass panes in the ceiling. One of the few places she could see outside in here. He reasoned no one would bother to climb up that high just to see what he was up to. A small sniffle escaped, and she quickly wiped her hands against her eyes hoping he hadn’t noticed. He did, of course. He noticed everything.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, though it lacked any real hint of concern.
“I want to go home. I miss my family….” she said. “I didn’t expect to become...this.”
Victor clicked his tongue disapprovingly. His hands rested gently on her cheeks, directing her to look at him. The smile pulling at his lips lacked any warmth, and she was afraid. Her hands trembled, and her stomach twisted in tight knots. The look in his eyes was cold, like even now he was studying her.
“Didn’t expect this? You didn’t expect glory? Fame? Power beyond your comprehension? Even now you’re still so pure. My sweet, naive wolf, why do you think I went through so much trouble to care for you? I’ll get the credit for your creation, the wealth, the recognition, and I have plans for you as well.” he said, his fingers trailing over her shoulders. “Ahh, you make it so difficult for me. That look you give me tells me you wish I’d just drop dead. A shame. I’ve been nothing if not restrained around you, I’ve given you everything, I’ve destroyed the confines of your own limitations, and I’ve done it all for you. How can you think I’m doing this to hurt you? No, minette, I do this out of love for you.”
She couldn’t help but laugh at that, her lips thinned tightly. “You don’t love me.”
“No? I’ve replaced three of my best hunters in the last two weeks, I didn’t like the way they looked at you. Why would I dispose of people who have a use to me otherwise?” he questioned.
“I just don’t want to hear it. That’s all, alright? I’m not interested in being bonded.” she grumbled.
“Alright then, Prickles.” he said. Hoping to calm her down a bit, he tried to joke a bit. “Planning to convert to the Qun? You’re starting to sound a bit like Tiny.”
She smiled a little bit, her stiff posture relaxing slowly. Varric had to wonder why it never occurred to him to just ask what it was she wanted. He’d spent so much time considering how other people would suit her better, and he hated to think of it in such poor terms. Varric turned to look at her, completely caught off guard when her arms circled his neck, coming towards him quicker than he could even think about reacting, but she hesitated at the last moment, a very soft kiss;. He wondered for a moment if she could tell exactly what he was thinking, if she knew he regretted not reacting immediately. How he wished he could just pick one side of the coin and stick with it. His fingers tangled in her hair, wondering somewhere in the back of his mind how best to describe the color. There was really no question he intended to write about everything that happened here.
Well, this would probably be left out, naturally. It was painfully obvious to him that she really wasn’t sure what she was doing, that or she just had no idea how close might be too close. Her hands stopped just short of making contact. He let go of her, nudging her hands the bare distance to his chest. When she finally pulled away, she turned her focus to the small moons on the glass, her mouth moving almost imperceptibly like she was trying to decide what she should say.
“What brought that on?” he asked quietly.
Fenina yanked the legs of her pants up to her knees, tugging her wrappings up a little higher before she drew them back down, fidgeting with the cuffs. It didn’t take a spy to know she was nervous. Just when he was beginning to think she wasn’t going to answer, she looked up, her face flushed slightly.
“It’s….I don’t know. I’ve...come to like you...maybe a bit more than I should. I just...no...nevermind.” she trailed off with a sigh.
“I suppose that makes two of us.” he said. “I had assumed you picked up on it...you know, maybe it’s not terrible. Here’s a thought, would it change anything if nothing had to be said, if there weren’t any labels or rings in the way?”
“It might…” she admitted. “After everything I’ve learned, I feel like I’m throwing it all away…”
He couldn’t really relate in the strictest sense, but he could understand. Her family taught her that it was important to get married, settle down, have children and pass it on so the lineage could carry on. Taking the loss into account, it probably felt just like spitting on their graves to admit that it just wasn’t what she wanted. Had things gone differently, had she not been away, had that bastard not managed to separate her from them, he could picture it. Settling down with a man who was otherwise perfectly fine, someone Eirlen would probably not like either, no one good enough for her, as it should be. Leading her clan someday, a few of her own kids in tow. Might as well have been another life, another time completely. The woman in front of him wasn’t interested in that life.
“You know, I didn’t meet her, but I got the feeling your mother would rather have you happy and well cared for than rigidly following everything you were told. You’re an elf, Prickles. Not a Viddathari. You’re allowed to want things, to need things, and to enjoy them. I’m not convinced you don’t still think you’re a slave.” he told her.
“Slave?....I wasn’t…” she began quietly.
“Were you allowed to leave?” he asked.
“At first, yes. I even went to a few cities by myself...I was sent to the Conclave on my own…” she murmured.
“That was business too. Showing you off. I saw where you slept, I’ve read what you ate. I know the things he did to change you. I can see the marks he left on you clearly. If Fenris were here, he’d tell you the same thing. You weren’t free. You weren’t fine, you just didn’t know any better…” he sighed.
She stayed quiet, contemplative in the way her fingers probed the strange assortment of scars. He watched it untangle in her mind, and his heart sunk at the moment she realized he was right. Her eyebrows dropped, her lower lip trapped between her teeth, her eyes watering, but no tears fell. Her hands folded in her lap and she hunched over like it caused her physical pain. Varric stood up, holding out a hand to pull her up. It was a little more difficult than usual, but she rose to her feet, watching the way he held his arms out for her. He wasn’t much for hugs, but Maker did she ever look like she could use one. Fenina stepped closer, accepting the hug he offered.
