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     It was a black and chilly night when Hawke wove through back alleys and shadowed pathways, walking with a silent determination as she neared her destination. Her slender fingers tugged the dark hood of her cloak further over her face, and she inhaled slowly and carefully, her footsteps barely making a sound in the eerie quiet of the sleeping town. She’d become more proficient with stealth in the years since her ‘exile’, though the term gave her endless amusement.

     If the Inquisition only knew that in all the time they hunted her, she’d been hiding in plain sight, right under their noses. The safest place to hide, as far as she was concerned. After all, she was a lifelong apostate and what’s more, one that had never been caught by a Circle from Ferelden to Antiva. If the templars couldn’t catch her, what made the Inquisition think they could?

     She’d come out when she was damn good and ready. But unfortunately it seemed her time had come, ready or not.

     Her fingers drifted up to the corner of her chest, where a folded letter was neatly tucked inside her leather vest, and she patted it for a moment with a small smile at the thought of its author. She’d intended to pass along the results of her research to Varric, rather than deliver it in person. She had no desire to don the name ‘Hawke’ or ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ ever again after she stepped foot out of the blazing city. Any ties she had to those names died with the ones she left behind.

     Her eyes narrowed as horrid memories crept insidiously into her mind, so she shut her lids and took a deep breath, pushing it to the furthest recesses. Now was not the time to tend to old wounds. Now was the time for an impromptu family reunion.

     Her footsteps slowed down as she stood in front of a nondescript house tucked at the edge of town. The plain linen curtains were drawn, but she could see candlelight on a table not too far from the window.

     Good, she was up.

     She rapped on the worn, aged wood gently; once, then thrice, then twice, and placed her hands behind her back as she waited patiently for a response. It was only a moment before she could hear the shuffling of feet in the room within, and the door opened a crack, revealing a cold and pale green eye that matched her own, and pierced her sternly.

     Hawke’s mouth spread into a warm and relaxed smile, and she bounced her heels once, a small thrill as the eye narrowed and the door opened further, revealing the occupant within; a lithe woman donned in dark grey leather with short, tousled black hair and full lips that were pressed into a hard, thin line. A quick and silent motion bade her to enter and did so with a languorous ease, pulling her hood back and stepping inside as though this was nothing out of the ordinary.

     “What are you doing here?” the Grey Warden hissed at her quietly, gazing at her with increased suspicion the more the Champion relaxed. “How did you find me?”

     “Is that any way to greet family?” Hawke quipped lightly, walking over to a table in the center of the room, and perusing its contents freely; papers and notes strewn about haphazardly. Instead she looked at the cup of wine in the corner and picked it up, taking a slow sip and seating herself on the edge of the small bed along the furthest wall. “You’re looking well, cousin.”

     “I wish I could say the same,” Warden Amell grunted, crossing her arms over her chest and huffing when Hawke took her cup, going to a side table to pour herself another one. “Trouble sleeping again?”

     “No rest for the wicked, so they say,” Hawke shrugged nonchalantly, though she wouldn’t meet the mage’s eyes. “Nothing a sleeping potion can’t fix.”

     “You’re going to become dependent on them if you aren’t careful,” the Warden warned, but Hawke waved her hand dismissively in reply. “I know how often you’ve come to need them.”

     She rolled her eyes and took another sip of wine, scooting back on the bed until she was comfortably resting against the wall, her fingers tapping the metal cup idly. “How could you possibly tell? It’s not as though you keep up with anything or anyone outside your quest. If it weren’t for me you’d be completely unaware of current events.”

     “And I assume that’s why you’re here, to give me news,” her cousin gestured impatiently, a woman of neither the mood nor temperament for small talk.

     “Yes, it seems the Champion of Kirkwall is being compelled to finally come out of exile,” she said mirthfully, pulling the letter out from under her vest, and handed it to the Warden. “Thought you’d like to know, particularly since I’ll be with your husband.”

     “Alistair, what trouble have you gotten him into now?” the mage snapped, quickly opening the folded parchment and scanning its contents slowly.

     “Me? Why do you always presume it’s my fault?” Hawke gasped with mock surprise, pressing her hand against her sternum dramatically, the cold eyes glaring at her only making her chuckle.

     “Because it always is.” There was a chill in the Hero’s voice; the kind of icy, barely-contained rage that rippled fear into the hardest of hearts. Except for Hawke. Her cousin’s anger never fazed her, particularly since it seemed to be a constant presence regardless of anything she ever said or did.

     “Now you’re just being dramatic, it’s not as though I’m responsible for every horrible thing that’s ever occurred in history,” Hawke sighed with a patient smile, the epitome of calm serenity, except for a foot that fidgeted subtly in her boot. She was bracing herself for a torrent of insults to come, and only partway through the letter, the Warden crumpled it up in her fist and hissed audibly, glaring at Hawke.

     “Hawke!”

     “Yes, dear cousin?” she said sweetly, maintaining her mask of tranquility as the Warden stalked closer towards her.

     “What is the meaning of this?” the Warden growled, throwing the wrinkled letter back into her lap. “You told me you’d killed him!”

     “And I had, quite thoroughly I’d thought. Perhaps we should have lit his body on a pyre after all,” Hawke mused quietly, rubbing her chin and making a soft noise when the mage kicked the heel of her boot roughly. “Ouch, what?”

     “I told you this was your fault! And what is your Master Tethras doing writing to you anyhow? I thought the Inquisition had imprisoned him. Are you sure this isn’t a trap?” Warden Amell huffed and began to pace, her mind creaking and grinding like a flour mill.

     “I assume everything is a trap, it’s why I’m still alive. And he wasn’t imprisoned, merely… asked to make a rather lengthy visit,” Hawke quipped blithely, desperately holding her mouth in place as a twinkle in her eye appeared.

     “In other words, imprisoned.”

     “Hardly, it’s not as though they put him in a jail cell. At least, I’m fairly certain they didn’t. I think he might’ve mentioned something like that in his letter.”

     “Fairly certain? As certain as you were that Corypheus was dead?” the Warden snapped, running her fingers through her shorn hair, and ruffling it in agitation.

     “Come now, surely you can’t put all the blame on me. How was I to know that a darkspawn magister could come back to life? It’s not as though he came with a manual.”

     “Because that’s what they do you fool! Have you learned nothing from my fight against the Blight?!” the Hero shouted, throwing her hands up in the air, ignoring the fact she may have just woken up the cluster of houses around them.

     “I’m sensing a certain pointedness in your tone, cousin,” she replied with an innocent smile, not flinching when the mage balled her hand into a fist and raised it in the air threateningly. As fiery as her cousin’s temper was, she was perfectly aware of the soft spot she held in her heart; a fact she used to her advantage every chance she could get.

     “I should have ended you when you found me four years ago,” the Warden barked, raising her fist higher and hovering it there for a while, before finally cursing and dropping her arm to her side. “You’ve been nothing but trouble.”

     “Trouble does seem to follow me, I’m pained to admit,” Hawke said with a soft sigh, her eyes growing distant for a moment before she looked back up at her cousin with a fond smile. “Still, family is family, and I’m sorry to remind you I’m all you have left. Well, me and Alistair. And that mabari of yours. And my brother. Where is he by the way?”

     “Out, he’ll be returning shortly,” the mage replied briefly, her words still clipped and cutting even as her shoulders relaxed. “If it’s to be a family reunion, why didn’t you bring my fool of a husband? Surely you could have found him as easily as you always seem to find me. And you’ve yet to explain how you do it.”

     “Alistair and I parted ways some time ago, my plan is to pick him up again after I reach Skyhold. As for how I always find you; Warden Amell you are a great many things, but subtle is not one of them. All I ever have to do is follow the trail of bloodied faces and mangled corpses to know where you’ve been,” Hawke chuckled, gazing at her warmly, her smile widening as the Warden sniffed tersely.

     “Yes, well I don’t have the silver tongue you do,” the Hero said dryly, letting out a weary sigh as she sat back down at her table. “Which seems to be the only useful talent you were given.”

     “Ouch, you wound me with your barbs,” she moaned dramatically, a ripple of pleasure running through her body when she saw the corner of the mage’s mouth begin to lift. Her cousin may have been one of the toughest nuts to crack, but Hawke could wear her down with enough time and patience. “I’m a mage, same as you. Not a half-bad one, if I say so myself.”

     “You’re a Spirit mage,” her cousin groaned, rolling her eyes. “In other words, you talk to spirits. It always comes back to your doggedly persistent and aggravating charm.”

     “Ah, but you do think I’m charming,” Hawke grinned, swirling the wine in her cup before taking a long sip. “Besides, I’m branching out. There’s hardly a need for healing when I’ve been without a full party for years.”

     The Hero grunted, leaning over the table and rifling through her papers idly, her rage decreasing to a low simmer. “So, you’re coming out of hiding then.”

     “Not precisely by choice, but I can hardly deny Varric anything,” she huffed, draining her cup and twisting it idly in her hands. “Particularly after what he’s done for me. If he needs me, I’m going without question. Besides, I can learn far more about this ‘Inquisition’ if I go in person.”

     “You would have done better to turn yourself in, rather than allow your friend to be bait,” her cousin said gruffly, slowly organizing the scattered parchment into neat piles.

     “It was his idea, not mine,” Hawke scoffed, rolling onto her stomach and placing the empty cup on the floor next to her. “He was worried about what they might do to me.”

     “A healer to the end, hm? Always managing to rally people forward while you’re safely tucked in a corner somewhere,” the Warden remarked wryly, a twinkle dimly surfacing in her pale green eyes.

     “We can’t all be mage warriors, charging into the fray with flaming swords of righteous vengeance,” Hawke smirked, picking at the thin wool blanket as she met her gaze. “Someone has to keep you all alive and protected, especially given how rash and impulsive you are.”

     “I believe that’s a family trait, isn’t it?” Warden Amell quipped blithely, sitting alert when the door unlocked, and a tall figure stepped in. “Ah, speaking of family.”

     “I’ve got our supplies,” Carver said quietly, pausing and tilting his head at the odd look in his cousin’s eyes, a pack slung over his shoulder. “... what? I wasn’t gone that long.”

     “Maker you’re thick, do you notice nothing? Your sister has found us,” the Warden snapped irritably, but there was a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Though she couldn’t do the courtesy of bringing my husband with her.”

     “I’d like to remind you that you left him , when did I take on the role of nursemaid for Alistair?” Hawke laughed quietly, getting off the bed and hugging her brother tightly when he dropped the bag and opened his arms with a soft smile. “Hello, little brother. I hope our surly cousin isn’t treating you too poorly?”

     “About as well as you might expect,” he said dryly, giving her a firm squeeze before looking her over carefully. “You don’t look so well, trouble sleeping again?”

     Hawke sighed and shook her head, waving his concern away with a gesture, and took a seat on the bed again. “I’m fine, don’t fuss. I’m more worried about you than anything, how have you been?”

     Carver gave her a small smile, his eyes following her with thinly-veiled worry as he took a seat beside her. “I’m alright, all things considered. It’s good to see you,” he replied, patting her knee as they huddled shoulder to shoulder. “Where’ve you been since I last saw you?”

     “Me? Orlais,” she shrugged casually, clearing her throat and fighting a smile as she avoided her cousin’s stern gaze.

     The Hero snorted quietly and picked up Carver’s satchel, putting it on the table as she began to inspect its contents. “What the world considers exile, the Champion of Kirkwall treats as an extended holiday. Typical.”

     “You are aware of the definition of exile, no? It simply means leaving a place and not returning. I haven’t returned to Kirkwall. I don’t know why people expect me to live in a cave, wearing sackcloth and ashes,” Hawke smirked, scrunching her nose and exchanging mischievous smiles with her brother. “Besides, I go where my friends are; is it my fault if some of them are wealthy?”

     “You have many friends in many places, under many pseudonyms,” the Warden groaned, shaking her head and offering the Champion a disapproving glance, not quite as sternly as she’d intended. “Which have you been using this time?”

     “Depends on where I am,” she answered calmly, sighing rather guiltily when Carver offered her a frown. “What?”

     “I’m here in some cramped little shack with Amell and you’re off in Val Royeaux, living in mansions and eating cakes? Really?” he sighed and rested his head against the wall. “You have all the luck, don’t you?”

     “Townhouses, not mansions and-- no, there was cake,” Hawke laughed sheepishly, nudging his shoulder gently. “Look, I’ll take you with me next time. It’ll be a long while before I go back there, though. Heading for Skyhold after I leave you; time to finally meet with the Inquisition.”

     Carver suddenly sat up straight, an alarmed expression on his face. “What? No, you can’t go. Amell, tell her she can’t. You spent years dodging them, and now you’re walking right into their jaws? What was the point of Varric diverting them if you were just going to join him?”

     “Because they’re not after me anymore, they’re after Corypheus. I’m going to-- I don’t know. Tell them what little I know, help if I can. I did murder the ugly son of a bitch once,” she quipped wryly, patting her brother’s leg soothingly. “Not well enough though. He managed to make the mess between templars and apostates worse by destroying the Conclave, and he seems intent on running the world, or ruining it. Aren’t they one and the same sometimes?”

     “Corypheus, he’s-- we should all go then, shouldn’t we?” he asked, turning to look at the Warden questioningly, who simply grunted and shook her head sharply. “... why not? If he’s--”

     “Let the fools deal with one darkspawn, maybe they’ll learn something,” Warden Amell retorted, sniffing with approval at the small rounds of cheese Carver had brought. “Your sister started that mess, let her clean it up.”

     “Says the Grey Warden. About a darkspawn magister. Threatening to end the world. Isn’t this right up your alley? Shall I remind you that they were looking for you the same as me?” Hawke said with an amused smile, crossing her arms over her chest and observing her cousin fondly.

     “Our journey is more important than the delusions of one measly darkspawn,” the Warden scoffed, clearing the papers from the table as she went to the small larder and began to pull out some wooden plates. “We’re trying to save the people that save the world, and who’ve done so for centuries. It’s one darkspawn, Hawke; you fucked it, you fix it.”

     Carver let out a long and weary sigh, but offered a short nod of agreement and stood up to help Amell set the table, pulling out a fresh loaf of bread as she began to cut some cheese. “Sorry Hawke, she has a point. I suppose it’ll be you alone then.”

     “It was always going to be, I’d no intention of dragging you along, as much as I might enjoy seeing our dear cousin wreak havoc on the Inquisition,” Hawke grinned wickedly, pulling up a stool at the table.

     “Chaos is your expertise, Champion. I bring order,” the Hero snorted, laying plates in front of them, though that dim twinkle resurfaced again as she watched Hawke slice thick pieces of bread. “But order comes at a cost.”

     “I bet you if she was running the Inquisition, she’d have conquered half of Thedas by now,” Hawke leaned in and whispered to her brother, who subtly smirked and nodded in response.

     “Only half?” Amell said dryly, breaking off a piece of cheese and popping it in her mouth. “As though I’d have any interest in running a country or countries, even if you’d all be better off for it. Incompetent bunch of twats.”

     “Maker, I’ve missed your snarkiness,” Hawke laughed softly, shaking her head as she gave them each a slice of bread. “Who knew the legendary Hero of Ferelden could be so impossibly surly?”

     “Live your life as a prisoner, then find yourself released, only to be bound through darkspawn blood to an order which conveniently gets wiped out just as you join, leaving you and a handsome fool to save the world, and see how you feel about it at the end of the day,” the Warden replied, her tone biting as she pulled a small piece of bread off.

     “I can see how that might dampen one’s mood… for a decade or two,” she said with a wry smile, exchanging glances with her brother.

     Amell’s eyes went distant and stony before they roamed the faces of her cousins, a small smile appearing on her lips, even as they honed in on Carver. “You may have resented living a life in hiding but trust me, the fates your sisters faced in the Circle would’ve been far worse.”

     Carver nodded and sighed, squeezing Hawke’s shoulder for a moment before he took a bite of cheese. “Don’t worry Amell, I know. So Hawke, you going to stay the night at least before you go?”

     “Of course, could use a good night’s rest; it’ll be a long journey to reach Varric,” Hawke smiled ruefully, popping a piece of bread into her mouth. “Besides, I haven’t seen you in months, we need a good catch up.”

     “Yeah, and you can fill us in on what’s been going on in the world. Amell’s got us neck deep in ruins and tomes and… well, you know her. Tunnel-vision. I get what news I can but--” Carver stopped short when the Warden slowly arched a brow, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know it’s true; if it’s nothing to do with your quest, you don’t care.”

     “It wasn’t what you said, it was how you said it,” the Hero sniffed irritably, shifting in her sit and breaking off another piece of cheese. “Why did I decide to let you accompany me again? I wouldn't even bring my husband along.”

     “Because he’s family. Because it’s my fault he’s a Grey Warden, and because anywhere you are is the safest place he can be,” Hawke reasoned with a smile, which widened when Amell relented with a soft grunt and nodded, offering her a small and reluctant smile in return.

     “At least I’m never bored,” Carver quipped light-heartedly, finishing his bread and cutting off another slice. “Think I’ve seen more of Thedas with her than a person might see in a lifetime, and just as many fights as we had in Kirkwall.”

     “He’s a skilled warrior, better now since he’s been with me,” Amell nodded curtly, smirking when his mouth dropped open in shock. “What? You’d think you’d know if you were competent. If you weren’t you’d be bruised and battered after every exploration we made in ruins.”

     “Maybe so, but you’ve never told me that. It almost sounded like a compliment,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, matching the one so often seen in his sister’s. “Cousin, you’re not getting soft on me, are you?”

     “If I am it’s your fault,” she said stiffly, reaching for her cup and taking a sip of wine. “Between you and my husband, I’m surrounded by over-emotional men. Insufferable.”

     “Having emotions doesn’t make me over-emotional,” Carver rolled his eyes and chuckled, pouring himself and Hawke a cup of wine. “It’s not our fault the only emotions you feel regularly are various shades of anger and fury.”

     But before the Hero could bark a retort, Hawke raised her hands and chuckled softly. “Yes, yes, we know. You have every reason to be angry. At everyone. Ever . Because if it weren’t for you we’d all be dead, because you saved the world, and had a shit time doing it. And you’ll never let us forget it.”

     Warden Amell huffed and chewed silently, shifting in her seat with a sullen expression. “... it’s good to see you again, Hawke,” she finally replied resentfully, exhaling softly as she finished the cheese on her plate. “And I’m glad to hear you’ve finally decided to take some responsibility for the mess you’ve made.”

     “It wasn’t entirely my mess, but Varric’s there and that’s enough reason to go. He may trust them, but I certainly don’t. The Chantry has made their stance on mages perfectly clear from the start, and I know only too well what my fate would’ve been if the templars managed to catch me,” Hawke said dryly, though there was a detectable tone of bitterness and anger in her voice.

     “As do I,” the Hero agreed gruffly, her fist clenching with innate protectiveness over her cousin. “Better to sever you from the source of your power than embrace all you’ve done with it. And you a healer, no less.”

     “Yes, it does seem rather idiotic, doesn’t it?” she sighed, pushing her plate away as she rested her elbows on the table.

     The Warden looked her over in silence for several moments; noting the bags under her eyes, a new fine line or two at the edges, the faint emptiness in her smile. “Be careful, Hawke. They may have declared their intentions to save the world, but never forget their ties to the Chantry. Be smart, be safe, and keep me apprised if you or my husband end up in real danger.”

     “Amell, I’m always safe. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for everyone around me,” she laughed softly, raising her hands defensively when the Warden glowered threateningly. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Alistair. I promise, not a hair shall be harmed on his head.”

     “You better, the last thing anyone needs is for the Hero of Ferelden to come charging into the fray in search of you two. You know she’ll just take over,” Carver said wryly, avoiding the Warden’s gaze and chuckling as he cut off another piece of cheese. “Come on cousin, you know it’s true.”

     “It’s one darkspawn! If they can’t manage that with a growing army of Andrastian idiots, then they’d leave me no choice.” The Warden’s eyes narrowed into distrustful slits, and she cut herself another piece of bread. “Feel free to warn them what I’ll do should anything happen to either of you. I will not take kindly to any harm that befalls my family.”

     Hawke sighed contentedly as she grabbed her cup and took a sip of wine, smiling brightly at Warden Amell, who snorted quietly and flushed at the warm expression on her face. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me in the lurch, when it came down to it.”

     “You give me little choice,” she grumbled, taking a vicious bite of bread, exchanging glances with Carver and nodding curtly as she pointed a stern finger at Hawke. “And you , learn your lesson from last time. Be careful of those drawn to you, and control that blind loyalty of yours; it’s caused enough tragedy to last a century. Both eyes open, and both feet on the ground. Understood?”

     “Yes, Amell,” the Champion sighed wearily, rubbing her cheek and opening her mouth to argue, then closed it again as she thought better of it. “I’m only there to consult. It’s not as though I’ll be taking an active role, so there’s little chance of getting into trouble. Once I tell them what I know, I’ll likely go back to my research with Alistair.”

     “Good, better that way. Write to me when you arrive to Skyhold, and tell my husband to do the same,” she replied tersely, though a small and rusty smile finally curled her lips. “Perhaps you’ll finally find some redemption for the chaos you created.”

     “Redemption. Interesting thought, though I don’t know how much help I could give them,” Hawke shrugged ruefully, her expression softening when she met her brother’s worried face. “I’ll be fine Carver, I promise. I’m always fine, aren’t I?”

     “You can say that all you want, but I know you, Hawke. Everything that’s passed… it’s worn you down, you’re not what you once were,” he said softly, squeezing her shoulder meaningfully and sighing when she looked away. “Take care of yourself, we won’t be there to do it for you.”

     “I’ll have Varric,” she said lightly, after several moments of brooding silence, offering them both a warm and nonchalant smile, slowly raising her cup in the air. “Now will you two stop fussing? I’ve no more need for a nursemaid than Alistair does. It’s been months since we’ve seen each other, let’s have a toast. To family; may we never be parted for long, and may we always find our way back to each other.”

     Warden Amell smiled wryly and raised her cup, as did Carver with a wide grin. “ To family .”

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     It was after midnight when a carriage slowly pulled up past the main gate of Skyhold. Varric was hanging by the campfire anxiously, shifting his feet as he warmed his hands. He sucked in a sharp breath when he saw the door open and a hooded figure stepped out; a small satchel slung over their shoulder.

     “Hey…” he said quietly, a small smile creeping at the edge of his mouth.

     Hawke approached him silently, extending her hands out to the fire for a moment before pulling her hood back, and a tousle of black hair fell across her eyes. “Hello handsome, miss me?” she whispered huskily with a wink, bending down to hug the dwarf tightly. It’d been months since she saw him last, before he decided to intervene with the Inquisition on her behalf.

     “You look good,” Varric grinned, squeezing her tight for a moment before pulling back to observe her more closely. Her hair had grown out quite a bit since they’d first left Kirkwall together; now tied in a loose and lazy braid slung over her shoulder, though long bangs still swept across her eyes, keeping them half-hidden. She wore a striking suit of armor; a combination of metal and leather, spiked pauldrons and bracers on one side, the other arm bare except for a short chainmail sleeve.

     He licked his lower lip in amusement and arched an eyebrow questioningly, eliciting a shrug and innocent grin in return. “… what? Thought I’d dust this off. Just playing the role thoroughly.”

     “Yeah, that’s what worries me,” the dwarf answered dryly, rubbing the back of his neck before motioning her to follow him. He began walking up the long steps towards the Great Hall and Hawke followed silently, looking around and taking note of everything as they passed. “You’ll stay with me tonight, we’ll get you your own room tomorrow after you’ve met the Inquisitor.”

     “You mean you’ll finally be warming my bed? If four years of exile was all it took, I’d have done it a lot sooner,” she quipped, barely able to hide the smirk on her lips when Varric flushed and cleared his throat uncomfortably.

     “Please, I’m no more your type than you are mine,” he said with a weary sigh, though he couldn’t hide the smile tugging at his lips as the doors creaked open and he led her to the door beside the massive fireplace. “I’m not nearly obsessive or unhinged enough for you.”

     “Yes, I do seem to have rather terrible taste in men, don’t I?” Hawke sighed, rubbing her cheek and scrunching her nose as her thoughts drifted to her time in Kirkwall, before her lips curled mischievously. “Perhaps it’s because I’m still pining for the one that got away.”

     “Why did I ask you to come to Skyhold again?” Varric groaned and chuckled, unable to hide the pink in his cheeks. “Just keep your head down, tell the Inquisitor what you know, and you can be on your merry way. Took you a while to reply to my letter, where’ve you been?”

     “Varric, you worry too much,” she assured him with a devilish twinkle in her eye. He’d become more and more protective of her over the years, and she couldn’t deny it warmed her from the inside out. He was her best and truest friend, and after all they’d been through, her loyalty burned just as fiercely for him. It was the only reason why she decided to come in person. Well, one of the reasons. “Last stop was Val Royeaux till I got your letter, then it was off to see Amell and Carver and let them know what was going on.”

     “Yeah, how is the Hero of Ferelden?” he asked with mild interest, surprised when she’d revealed her family connection to the Grey Warden. “You still haven’t introduced me to her.”

     “It’s better that I haven’t trust me, apart from the fact that she’s hundreds of miles away. The Hero is angry as ever, knee-deep in research on the Grey Wardens and a cure to the Calling,” she smiled, following him through the door and stopping suddenly when they came upon an elf, who turned around slowly to look at them with a blank expression. She recalled the descriptions Varric had given her about the members of the ‘Inner Sanctum’ of the Inquisition. He was handsome in his own way, with a face like a marble statue; delicate features chiseled onto what was otherwise a hard and immovable surface.

     “Oh, hi Solas. Didn’t think you’d be up this late,” the dwarf said awkwardly, looking nervously at Hawke for a moment, who’d all but forgotten his presence as her shrewd eyes took in every detail of the smooth-headed elf. “We were just passing through.”

     “Yes, I heard,” Solas replied dryly, his brow furrowing ever so slightly at Hawke’s curious stares. He offered no greeting, no inquiry as to who she was, nor any real interest in their arrival into his study so late at night. He seemed only to be waiting, rather coldly and patiently, for them to leave forthwith.

     Hawke’s mind registered the aloof and silent dismissal, though it didn’t bother her as much as it did her dwarven companion. She simply met his stony gaze evenly, even as she felt a palpable chill in the air between them. Interesting, so this was the Fade mage Varric had mentioned.

     “Well, sorry to disturb you. We’ll be on our way,” Varric said with a vague nod, motioning for the Champion to follow him up the stairs into the library. She picked up her steps automatically, though she didn’t pull her gaze from the mage until the stone wall blocked her view.

     “So that’s the Dreamer, hm?” she whispered quietly as they crossed the library, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “He seems so warm and friendly, I can’t wait to meet everyone else.”

     “Yeah, he’s an odd one,” the dwarf remarked, navigating through the winding corridors of the hold until they were down a long hallway. After a few minutes of meandering he opened the door into what was a rather cozy room; the fireplace already crackling energetically. “They’re an eclectic group, not quite as ragtag as ours back in the day. Still, they’re alright.”

     “I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve had a better look around,” Hawke said softly with pursed lips, unhooking her cloak and carefully removing her armor, laying it neatly on a chair near the door. “I’m not as quick to trust as you, not anymore, particularly a rogue organization with ties to the Chantry.”

     “I know,” he sighed, taking a seat by the fire and watching her thoughtfully as she stretched her arms out; now in her regular leather outfit underneath. “Still, maybe it’d be better if you don’t go poking your nose too much. You’ve given enough, no need to get more involved than you already are.”

     “I’d agree with you, if my cousin hadn’t guilted me to within an inch of my life,” she said wryly, taking a seat in the chair opposite him, and extended her legs so that her feet were on the edge of his chair. “You fucked it, you fix it, she told me. And who knows, there may be some opportunities here for… business.”

     “Be careful, Hawke. I know exactly what kind of business you’re on about, and you haven’t seen what Corypheus is capable of now. It’s a hell of a lot more than when we first met him, and the last thing I want is for you to be in his sights again,” he muttered with worry, and Hawke relented with a soft smile, getting up to kiss him on the cheek softly.

     “I don’t have some strange, magical Fade mark on my hand. I’m not the leader of some delusional religious military organization. I’m nobody, just some woman who tried and failed to kill him once,” she grinned, standing by the bed and taking off her boots before she hopped onto it, letting out a languorous sigh as she felt the mattress sink and envelop her.

     “Just some woman, as though anyone who met you would ever describe you that way,” Varric said with a small smile, turning his head slightly to watch as she curled up on the bed and faced him, turning his chair slightly.

     “I’m a relic, my friend, a fading figure in a recently troubled past,” she waved dismissively, plumping up the pillow underneath her as her eyes roamed him from head to toe. “You’re looking good though, glad they’ve been treating you properly.”

     “You’re talking like an old woman; you’ve barely hit your prime,” he replied with a husky chuckle, shaking his head as he stared into the fire. “Your name is still on the lips of every apostate from here to the Free Marches, for better or worse. I wonder what their reaction will be, once they know you’re here.”

     “Right, you’d mentioned the Inquisitor sided with the mages. Unsurprising, to be honest. If you’re going to fight a war, I’d choose the most powerful allies too. But you’re right, the name of Hawke has some juice left, and I intend to take full advantage of it,” she mused with a smirk, rubbing her chin as she rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.

     “I don’t know Hawke, the templars are just as formidable opponents, especially now with them under Corypheus’ sway,” he murmured, deep lines of worry wrinkling his brow.

     “Who would you rather have; the ones that hold the leash, or the ones the world is terrified of unleashing?” she chuckled huskily, unbuttoning her leather vest and squirming out of it, finally tossing it onto the floor. “Oh right, I already made my choice.”

     “The world knows your choice, and they’re terrified with good reason; you saw what they can be like as much as I did back in Kirkwall. Immense power, but with as little life experience as children, and just as desperate when frightened. And you let them loose onto the world,” he sighed, flinching slightly when he realized his words and shook his head, holding his hands up. “Sorry, sorry. Anders let them loose, not you.”

     “It’s the same either way. Like you said, it’s my name they remember, not his. Just as well, he deserves some peace,” she sighed, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Not sure if I want to face the apostates though; perhaps I should offer myself up, like a lamb to slaughter.”

     Varric smiled and shrugged, watching her again as her eyes slowly fluttered shut. “I don’t know Hawke, they might surprise you. The Inquisitor took them on as proper allies; she supported the freedom you tried to give them. The world isn’t quite as dark as you’ve come to see it, there are still people in the world that can be trusted.”

     “If there’s anyone left in the world to trust, I already know them. I don’t need more than that. And I trust you, that’s enough for me,” she murmured, huffing tiredly as she wriggled her way under the covers. “I owe the world nothing, as far as I’m concerned. But you… I owe everything.”

     He let out a shaky sigh and stood up, warming his hands in front of the fire a last time before he walked over to the bed, standing on his tiptoes as he reached up to kiss her on the forehead softly. “No more than I owe you everything. Get some rest Hawke, I expect it’ll be an interesting morning tomorrow. Don’t think anyone is expecting the Champion of Kirkwall herself to show up at Skyhold’s doors.”

     Hawke smirked, scrunching her nose at the feel of his lips and yawned, rubbing her face in the pillow. “Mm, I do love a grand entrance…”

 

     As Varric feared, there was no keeping Hawke under wraps for long, and the next morning word had spread like wildfire that the Champion of Kirkwall herself had arrived to Skyhold to offer aid. Opinions were widely varied, and her name elicited both fear and relief, as well as an excessive amount of curiosity. And to the dwarf’s chagrin, Hawke took it all in stride, as though perfectly comfortable with her infamy.

