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The tavern door bursts open and Hawke flinches despite himself, fingers twitching where they’re curled around the cup of wine. “Is Sister Miriam here?!” a woman’s voice shouts behind him. “We need a healer!”

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. They’re not after him. To his left a man hops off a stool and goes to help. “The sister’s away until tomorrow, what happened?”

“Damned mages started a huge blaze in the forest. Crocker stayed behind to save his stupid horse and look what happened to him.”

“Oh, Maker, that’s not good. Here, let’s find somewhere to lay him down.”

The tavern door swings shut again and Hawke takes a sip of wine. No, they weren’t after him. But somebody else is.

It wasn’t so bad for a while, after the initial furor died down, the Chantry livid with him for killing dozens of Kirkwall templars, the countryside swarming with their agents, sellswords, even bounty hunters eager to claim the price on his head. Then the Chantry’s attention was wrenched back to their own ugly conflict as Circles in the North and South alike began to erupt into chaos, and the sellswords’ contracts ran and the bounty hunters got tired of not finding him. So things were all right for year or two and he even helped out here and there, not by healing the sick or bringing prosperous harvests or anything like that. He can’t do that anymore, not really.

He killed people, though, the ones who preyed on the innocent. Bandits were easy, mages not terribly difficult. Templars were harder but he’s a fast learner. Then word got round and people began to recognize him and the damned war won’t bloody stop so now he’s hunted again.

And since they’re already on him, there’s no harm in stopping in at the Crossroads tavern for a cup of wine.

Hawke keeps his eyes down but his ears open, listening for the table at the right wall. Can’t make much out, and he’s already counted them anyway, three men and three women in total. Only a pair here now for reconnaissance, unarmed. It would be advantageous to kill them right here—but of course there are a dozen other patrons sitting in the tavern and they might get hurt or spread the word or something like that.

So instead Hawke drains his cup, drops a few coins on the bar, and slides off his stool, heading for the door.

——

They come in the late evening.

Hawke had thought they might so he’s still awake, teeth gritted, boots dangling, pulling himself up until his beard brushes the branch. A twig snaps nearby in a most familiar fashion. He pulls himself up once more and then drops, arms aching, skin hot and flushed with blood. That’s good.

Six templars at the edges of the clearing, his horse pawing at the ground, six with swords drawn and firelight glinting dully off their unpolished armor. Hawke scans them, catching the faces of those whose helmets lack visors. Young, mostly, three of them, a fourth in middle age. And here they all are, ready to die.

“Took you long enough,” Hawke says, wiping the sweat from his brow. “What’s wrong? Were you nervous?”

“Fuck off,” one of them hisses, a young man missing a spaulder. “You know how many mages we’ve killed?”

“You know how many—“ Hawke shuts his mouth. Shouldn’t be goading them at all, really. “Listen. If you all turn around and leave right now, I’m happy to let you go. We don’t have to do this.”

The young man chuckles. “The great Rowan Hawke, scared of six templars? How the mighty have fallen.”

“I’m trying to save your life, you stupid boy,” Hawke snaps. “My magic isn’t the type that leaves survivors.”

“Yeah, we’ve seen it. Maleficar.”

A light breeze winds through the trees, cooling the sweat on Hawke’s bare chest. It would be a beautiful evening if he weren’t about to murder six templars, six more templars on top of all the rest.

“We’re ready.” The young man raises his sword. “Been hunting you. Tracking you for weeks.”

We know.

“I know,” Hawke says.

There’s a second’s silence broken only by the low, soft sigh of the wind, the whispering of the leaves above. The templars stand in the gloom like ghosts, hovering by the avenues of trees like Meredith’s faithful in Kirkwall, those who spilled from the alleyways and advanced upon him and his companions and whom he barely, just barely managed to disable or kill with crackling bolts of electricity or messy blasts of force. He could sense already, there in the streets, that it wouldn’t be enough. Kirkwall was being destroyed, again. Because of his own blindness, again. And again the city looked to him for salvation.

So he delivered it. “You should leave,” Hawke tells the templars, one last time.

“Not a chance,” the man spits.

Hawke reaches for his staff.

It’s leaning against the tree and the wood is smooth and warm under his hand, pulsing faintly with the beat of his own heart. They’re closing from all sides so he slams his staff into the leaves and reaching tendrils in red erupt from the ground, surging after his aggressors, wrapping up their arms and legs. But even blood magic doesn’t hold templars back for long so Hawke must be economical about this. The closest templar is visored and Hawke squeezes his staff, feels the little rips and tears opening up in his palm as blood surges down the haft, lifts the staff and drives the end straight through their tarnished breastplate.

The wood punches through the metal, not with ease but Hawke is forceful enough to get it out the other side in one go. He rips the staff out and a fountain of blood follows, rushing over him, ready and waiting. He reaches out and it imitates him gladly, pouring into the shape of a hand, grasping the next templar and squeezing until her armor crumples and her screams gurgle to a stop. That’s how he killed Meredith four years ago, although it took a lot more blood.

Then there’s an awful ringing in his ears, a crushing pressure all around him that forces him to his knees. Damned templars. His blood screams in his veins like it’s trying to evaporate, to turn to steam and float away through his skin.

“Not this time!” The young man, sword clasped in both hands and pointing at the evening sky, just as all the others are doing. “Your foul magic won’t work here!”

Four of them, obviously practiced. Not the best of situations. Hawke gets one of his feet under him and tries to rise. Like lifting stone. His muscles strain so hard he fears they’ll snap. His blood won’t obey him, twisting and roiling inside his body. Fuck, that hurts. There’s a burning in his nose and throat, and he fears he’ll throw up.

Do you need help?

Hawke grits his teeth. Doesn’t much like doing this but he can, he knows how to control it, knows how far he can let it run without putting himself at risk. And there’s not much time before the templars come in and finish the job. Yes, I do.

His chest splits open and the demon comes through.

Not truly his chest but something deep inside, where he intersects with the Veil—something he could feel once with exquisite tactility. Not anymore. Now it just feels like he’s turning a bit inside out. Pride’s power charges down his limbs like the electricity he once wielded, snapping at the templars’ bindings. The crushing pressure starts to erode.