Varric realized almost immediately that even though she was different in that she was shorter than most humans, she was still a fair bit taller than him, and while he was sure anyone else would give anything to be in his boots right then, the face full he got was somehow very unexpected, and he imagined she probably hadn’t lent it any thought either. Clearing his throat, he backed away slowly, pointing to the door.
“Don’t think you have much on the schedule for tomorrow, but you should still try to sleep. Might have just the thing. The Herald’s Rest is open all night, after all, and I know a mage that also doesn’t like to go to bed at a reasonable time. What do you say we round him up and go for a few rounds, get in some cards? I give it an hour, maybe two, and you’ll sleep like a baby.” he suggested.
Fen thought about it for a moment, nodding slowly. “I’m not sure he’ll want to come with, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
“What did you give him? You don’t have to tell me, I guess. I’m just curious what it took to make him look like that.” he asked.
“It’s...something I believe it best kept in his care.” she said. “Just in case something happens.”
“That’s really vague, Fen. what exactly do you think is gonna happen in a castle full of people waving your banner?” he wondered.
“Alwyn may be permanently mute. It took him this long with round the clock care to get him walking. My brother is missing. How safe do you think this place is? It’s not hard to overhear the whispers when they think I’m out of earshot. Leliana and Cullen seem convinced it won’t be long before Victor tries to reclaim me, and Josephine has been going through more candles than usual trying to track him down before that happens, and she comes up empty. He’s eluded me for this long, we’re not going to find him with conventional means. I am not stupid enough to think I’m safe until he’s dead. As much as I’d like to have asked Cullen, I know it’s out of the question, and I’m not sure if Cassandra could or even would help. Hawke was my only option.” she explained.
“You could ask me.” Varric said.
“I really can’t this time. I wanted to….but this is a mage matter.. All I need from you…”she stopped, grimacing like she hated to ask anything. “Just be ready.”
He sighed, drawing her back to him again, tugging her down close enough to kiss her again, her skin erupting in goosebumps when his hand brushed the back of her neck. He broke the kiss after a bit.
“I never even bothered to ask if it was fine…” he muttered. “Believe me, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. At this point it’s practically a habit.”
“I’m not complaining, if you were concerned.” she said. “I don’t always keep my silence out of habit, you know. It’s...nice. It feels nice.”
“Well, we can talk about that all you like. First though, we should get out before Cabot runs out of the good stuff.” he said with a grin.
I split this up in case people would rather not read the next chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You know…” Fenina began. “You’ve mentioned my quarters a few times. Yet I’ve only ever seen you in the hall. Do you even have a room?”
Varric stared at her, trying to decide if it was a serious question or a very poor attempt at a joke. “Is that your way of asking to see it...or?”
She shrugged slightly, nodding. “Just making sure Cassandra didn’t stick you in a closet.”
His hand came to rest on her lower back, turning the direction from heading back to her room across the yard to a place she hadn’t even noticed before, assuming it was probably storage. It wasn’t, just an out of the way room furnished with a desk, a bed and a small supply of candles. The pages scattered across his desk seemed to indicate he had been working on something. Had to be recent, the ink still smelled fresh. Varric took his tunic off, dropping his gloves on top of them, Bianca offloaded in the corner, the furthest apart she’d seen him from his crossbow ever.
“You don’t have to stand.” he said.
“This is fine.” she replied quietly.
Varric watched her for a few moments. Her eyes flitted around the room, trying not to draw attention to the way she discreetly shifted side to side, trying to give her legs a few moments to rest. This wasn’t a space she considered hers, she wasn’t quite sure how to relax in it. Nevermind that the whole bloody castle was widely accepted as being hers, she still looked out of place in her own room. He took a seat on the edge of the bed, near enough to pull her to sit. That was the precise moment it slipped a little past good taste, and it had completely blindsided them. He’d accidentally upset her balance, her hands out quickly enough to avoid landing on him, staring down at him.
“Sorry about that…” she said immediately. “Got me by surprise there…”
“Well, I’d count myself lucky if it didn’t get me too.” he chuckled. “I can think of plenty worse things.”
She hadn’t seemed in a rush to move, and frankly, he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted her to just yet. If nothing else, he appreciated seeing her this close, really gave him a chance to notice all the little things. The barely-there scattering of freckles spattered across her face, the way it took every bit of her face to show her emotion, not confined to the mouth or eyes like it was for most people. The way he could feel her chest rise and fall slowly against his like this. Her tongue swept across her lips slowly as though they’d gone dry, her heart thumping faster, seemingly catching her attention too. He preferred the curious, naive sort of charm she had like this to the empty way she seemed when her past caught up with her. He reached up, brushing her hair back behind her ears, feeling the slight way she shivered.
“Cold? I know it’s not as warm as your room.” he wondered.
“A little. I’m alright, I run warm, remember?” she laughed.
“That would explain why it feels hot in here. Thanks for that.” he joked.
“I can move - “ she managed.
Fenina began to pull away, but he held her there, her eyes fixed on his. His bare fingers trailed up her arms slowly, and for a moment she looked absolutely terrified of it. He knew what she probably had to say, something about how her whole body was a weapon with a hair trigger, she might hurt him without meaning to. That was fine for people who didn’t know that was a distinct possibility, but he knew from the start, and had just reached a point where it no longer concerned him in the least. It had already been this long, and the only incident of merit on the grounds gave her every chance to hurt someone and she avoided it as much as she could. His hands left her arms, resting on her back, slowly easing her down against him, her face a scant inch from his.