     She was, to a certain degree, or at least that's how it appeared. Putting on an act was something she’d long since been used to; a habit so practiced she rarely gave it any thought, and one she’d been refining since childhood. People often forgot she was an apostate from birth, one that had evaded capture till the bitter end, against all odds. Her family spent their life on the run or in hiding; putting on masks and wearing them so well everyone around them believed them to be real. Skills she made use of in Kirkwall, and when she left she was back at it again; using false names, making connections high and low, doing whatever was required to keep herself safe and otherwise anonymous.

     It worked rather well, if she said so herself.

     Still, the years of strife had begun to wear on her, and those closest to her worried how much longer she could keep it up. Ah well, they were just being mother hens. She was fine, perhaps a little cracked in a few places, but she’d had enough adventure to last several lifetimes. Silly to think she'd walk through so many fires and not come out with at least a few scars.

     After a lengthy interrogation from Inquisitor Lavellan, who had no problem asking some rather personal and pointed questions, Hawke decided to venture onto the grounds and make herself familiar. Time to blend in, or stand out, whatever the situation called for. People-watching was both a survival skill and a hobby; figuring out who they were, what they wanted, and what role she should play with them. It was something of a game, and goodness knew she could use some entertainment if she was simply going to hang around at the Inquisitor’s beck and call until they went for Alistair.

     She quickly learned from Lady Montilyet, who’d eagerly offered to give her a tour of Skyhold, a good many occupants had read Varric’s infernal book. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised, and she understood the dwarf’s motivations; wanting to paint a portrait of truth, but still… far too many strangers knew an alarming number of details about her life. Including the Inquisition’s Ambassador.

     “I must say, Lady Hawke, your presence has been a shock to us all, but a very welcome one,” she said smoothly, and the mage gave her a rueful smile at hearing her accent.

     “Antivan? What are you doing all the way over here?” Hawke asked wryly, her eyes scanning the Great Hall with mild interest. The fortress was still something of a shambles, but with all the people milling about it seemed as though they were working day and night to fix it up. Soon it would be a hall fit for kings. Hell, they even had a throne. A throne for the Inquisitor? That was concerning.

     “I have extensive experience in diplomacy, and I volunteered my services,” Josephine replied, a small flush to her cheeks at the mage’s casual observation. “But I am hardly a person of interest by comparison. I am loathe to admit it but… I am a fan. Of Varric’s book, of course, not you. Well, of you as well, but not in a-- oh dear…”

     “Lady Montilyet, am I making you nervous?” Hawke chuckled in disbelief, reaching a hand to squeeze her arm gently, noting the silken texture of her puffy gold sleeves. “Please tell me this isn’t a foreshadowing of how others will behave around me.”

     “The news of your arrival has the entire hold buzzing, and many are eager to see the infamous Champion of Kirkwall with their own eyes. For better or worse, you still hold significant influence, among mages and non-mages alike,” the Ambassador said with a smile, clearing her throat delicately at the Champion’s touch, and picked up her pace as she led her down the center of the massive hall.

     “Yes, thank you Varric for that,” she said wryly, gripping the back of her neck and smirking when they stopped by the dwarf’s regular spot by the fire. “I knew that ruddy book was a bad idea.”

     “It was a great idea, and my most profitable one yet. Besides, if it weren’t for me, no one would know the truth about you. And now the whole world does,” Varric said with a lofty smile, though his eyes narrowed with disapproving concern when he realized Hawke was getting a tour. “Hawke, what are you--”

     “Oh Varric, don’t fuss. Everyone already knows I’m here, what’s the point in hiding?” Hawke winked, patting him on the shoulder as Josephine led them through the door towards Solas’ study.

     She had to admit she was curious about meeting the Fade mage again, and in picking his brain if given half the chance. She hadn’t heard of another Dreamer since Feynriel, and that was several years back now. And anyone who could traverse to places she couldn’t was worth talking to. She had a thirst for knowledge coupled with an innate nosiness, and diving into the unknown was a regular (and sometimes bad) habit of hers.

     “Master Solas, may I introduce Lady Hawke? She will be a guest of Skyhold for a while, and is here as consultant to the Inquisitor on the matters of Corypheus and red lyrium,” Josephine spoke with perfectly polished manners, and the kind of tranquility that made it clear why she was the Ambassador. Hawke couldn’t help but wonder what she was like without that mask of serene diplomacy, she imagined it’d be very interesting indeed.

     “Corypheus? What do you know of him?” Solas asked, brow gently pinching together as he turned to face them, standing near his desk. He appeared to give her a slow and methodical once-over, but she couldn’t help but notice a certain emptiness in his eyes; as though he was looking through her, not at her.

     A wry smile began to tug at the corner of her mouth at his tone; demanding yet blanketed in a soft voice and curiously lilting accent. “What do I-- my name holds no meaning to you?” she asked, her smile widening at his blank and indifferent stare, and she held Josephine’s forearm quickly when the Ambassador opened her mouth to enlighten him. “Maker’s Breath, let’s keep it that way. As for Corypheus, I know as much about him as I might know anyone I’d murdered.”

     The lines in the elf’s forehead deepened and his mouth pressed into a straight line, widening his stance slightly as he tilted his head. “Murdered?”

     “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say violently assaulted, as he clearly didn’t die or at least lacked the decency to stay dead. Beyond unfortunate, given how things have turned out,” she said smoothly, a knowing twinkle in her eye as she looked at Lady Montilyet, who only cleared her throat and covered her mouth to hide her amusement.

     “Indeed,” Solas said after a few moment’s thought, his eyes narrowing and she found herself slowly pulled into a hard and steady gaze, and she felt a subtle shift when he finally looked at her. There was a quiet intensity about him, whispering of immeasurable depths far, far beneath the surface. Fascinating . She couldn’t help but wonder what she might find there, if she cracked that icy shell.

     “Varric mentioned you’re a Fade mage; I would very much enjoy speaking with you about your travels there, if you had the time to spare.” Hawke’s tone was purposely gentle and respectful, and she tipped her head to the side as she scrutinized his response.

     “You have an interest in the Fade?” he asked mildly, and the thin line of his lips relaxed, as did his previously stiff shoulders.

     “Yes, I’ve been there before, though I’m not a Dreamer like yourself,” she nodded, her eyes dancing when he jerked his head at her words and took a small step towards them. Josephine in the meantime was watching their exchange with barely-veiled curiosity, entertained by the elf’s ignorance and Hawke’s light-hearted indifference to it.

     Solas took another slow and reluctant step towards her, as though gently coaxed forward against his will; his eyes still a mask as he clasped his hands behind his back. “You’re familiar with the term? You’ve met one before.”

     Hawke nodded in assent, fidgeting her foot under his sudden and singular focus, finding the air growing thin as he approached.

     “You’re a mage?” he pressed gently, watching her close when she nodded again curtly. Then in a moment, just as quickly as she’d found herself caught in his gaze, he turned around and made his way back to his desk. “... perhaps I would be willing to answer some brief questions.”

     “That would be most generous of you,” she murmured with a curious smile, discreetly inhaling as she motioned for Josephine to continue her tour. “A pleasure to meet you, Master Solas.”

     The elf only turned his head to glance at her briefly as they headed up the stairs, and her curiosity burned brighter as they made their way into the library.

     Dorian was all wide smiles and charming postures when they approached, and before the Ambassador could open her mouth the Tevinter stepped forward and grasped Hawke’s arms lightly.

     “As I live and breathe, Lady Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall,” he said warmly, squeezing her arms for a moment before leaning against a bookcase. “You do us a great honor by gracing us with your presence. I, unlike some of my compatriots, am only too aware of the mark you’ve made in recent history. Its ripples are felt throughout Thedas, even as far as Tevinter.”

     Hawke licked her lip slowly and fought a smirk at the glint in the handsome man’s eyes, who not-so-discreetly gestured his head in the direction of Solas’ study below. “As far as that? Goodness, there’s no forgetting the follies of my youth, is there? Tell me, what’s the opinion of me in Tevinter?”

     “About as varied as here; some believe you’re the only mage in the south with any sense, others that you’re a reckless and idealistic fool, and all of them that you're dangerous. Thankfully, I appreciate those qualities in a woman, particularly one as lovely as yourself,” Dorian said with a roguish grin, and Hawke found herself flushing and laughing at the noble’s effortless charms.

     “My goodness, such flattery. Did you dip your tongue in honey this morning?” she smirked, eyeing him with interest and making a soft noise of approval. “You must be Lord Pavus, the Tevinter mage who came to help the Inquisitor. I’d know you anywhere by Varric’s description.”

     “Oh, did he write of me? I expect he mentioned my dashing good looks and impeccable taste?” Dorian preened, and Hawke’s smile broke into a wide grin. She was going to like him, she could already tell.

     “Certainly, I can’t imagine anyone else who would fit that description so perfectly,” she agreed easily, following Josephine’s motions towards the other side of the library, occupied by their recent allies, the apostate mages. A sinking feeling in her stomach began to take hold, and her smile wavered for a brief moment before she fastened it again properly.

     “I insist you come and visit me properly while you’re here, I’m exceedingly curious to know how a natural apostate approaches magic, rather than those confined to a southern Circle,” he said with a small smile, rubbing his chin at the twinkle in her eye.

     “A mage and a scholar? A man after my own heart,” she quipped, making a shallow bow as she turned to follow Lady Montilyet. “I’ll make certain to stop by at your earliest convenience.”

     “Excellent. And bring some cheese while you’re at it; I have my own stores of wine, I wouldn’t trust the swill here if I were you,” he replied with a knowing smirk, and offered a friendly wink as they left.

     Hawke took in a shaky breath as they approached the mages, and one in particular stared her down; a short elven woman with cropped, dark brown hair. “Lady Hawke, may I introduce you to Grand Enchanter Fiona, leader of our apostate mage allies.”

     “So the rumors were true, you have come to Skyhold. I suppose thanks are in order,” Fiona said dryly, her eyes veiled as she folded her hands in front of her. “After all, were you not the catalyst for the situation we now find ourselves in?”

     “True, and you’re very welcome,” she answered loftily, a smile on her face even as her insides squirmed. “Freedom as well as a position of power and respect, with the Inquisition’s backing. I can’t think of a better or more well-deserved outcome for my fellow mages.”

     The enchanter inhaled slowly, her mouth twitching as though uncertain if she should frown or smile. “Perhaps the seeds of freedom have been sown, but many lives were lost to attain it. Good people, whose choice to remain in the Circles was taken the moment you destroyed the Chantry in Kirkwall. Because of you, we’re all apostates.”

     “Because of me, you’re all free,” Hawke said evenly, her stomach churning as a fire began to burn, but her tone was light-hearted as always. Of course the blame fell to her. Who even remembered Anders now, except for her? The one person she would never forget, no matter how hard she tried. “It comes at the highest cost; paid in blood, but there’s no question it was worth it. Better freedom and a chance to steer our own destinies than to remain under the heel of those who only fear us, and can never truly understand us as long as we are caged.”

     “ Us ? But you never spent time in the Circles, what could you know of them? Were you not an apostate from birth?” Fiona asked curiously, bristling at Hawke’s words although she didn’t refute them outright.

     “True, but I was no more free than a Circle mage. I spent my life in hiding, evading templars and the barbaric rite of Tranquility; a consequence that became more certain with every year that passed,” Hawke replied, her tone cooling and hardening in spite of herself.

     It was the only subject which she’d argue with complete conviction; not simply to defend the enormous blame laid on her, but out of the unbridled passion she felt towards it. Her life revolved around the Chantry and the Circles as much as it had for any mage, regardless that she’d lived outside them, rather than in. It’d been her biggest source of fear and resentment; it still was, if she was honest with herself. It defined her, in a way she couldn’t help, and could never escape.

     “I have heard tales of the troubles in Kirkwall, but surely you understand that for many of us the Circle was a haven, a place of learning. You may have freed some from tyranny and abuse, but in the same breath you ripped others from our homes,” Fiona said carefully, a fire of her own beginning to simmer, albeit tempered by a desire to understand the woman behind the myth.

     “Yes, I know,” she sighed wearily, strain in her voice and eyes grown distant. The gentle tone in the enchanter’s voice pierced her more deeply than if she’d wagged her finger with self-righteous accusations. “I only wanted us to be able to choose, the same as any other person. To allow us to be defined by who we are, not what we are. It wasn’t my intention to tear the Circle down from its foundations, but perhaps it was necessary.”

     “We have the Inquisition’s protection for now, and we stand beside them, not beneath. But where do we go once this is all over? What are we to do with ourselves?” the mage pressed, a small smile beginning to appear, despite the tense helplessness in her voice.  

     “That, Grand Enchanter, is the painful and wondrous beauty at the heart of this war. You’re finally getting a taste of what everyone else has had since time immemorial; freedom to choose. Where we go from here is up to all of you, whether you bring the Circle back, redefine it on your own terms, or create something new to take its place. I only hope you make the most of it. As you said, many lives paid the price for this chance, and many more will pay it still,” Hawke said with a simple shrug, but there was a weight to her words that lifted Fiona’s chest, and after a long and silent exchange, they smiled and braced each other’s forearms gently.

     “I heard they’d been searching for you, that there was hope you would attend the Conclave, that you might be able to bridge the gap between mages and templars. I now see why,” the mage murmured, and Hawke felt a swirl of warmth and shamed regret fill her chest. “Perhaps if you’d come, if anyone might have been able…”

     “Me? Dear lady, I’ve little more to offer than a meager amount of charm, and an undeserved title that’s stuck harder than tar. I’m no miracle worker, and no more brilliant a mage than anyone else. Odds are I would’ve died there, though perhaps I would’ve got what’s coming to me,” Hawke said wryly, patting her shoulder lightly as she cleared her throat, willing the subtle gloss over her eyes to dissipate.

     “Perhaps, or perhaps it would have been you with that mark. What might have happened, I wonder, if that were the case?” Fiona mused quietly, which to her amusement only elicited a pained groan and eyeroll from the apostate.

     “I can tell you precisely what; the world would be on fire, and the Hero of Ferelden would come charging in to box my ears,” she laughed huskily, tilting her head when the mention of her cousin made the mage perk her head curiously.

     “The Hero of Ferelden, you know her? Is it true then, you are friends with Alistair? You’ll be going to meet him in Crestwood?” the elf asked eagerly, more eagerly than she’d intended, and a faint blush crept onto her cheeks.

     Hawke’s eyes narrowed shrewdly as she watched the Grand Enchanter, licking her lower lip before offering a vague nod. “I know her. She’s family, which I consider Alistair to be part of, for better or ill,” she answered with mild amusement, her brow furrowing momentarily as she wondered if he was safe. For all Warden Amell threw barbs his way, he was a smart and capable warrior, and the years since the Blight had moulded him into the best of men.

     “Isn’t that strange? If you look at it that way, it might make us family as well,” she murmured thoughtfully, giving Hawke a shy but knowing glance when she saw her quizzical expression.

     “You… truly? What a small world we live in,” Hawke replied wondrously, shaking her head with disbelief. “You’ll have to visit with him once we’ve brought him back.”

     “No need for that, it’s too late for such... fancies. Tell me only that he is well, that he is happy,” the enchanter waved her hands quickly in protest, but she pursed her lips with slow-seeded dread at the sparkle in Hawke’s eye.

     “He can tell you himself. No, I’ll not hear a word against it,” Hawke said firmly, a determined and stubborn smile on her face as she hooked the Grand Enchanter in her gaze, which widened when the elf shifted on her feet. “If I’ve learned nothing else from the farcical tragedies in my life, it’s that little matters more than family; by blood or choice. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have another quiet chat with my mother, to hear her voice, to feel her arms around me. But she’s gone, and you’re here. Don’t deny your son the chance to see you, to know you; he’d be poorer for it.”

     “I… it seems I cannot refuse you,” Fiona replied with a breathless chuckle, blood continuing to heat her cheeks, and she sucked in a shaky breath. “I don’t know what I can offer him... but your words move me. If he wants to see me, you may tell him where I am.”

     “Oh I shall, you can count on that,” Hawke smirked, turning towards Josephine and nodding politely as she motioned for her to continue her tour. “I’m not certain how long I’ll be staying but I’ll visit again, if you’re of a mind.”

     “It would be my pleasure, Champion,” the mage smiled warmly, bowing her head briefly in farewell.

     There was a bounce in her step as the Ambassador led her up some winding stairs to the top of the tower, and her repeated side glances to the mage made her stop in place. “... what is it, Lady Montilyet?” Hawke asked curiously, smugness and mirth subtly painted on her exotic features.

     “It had occurred to me that Varric may have exaggerated his portrayal of your charm. That seems not to be the case,” Josephine replied with a soft smile, one that made Hawke clear her throat and wave off her words with a laugh.

     “Spend a little more time around me, Lady Ambassador, and your opinion may change,” she said with an amused sigh, and climbed the stairs once more. “Where are we going next?”

     “To see Sister Nightingale,” the Antivan replied, furrowing her brow when Hawke immediately turned on her heel and began a retreat towards the library. “Lady Hawke, where are you--?”

     “Champion, I can hear you, there’s no point in running. Come up, I would have words with you,” Leliana said wryly, leaning over the banister with clasped hands.

     “Maker, to the guillotine we go,” Hawke muttered, stretching a practiced smile on her lips as she made her way to the attic of the tower.

     There was no way this was going to end well.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     “Lady Leliana, what a pleasure it is to see you again! You’re looking well,” Hawke quipped light-heartedly, her smile a little too bright as she met the Spymaster’s bemused eyes.

     Sister Nightingale rolled her eyes, though a smile tugged firmly at her mouth, and she waved a hand as she headed toward her desk. “You can skip the pleasantries, Lady Hawke. I’m told the Inquisitor offered you free reign on the grounds, and quarters in our westernmost tower. Is that correct?”

     “It is,” she nodded slowly, following the Spymaster warily and keeping a healthy distance between them.

     “You were against a room in the hold proper?” Leliana asked mildly, sifting through the piles of parchment on her desk, and Hawke’s guard continued to increase nervously. From her brief dealings with Sister Nightingale in the past, she knew well enough how the once naive and fervently religious woman had hardened over the years. Perhaps coming into her own, but knowing that the Spymaster had been on her tail like a templar on an apostate, it did little to dissuade her caution.

     “I prefer privacy wherever possible,” Hawke reasoned slowly, choosing her words with extra care. “A reprieve from prying eyes and ears is very much appreciated.”

     “Meaning my eyes and ears,” the Spymaster observed sharply, pressing her lips together as the smile tugged further. “Are you still so concerned with my presence, Champion? Maker knows you’ve eluded me up till now.”

     “Up till now,” she replied, clearing her throat and gazing out the window, willing herself not to look half as smug as she felt.

     “I would like to know how you managed it,” Leliana said plainly, tilting her head and watching Hawke with a sharp and pointed focus. “Even with all the Chantry’s resources there was no trace of you, as though you’d vanished into thin air.”

     “Oh?” she asked politely, licking her lower lip and taking in a steady breath, her mind wriggling with the near-undeniable impulse to cackle gleefully.

     “As did your cousin. Yes Hawke, I’m aware of your familial ties,” Sister Nightingale smiled smugly and unapologetically. “You both vanished at around the same time. Curious coincidence, no?”

     “ Very curious,” Hawke nodded sagely, her tone laced with innocent surprise.

     “Have you seen her recently?” she pressed, her words shaped with a fine and dangerous edge.

     “Me, see Warden Amell? What makes you say that?” she shrugged nonchalantly, though she strategically avoided the Spymaster’s gaze.

     Leliana pursed her lips, quick to pick up on what Hawke wasn’t saying. “... you have. Did she know we were looking for her as well?”

     “Pardon?”

     “... she did . And she would avoid us too, avoid me?”

     Hawke suddenly turned her gaze swiftly, eyes narrowing as she looked the slender bard over. “You perceive a personal slight? Is that the crux of this interrogation?”

     “No. I only wonder why the Grey Warden wouldn’t answer the Divine’s call for aid. We needed her, needed you.” The Spymaster’s words were strained, her tone nuanced with sadness, anger, perhaps even a trace of betrayal.

     “You above all should know her feelings about the Chantry,” she said quietly, stiffening as she held her hands behind her back. Maker’s Balls, could she go one day without having to talk about the bloody Chantry and the bloody Circle? “You should also know she’s a warrior at heart, without a diplomatic bone in her body; and a diplomat was what you needed.”

     “Which is where you might have come in,” Leliana replied sharply, taking a menacing step towards the Champion. “Who better to quell the fires of civil war than the one who stoked those embers so effortlessly?”

     “Yes, yes, let’s have another oversimplification of an exceedingly complex situation,” Hawke said irritably, brow furrowed with disapproval at the Spymaster’s open accusations. “As though I brandished a sword of magically woven words that began it all.”

     “Didn’t you? You were at the center, you were always at the center of conflict in Kirkwall. There are numerous accounts to corroborate just how deeply your influence was felt throughout the city,” she said, an undercurrent of righteous fury beginning to surface as she took another step towards the mage.

     “So I got around, is that a crime? Kirkwall was my home,” she scoffed, throwing her hands up in the air and bristling as she felt Leliana’s presence draw nearer. “You can hardly expect me to have lived there for nearly a decade and not have a few people know my name.”

     “They gave you the title of Champion , the whole city knew your name, and who doesn’t know your name outside of it now?” Leliana huffed, crossing her arms over her chest as she stood a foot away from Hawke. “You had your fingers in every pie; from nobles to paupers, both in public and in secret. Where are your fingers now, Champion? What have you been up to while in exile?”

     Hawke’s eyes lit up with characteristic mischief, and she slowly licked her lower lip, though the only real response she gave was a subtle shrug.

     “Keep your secrets, Hawke, while you can. But I expect that on the subjects of which you are here to consult, there will be no smoke and mirrors,” Sister Nightingale said coolly, letting out a frustrated sigh as she turned away from the mage.

     “Lady Leliana, I’m here to help, whatever else you might think of me,” she said reassuringly, squeezing the back of her neck and wondering just how quickly she could escape this tense and awkward conversation. “The stakes are too high for anything but full disclosure. On relevant topics.”

     “I would still know how you do it,” Leliana muttered bitterly, pursing her lips and watching Hawke quietly for a while, the barest of smiles beginning to appear. “Perhaps then my network might have a deeper reach.”

     “Live a life in hiding, and you’ll pick up the skills in short time,” Hawke said with a reluctant smirk, rubbing her cheek as she turned away. “Varric’s aired enough of my dirty laundry for the world to see, allow me some secrets, Sister.”

     The Spymaster grunted softly in assent, though after a few moments pause her eyes began to twinkle strangely. “... might you consider a job instead? If you will not share your secrets, perhaps the Inquisition could put them to use.”

     “Put them to-- work for you?” she chuckled doubtfully, though she pushed her lips out in mirthful thought. “That depends, what are you offering?”

     “What would the Champion of Kirkwall ask in exchange for her… covert talents?” Leliana countered evenly, though a smile finally hung in the corner of her mouth.

     “Firstly, not slitting my throat in my sleep,” Hawke quipped, frowning and scratching her chin as she considered whether the offer was sincere or not. Her habits of picking up work hadn’t ended when she left Kirkwall, and her own list of personal contacts had grown rather than shrunk over the years, but it was all for the simple goal of maintaining independence and anonymity. Still... “You make an interesting proposal, Lady Spymaster. I will have to think on it. I trust the Inquisition about as much as you trust me.”

     “Maybe after working together for a while we would be in a better position to consider a more… permanent arrangement,” Leliana slowly replied, disbelief surrounding her words that the Champion was remotely considering her half-sarcastic offer.

     “Mm, that’s sounding a lot like commitment to me, Lady Leliana. I’m not so easily tied down, I expect some proper courting first,” Hawke answered with a wry grin, shamelessly delighting at the flush in the Spymaster’s cheeks and her pursed lips of disapproval. “Well, if I can be very certain I won’t meet my demise whilst curled up in my bed, I’ll continue my tour with Lady Montilyet.”

     The Ambassador cleared her throat gently and nodded, motioning gracefully for the Champion to return down the stairs, and gave Leliana a meaningful and almost reproachful look before following Hawke.

     “Lady Josephine, please tell me you aren’t going to lead me to another hangman’s noose,” Hawke chuckled, shaking her head and sighing as they stepped back into the library.

     “That depends on what you consider a noose,” Josephine paused, giving the mage an apologetic smile. “After listening to the last round of conversations, perhaps you aren’t inclined to meet with Lady Vivienne, the Empress’ Court Enchanter?”

     “Madame de Fer? Maker save me, no,” she groaned, waving her hands in defeat. “I think I’ve had enough accusations and lectures over the Chantry and the Circle and civil war to last me a lifetime. Perhaps we can pick up our tour tomorrow? For the moment, I’d be content to make myself familiar with your tavern, and a generously sized bottle of wine.”

     “I understand,” Josephine laughed softly, giving her a sympathetic smile as she walked with her back down through Solas’ study. “I have some meetings to attend to tomorrow morning, but would the early afternoon suit you?”

     “Yes, that’s fine by me,” Hawke nodded agreeably, her eyes catching on Solas when he looked her way, an unreadable expression on his face. Goodness, he was getting more interesting by the moment; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d met someone who gave so little away. A locked box indeed. “That leaves my morning open, perhaps you wouldn’t be opposed to some brief questions then, Master Solas?”

     The elf simply stared at her in silence for a while before offering a vague nod, and she offered the barest smile in return as they left for the Great Hall.

     “Thank you very much for taking your time to show me around, Lady Montilyet,” she said warmly, amused at the bashful smile she received. “I look forward to continuing tomorrow.”

     “It was my pleasure, Lady Hawke. If there is anything you need, don’t hesitate to let me know,” the Ambassador nodded her head politely and turned right for towards her own office near the War Room.

     Hawke leaned against the large chair by the fire, giving Varric a mischievous smile and a shaky sigh. “Well, that’s round one done. Looks like there'll be another tomorrow.”

     “You know you don’t have to do this, Hawke,” the dwarf murmured with a tired smile. “You could just keep to yourself, go as unnoticed as possible.”

     “Mm, that would certainly be the smart thing to do, wouldn’t it?” she said wistfully, running a hand along her long and lazy braid; now slowly coming undone. “I know it’s what you’d prefer, at least.”

     Varric squeezed her arm and Hawke groaned, enveloping him in a tight and affectionate hug. “Come on, old friend. I’m not that fragile, and if I'm the target of anything it’s nosy gossip, insatiable curiosity and several vindicated opinions. It’ll be fine, I promise. I won’t step a toe near trouble if I can help it.”

     “You always say that, but you're like a moth to the flame,” he said wryly, huffing as he rested his head on her leather-clad bosom before finally pulling away from her embrace. “So where’re you off to now?”

     “To the tavern,” she said with a laugh, suddenly raising her hands and giving him a knowing look when his brow furrowed deeply. “Don’t worry, I’m in no danger of going round the bend. But I think I deserve a cup or three after having to meet with the Grand Enchanter and Leliana all in one day. Rough indeed.”

     “Alright, stop by for a chat before you go to bed,” he tilted his chin upwards and patted her back before taking his seat by the fire again, waving her off with a musing frown.

     Hawke nodded and winked, her cheerful gait picking up as she exited the Great Hall and clipped quickly down the steps. Suddenly she was stopped by hard steel hitting her chest, making her grunt and falter backwards. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you,” Cullen stuttered and braced her arms, eyes widening with surprise at seeing her. “Lady Hawke, I… it’s good to see you again.”

     “... Cullen??” she gasped, her expression matching his as she looked him over with unadulterated shock. “I’d know that voice anywhere but… Maker, I hardly recognized you. You’ve… grown.”

     The Commander laughed quietly, clearing his throat and blushing under her curious scrutiny. “Well, it has been some years since we last saw each other…”

     “You’ve become positively dashing, haven’t you?” Hawke said wryly, patting him on the chest lightly as she straightened herself. “It seems responsibility suits you, far better than it ever suited me.”

     His cheeks turned a brighter pink and he coughed awkwardly, unsure of what to do with the compliments. “My lady, I… you…”

     “... have just made things terribly awkward, haven’t I?” she chuckled, shrugging and rubbing the back of her neck. “Perhaps I should continue to make my way to the tavern, at least there I have the excuse of wine muddling my words, not my own carelessness.”

     “No, no, you haven’t-- I just-- it is good to see you. You’re looking well,” he said softly, giving her a smile so gentle and earnest she felt an uncomfortable squirming sensation in her stomach.

     “Far too dashing for your own good,” she clucked her tongue and ducked her head for a moment so he wouldn’t see how her cheeks had begun to warm. “I hear a bottle of wine calling, perhaps I’ll stumble into you again?”

     “I hope so,” he said breathlessly and Hawke winced visibly as she squeezed his arm.

     “Yes, well… good evening Commander,” she nodded curtly, quickly sidestepping Cullen and rushing down the stairs. Goodness, she knew to expect him in Skyhold, but she didn’t expect him to look quite like that .

     She sighed shakily and laughed softly at herself, pausing at a bench near the tavern so she could quickly redo her braid. This was going to be a colorful visit with the Inquisition, her first afternoon had proven that much. She shook her hair out with her fingers and was about to braid it again when she heard a low rumble just in front of her. “No, leave it. It suits you,” a deep, husky voice said, and when she looked up she saw a towering Qunari in front of her, with a rather lusty smirk on his face.

     “... The Iron Bull, I presume?” she asked with a hint of amusement, shaking her hair out again before she paused and raised her hands, silently agreeing to leave it down.

     “You know me? How is it I don’t know you?” he asked with what might have been a purr, if it wasn’t so… large; much like the man it belonged to.

     “Hawke,” she replied with a wry smile, taking his proffered hand and dusting herself off as she turned the corner into the tavern.

     “The Champion of Kirkwall? I've heard stories about you. Come, have a drink with me and my Chargers,” he gestured to the far end of the tavern generously, and she paused for a moment with indecision.

     It’d already been a long day; the mantle of Champion was one she’d put on very reluctantly, and from the polarizing reactions she’d received so far, it was with good reason. She’d hoped to have a quiet drink in peace, but if she’d wanted that she shouldn’t have come to the tavern at all. Still, it seemed she had little choice but to put on yet another mask and play another series of roles. Ah well.

     “We don’t bite, my lady. At least… they don’t,” Bull said slyly, and Hawke gave him an amused side glance.

     “Is that so?” she asked, allowing herself to be led towards the crowded tables and chairs; a massive palm pressing gently on her back.

     “And only if you want me to,” he replied, and she scoffed in spite of herself, eyes widening slightly as she looked him over. He dwarfed her in size, looming over her until he sat down, and even then he took up a quarter of the space amongst the seated and sprawled figures in his company. Everything about him oozed raw power, strength, confidence, and an unapologetically rugged charm. But as easily as the flirtatious words fell from his lips, she could only imagine how many other people they’d slid out for.

     She exhaled slowly through her nose, a small smirk firmly planted on her lips, and she gave him a silent shake of her head. She knew his female counterpart only too well, and she knew exactly where that road led. Trouble . And hadn’t she just promised Varric she’d avoid that very thing?

     “Chargers, meet Lady Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall. Lady Hawke, the Chargers. Make some room,” Bull said with a lazy wave, craning his neck to look at Cabot, and gestured for another round of drinks.