Let’s kill them.

Fine. He rises to his feet and takes a deep breath, and blood bursts from his body.

The templars flinch but do not waver. It doesn’t matter. They’ve never faced a demon like Pride. Hawke sweeps his arms forward and the blood follows him eagerly, lancing through the air jagged and hungry. A dozen red spears pierce the templars’ bodies, impaling them through and through. They scream, lightning crackling from the wounds and racing over their armor. Once upon a time it was a bit horrifying how the electricity would spread over the metal in the blink of an eye, cooking them like pigs on spits; now it’s merely disgusting, and Hawke wrinkles his nose at the grey smoke rises and the smell of seared flesh.

That space inside his chest prickles and swells, and static rises in his throat. Bad sign. All right, he thinks. That’s enough from you.

Very well.

Pride recedes back whence it came, and Hawke looks down at himself, gauging the damage. Shallow cuts coat his chest and ribs, under the dark curled hair. He grimaces. The demon likes to be dramatic. Hawke leans down and picks up his staff. The nearest templar, the young man, seems to be not dead yet. He coughs and twitches, fingers scraping over the dirt.

“I told you to leave.” Hawke steps over him to the campfire. “This didn’t have to happen.”

“You’re an abomination,” the man wheezes.

“And you’re a fool, but only one of us will see tomorrow,” Hawke replies. “Now would you like me to give you a quick death? I imagine those burns aren’t pleasant.”

“Fuck you,” the templar spits.

“Well, I’m afraid you haven’t got a choice.” Hawke reaches down and grasps the air.

The man jerks as blood surges from his body, collecting over Hawke’s fingers and running up his arm until it coats his chest. The cuts feel oddly warm, portals through which the man's blood flows into Hawke. That’s better. The cuts will stay open—blood magic doesn't heal and can't heal—but that fight drained a lot of power out of him and he's trying to make up the cost. He glances at the others, feels no hearts beating, no thudding pulse distending their vessels. No such luck. They're dead already. 

That was easy.

Hawke grimaces. Maybe for you. Damned templars might have had me for a moment there.

In the back of his mind Pride smiles, toothsome, its many eyes glittering. They never had you.

Hawke doesn’t bother to reply. Instead he plucks a rag from his pack and absently dabs at the many shallow cuts. Should he move the camp? It’s in a good location, high up and out of the way. There are six burned corpses, is the only thing. Does he care enough to pick up and go elsewhere? Hawke sighs, pulling a shirt on over his head—black, it doesn't show the blood.

His chest tears open again.

Not his chest but what’s inside. He gasps, collapsing to hands and knees. Sparks crackle from his body in livid purple. What in Oblivion is happening? It’s never tried to take over before. Ever. “Fuck—off!” he manages, straining to contain the demon. But the hole inside him remains stubbornly open, and Pride is pouring through.

Pain rips through his arms, his legs, his face, his entire body. He might shout, isn’t sure for the screaming in his ears, like a typhoon is tearing through the earth around him. His hands feel…strange. He blinks through tears, tries to focus where they’re splayed on the ground. They aren’t his hands anymore. Bloated and purple-black like twilight in summer, swollen claws erupting wretchedly from his fingers. On his forearms the skin stretches around hard, jagged ridges that strain it until they pop through. His head aches, squeezed on all sides, until the crown of his skull disgorges four twisted horns that he can feel corkscrewing out of the bone. His vision bubbles as new eyes emerge, peeking, from his face.

“Stop it,” he groans. Can hardly speak, his tongue too long for his mouth, teeth dividing into fangs. “Why—why are you—“

This isn’t me.

“I’m turning into—“

I am emerging. But it is not of my doing.

“Then go back!”

No answer. Hawke moans, his taloned feet scraping the ground. He can’t turn. Either he’ll become an abomination, a mindless, staggering thing, or Pride will use his body as a portal to pass through the Veil and escape the Fade. Hawke grasps at his chest, feels the claws gouge into him and doesn’t care. “Get back,” he hisses. “Get back!”

It doesn’t happen just like that, but he finds a toehold, a handhold, places where he can pull the split in his chest back together. Beside him the fire crackles softly on, and by the time he’s got the demon under control it’s grown low and needs stoking. Hawke swallows, sweat dripping from his nose and onto his hand—his human hand now, the claws gone, ridges gone, horns gone, all of it back to normal. Back to how it’s supposed to be.

It’s not until he rolls onto his side that he notices the sky. It’s rather more lit-up than it should be at this time of night, and Hawke rises slowly, stumbling over to the tree he was using before to keep fit.

With effort he clambers up the trunk, nearly slipping more than once. His grip is weak. At last he manages to find a view of the sky, obscured somewhat by leaves but clear as he’s going to get. Too damned heavy to climb any further.

There’s a hole in the sky.

Not far, centered over the Frostbacks. Green lightning flashes at its center. Hawke squints. “What is that?” he murmurs.

A tear in the Veil.

Hawke stares at it for another minute. Clouds bunch in around it, illuminated only by the flashes of vivid green light.

Well, fuck.

He begins his descent. Were it anything else he’d head for the Frostbacks and learn what he could, see if he’d be of any use in fixing it. But it’s a tear in the Veil, and if anything can fuck him it’s that. Pride’s never tried to take him over, hasn’t even expressed an interest—just the opposite, actually. It told him that it didn’t like what happened to spirits and demons when they crossed the Veil, how the fundamental differences between this world and the Fade turned them mad or stupid. So Hawke doesn’t think it would try anything if he got near.

But even after seven years he doesn’t trust it, because it’s a demon. He drops to the ground and plucks at his bedroll with tired fingers. Time for a few hours’ sleep; then he’s moving on.

——

“YOU WILL NOT STAND AGAINST THE MAKER’S WILL!”

Hawke arches back as the statue lashes out at him—not far enough; the tip of its limb catches his breastplate and spins him to the ground. Fenris is there at once, greatsword sweeping through the air. The blade catches the limb at the joint and severs it.

“Hawke!” He kneels. “Are you all right?”