“Well, what do you know. Seems like we’re touching right now, and we’re both just fine.” he said with a smug sort of hum.
“I see that.” she told him.
She leaned in a little closer, and he gave up trying. He kissed her, nipping her lip gently, her lips parting just a bit. It tasted like a strange blend of fruit and a hint of smokiness from the drinks they’d had, and her skin slowly warmed up. Good sense would have said it was probably a good place to stop, but good sense had slipped away without him noticing. He pulled away slowly, slowly kneading her waist.
“Fen...do you trust me?” he asked quietly.
“What kind of question is that? Of course I do…” she said.
“No, I really mean it. Do you really trust me? Like...would you trust me to take a blade for you, or to keep your deepest, darkest secrets. Do you trust me?” he asked again.
She nodded slowly. “Yeah. If I didn’t, I’d just spend my time talking to other people. Or actually slogging through that mountain of paperwork on my desk.”
“I want to try something. You can say no at any time.” he said.
Fenina said nothing, nodding slowly. It was a big ask for her, he was sure of it, he knew a lot about how it felt to have people try to get past all the exterior barriers to the inside. His mouth trailed slowly across her cheek, pausing between each one, giving her time to speak up if she chose to. Varric reached the base of her neck, unable to discourage himself from pausing his exploration with a light nip. Her skin erupted with goosebumps, and she bit her lip, her eyes falling shut.
“Doing alright?” he asked. “I don’t want you to stay silent here, okay? You’re running this. Whatever happens is completely your choice.”
He was never a fan of the belief that people had to change, she was fine the way she was. He didn’t need to be a spirit to feel the hurt that radiated from her at times. Something he couldn’t nail down, but a real desire to try and fix her. He hated thinking of it like that, she wasn’t broken, only that he suspected no one had tried to care for her in just the right way. Shit, for all he knew maybe this wasn’t the right way, but at least he was trying. Vivienne certainly took very little interest in her, and Sera kept her distance. Cassandra hadn’t made many efforts to hold more than a very official conversation with her either. It was easier to count the people who actually bothered to get to know her. Not counting Cole, because he just seemed to know everyone. Himself, Hawke, Solas, Bull and Dorian. Cullen to an extent, he supposed. Not a lot of friends, as far as she had indicated, it was in fact just himself, Hawke and Cullen she actually trusted to any extent.
Still though, he had inferred as much from listening to her, observing. She didn’t like being in a position of authority, it wasn’t familiar or comfortable for her. Spending that long being forced to obey was always present on her mind, it seemed. This seemed a good enough idea. Give her the chance to direct a small situation, too small to seem like too much power, hopefully she’d start to see she was plenty capable of absolutely destroying a tough situation. It benefited everyone, to some degree, but if he continued to be honest, he was really only concerned about the benefits for her. Even he was secondary, which was truthfully alarming, it was rare that he cared about someone enough to put them first.
“I’m alright.” she told him.
Next chapter is smut. I tried guys. 40 chapters is like a record for going without smut for me.
Okay so heads up, this is going to be a two-part one. My docs are protesting currently, sorry about that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Varric’s hands wandered slowly along her back and shoulders, a journey far longer than the deep roads felt, stopping at each mark he felt. He guessed she might draw the line there. She wasn’t particularly shy about people seeing her, seeing them, but touching them felt like it should have been a different story.
“They feel strange, don’t they?” She said quietly.
It sounded more like an observation, if he hadn’t noticed the slight question lazily tacked to it.
“They usually do. Or maybe we just think they feel weird because some part of us always thinks back to it.” He said. “Is it bothering you?”
“I thought it would. It isn’t...I’m not sure what’s different.” She said quietly.
So far it seemed like his only real theory was proving to be working well. He was usually pretty chatty anyway, so it wasn’t much of a problem. The real challenge was trying to focus on keeping her comfortable and less on noticing he had an attractive woman laying over him like this. So far so good, at least.
He trailed a small, thin scar along her spine near her lower back, and her hips jumped slightly.
“Sorry, my back is sensitive…” she mumbled.
“It’s not exactly weird, there’s nothing to apologize for.” Varric said.
He kissed her shoulder absently, her hands moving to his chest, he had to give her credit, this was probably the longest she’d gone with her guard down. He could kick himself if he could figure out why. His mouth had gotten him into a number of problems before, and the question he had was out before he could put it away.
“Can I see them?” He asked.
Her hands moved away from him almost immediately and he was definitely sure it was the prelude to her departure. Too much, too fast, she would absolutely retreat somewhere she felt a fair bit safer. Instead, she sat up over him, turning her head to the side, reaching back to unhook the network of ropes and cloth, slow to unfasten it. The Anchor flowed against her skin, momentarily covering herself before she thought better of it. Modesty and shame were things lost to her long ago, and it was rare that being seen like this elicited the same embarrassed and ashamed response it once had.
His hand came up, but he held back. Her shoulders inched up and back down in a small but fluid shrug.
“You’re curious. That’s alright..” she said. “I know you wouldn’t hurt me.”
There was a warmth to her words he hadn’t realized he had been missing, an honesty she never really hid, at least not around him. He couldn’t say with certainty if anyone else saw that about her. He loved Hawke, more family than just friend, but the man was an idiot at times, the subtleties were lost on him. He traced the few scars exposed now, most by her shoulders and ribs, venturing just under her breasts. Oh he definitely has ideas. He could name at least a dozen things that had crossed his mind, but he wouldn’t act, not unless it was her choice.
“Your hands are nice.” She murmured.