     “Wine or mead for me, please,” Hawke called out, only to be met with a slow and distrustful frown from the dwarven bartender.

     “Don’t have wine, only ale or spirits,” he replied gruffly, but she caught a glimpse of shiftiness in his eyes, and her lips spread into a sneaky and determined smile.

     “Excuse me a moment,” she said casually to the curious group and stalked straight for Cabot, leaning over casually at the bar. “Pardon sir, I’m Hawke, and you would be…?”

     “Cabot,” the dwarf replied with a huff, re-balancing his stance under her warm but intense gaze.

     “Cabot, it’s not that I question the quality of your ale by any means. But I’ve had a painfully long journey here, and spent the last several hours being interrogated, poked, prodded and judged by people who know as little about me as I do about you. I’m not too proud to admit I’m feeling battered and bruised, and a bottle of wine would be the perfect salve to an otherwise brutal return from exile. Are you very certain your stores are empty? You would be my divine savior if you checked.” She relayed her story gently, giving him a sincere and pleading look, feeling him slowly bend under the weight of it. She hadn’t met a person yet who wouldn’t answer the call to be a knight in shining armor, if given half the chance and a meager request.

     He pursed his lips, watching her shrewdly for a moment, but every line of sadness and yearning and vulnerability was perfectly painted on her face, and she wriggled happily inside to see him take the bait. He looked around warily before leaning in discreetly. “There may be a bottle of two lying around, if I looked in the back. But if anyone asks, you didn’t get it from me. Never let it be said that I don’t take care of my patrons,” he said roughly, a twinkle in his eye appearing at the sound of Hawke’s pleased sigh of relief.

     “You are… wonderful, thank you so much,” she gushed earnestly, nodding politely to him as she returned to Bull and the Chargers, her face quickly melting into one of smug victory. “No wine, my arse.”

     Bull had been watching the entire exchange closely, an amused glint in his eye when she leaned on a table next to them, patiently waiting for her wine to appear. “Know how to get what you want, hm?”

     “It may be the only thing I’m known for, though the world has suffered immensely for it,” she said slowly, licking her lower lip and trying very hard not to smirk, waving her hand when Krem suddenly stood up and offered her his chair. “No, no it’s fine, I can get a chair.”

     “My lady, please,” Krem chuckled, insistently motioning to the chair, and she reluctantly took his seat with a small smile.

     “Such a gentleman, just when I thought perhaps you’d all be as wolfish as your leader,” she quipped, taking a moment to give him a grateful smile when he pulled up a stool beside her.

     “No, he’s in a class all his own,” the warrior replied wryly, leaning an elbow on the arm of her chair, and Hawke grinned when Cabot stalked towards them, giving them all a warning gaze as he handed the mage a large mug that smelled suspiciously sweet.

     “The hero of the evening,” Hawke sighed contentedly, taking a long sip and humming, resting the mug in her lap and grinning as the dwarf walked off, his chest subtly puffed out when he stood behind the bar again.

     “So Lady Hawke, does this mean you’ll be joining the Inquisition?” Bull asked with a small and dangerous smile, scratching his chin and watching her a little too close for comfort.

     “I’m here on a consulting basis for the moment,” she said slowly, uncertain as to what further help she could really offer the Inquisition. Apart from the fact that the idea of becoming a more permanent fixture made her stomach churn, no matter what her cousin had to say about it.

     Logically she knew that people were working for a greater cause; uniting to defeat a powerful enemy threatening to destroy the world. Simply as a citizen of Thedas, she should offer all the help she could. But separating such a crusade from her deep-rooted resentment of all things Chantry was turning out to be a near impossible task.

     It was one thing to prepare herself for an Exalted March, biting at her heels with some kind of misguided righteous fury. That was the kind of trouble she was used to, the kind that fit her. For better or worse, she was a rebel at heart; her family fought tooth and nail to stay together, grasping at something like freedom for her, her father and her sister. Because the Circle would have ripped them apart, likely made her and her father Tranquil. Because that was the way it worked. That was the ‘natural order’ of things.

     So fuck that, and fuck them.

     How could they have possibly thought she’d answer the Chantry’s call, submit herself to judgment after all the veiled threats and posturing? Why in the world had they thought she would clean up their mess? Because regardless of her infamy, it was the Chantry’s mess as far as she was concerned. She didn’t create the Circles, didn’t introduce the right of Tranquility, didn’t rip children from their homes or cloister people from the world, leaving them open to unspeakable abuse and oppression. They set the stage, they made the rules, and when it blew up in their faces (quite literally), she was to blame? Somehow it was her responsibility to fix, to mend, to bridge gaps and create peace?

     They hunted for her and her cousin as though what, they’d have the answers, that they’d know what to do? The idea was both ridiculous and insulting. Not to mention the repeated reminders, the questions of ‘what if’ she’d come and answered the call. If she hadn’t died, would it have been her on the throne? Was she really expected to believe that she’d have been transformed from scapegoat to divine savior? Were they really so desperate?

     Well, given their Inquisitor was a Dalish elf, mark or no… yes, it seemed they were.

     She hadn’t meant to allow her brooding thoughts to pull her into silence, and she quickly cleared her throat and offered the quizzical group a small smile, taking another sip of wine. “I’m not sure how long the Inquisitor is in need of my services, but I’m certainly happy for a change of scenery and company. Exile was becoming rather mundane.”

     They all chuckled quietly and nodded, and as Bull continued to watch her silently, Krem cleared his throat and made the introductions between her and the Chargers. More faces and names to remember, but she recorded them to memory quickly. Given how many occupants there were in Skyhold, the list was going to grow rapidly, but at least it gave her something to do. A place to start as she took a much closer look at this Inquisition.

     “You’re a mage aren’t you, my lady?” Krem asked curiously, to which she gave a short nod of assent. “Perhaps you’d be interested in training with us sometime. There’ve been a lot of mages to combat lately, and I’d welcome the chance to test my skills.”

     Hawke looked him over for a moment, reading the details of his face, his expression, and in the back of her mind she picked up how he blushed and shifted under her intense focus. Right, she should stop doing that so overtly, it made people uncomfortable and uncertain around her. She offered him a small smile and nodded, scratching her chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps, if I cast barriers on you first. I wouldn’t want to mar that handsome face with a burst of flames.”

     He laughed huskily and nodded, rubbing the back of his neck as Hawke’s eyes fell away from him and roamed the rest of the company with interest. They reminded her of her past life; gathering at the Hanged Man, sharing drinks and playing Wicked Grace with her oddball adopted family. Maker, she missed them. They went their separate ways after Kirkwall, and though she kept in touch with most of them, it wasn’t the same. They’d moved on with their lives, and somehow she couldn’t help but feel left behind. Putting out fires and solving unsolvable problems had defined her, so if there were no more fires, what was she supposed to do with herself? Where did she fit in the world, did she fit anymore?

     But she didn’t get a chance to think further about it, as her stomach fluttered and she felt a small, grey eye attempting to bore into her very soul. She slowly lifted her head and saw Bull; a finger running along his large mug of ale, focused on her with an intensity that overshadowed her own idle ‘readings’. She’d had dealings with the Qunari before, but none quite like him. The Arishok and his people had been silent, stoic, stony and immoveable in a way that both fascinated and repulsed her. Closed books that couldn’t be penetrated, not by any of her usual wily ways, and immune to her normally irresistible charms.

     Still he was Qunari, not even Tal-Vashoth, and that was enough to make her wary of him. It wasn’t difficult to recognize someone who wore masks, told lies that looked like truth, dug beneath the surface of a person to find out who they were, what they wanted, what made them tick. She did the exact same thing. Except she was almost certain he’d been trained, whereas it was necessity and survival that had sharpened her skills. Interesting perhaps, to see someone that operated so similarly, but there was an undercurrent of danger about him that didn’t quite sit right.

     To keep him close, or at a distance? That was the real question.

     The Chargers, on the other hand, were an honest and straightforward lot; they were exactly as they appeared, and the ragtag element about them was an unlooked-for comfort. They weren’t in positions of power, with epic responsibilities on their shoulders. They were just a group of people, banded together under a common cause, taking jobs here and there. She could relate to them far better than anyone else she’d met. For all the mystique that seemed to surround her, she didn’t see herself any differently, she couldn’t.

     She really was a nobody, as far as she was concerned. She’d only managed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time every time, and somehow received both credit and blame alone. She wasn’t a highly-trained mage, she was mostly self-taught; gathering what knowledge she could wherever she could, from whoever she could. She practiced, experimented, and discovered on her own, and the opportunity to discuss magic was rare and precious. For goodness’ sake, the only times she’d ever used a staff was when she was in Kirkwall, surrounded by those who’d keep her secret and turn a blind eye to her obvious mage-ness. But outside of Kirkwall, both before and after, a staff was as good as a death sentence, so she’d learned to do without.

     Hawke met Bull’s gaze unflinchingly, her face becoming a blank mask, pulling her emotions deeper within. She should’ve paid closer attention, held her guard more vigilantly, but the people here were so unassuming. It’d been a very long time since anyone watched her as closely as she watched others, and she found the reversed role unnerving. He licked his lower lip and smiled, leaning back in his chair and spreading his legs lazily. It seemed to be a silent signal for the Chargers, as they suddenly began to exchange knowing looks and politely made their excuses to leave.

     “Are you free to spar tomorrow, my lady?” Krem asked hesitantly as he stood up, an almost bashful smile on his lips, and she smiled brightly back at him.

     “Yes, I’m certain I can make the time,” she nodded, finishing her cup of wine and putting it down on the table beside her. Unexpectedly, Cabot immediately came by with another large cup, giving her a knowing wink as he picked up the empty. “You sir, are now my favorite person in all of Skyhold.”

     The dwarf chuckled raspily, pleased that he’d so easily picked up an admirer, and grabbed a cloth before wiping down the bar. Bull motioned for her to move to the little table against the wall, and she pressed her lips together in thought, finally nodding and taking a seat opposite him. His posture was relaxed as he scratched his chest, reminding her of a cat showing its belly; inviting, unassuming, but reach forward and you'd find your hand trapped in its claws faster than you could blink.

     “So what are you advising the Inquisitor about?” he asked casually, taking a large drink of ale, rubbing his thigh with his other hand idly.

     “Corypheus and red lyrium,” she said evenly, taking in a deep inhale and wondering if she should be preparing herself for another interrogation. The sun had already set, and she was beyond drained; she didn’t have the energy to pursue this dance, even if she was curious about him.

     He paused for a moment, her face telling him she’d been asked more than enough questions and he smiled, leaning forward and resting his massive forearms on the table. “Apologies, my lady. I thought it would be a good place to start.”

     “Start what?” she asked wryly, a dim twinkle in her eye appearing as she drank her spiced wine.

     “Getting to know each other better. It’s not every day I meet the woman who went toe to toe with an Arishok,” he shrugged nonchalantly, tilting his head and measuring her response. Goodness, did she really have it in her right now to mask her every move, carefully paint every detail of her expression and mannerisms to deflect what was inside?

     No, not really. And he knew it.

     “Yes, well. Your people are… different,” she replied, licking her lower lip and smiling. The Arishok was stony and intimidating and impenetrable and… undeniably attractive. Something in his thick, bare muscles, curled horns and prolonged silences screamed of a power and strength she found irresistible, though she’d never admit it.

     Bull’s eyes danced with amusement as he watched her, thrumming quietly as he scratched his thigh. “And do you kill all the men you’re attracted to?” he asked teasingly, flirtatiously looking her over and making a low, rumbling noise of approval. “Maybe I should reconsider my advances.”

     For half a second her lips pressed together tightly, and there was a flash of shock and pain as she felt him inadvertently graze against the rawest nerve she had. But just as quickly it was gone, and a smirk curled her lips as she scoffed. “Master Bull, do you honestly think it’d get you anywhere?”

     “Don’t know until you try, but I’m willing,” he grinned roguishly, and she laughed warmly at his boldness. “You seem like a challenge, my lady, and I enjoy a challenge. The harder the obstacle, the sweeter the reward.”

     “So they say,” she said dryly, sighing and shaking her head with mild amusement. “And if you posed an equal challenge, I might even consider it. But that hardly seems to be the case, does it?”

     “Are you calling me easy?” he grinned, looking at her knowingly when his tone dropped into a low, rough velvet, causing her to meet his gaze curiously. “I don’t think a challenge is what you need right now, is it?”

     Hawke’s eyes narrowed sharply at his astute observation, and she wondered if this was simply a happy byproduct of his training. Did he also use his ability to blend in, to tell people what they wanted, to bed whoever he wanted? Empty and meaningless was the last thing she was looking for; it was little better than idly scratching an itch, and the thought gave her little pleasure. “And what is it you think I need, Master Bull?”

     Bull took in a slow breath, as though gauging how to respond. Feeling himself on a precarious ledge, his voice dropped even lower to ensure no one but she could hear. “An escape. To forget your troubles for a while, take the burden ‘Champion’ off your shoulders. To be yourself; a woman whose passion is limitless and legendary. To be with someone who sees it and will make the most of it, until you’re so exhausted by pleasure that your mind is empty of everything else.”

     She smiled ruefully at his words, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, and she exhaled long and slow through her nostrils, making the softest of sounds. “That sounds nice, but it’s not what I need.”

     “And what do you need, Lady Hawke?” he asked curiously, not deterred by a possible misread, only drawn in further.

     “Something you can’t give,” she said with a secretive and knowing smile, draining her cup of wine and licking her lip slowly, closing her eyes as she finally felt her muscles begin to relax, and her mind blurred at the edges.

     “And what’s that?” he pressed with a wry smile, leaning forward a bit more, as though raring to accept the gauntlet.

     Hawke’s face went blank for a few moments as she looked him over, meticulous and methodical in thought. When the mask lifted, Bull found himself caught in a quietly simmering and predatory gaze; exuding an animal intensity she hadn’t seemed either interested in or capable of until that moment. Placing her cup down, she bent over the table, their faces close together as she delicately arched an eyebrow, and laid down the challenge; like the calm before a storm.

     “... everything .”

     She smirked when she saw how her low and husky tone sent a subtle shiver through him, and she wasn’t surprised at the flash of reserve and uncertainty on his face. She let out a smug sigh as she stood up, shaking her head mirthfully as she stretched, suddenly feeling more content than when she’d stepped in. “I told you it was something you can’t give. Or won’t, same result. Good night, Master Bull, thank you for the company,” she nodded politely to him, and he didn’t miss the victorious and mischievous twinkle in her eye.

     When she sauntered out of the tavern, and turned the corner for the stairs onto the ramparts, she let out a soft and girlish laugh, sighing shakily as she ran her fingers through her hair. Perhaps ten years ago she would’ve eagerly taken him up on his enticing offer but… no, a night of mindless passion had long lost its appeal; she craved something deeper, something that would reach to the very roots of her soul. Nothing less would do, not now, not after everything.

     As she walked towards the tower, she split her hair into three strands and braided it idly as she drew closer. She hadn’t even checked her quarters yet, not bothering as the Inquisitor warned they’d need to prepare it first. She didn’t need much beyond a bed or a bedroll on the floor. As much as she’d been teased for occasionally living in the lap of luxury, she wasn’t fussy. Living as a pauper suited her fine, as long as she was safe.

     A few minutes later she quietly climbed the tower stairs, and there was an audible and inviting crackle of fire nearby. Goodness, she had a fireplace? Perhaps she’d be living like a prince after all. And as she opened the backlit door, her guess was confirmed. There was a large poster bed with plump pillows and soft furs covering it, the fire was dancing warmly in the hearth, with a small sofa across from it and a small desk was laid against one of the windows; all in all a cozy and inviting space.

     Without pomp or ceremony she hopped onto the bed face first, and groaned into the deliciously silken furs. She was exhausted, and she could already feel the comforting weight of sleep beginning to press her eyes closed. Forget undressing, she could pass out exactly where she was. She thought she knew what to expect when she came out of exile, but she had no idea, and she wasn’t sure how to feel about it all.

     “Maker’s balls, what have I gotten myself into?” she mumbled to no one in particular; her words muffled as more than half her face was buried in the lush bed. But no one answered, not even herself, as seconds later she fell asleep; brow furrowed with lingering worry over what was still to come.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     Hawke was feeling very well-rested the next morning, and before she ventured to interview the Inquisition’s resident Fade mage, she first acquainted herself with Skyhold’s cook. She was a stout and rosy-cheeked woman; blunt and plain with her words, deeply flattered that the Champion had deigned to look in on her, and amused as she childishly poked around the larders. But Hawke had her priorities; she knew the most important people in every community were the ones who fed and watered her. Better to get close than to be on their bad sides or it’d be sour wine and stale food, something she’d never suffer unless at the most dire need.

     So it was no surprise when she quietly stepped into the round and bare study, greeting Solas’ suspicious eyes with a trayful of delightful goodies; fruits, fresh bread, soft cheese, some cured meats, a few cookies spontaneously baked for her pleasure, a steaming pot of tea, and a bottle of honeyed mead (wheedled from Cabot). “Good morning, Master Solas. Are you still available for some Fade-related inquiries?” she asked politely, a twinkle dancing in her eye when his expression relaxed ever so slightly, and she could just begin to see the hints of an actual smile.

     Hm, perhaps he wouldn’t be quite as difficult as she thought.

     “What is all this?” he asked, a silken vein of amusement in his voice, the strange curve of his accent harkening to a place she’d never seen or heard of before. Now that was odd, given she’d been most everywhere during the course of her brief but colourful life.

     “A token of gratitude, for taking some time out of your day to indulge me,” she smiled innocently, pausing until he gestured to his desk, and laid the tray down down carefully.

     “You’ve yet to see what I’m willing to impart, or how much,” he replied calmly, tilting his head as his eyes narrowed, and she held herself casually under his gaze. Another person in the hold with sharp, searching eyes? She’d have to be more careful than she thought. After a few quiet moments he walked over to pull up a stool for her, and she sat down graciously.

     “Very true, but I’m content to leave this with you, if you finish with me shortly,” she quipped, reaching for a cup and pouring herself some of the fragrant herbal tea.

     “Am I then expected to finish this on my own?” he asked wryly, gently taking a seat across from her, and as she watched him out of the corner of her eye, she noted a certain gracefulness in his steps. In fact, there was a grace in everything he did; his posture, his subtle gestures, even the few words he’d spoken to her. She couldn’t tell if it was natural or practiced, but it added yet another curious element. Apart from the fact that a ‘Fade mage’ was unheard of, he moved and spoke like a noble, yet dressed little better than a peasant. An intriguing dichotomy.

     “I expect nothing of you, Master Solas. It’s only… I didn’t know what you might like, so I brought a bit of everything,” she laughed softly, blowing the steam past her cup before taking a careful sip. “When you’re finished, I’m certain I can find others who would be happy to polish the rest off.”

     “You could have asked me,” Solas reasoned calmly, eyes slowly roaming the generously stuffed platter, picking a few choice berries and pouring himself a small cup of mead.

     Hawke watched his choices closely, as well as his reactions to it, taking mental notes of everything in the background. Just in case there was a next time. “Of course, but that would have spoiled the surprise,” she shrugged, picking a morsel of white cheese for herself.

     “I don’t enjoy surprises... though I might consider this an exception,” he said mildly, a quiet noise of approval as he took a sip of mead. “Where did you acquire this?”

     “I know someone,” she said slyly, fighting a victorious smirk as her thoughts fell on the gruff dwarf only a stone’s throw away.

     “Already? You’ve scarcely been here a day.” Solas’ brow furrowed subtly, and he paused a moment to look her over again, lips pressed together in thought.

     Hawke smiled unassumingly, feeling far better prepared for silent scrutiny, and waited till she’d finished chewing before continuing. Manners, she’d need her best manners with him, something in his airs hinted rather loudly at it. “A day was enough,” she shrugged, reaching to pick a couple berries.

     “And what might you accomplish in a week, I wonder?” he murmured, half to himself as he sipped some more mead, and reached for some of the cheese she’d been enjoying.

     “Only time will tell, Master Solas,” she replied innocently, crossing her ankles as she leaned forward, growing anxious under his silent and steady gaze. This was not how it worked; it was her who read everyone, not the other way around. She’d better turn his mind elsewhere, lest he decided to unravel her out of boredom. “Varric said you’re a Fade mage, but I’ve never heard of that specialty before.”

     “Dreamers are rare, but you already know that,” Solas said knowingly, inhaling slowly with narrowed eyes, as though debating on whether to continue or not. “You mentioned you met one?”

     “Many years back, but he was young and only coming into his… power. There was nothing he could’ve told me, he knew nothing of it himself.” Hawke’s words were slow and careful, unwilling to give more than was necessary; both because she tried to think of her time in Kirkwall as little as possible, and because she was trying to shift the focus back in his direction.

     “And what do you know of the Fade?” The elf leaned back in his chair, placing a berry in his mouth and taking another sip of wine as he awaited her response.

     “Very little, I’m ashamed to say,” she replied humbly, a small and practiced blush growing on her cheeks. “It’s another realm connected to ours, and every mage’s source of magic. What it is, why or how it came to be, I don’t know. But all mages have a connection to it, though the strength and sensitivity seems to vary widely. Elves are said to have the deepest and most natural connections; that’s the extent of my knowledge.”

     He listened to her words, giving a vague nod at the end, and placed his cup back on the desk. “Very little but all things true, which is more than most. A reasonable starting point.” He spoke with a casual authority, and her eyes danced with amusement. Was this the role she was to play with him; a pupil? She could work with that. “What would you learn of the Fade?”

     “Anything you’re willing to share. Everything you’re willing to share,” she laughed, and for a moment the mask and the woman behind it were one and the same. “I’m an empty and willing vessel.”

     A smile tugged gently on the corner of his mouth, though he smoothly stopped its appearance, and he pressed his fingers together. “An interesting choice of words. I can tell you of my journeys in the Fade, but not how or why it came to be. Are you still eager to listen?”

     Hawke’s brow furrowed even as the smile still hung on her lips, and she sipped her tea carefully, finally reaching for a warm slice of bread. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

     His eyes grew distant for a moment, and she could have sworn a trace of melancholy washed across his face, before his expression returned to what seemed to be his normal mask of indifferent tranquility. “I’ve yet to encounter any that are truly interested in listening.”

     “I am,” she said simply, meeting his eyes honestly before taking a bite, and tucked a leg underneath her.

     “... that remains to be seen,” he said wryly, closing his eyes and taking in a slow breath before quietly recounting a story of a small village he visited and a spirit that lingered there, helping the girls find love. His voice was airy and soothing, and if she let go just enough she could begin to see the images form in her imagination.

     She sipped her tea quietly, careful to pour another cup as silently as possible, not wanting to interrupt his musings; his eyes distant as he drew the memory forward. When he’d finished he paused to look at her expectantly, though what he was expecting she had no idea. She drank again slowly before putting her cup down and offering him a small smile. “That was a lovely story. Tell me another?”

     Solas returned her inquiry with the barest of smiles and nodded in assent, sharing a story of battlefields he’d been to; how even after they were long past, spirits were drawn to them, embodying the memories and emotions of those slain and gone. Again pictures began to ebb and swirl around in her mind, and she wondered if the spirits were trapped in those places, or if they simply re-enacted it over and over by some other whim or reason she couldn’t fathom.

     She’d propped an elbow on the desk, slowly leaning forward as she listened to him, his accent lilting back and forth in a way that was relaxing as it was mesmerizing. It was so… pleasing to the ear, she couldn’t think of another way to describe it. When his story was over she’d finished her tea, and was picking up a berry to pop into her mouth, startled when he tilted his head to catch her gaze.

     “Did you stop listening?” he asked with pursed lips, though an elusive light appeared dimly in his eyes.

     Hawke cleared her throat and shook her head, straightening slowly on the stool before she spoke, “No, not at all. I took in every word. You were talking about how the battles you witnessed in the Fade reflected a multitude of attitudes and perspectives. That the ‘truth’ lay somewhere in and around them.”

     A proper smile finally appeared, though it was small and tight, and she couldn’t tell if it was from disuse or extreme reserve. “Then why were your eyes distant?”

     She jerked her head in surprise, incorrectly assuming that he’d been paying her no mind as he spoke. Apparently not. “Your voice is… relaxing. Your words weave images into my head so easily. I was just… enjoying the journey,” she said ruefully and scrunched her nose with embarrassment, reaching for another piece of cheese.

     “I see,” he nodded quietly, but the miserly smile remained and he crossed one leg over the other, looking at her discerningly. “Do you dare for another, or will I find you asleep on my desk?”

     “Relaxed and sleepy are two different things, Master Solas. Your voice may be soothing, but I’m not in danger of losing consciousness over it,” she said with polite indignance, pinching her lips as she picked up a cookie and nibbled quietly.

     “True,” he agreed, a touch of mirth in his voice, standing up with a sigh as he began to walk around the room. “Though if you are so relaxed, it might have been wiser to end your day with this conversation, rather than begin it.”

     “Then I’d most certainly have fallen asleep, which I can’t imagine you’d appreciate,” Hawke smirked, pouring herself a last cup of tea, and dipped her cookie into it. “Though I’m not too proud to admit I still enjoy a good bedtime story.”

     Solas arched an eyebrow, lips pressing together though the left corner was raised subtly. “Perhaps it’s your turn to tell a story. Are you opposed?”

     “Me? I don’t know what story I could possibly share that you might find interesting,” she said doubtfully, making a small noise as the cookie melted in her mouth, mixing with the sweet tea.

     “Corypheus,” he said simply, his eyes on her with that sudden, silent intensity she’d felt the day before.

     “Mm,” she grunted, nose curling slightly as she turned away from him, finishing her drink and putting the cup back on the tray. “There’s not much to say.”

     “You said you murdered him yesterday.”

     “I amended it to violent assault,” Hawke said, giving him a wry side glance as she shifted uncomfortably on the stool.

     “Ah, yes, because he’s very much alive and well. What do you know of him?” His idle walking stopped and he turned his head towards her, his words coming to a sharp point that made her brow furrow.

     Hawke opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out except for a soft sigh, lips forming a confused frown when she finally met his cold, blue eyes. “You asked me that yesterday.”

     “And you didn’t answer.”

     “I did. I said I know no more of him than any stranger I might have murdered.”

     “So you simply bumped into him one random day, and decided you didn’t like the look of him?” Solas’ voice was tinged with sarcasm, but she could feel his delicate words taking root around the subject, both subtle and stubborn; he wasn’t going to let this go. Goodness, not even the Inquisitor had bothered to ask for details beyond the fact she’d met him once. And what good would they be anyhow?

     “... you could say that, from a certain point of view,” she quipped sardonically, folding her hands in her lap and holding rather still under his penetrating gaze. She attempted to leave it at that, but Solas’ silence was thick and expectant, and after a weary sigh she shrugged. “I don’t know how it’d be of any use, the Inquisitor didn’t seem to consider it worthy of inquiry.”

     “You tell the story, I’ll decide what’s relevant,” he said, and she bristled at the iciness in his words; it might have read as authoritative and demanding if it weren’t covered in the soft, silken timbre of his voice.

     “... very well, Master Solas,” Hawke relented, reaching for another cookie before she stood up and moved to one of the sofas at the other end of the study, stretching out and making herself comfortable. His mouth began to twist downward at her presumptuousness, and he folded his arms across his chest, arching an eyebrow, but she simply ignored him and propped her hands behind her head as she stared upwards through the vacant space in the tower. “It began with a cartel that was hunting for the ‘blood of Hawke’. We went to investigate.”

     “We?”

     “Myself and some companions.”

     She was still being as sparse as she could with her words; a natural protectiveness trying to shield her family and friends from prying eyes. But the explanation was sufficient for Solas; it was evident he was only interested in Corypheus. “Go on.”

     “Many years ago, my father had aided the Grey Wardens; reinforced a magic seal that kept an ancient evil trapped in a prison. The magic was waning and the cartel, now crazed followers of this ancient evil, wanted to break it.”

     “And they needed your blood to do it. Your father was a blood mage?”

     She stiffened automatically at the question, though she noticed there was no harshness in his tone, no accusations, only mild curiosity. “No, but he performed blood magic to strengthen the seal. The only time he used it.”

     “Why only the once? Is it not simply magic, or do you hold the same bias as everyone else?” he asked, rubbing the underside of his chin thoughtfully. “I admit I know little about it.”

     “I’ve never used blood magic, but I know many who have. But after my father’s warning, I vowed never to use it, even in my most desperate hour.” Her words were slow and strained, more at the mention and memory of her father than anything else. He’d been her first and only true teacher, and her chest ached at the reminder of how alone she’d been in her studies since he passed.

     “What was his warning?”

     “That with every use my connection to the Fade would be diminished. I was his mirror in most things, and he impressed the sensitivity we possessed should be protected at all costs, rather than dulled or extinguished.” She couldn’t help her voice hardening at the last words, her hands clenching inward to form tight fists. The threat and horror of Tranquility was the monster under her bed as a child, though as an adult she understood why her parents had portrayed it as such. The act was both extreme and barbaric, particularly for a society that considered themselves ‘civilized’.

     Solas nodded, eyes narrowing into distant slits as he considered her words, straightening himself and clasping his hands behind his back as he continued pacing in a circle around the room. “They hoped with your blood they would break the seal. It was Corypheus trapped inside.”

     “Yes.”

     “But he was released.”

     “Yes.”

     “You faced him.”

     “Yes.”

     “You learned something of him before you battled, what was it?” he paused and craned his neck to the side to look at her, though she was still staring at the ceiling, fingers uncurling as she laced them over her stomach.

     “That the more the seal weakened, the farther his reach and influence; it was how he ensnared the cartel. That when he woke he was disoriented, that he claimed to be one of the magisters who ventured into the Fade physically, with the intention of reaching the Golden City.” Hawke furrowed her brow with disbelief and disapproval, remembering Corypheus’ words. She was no Andrastian, not by a long shot, but knowing there was any truth to the Chantry’s tales left her with a good deal of discomfort.

     “What else?” How Solas knew there was more to say, or whether he simply assumed it and continued to squeeze every last ounce of the story from her, she couldn’t say.

     “That when they arrived, there was nothing. A Black City and an empty throne. That his god, Dumas, had fallen silent and abandoned him.”

     “Did you believe him?” The elf’s words were suddenly cautious, though she couldn’t quite understand why. She knew her companions had scoffed at the magister’s tales, instantly rejecting everything he said, biased by their faith. A faith she never had and never shared.

     “Of course.”

     “Why?”

     Another pointed question. A question no one had ever bothered to ask her before. Why was he asking now? “The Grey Wardens went to extreme lengths to imprison him for a millenia, and it was clear he held a power far greater than I’d ever seen. His confusion was raw and naked, which gave weight to his words. His twisted appearance spoke of a magic that had taken root far more deeply than even ‘normal’ blood magic. Being exposed to the Fade physically could easily have done that. And look at him now; all he’s said and done since he woke. It’s the blind and bitter grasping of an enormously powerful and severely disillusioned man, nothing more.”

     Solas let out a long and gentle sigh, eyebrows pinching as he gave her a deep and thoughtful frown, lips pursed with a disapproval she didn’t understand. “You knew more than you let on.”

     “I answered what was asked of me,” she replied with narrowed eyes, meeting his gaze with respectful defiance.