Of course not. He’s injured. Fenris is injured; blood seeps from his nose, drips from his gauntlets. Meredith blazes red, traversing the courtyard in a half-second. Fire erupts in her wake. Beneath her Aveline’s block breaks, and she staggers, nearly falling.

“We’re losing,” Hawke whispers.

“Do not give up.” Fenris’s voice does not waver, and he grasps Hawke by the arm, pulling him to his feet. “We’re still alive. We still have a chance. Keep fighting, Hawke.”

Then he’s off, engaging the metal statue again. Hawke leans on his staff, heaving in breaths. Varric is sitting behind one of the columns, face creased with pain. A pool of red widens beneath him. He glances over his shoulder and fires off a quick salvo of shots from his crossbow. Hawke blinks blood out of his eyes and looks up.

He has to do it.

The next minute is an awful blur, a gut-swoop of guilt and the magic that follows, his vessels emptying themselves into the scorched air. He remembers only two things before he collapses. The first is the ridged red hand, Pride’s hand, crushing Meredith to death; and the second is Fenris’s face etched with pain, terrible pain that breaks Hawke’s heart in half.

Then it all goes black.

——

Hawke wakes, displeased.

He tries not to dwell on that memory if he can avoid it, but dreams do what they please, of course. It wasn’t until after their first night together that Hawke turned to blood magic—in the days following his mother’s death, that was it, when he made the choice. And much as he loved Fenris—and he did, more than anything, more than the world—he could never bring himself to try and rekindle their relationship. Fenris wanted to, later on, that was easy enough to tell. But it wouldn’t be right. Hawke already felt guilty concealing his blood magic from his companions, but to enter a romantic relationship with that secret hiding in his closet…

He stands with a sigh, stretching.

There’s a templar camp nearby, and Hawke wants to do some reconnaissance. Could have been there yesterday but there was a rift in the way. The hole in the sky closed up a few weeks back, which was an enormous relief; but the Veil is still…thin, wrong somehow. And the spiky green rifts still hanging about everywhere make him very nervous. That he’s had no further problems with Pride since the sky first opened up doesn’t mean he can let his guard down.

The rifts aren’t his problem. He can’t do anything about them, only the Inquisition can.

Although he heard the Inquisition suffered a serious setback recently. Something about a mountain falling on Haven. Heard they’re not dead, though.

They asked him to come in once, to Haven. He declined. Then they tried to capture him. He declined again. The third time he managed to give them the slip without killing too many of them. That was good.

It’s a beautiful autumn day, and he’s reluctant to get on the road right away, so after breakfast he sits on the dead leaves carpeting the forest floor and takes some time to reinforce his staff. The cords of wood are shrunken and drained. A difficult battle yesterday. Hawke runs his thumb along his forearm and finds a fat vein, opens it up just a little bit. Blood flows over his hand and coils around the staff, soaking into it.

He’s nearly done when a twig snaps in the distance.

Hawke resists the urge to roll his eyes, instead finishing what he’s doing. Past experience has shown him that his pursuers, whoever they are, usually catch up to him sooner or later—his reputation and bounty are both considerable in size—so it’s best to get things over with. The staff is glutted wth blood by the time he rises, the haft firm in his hand and humming with magic. Harder than dwarven steel, and it’ll punch through plate armor like parchment.

The Inquisition approaches out of the woods. Only four soldiers, bearing the emblem of the eye. Persistent fuckers. A hooded figure cloaked in black several yards behind them. The soldiers’ weapons aren’t drawn, but the figure makes Hawke’s instincts flare and his heartbeat jump. No reason for it—they’re plainly not a templar, and not much else can threaten him—but the back of his mind echoes with danger.

“Ser Hawke!” A young redheaded dwarf woman, and she holds out her hand. “My name is Harding. We’d like to ask you to come to Skyhold. The Inquisitor wants to meet you.”

“The Inquisitor?” Hawke lifts an eyebrow, attempting calm. “Since when have you had one of those?”

“Not long. We decided to give the Herald the title after she saved us from Corypheus. And the dragon.”

“The dragon,” Hawke mutters, rubbing his eyes. Of course there’s a dragon. “Well, please let her known that I’m going to decline her invitation. Again.”

“Would it help if I told you Varric wants to see you?” she asks.

Hawke is quiet. Not sure if he wants to see Varric. No fault of Varric’s, of course. But the guilt might overwhelm him. “I’m sorry. The answer’s still no.”

Harding regards him, lips pressed together as if deciding whether or not to speak. “Are you really sure?” she tries. “Varric’s not the only one looking for you.”

Hawke waves a hand. “Yes, I’m aware. Templars, bounty hunters, stray demons, everybody and their dog seems to be hunting me.”

“Well, yeah. And him.” Harding points over her shoulder at the cloaked figure, who’s closer now. With one gloved hand they push their hood back.

Hawke nearly drops his staff. “Fenris?” he splutters.

It’s Fenris.

He looks lean and strong, skin darkened by sun. His hair is different now, shaved close on the sides, the rest pulled into a ponytail at the crown of his head. His green eyes are bright in the autumn sunlight, steady as ever or steadier, fixed on Hawke. There’s no anguish in his face, no confusion or desperation, nothing remotely similar to the mess of heartache eating itself in Hawke’s chest. The only thing there is the mildest disdain. That’s all. That’s all.

“Come with us or I kill you right here.” Fenris reaches behind his shoulder and draws his greatsword. “One or the other. Choose now.”

Hawke turns and runs.

He had to. Can't let himself be captured. Certainly can't fight Fenris. He would never hurt Fenris, ever. I need power, he thinks. I need power! Wishes he’d had time to mount his damned horse. He digs fingers into his arm.

I can give you power.

Then do it!

He rips his arm open and blood explodes out of him, Pride surging through it. Behind him quick footsteps over the forest floor. Fenris is there. Right there. The blood travels out in a dense red mist, expanding through the trees.

The earth trembles, and a geyser of ash erupts to his left, flinging leaves into the air. A crack in the earth to his right, and lava pours through. The magic races over the ground, taking over the forest. Leaves ignite and burn up to nothing, and columns of ash spew forth all around. Before him a bubbling river of lava, but it vanishes at his feet only to reappear again when he’s passed. The world is his to manipulate as he chooses, bending to his blood's iron command.