“Oh? What do you like about them?” He asked.
Her eyes closed slowly, like she was focused entirely on the feeling, trying to figure it out.
“Not as cold. They’re gentle, but there’s a roughness to them…” she tried to explain.
He laughed more to himself at that. “So you like my callouses, huh?”
Honestly Varric had never been sure how he managed to get them when he so rarely did anything without his gloves on, whether it was fighting or writing, or any of a hundred other things. He supposed you didn’t get them from a life of research and torture. The bastard probably had girly hands. He took a deep breath, trying to remind himself that there were certainly more interesting things worth his attention in this situation.
“Could be.” She said simply. Her eyes opened again, glancing down at his hands like it confused her to some extent. “It’s fine. I’m alright.”
He wasn’t completely sure about a great many things where she was concerned. The closest he could explain it was being like a spider web. Everything could be connected with a little thought, but the mystery between the certainties left gaping holes in her web. This probably wasn’t completely unfamiliar to her, but it was fresh, different like this if only because he cared enough not to treat her like an object to poke at. Varric watched her responses carefully, his thumbs just barely grazing her nipples, her lids drooping slightly.
”Remember, you’re the one in control... I stop the minute you tell me to, no hurt feelings.” He reminded her.
“I know…” she said. “Could you...keep talking?”
“So there we were, Hawke, Fenris, Aveline and myself. Dead of the night.” He began, pausing for just a moment when her breath shuddered unexpectedly. He swallowed hard, losing his train of thought for a second. “And...and...right. We’d just left the Hanged Man. Barely got out the door, surrounded on all sides by angry mercs.”
She glanced down between them, her cheeks flushing a slight pink. Her focus returned to him, nodding slowly. “So how did you get out of that?”
Fen returned her hands to rest on his chest, leaning into his touch, her fingers lazily flexing against him, her hair shifting to one side, a long spiral of twisting waves teasing his neck.
“Well, you haven’t met her, but Aveline is built like a one woman army, she pushes Hawke back against the door and the poor guy tumbles ass up into the dirt. Fenris is busy trying to pull him to his feet, and I’m too busy trying to aim, had to be what...six rounds into a cask of aged Ferelden whiskey. By the time we’re all ready to fight, Aveline has them all down and somehow found a bunch of rope to keep them from running before the guards can come haul them off.” He told her.
“She sounds tough. I wonder if her and Cassandra would get along?” Fen suggested.
“Only you would suggest something that dangerous, Fen.” He said.
His hands had since wandered back down, mildly surprised he hadn’t noticed just how much muscle she had, her stomach etched in noticeable lines. Honestly from the back or the side her and her brother both looked underfed and bony. It was easy to assume that much, but there was no denying that it was all very lean muscle. They hadn’t really had a chance to do much but walk and fight, it made sense, but it was still strange to him. He slowed to a stop at the lines protruding just above the band of her trousers.
Fen stared down at him for a few moments, like she knew exactly what he was thinking. With a quiet, slow sigh, she unlaced the front, lifting enough to get them past her hips.
“Fen…” he mumbled.
“Varric...I’m not so naive as to be blind to what’s happening here. I’ll try to make this easier for both of us. I’ve said I’ll tell you if it’s too much, trust that I will.” She told him.
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to feel like you have to do this…” he said
“Well, I was enjoying the stories.” She admitted.
“Lucky for you I’ve got plenty then.” He grinned. “Not sure how good they’ll be, you’re a bit of a distraction at the moment.”
Her trousers disappeared off the side of the bed, and his breath caught noticeably. He turned his head slightly, not sure if it was a trick of the light or not. Nope, she definitely wasn’t wearing anything underneath.
“I took a liking to not wearing them.” She said quietly. “Not very comfortable anyway.”
“Did you think I was going to complain?” He wondered.
“A little.” She shrugged.
“You really might be crazy after all.” He said seriously. “You’re beautiful. Believe me, this right here? People would absolutely kill to be right here, right now.”
“Well, that’s perfect. People have died trying to get here.” She said seriously.
“Wait, really?” Varric asked.
“Yes.” She said like she’d very much like to leave it at that.
Rather than being put off, it felt more familiar than he expected. He brought her down closer to him, his hands roaming over her hips slowly, trying to memorize everything he could about her, on the off chance this was a dream.
“Is this what you want? Are we really doing this?” He asked quietly.
“Think of it like this. You worry so much about the bad memories, right?” She said. “It’s gone alright so far, let’s make better ones.”
“Is that optimism I hear? Careful, I could get used to that.” He teased. “You wanted a story, right? How about something entirely new?”
“I’m a fan of exclusives. Alright then, I’m listening.” She laughed.
Again, I’m so sorry ;3;
It was definitely a sight he hadn’t really let himself imagine, at least not beyond a curiosity, the Inquisitor naked in his bed. Really, it sounded like the sort of thing he might make up. She reclined against a pile of pillows not even a quarter of the wall lining her bed. Leliana’s doing no doubt. He turned to face her, propping his head up on his palm, his right hand slowly drawing circles down her stomach, sweeping down to her knee and back a few times, slower each time. He turned, half against her, his mouth slowly dragging along her chin, down her throat, pausing just above her collarbone.
“What are you in the mood for?” He asked, his words vibrating against her skin every other word. “Drama? Romance...mystery? Adventure…”
Her head tipped back into the pillows, biting her lip loosely, her fingers tangling in his hair for a moment. “Surprise me.”
He lent it a bit of thought, continuing lower, nipping down between her breasts. He could feel her heart pick up, knocking against her chest a little faster.