     “You see with more clarity than most.” It almost sounded like an accusation, but again she was left confused. She was observant and insightful in the matters of people; she had to be, and as far as she was concerned it was the only real ‘natural’ talent she had. How could that be a bad thing?

     “My eyes are open, yes,” she shrugged, slowly sitting up and sharing a quizzical look.

     “Unlike most.” There was a bitter taste to his words, with an undertone of condescension and disappointment.

     “Unlike most,” she nodded slowly, placing her hands in her lap and inwardly sighing in relief. This interview was coming to a close, thankfully. Every story she had was interwoven with a medley of emotions, and always bittersweet with the memories of those long gone; days when she was with the ones she loved, rather than alone and isolated. Feelings she'd actively avoided as much as possible.

     “Yet seeing what you did, knowing his age and power, you were foolish enough to fight him?”

     “He was weak, confused, and there was little choice but to face him before circumstances turned in his favor,” she explained, frowning and wondering how this might be at all useful, and at the same time why no one else in the Inquisition had bothered to ask. The Inquisitor had been far more interested in hearing personal details about her, her companions, her time in Kirkwall. Maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised; it was the only subject anyone cared about, it was the source of her infamy. What interest or value did she hold outside of it?

     “You could have kept him sealed, though it must have been very old and strong magic if the Wardens had maintained it for a thousand years. Even if your father only renewed it, he would have needed to be both highly-skilled and exceptionally strong, by today’s standards at least.” Again with dismissive condescension, why? A compliment that was somehow still insulting, though she didn’t take personal offense to it, not yet anyway.

     “I suppose.”

     “And as his mirror, it is reasonable to assume you also reflect those traits?”

     Hawke held still for a moment, frozen when she suddenly felt a spotlight blinding her; being carefully weighed and measured. But why? Always more whys with this ill-fitting elven mage, as he sifted and sorted information, collecting it… but to what end? She could understand why others had become unnerved by her in the past; to be faced with someone who drew out so much, and yet gave so little away was… irritating. “That’s not for me to judge,” she said carefully, wondering if all these questions were some kind of test.

     “No, it’s not,” he said dryly, and Hawke pushed her lips to the side to fend off a smile, hearing the note of reluctant approval in his tone. He turned to face her with a quiet exhale, folding his arms over his chest and pressing a slender finger under his chin. “You’ve given me something to consider, which was… unexpected. I see your discomfort, so consider our conversation concluded for now.”

     “For now, is that an invitation to return?” she asked lightly, her shoulders relaxing as she stood up and walked to his desk, motioning at the tray and closing her eyes to avoid rolling them when he gave her a swift dismissive wave in reply. As though he was used to being waited upon. Maker, she hoped she wouldn’t need to play the role of servant as well as student. She was curious about him, and interested in picking his brain on the subjects of the Fade and magic but was she was that curious?

     “I am… amenable to a discussion on the Fade and magic. Perhaps you are actually capable of an open dialogue as a proper apostate; free of the ignorance enforced by the Chantry.” His voice was calm and serene, and she couldn’t tell if he was curious or sarcastic or snobbish… perhaps all of the above. Still, the delicate, statuesque mask that was his face had relaxed somewhat since she stopped in to visit, and his eyes weren’t quite as cold as when she first met him so… progress?

     “That will be for you to judge, but I would enjoy the opportunity for such discussion,” she bowed her head politely, picking up the tray and offering him a deferential smile. “Good day, Master Solas, and thank you for taking the time this morning.”

     “You’re welcome, Lady Hawke,” he said calmly, the corner of his mouth twitching ever so slightly at her perfectly polished manners, and watched her quietly as she disappeared into the Great Hall.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     Hawke rolled her eyes as she walked out of Solas’ study, stopping at the fireplace where Varric was sitting, and held out the tray for him with a smile. “Hungry?” she asked with a grin, everything about her relaxing once she’d escaped those cold, veiled eyes. “Planned on bringing this to the Chargers to finish off; thought they’d appreciate the treats.”

     Varric smirked and perused the still burgeoning mounds of food; grabbing some meat, some cheese, and the bottle of mead. “You were there for quite a while, don’t tell me you’re managing to crack that hard shell. You really can’t leave well enough alone, can you?” he said dryly, sighing in defeat as he looked at her fondly. “I can smell trouble already.”

     “How is it trouble? He has magical knowledge I don’t, and I have to keep learning somehow. Besides, it was the polite thing to do; bring him an offering for his efforts,” she shrugged nonchalantly, though the dwarf didn’t miss the mischievous twinkle in her eye.

     “Reasonable,” he replied, though the disbelief hung heavy on the word. “I know you, Hawke. You can’t resist a challenge, and you can’t leave a mystery unsolved. It’s one of your biggest weaknesses.”

     “ You’re my biggest weakness, you callous heartbreaker,” she quipped, bending down expectantly with a wicked grin until he groaned and tilted his head, allowing her lips to press gently against his scruffy cheek. “After all, you’re the only reason why I’m here, aren’t you?”

     “You say that, but I know better,” Varric smirked, waving her off lazily as he turned back to the pile of parchment beside him on the table. “Go on, keep making your friends. You’re losing your touch though; normally you’d have the entire hold captivated by now.”

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she scoffed, though her grin remained firmly fixed on her face, sighing smugly as she made for the door.

     Hawke eyed the training dummies as she made her way down to the grounds, but didn’t see anyone there. Hm. She had no idea where anyone was staying, but it was late morning so shouldn’t they be up? She nodded her head and smiled at the passersby, ignoring the stares and whispers as she headed towards the tavern. She’d know their names and stories soon enough, but for now she was content to steel her nerves for some sparring. It’d been an age since she’d actually fought against someone, even in practice.

     She paused hesitantly at the center of the upper grounds, wondering exactly where she might go to find them, brow furrowing as she decided to venture into the tavern again. Would they really be there this early in the day? Her doubt washed away when she stepped inside, seeing the friendly grins and waves of the Chargers looking at her tray with heightened interest, and Krem immediately stood up from his table and offered her a brief bow.

     “Good morning, my lady,” he said with a half-grin, flexing and relaxing his fingers nervously. “Were you looking for me?”

     “I was, though I brought refreshments before we begin. Can’t train on an empty stomach,” she quipped, motioning him over to the larger table where his companions were, and placed it in the center. “Compliments of Master Solas.”

     “Solas? You get more and more interesting by the minute, Lady Hawke,” Bull said huskily, and she was surprised to see the flirtatious twinkle in his eye still dangled brightly. Hm, she thought she’d squashed that topic the night before, but it was likely his natural state of being.

     “I’m no more interesting than anyone else, I assure you, Master Bull,” she said smoothly, crossing her arms over her chest and smiling with approval as the Chargers eagerly dove in and began to eat. “Cook will be happy to know her treats were so well-received.”

     “Very well-received,” Krem nodded, motioning for her to take a seat but she held her hand up for a moment and grabbed some cookies before heading to the bar, a small smile on her lips as she caught Cabot’s eye.

     “Back so soon?” the dwarf asked gruffly, though he couldn’t disguise the upwards curl of his lips. “Don’t know how many bottles you think are back there.”

     “A secret only you can know, my fine Master of the Taps,” she sighed contentedly, offering him the handful of lightly spiced cookies. “I only wanted to thank you for your generosity. It did just the trick.”

     Cabot sniffed warily, though he took the cookies and nodded curtly. “Don’t know if I’m glad to hear it or not. I can tell by the look in your eye you’ll be making this a habit.”

     “Exceedingly clever, there’s no putting anything past you,” Hawke smiled sweetly, bending over the bar and dropping her voice to a whisper. “Of course I’d compensate you for the effort as well as the expense, so that you might consider continuing to indulge me.”

     “Why do I get the feeling there’s no point in arguing against it? You’ll get what you want either way. Don’t think I haven’t heard the stories about you, Champion,” the dwarf said wryly in between bites, making a short noise of approval at the quality of the cookies. “I’ll take your gold and I’ll place your orders, but don’t even think of telling anyone else. And I’ll take more of these, while you’re at it.”

     “Your wish is my command,” she nodded agreeably, giving him a sly wink as she turned back towards the Chargers, who’d nearly polished off the food already. “Goodness, you’re a hungry lot.”

     Krem wiped his hands on his legguards and stood up, sucking in a deep breath, and offered the mage a small smile. “Ready when you are, my lady.”

     Hawke tilted her head and eyed him quietly for a few moments before returning the smile and waiting to follow his lead. “I’m ready, Master Krem.”

     “So am I, I want to see this for myself,” Bull smirked, standing up and following behind her, and she was suddenly painfully aware of the grey eye that watched her every move. Goodness, that was going to be disconcerting.

     Krem took her around the corner to where the training dummies stood, and she placed her hands behind her back as she inspected the narrow space. It was tucked away from the main grounds, which was convenient; as much as she began to make herself available to the occupants within Skyhold, privacy was always welcome whenever available.

     Bull took a seat on the bench snugly placed against the tavern wall, legs spread as he leaned onto his elbows, and Hawke walked towards the ramparts while Krem stretched. “You should keep your hair down, my lady, seems a shame to cage those wavy locks,” the Qunari rumbled softly.

     “Impractical, Master Bull, particularly in combat. I’d more than likely set my hair on fire, not a look I’m bold enough to carry off,” she said wanly, offering an innocent smile when Krem stopped and tilted his head with a frown.

     “No staff, Lady Hawke?” he asked quizzically, to which she offered a dismissive wave.

     “No need. Spent most of my life without, I’m fine using my hands,” she shrugged, gesturing subtly as a white barrier washed over him. “Now, let’s see if there’s more to you than a handsome face.”

     Krem coughed and his cheeks began to turn pink, though he grinned and charged forward. Her eyes narrowed as she pushed a palm out, and he lost his footing as an invisible force shoved him back. He pushed out his lips thoughtfully, flipping his sword idly in his hand as he began to circle the mage, who stood unassumingly and allowed him to come in closer.

     However when he was about two sword lengths away she made a quick circular gesture and he felt a chill run through him, slowing his movements as she dashed to the opposite end of their sparring area; her back facing the grounds. “Good form, Master Krem,” she commented with approval, tilting her head as she observed his grip.

     “Just Krem will do, my lady,” the warrior said wryly, taking in a sharp breath as he waited for the spell to fade. “Are you determined to maintain this distance, or will you allow me a chance to test my skills?”

     “Fair point,” she laughed softly, renewing his barrier and curling her fingers inwards as rocky armor appeared and enveloped her body. “Have at it, then.”

     Krem licked his lower lip and grinned widely as he breached the space between them, slashing his sword diagonally. She blocked the blow with her right arm, and used her left hand to push him back with another kinetic force; much softer this time. With a flick of her fingers a small fireball appeared in her left palm, growing until she threw it at his chest; the momentary blaze blinding him as she dodged a follow-up thrust. “You’re quick on your feet,” he commented with amusement, aiming for her side when a jolt of electricity passed through him, and he gritted his teeth tightly.

     “If I’m not it’s a sword to the head, and I’d rather it wasn’t cleaved in two,” she chuckled, sucking in a breath when he came in for another blow, smartly raising his shield when she sent another fireball his way. “And you’re quick to learn, good. The closer you get, the harder a mage will hit you, magical armor or not. It’s distance or death for us against a skilled warrior.”

     “Understood,” he said breathlessly, not missing a beat as he bashed her side with his shield, and immediately following up with another slash across her shoulder.

     She huffed against the strength of his attacks, grinning widely as she felt her breathing become heavy, invigorated by the friendly battle. It’d been a long time since she’d flexed her magical muscles against a real opponent. And she’d become so absorbed in their playful dance that she hadn’t noticed the crowd her crackling fireballs had attracted. As she took another sharp blow to the side she grunted, smirking as she drew her hand downwards and Krem’s eyes glazed over, hissing as horrific visions spun around his mind.

     He bowled over, gasping for breath as she walked across the space, stretching and clenching her fingers alternatively. Mm, she still had it, good. Her hex spell didn’t last long though, and before he knew it his mind had cleared and he straightened himself with a weary but satisfied smile, holding a hand up in defeat. “I concede, for now,” he chuckled raspily, shaking his head and gripping the back of his neck as he watched; a strange light in his eyes. “You were… much more than I expected.”

     “Mm, against a mage you must steel yourself in mind and body. We’ll scramble your head as much as anything else to keep you away; blood mages triply so,” she sighed contentedly, dispelling her rock armor and patting him on the arm. “You did very well. Strong, agile, keen. It was energizing.”

     Krem’s chest lifted as he grinned, catching his breath before he replied, “Same. I’d like a rematch, now that I’ve gotten a taste.”

     “It would be my pleasure, I haven’t had the chance to spar in an embarrassingly long time,” she agreed, offering him a short bow.

     “You went easy on him,” an unfamiliar and dry voice interrupted, with a heavy Nevarran accent that forced her head around, and a knot formed in the pit of her stomach.

     “Now I’m in for it,” she muttered, just loud enough that Bull could hear, who chuckled throatily at the look of awkward dread washing over the mage’s face. She turned around slowly and carefully as her eyes roamed the warrior stepping through the small crowd she’d gathered. Odd, when had they appeared? “Lady Cassandra, I presume? I’d know you anywhere.”

     “And how would that be, considering you spent the last four years expertly avoiding my presence?” the Seeker huffed, her words grinding out with palpable anger.

     “By Varric’s description, of course,” she said lightly, offering her the sweetest smile possible, though it did nothing to lessen the stern expression on Cassandra’s face.

     “You held back. How is he to learn if you do?” she asked accusingly, and Hawke observed how her brow furrowed; a mixture of curiosity and resentment in her eyes.

     “Now he has a glimpse of what’s to come next time,” Hawke reasoned with a mild shrug, clearing her throat as the Seeker took a few steps forward, and Bull thrummed excitedly in the background. “I’ve had twenty years to hone my skills, he was unprepared for a full onslaught.”

     “So have I . Perhaps you would be willing to fight properly against a more experienced opponent.” Cassandra’s voice dropped an octave, and though there was the barest smile on her lips, it curled dangerously at the edges and the mage exhaled a long and dramatic sigh.

     “So it’ll be as Varric feared; I’m to be smited with righteous fury after all,” she quipped dryly, taking in a slow breath and tilting her head at the crowd behind Cassandra. “If I perish, please tell Master Tethras I’d like to be burned on a pyre, and I expect my loved ones to wail and sob appropriately.”

     A low tremor of laughter ran through the nameless strangers, more beginning to appear on the fringes at seeing the Seeker pull out her sword against the Champion.

     “I’m not going to kill you, Lady Hawke,” Cassandra huffed, a smile tickling the corner of her mouth, and she motioned sharply for Krem to throw her his shield, taking it in hand as she bent her knees slightly. “Not yet, at any rate.”

     “So I can have the pleasure of the Lady Seeker’s impending smitiness hanging over my head for the entire course of my stay. Wonderful ,” Hawke groaned sarcastically, clenching her left hand into a fist and thrusting it upward, and the rock armor covered her body once more.

     “It would be no less than what you deserved, after all the trouble you’ve caused,” the Seeker growled, lunging forward with a swift and surprisingly hefty attack.

     Hawke threw up a stony arm, grunting at the force and used the other to push the warrior back with a considerable amount of kinetic energy. However Cassandra only slid on her feet, her posture still perfect, and the mage’s eyes widened as she made an impressed noise. “Trouble, what trouble? You wanted a savior, and now you have one,” she quipped sardonically, casting a hex on the Seeker as she side-stepped her next attack, turning her attention towards the interested observers. “May want to move back folks, she seems to be in fine form today.”

     Cassandra let out a gasp which quickly turned into a growl as she slammed her sword against her shield, eyes clearing as she glared at the mage. “I am always in fine form,” she replied with some difficulty, still stalking towards Hawke despite the nightmarish visions clouding her brain. “And if starting a war, only to run away and hide from the consequences for years isn’t trouble, I don’t know what is.”

     “Oh please, not that again,” Hawke sniffed, eyes darting at the Seeker’s looming presence, casting a lightning bolt followed by an icy spell to slow her down. And while Cassandra stiffened for a moment, gritting her teeth as she felt the electricity course through her body painfully, she continued to approach the mage with unmatched determination. “I left Kirkwall to save it. So that the Divine might take her Exaltedness out on me, and not the innocent citizens caught in the fray. Maker’s balls, what do they feed you in Nevarra? You’re a beast!”

     “I’ll take that as a compliment,” Cassandra smirked, lunging again once she was close enough, alternately bashing Hawke with her shield and slashing with her sword, over and over. Varric wasn’t wrong; her skills were unmatched, even compared to her companions from Kirkwall. Perhaps even Fenris, if that was possible. “You’re still holding back, Lady Hawke. I know you have more to give.”

     “And how would you know that?” Hawke asked breathlessly, wondering how it was that the Seeker didn’t seem the least bit fatigued, while she herself was beginning to feel a burn in her chest.

     “A Seeker always knows,” she replied dryly, noticing the mage’s hesitation with a frown, and looked around them before extending her sword-arm with a sharp and commanding wave at the crowd behind. “Make room, we’re moving further onto the grounds. The Champion needs space.”

     “The Champion needs a breather,” the mage laughed softly, shaking her head as the people parted and followed, chittering excitedly while Bull took the rear with a wide and wicked grin. Pursing her lips, she looked around thoughtfully, and motioned to the wall of the smithy on the edge of the open court. “If you want to witness my demise, that’s probably the safest spot. But I'm not going down without a fight.”

     People shuffled accordingly, murmuring and whispering to themselves as they watched the battle continue. It was the most entertainment they’d had since they arrived to Skyhold, and the Champion’s magical prowess held up to the tales quite well.

     “Now will you reveal yourself, Lady Hawke? You’ve come all this way, I would see what you’re truly made of,” Cassandra pressed demandingly, straightening for a moment with her chin tilted high and proud, and Hawke let out a wistful sigh in spite of herself, stars in her eyes as she smiled.

     “You really are a marvel,” Hawke said while throwing a fireball at the Seeker’s face, easily dodged with a raised shield, following up with a shower of blue lightning bolts, covering the area around the warrior. “Do you never tire?”

     Cassandra hissed at the electricity raining on her, covering her head with her shield as she rushed forward with a roar, and Hawke crossed her arms above herself to block the blows. “If I do, you shall never see it,” she replied stonily, near drowning the mage with a barrage of attacks; thrust, slash, shield-bash, thrust. The moves were controlled and finely tuned; meant to hit but not to kill. Still, the strength and speed with which the Seeker fought was a shock.

     The mage thrust an arm out to force her back with a hard kinetic push, followed with a larger fireball and then a slew of spirit bolts, one after the other. The Seeker grunted with approval as she took the blows or shielded herself from them, eyes glinting with an almost feral excitement. Hawke was breathing heavily, but the twinkle in her eye was dancing with equal delight, feeling her mana pool decreasing enough that she needed to choose her next spells with care.

     Finally, a serious opponent.

     They fell into a thick and electric silence as their awareness of their onlookers dissipated, as though they were the only two people in the hold. Gasps and murmurs of surprise and approval continued to ripple through the crowd as they watched the deadly dance in front of them. Cassandra fought to breach the distance, attacking with an unnerving focus and Hawke threw her back and tried to keep her in place as she launched one spell after another; varied, never in a predictable pattern, and always with a certain eye-pleasing flare. But who would be the victor? It was impossible to guess as the mage and the warrior seemed evenly matched; their skills finely tuned and polished against their natural opposite.

     When it finally came to a close, Hawke cursed under her breath; muscles straining and mana nearly depleted, except the meager amount maintaining her armor. With an uncertain and shaky sigh, she sucked in a sharp breath and dispelled it, only too aware of the risk she took. Cassandra’s eyes lit up at seeing her opening and she rushed forward, only to be stopped by an onslaught of fireballs raining on her head. She ducked under her shield with a grunt, eyes still firmly fixed on the mage, when suddenly there was a thrumming in the air, and a gargantuan and ephemeral sandy fist appeared above the Seeker’s head, slamming down and forcing her onto a knee with a long, strained noise.

     Hawke dropped her arms and grasped her knees, hunched over and panting as she watched Cassandra; not flat on her stomach as she hoped, but she knew the strength it took for the warrior to maintain her position. When the spell faded, the Seeker was also breathing heavily, slowly getting to her feet and looking at the mage with a shaky sigh and a wavering smile.

     “... there you are, Champion,” she huffed after a few seconds, catching her breath and throwing the shield back to a wide-eyed and slack-jawed Krem. She sheathed her sword with a swift and sharp click , dusting her hands off as she walked casually towards Hawke. “ This is why I hunted you for years. This is why your name is a war cry for apostates across Thedas. This is why I am glad you’re here now.”

     “Are you glad? I couldn’t tell,” Hawke winced, taking Cassandra’s extended hand as she painfully straightened herself, letting out a breathless chuckle at the open admiration on the warrior’s face. “At the least I hope your fury is sated after giving me such a sound beating.”

     “It is,” Cassandra answered wryly, crossing her arms over her chest as she gave Hawke an approving once-over. “I’m not sure if I wish all mages fought like you or not. I suppose it would depend on which side they fought from.”

     “Your Inquisitor allied with a good number of them, perhaps they’ll be willing to fight with you,” she replied, her throat parched and raw as she spoke between breaths. “You my friend, fight like a warrior goddess. I have never met your match, and I know a few exceptional warriors.”

     The Seeker snorted, bristling at the compliments and her cheeks tinged with a rosy flush. “Nonsense. I’m merely experienced.”

     “Oh no, you’re being modest. I spent far too much of my youth extending my mana pool, it’s not just anyone that can have me this badly strained,” Hawke chuckled, rubbing the back of her neck. “A good fight, the best I’ve had in years. Thank you, Lady Cassandra.”

     Cassandra opened her mouth to whip a dry retort when a warm round of applause was heard; both in the crowd stacked against the smithy, as well as on the landing in front of the Great Hall, and in front of the tavern on the other side. She blushed a strawberry-red and cleared her throat, unfamiliar and uncomfortable with so much attention. “Yes, well… welcome to the Inquisition, Lady Hawke. I hope we shall get a chance to speak properly before you leave us.”

     “It would be my honor and my privilege,” she nodded, laughing and bowing to the crowds briefly. “I hope we put on a good show. Another round for the Seeker if you please; she’s in a league all her own.”

     The applause renewed at the Champion’s prompting and Cassandra muttered under her breath embarrassedly as she quickly made for the Great Hall, meeting the Inquisitor, Josephine and Leliana’s eyes with a sheepish smirk; all having come out at the thundering echoes of Hawke’s spells.

     “Told you you still had it,” Varric called out, arms crossed over his chest and beaming proudly at her. “You’re in for it now though. They’ve seen what you can do, don’t be so sure you can stay out of the Inquisitor’s clutches.”

     “Pffft, don’t be ridiculous; she has a full roster of mages fighting at her side, she doesn’t need any more,” Hawke said dismissively, her eyes catching on the shiny bald head retreating into the hall. So the elf had been watching too? Weighed and measured indeed.

     But before she could give it much thought, she found herself enveloped by a small crowd of people, doling out names and words of welcome almost too quickly for her brain to latch onto. She shook several hands, shared a few quips and jokes as they began to disperse, but Bull broke it up properly with a rumbly clearing of his throat.

     “Alright folks, let’s give the Champion a chance to breathe. I’m sure it won’t be the last demonstration she gives,” he said wryly, hovering a large hand behind her back as he guided her towards the tavern.

     “Are you so sure of that, Master Bull?” she said wearily, not caring where she was being led to as long as she had the opportunity to sit down.

     “Of course, it’s my turn next time,” he chuckled, making her groan and sigh as she stiffly made her way towards the Chargers’ regular table.

     “Maker save me, haven’t I fought enough Qunari to last a lifetime?” she replied dryly, whimpering with each step; she’d pushed herself past draining and every muscle shouted in protest at the unexpected overuse. Still, it was worth it. Both because it was an amazing fight, and because it seemed to quell the Seeker of any anger she’d been harboring.

     “Not until you’ve fought The Iron Bull,” he smirked, taking a seat next to the wall, and patted his leg invitingly. Hawke rolled her eyes and sighed but couldn’t be bothered to argue; slumping into his lap with a tired groan.

     “Ask me again tomorrow, I’m done sparring for the day. Krem was already beginning to tire me out, she hardly gave me a chance to catch my breath!” Hawke laughed, shaking her head as she exchanged amused glances with the young warrior.

     “I had no idea you were holding back that much. Think it’ll be a while before I’ll come anywhere close to the Seeker’s skill,” he chuckled modestly, brow furrowing as he saw Bull shift Hawke onto one leg, slowly unfastening her spiked pauldron.

     “All the ingredients are there, trust me. Just keep training,” she smiled, extending her arm blindly as the Qunari continued, unfastening her spiked bracer next.

     “Do you mind if I join you?” a gruff voice asked, and Hawke tilted her head to see a stocky, bearded man standing in front of them. “The name’s Blackwall, my lady. I’m one of the Inquisitor’s companions.”

     “Take a seat, Warden,” Bull said generously, and the Chargers quickly shifted around in their seats to accommodate him. “Saw the fight, did you?”

     “Think everyone in Skyhold did,” the man laughed huskily, waving to Cabot for a mug of ale, leaning his forearms on the table as he took a moment to inspect Hawke more closely; who was still slowly being relieved of her steel armor by the surprisingly deft-fingered Bull. “I’ve seen more than a few mages fight since I joined the Inquisition, but none quite like you. You were like a force of nature.”

     “Well I’m glad you enjoyed it, because I’m little better than a slug at the moment,” she quipped with a smirk, eyes narrowing with interest when her brain finally picked up on the Bull’s invitation. “You’re a Grey Warden? Hm, seems I’m destined to be surrounded by them.”

     “So it’s true then, we’ll be picking up Warden Theirin himself at some point in the near future?” Blackwall asked, his tone almost reverent as his eyes lit up.

     “Yes we will, all six feet of his incorrigible self,” Hawke chuckled, grunting when Bull pushed her forward onto his knees, attempting to unfasten her bulky chestplate. “I have strict instructions to maintain every hair on his head, on pain of a slow and humiliating death.”

     “Oh, by whom?” the warden asked with curious amusement, watching quizzically as Hawke’s chestpiece dropped to the floor with a soft thunk .

     “By the one person most deeply invested in him,” she said slyly, thoughtlessly allowing Bull to shift her yet again, scooping her legs up as he loosened the armor covering her shins.

     Blackwall frowned for a moment, before his eyes widened and he stared at Hawke with shrewd disbelief. “Surely you don’t mean… do you?”

     “The one and only,” she grinned, hissing and curling her toes when Bull squeezed her lower leg gently. “Ouch, careful Master Bull. Does anyone have a potion on them? Think I could finally use one.”

     However the only response she got was a large mug of wine, delivered by her new favorite dwarf (though she’d never tell Varric that), a smug smile on his face when her eyes lit up. “On the house, for the most entertainment I’ve had in weeks,” he said brusquely, and Hawke blew a tired kiss his way before drinking deeply.

     “My lady, are you saying you’ve met the Hero of Ferelden?” Blackwell asked, eyes narrowed with barely contained excitement. “You’ve seen her yourself?”

     “Oh I’ve seen her alright,” Hawke chuckled dryly, taking another sip and making a quiet noise as Bull began to lightly squeeze and massage her forearm with a large, padded thumb. It felt rather nice; her whole body ached, and she certainly deserved a little fussing over. Fine, she wouldn’t say anything. “Far too much, according to her.”

     “What’s she like?” Dalish asked curiously, tilting her head and leaning her elbows on the table, as did the rest of the company.

     “What’s she like? Snarky, antisocial, worst temper you've ever seen with a tendency towards violence,” she laughed with a nonchalant shrug, leaning against Bull involuntarily as she felt blood warming her arm, and her muscles began to relax under the Qunari’s unsurprisingly skilled touch. “She’ll save the world twice over, but Maker if she won’t give you an angry lecture about your incompetence the entire time.”

     They chuckled softly at her words, beginning to drum up some friendly conversation and banter amongst themselves as she groaned and winced when Bull began to massage her other arm. “You’re rather good at this, aren’t you?” she said quietly, turning back to look at him with a wry glance.

     The Qunari thrummed softly in reply, a twinkle in his eye as he shrugged, simply continuing up her arm; pressing his thumb in circular motions against her tired muscles.

     Hawke groaned and inhaled slowly, her eyes fluttering shut for a moment as she felt sleepiness start to creep into the corners of her consciousness. He was far too good at this. She took a sip of wine and twisted around to face the group properly, dropping her right leg and dangling it between his when he parted them slightly for her. Bull took the mug from her and placed it on the table, and began massaging her arms simultaneously.

     “So will you be staying with the Inquisition after Warden Theirin joins us?” Krem piped up, offering her an uncertain smile as her head settled back against Bull’s wide chest.

     “As long as the wind keeps blowing this way, and the Inquisitor has a use for me,” she shrugged noncommittally, letting out a resentful but contented sigh when the Qunari’s fingers slowed, and a hand rested comfortably on her hip. “We’ll see what the future has in store.”

     “After the fight we saw earlier, I think you can count on the Inquisitor finding uses for you,” Blackwall chuckled, making Hawke smirk and roll her eyes.

     “Don't say such things, Warden Blackwall. The world doesn't need me diving headfirst into a problem of this magnitude, trust me,” she chuckled, tilting her head towards Bull when he squeezed her hip lightly. “Mm?”

     “Would you like me to continue?” he murmured huskily, bowing his head to mask his words so only she could hear.

     Her eyes narrowed and went distant for a moment as she considered the undeniably enticing offer. But his attentions were already gathering the kind of curiosity she wasn't interested in securing. And his ‘people’ training made its presence known loudly when he picked up her hesitation.

     “Perhaps later then? I expect you'll be even stiffer in a few hours,” he suggested, his words falling like warm rain drops down her spine.

     Hawke made the barest noise of assent in spite of herself; the temptation of a massage was too great to pass up. Besides, it’d give her a chance to watch him more closely. He'd already begun to catalogue her in a way that had alarm bells going off in her head. He knew to catch her when she was tired, pounced on her soft spots, knew just what to say and do to coax her guard down. She was drained, not blind; she could see what was happening. The real question was why. What was his role in the Qun? Surely they had no interest in her. Or was he just doing his due diligence, and attempting to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure?

     Bull made a throaty noise of approval at her acquiescence, squeezing her hip and opening his mouth to speak, when Josephine approached the table.

     “Lady Hawke, I came to fetch you to finish your tour unless… I'm interrupting something?” the Ambassador smiled uncertainly, greeting everyone with polite nods; the left corner of her mouth subtly twitching at how casually Hawke sat on the Qunari’s lap.

     The Champion bent over with a groan, propping herself up with a hand on her leg and smiled apologetically. “I'm afraid I'm still smarting from the Lady Seeker's beating, which you may happily inform her. Think it'd be better if I took it easy.”

     “Of course, Lady Hawke. Let me know if you'd like to resume it, or perhaps one of your companions would like to take on the task?” Josephine suggested graciously, looking around the table with a shrewd smile.

     “Or I can poke about on my own. It's not that big of a place, and there aren't that many more people for you to introduce me to, are there?” the mage asked, slowly attempting to straighten herself and grunting at the tightness in her back. She reached for her mug and took a long drink, licking her lower lip and sighing when Bull rubbed her lower back idly.