There. That should get them off his tail. Smoke rises, blinding him, making him struggle not to cough. He slows a bit, trying to get his bearings. Useless with the smoke—can’t see a damned thing. There was higher ground somewhere, and he makes a guess, points himself in that direction. Probably set the forest on fire with this spell. But that’s what blood magic does, of course. It destroys.

He picks his way through the ruined landscape at a jog, wiping his brow at the heat shimmering from the lava flows. How much time has this bought him? Fenris. It’s Fenris. Varric must have found him somehow. Well, he’s certainly more motivated than any mage or templar or bounty hunter. Hawke can hardly fathom the personal betrayal he inflicted on Fenris all those years ago. At least this spell will give him a sliver of a headstart, and then he can—cross the Waking Sea, perhaps, maybe head north into the Anderfels where nobody will bother looking for him among all that miserable, barren rock—

A strange prickling at his back. Faint, very faint, and Hawke almost ignores it until something, a sound out of place, gut instinct, whatever it is makes him turn. He gets his staff up just in time to block the sword-blow.

“You thought you could run?” Fenris flicks his blade against the block, throwing Hawke off-balance. “You thought you could run?”

He swings again, and Hawke just manages to heave himself upright, deflecting the blow. He stumbles back, attempting retreat, and an eruption of ash vents from the ground at his feet. But Fenris charges through it, still on the attack. Hawke parries, grunting. “Fenris, I’m sorry!”

“Are you? Is that why you’ve been using blood magic for the last four years?” Fenris shouts. He lashes a foot out.

It catches Hawke’s leg, and he buckles, staggering. The next sword-strike forces him to a knee. Fenris bears down from above, and Hawke’s arms tremble with the effort of holding the block. “Fenris, what do you want?!” he asks desperately.

“Have you forgotten so quickly? I want you to choose! Come with us or I kill you!” He slides the blade up, levering the forte of it against Hawke’s staff. “I care not which!”

Damn, but he’s strong. Hawke grits his teeth. Fenris would kill him—will kill him, given the chance. So Hawke can’t give it. He tightens his grip, and the staff comes to life beneath his palms, pulsing sluggishly.

Fenris blazes lyrium-blue.

The glow of it is blinding, and Hawke must squint against it. So much power. He couldn’t do that in Kirkwall, not even close. The blue-white aura charges down Fenris’s sword; with a harsh battle-cry, he raises his weapon and brings it down like an executioner’s blade.

On the impact Hawke’s staff shatters into a thousand pieces.

The staff he’s fought with, shaped, poured his blood into for four years, gone just like that. He falls back, weaponless. Outmatched. He was outmatched before the battle began, even with Pride's help. The lyrium, Fenris is just too powerful.  Above him Fenris’s blade rises one last time.

“I yield!” Hawke shouts, raising his hands in surrender.

Fenris halts.

“I’ll go.” The smoke starts to fade, lava shrinking into the ground, plumes of ash dispersing in the air. Capture or death. So he'll choose capture. “I’ll go with you. No more fighting.”

Fenris lowers his sword, sheathing it slowly. “Very well.” He jerks his head. “Come. We depart for Skyhold at once.”

Chapter Text

Hawke opens his eyes and sees the ceiling of his own bedroom.

Was it all a dream, then? The Chantry exploding, Meredith going berserk? He blinks, trying to sit up. Weak. He’s so weak.

“You’re awake.”

Fenris.

Hawke rubs his eyes. “I didn’t expect to make it out of there.”

“You nearly didn’t. The knight-captain wanted to kill you. I bought you a handful of hours.” Fenris shrugs, tapping the arm of his chair absently. “Perhaps less. He was very angry.”

Hawke is quiet for a moment. A hundred things he wants to say, none of which will help. “You saved my life.”

“Unfortunately, yes. I wish I hadn’t. But I could not…” Fenris sighs. Still injured; there’s a swollen gash on his cheek, and his lip is split. “You never stopped, did you? After I asked you to. Years ago.”

Two years at least, when Hawke had just begun to delve into his new power, and there was a fight at the Wounded Coast that they were losing badly. So he spilled his blood to win it and Fenris asked him quietly, with terrible desperation, to never do it again. Hawke didn’t listen, of course. He had to do it. After what that monster did to his mother, he had to be strong enough to stop the next one. He did manage to conceal it in the years beyond, even compensated for the slow waning of his normal magic.

Couldn’t conceal it anymore, though. Not with Meredith on the verge of killing them all. “No,” he murmurs. “I never stopped.” He could explain but what good would it do? Would it heal the wound?

“You deceived me,” Fenris says. “All of us. You betrayed our trust. I’m leaving now, and I expect the knight-captain will come by soon enough.” He rises. “I loved you and I still love you, which is the only reason I haven’t turned you in to the templars. I wish I could.” He heads for the door and pulls it open. “I pray we never see each other again.”

Then he’s gone. Fenris. The word sits choked in Hawke’s throat like a cherry-stone. Fenris. Fenris. How could he have done this? Lost the man he loved more than anything else in the world?

We should go.

A gentle murmur through a thousand teeth, whispered from the back of his mind. Hawke  swings his legs over the side of the bed, grimacing. So damned weak. But Cullen will be coming, and there isn’t much time left to make his escape.

——

The wheels jostle over a particularly nasty pothole and Hawke rouses from his dozing.

He blinks, rubbing his eyes. Across from him one of the Inquisition guards sits, and Fenris beside her with ams folded, gazing out the little window at the back of the cart. It’s drizzling, the sky swollen and grey beyond the iron bars.

It’s a prisoner’s cart. Because he’s a prisoner.

Fenris looks mildly annoyed at the whole business but no more and has been paying attention to Hawke hardly at all; instead he’s spoken with the Inquisition soldiers on the situation in Ferelden and Orlais, on this mysterious new enemy Corypheus. Much of the time he just sits, watching the weather outside. His greatsword is stowed beneath the bench.