“Alright. Think I might have something.” Varric said finally. “About a dashing rogue and a foreign princess. “
“You have my attention.” She told him, her words cut off sharply when he smacked a kiss on her stomach, catching her by surprise. “Ah...that tickles…”
Varric did it again, feeling the tension, though by her fit of giggles, she didn’t exactly dislike the feeling at least. It was nice that she could still enjoy such simple things too.
“Where to begin…” he hummed thoughtfully. He followed the path he’d set just past her navel, her laughter melting into a faint moan. “A story of chance encounters, naturally. It just so happens our handsome hero finds himself in the company of our lovely princess after a very heroic rescue.”
Varric gently squeezed her thighs, letting her adjust to each sensation. “Kidnappers. He didn’t really know who she was, liked the mystery. Anyway, the trip back to her home promised to be a long one.”
Fenina raised a hand, gesturing for him to continue. At the moment it appeared she didn’t particularly want to interrupt.
“Partway through the journey, the two became close. Somewhat complicated, the princess knew that he was no prince. No chance of any sort of future.” He murmured. He nipped teasingly along her hips, twitching each time he did. “He felt the same way, knew she’d been promised to some snobby guy who cared more about himself than anything else.”
“That’s not all, I’d guess.” she huffed shakily. “What happens next?”
Varric glanced up at her, his hand inching higher up her thigh. He took a deep breath, about to continue, grinning slightly at the louder groan that escaped. “Knowing they couldn’t be together did nothing to stop them from enjoying what time they had left. Each night, they’d become someone else. Him, a merchant, and her a seamstress. They’d talk for a time about things they dreamed of, problems and a shared desire to get away from it all at times.”
“That seems a bit sad. I suppose even I got used to happy endings…” she told him.
“Who said it had a sad ending?” Varric asked curiously. Fen squirmed at the slight intrusion, but made no effort to stop him yet, his wrist flexing when he shifted the angle. “It doesn’t hurt?”
Fen quickly shook her head, her lips pressed tightly together for a moment. “I’m okay, I can take a lot before it gets to me, remember?”
“And you shouldn’t have to be in pain to begin with. You’re a mobile fortress, I get it, but that doesn’t make it okay to test just how much pain you can take before you get injured.” Varric told her.
“Keep going. I want to know how it ends…” she said, her legs widening apart just a touch. “I’m curious how it could possibly have a good end.”
“Well, the princess couldn’t stop thinking about him. She invented reasons to need his help, and those stolen moments where she was just a regular woman, she cherished, and he did too. Something good to break up the dissatisfaction in their lives.” He said.
“I used to have this dream…” she said, a broken series of sounds amid soft, incoherent murmurs. “I was much younger, maybe it was…it was silly. I spent a lot...of time wondering…”
Her nails scraped at his shoulders, lifting against his hand, completely unable to think for what felt like several solid minutes before the fog began to clear. Varric slowly pulled away, watching the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the way her hair stuck to her brow, the full body flush.
“You were saying?” He reminded her.
“Right...yeah...I found myself wondering what I was missing out on...I mean I loved my clan but I always knew there was more I wasn’t seeing.” She said.
“Is it what you hoped it would be like?” Varric asked curiously.
He turned his focus to the thick leather strings currently impeding his comfort. He groaned quietly when he got his breeches off.
“It’s been mostly awful.” She said bluntly. She bit her lip, watching him. “But...it’s also been fun, and stressful, and...there’s been a lot of good things too.”
“Yeah...I think I understand that. It’s been interesting, that much is constant.” Varric agreed.
He brushed her hair back, falling silent for a time. It was equally a chance to reassess her condition, her willingness. Yes, he trusted she knew herself better than he might, but it was also a chance to remind himself just how unbelievable the whole situation felt. Skyhold wasn’t particularly short on people. The Iron Bull in particular came to mind, Cullen was a man who could definitely use one hell of a pretty distraction, and Josephine worked non-stop behind the scenes, to say nothing of the men and women here entirely because she had inspired them to join a cause that by all rights still seemed completely hopeless from an objective perspective. Hawke had people dripping off him from Ferelden to the Marches, and yet here she was. Didn’t see him as a spymaster, a world renowned author, it was far more simple than that. He was a friend, a lifeline, someone who could soothe the pain and put her at ease.
He had a certain love for all his friends, that much was truth, practically one big family, one he got to choose, at least. That includes her too, but something about her blurred that line, crossed a boundary he wasn’t quite sure he was ever meant to. And the maddening thing about that was being a man of words, and knowing the ones coming to mind were ones he didn’t know what to do with. He reached back, tracing small circles against her knees, resting on either side of him, the space between them vanished,, leaning to kiss her again, cutting away the sudden, loud gasp. His teeth scraped and tugged at her lower lip, her hands clutching the back of his neck loosely.
There were plenty of things he’d have told her, but this wasn’t a time for words. Not a time to be spoiled with thoughts of business, or the past, or about the ancient magister who wanted her dead and the world at his feet. For tonight at least, it was about her, here, she was his. His songbird, freed from her gilded cage, and him, the man with no keys but plenty of lockpicks and a stubborn streak.
She whined softly when he broke the kiss, her eyes locked on his, and if she didn’t manage to look better like this, lips red, every inch of her flushed and beaded in sweat. As though she already knew what he was going to say, she shook her head slowly, pressing a finger to her lips.