     “No, only Madame de Fer and a couple of Inquisitor Lavellan’s companions remain; Sera and Cole. If you need directions let me know, otherwise I'll leave you to… socializing,” Josephine bowing her head cordially, clasping her hands as she turned around towards the exit, pausing a moment to look back at Hawke. “Oh and before I forget, Commander Rutherford was asking about you. If you'd like to speak with him he'll be on the ramparts; up the stairs and second tower to your left.”

     “Cullen? Mm, right,” she said thoughtfully, scratching her chin as she turned her head in the direction of the Commander’s tower. “Maybe I'll make a quick stop before suppertime.”

     “As you wish, he should be there now,” the Ambassador replied, pausing when Hawke hopped off Bull’s lap and caught up with her, absentmindedly forgetting to say farewell to her companions.

     “Lady Josephine, I was wondering… would be it too much trouble to arrange for a bath?” she asked quietly, rubbing the back of her neck and giving her a sheepish smile. “This evening, if at all possible?”

     Josephine opened her mouth in surprise, jerking her head and pulling out her clipboard, quickly scribbling on it. “Of course, my lady. In your tower I presume?” When Hawke nodded she continued writing, tapping the pen against the corner of her mouth. “For early this evening, after sunset? What kind of bath would you like?”

     “Um… the kind with hot water?” Hawke laughed softly, shrugging as she slowly stretched her arms.

     “A milk bath, herbal bath, scented in any particular way? We should have a reasonable amount of stores to supply you with what you like,” the Ambassador smiled serenely, and a flush rose to the mage’s cheeks. Oooh, a real bath. Goodness, perhaps there were worse things she could’ve done than come to Skyhold.

     “Andraste’s Knickers… well, if you have it then I suppose I’d ask for a milk bath. Scented with jasmine, if you have it. Don’t expect you would though,” she said slowly, waving a hand in front of her when Lady Montilyet opened her mouth hesitantly. “Anything nice smelling will do, please don’t go to any extra trouble for me.”

     Josephine finished jotting her request down, biting the end of her pen and gave her a surprisingly minxish grin. “Don’t worry, Champion, I’ll have it taken care of when you return to your quarters this evening. Now I must be off, have a good day, my lady.”

     Hawke scrunched her nose and smiled as she watched the noblewoman clip quickly towards the Great Hall, squeezing the back of her neck as she stood in front of the stairs leading up to the ramparts. Right, Cullen. At least she’d already seen him once, if briefly, and she was prepared for the charming princeliness of his appearance. This time she wouldn’t be so easily befuddled. And as she started up the steps, she couldn’t help but wonder: what had he wanted to talk to her about?

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     It was a short and uncomfortable walk to Cullen’s tower, and she hesitated when she lifted her hand to the door. Was she really prepared for a chat with someone who knew her from Kirkwall? Not that he even knew her very well; they’d crossed paths a handful of times but it wasn’t as though they were friends. Friendly perhaps, but Hawke was friendly with everyone. If not, they were likely dead.

     Still, it made her feel… exposed, as though her bum were hanging out in the breeze somehow.

     She sucked in a sharp breath and rapped on the door, waiting for a muffled ‘Come in’ before she opened it and peered curiously inside. There was a warmth to the office; papers strewn on top of the Commander’s desk, bookshelves across the room, other random clutter to her left. And as her eyes finally fell on the man himself, she noticed a flush on his cheeks and a nervous smile on his face. Perhaps this wasn’t a good idea after all.

     “Lady Hawke, I-- what brings you my way?” he asked softly, clearing his throat mid-sentence, and motioned for her to take a seat although there weren’t any chairs in the immediate vicinity.

     Hawke gave him a casual shrug, watching with veiled amusement as he rushed to pull up a chair, gesturing again and she sat down stiffly, noting the way his fingers fidgeted. “Lady Montilyet said you were asking about me, so here I am.”

     “She did? Oh, I wasn’t-- well, I suppose I was,” he chuckled and murmured to himself, rubbing the back of his neck before giving her a furtive look. “I saw your sparring match with Lady Cassandra… it’s been some time since I saw you fight but you were just as skilled as I remembered.”

     “I’m a bit out of practice, afraid it’s showing after the fact. But ah well, if it means she’ll stop thinking of murdering Varric and I, it’s well worth the aching muscles,” she smirked, leaning back in her chair and shaking her hands out.

     “Yes, she was furious when she found out about your arrival, mostly because Varric insisted he had no clue where you were,” Cullen said reproachfully, although a small smile still hung on his lips.

     “Well, of course he did,” she said blithely, gripping the armchairs and lifting herself up as she tucked a sore leg underneath herself. “I hope you at least understand why I hid. You were there, you saw what happened.”

     “I did, and I can’t help but feel at least partly responsible for how things turned out. If only I’d noticed sooner, really seen what was happening…” His words trailed off and he sighed, turning away from her and placing a hand on his hip. “It wasn’t right that you took the brunt of the blame. We all played our part in the destruction of Kirkwall, whether we intended to or not.”

     “Valiant of you to say, but you always were the single example of all that a templar should be, and all that they weren’t,” she smiled tightly, placing her hands in her lap and shifting in her seat. It was easy to see him as the Commander of the Inquisition, one of Lady Lavellan’s advisors; to forget what he was and what he used to be. But she was finding it difficult yet again to put aside their most basic differences, the natural places of opposition they’d always found themselves in, as mage and templar, even though they’d managed to work together in the end. There was always a lingering resentment she could never quite snuff, as hard as she tried to be ‘the better person’.

     Cullen sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and pressing his lips together, brow knitted and looking troubled. “Perhaps but I’m… I left the order some time ago, my lady. After Kirkwall, in fact. I am no longer a templar,” he said carefully, tilting his head her way to discreetly gauge her reaction.

     “No longer-- really? Is it rude of me to say I’m glad to hear it?” Hawke bit her lip and smiled, laughing quietly with the Commander when he met her widening grin.

     “Not in the least, after what you went through. It hasn’t been easy, but I believe it’s been worth the sacrifice. I cannot be part of an order that would sanction such violence, that would risk so many innocent lives, that would embrace an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality. There must be a better way, and we should have been the ones to search for it,” he sighed, pulling up a chair and sitting across from her, eyes lingering on her face with a secret and wistful smile.

     “You give me hope, Commander. Perhaps if you’d had a higher ranking… well, no point in looking back and wondering ‘what if’,” she sighed, tilting her head when she saw an odd look in his eyes, rubbing her cheek with mild embarrassment. “... is it me you’re seeing, Commander Rutherford, or my cousin?”

     Cullen cleared his throat and broke his gaze, rubbing his cheek with a soft laugh. “I’m sorry my lady, I didn’t mean to stare, but you have her eyes; the palest green… I’m sure I’m not the first person to comment on how closely you resemble one another.”

     “No, and I take no offense to it. I’d been told you had a crush on Warden Amell, but I didn’t quite believe it until now,” she mused, leaning back in the chair and folding her hands over her stomach.

     “I-- it was a long time ago. It was a… boyish infatuation, nothing more,” he mumbled uncomfortably, pressing his lips together tightly before hesitantly meeting her steady gaze. “Yet another example of what a mage could be, or should be. Greatness seems to run in your family, doesn’t it?”

     “I don’t believe you can classify any of my actions as ‘great’, Commander,” Hawke chuckled, shaking her head and sighing with mild amusement. “She saved the world. I set fire to a city. Twice . And then there was this little thing about a war between templars and mages.”

     “Ah yes, that little kerfuffle,” Cullen said wryly, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth as he watched her, opening his mouth hesitantly for a few moments. “May I ask a question, Lady Hawke?”

     “Of course you may, Commander.”

     “Cullen, please. I think we’ve been through enough together that you can forgo some formality,” he said softly, mirroring her position by resting his elbows on the arms of his chair, and lacing his fingers over his stomach.

     “Ask away, Cullen. I’m an open book,” she said impishly, the twinkle in her eye teasing the opposite.

     “Have your feelings on templars changed, in the years since Kirkwall?”

     Hawke licked her lower lip, brow wrinkling as she fought a vindicated smirk. “Well, considering they took it upon themselves to hunt down ‘my people’ like stray vermin, and a good number of them are back on red lyrium… I’d say no. I’ve been given little reason to change my opinion. What about your feelings on mages? Do you see us as people yet, or are we still dangerous ants milling about, existing only to be contained and feared?”

     The Commander shifted in his seat, feeling the sharpened point in her words, and looked away as he turned her questions over in his mind. “I… understand that not all mages are the same, just as all templars are not the same. I still believe magic is dangerous if not properly controlled but… trust cannot be built without room to grow. Room for… understanding.”

     “Mm. You aren’t wrong, I may even find myself reluctantly agreeing. It seems Kirkwall has shaped you for the better, I’m glad to see it,” she murmured with a smile, resting her chin on her palm as she looked at him with unabashed admiration.

     “You had as much to do with that as Commander Meredith,” he admitted timorously, scratching his jaw as his eyes were drawn back to the curled-up mage. “You helped mage, civilian and templar alike during your time in Kirkwall, even with your… low opinions of us. You consistently used magic with a strength and discipline that outmatched even the First Enchanter; you never once gave into temptation or desperation. You, an apostate who’d never stepped foot in a Circle. It was difficult not to pay attention, to question what I thought I knew.”

     “I don’t know, I’m no better than any other mage, though my experience has certainly been different. I feared templars and the Circle like many others, but never magic or myself. I was taught to embrace who I was, to trust it above anything else, to harness magic but never at the expense of myself or others. And I believe the same might be said of any other mage if given that chance, that freedom,” she replied thoughtfully, giving him a warm smile as he mulled over her words.

     “A lofty ideal, certainly, but I fear that may not be the reality,” he sighed, squeezing the back of his neck and offering her a hopeful smile. “Still, perhaps with your arrival there may be a better chance to attain it. Right or wrong, your name still holds weight. The mages look to you as an example, especially amongst the Inquisition.”

     “No pressure, hm?” she said wryly, untucking her leg and getting up to stretch her legs idly. “Well, I promise I’ll try not to set Skyhold on fire. Really wouldn’t want to resurrect that trend.”

     “That would be much appreciated, I’m sure,” Cullen chuckled, watching as she placed her hands behind her back and began pacing. “Will you be with us long?”

     “I’ve been asked that question more than any other since I arrived,” she said worriedly, tightening her hands around each other. “And I’ll give you the same answer I’ve given every time; it’s not up to me. I’ll offer what help and advice I can, the rest is up to your Inquisitor. She’s leading this crusade, not me.”

     “Fair, though after the War Room meeting I attended this morning, it may interest you to know that she has no intentions of letting you go anytime soon,” he smiled, laughing softly at the disgruntled look on his face. “Do you disapprove?”

     “I disapprove of anyone who would keep me on a leash,” she muttered, frowning thoughtfully as she walked over to the window, staring at the fortress proper. “I would remain as I am, and answer to no one.”

     “Rebellious till the end?” Cullen asked wryly, his smile widening at Hawke’s sheepish laugh.

     “I’m afraid it’s in my nature, as is a desire for total independence.” Hawke scrunched her nose and smiled, tilting her head in his direction but her eyes were distant, unaware of the pink flush growing on his cheeks. “Still, it’s been drummed into my head rather forcefully that this threat is far greater than my numerous personal misgivings. And it’s my duty and responsibility to help all I can. So for the moment… that’s what I intend to do.”

     “And I’m sure we’ll be better for it,” he murmured, meeting her gaze steadily, in a way she didn’t quite understand. There was something behind his eyes… Hawke suddenly cleared her throat and looked away, feeling her own cheeks beginning to grow warm.

     “That remains to be seen, Com-- Cullen. Time will tell what help I’ve actually given,” she quipped nonchalantly, her eyes suddenly darting towards the door. “Well, I shouldn’t take up any more of your time, I’m sure you have many more important things you could be doing right now.”

     “Not at all, I enjoyed your company and a chance to look at the past with new eyes. You’re welcome to visit anytime,” he said quickly, standing up and walking her to the door.

     “That’s generous of you to say, I’ll do my best not to be underfoot while I wait for the Inquisitor to venture to Crestwood with me.” Hawke paused for a moment when he opened the door, opening her mouth to say something then shutting it again slowly, thinking better of it. “Have a good evening, I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.”

     Cullen nodded silently, watching her until she disappeared through the next tower before reluctantly heading back into his office, a soft sigh escaping his lips.

     Hawke, in the meantime, made straight for her tower, stretching her shoulders tiredly and glancing down at the grounds below. The sun was beginning to set and it was nearing suppertime by the grumbling in her stomach, and she debated on making a stop at the kitchen before she retired to her chambers. But the opportunity for a bath or a nap called more strongly, and so she headed up the winding stairs where she could already hear a fire spitting and sparking happily.

     Already? Goodness, she’d need to find the busy bees who were keeping her so comfortable and thank them in person.

     Her return seemed to be perfectly timed because as she pushed the door open there was a large metal tub already waiting just off to the side of the fire; steam curling and rising temptingly and she grinned in spite of herself. Oh, the simple pleasures of a bath and a chance to relieve her aching muscles. Potions might have helped her recover her mana more quickly, but they weren’t a panacea to everything, and certainly couldn’t make up for her lack of conditioning. Perhaps now that she was here she’d get a chance to de-rust herself properly.

     Hawke was quick to disrobe, dropping her clothes carelessly in a lazy trail towards the tub, deeply inhaling the scent of hot, milky jasmine. The Ambassador was a miracle worker. She dipped a toe in carefully to test the temperature, deliciously hot but not scalding, so she stepped inside and let herself sink underneath the water with a long, contented sigh. She closed her eyes, leaning back and propping her head against the edge of the tub, letting the warmth envelop her and drain her mind of any lingering thoughts.

     Two days since she arrived, and she was left with more questions than answers about the Inquisition. It seemed such an odd mish-mash of people from all walks of life, with a number that was steadily growing if there was any truth to Varric’s letter. It was inspiring and alarming at the same time. What might a person do with such a growing force, and what would happen if and when they succeeded in defeating Corypheus? Would the Inquisitor simply descend from her throne? She would, but she was aware of her unconventional and misshapen nature. She neither wanted nor craved power and influence, though people seemed to insist she still had some. Warden Amell on the other hand, would certainly maintain a tight-fisted control if she were the Inquisitor, however resentfully, out of a conviction to maintain order and uphold the greater good. And it wasn’t difficult to imagine countless other people might try to do the same, for far more selfish reasons.

     But what kind of person was the Inquisitor? That was the real question, one she was compelled to discover the answer to, regardless of Varric vouching for the cause. She’d watched enough people in positions of power, who claimed to fight for good and order, become corrupted by it. And the only thing stopping them from their madness was her. Always only her. She desperately hoped she wouldn’t find herself in the same situation here. Because though her dwarven friend dismissed her as paranoid, there was truth to her reservations. Maybe she was the worst person to defy those she saw as corrupt and dangerous, but she was so often the only person available. She did the best she could, and if it wasn’t enough for the world, then perhaps it was time the world stepped up and helped.

     Which… it seemed they might be. The thought made her chest ache with hope. Just maybe...

     Hawke let out a weary sigh as she opened her eyes, sitting up for a moment and staring at the fire, before stretching out on her stomach; arms crossed with her elbows hanging over the edge of the tub. Maybe Varric was right, maybe this was going to prove to be too much for her. Donning the title of Champion again was a burdensome strain, and she felt the weight of it as heavily as she ever did. And though she might have looked the same as when she first stepped foot in Kirkwall, she felt a century older; with all the battle scars and trauma that came as a result of her repeated failed attempts to secure peace. She gave everything she had to that decade-long endeavor, sacrificing those dearest and closest to her along the way.

     And did any of it matter? Did any of it make a difference, beyond giving her the kind of renown she never wanted? A sway over people that was as useless as it was ludicrous? She wanted freedom, not power. Independence, not control.

     “Did I come at a bad time?” A soft and husky voice interrupted her silent brooding, and she tilted her head to see the Iron Bull hovering in the open doorway; a twinkle in his eye as he freely roamed the scene in front of him.

     “Master Bull, I’d forgotten about your… offer,” Hawke said with a furrowed brow, brushing her nose against her arm as she debated whether or not to ask him to leave.

     “Shall I go?” he asked casually, his eyes soaking up every inch of bare skin available, a smile sneakily appearing when she gave no answer. “... shall I stay?”

     She pursed her lips, sitting back in the water so she could only be viewed from the shoulder up, idly washing herself with her hands. “I suppose that depends on what you intend.”

     “You mean desire,” he suggested with a smirk, taking a few steps forward and lounging on the sofa, stretching out like a lazy cat, his gaze still steady on her.

     “Your desire is obvious,” she said dryly, stretching her legs out and bending over slightly as she rubbed them under the water.

     “And unwelcome.”

     “Not unwelcome, merely…” Her words trailed off as she found herself at a loss on how to describe her lack of interest in an affair, coupled with her inherent distrust towards the Qun. “... misplaced.”

     “You think so? I’m not so sure,” he asked, scratching his jaw with amusement, eyes narrowing as he observed her quietly. “... you’re not uncomfortable with my presence.”

     “Why should I be?” she shrugged simply, running her hands along the underside of her thighs and up her waist.

     “But you didn’t arrange this… bath, on purpose,” Bull mused, tapping his fingers against the back of the sofa.

     “Not for your benefit, at least,” she chuckled, leaning back and resting her head against the edge of the tub, looking at him curiously. “I won’t take offense if you’d like to go, given that revelation.”

     “I’m enjoying the view,” he rumbled with a wry smile that extended her soft laughter, tilting his head as he sharply observed every detail of her expression, her tone, her posture. “I offered a massage and I’m willing to give it, if you still want one.”

     “And what’s the price of such a generous service?” Hawke smirked, watching him just as shrewdly, hanging her arms over the side of the tub, and dripping water onto the cold stone floor.

     “What, you don’t think I’d do it out of the goodness of my heart?” he chuckled raspily, the crooked smile on his face confirming her blatant suspicions.

     “Nothing is free, but name your price and I’m willing to consider it,” she smiled wanly, eyes searching for a robe or towel nearby. She’d brought very little to Skyhold, and certainly nothing of that nature. Finally her eyes fell on a stool tucked to the side; with a few fresh towels and a folded robe. Hm, if the Inquisitor was hoping to give her incentive to stay, she was certainly doing a good job of it.

     Bull pushed his lips out thoughtfully, scratching the side of his neck as he mulled over his options. “The company and conversation of a legendary and beautiful woman is incentive enough for now... and you could let your hair down,” he added at the end with a small and impish smirk.

     “Legendary? You give me far too much credit,” Hawke said with an amused shake of her head, pausing for a moment before motioning to the desk behind her. “I might have a small thing of oil or lotion. Don’t usually carry any, but given where I was last, it might have found its way inside my satchel.”

     “Oh, and where were you?” he asked mildly, getting up and walking to the desk, a few personal items neatly organized on top; a large, leather-bound journal, several sticks of lead and what seemed to be drawing tools, a couple worn books, a pile of parchment, and a few potions and bottles clumped together. He rifled through them curiously, glancing behind him to catch a pleasing view of the Champion’s enticingly round and pert backside; water dripping and shadows playing against her toffee-colored skin as she stood up and reached for a towel.

     “Here and there,” she shrugged, wrapping it snug around her chest and grabbing the robe, unaware of the watery grey eye that followed her behind a wooden screen.

     “Guarded, but not nearly enough,” Bull mused, opening a small glass container and sniffing it quickly, making an approving rumbling sound deep in his chest, and went back to his seat on the sofa as he waited for Hawke to finish drying herself off.

     “Shall we be plain with each other, Master Bull, or do you prefer to continue a coy dance of veiled words?” she asked directly, patting herself down and shivering slightly at the chill air coming through her open windows.

     “I’ll let you decide,” he said indifferently, though his mouth curled slightly on the right, opening the jar again and inhaling slowly. “Found some cream. So you were in Orlais before you came here.”

     “I was,” she replied calmly, debating on how much she was willing to give away in order to peek underneath the Qunari’s unassuming and bare-chested shell. She slipped on the dark robe and fastened it tightly, glad it wasn’t scantily short.

     He thrummed softly when she finally came out from behind the screen, eyes lingering on slender ankles and bare calves, tilting his head as she sat down across from him. “Your hair,” he gestured pointedly, and there was an undercurrent of command in his tone; one she hadn’t heard in a long time, one that tugged deep in her belly.

     “Of course, sorry,” she apologized with a smile, pulling her damp braid over her shoulder and unfastening it, shaking her hair out with some difficulty; the ends clinging together stubbornly.

     “Better,” he said approvingly, smiling at the loose waves cascading down, and made a curt gesture towards her legs. When she lifted them onto the sofa, he wrapped his hands around her ankles and tugged her forward, allowing them to rest on his own thick thigh. She grunted and readjusted her robe, arching an eyebrow at his smug smile, resting her hands comfortably over her stomach, and closed her eyes. “You have some questions for me, Lady Hawke?”

     “I do. What’s your role in the Qun?” she asked, sucking in a sharp breath when his fingers wrapped around a foot, and she felt a strong thumb press into her flesh firmly; a film of cold cream beginning to spread.

     “Ben-Hassrath. Hissrad, specifically,” Bull said easily, running his thumb along the length of her foot, and humming at the soft groan it elicited.

     “Hissrad, what does that mean?” Her words came slowly after another quiet, involuntary noise when his thumb began to move in circles on the ball of her foot.

     “Closest translation would be ‘one who creates illusion’. You could say a spy, but that’s a pretty narrow view. Hm, you’re carrying a lot of tension,” he commented, his thumb travelling along the top of her foot, and squeezing the flesh just above her ankle firmly.

     Hawke replied with a grunt, mild discomfort washing over her face though it instantly relaxed when he let go, returning his attentions to her foot. “And you were trained in the arts of… what would be the word. Manipulation and observation?”

     “Mhm,” he nodded, squeezing her entire foot gently with a hand, before moving onto the other. “You’re not though.”

     “Trained? Goodness, no. The only thing I’ve properly trained for is magic, and even then only for a time,” she said carefully, letting out a shaky sigh as his fingers worked out the tightness in her feet. How she even managed to have tense feet was beyond her.

     “But you’ve no problem using your… charms to get what you want, to disarm others,” he said wryly, his thumbs pressed firmly along the top of her foot, drawing out a short, muffled moan of relief.

     “True,” she said reluctantly, the warmth spreading upwards from her feet lulling her into a comfortable silence that she was resentful of breaking. “Was this part of your training as well? You’re terribly good at it.”

     “No. This is a… hobby,” he said roguishly, making her open a single eye and arch an eyebrow at him. “What? You like it.”

     “I do, you were fast to find my weak spots,” Hawke said dryly, sucking in a sharp breath and hissing when his thumb traveled up the sides of her calf; digging into the tight muscles determinedly. He paused for a moment at her obvious discomfort, but it only caused her to open an eye again and huff. “It hurts, but I didn’t say stop.”

     “You like it?” he asked, a dark glint in his eye at her last words.

     Her whole body went still, not stiff but as if she was in a holding pattern; going blank as she discreetly considered her answer. “... not all pain is bad.”

     Bull rumbled with obvious approval, low vibrations spreading in his chest, in a way that sent a subtle shiver up her spine. She opened her eyes to look at him curiously, only to be met with a hard and lusty gaze. “No, it isn’t.”

     Hawke’s stomach fluttered and she opened her mouth to say something, brow furrowing quizzically, but stopped after some consideration. Business with pleasure indeed.

     “You’ll tell me if it’s too much?” he asked mildly, but there was a rough velvetiness to his words, and she only managed to give him the barest nod in reply. “Good.”

     He picked up where he left off, fingers pressing hard into the underside of her calf, making her jump and gasp at the pressure, but she moaned contentedly shortly after, feeling her muscles begin to release. “Think your noises might be payment enough for me to offer this again,” he laughed throatily, kneading the sides of her calf roughly, and humming at the involuntary mewl that followed. “There’s no mistaking your enjoyment.”

     “Everyone loves a good massage, I’m not unique in that,” she muttered sheepishly, her leg falling onto his thigh limply as he picked up her other one, continuing his heavy-thumbed ministrations.

     “Sure, but no one’s quite as… vocal as you are,” Bull smirked, indifferent to her deadpan stare. “It wasn’t a complaint, I’m enjoying the soundscape.”

     Hawke scrunched her nose and made an embarrassed noise, eyes slowly opening when Bull patted her leg sharply and motioned for her to scoot forward. She kept her robe strategically closed with one hand and shuffled awkwardly towards him, laying her legs further over his as she adjusted herself.

     “So. Champion of Kirkwall, skilled and powerful mage, recently traveled to Orlais and staying in Skyhold as a ‘consultant’. Easily draws people close, wrapping them around her pinky whilst maintaining a shrewd and calculating distance. Poorly, if I’m any example. Comfortable with everyone, but common folk most of all. Finds pleasure in pain, isn’t prudish or shy, and isn’t interested in a fling. Do I have that right so far?” he asked, dipping a thick forefinger into the cream and spreading it on her lower thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze to see how tight her muscles here.

     “And what’s the purpose of your observations, Master Bull? Business, or pleasure?” Hawke asked dryly, slumped against the back cushions and closing her eyes as his thumb dug into the meaty flesh above her knee, making her grunt quietly.

     “It can’t be both?” he grinned boyishly, the hard circles he was tracing beginning to rise higher up her thigh.

     “I didn’t say that,” she replied mildly, though her eyes opened into narrow slits, suddenly far more alert than she’d appeared a moment earlier. “Are you actively reporting to the Qun?”

     “I am,” he said comfortably, lips pressed together lightly as he began to work out a knot, blurring her focus for a moment as she groaned; a sharp pain that flooded with warmth as he moved on.

     “And will I make any appearance in those reports?”

     He hummed quietly in contemplation, and began pressing his thumbs up her thigh, and dragged his knuckles along the underside afterwards. She instinctively pushed some of the robe between her legs the more he exposed her skin, making him smirk to himself. “Maybe. You know this might be easier if you were in smalls.”

     “That’s true,” she replied with a sleepy yawn, covering her mouth politely as her head lolled to one side, toes curling as his fingers continued to force her muscles to relax. “Maybe? What could the Qun possibly want to know about me? I can’t imagine I hold their interest.”

     “Not up to me, I just send the reports,” he shrugged, his fingers relaxing for a moment and stroking her skin soothingly when he finished with that leg. “I’ll tell them you arrived, and we’ll see what they say.”

     “Will you tell me if they say something?” she asked, starting to curl into herself when he smacked the side of her leg lightly.

     “I’m not done,” he reminded her brusquely, though when she opened a sleepy eye she was met with an amused smile.

     “Sorry, Master Bull,” she murmured, arching her back and letting out a soft noise as she tried to wake herself up a bit, sliding her robe over so that her left thigh was uncovered while still maintaining a certain level of modesty.

     “You can lie on the bed after this,” Bull said casually, and she couldn’t help but notice yet again there was a certain air in his words, sending a not-unfamiliar ripple in her belly.

     Hm, this might become a problem if she wasn’t careful.

     “As you wish,” Hawke sighed, face contorting gently and groaning when his thumbs began their heavy-handed work on her stiff muscles.

     “Are you always so… compliant? Somehow I can’t quite believe that,” he commented ruefully, his voice firm but not displeased, and the tone echoed back to an old and nearly forgotten memory. She paused and opened her eyes, looking back at him blankly, weighing and measuring the implications teasing in and around his words.

     Damn her curiosity. She’d thought maybe she could get a glimpse of the man behind the mask, or at least figure out what kind of mask he was wearing. Unapologetically flirtatious was one of them without a doubt but… this? What was this? Was it real or practiced? She inhaled slowly and carefully, but found herself unwilling to reply. Some things ran too deeply to share, particularly with a Qunari stranger still reporting to the Qun, magically skilled hands or not.

     “Not willing to say? But you understand what I’m asking perfectly well,” he said with a small, dangerous and knowing smile, his hands easily enveloping her thigh as his fingers pressed on all her muscles at once, pushing a gasping groan from her lips as her leg shrieked with discomfited surprise.

     She continued to watch him in silence, her gaze unflinching while her face settled into a perfectly blank mask; refusing to give anything away, particularly how much truth there was to his words.

     “Now you really have me curious,” Bull grinned wickedly, a pleased rumble in his throat as he squeezed her inner thigh gently and gave it a light pat. “On your stomach, robe off.”

     Hawke took in another slow breath, as though turning his words over in his mind, debating on whether to follow them or not, eyes still locked on his in the midst of a thickening silence between them.

     Half his smile fell, though it still hung firmly on the right while he scratched his jaw. “Feel free to keep your ass covered, if it’ll make you more comfortable.”

     “Lengthways or across the bed?” she finally asked, tilting her head and offering him the barest of smiles when he made a raspy, approving noise.

     “Lengthways, in the middle,” he replied decisively, eye narrowing when she nodded calmly and got up, stopping at the edge of the bed and holding still. After another stretch of dense silence, she loosened her robe and let it slide off her shoulders, purposely slow and smirked to herself when it elicited a low and vibrating growl.

     Very, very dangerous. Come on Hawke, you promised Varric you wouldn’t get into trouble . But sometimes temptation was just too juicy to walk away from. Her insatiable curiosity would be the death of her one day, she knew it full well.

     But just a toe into trouble wasn’t that bad, was it?

     She closed her eyes and willed her heartbeat to slow down as she climbed onto the bed, painfully aware of the brief and lascivious view she gave him as she settled onto the soft furs, resting her head onto folded palms, and faced him with a tranquil and patient expression. Well, at least she got her answer from the heavy-lidded, primal look in his eyes. This wasn’t a mask, this was real ; a part of who he was, whoever he really was.

     “You know exactly what you’re doing, don’t you?” Bull asked with frustrated amusement after soaking up the unapologetically enticing view for a couple minutes. “How is it you can be irresistibly obedient and defiant at the same time?”

     Hawke licked her lower lip and bit it, just barely losing the struggle to smile, a flutter of childish victory dancing in her chest, while the rest of her remained perfectly still.

     “You’re a dangerous woman, Lady Hawke,” he said after a while, slowly getting to his feet when she sighed softly and turned her head the other way, the chill air giving her goosepimples. “I might’ve underestimated you, even with your fireworks display this morning.”

     She closed her eyes and painted an innocent smile on her face, feeling the mattress bend as he sat down beside her, dropping the jar of cream beside her elbow, and rubbed some in his palms quickly to warm it. A soft groan escaped her lips when his hands wrapped around her waist; thumbs pressing on either side of her spine in a long and torturously slow line up her back.

     “Used to attention, used to being spoiled and taken care of, accepts orders, takes care to follow them precisely but not blindly. Champion, do you know how tempting you’re making yourself?” he asked wryly, his thumbs spreading out and digging around her shoulder blades, making her grunt quietly when he found a few knots tucked away.

     Her only response was to hum contentedly, interrupted with an occasional groan when he pressed hard around a knot, eventually forcing it into submission. Her whole body was throbbing dully in the best way possible; she hadn’t felt this relaxed in… well, years. A fully body massage from a pair of exceptionally strong hands was like stumbling on an open chest of jewels; too rare and too tempting to walk away from.

     “You were right though,” Bull said quietly, cutting through the throat rumbling, muffled moaning backdrop that filled the empty space in her room.

     “Mm?” she finally responded, the closest thing she’d given to an audible reply since they started treading into this familiarly unfamiliar and sticky territory.

     “One evening wouldn’t be nearly enough to uncover all of your secrets.”