Hawke feels a bit less awful after a good night’s sleep. He’s got an inkling or two what the Inquisition want with him; the first option is they want to increase their standing with the Chantry by handing him over themselves, but they haven’t tried terribly hard to reconcile with the Chantry up to this point so that doesn’t seem too likely. (Not to mention the Inquisitor, if he recalls correctly, is Dalish.) The second option—the reason why they wanted him captured, not killed—is that the Inquisitor isn’t as squeamish about blood magic as she should be, and she’s looking for a new agent.

So there’s a good chance he won’t be executed, and he gets to spend a couple of days being near Fenris again.

Smart move bringing Fenris in. They must have known (Varric must have known) that Hawke wouldn’t hurt him, and the way the lyrium is now…Hawke doesn’t know what’s happened in the last four years, but it’s extremely powerful and completely negated the magic in his staff with just one blow. No better hunter. “Fenris,” Hawke says, breaking the silence, because he’s bored and curious. “Your markings, they’ve…changed.”

Fenris’s eyes flick over, then return to the window. “Yes.”

“They’re amazing. Really.” Hawke looks at the markings on Fenris’s hands—the only exposed bits, now that his gloves are off—and can’t see any difference on the surface. “What did you do?”

Fenris shifts and sighs. “After you killed the Knight-Commander, I was forced to leave Kirkwall. Everybody thought I was your consort. They wouldn’t listen to me, of course, I’m an elf. And I certainly couldn’t go on the run with you. So I had nobody to depend on but myself.” He spreads his fingers. “I was to some degree afraid of the lyrium, as you know. But since Danarius’s death I have not been so cautious of it.”

“Hm.” Hawke nods. “Color me impressed.”

Fenris rolls his eyes. “What are you doing?”

“What am I doing?”

“This.” He gestures. “Complimenting me.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Hawke shrugs. “I missed you.”

Fenris snorts. “I didn’t miss you.”

Hawke gives him half a grin. “Not even a little?”

“No. You’re a blood mage.”

I had to, Hawke thinks, and says nothing. The reasons don’t matter to Fenris. “You’ve been busy, plainly.” He nods at the sword beneath the bench. “Your forms are sharper than ever.”

“I was in Tevinter until Varric contacted me.”

“Going after slavers?”

“Hm. And Qunari. They’ve been…converting.”

“So you’re practiced. Hunting blood mages, I mean.”

“Indeed. Varric indicated that the Inquisition had difficulty apprehending you. I assured him you would be no challenge.”

Hawke guffaws. “You were right. Nearly cut me in half.”

An airy sigh. “Alas, you surrendered too quickly.”

“Maker.” He claps a hand to his chest. “That’s harsh.”

“And what have you been doing the last four years?” Fenris retorts. “Murdering people all across the South, from what I hear.”

“Only the ones who deserved it,” Hawke points out.

“Ah, yes, and who was it deciding who deserved it and who did not?” Fenris replies. “I think we’ve already established that your judgement is lacking at best.”

“They were stealing, Fenris,” Hawke tells him. “Destroying farmland. Starving out people who were just trying to live their lives.”

“All of them were?” Fenris gazes at him steadily.

No, not all. Some were Chantry agents. Some were bounty hunters. Some did not seem so cruel but attacked him when he appeared, so he had to kill them anyway. Hawke rubs his forehead. “There’s been a war here. People get caught in the crossfire.”

“Not you, though.” Fenris settles back against the wall of the cart, relaxing. “You’ve survived.”

It’s this that Hawke hates thinking about the most, and of course Fenris would spot it instantly. Because Fenris knows him better than anyone else. Perhaps time to change the subject. “Do you know what they plan to do with me back at Skyhold?”

Fenris shrugs. “No. And I don’t particularly care.”

“You don’t?” Hawke asks. “What if they let me go scot-free?” He smiles slyly. “Release me back into Thedas to continue my evil ways?”

“I told you, I don’t care.” Fenris’s gaze returns to the window, the grey drizzle outside. “I’m finished with you, Hawke. I’m finished hating you, and feeling betrayed, and worrying over whether I could have done something differently to turn you from this path. I don’t care what happens to you. If they kill you, they kill you. If they let you go, so be it. It’s no problem of mine.”

Hawke can’t think of anything to say.

Fenris hasn’t been angry, the entire time. He should be angry. The wound Hawke inflicted on him was both deep and personal. I’m sorry, Hawke wants to tell him. You deserved better than me. No use in saying it. It’s obvious Fenris already knows.

——

They manacle him at Skyhold.

It’s a great bloody castle. How did it stay hidden away in the Frostbacks for so long? Hawke peers up, trying to take it in, but they’ve arrived in the middle of the night and it’s hard to see much. Fenris’s hood is up again. Hawke pulls his up as well. Rather make it to the dungeons alive.

The courtyard is vast and dark. Somewhere an owl hoots, soft and lonely. The only lights come from what looks to be the tavern; through the window Hawke spots a group of celebrants raising a toast, and a muted burst of laughter follows a moment later. Apparently the whole Haven business didn’t set the Inquisition back very much at all.

Beside him Fenris walks without a word. His armor is less stylized than the Tevinter set he wore once; it covers him to the wrist, hardened leather plates protecting his arms and body. The hood is generous and well suited to concealing his silver hair. Together they advance toward the towering stone walls.

Except for the Inquisition soldiers it’s almost like old times.

Hawke decides he’d give damn near anything to wade into battle with Fenris at his side again. To have someone there who moves with him without thinking, like the flocks of swallows that swooped and dove over the sand marshes at the Wounded Coast. To be with someone who knows him as intimately as he knows himself. Fenris strides beside him even and sure. Hawke wishes he weren’t still so smitten, because then he could just drift through the proceeding events without a care in the world—if he’s executed, well, he had it coming, a bit. But seeing Fenris again has made him want to live.

“Wait!”

A familiar voice. Hawke turns.

A dwarven silhouette running toward them from the tavern, getting closer. Varric. He halts amongst the soldiers, peering up. “Hawke? That you under the hood?”

It’s been four years.

Hawke betrayed all of his friends, but he feels it acutely with Varric. Varric is the one who helped set him on his feet in Kirkwall after he got out from beneath Athenril’s thumb. Then he let the Qunari destroy the place, because he failed to prove himself to the Arishok, and of course he turned to blood magic as well, which isn’t something a good friend does to a person. “Hello, Varric,” he says.