The sun was starting to get annoying, but he couldn’t be pressed to care, not about that or that they pissed away any chance to sleep. This was the closest he could get to perfect in the middle of all this. Her head on his chest, arm draped loosely across him, fingers tangled in her hair. It would have been forgivable to think it just an ordinary day if the Keep wasn’t looming right outside the door and the distant sound of Cullen clanking about the yard, already barking orders wasn’t a form enough reminder that it was anything but.
He’d had plenty of nights out with Hawke and Blondie that ended in stumbling over to check in with Aveline and getting right to work with a full on hangover and no sleep. He could easily handle whatever he had to right then if asked, but her? She got little enough sleep as it was between whatever kept her so wary of even the slightest sounds, and the sheer volume of paperwork and long trips they asked of her. Just this once, he wasn’t going to bother her, and had no intention to let anyone else ruin it for her. She wouldn’t be out long anyway, he saw no harm in letting her sleep unless the world was about to end if she didn’t. Varric carefully reached for the blanket, drawing it over her. This was somewhat new to him. Bianca always preferred their meetings quick so she could get back before her absence was noticed. He wasn’t sure if it was just the way this felt or if it was because it was her in his arms like this, it was surprisingly comfortable.
So there’s that. I surprised myself a bit. I’m used to more graphic smut, but this just felt right where it is. I hope I did alright.
Fen has returned to her duties, managing to read through a stack of reports, and sign through several small piles of paper before she was ambushed from the main hall. Varric and Hawke tagged along mostly out of curiosity when Dorian accompanied Fen, Josephine and Leliana. She looked every bit the panicked prisoner she probably felt like waking up to Cassandra and her unorthodox interrogation tactics.
Leliana and Dorian seemed to be conferring on the cut, color and style of some very Elven-inspired dress. It currently sat on a dress stand, Fenina seemed to have trouble getting a word in on the subject.
“Has anyone even asked poor Fenny or is she to have no say?” Hawke asked curiously.
“Well, we are to be dealing with important figures in Orlais including the Empress herself, it’s critical to the Inquisition that we not do anything to appear out of place. The Game has few rules, but fewer still if you look like you belong.” Leliana explained.
Hawke leaned over her, cupping Fen’s cheeks and squishing them together from over her. “But just look, she’s terrified. How could you scare a face this adorable, like you’ve gone and kicked a puppy.”
Varric sighed to himself. Hawke was always the same. Never really learned how to be serious, but never not considering others first. It wasn’t the best method, but it did call attention to the issue most overlooked at the moment.
“No, ishfine Gav’n” Fen managed before Hawke let go of her face. “Mythal’enaste but you’re a strong one.”
Fen rubbed her cheeks lightly, shrinking slightly when she noticed all eyes were on her.
“Right, just in case, we should look into an instructor to teach her a few simple dances.” Josephine said after a moment.
“There’s no need for that…” she mumbled. “I’m no stranger to these sorts of things.”
“Madame de Fer’s salon was a fair bit more casual than this will be.” Leliana told her.
“I mean I have attended many a fete and party.” She said, an edge of irritation to her voice.
“Ah yes, right…” Leliana said, putting a hand over her mouth. “Orlais.”
“Trust me, Orlais is bad enough for people who aren’t servants. So tacky.” Dorian added.
Fen cocked her head, examining the dress quietly. It was beautiful. Reminded her of the set of Keeper’s attire she had been sent. The leg wraps were a satisfyingly thigh-covering length, the knee length kind were fine, but too tight and they hurt, too loose and it felt like they’d fall off. There were no happy mediums with these wraps. There was at least some compromise in that they considered her in the design, and they had kindly avoided the ridiculous footwear that would surely kill her faster than any assassin ever could.
“I don’t know why you’d go through this trouble for my sake, but thank you nonetheless.” She said.
Her fingers lingered on the soft, lattice patterned material, in the same place her chainmail covered in between the layers of the regular armor. No need to ask how they came about her measurements, no doubt they were hidden in a margin on a page or some recovered scrap. Not a hard guess either, she guessed.
She wasn’t truthfully sure it was going to go any better than the last big event she’d been forced to attend. Humiliation was a favored tool of his. He’d put her in a far too tight dress, hard enough to breathe, to voluminous to move easily. Kept her on a leather lead, bits of gaudy stone and jewels lining the length. Maker save her if she did anything out of place in front of so many people. For as isolated as he kept her, and the sheer turnover rate of his helpers, it belied the truth. One he’d never confided in her, but which she’d picked up in a letter he’d carelessly left out, the only way she knew his last name.
He was of some high nobility family, one that was very concerned about his absence, that he'd put his research ahead of his own family, that his mother missed him, and other things that had her more concerned his family was quietly been covering up his activities. It made her wonder though, if he’d stayed the same as he was at first, would she still be there like some terribly loyal dog?
“Our invitation comes from Grand Duke Gaspard, we didn’t have the influence it would have taken to directly sway Celene into inviting us. “ Josephine said informatively.
Fen tensed up at the name, her hands flexing a few times before curling into tight fists, her palms white where her nails dug in.
“Gaspard, you say?” She asked, grinning unsettlingly. “Fortuitous. Perhaps I don’t need to hunt after all. I take him out of the way, my meaning is gone…it might flush him out of hiding, then I get my brother back…”
“I know sometimes these things are necessary.” Leliana said. “But we have to be precise about this. You want him dead, I’m behind you. We need evidence of his involvement in something illicit. We have you, but to get away with that, you’ll need the proof.”
Varric nudge her arm slightly. “I’ll help you look. Tiny might be a good idea too.”