     Hawke licked her lower lip and smiled, turning her face onto the other side, catching the still crackling fire out of the corner of her eyes. “Nor a week, a month, a year…”

     “... everything , you said?” he asked quietly after a few minutes of comfortable silence, that rough semi-purring escaping his throat; the same that she’d heard the night before.

     “Yes,” she murmured, jaw clenching as she tried to stop a yawn, and closed her eyes contentedly. His hands slid down the sides of her waist, resting partly on her hips and partly the crest of her ass as his thumb drove circles into her lower back, forcing a hiss out at the sudden sharp sensations.

     He paused for half a second, giving her room to protest at his chosen pressure, but continued when she said nothing. She’d no problem letting him know if something was too much. He just hadn’t hit that point, not even close. “... and in return?”

     A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she let out a soft and shaky sigh as she melted into the bed. “Everything, of course.”

     Bull fell quiet for a while, focusing only on releasing the remaining taut muscles as he rumbled thoughtfully to himself. “Do you even know what that means?” he finally asked, letting his fingers gently glide up and down her back, once again soothing the throbbing flesh he’d treated so harshly.

     “Do you?” she quipped calmly, though a mischievous twinkle in her eye danced brightly, shivering at the unexpected but not unwelcome caresses.

     “I’m getting an inkling,” he chuckled wryly, thrumming as his hand ran over her bum, his touch almost reverent as he traced its shape. He let out something like a wistful sigh and patted it, closing the jar and getting up to return it to the desk. “Alright, into bed with you. You’ll be sore tomorrow.”

     “The best kind of sore,” she yawned, lazily wriggling under the covers and tucking the blankets under her chest, curling onto her side so she was facing the dimming fire.

     “I don’t know about that,” Bull smirked, giving her a dark and knowing look, eye narrowed as he quietly stalked towards the bed.

     “Second best then,” she conceded, meeting his eye steadily, though she was squirming and writhing fitfully on the inside. No, she’d given enough to catch his attention, coax him closer like a fly to honey, but she’d leave it there for now.

     “You’re walking a very fine line, Champion,” he warned, his voice laced with a mix of intrigue and amusement, scratching his chin as he considered her for a moment.

     “The only kind of line I walk, naturally,” she laughed huskily, smoothing the blanket over her legs and looked at him with a small but genuine smile. “Thank you, Master Bull. I needed this, rather badly it seems.”

     Bull chuckled throatily, groaning as he shook his head and made for the door. “Dangerous. Like a beautiful spider in a web. Goodnight, Lady Hawke.”

     She watched him stalk out, closing the door behind him, and waited until his echoing footsteps down the stairway ceased, and he’d shut the door to the tower. Immediately her sleepy, sweet expression melted off her face, and a Cheshire cat grin appeared as she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Well, her evening hadn’t exactly gone as planned, but she’d learned a few things so it was worthwhile, apart from the deliciously sore and perfectly relaxed body she was left with. And The Iron Bull learned something too.

     “ Never underestimate Hawke,” she chuckled quietly, rolling onto her other side, a little too pleased with herself as she let the bed lull her into a rare and deep sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     The Inquisitor didn’t waste much time before turning her attention to Crestwood thankfully, and the following day they left Skyhold together with Cassandra, Varric and Solas. Hawke was more than eager to see Alistair again; both to make sure he was safe, and simply because she’d missed his company. They’d been researching red lyrium together while Warden Amell continued her quest to cure the Calling, and they’d grown close over the course of several months. They shared the same sarcastic, light-hearted sense of humor and didn’t take themselves half as seriously as the Hero of Ferelden, which made even the most precarious situations almost enjoyable by comparison.

     Lady Lavellan wanted to clear some tasks before they headed for the cave upon their arrival several days later, particularly closing the remaining rifts, so Hawke went ahead with the expectation they’d meet her later. She knew exactly where Alistair would be; they’d occupied the cave before, and she hoped he’d managed to remain undetected by the wardens hunting him down. Stealth had never really been his strong suit. But the worry reminded her of yet another strange puzzle piece in the larger mess that was Corypheus’ grandiose plans. Where did the wardens fit in? Why in the world would they hunt one of their own, especially one who’d been so instrumental in fighting the Blight?

     She knocked on the door deep inside the cave; the usual secret knock they’d arranged amongst themselves long ago. A few seconds later it swung open, and she was met with a wide grin and pulled into a lung-crushing hug. “Finally, took your time,” Alistair grinned, patting her on the back and taking a moment to observe her more closely. “You’re looking well-rested, glad to see it. Been a long time since you’ve had a good sleep.”

     “Not that long,” she said wryly, heading inside with him and poking about the tables arranged in the main cavern. “Bit sore, but well worth it for the massage I got last night.”

     “Oooh, a massage? Is our Hawke finally courting someone?” the Warden quipped, wiggling his eyebrows lasciviously, and breaking into a laugh with her.

     “Hardly. Corypheus’ nasty looming shadow isn’t exactly conducive to romance,” Hawke smirked, taking a seat and going through his pile of parchments and notes carefully.

     “I don’t know, cousin, the Blight saw me pretty well matched in the end,” he sighed wistfully, rubbing the back of his neck as he stood over her. “How is my wife, by the way? Have you seen her recently?”

     “A few weeks ago, or was it several now? Travel blurs the days together,” she nodded, furrowing her brow as she looked over some rune rubbings he’d taken. “She’s… well, you know how she is. She’s very much that still, wondered why I didn’t bring her fool of a husband with me so we could have a proper family reunion.”

     Alistair chuckled and scratched his cheek, nudging her back reproachfully. “She had a point, you know. You should have brought me with you,” he pointed out, groaning as he looked at the faded runes with her. “Don’t know how you could understand those, looks like a jumble of nothing to me.”

     “I don’t, but I’ve seen this before,” she frowned, trying to sift through her memories. “Doesn’t quite look dwarven, but it’s certainly not elvish either. Odd.”

     “Yes, well how’s your brother doing? Excelling under the Hero’s tutelage?” he asked, walking to a small side table to pour them a cup of wine, and pulled up a seat across from her.

     “Very well, according to Amell, which is rare and high praise indeed. Carver’s being a good sport about it, I think being with family makes it easier. We’re all we have left, and I can’t risk him wandering on his own or with strangers. Particularly after the recent goings on with the wardens,” Hawke sighed, nodding gratefully when he slid the cup her way, and took a long sip, propping her head up with a hand. “I can’t let him get caught up in this mess, and there’s nowhere safer than with her.”

     “He’ll be alright, she won’t let anything happen to him,” Alistair said reassuringly, squeezing her shoulder before turning to his own cup.

     “True, but what about you? She’s tasked me with ensuring you come out of this exactly as she left you, or it’ll be my head thrown into the abyss,” she smirked, and they sighed and shook their heads in unison. “Maker, I missed her snarkiness.”

     “There’s a certain dramatic flair about it, isn’t there?” he grinned, clinking cups with her as they toasted silently, and she leaned back in her chair, sifting through the other papers. “Though I’m beginning to suspect that might be a family trait.”

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hawke sniffed with feigned offense, a smile tugging on her lips when he gave her an incorrigible smile. “I’m not the least bit dramatic. I’m a perfectly calm and reasonable person, always logical and never acting on emotion.”

     “I’ll believe that when pigs fly,” he scoffed, relaxing with her and crossing one leg over the other comfortably. “So, what do you think of this Inquisition then? You’ve been dodging them for years, and now we’re working with them. Or is the threat finally big enough that you’re willing to put your prejudice aside?”

     She crossed an arm over her chest, taking a thoughtful sip before finally shrugging. “I’m not sure, to be honest. It’s… there’s too many people, I haven’t had time to suss them out yet, but I have concerns. The Inquisitor has a throne in the Great Hall and they’re touting her as some divine savior. Makes my skin crawl, but she saved the apostates and didn’t waste time coming here, so that’s something.”

     “Shrewd and distrustful as always, hm?” Alistair teased, finishing his wine and heading back to the table, bringing the entire bottle and pouring them another cup. “Not that I blame you, no one’s as they seem these days. And trouble like this attracts all sorts, good and not so good.”

     “Yes, the question is who has the Inquisition attracted, and why? Devoted followers, people who see a larger threat and want to help, certainly I’ve seen those. But who else? She’s picked up a Qunari, you know. One that’s actively reporting to the Qun, I can’t see that ending well,” she groaned, eyes growing distant as she thought about the slinking and innuendo-laden conversation from the previous night. It sent a shiver up her spine, but she inwardly shoved her lust-filled flutters aside. “There’s also a warden there. Warden Blackwall, you ever heard of him?”

     He furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin thoughtfully, taking a sip and shrugging. “No, but that hardly means anything. There’s a slew of us in other places, and now that the Blight is over we’re all just sort of… I don’t know. Floating.”

     “Prior to now, maybe. Presently your people are doing some... suspicious things. Any warden worth their salt should know your name, it should hold a good deal of weight and respect, and yet either they don’t know it or they don’t care. Or it’s the reason they’re hunting you down. Any of those likelihoods are alarming,” she murmured, running her finger along the rim of her cup.

     “True. I won’t lie, I’m not sure I want to know what’s going on with them,” he sighed wearily, wrapping his hands around the stem of his cup, and stared into the mulberry-colored liquid quietly. “I’m almost certain the wardens have gotten pulled into the mess with your Corypheus.”

     “ My Corypheus? As though I have some sort of claim on him,” she snorted, fighting a smile when Alistair met her annoyed look with a boyish grin.

     “I don’t know cousin, you do seem to have a habit of attracting dangerous, bloodthirsty or delusional men. What if this is all the overreaction of a darkspawn magister scorned?” he cajoled, laughing when she grunted and swept a pile of parchment in his face. “Ah, there’s that Amell temper I love and adore so much.”

     “I do not have a bad temper,” Hawke muttered, scrunching her nose and giving him a dirty but mildly amused side glance. “It’s not as though I’m going to start slicing heads if I don’t get my way.”

     “No, you’ll just set an entire city on fire to make your point. Twice ,” he grinned, leaping out of his chair and ducking when she impulsively tossed her cup in his direction, sighing contentedly as she glared at him. “It may lie deeper beneath the surface, but it’s there. Anyone who believes the Champion is all light-hearted quips and sarcasm and finely-tuned charm is a fool.”

     She licked her lower lip and fought a smirk, but her shoulders relaxed when he picked up her cup and took a seat with her again. “Yes, well they’re buying the act, so you can assume what you’d like about them,” she shrugged nonchalantly, ears perking when she heard muffled conversation in the distance. “That must be the Inquisitor. Prepare yourself for some rather personal questions, she was all too eager to pry into my life in Kirkwall rather than what I’d actually come to share.”

     “I don’t have anything to hide, and I’m not nearly as shy as you,” Alistair waved dismissively, getting up and straightening his armor self-consciously. “Besides what do you expect when the tales of your adventures have been put in print for all the world to read? If you dislike people’s curiosity so much, why did you let Varric write that book in the first place?”

     “Mostly because I couldn't say no to him,” she said wearily, squeezing the back of her neck tightly as she made her way to the door. “He has me wrapped around his pinky as sure as anything. And the way he presented it… I had to let him try and spread the truth. Not that it’s done any good, in the end.”

     “We’ll see about that...” he murmured softly, tilting his head and watching her as he disappeared.

 

     The interview went rather smoothly and after some extended and pleasant conversation, the Inquisitor and her companions led them to Caer Bronach, a fortress she’d secured some weeks ago, and invited them to take their rest while they continued clearing up a few more tasks.

     Once they’d returned in the evening, it was time for a late supper and Hawke found herself seated around a roaring bonfire with Varric and Alistair huddled beside her, laughing and joking. Well, unsurprising they’d get along.

     “Hawke, did you really punt that Orlesian Duke off a cliff?” Alistair asked in disbelief, shaking his head and laughing at the smug smirk on her face.

     “I didn’t punt him. I just… didn’t help him up,” she shrugged casually, eyes twinkling when the story caught the Inquisitor’s ears, and she took a seat beside them.

     “I hope this isn’t a habit of yours in matters of politics,” Lady Lavellan said dryly, offering them each an extra thick slice of bread to go with their stew. “Here I was thinking you might be good as a potential diplomat for the Inquisition.”

     “He tried to feed us to his wyvern,” Hawke quipped defensively, though she licked her lip and fought off a grin at seeing the dwarf’s knowing smirk. “Turns out he wasn’t quite as gracious a host as he let on.”

     “You stomped on his toes until he fell, rather viciously I might add,” Varric laughed huskily, sighing contentedly as he took a bite of stew. “Not sure you’d want her as a diplomat, your Worship. She has a tendency to take matters into her own hands, if you know what I mean.”

     “I don’t know, sometimes a situation calls for… forceful negotiations,” the elf said ruefully, eyeing the Champion with an inquisitive smile. “Perhaps something with a bit more freedom. An agent of the Inquisition?”

     Hawke groaned and gave the Inquisitor an amused but distrustful side glance, tearing off a small piece of bread and dipping it into her pan. “So Commander Rutherford was right, you intend to keep me here?”

     “Certainly not against your will, especially after the demonstration you gave with our Seeker,” Lavellan smirked, taking a thoughtful bite of the thick and hearty stew before continuing. “It’s one thing to read of your adventures and the lofty way Master Tethras described your magical prowess, but it’s another entirely to witness it firsthand.”

     “You have several skilled mages at your disposal, Inquisitor, you hardly need another one,” she said dryly, eyes narrowing subtly as she stared into the roaring bonfire. “There’s little I can offer you in that department that they couldn’t; I’m no more knowledgeable or experienced.”

     “Why do I suspect you’re simply being modest, Lady Hawke? Or perhaps you’re trying to dissuade me from looking too closely?” the elf said knowingly, a twinkle in her eye when Hawke whipped her head and looked at her sharply. “Mm. So Leliana was right; you know more than you let on. Would that also extend to your mastery of magic?”

     Hawke slowly turned her gaze to Varric, giving him an evil eye before she shrugged casually, showing more interest in her food than the conversation. “A consultant, a diplomat, and an agent? Sister Nightingale suggested some kind of covert work for me when we spoke. What other roles have you been considering, Inquisitor?” she asked, completely ignoring the elf’s verbal prodding, and scratched her chin as she mulled over the choices that’d been dangled in front of her face.

     “Difficult to say, Lady Hawke. It seems you’re capable of wearing many hats and fitting in many places, with many different kinds of people. That makes you both invaluable and dangerous, and compels me to find a way to keep you close, rather than at a distance,” The Inquisitor replied shrewdly, exchanging small and understanding smirks with the Champion, boldly nudging her arm with her own before taking another mouthful. “Your reserve and distrust of both the Inquisition and myself is well known and understood. I only ask for an opportunity to sway your opinion.”

     “We’ll see, Lady Lavellan. I’m not sure I fit in with this mess anymore, and it’s probably smartest if you kept me out of it. Varric’s said it many times before; trouble follows wherever I go,” she chuckled throatily, stirring her food idly before taking another bite. “And I already know he’d prefer if I disappeared into the night when this quest with the wardens is over.”

     “You’ve given enough, Hawke,” the dwarf urged quietly, a look of deep and tender concern lining his face, in a way that made her groan and rest her head on his shoulder. “Inquisitor, you won't need her.”

     “I’m sorry Varric, I am. I know you’re being protective, but I’m not convinced that’s true,” Lavellan sighed, frowning into her pan for a moment, weighing and measuring the conversation up to that point. “We’ll need every person and resource we can gather to defeat Corypheus, you can’t expect me to turn a blind eye to your companion. There is more to her renown than an entertaining novel mixed with truth; I have to at least try to secure her as an ally.”

     “I know,” Varric relented wearily, squeezing Hawke’s knee gently and resting his head on hers. “Had to try.”

     “I’ve agreed to nothing, stop fussing,” Hawke waved dismissively, blindly giving her empty pan to the nameless soldier gathering them together. “There’s no telling what will happen between now and when we uncover the truth about the wardens. I make no promises until this is all over, then we’ll see where we’re at.”

     The Inquisitor smiled softly to herself as she watched Hawke and Varric huddled together; an unexpectedly tender scene given the dry-witted aloofness the dwarf normally displayed. “I understand, Lady Hawke. There will be time to negotiate deeper involvement later. And at least for now, the populace of Crestwood can rest easy knowing the last rifts are closed.”

     “Yes, Varric told me of your earlier visit here when you acquired this fortress. Is it true that Old Crestwood was teeming with spirits?” Her head perked up, and Varric groaned to himself at the curious glint in her eye.

     “Yes, even with the rift closed the Veil was very thin there, or at least that’s what Solas said,” Lavellan nodded, tilting her head at the way Hawke’s eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together tightly. “Many are still there, I believe.”

     Hawke fell silent for a while before sucking in a deep breath and smiling at her companions. “Well, I think I’ll turn in early for the night; still recovering from Lady Cassandra’s beating,” she said loudly, attracting a small and knowing smirk from the Seeker who sat on the other side of the fire. “Good night all.”

     But as she skipped down the stairs leading away from the topmost floor of the fortress, she pulled up her hood and made straight for the gates. With a pressed finger on her lips and a knowing wink, the guard sighed and began to raise it. “Be careful, my lady. You don’t know what might be roaming in the dark.”

     “The darkness should fear me ,” she said with a wicked grin, eliciting a soft and amused chuckle, and ducked out of the partially raised iron grate. Once she was out of sight she held her palm out flat and blew gently, waiting for a few moments before a wisp appeared, hovering and dancing around her curiously. “Hello, friend. Kindly light my way, would you? Time to stretch our legs and do some investigating.”

     Whether or not the wisp understood her words wasn’t clear, but it kept close to her regardless, sweeping left or right every now and then. She furrowed her brow and tried to recall Varric’s directions when she’d asked him earlier, continuing down the trodden pathway and winding around ‘New’ Crestwood. She kept as quiet as she could, though anyone nearby would be able to see the soft, white dancing light that followed her. Useful spell, that. She’d have to remember to thank Warden Amell… or not. Her cousin would likely only chide her for being a useless Spirit mage for not knowing it already. It was a wonder she’d managed to pull as much knowledge as she had out of her, she passed on her wisdom so begrudgingly. But how else was an apostate supposed to learn?

     It turned out it wasn’t quite as difficult to find Old Crestwood as she thought it might, as the little wisp bounced excitedly when she came to a fork in the road. “Are we close then?” she murmured with a smile, turning left and heading towards a craggy pass in the stone range. The Inquisitor wasn’t wrong as the ruined village came into view; even at a distance she could see a dozen or more floating green lights. Hm, what was it that pulled spirits to abandoned places like this? Her footsteps slowed down as she came up to a short overhang, walking to the edge and crouching curiously, eyes straining to see what they could in the dimly moonlit space.

     She was there for what seemed a long time; watching, thinking, mulling, questioning. The spirits seemed benign, which wasn’t unexpected considering the Inquisitor had closed the door to the Fade, but that didn’t mean it was safe. And despite her lofty words to the guardsman, she wasn’t so foolish as to walk into a lion’s den without at least giving it a good once over.

     “A little late for a walk, isn’t it Lady Hawke?” A soft and silken voice asked, forcing a sharp inhale as her chest seized, and she looked up quizzically to see Solas idly standing beside her.

     “Maker’s Balls, are you trying to kill me?” she scoffed, standing up and peering behind her with suspicious alarm. “How’d you do that? I didn’t even hear you coming.”

     “Elves don’t lumber the way other races do,” Solas replied calmly, a smile teasing his mouth at her slack-jawed expression, though it never appeared properly. “Besides you were deep in thought, or so it seemed.”

     “Not so deep I lost all awareness. Oh come now you silly thing, he means no harm,” Hawke said dryly, gently palming the wisp away when it skittered agitatedly in the space between them. “So what brings you out at this hour of the night, Master Solas?”

     “I believe I’d just asked you the same thing,” he countered evenly, watching the wisp with mild amusement. “Where did you find that?”

     “Didn’t find it, I called it,” she shrugged, crossing her arms over her chest as her eyes fell on Old Crestwood again, turning on her heel and leaving the elf without a word, making directly for the village remains.

     “You pulled it out of the Fade?” Solas asked, brow furrowing with disapproval, though she didn’t see as he followed behind her noiselessly.

    “Not pulled, called ,” she replied distractedly, directing the wisp to move in front of her and light her steps more easily. “Ask and you shall receive. Manners get you everywhere, even in the Fade.”

     “So it left willingly?” he repeated, a blend of disbelief and mirth in his voice, and Hawke smiled at the lovely curving lilt in his words. She really did enjoy his accent.

     “Of course, it’s unconscionably rude to rip someone from their homes. But wisps are as curious as I am, and you might be surprised at how many enjoy the opportunity for a bit of exploration,” she quipped casually, pausing for a moment as they came to the outskirts, debating on which direction to start in.

     “And once your spell ends?” Solas stopped beside her, tilting his head to watch her closely, though she seemed unaware of it, far more engrossed in the aimlessly floating spirits that wove in and out of the dilapidated buildings.

     “Well, assuming it hasn’t been foolish and tried to take on something that was attacking me and get itself killed… pop , back it goes into the Fade.” Hawke licked her lower lip slowly, deciding to turn to her right and go counterclockwise around the village. She inhaled deeply and smiled, a shiver running up her spine as she circled the outside, pausing here and there to look at a wandering spirit with interest. “Oooh, the Veil is still deliciously thin here, fascinating .”

     “You can tell?” he asked doubtfully, making her roll her eyes discreetly, motioning for the wisp to keep closer; showing the same protectiveness it had displayed towards her earlier.

     “You can’t?” she asked carelessly, wondering why he was still following her. Unless perhaps he’d wanted to return here for another look as well? Could be. He was a Fade mage after all, though she still didn’t quite buy the term. Maybe it was just a way for shems to understand the concept of a Dreamer. Did Lord Pavus ever refer to him as a Somniari? That was the Tevinter term, wasn’t it?

     “Of course, I’m merely… surprised that you could,” he said quietly, and she couldn’t tell if it was curiosity or irritation underlying his voice.

     “Will it always be this thin or will it grow thicker again with the rift gone?” Hawke paused in front of the mayor’s old house, and took a seat on the steps, propping her head up with her hands and looking around with an almost childish glee.

     “Only time will tell, either is likely,” Solas replied after some thought, a smile itching his lips again as he saw the awe-filled expression on her face. “Is this truly so interesting to you? Some spirits in an abandoned village?”

     “Why wouldn’t it be? Maybe it’s a small mystery in the larger scheme of things, but it’s still a mystery to me. How’d they get here? Did they come with the rift, or were they drawn to this place on their own? With the Veil so thin, could they come and go as they pleased, or are they trapped? Can they go home, do they even want to?” Her questions came out in a soft-spoken flurry, and his lips twitched again, taking in a silent breath and clasping his fingers gently around the staff he’d been carrying.

     An expectant quiet fell between them; Hawke watching the spirits, and Solas watching Hawke, both waiting to see what the object of their interest would do next. Except the Champion didn’t do anything. Just sat still, eyes traveling from spirit to spirit as though content to simply watch them. But after a few minutes, a knowing smile began to curl the edges of her mouth when a pale green spirit paused along its course to observe her. She didn’t move a muscle, holding her breath when it floated towards her; stopping after a couple feet to watch her.

     Deep lines began to crease Solas’ brow as he observed the exchange; Hawke’s smile widening as the spirit continued to venture closer to her in an odd staccato. It halted just in front of the young mage, its formless face bending down to look at her more closely.

     “Hello,” she murmured quietly, shoulders relaxed as it took note of her and the wisp hovering just above her shoulder. “What are you doing here?”

     After a pause the spirit straightened and moved away, then towards her, and a few steps back again. She nodded and stood up, dusting herself off before following the ephemeral spirit’s gentle but insistent lead, directly to the other side of the village. She had no idea where it was leading her or why, and perhaps it would’ve been prudent for her to ask those questions, but her curiosity burned far too brightly at ‘making contact’.

     It hovered in front of the door of a ramshackle cottage, and Hawke tilted her head, pushing her lips out thoughtfully before nodding and following the spirit inside. The wisp zoomed in front of her, lighting up the room, and she looked around doubtfully. It seemed to have been abandoned in a rush, and she could see personal bits and bobs strewn around the waterlogged floors and furniture. But the spirit was fixated on one item in particular; a stained and worn doll next to the bed. Hawke frowned and bent down to pick it up, turning it over in her hands curiously. It was sewn from a rough linen, with buttons for eyes, disheveled yarn for hair, and a dress that looked more like a sack than anything else.

     She furrowed her brow at the spirit, presenting the doll questioningly, to which it responded by holding out an ephemeral arm behind them. “Does this belong to someone? In Crestwood?”

     It moved swiftly in front of her, so close she could almost feel the cool tingling vapor of it’s ‘body’. “Would you like me to return it to them?” she asked slowly, her thumb brushing over the crooked smile, scrunching her nose and smiling unconsciously.

     The spirit sped to the wall, and then back towards her and she nodded in assent, tucking the doll neatly in her belt. “Of course, I’d be happy to,” she said amiably, biting her lip when it seemed satisfied with her response, and simply left her in the house alone.

     “You aren’t afraid of them,” Solas’ voice said quietly, a vein of approval in his voice though the sound made her heart leap to her throat.

     “Andraste’s tits! You’re still here?” she laughed, spinning around to see him hovering just inside the door. “Honestly, you’re giving me palpitations.”

     “And they’re not afraid of you,” he continued, ignoring her surprise, though the barest of smiles escaped his lips.

     “What’s there to be afraid of?” she shrugged nonchalantly, exiting the cottage and looking around the village once more before making her way to the beach; the wisp following after her curiously.

     “You’re the first mage I’ve met to have such an… open view on spirits. And the only to draw them so easily. It appeared… natural.” Solas’ words seemed reluctant and almost resentful, or was it that ill-fitting disappointment and melancholy she’d noted before? It was hard to tell, everything about him was so subtle, so reserved, so restrained.

     “I suppose it was, but I didn’t grow up with all that… you know,” she replied after a moment’s thought, squeezing the back of her neck lightly. “I’ve been talking to spirits since I was a child, and it’s why it would’ve been the living death of a Tranquil for me if I was ever caught.”

     The elf nodded in acknowledgement, keeping up her pace as he walked beside her, his staff making soft noises as it pressed into the damp sand. “An apt description. Still you are… surprising.”

     “Is that good or bad? I can’t tell,” she asked wryly, holding out her hand and waiting for the wisp to hover above it. “Well my friend, the moon is lighting our way home pretty easily. Time for you to go home too.”

     She dispelled the aura that had kept them connected with a subtle gesture, and a moment later the wisp disappeared. She clasped her hands behind her back as they walked in comfortable silence, her eyes drifting over the lake as they approached the looming fortress. “So your connection to the Fade is more sensitive than the average mage,” he murmured, though mostly to himself.

     “Couldn’t say, don’t know enough mages to confirm or deny it,” Hawke quipped casually, a twinkle in her eye as she met his sharp side glance. “What?”

     “There is more to you than meets the eye, Lady Hawke,” Solas said dryly, hooking his staff to his back as they started up the hill leading towards the back of the fortress.

     “Do you think so? The same could be said of anyone really,” she waved dismissively, pausing when they were halfway up the cliff so she could admire the view. “Going to have to stop by the village tomorrow before we leave and see if I can’t find the owner of this doll, or someone who knew them.”

     “You intend to follow through with the spirit’s quest?” he asked, and she could have sworn there was approval blending with mild interest in his voice.

     “Master Solas, I’ve accepted all manner of tasks from all manner of people. I offered to do it, and I keep to my word,” she said simply, narrowing her eyes and smiling as she met his inscrutable gaze. “What were you doing there anyway?”

     The elf’s pale blue eyes stared into hers, piercing or searching, she couldn’t quite tell, before he turned back up the steps and led her to the door inside the fortress. “It’s getting late, Lady Hawke. I should turn in for the night, I expect the Inquisitor will want to depart early for Skyhold.”

     “Of course, Master Solas,” she nodded politely, eyes twinkling as she eyed him curiously, which the Fade mage either didn’t notice or didn’t acknowledge. It was so hard to say with him.

     They walked into the fortress proper, and Solas paused before bowing his head gently. “Good night, Lady Hawke.”

     “Good night, Master Solas,” she nodded in return, scrunching her nose as she watched him disappear through a door leading to the Inquisition’s rooms.

     “Tucking in early for the night, hmm?” A rich and incorrigible voice teased, and Hawke closed her eyes with a groan, turning around to see Alistair leaning against a stone column; arms crossed over his chest and a rather smug smile on his face.

     “Please say you weren’t waiting up for me,” she sighed, fighting a smirk as she approached him, throwing an arm around his waist as they headed in the opposite direction where their rooms were.

     “It was either me or Varric, and it’s been such a long time since I’ve played the fretting parent,” he said dryly, chuckling when Hawke elbowed him lightly in his side. “Soooo… a moonlit walk with an ethereal looking elf gentleman? Was this the one that gave you a massage?”

     “Keep your voice down, would you? Honestly…” she hissed, giving him an unimpressed glare, which only elicited an impish grin. “And no, he wasn’t the one.”

     “What? Goodness Hawke, how long have you been in Skyhold? Keeping your options open, I see. Well who gave you the massage then?” he pressed, stopping to lean against a roughly hewn balustrade, and Hawke rolled her eyes as she looked past him at the grounds below.

     “Maker, you’re nosy. It was the Qunari, Iron Bull. I’m sure you’ll meet him when we return,” she muttered, clearing her throat and beginning to flush at the smug and silent look the Warden gave her. “What now?”

     “I think love might be in the air, dear cousin. I predict you’ll be knee-deep in romance before this is all over, mark my words,” he said, tapping his nose knowingly and chuckling when she rolled her eyes and gestured to him to follow.

     “Alistair, you have no idea what you’re talking about. There are no romantic overtures between either me and the Qunari, or me and the elf. The massage was… simply a reward for a particularly entertaining sparring match yesterday and the walk was… well he bumped into me, in a manner of speaking. I wanted to inspect the old village, and he also happened to be there so he… followed me.” Hm, sounded a bit odd when she said it like that.

     Warden Theirin wasn’t buying her explanations though, and the smirk hung stubbornly on his lips as they walked down the hallway and stopped in front of their rooms, conveniently next to one another. “How much do you want to bet I’m right? Would you do it for… hmm, let’s say a box of Orlais’ finest cheeses?”

     “You and your cheese fixation. Very well, a box of Orlesian cheese it is. The last thing anyone needs is for me to fall in love, we saw how well it ended last time,” she muttered, her eyes darkening for a split second before she offered him a wry smile.

     “Go on, keep tempting fate, you’re just bettering my chances at a gluttonous feast,” Alistair shrugged innocently, opening his door and disappearing inside. “Goodnight, cousin!”

     “Goodnight, you big oaf,” she chuckled quietly, shaking her head and heading into her room. Warden Amell better appreciate her efforts, because she could already tell her husband was going to be a handful, at least where she was concerned.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

     The morning after they’d arrived back to Skyhold, Alistair found himself walking behind Hawke, holding a plate full of cheese and eyeing it greedily. “You’re torturing me on purpose, aren’t you?” he mumbled, wrinkling his nose at Hawke’s light and carefree steps.

     “Little bit yes, to get you back for your teasing,” she quipped, balancing a second plate with cheese and berries with one hand, while the other held a small cup of mead. “You know where Cook is now; you can get your own.”