Varric looks him up and down (mostly up—Hawke is six and a half feet, and Varric isn’t.) “You came in.”

“Well.” Hawke jerks his head. “Wasn’t given much of a choice.”

Varric rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Way Fenris told me, he gave you a choice. Just glad you made the right one.”

A displeased grunt from Fenris behind him. Hawke tries to ignore it. “So how’ve you been? Back to the adventuring life, is it?”

“Ah, Hawke.” Varric shakes his head. “Things are not good. Really not good. We could use your help.”

Hawke chuckles. “That won’t go over well with the adoring public.”

“I doubt they’re gonna know about it.” Varric glances up at the guards. They’re getting impatient. “Listen, just—don’t do anything stupid, okay? For once. For me.”

“Please. I’ve never done anything stupid in my life.” Hawke grins at him.

Varric doesn’t return it. “I’ll see you later. I hope.”

One of the guards tugs on Hawke’s arm. He follows.

Fenris stays to see him locked in his cell and then departs, vanishing down the corridor. Hawke misses him instantly. They don’t take the manacles off, which is rude but not insurmountable. They do give him water, a hunk of bread, and some cheese that’s only got a couple of bits of mold on it. One guard remains outside his cell, at lazy attention.

The Inquisition needs his help.

He hopes it isn’t about the red lyrium. Stroud dropped off the face of the earth a good year ago and left Hawke barely further than where he’d started. What else? Killing templars? He’s certainly got plenty of experience. Performing some blood magic ritual to advance the goals of the Inquisition? Now wouldn’t that be taboo.

Hawke scarfs down the last of the cheese and closes his eyes.

Not much of a doze, he thinks, although it’s hard to tell down here with no windows, before someone is saying his name and he blinks awake. A visitor standing at the bars of his cell.

She’s broad for an elf, broad at the waist and shoulders in a way that bespeaks significant strength. One side of her head is shaved, her hair dark and long and messy. “You awake?” she asks drily.

Hawke sits up. “Ser Lavellan, I presume? Inquisitor now, I hear.”

The guards talked about her a few times on the way over. Sanaris Lavellan, Dalish spy, formidable warrior, and by all accounts a skilled stateswoman too. The Chantry still hates her and yet apparently there’s been no shortage of supplies—or people—streaming into Skyhold. “Yeah. Do me a favor and use my name, though, would you?” she says. “So, you’ve probably figured out that I want you to work for us.”

Thought so. “What’s the pay like?” Hawke asks airily.

“I don’t order a public execution,” Sanaris replies.

Hawke winces. Not much for humor, it seems. “I see.”

“It would help, you know,” she continues, and leans against the bars. “Everyone’s on my ass about something or other. Too aggressive. Too Dalish. Splintering the Chantry. Using rogue mages in our forces.” She sighs. “If I killed you, at least it would show them that I’m on the…’right side.’”

“But you’ve decided not to,” Hawke says.

Sanaris regards him a moment. “Have you ever heard of Reavers?”

Reavers? Sounds Nevarran. “No.”

“Well, just know that I don’t give as much of a damn about blood magic as everyone else thinks I should.” She straightens. “That being said, no one can know you’re working for us, because I already have enough people giving me shit about every single move I make. So we’re going to do this out of sight.”

“Do what, exactly?” Hawke presses. Wetwork he doesn’t mind, but if it involves fighting fifty templars and a dragon he’d at least like warning.

“Right. We just found out a couple of things.” She ticks off one finger. “First, we are being opposed not only by Corypheus and his Tevinter cult, but also what remains of the templars, led by a man named Raleigh Samson.” Another finger. “Second, they’re all infected with red lyrium. Well, a lot of them. And would you look at that? Two things the Champion of Kirkwall is already familiar with.”

Hawke snorts. “Don’t you have insider knowledge already? Pompous, curly hair, used to go by ‘knight-captain—‘“

“I can’t have him out in the field all the time. Too valuable here,” Sanaris answers. “Instead you’ll be our field agent. You’ll have a handler, of course, in case you get any delusions of betrayal or flight or just embarrassing us.”

“I’ll do it.” Hawke rises.

Sanaris chuckles. “You sell out easy, don’t you?”

He chuckles. “It’s my life on the line. I’d be a fool to say no.”

“All right, then.” She nods, thinking. “I still have to finish working out the deal, but if it goes through you leave at dusk. There’s a lot for you to do.”

If? That doesn’t sound good. “The deal?”

“Yeah. If things don’t work out with the handler, we’ll have to behead you. You understand. Politics.” She turns to go, then halts. “Oh—sorry, by the way.”

Hawke waves a hand. “It’s all right. Bit surprised no one’s got to me yet, honestly.”

“No, not that. I’m sorry for this.” She gestures to the guard and departs. The guard turns and starts to unlock the cell. Are they moving him someplace else? Interrogating him?

Cullen appears from the gloom.

Fuck. Hawke lifts his hands to guard but his wrists are still manacled with about three links of chain between them. Cullen stalks into the cell, grabs the front of Hawke’s shirt, and slams him into the wall.

Hawke’s back collides hard with the stone, and he grunts. “Evening, Knight-Captain.”

“I should kill you,” Cullen hisses. “Right here in this dungeon.”

Defend yourself.

“Why aren’t you, then?” Hawke grins. “Leash pulling a little tight around your neck?”

Cullen punches him in the face.

Hawke’s skull bounces off the wall, and blood bursts into his mouth. Cut the inside of his cheek. Shouldn’t be goading him, really. Cullen could kill him and Sanaris wouldn’t be terribly bothered; his dead body will be nearly as good for political capital as his live one. Fenris certainly wouldn’t be bothered. Varric would mourn, true.

The glitter of many eyes. Defend yourself.

“You are alive only because you will serve our interests,” Cullen growls. “But rest assured, none of us have forgotten what you’ve done. I haven’t forgotten.”

“I should hope not,” Hawke breathes. “All those templars you led to their deaths under Meredith’s vile edict—if only you’d had the spine to question her earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have had to kill them—“

Cullen’s fist jams into his gut once, twice, and Hawke buckles, coughing. Fucker’s strong. Plainly he has not been resting idle. He grabs Hawke by the hair and hauls him upright again.