“Oh I’m going too.” Hawke said, refusing to add on his usual quick, snarky reasons.
Varric noted the look he gave her, he seemed in better spirits, but it was almost like he was crossed between curiosity and concern. It had to be connected to whatever she had given him. He knew that look to be the one he’d saved for Blondie when he had told him or possibly done something questionable, and that only added to the number of questions he had that weren’t likely to be answered any time soon.
Dorian mimicked her posture, brow furrowed in thought, a hand on his chin. He glanced at her in silence before shrugging. “It’s not great. But it’s certainly more tasteful than anything they’ve ever seen in Orlais.”
“I’ve seen enough to confidently agree with that.” Fenina nodded. “One time, I saw a woman in a dress that reminded me of a triple tier white chiffon cake.”
Dorian looked visibly upset at the mere description, rolling his eyes. “Tevinter isn’t problem free, but that’s one atrocity we don’t have, thankfully.”
“Perhaps an Exalted March of bad fashion?” Fenina suggested.
“Remind me why we’re friends?” Dorian asked.
“Because no one else would listen to you complaining.” She said.
“That’s right.” He said. “On that note, I could use a drink.”
“Tavern?” Hawke asked.
“Too crowded.” Dorian sighed.
“Your room,Varric?” Hawke suggested.
“Bit of a mess.” Varric refuses quickly.
“You can use mine. Desk is even clear for once. You could play cards.” Fen said.
“Great, always more interesting with four.” Hawke said cheerfully.
Varric caught the look she was giving him. That look said ‘save me’. Added in with the discreet way she gestured towards Josephine and Leliana. Seems like they had plans for her time and that just wasn’t allowed. They had dibs after all, and it was hardly fair to break the rules like that. He nudged Hawke, pointing to her with his eyes. Naturally he’d forgotten Hawke wasn’t particularly the most natural of liars and coming up with a valid excuse on the fly wasn’t his thing. He bent enough to haul her over his shoulder, charging out the door like it was a completely normal thing to do. Dorian clicked his tongue disapprovingly before he and Varric dashed off after him, leaving the two behind and probably a bit confused. Fen was likely the only one who seemed at ease with the situation. Then again, after Sera’s utter refusal to be tossed at enemies, Bull next looked to Fen, who he assessed as a better option after some consideration. She was the one who suggested that sticking out her bones just after he launched her would be more efficient. She was probably already used to being picked up without warning by now. By the time they got to the hall, Hawke was dashing off to the yard, presumably to grab a few bottles for their impromptu game day. Fen was nowhere to be seen, most likely already setting out glasses and whatever snacks she’d received piled in the middle of the desk.
“Has she changed her hair? It looks different…” Dorian wondered on the way up to her room.
“Hadn’t noticed…” Varric lied. “It’s been a while since we left for rift management. Maybe you only think it’s different.”
“Maybe I only think she’s a bit different? You leave fortwo weeks, and she’s cracking jokes? Lavellan, my Lavellan doesn’t sass. She was sassing.” Dorian said almost proudly.
“Hanging around a trio of men who pride themselves on jokes does that to you.” Varric shrugged.
“You have to be the noisiest people I know.” Fen said. “The birds are quieter.”
“This is your fault.” Dorian said flatly. “Hawke isn’t back for me to blame.”
Whoever was to blame for it didn’t really matter. To him it said little by little she was opening up, and while it might not have been the quickest change he’d seen before, it was welcome all the same. At least in his opinion she just looked better with a smile.
I'm really trying to add in some nice stuff, since the Winter Palace may be long and somewhat a bummer.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fen carefully pulled the chairs away from the desk, finding it more awkward than difficult to transfer Dorian and Hawke from the desk where they’d fallen asleep to the bed where they might be more comfortable. Varric watched her quietly, taking a seat to one side of her couch, her knees to her chest, feet crossed at the ankles. He took a seat next to her, bringing the bottle with him. He knew better than to think she was planning to get any sleep tonight. Spring was around the corner, and with it a whole host of sounds she’d long since forgotten, all the trying in the world wasn’t going to get her to settle down.
“What is it that always keeps you up?” he wondered, intending it to stay in his head.
Fen made a face, taking the bottle from him, taking a long drink before she handed it back. “It’s stupid.”
“I know you better than that. It isn’t stupid if it bothers you.” Varric said.
Fen tipped her head back, staring at the ceiling. “Isn’t it always him?”
Varric nodded slowly. “Usually.”
She turned in her seat, her legs dangling over the side, her head resting on his lap. He ran his fingers slowly through her hair, and she closed her eyes, for just a moment.
“I learned to wake up quickly. Everytime the floor creaked, everytime I smelled his cologne down the hall, or heard the chair scrape against the stone. It just...got out of hand. I started waking up to everything, afraid of what he might do next. I remember this one incident the most. I had fallen asleep on the table, and I woke to him cutting into me.” she said quietly.
He knew that all the reassurances that he could offer for her safety were in question still. She of course had valid points. The people she assumed were safe were taken away or hurt, and maybe she was right that it was because of her, he couldn’t say for sure. He didn’t particularly think it was within her control, however, and that the blame wasn’t hers, but rather whoever had actually done it.
“I can personally guarantee nothing is going to happen while I’m around.” he told her.
She nodded slowly. “I imagine that’s true. You certainly can’t be around all the time, though. That would get tiresome for you, I’m sure.”
Varric took a drink, setting the bottle on the stand by the couch. “I’ve known Hawke for many years. You have met him, right? I don’t tire of people I actually like. They’re admittedly very few and far between.”