     “And where are we going?” he sighed, nodding and winking at Varric as they turned left into the door by the fire.

     “There’s someone I think you should meet,” she shrugged nonchalantly, though if he’d been walking beside her he would’ve seen the devilish sparkle in her eye. “Trust me, you can’t come here without meeting her.”

     Alistair sighed and pursed his lips sullenly, giving the plate he held another covetous look before she stopped by the desk in the lower room of the tower, a small smile on her face as she gave the seated elf inside a deferential nod.

     “Good morning, Master Solas. Would it please you to have some breakfast? I’m told you haven’t eaten yet today,” she asked politely, presenting the plate and cup in her hands.

     Solas’ brow furrowed, half suspicious as he eyed the ripe berries and soft, sliced cheese. “And who told you that?” he asked coolly, offering a quiet sigh and a subtle gesture of his fingers, permitting her to place it in front of him.

     “I know people,” she shrugged, licking her lip and fighting a smirk when he arched an eyebrow.

     “... people. People who are aware of my eating schedule,” he repeated dryly, eyes narrowing as he waited for her to explain further; ignoring the tall, blond man hovering behind her.

     “She means Cook,” Alistair said helpfully, giving him a warm smile that quickly wavered under the cold blue eyes that glanced at him before dismissing him back into irrelevance.

     “The cook and the barkeep; you’re fast to pick up friends, Lady Hawke,” Solas commented, rubbing his chin with a slender finger, his eyes not quite as icy as he observed the young mage. “Quick to endear yourself to those who can offer you something?”

     “Master Solas, do you object to having breakfast delivered to you? I can stop if you’d prefer to be left alone,” she said innocently, clasping her hands in front of herself with a sweet smile that the elf’s sharp eyes didn’t quite buy.

     “Am I expected to give you some of my time today, in exchange for this?” he asked calmly, folding his fingers on his lap and pursing his lips slightly.

     “I expect nothing of you. I hadn’t thought to visit without notice, but perhaps tomorrow if you’re inclined?” she asked, a sly smile tugging at her lip gently.

     Solas inhaled slowly and audibly, shifting in his seat before finally giving her a bare nod and a subtle dismissive wave. “That would be fine.”

     “Good, I’ll come tomorrow,” she gave him a short bow and turned for the stair up towards the library, giving Alistair a discreet smirk when they were out of view. He returned it silently, chuckling softly and shaking his head when they stopped in front of Dorian, who was currently curled up in a chair in his overstuffed nook.

     “Hawke! Breakfast, for me? And here I was beginning to think you were playing favorites,” Dorian quipped approvingly when his eyes caught Alistair, who handed him the plate of cheese reluctantly when she nodded to him. “Goodness, cheese and a handsome man? Tell me you’re part of the package. Hawke, you know just how to start my morning right.”

     Alistair coughed and laughed, quickly turning red at Dorian’s overt and lascivious once-over, placing his hands behind his back and shifting on his feet uncomfortably. “Sorry, just cheese,” he smiled ruefully, his chest puffing out at the compliment regardless.

     “Ah well, at least she got it half right,” Dorian sighed wistfully, making a small noise of approval as his eyes freely roamed the warden. “I’m guessing you’re the Grey Warden everyone’s been talking about, hm?”

     “I am, pleased to meet you,” he nodded politely, fidgeting his fingers discreetly as he waited for an introduction.

     “Lord Pavus, Warden Theirin; Grey Warden and husband to the Hero of Ferelden. Alistair, this is Lord Pavus, one of the Inquisitor’s companions; a mage hailing all the way from Tevinter,” Hawke said primly, eyes sparkling at Dorian’s flourishing seated half-bow. “Well, save some for me. Just dropping Alistair off and I’ll be back to chat.”

     “I was wondering why there was so much here, thought for a moment you were purposefully trying to make me fat,” Dorian said wryly, bending down beside him and revealing a bottle of wine and two cups. “Thankfully, I’d already prepared for our eventual get together.”

     “Make you fat? And mar such perfection?” she quipped, motioning her head in the direction of the mages and prompting Alistair to follow her again. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

     Hawke’s eyes narrowed with wily determination as they reached the other side of the library, where Fiona was paging through a book, and quick to sense the Champion’s intense focus. The elf’s eyes widened and the book fell slack in her hand, swallowing hard at seeing the towering warrior in front of her.

     “Just as I’d promised,” Hawke said smugly, gesturing gracefully between Fiona and Alistair. “Grand Enchanter, may I introduce you to Warden Theirin. And Alistair… say hello to your mother.”

     It was all she could do not to squeal delightedly, obviously far too pleased with herself to acknowledge the elf’s pink-cheeked glare, or Alistair’s strangled noise of confusion as he unconsciously took a step closer. “Hawke… what?” he asked breathlessly, slack-jawed as he gazed at the petite elf who offered him a tiny and sheepish smile. “You’re my mother? … truly?”

     “Really, Lady Hawke… must you be so inconsiderate, dropping something like this in his lap without warning?” Fiona said with exasperation, once she found the wherewithal to respond. “You were supposed to tell him first, at the very least; give him the choice. Or are you still in the habit of making decisions for others without their say, believing you know what’s best?”

     “Of course I am, because I do know what’s best, particularly when it comes to my own family,” Hawke shrugged with a wicked grin, and took a small step back. “I’d no intention of giving him the chance to chicken out, because he’d regret it as deeply as you would, even if you’d both be too stubborn to admit it. So here you are, mother and son. Make the most of it, and get to know each other while you still can.”

     The mage gave them a vague wave, staying just a few moments longer to see a certain gloss cover both their eyes, and the disbelieving smile that curled Alistair’s lips. Fiona let out a shaky sigh, the thin line of her mouth wavering as she held out her hands in a gesture of remorse and helplessness. But it took no time for a wide grin to take over the warden’s flushed face, and he all but dove in to hug the elf tightly, lifting her off the ground and eliciting a soft, surprised laugh from her.

     Hawke sighed wistfully, feeling her own eyes mist up as she turned away, sniffing contentedly before taking a seat opposite Dorian. “Well that’s my good deeds done for the day,” she smirked victoriously, taking the full cup from Dorian’s hand and taking a long and languid sip. “Sometimes I amaze even myself.”

     “Charming and modest? Aren’t you a treasure,” the mage mirrored her smirk and reached for a small wedge of cheese, leaning back in his chair as he rested an ankle on his knee. “So Lady Hawke, you’ve been causing quite a stir since you arrived.”

     “Have I? I hadn’t noticed,” she shrugged innocently, though there was no mistaking the twinkle dancing in her eye as she picked up a small cube of cheese and popped it into her mouth.

     “Yes, you’ve proven to be quite the whirlwind,” Dorian said wryly, rubbing his chin and watching Hawke with amusement before taking a sip. “It would’ve likely died after a few days, but after your battle with our Seeker, right in the middle of the grounds? People will be talking for weeks.”

     “I hadn’t planned it that way but she put me on the spot,” she admitted with a sheepish laugh, taking another sip and making a soft noise of approval. “Mm you’re right, this is very good.”

     “Obviously, if it hasn’t been made apparent already, I have excellent taste,” he quipped lightly, taking a moment to eye her discerningly. “I caught some of the fight myself and I was surprised to see you didn’t use a staff. Wouldn’t that have been more efficient?”

     “Certainly, but I haven’t used a staff in years and I’ve come to prefer it. Staves are useful for focusing magic, but I’ve found it limiting otherwise. Forces me into a certain… rigid and simple spell rotation. I prefer flexibility and creativity over raw power,” she shrugged, tucking a leg underneath her, a small thrill in her chest at the opportunity to discuss magic openly.

     “Creativity?” he mused with interest, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he turned to look out the window. “How so?”

     “Well nothing so interesting as time magic,” Hawke said with a twinkle in her eye, taking a sip and leaning back against the wing-backed chair. “The Inquisitor told me what happened when she chose to ally with the apostates. Now that is a fascinating and dangerous school of magic.”

     “Indeed, although it’d only ever been theoretical. I’d never intended to test it out; too much could go wrong and too little was known,” Dorian sighed gently, scratching his chest as his eyes dropped down to his cup. “Just goes to show how dangerous knowledge can be in the wrong hands.”

     “True, and yet your theories were right. One can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to rewrite the course of history safely,” she murmured, narrowing her eyes as she looked out the window thoughtfully. “Somehow I can’t imagine that’s true, but it does make for a fascinating mental exercise.”

     “Looking to past regrets, hm?” he said knowingly, tipping his head as he observed her more closely. “Who doesn’t have something that haunts their mind. Goodness knows I would’ve loved to have stopped myself after that unfortunate incident with plaidweave.”

     Hawke laughed warmly in surprise, her cheeks mildly flushed as she reached for another slice of cheese. “I know I shouldn’t dwell on such ideas. But what few regrets I keep have had… much larger consequences. If I tried to prevent them, who knows what might’ve happened instead. Knowing myself, something far worse.”

     “Ah now that is an interesting thought. Could it have been possible, and what might have happened instead? And what exactly might you have changed?”

     She furrowed her brow and took a quiet bite, sucking in a shaky breath and tapping the side of her cup. “Mm. The easiest thought would’ve been to set Corypheus’ dead body on fire. Or break the one rule I have and follow in my father’s footsteps; use my blood to keep him trapped.”

     “Yes, you had a run-in with him some years ago, didn’t you?” he leaned forward, hands clasping his cup as he looked at her shrewdly.

     “Something like that,” she smirked, shaking her head and sighing as she crossed one leg over another. “As for the Circles… I’m not certain if I regret what happened. The way it happened certainly, but it wasn’t as if I had a better alternative to offer at the time. Not sure if anything else would’ve been that effective.”

     “Yes, blowing up the Chantry was a particularly grandiose move,” he said wryly, though his lips were pursed and she wondered if it was with disapproval. Not that she took offense, any sane person should’ve felt the same. “When you disappeared, there were rumors you might come for Tevinter next.”

     “What, as though I was some boogey-monster vigilante?” Hawke laughed with amusement, nose crinkling at the idea, and waved dismissively. “Hardly. I may have heard enough stories to be concerned and wary, but it’s not as though I possess the knowledge or power to be judge and executioner.”

     Dorian rested an elbow on the armchair and propped his head up with a hand, a small and mischievous smile curling his lips. “Very true, but you can never tell these days. Nothing is as it seems.”

     “It certainly isn’t,” she agreed affably, shifting in her seat and gesturing towards him subtly. “On a totally different subject; I’m curious, do you dream consciously? I’ve been told it’s common amongst mages, but I’ve had little opportunity to ask others, and any sample size I have is abysmally small.”

     “I do, on occasion. Nothing spectacular to report in that regard, unfortunately. I have awareness, but no control,” he shrugged with a mild frown, nodding his head towards her. “And yourself?”

     “Quite regularly, though it’s the same as you; awareness but no control. My father was the same in frequency, my sister less so, but I suppose everyone’s connections to the Fade are different. It’s made me wonder… is it possible to gain control? Natural Somniari are exceedingly rare, but is it a skill that can be learned?” she mused aloud, running her hand along her hair before draining the last of her wine.

     “Somniari, you know the term?” Dorian asked, eyebrows rising with surprise. “I hadn’t thought about it before, but… why shouldn’t it be possible? Although I imagine if it were, it’d take a considerable amount of time and training.”

     “True. But if Solas can gain such skills on his own, why not another mage? Or is it directly tied with the sensitivity or nature of one’s connection to the Fade?” Hawke pursed her lips thoughtfully and scratched her cheek, finally registering the mage’s first question. “Mm, I know the term. I met one many years ago.”

     “Is Solas a Somniari? He can enter at will, so he says, witness things in the immediate vicinity, but can he control it?” he replied, tilting his head as he looked in the direction of Solas’ study.

     Hawke’s mouth opened to reply, closing it after a pause and frowning. “... oh. I hadn’t asked, actually. I took it for granted when-- good point though, controlling it is different than being able to visit. I’ll have to remember to ask next time.”

     “Next time? Do you plan on making a habit of breaking bread with our aloof elven mage?” Dorian asked, a small but doubtful smile curling his lips. “He seems to avoid social interaction as much as possible.”

     “Does he?” she asked innocently, though she licked her lower lip and avoided his gaze so he wouldn’t see the wicked glint in her eye. “I’ve no intention of making myself a nuisance. But I appreciate insight from any mage willing to give it, and he’s appeared to… tolerate my presence.”

     “That’s more than most,” he chuckled, shaking his head and looking at her shrewdly. “You seem to make friends rather easily, don’t you Lady Hawke? Your company is certainly pleasant, but is there more to it than that?”

     “I have no idea what you’re implying, Lord Pavus,” Hawke waved dismissively, though the corner of her mouth twitched as she fought a smirk. “I’m merely a friendly and inquisitive person, who enjoys conversation with all walks of life.”

     Dorian rubbed his chin and gave her a rueful smile, taking a small bite of white cheese and nodding. “I’m sure you are. I’m hardly complaining; it can get dreadfully boring being sandwiched between all these glum and sullen people,” he quipped, pointing to Leliana’s attic above and Solas’ study below.

     “A horrible shame; I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t delight in the company of such a congenial and devilishly handsome Tevinter nobleman,” she replied with a grin, laughing softly when he puffed his chest out and smirked knowingly.

     “My dear, you couldn’t be more right. Ah well, their loss,” he shrugged, taking another sip of wine, and looking questioningly when she stood up and dusted herself off. “Going so soon, Lady Hawke? You must visit me again, I refuse to allow Solas to be the only one who gets to enjoy your daily visits.”

     “Of course, it would be my pleasure,” she smiled with a gracious half-bow, placing her hands behind her back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to do a bit more exploring around the hold.”

     With that she headed back down the stairs into Solas’ study, eyes twinkling when she saw him taking a sip of mead, his plate half-empty. Good. He paused for a moment when she made it to the bottom of the steps, but she passed him without a word and gave Varric a wink as she left the Great Hall. She’d no intention of overstaying her welcome, and he was becoming receptive to her presence, in a fashion. Let that seed germinate for a while.

     So where to next?

     She was actively avoiding an introduction with Madame de Fer, but there were still a couple of the Inquisitor’s companions that she hadn’t met, though she had no idea where they were or what they looked like. What were their names again?

     She decided to explore the lower area of the grounds, and as she came down the steps she noticed a cluster of people near the gates, with a wagon that was unloading even more; wounded soldiers and civilians. She exhaled sharply and without another thought she was in the thick of it; checking on those laying around the fire, and quickly casting a spell that encased her in a light blue aura.

     “Excuse me, what are you doing?” the surgeon asked brusquely, placing her hands on her hips as she approached.

     “My job,” Hawke said sharply, squatting next to a soldier and noting the gashes on his arms and legs, and clucked her tongue quietly.

     The man winced at her feather-light touch and looked at her pleadingly. “Please…”

     She smiled in response and placed a hand on his stomach, a white light glowing for a few moments, and he let out a soft sigh of relief. She tilted her head and nodded approvingly when she saw his wounds begin to knit themselves together, and patted him lightly. “There we go. A little food, a lot of rest and you should be alright in a few days,” she said reassuringly, turning around and making a quick gesture to one of the Inquisition guards hovering nearby. “You, go to the kitchens and tell Cook I’ll need stew, a large batch of bone broth, fresh bread and elfroot tea.”

     The guard frowned at the commanding tone in her voice, though his cheeks flushed when her lips formed a hard line. “Well? Magic alone won’t help them. Hurry up,” she snapped, eyes narrowing until he jerked and quickly headed up the stairs. With a glower and a snort that mirrored the Hero of Ferelden far closer than she’d be willing to acknowledge, she brought her attention back to the injured, moving from person to person.

     The surgeon followed her like a dog, arms crossed over her chest suspiciously, though she didn’t stop the mage. But eventually curiosity got the better of her and she tilted her head to try and catch the Champion’s gaze. “Who are you?” she asked, an edge of demanding in her voice, a smile tugging at her mouth when she heard yet another sigh of relief after a blue shimmer ran over another soldier. “They’ve all calmed since you arrived.”

     “Yes, it’s called a healing aura. Helps restore them a bit until I can see to them myself,” Hawke replied distractedly, muttering and shaking her head with disappointment as she moved onto a middle-aged woman; face pale and eyes reddened, a thin sheen of sweat covering her body. She placed the back of her palm on the woman’s forehead, and pressed a couple fingers to her neck. “... too late. The fever went untreated for too long.”

     “She’s dying,” a soft voice murmured, and she looked up to see an odd looking young man across from her, wearing an even odder wide-brimmed hat.

     “Yes she is,” she agreed, frowning slightly and wondering where he’d come from; she hadn’t heard anyone approach. But for the moment there were more important things on her mind, and she looked around searchingly. “Is anyone family or friends with this woman?”

     A balding man raised his hand meekly, lips trembling as he approached, bending down when Hawke motioned to him. With a quiet sigh, the Champion ran a thumb over the woman’s lips, and her face relaxed visibly. “She’s not in pain but I’m sorry, she doesn’t have long,” Hawke informed him gently, squeezing his shoulder as she moved onto her next ‘patient’.

     “This isn’t your first time as a healer,” the surgeon commented, distrust slowly easing from her face as Hawke continued without pause; healing wounds, soothing exhaustion, relieving pain.

     “Mm,” she grunted in reply, finally standing up and stretching her legs stiffly, eyes catching on the weary companions that had been unloading and helping the injured. She waved a hand idly, and a pale orange light washed over them, lifting their chests and forcing them to suck in a breath as a renewing warmth spread through their bodies. “Go, sit down and rest. You’ll have a hot meal coming soon.”

     They didn’t need any further prompting than that, quickly taking seats against the wall, and watching the mage curiously.

     Hawke crossed her arms over her chest, mouth curling downwards with disapproval as she took a closer look at their immediate vicinity. “You’re not a healer, what are you?” she asked, nodding towards the woman with vague interest.

     “Surgeon,” she replied, sounding defensive as she straightened herself and tilted her head proudly.

     “And where’s your healer?”

     “Don’t have one.”

     The mage’s mouth gaped open slowly, eyes widening before she let out another snort. “... you can’t be serious. Do you regularly take in the wounded?”

     “We do.”

     “And you have no healer??”

     “No, my lady.”

     “A clinic then, do you have that at least?”

     “No, my lady.”

     Hawke scoffed in disbelief, lips pursed tightly and eyes narrowed when Lavellan made her way back from the barn and gave the Champion a friendly smile. “ Inquisitor ,” she said flatly, slowly arching an eyebrow that made the elf pause with uncertainty.

     “... Lady Hawke?”

     “May I have a word with you, in private ?” The Champion’s words were clipped and short, and when she nodded in agreement, the mage motioned for them to talk past the gates, out of hearing range. “Inquisitor, kindly explain why in a fortress this size with a population this large, you have no clinic and no resident healers?”

     Lavellan opened her mouth to reply, but after a few moments nothing came out except a quiet exhale and a furtive expression. “That is… an excellent question.”

     “No it’s not, it’s appalling! You regularly accept wounded and injured, and as far as I can see all you have is one surgeon and an open camp by your gates. Are you telling me no one is seeing to their well-being beyond that, and neither you nor your Advisors have considered it worthy of attention? Is this how the Inquisition treats those they claim to protect? Leaving them outside like stray dogs?!” Hawke barked, her fingers becoming white as they curled into her hand, and her whole body tensed with an anger that was entirely uncharacteristic of the light-hearted and sarcastic mage the Inquisitor had come to know.

     “A grave oversight that I will see to immediately,” the Inquisitor answered swiftly and defensively, rubbing the back of her neck when it did nothing to relax the bristling mage. “I’ll speak with Lady Montilyet to make arrangements; what shall I tell her is needed?”

     “An open room with single beds or cots. A desk with quill and parchment. Blankets, pillows, fresh linen for bandages and poultices, towels, basins for water. A fire pit or a fire place. Herbs and potions from your resident apothecary. And at least one proper healer to work in tandem with your surgeon.” Hawke pressed a slender finger along her forehead as she relayed the list, sucking in a sharp breath and willing herself not to sound as irritable and condescending as she felt. She didn’t succeed. Good grief, even in the shithole that was Kirkwall they treated the ill and injured better than the Inquisition.

     Or more accurately… Anders had, and she helped when she could. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling her stomach begin to churn like a rock rolling about her insides, and shoved the memories to the back of her head. Not now. Step away from that ledge, Hawke.

     “We’ll have it up and running as soon as possible. As for a healer… I’m not sure if we have any,” Lavellan said hesitantly, looking over at the tower with a furrowed brow.

     “You made allies of the apostates, where did they go?” Hawke frowned, following her gaze towards the tower where the Grand Enchanter was residing.

     “They came with us to Skyhold.”

     “... and?” she huffed expectantly, beginning to tap her foot in agitation. “What are they doing?”

     The Inquisitor opened her mouth again, and winced when she realized she had no idea.

     “Maker’s Breath. You have mages at your disposal and they’re doing what, taking an extended holiday? Ridiculous,” Hawke muttered, rolling her eyes and tugging on her braid lightly. “How many were there? A few must be Spirit mages, or have some healing capability. They could work in shifts, tending to the wounded.”

     “An excellent idea, Lady Hawke. Perhaps you’d be willing to speak to the Grand Enchanter yourself? Somehow I imagine your words will carry more weight in this matter. Although by the look on your face, I half expect you to box their ears,” Lavellan said with amusement, clearing her throat when the mage gave her an unimpressed side glance.

     “I’m considering it,” she said dryly, letting out a heavy sigh and shaking her head. “If they want a place in this world, they’ll have to earn it like everyone else. And the best way to prove themselves is by letting others see what they can do, and how much they can help.”

     “I couldn’t agree more,” the Inquisitor replied amiably, tilting her head and smiling warmly at the Champion. “I believe in second chances, and I’d love to prove to naysayers that I made the right decision. Tell me only what you need, and I’ll make it happen.”

     Hawke’s shoulders finally began to relax as she turned to the elf, scrunching her nose and offering a smile. “Mm, perhaps Alistair was right,” she said with a sheepish laugh, scuffing the ground with a foot. “I suppose I inherited the Amell temper after all.”

     “It comes from a place of compassion, I can’t fault you for that. And while I haven’t been whipped like that since I was a child… perhaps it was deserved,” Lavellan smiled, patting Hawke on the back lightly. “But let’s not dwell; we’ll make it right yet. You’ll have your clinic soon enough.”

     “Good-- wait, what? You don’t--”

     “I was watching you on my way over; you tended to those people with skill and ease. Who better to oversee their well-being than yourself? At least until you’ve found us a resident healer,” the Inquisitor amended innocently, though Hawke didn’t miss the wisp of a smirk on her lips.

     “I see what you’re doing, Inquisitor,” Hawke said dryly, pushing her lips out before they spread into a smile. “You’ll have to work harder than that to keep me; my days in a clinic are long gone, and I’ve no desire to return to it. But for now… I’ll look after them, of course.”

     “I’m glad to hear it,” Lavellan sighed contentedly, clasping her hands behind her back. “Now before you have another conniption, I’ll go speak with Josephine and she can make the arrangements as soon as possible.”

     The Champion watched her make her way back towards the Great Hall and sighed, rubbing the back of her neck as she returned towards the wounded.

     “You’re afraid to go back, but you want to help. You need to, like me,” a soft voice spoke beside her, and Hawke jerked her head, startled to see the same strange boy standing beside her.

     “What the--” She paused and stared at him closely, brow furrowed as she looked him over from head to toe. He looked like a young man in his late teens, but his words felt ill-fitting. And then there was his aura; not like a mage’s, but certainly magical. It was almost like--

     “... who are you?” she asked slowly, tilting her head as she watched him discerningly, taking a small step closer. “And what are you?”

     “I’m Cole. And you’re Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall,” he said breathlessly, fidgeting with uncertainty under her shrewd gaze. “You sparred with Lady Cassandra. I heard you calling at the bonfire, so I came. You help them. I wanted to help you.”

     Hawke licked her lower lip, eyes roaming the scene before them, and turned his words over in her mind carefully. “You heard me calling?” she murmured, looking away for a moment before a surprised laugh curled her mouth into a smile, and a twinkle appeared in her eye. “You’re a spirit then? Compassion, I’d guess. But if you are you’re like none I’ve ever seen. Curious.”

     “You know me?” Cole asked with a small smile, eyes glossing over as he took a step closer. “You know me and you’re not afraid. And they know you. You shine and glimmer; warm and welcoming. They see when you dream, hear when you whisper, come when you call.”

     As tense and irritable as she’d been moments earlier, it quickly melted away and she relaxed at the young man’s words, laughing again; both delighted and amused. “Right on all accounts, though I don’t know about shining and glimmering,” she smiled, circling him curiously and scratching her head. “Hm. Very strange indeed.”

     “Relief bubbles, familiar and comforting. But solid, how did he get a body? What is he really? Puzzles pick, questions tug so you can forget, keep it buried. Wounds that bleed,” Cole said, his tone plain but his words a disjointed tangle though Hawke didn’t bat an eyelash at it.

     “Mm, I see discretion is out the window where you’re concerned,” she sighed, rubbing his arm idly when he opened his mouth to speak, shaking her head to stop him. “No, my friend. Some wounds don’t heal.”

     Cole furrowed his brow, looking troubled for a moment before relaxing at her touch. “But I can help. Raw, stabbing, choking. You drown, get lost. Fires that never stop burning.”

     Something flashed across Hawke’s eyes and she closed her eyes for a moment, sucking in a slow, deep breath before opening them again and smiling lightly. “If there’s one thing the world can count on, it’s that Hawke always makes it out in the end. Seems Death simply won’t have me no matter what I do, snobby bastard.”

     But before the boy could press further, she laughed and squeezed his arm gently, waving her other hand dismissively. “You are a wonderful anomaly my friend, but now’s not the time to discuss the skeletons in my closet. Will you help me?” she asked warmly, and motioned her head towards the wounded.

     “Of course,” Cole nodded as the mage led him closer to the fire.

     “Good. Will you watch over them until I return? Ease their pain, comfort them? These people need proper healers, and I intend to recruit them. Immediately ,” she growled gently, eyes narrowing as they drew back to the tower.

     “I can do that, I can help,” he murmured contentedly, turning away and putting his attention on the people laying around the fire.

     Hawke crossed her arms over her chest, eyes twinkling and sucking in a slow breath as she watched him, a light ripple rushing through her torso. A fully intelligent spirit. Goodness it’d been a long time-- But her thoughts were quickly interrupted when the surgeon approached her again, an approving smile on her face.

     “The Inquisitor told me these people would be moved to a clinic, that the Lady Montilyet would have one set up as soon as possible. Thank you, my lady,” she said with a respectful nod, but the mage waved it away with a small smile.

     “You should have had one as soon as you arrived here. I’m sorry no one thought of it sooner,” she sighed, tugging on her braid in agitation as she straightened her shoulders and gestured towards the tower. “And I’ll get you some proper healers, if I have to drag them kicking and screaming. Magic may not be a panacea for everything, but with your skills combined it should make a difference.”

     “I hope so, my lady. I would welcome help, it hasn’t been easy on my own,” the surgeon admitted reluctantly, smiling when Hawke gave her a devious wink.

     “You won’t be for much longer. I’ll be back soon, hopefully Cook will deliver her goods sooner rather than later. I’m almost certain I’ll get a lecture next time I see her,” she laughed briefly before she made her way up to the Great Hall.

     And right on time, there were guards carrying cauldrons and pots towards the campfire below, along with bowls and cups, and at the top of the stairs stood a round and rosy-cheeked woman in her early sixties, overseeing everything with a curious but disapproving gaze.

     “Ah, so it was you,” Cook huffed, pointing her finger at Hawke with a wry smile. “When that guard came in I gave him what-for, until he described the impertinent mage that dared make demands of me.”

     “My sweet lady, my requests were urgent but who in this hold could possibly order the best cook this side of Ferelden?” Hawke grinned, looping her arm in the woman’s and looking at the scene down below; the surgeon kindly serving stew to the weary, broth for the ill, with Cole dancing about here and there helping the weakest drink tea. “They needed your touch, nothing restores the spirit like a hot and wholesome meal.”

     Cook’s chest lifted in spite of herself and she groaned, smacking Hawke on the cheek affectionately a few times. “You’re a good girl, even if you’re bolder than a demon. I’ll make sure they’re fed.”

     “Of course you will, no one has a bigger heart or feeds our souls the way you do,” she grinned, leaning in to kiss the woman on the cheek, and laughed when Cook snorted derisively. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to give Skyhold the healers they need.”

     But as light-hearted and carefree as she sounded, her expression sobered quickly as she made her way up to the library and approached Fiona; sitting down with Alistair, and involved in what was clearly a deep and meaningful conversation. “Grand Enchanter, I’d like a word with you,” she said evenly, the tilt of her chin warning that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant word.

     The stony look she gave elicited a soft groan from Alistair, who slumped back into his chair, covering his face with a hand; an expression he knew all too well. “Maker’s Breath, here we go…”

     Fiona stood up slowly, eyes narrowing shrewdly as she met the mage’s icy gaze, clasping her hands neatly in front of her. “Of course, Champion. What seems to be the trouble?”

     “The trouble? The trouble is that the Inquisitor sided with the mages, and they’ve proved to be useless lumps since arriving! You weren’t made allies so you could cloister yourselves, as though this was another Maker-damned Circle. You were made allies so you could provide the kind of help that only you can, show the world you’re capable of more than fear-induced chaos. The Inquisition may have forgotten about you, but I certainly haven’t,” she said irritably, crossing her arms over her chest and tapping her foot impatiently.

     “... and what help would you have us provide, Lady Hawke? How are we to prove ourselves?” Fiona replied calmly, offering her a gentle and serene smile, though her eye sparkled with quiet amusement.

     “The Inquisitor is setting up a clinic in Skyhold for its ill and injured, but they lack proper healers. Which is preposterous considering there are supposedly a number of mages here! Surely you have ones that are skilled in Spirit Healing, at least some that have a rudimentary knowledge?” Hawke smoothed a hand over her hair, shooting an unimpressed glare when Alistair snickered at her icy-toned lecture.

     “Champion, I’m sure you’re aware that such affinities are rare and… closely watched. We may have one or two, but I would remind you they’re understandably shaken and afraid to make themselves known, even if they wished to help,” the Grand Enchanter said smoothly, an uncertain smile tugging at her lip when Hawke snorted indifferently and waved a hand.

     “The Circles are gone, and good riddance. They’ve done nothing but instill self-loathing and self-doubt, creating more abominations than I can stomach as a result. Well, I’m putting an end to it; take me to them, they’ll help if I have to box their ears crimson. Ridiculous,” she muttered, waiting as Fiona murmured something to Alistair and led her through the door in the library, winding through corridors and hallways.

     “I admire your passion, Champion. You have more faith in our mages than they do in themselves, even if you have a rather acidic way of expressing it sometimes,” Fiona observed, glancing discreetly at Hawke who scrunched her nose and huffed.

     “I lost far more mages than I could save in Kirkwall; I know their fear, their inexperience. But freedom isn’t respect. Respect is earned, and that’s what will ensure they’ll never be imprisoned again,” Hawke said quietly, eyes narrowed with stubborn determination when the Enchanter led them to a large and open study, where several mages were milling about casually; reading, studying, chatting amongst themselves.