A gnash of teeth, throwing off violet sparks like flint and steel. Defend yourself!

Hawke’s fingers curl but he relaxes them. No. He won’t hurt the knight-captain. He’s been down that route already, long ago, and it bore no fruit. For anyone.

The fire-flash of Cullen’s temper has burned itself out, unseated by a cold calm. “You will do as we say and that is all,” he says. “If you deviate from our orders, we will hand you over the Chantry. And when they draw and quarter you I will make sure to be there in the crowd, watching.”

“No need to worry,” Hawke murmurs, and licks his lips. Blood from when Cullen hit him. “The Inquisitor and I have an understanding.”

Cullen spins and strides out of the cell. “Lock him up!” he barks.

The guard closes the door and turns the key again.

Hawke sinks to the ground, holding his gut. Fuck, that hurt. Well, it’s nice to see Cullen has suffered not at all from allowing Meredith to rule unchecked. Position of authority with the Inquisition, too valuable to be sent out into the field. Hawke wipes his mouth and tries not to entertain thoughts of revenge.

He deserves it. His weakness was as much at fault as Vengeance’s twisted zealotry.

Hawke grimaces. Doesn’t matter whether or not Cullen deserves retribution, he can’t be the one to deliver it. Physically, of course, because if he breaks out and kills one of the Inquisition’s founding members, he’ll be executed without question. But he also isn’t in much of a position to judge, being a blood mage and all. Sorry, he thinks. Won’t be feeding you any  more blood today.

As you wish.

No more visitors, for now, at least. He stretches his legs out on the stones. Gives him time to think on Sanaris’s last words. If it doesn’t work out with your handler, we’ll have to behead you. Lovely. Who would possibly agree to be his handler? No properly trained mage would travel with with someone who’s turned to blood magic for fear of their own safety. A templar might see it as their sacred duty, unless they’ve heard of his death toll, as everybody has by this point, and decide they’d like to keep their head.

So he may be executed in the coming days. He isn’t afraid of death, nor does he feel it’s undeserved; Maker knows he’s killed enough people over the past four years. But it does bother him that there’s so much he set in motion and then left for other people to clean up. Destroying the Circles, ruining the public’s trust in the Chantry, starting a bloody war that swept up the entire South.

Hawke gives his manacles a halfhearted tug. Maybe they’ll let him say goodbye to Varric, at least. He won’t see Isabela again, of course, and certainly not Aveline. Not that she’d want to see him. That one bothers him too; his betrayal of Fenris was grievous but betraying Aveline was no less serious. She trusted him too, and he deceived her for years.

Hawke frowns to himself. Hadn’t meant to dredge all this up—it would have been nice to head into his coming execution with the same nonchalance that’s served him well so far. But now he can’t stop thinking about it: Varric in the courtyard begging him not to do anything stupid, Isabela resigned to her fate as a pariah yet again via association with him. Aveline gazing at him in the Gallows, eyes brimming with furious tears.

Fenris in the cart, arms folded, watching the rain. I’m finished with you, Hawke. I don’t care what happens. Hawke tips his head back against the wall and shuts his eyes.

——

Somebody is saying his name again.

He wakes and sits up—had lain down sometime during the intervening period, and now his shoulder is sore. He rubs it, blinking.

Fenris.

“The Inquisitor spoke to you, did she not?” he asks. “Last night.”

The sight of him lifts Hawke’s mood immediately. He’s out of armor now, in a well-tailored shirt that hugs his arms and waist. More relaxed than he was in Kirkwall—the laces at the top are loosely done, showing the lyrium etched into his chest. Hawke notices he’s returned to his old habit of going barefoot, even though the stone floors are quite chilly. “Yes, she did,” Hawke tells him. “Wanted to hire me, though she thought she might have to behead me. I expect the Chantry will be thrilled.”

“No doubt,” Fenris replies. “Did she tell you why she wanted to hire you?”

“D’you remember Samson? Squirrelly fellow, lyrium-ravened, habit of begging for scraps by the foundry in Lowtown?” Hawke asks. “Seems he’s come up in the world. Leading a whole army of templars now.”

“Mm. And did she mention…”

“The red lyrium,” he continues. “Yes. Not terribly excited about that, but I suppose someone’s got to do it.”

“Very well. I have agreed to her terms.”

Hawke stares at him.

“She was right that it is a job fit for literally nobody else.” Fenris sighs. “I negotiated a generous monthly sum to be sent to the Tal-Vashoth I fought beside before Varric called me south. It should go some way toward making up for my absence.”

“You’re my handler?” Hawke blurts out. Impossible. It’s too good to be true.

“Yes,” Fenris answers, annoyed. “I dislike the assignment, but it may be of use in the wider fight. Thus my agreement.”

Hawke laughs, which isn’t really a good idea but he hasn’t been this happy in months. Years. “I’ll try not to make it harder on you. I swear. Really, I’m glad I can help.”

Fenris gazes at him for a moment, saying nothing. Hawke can understand. He has indeed done his best to be helpful while on the lam, but when the methods involve dead bodies it’s harder to see the good that comes out of it. “They are readying the horses,” Fenris says at last. “We should be on our way soon enough.”

Hawke rises. Sitting on a horse for hours at a time won’t be much more fun than sitting on a stone floor, but he’s ready to feel the wind on his face again. “Excellent.”

“I have a condition.”

Hawke nods. “Fair enough. What is it?”

“No more blood magic.”

Hawke pauses, dumbfounded. For a moment he can’t think of a good reply. I need it or I’m bloody useless? Not a good start. “Listen…I can’t use normal magic anymore,” he tries. “I lost it the more I committed to blood magic.”

“I don’t care,” Fenris replies. “Those are my terms. Take them or leave them.”

Fuck. He’s not bad with a knife, but…Hawke rubs his eyes. He has to be honest. “All right, listen. To be precise, I can do normal magic. It’s just laughably weak. So you’ll have to do all the heavy lifting for a while, at least until I get used to it.”

“I have no quarrel with that.”