“It’s ridiculous. I’m far too old to need someone to check for monsters.” she snorted.
“Don’t go there, princess.” he said. “You’re still just a kid, you’ve been through things no one should have to, and you’re still here . You could have closed the Breach and skipped off into the sunset, but you stuck around. You’ve done all these impossible things, and even knowing full well it wasn’t what you wanted, you stayed here. Because you know damn well you’re just going to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong if you left, right?”
“Well...say that was true.” she mumbled. “What of it?”
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask to stick around and check for monsters.” he laughed. “And look. It’s not just me either. I can guarantee you Hawke would wake up in an instant if he thought something was wrong. Even Dorian would wake up with only mild complaint.”
“I’ve never had a sleepover before.” she said. “I thought there would be more games.” she turned, staring up at him. “For the record, I’m eighteen summers old. I’m not a kid.”
Varric sighed at that, his thumb brushing just under her lower lip. “That’s for damn sure…”
“Why you?” she asked.
“What do you mean why me?” he asked.
“Why do you treat me like this? You’re always the first in line to try and cheer me up, and…” she trailed off for a time, biting her lip. “You never ask for anything in return. You’re gentle, kind...and everything I had come to believe I didn’t deserve. At my lowest, you tried to pick me up and put me back together, why?”
There was a very simple answer to that. Instead, he chose to explain it.
“I don’t expect anything. I’m rarely invested in anything that I expect a return from. It happens, Hawke is full of stories about jobs we’ve taken for pay. I want to see you the way you were, I want to get to know the Fenina Lavellan I never got to meet. I want to know everything about you, all the good, the bad, the hurt...and I want to be the one who gets to make sure you know that you’re worth more than you think you are. You are not broken, there was never anything to put together.” he told her.
She was starting to wonder whether he hit his head, it was a bit too serious for him, but just when she was about to ask, he continued.
“Plus, I like kissing you. And you have fantastic legs.” he said.
She covered her mouth, stifling her giggles to avoid accidentally waking the others up. That wasn’t specifically what she expected to hear, but it was the sort of lighter answer she was used to from him. He gently pulled her hand away, tilting his head to meet her eyes.
“There it is.” he observed.
“All very sweet, Varric.” Hawke mumbled.
“See what I mean? You can’t even breathe around him without him butting in.” Varric teased his friend.
“Don’t be silly. I wasn’t sleeping.” he yawned. “I only meant to ensure that my eyelids are in perfect condition for a nap later.”
“Of course.” Varric amended. “Naturally the Champion of Kirkwall doesn’t need a nap.”
Hawke rolled out of bed, shuffling over slowly, nudging her closer to Varric so he could sit down as well. Despite his claims to be awake, he leaned against her slightly, his head on her shoulder, muffling a loud yawn.
“Whatever happens, you’re family now.” Hawke mumbled sleepily. “You’re stuck with us. You’ll have to live with that.”
Fen’s lip shook at that, and Varric watched her face immediately twist into something far sadder. She rubbed at her eyes, sniffling, but not yet crying. He reached around her and cuffed the back of his head.
“What was that for?” Hawke asked, snapping awake immediately.
“Come on, really?” he asked, gesturing to her. “Think before you speak.”
Hawke frowned. “I’m sorry.”
Fen shook her head, waiting to get her herself back under control. “No...it’s not bad...it’s good, really.” she tried to explain. “I’ve just been sitting here feeling my whole world fall apart in my hands, and it...it made me really happy…”
Hawke nodded. “I understand how it feels. After Varric adopted me, and we took in all those strays, I remembered how good it felt to have people to open up to and share your life with. Though I never could decide who was more motherly, Aveline or Varric.”
“I will slap you again.” Varric threatened.
“Hey, how many times did you remind me to eat, or sleep, or to comb my hair and brush my teeth. I had you on that side and Aveline threatening everyone who looked at me wrong. It was nice. It was sweet, even.” he told him.
“That does sound a bit like him.” Fenina admitted. “But...I like it. I sometimes forget those things now...the reminder is nice.”
“My mother used to nag me to wash behind my ears.” Hawke said dryly.
“If you like, I could remind you?” Fen offered.
“You can remind me of whatever you like. I don’t mind when you do it.” Hawke laughed.
“Well there’s no fun in that.” She told him.
“So what were you little birds talking about before?” Hawke wondered.
“It was nothing special.” Fen said quietly.
“Yeah, all very boring stuff about the outfits for this business in Orlais.” Varric told him.
“Oh I know...they’re atrocious. That shade of red doesn’t flatter me at all.” Hawke agreed. “At least she gets something different.”
“Would you rather trade? I’m more comfortable with an alarming red than a dress, honestly.” Fen told him.
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Hawke sighed.
“Right. The ugly brown thing Isabela made you wear after you lost to her. Still don’t understand why you can’t tell when she’s bluffing.” Varric told him.
Fen had gone quiet again, though it seemed to have everything to do with the empty bottle in her hands, stretched between the two just a bit. Varric put a finger to his lips, and Hawke nodded. She was quick, he could give her that, neither even noticed her move in the first place, caught up in all this talk of old times.
“Looks like it’s Mittens all over again.” Hawke mumbled quietly.
Many a time had been spent making sure he didn’t wake the kitten up, and Varric was giving him the same exact look. At the very least, she was quite warm naturally, no need to worry about getting too cold.
I may do a few sort of 'nothing' chapters before the Winter Palace, just saying.