     “Excuse me friends, but I’ve brought the Champion of Kirkwall to speak with you. It seems our help is needed,” Fiona said politely, bowing her head and smiling when everyone stopped and looked at Hawke; some surprised, some suspicious, some angry, some in awe, and all curious.

     “We already helped,” one young man said defensively, shrinking under Hawke’s sudden and disapproving glare.

     “That’s it, you intend to rest on your laurels from here on out? Enjoy safety and luxury without earning it? Who among you are Spirit Healers?” she demanded stonily, roaming the room and noting each and every reaction carefully. “You’re under the Inquisition’s protection now, there are no templars to smite you here.”

     Finally after several moments of tense silence, one man and one woman raised their hands reluctantly.

     “Good, any others that have knowledge of healing? Spells, potions, anything like that,” she continued, smirking slightly when a few more hands were raised. “Better. And who among you would like to learn? It’s been my calling for two decades, and I’d be happy to share what I know.”

     At that several more hands were raised, and Hawke’s expression relaxed even further. “Excellent. Skyhold will be opening a clinic, and you’ll be the ones running it.” The mages exchanged doubtful glances, murmuring amongst themselves until Hawke cleared her throat loudly. “Are there objections?”

     “The Inquisitor may have sided with us, but they don’t trust us, my lady. We’ve seen the looks, heard the whispers, the blatant prejudice and fear,” a young woman spoke up, meeting Hawke’s eyes uncertainly.

     “Trust is earned, so time to start earning it,” the Champion said with a knowing smile, crossing her arms over her chest and raising her chin. “You’re capable of much more than anyone’s ever given you credit for. You are powerful, and you can be a blessing to these people. Show them, and in turn show yourselves.”

     “The Inquisitor put her faith in us, as does the Champion. She’s right; we should do what we can to protect them, as much as they are protecting us,” Fiona said gently, straightening her shoulders and eliciting a small smile from Hawke.

     “Of course, I’ll help however I can. We all will,” a brunette woman replied with a smile, one of the Spirit Healers.

     “Good, your jobs begin now. We just received a dozen wounded; I’ve done what I can in the meantime, but they’ll need further care. Spirit Healers, consult with the surgeon directly. The rest of you… roll up your sleeves and prepare to work. Time to show the world what we’re capable of, in the best way I know how,” Hawke grinned widely, waving them over as the mages quickly stood up and followed her out of the study.

     “Are you certain you know what you’re doing, Champion?” Fiona murmured discreetly as she walked beside Hawke, leading her back through the library.

     “Positive. The more they show their faces, the quicker they’ll be accepted, seen as real allies. No one else can do what we do, Enchanter; save lives as well as take them,” she smiled, looping their arms and patting Fiona’s gently. “How’s your talk been going with your son?”

     “Far better than I could have hoped,” the Enchanter sighed shakily, squeezing Hawke’s arm with her own. “I’m loathe to admit you were right, again.”

     “Of course I was, you never know what tomorrow may bring; better to take the risk and live without regret,” Hawke said easily, unhooking their arms when they returned to the library, where Alistair waited patiently and rifled through a book. “Now go on, I’ve got this in hand.”

     Fiona looked back at the trail of apostates behind them, pausing to object before sighing and relenting, a small and warm smile spreading on her lips as she sat back down beside the Warden.

     Hawke hummed to herself happily, clipping down the stairs and stopping when Solas turned around and watched the impromptu parade quizzically.

     “Lady Hawke, what are you doing?” he asked reluctantly, a trace of amusement in his voice as his eyes grazed over a dozen nervous but excited faces.

     “Me? Proving a revolution is worth the cost paid for it,” she quipped, smiling casually under the elf’s subtle and shrewd discernment. With that she quickly motioned to the apostates and continued out into the Great Hall, both aware of and indifferent to the pale blue eyes that followed her as she disappeared through the door.

 

 

       

Chapter Text


 

 

    It was a long and sleepless night for Hawke after she was finished with the apostates; demonstrating her skills, instructing the mages, encouraging them to give as much compassion as they hoped to receive. They were far more receptive than she’d thought, and seemed grateful to be given a purpose within the Inquisition. She agreed to continue their lessons the next day, and left the two Spirit Healers to organize a schedule for them.

    And as happy as she was to see those seeds planted, something began to tug in the back of her mind; memories that threatened to turn into nightmares. She needed that clinic up and running and out of her hair as soon as possible, or she’d risk losing more than a few nights’ sleep. She’d better see about getting some sleeping potions, just in case.

    But as always, she shoved it as far down as she could, and painted a smile on her face when she entered Solas’ study the next morning; tray in hand with another assortment of food and drink. “Good morning, Master Solas,” she said congenially, placing the feast on his desk once he made a small gesture of assent. “Are you still available for another chat?”

    “Lady Hawke,” he nodded politely, pouring them both a small cup of wine. “I am.”

    It was then that she noticed the stool had been replaced with an actual chair, and her eyes twinkled at the sight, taking a seat and accepting the cup gratefully. “Thank you. What shall we discuss today?” she asked before taking a slow sip of honey wine. Cabot seemed to be enjoying the clandestine service he’d agreed to; she’d have to get him more cookies for the effort.

    He took in a slow and careful breath, slender fingers wrapping around his cup as he watched her with a blank expression. “... spirits,” he finally replied, tilting his head to observe her reaction.

    “What about them?” she asked casually, reaching forward for a few ripe berries, and leaned back comfortably against the chair; much better than a stool. And perhaps an indicator of his willingness to talk for more than a few minutes?

    “Cole informed me you’ll be opening up a clinic in Skyhold. He’s taken quite a shine to you, it seems.” His words were light and lilting with the accent that tickled her ears so much, but she saw how delicately they were drawn. Every word on purpose, for a purpose. “He says he answered your call, that you know him.”

    Hawke scrunched her nose and smiled as she took a quiet sip, a soft sigh escaping her lips as she thought about the strange spirit-boy she’d met the day before. “He did. Funny thing about spirits; I never know who’ll answer.”

    She couldn’t help but notice an odd glint in his eye at her response. “You believe he is a spirit then?”

    “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked with a confused frown. “I’ve never seen one like him, and I doubt I will again, but all the signs are there.”

    “Are they?” he asked, almost innocently, but she felt the sharpness of his gaze as swiftly as if he’d slapped her across the face.

    Hawke opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it again, gathering her thoughts. “Well… yes. He knew I was calling when I pressed against the Fade, only a spirit would recognize it as such, I’m not sure another mage would. His aura was nothing like a mage’s either; it was alternately thicker and thinner. It… pulsed, ebbed and flowed in a way I’ve never felt before. Usually other mages are rigid, static. I acknowledged him as a spirit of Compassion and he was relieved, comforted. If nothing else I think the last gave him away.”

    Solas tilted his chin downwards, the slightest curve to his mouth offering a bare but genuine smile as he reached for a slice of white cheese. “It would seem so.”

    She nodded, curling her legs underneath herself and popping another couple berries in her mouth. “He wanted to help, and they needed it. I’m glad he showed up when he did.”

    “Some of the Inquisitor’s companions consider him an abomination. They think he should be destroyed, or at the least watched very closely,” he commented, tipping his head to the other side, eyes narrowing as he continued to discern her responses.

    Hawke groaned softly and rolled her eyes, letting out a derisive chuckle after taking another drink. “Of course, prejudiced idiots. What do they think he’ll do? Comfort everyone to death?”

    A soft laugh escaped the elf’s lips before he could stop it, and she saw the faintest glimmer in his eyes. “You’re rather harsh on your people.”

    “They’re not my people. That kind of hateful ignorance is precisely what I spent years fighting against,” she muttered, pursing her lips tightly and shifting in the chair before exhaling slowly. “But I’m perfectly aware of my bias in such matters.”

    “Yes, I’ve heard you’re an apostate from birth. Are you what they call a hedge mage; your magic is natural, untainted?”

    “Not sure what you mean by untainted, but doubtful. Nor am I a Circle mage. I’m something in between; too wild for the Circles and too controlled to be considered ‘untamed’. Story of my life, I suppose,” she quipped, pausing and frowning for a moment as she picked up a slice of warm bread, something in his words catching in the back of her mind.

    “And is that why you chose not to use a staff?” His tone was curious rather than condescending, and a twinkle appeared in her eye at his words.

    “Aha! So you were there. I thought I saw you,” she replied with a mischievous smirk.

    His eyebrow arched ever so slightly and she imagined a matching smirk tugging the edge of his mouth, though it didn’t so much as twitch. “With the raucous you made, I half-expected to see Skyhold under attack.”

    “I suppose fireballs might’ve been a bit excessive, but did you see the way she charged at me? She was hardly holding back!” she exclaimed with a laugh, picking up her cup of wine and taking a slow sip. “Still, it was a brilliant match. It’s been years since I’ve met an opponent like her.”

    “Yes, she’s made a formidable ally in the field,” Solas nodded, tapping his finger on his cup thoughtfully before tilting his head and drawing his gaze back towards her. “You didn’t answer my question.”

    “Hm, what question?”

    “Why didn’t you use a staff?”

    Hawke frowned for a moment before offering an indifferent shrug. “I couldn’t use one for the better part of my life. A staff in the open is as good as a death sentence so I’m used to going without. Haven’t you? The Inquisitor mentioned you were an apostate as well.”

    Solas’ back stiffened at the question, before relaxing and waving a dismissive hand. “We’re all apostates now. And you have the Inquisition’s protection, you didn’t consider acquiring one?”

    “They may call me Champion in Skyhold, but out there I’m still a rebel mage. The rebel mage, if you believe the Chantry,” she sighed, a tinge of sadness in her smile. “A war still rages, and I’m not safe outside these walls. I’m still not sure I’m safe within.”

    “No?” he asked, a line or two appearing on his brow as he put the cup down.

    Hawke’s expression sobered, and for a moment a shadow swept across her eyes as she pinched her lips. Then just as swiftly it was gone, and she gave him an easy smile. “A hole in the sky, a divine elven savior who closed it, a fortress drenched in old magics. Who knows what that might attract, or whom.”

    “Indeed.” Solas looked at her quietly for a couple beats before leaning back into his chair, fingertips pressed together. “The strength of your spells didn’t seem to suffer. Simply an adjustment on your part, more effort in your throughput?”  

    A tickling thrill shot up her spine and she grinned widely, leaning forward as she began to pour herself a cup of tea. “No, that’d be inefficient. I’ve learned to pull my aura in, keep it close like a second skin. Don’t get as much power as I would from a staff but--”

    “-- but it eliminates strain on your part, allows more flexibility. Which would explain the extra flourishes with your spells. For the crowd, I assume?” he asked, unable to fight meeting her grin with a small smile of his own.

    Hawke nodded, hardly able to contain her excitement at a chance to talk magic with another mage, particularly a fellow apostate. In-depth talks were so rare, she reveled in them.

    “It would also explain why I can’t feel it at this proximity. Useful to avoid detection from templars. Clever.” Solas’ smile remained even though his lips pinched at the ends, his hands dropping towards his lap. “Yesterday you asked Dorian about dreams. You said you dream consciously on a regular basis. Have you ever explored the Fade?”

   Her head jerked at his inquiry, eyes narrowing sharply as she straightened herself, and leaned on a cushioned arm. “How do you know that? Were you-- could you hear us from all the way up there?” she asked with a mixture of suspicion and wonder, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth when he met her gaze with a silent and knowing twinkle. “... no. Really? No . I can’t-- so it’s true what they say about elven senses?”

    “What do they say?” he asked casually, resting his head on a couple slender fingers, eyes even brighter than before. Goodness, that smile was almost beguiling, she hoped to see it more often.

    “That they’re more sensitive than shems like me. I’d thought it was true, but when I asked my friend she simply patted my hand and smiled. Perhaps that was answer enough,” she chuckled, eyes crinkling with amusement as she thought of Merrill. “Then again the Dalish do hold their secrets dear.”

    His eyes grew dim at her last words and his lips pursed gently, fingers pressing into his temple a bit harder. “... yes. They’re little better than your Chantry regarding ignorance and close-mindedness.”

    “Mm, now who has harsh opinions of their people?” she teased, the smile immediately dropping from her lips when his eyes flashed at her coldly.

    “They are not my people,” he said flatly, with an unmistakable vein of bitterness.

    “Ir abelas, I didn’t mean to offend,” she said softly, feeling that first itch of curiosity growing in spite of herself. Neither Dalish, nor a city elf as far as she could tell. What was left? “I have little knowledge of elves outside of alienages or my Dalish friend. Forgive my ignorant assumption?”

    Solas drew in a long and quiet breath, his eyes distant as he fell into a sullen silence. And just when it was bordering awkward and she was about to excuse herself, they came back into focus and he looked at her with what might have almost been a smile if she squinted hard enough. “... I will. Did your friend teach you that phrase?” he asked finally, his shoulders relaxing and his eyes losing their icy chill.

    “She taught me some Elvish yes, the rest I’ve worked out on my own,” Hawke said wryly, fighting a smile as she took another sip. “It seemed improper to only know curses and apologies.”

    “Curses?”

    “I may have learned their meaning simply through repetition. ‘Fen’Harel ma halam, how could you be so reckless?!’ He never came, I declared it was proof it’s all a myth. Then she snapped that even he wouldn’t have me, that’s how terrible I was. She was such a sweet and innocent flower when we first met, think we’ve been a bad influence on her,” she mused with a smile, scratching her chin and sighing wistfully. She’d have to give her elf friend a visit soon. Perhaps she could see how much longer the Inquisitor would be before they continued their search for the wardens.

    Another husky chuckle escaped Solas’ lips despite his features tightening and and eyes growing distant. “Even the Dread Wolf wouldn’t have you? Terrible indeed.”

   “In all fairness I did set a city on fire… twice. And started a war between mages and templars. And didn’t kill an ancient magister darkspawn properly so he could come back and try to destroy the world... She had reason to be distraught,” Hawke admitted, clearing her throat gently when he leaned forward, his gaze suddenly intent and intense.

    “You’re easily distracted, Lady Hawke. You failed to answer yet another of my questions,” he scolded gently, mirth beginning to relax his expression once more.

    “Did I?”

    “Yes. Have you explored the Fade in your dreams?”

    “As much as I’m capable of,” she answered, pulling off a piece of bread and squishing it flat in her fingers before continuing, “Sometimes I can stretch the boundaries and the dream will twist into something new. Sometimes I’m led back to ‘centre stage’, and even more rarely I can ask for the backdrop to change. Depends on who’s around to hear me.”

    “You had mentioned your father dreamt as often as you do, but your sister less so. They were also mages?”

    “Yes.” Hawke shifted in her seat again and rubbed her cheek, unsure of how she should feel about Solas’ eavesdropping. Or had he? Perhaps he couldn’t help but hear her conversations.

    “Three mages in one family, that doesn’t seem a common occurrence nowadays,” he observed with mild interest, taking another sip of wine, and she noticed how much looser his posture had become. It was as if he was at ease, almost comfortable in her presence.

    “I… well, I suppose not. Hadn’t given it much thought to be honest, but magic does run in the family; my cousin’s also a mage, as were her four siblings.” She frowned slightly at the recollection, staring into her cup before taking a silent sip. It’d just been another tale of family drama, further instilling fear of Circles; she took for granted how unusual it might look from the outside.

    “Yes, you mentioned setting the world on fire and your cousin coming to reprimand you. The Hero of Ferelden is your cousin? The one who stopped the most recent Blight?”

    “Mhm, though it’s not common knowledge. Well, not exactly,” she said reluctantly, draining the last of her tea and moving to finish off the remainder of her wine.

    Solas’ eyes became distant as he withdrew into thought, and she shut her own tight as she fought a yawn. Maybe one of the apostates could make her a sleeping potion. “You are… unusual.”

    Hawke scratched her jaw and shrugged, offering him a nonchalant smile. “Not the first time I’ve heard that.”

    “Somehow I’m not surprised,” he said dryly, taking in a breath to continue when a few of the apostates came down the stairs and gave her expectant smiles. “Ah. Time to return to your clinic?”

    “ Not my clinic,” she muttered under her breath, giving him a knowing sidelong glance when he offered a bare nod in acknowledgement. “The Inquisition’s. Should’ve had one from the start. Idiots .”

    He cleared his throat gently and fought off a smile as grumpiness briefly washed over her face, waving a hand when she reached to pick up their plate. “No need, I’ll return it later,” he said serenely, idly picking up the last slice of cheese.

    Hawke jerked her head in surprise, moving her hands away and looked at the patient mages with a groan, stretching her arms above her head as she stood up. Maker’s Balls, what had she gotten herself into? “Alright folks, let’s see what you remembered from last night. Master Solas, a pleasure as always.”

    “Lady Hawke,” he nodded politely, a smile tugging on his lips as she motioned impatiently for the apostates to exit the study. “Until tomorrow.”

    “Any requests for breakfast?” she asked casually, though her eyes lit up devilishly at his words. He gave the expectation, not the invitation, of her presence. Maybe he was more than tolerating her.

    Solas paused as if in thought, before resting his head on a slender finger. “Soft-boiled eggs and a slice of bread.”

    “Salt or pepper?”

    “Salt.”

    Hawke bowed her head gracefully as the last mage exited the study. “Until tomorrow.” And as she turned away and entered the Great Hall, her face slowly transformed into one of mischievous delight. And there Varric was, doubting her charms.

    “Hawke,” the dwarf called out softly, gesturing for her to come closer. “... what’re you doing with those mages?”

    “Teaching them how to run a clinic,” she quipped dryly, raising her hands slightly at his disapproving frown. “Wasn’t my idea, well… maybe it was, but I couldn’t just sit idly by and do nothing.”

    Varric sighed and shook his head, pressing a couple thick fingers along his brow before meeting her gaze with a warm smile. “You never can, it’s almost compulsive.”

    “I’m a giver, what can I say,” she said loftily, squeezing the back of her neck as she looked across the hall. Josephine had given them a room just off the courtyard, and she couldn’t have asked for a better place herself. Nothing like a garden to walk about in while recovering. At least the Inquisition was quick to correct such a blatant oversight. “Anyway, I better get back to it. They’re not a bad lot, but they’re still a bit helpless. Or hapless. Maybe both.”

    “I’m sure you’ll beat it out of them quick enough,” the dwarf smirked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Don’t forget to come and see me. You’ve taken the time to visit with everyone else, I won’t be neglected.”

    “As if I would ever do that,” Hawke scoffed, giving him a fond smile before making her way towards the courtyard. “Come to the tavern tonight, we can share a drink or three, maybe even play a few rounds of Wicked Grace.”

    “You’re a terrible gambler, Hawke. I’d hate to fleece you of all your coins, aren’t you a pauper now?” he quipped, though he nodded in assent, rubbing his hands together with anticipation.

    “Exile and poverty are different. I haven’t been a pauper in over a decade, thank you very much,” she sniffed haughtily, turning back to give him a disgruntled smile. “Besides, I’ve been getting better. Might last two or three rounds before you drain me dry.”

    Varric rolled his eyes and chuckled huskily as she disappeared through the door, lingering on it before staring through the massive open doors of the Great Hall. “Maker’s Balls, I’ve missed you,” he murmured, a shaky and wistful breath escaping his lips as he looked down at the grounds. “Almost like being home.”

 

    A few hours later, Hawke could be seen perched on the ramparts in front of her tower; a large journal propped in her lap, scribbling furiously in it as she stared at the view below. The clinic was under way, and despite her scandalous ideas regarding spirit healing, she could feel the apostates’ minds begin to turn. Perhaps there was hope for them yet. Their patients were doing much better under their combined efforts with the surgeon, and she hoped it wouldn’t be too long before she could absent herself permanently. Too many memories pushed their way to the surface in that room; memories she did her best to keep buried under lock and key.

    She blew a soft breath and shrugged her shoulders, fighting the impulse to fall further into those thoughts, and focused her eyes back on the open pages. She needed a break from the hustle and bustle, and a high perch was the best place for her to enjoy some quiet. That was, until a velvety voice broke her musings.

    “Lady Hawke,” Lavellan said gently, biting her lip when the mage yelped and gripped the ramparts tightly.

    “Andraste’s tits, you too? Must all elves be silent as the grave? You’re going to give me a heart attack,” Hawke chuckled, brow furrowing as the slender elf approached. “What can I do for you, Inquisitor?”

    “I just came from the clinic, it seems everything is well in hand. Are you content with the upgrade?” she asked with a small smile, clasping her hands behind her back.

    “I am, though I’ll be happier when I can trust the apostates to run it on their own,” the mage replied dryly, tilting her journal when the Inquisitor peered over her arm curiously. “Just a bit of sketching. Helps to clear my head.”

    Lavellan looked at the drawings discerningly, and made a soft noise of surprise at the smattering of rough portraits over the large parchment pages. “... Cole. The likeness is uncanny, I had no idea you were an artist.”

    “I’m not an artist, I merely scribble,” Hawke chuckled, flipping the pages back slowly to share similar portraits of the other characters in Skyhold. “But a life in hiding can be dull sometimes, helps to pass the time. At least that’s what my father told me when he first gave me parchment.”

    “I can’t say I have experience with hiding, but I do know what it’s like to be on the move, with only your family as company,” the Inquisitor said with a knowing smile, taking a seat on top of the ramparts next to her.

    “Strange thing, don’t you think? A Dalish elf as the Inquisitor. They’re treating you as some Andrastian savior, what do you make of all that?” Hawke asked, her tone light and casual, but her eyes were sharp as she turned towards the elf, and flipped to a new page in her journal.

    “That’s a mild way of putting it, considering I’m neither Andrastian nor a divine savior,” the Inquisitor sighed, tensing for a moment when she realized that Hawke was watching her intently, and her hand began to dance along the page. “... am I your new subject?”

    “Why not? You’re here,” the mage shrugged, licking her lower lip and smiling wryly when the elf gave her an uncertain frown. “So you don’t buy into the hype that the Inquisition is spreading about you?”

    “Hardly, though it does seem to sway the minds of those who might help us. Not you though,” Lavellan observed wryly, leaning back comfortably as her eyes scanned the grounds.

   “I’m not Andrastian. And my history with the Chantry is… tense at best. Outright hostile at worst,” Hawke smirked, shaking her head as she smoothed a slender finger over the page, gently smudging the markings she’d just made.

    “Is that why you still haven’t met Madame de Fer? Not that she’s entirely eager to meet you either, but your avoidance is obvious,” the elf observed mirthfully, clearing her throat and fighting a smile when Hawke arched an eyebrow, though her focus remained on the sketch.

    “Somehow I imagine it wouldn’t go well, given what I’ve heard of her,” she said mildly, raising her eyes and narrowing them suddenly, her gaze inscrutable and intense as she took in every detail of her new subject.

    “I don’t know, you’ve managed to charm most everyone here, rather effortlessly it seems. Then again, you are the woman fabled to have brought a city to its knees, I suppose a single fortress is child’s play,” the Inquisitor teased, noting the way Hawke’s lips tugged at the right.

    Hawke fell silent for a few moments, sniffing indifferently when she returned to her sketch. “Epic and dramatic description, to be certain. I accomplished nothing alone, and I would be nothing without those around me.”

    Lavellan made a quiet noise of approval, tilting her head towards the sky as she smiled thoughtfully to herself. “Yes, I understand that sentiment all too well. I wouldn’t be where I am now without my companions, advisors, all the brave souls that have reached out to help us.”

    “You’re grateful, good. You acknowledge the contribution of others, also good. Perhaps I needn’t worry about you after all.” Hawke’s brow furrowed, and she tapped the slender lead idly against her cheek as she tried to decide what to do next.

    “You were worried?” the elf replied with amusement, though she gave a short nod. “I can understand why. The Inquisition grows daily, and they’ve put me at the head. A dangerous and precarious position.”

    “Yes, I’ve seen too many succumb to delusion and destruction, wielding so much power,” she replied, looking up and staring at the Inquisitor intently, as though searching the very depths of her soul. “And I’ve seen too many turn a blind eye and allow them to continue down that path, to the ruin of all.”

    Lavellan flushed slightly and cleared her throat again, though she met the Champion’s gaze steadily. “But you wouldn’t?” she asked with a mix of interest and admiration.

    “It’s not in my nature, self-destructive as that might have been,” Hawke said bluntly, though her eyes began to twinkle gently.

    “And if you’d found me wanting, given my newfound position… you would have what, stopped me?”

    “Without question,” the mage shrugged, the barest of smiles painting her lips as she fell back to her sketch. “Maybe it’s foolish, and excessively dangerous according to my furry-chested friend, but someone has to stand up to corruption and injustice, even if I’m the worst possible candidate to do so.”

    Lavellan laughed quietly and let out a wistful sigh, leaning forward and resting her forearms on her legs. “I don’t take offense to your caution, in fact I appreciate it. It’s good to know at least one person will stand in my way if I begin to teeter over that ledge. But I promise you, I’ve no interest in power. I’m here because no one else would do it, no one else wanted to.”

    “True, I can’t imagine anyone who’d want your job,” Hawke smirked, squeezing the back of her neck tightly before giving the elf a friendly wink.

    “I’d almost forgotten; Lady Cassandra and Leliana searched for you first, didn’t they? You and your cousin. I can only imagine if one of you had arrived, I wouldn’t be here now,” the Inquisitor murmured thoughtfully, tilting her head as she tried to peer at the mage’s work.

    The Champion caught the Inquisitor’s attempt and sniffed, tilting the journal out of view before giving her a scolding look. “You can see it when I’m done. And yes, they searched for us, though neither of us were having it. First they tried to villainize me, then they wanted me to save them? Let them clean up their own damned messes, we saw how well I did the last time I tried,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes and sighing at the amused look on the Inquisitor’s face. “... I know, but I’m trying. I know what happened at the Conclave, I know what people lost, I know this has become bigger than any one of us. Logically, I know that.”

    “The Chantry forced you from your home, attempted to lay the blame when all you did was try to fix a mess years in the making. I would feel the same way if they’d done that to me,” Lavellan smiled empathetically, lacing her fingers together as Hawke finished up the last details. “It’s not easy to be a mage in Thedas, whether you’re Dalish or Circle or apostate. And I share your views, your conviction. No one should be made prisoners or slaves, feared or loathed because of what they are. It’s no better than the way people treat elves. There must be a better way, and we’ll find it.”

    “... I like you, Inquisitor,” Hawke said after a while, offering her a crooked and rueful smile. “Varric wasn’t wrong about you. You’re here because if you don’t do it, no one else will. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders, though admittedly I trust the Dalish far more than I trust the Chantry.”

    “A rare sentiment, but it doesn’t go unappreciated. Then again my clan was thought to be far too liberal when it came to relationships with ‘outsiders’. We believe in cooperation, understanding. We aren’t less as a people because we’re open,” Lavellan shared generously, a smile stretching her face to mirror the Champion’s.

    “I wish more Dalish were like your clan. There was so much I could’ve learned about magic,” she sighed, tucking the lead behind her ear and turning the journal around to share her creation. “So, what do you think?”

    Lavellan made a surprised noise, eyes widening as she leaned forward to inspect the large sketch of herself, resting casually on the stone ramparts. “... I’m impressed, Champion. It certainly looks like me.”

    “That’s the point, shouldn’t look like anyone else,” Hawke chuckled, taking in a slow breath as she watched the people milling below. Something about the noise and bustle felt comforting, reminding her of better days.

    “May I keep it?” the elf asked after a thoughtful pause, a strange smile on her face as she tilted her head and drew her gaze back to the Champion.

    Hawke jerked her head back in surprise, but a small smile stretched her lips as she carefully tore the page and handed it to the Inquisitor. “Of course, consider it yours,” she answered, closing the journal and winding it shut with a long, thin leather string.

    “So are your concerns assuaged, at least for now?” the elf asked, hopping off the stone wall with the mage, carefully bending the paper in two so it would avoid creasing.

   “They are. Though I’d meant to ask, are you intending to pursue the wardens in the near future, or will there be an opportunity for some brief travels?”

    Inquisitor Lavellan groaned and ran her fingers along the shaved side of her head. “Mm, unfortunately the wardens will have to wait for a while. The list of missions I need to complete become more bloated every day. And I’ll have to do some travelling myself, so I’m sure we can coordinate our absences. I know we have you tethered here for the moment, but your presence has been a breath of fresh air.”

    “There are worse places to linger in. Trust me, I’ve been to most of them,” Hawke said wryly, bumping arms with the Inquisitor congenially as they made their way towards the stairs next to the tavern. “You have quite the array of colorful characters here, it certainly prevents things from becoming too dull.”

    “True, I enjoy visiting with them as much as you seem to,” Lavellan agreed, smiling as she placed her hands behind her back. “And I’d forgotten to mention, did you know Sister Nightingale has forwarded a letter to the Hero of Ferelden? Alistair told her how to contact her, apparently.”

    “Warden Amell? Goodness, let’s hope she can at least be civil, if she bothers to reply at all,” the mage smirked, nose scrunching at the thought of how infuriated her cousin would be that Alistair told the Inquisition of her location. “The only real help she can offer is pulling us out of the fire if we fail, and yelling at the lot of us for being hopeless, useless and altogether incompetent.”

    Lavellan laughed, her voice tinkling like bells, and she shook her head in amusement. “I should very much like to meet your cousin, as harsh as you make her sound.”

    “I’m being diplomatic and polite about my descriptions. She hasn’t had an easy life, and knows far more about the harsh realities of being a Circle mage and the overwhelming pressure of carrying the lives of thousands on her back than anyone else might, except perhaps yourself. It’s made her blunt and jaded and altogether anti-social, but I trust her beyond question. There is nothing she can’t do, no world she couldn’t save if she wanted to.” Hawke’s eyes grew distant as she looked beyond the horizon, rubbing her arm idly and letting out a shaky sigh.

    “High praise indeed, and the way you talk… I can’t help but believe it. She wouldn’t consider visiting at least, would she? After all, you and her husband are here,” Lavellan offered tentatively, resulting in a laugh and a groan at the idea. “I know she’s on a mission of her own, but…”

    “Inquisitor, don’t even consider it unless you’re willing to be de-throned, and witness the Inquisition turn into an army that would conquer all of Thedas. In the name of order and justice, of course,” Hawke said dryly, running a hand along her hair idly. But at the Inquisitor’s amused chuckle, the mage simply slowly arched a delicate eyebrow. “... I’m being perfectly serious. If you can’t do it with a growing army, you’ll leave her no other choice, and she’ll never trust Thedas to take care of itself again.”

    “So she’d rule? And you were talking about taking a stand against corruption and those who misuse their power.”

    “She’s incorruptible. She doesn’t want power, she doesn’t even want the responsibility, but she wants peace and order. She would do what was necessary for the greater good, and she’d be a just ruler… if a snarky and angry one,” the Champion smirked, clipping down the steps with a soft hum. “I was planning to meet Varric in the tavern for some drinks and Wicked Grace, would you consider joining us?”

“Perhaps next time, Lady Hawke. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and my next outing to organize, but I would enjoy being able to chat with you again,” Lavellan smiled, pausing in front of the open door, the raucous noise of the patrons inside invitingly audible.

“Well, you know where I am,” Hawke smirked, offering her a half-bow before she turned towards the Chargers who were currently yelling at her to join them. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe there’s a bottle of wine calling my name.”

The Inquisitor chuckled and nodded as she made her way back to the Great Hall, a small smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye as she mulled over their talk. “... I hope I can convince you to stay. The hold wouldn’t be quite the same without you now, Champion.”