“And if an enormous demon’s about to murder me, I’m going to use blood magic, because I don’t want to die for no reason.”

“Hawke—“

“My own blood, Fenris. I won’t hurt anyone,” Hawke says.

Fenris narrows his eyes. “You plan to continue…consorting with your demon?”

Hawke shrugs. “There’s no way to get rid of it. The deal’s done. Doesn’t matter if I never use blood magic again, it’ll still be right where it’s always been.” He waits a moment, but Fenris makes no protest. “So I may as well not die and continue helping the Inquisition. Is that fair?”

Fenris folds his arms. “Only your own blood.”

“Yes.” Hawke hopes it’s sustainable. He’s only got so much blood, after all. But it’s worth it. And anyway, retraining himself in the other schools of magic is starting to sound like a good idea. Now’s as good a time as ever for a fresh start.

And maybe he’ll earn Fenris’s respect again. He tries to keep the grin off his face. It’s nice to feel hopeful again. “Right then! Where to?”

Fenris runs a hand through his hair. “The Exalted Plains,” he says. “There have been…complications. With the war.”

Hawke nods. “Then let’s go un-complicate things.”

Chapter Text

They don’t let him say goodbye to Varric. Hawke dearly wants to sneak away and do it anyway but would not like to risk being killed for insubordination or indiscretion or whatever Sanaris wants to throw at him so instead he follows Fenris, the two of them proceeding out of the gates with well-nourished horses as the sky starts to purple and the air picks up a chill.

But they’ve barely been on the way five minutes when someone calls down the pass behind them, “Wait!”

Hawke guides his horse to a halt. Good old Varric. Should have known he’d have his ways. Varric’s horse slows, kicking up stones on the gravelly pass. “Thought you could just sneak off without saying goodbye, huh?”

Hawke puts up his hands. “I tried to, I swear—“

“I know, I know, I’m just teasing you.” His horse draws to a stop. “So, you signed on with the Inquisition.”

Hawke lifts a finger to his lips. “Shh, someone might hear you.”

Varric smiles at him, tired but amused. “Glad you’ve come back into the fold. I think it’ll be good for you. For all of us.” He looks over Hawke’s shoulder. “Fenris, I know you’d rather still be up north.”

A grunt. “Indeed.”

“Well, thanks for doing this. The Inquisition could really use your help.”

“I didn’t come down here for them. I came for you.”

Varric lets out a surprised chuckle. “Oh. Then I’m touched.”

“I wouldn’t have if you’d told me what it was about,” Fenris continues. “Alas, here I am.”

Varric winces. “That’s fair. Sorry for being, uh, secretive. Desperate times and all.”

He claps Hawke on the arm. “I’ll let you two go. Good luck. Be safe out there.”

He turns and starts up the slope. Hawke follows Fenris down the path, a looming cliff-shadow shrouding their way. The autumn chill greets him as he passes into it.

“Hawke, hang on a minute!”

Hawke turns his horse. Varric is returning, and they meet a few yards up. “Is something wrong?” Hawke asks.

“No, no. It’s just…” Varric leans around Hawke, looking past to where Fenris waits deep in the shadow of the cliff. Then he digs in his coat. “I found this in the Gallows after…Meredith.” He extends his hand. A strip of red cloth. Hawke reaches out, mystified—

The favor.

Hawke knows it well, one of a set of four handkerchiefs with the family crest embroidered upon them in gold. He rubs his thumb over the crest, over the bumps and ridges of thread, the worn, rough silk around it. It’s thin in patches where it was knotted around Fenris’s wrist.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” Varric says. “I don’t know what you should do with it either, but I figure it’s better in your hands than sitting at the bottom of my trunk like it has been for the last four years. I washed it, by the way,” he notes.

Hawke feels a bit dazed and stuffs it inside his coat. “Thanks, Varric.”

“Yeah.” He nods. “See you, Hawke.”

“Farewell for now.”

Then Varric heads up the pass again, and Hawke goes to rejoin Fenris.

“What was that about?” Fenris asks.

“Old times,” Hawke replies.

“Hm. I’m not especially fond of old times.” He spurs his horse.

Hawke does the same. “Doesn’t seem you’re fond of the new times, either.”

“I was until I got here.”

“Mm. You said you were with a Tal-Vashoth company?”

“For some months, yes. We had similar goals.”

“Similar goals?”

“Killing Qunari,” Fenris explains. “They’re kidnapping people. Something has changed in Par Vollen.”

“That’s not good,” Hawke mutters. One more threat to add to the list.

“Would I could have stayed there to help.”

Hawke snorts. “Well, I wasn’t the one who called you away.”

“Not directly,” Fenris shoots back.

“Have you been up there the whole time?”

“Yes. For a time I killed slavers. Then the Qunari became the bigger problem.”

“You’ve been killing people for four years.”

Fenris shrugs. “So have you.”

“Yes, but I’m a blood mage,” Hawke replies. “You’re not. You did a lot of fighting in Kirkwall too, didn’t you want a rest?”

Fenris replaces a stray strand of hair behind his ear. “I suppose I did, for a while. After you killed Meredith I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wandered for a time. But I couldn’t wander forever. I had to do something.”

“You didn’t have to,” Hawke says. “You can make your own choices.”

Fenris sighs. “Hawke, I’m trained in a half-dozen Tevinter martial arts and my body is inscribed with more lyrium than most people see in their entire lives. I had to do something.”

Hawke lifts an eyebrow. “By that logic you’ll be fighting the rest of your life.”

“Then so be it.”

Hawke gazes at him for a bit, which probably isn’t a good idea but his adoration won’t behave itself. Fenris’s courage remains as humbling as it was in Kirkwall, and Hawke’s heart aches that he hasn’t rested; Fenris, of all people, deserves peace. After everything Danarius did to him. After everything Hawke did to him.

“You’re staring at me.”

Hawke starts. “Sorry. It’s just—a shame. That you haven’t had a break.”

“There’s no need for pity,” Fenris says. “I enjoy fighting if it is for a righteous purpose. And if I win.”

“I should think so.” Hawke nods thoughtfully. “Running away is just embarrassing.”

“You’ve been running away for four years.”

“Yes, and I’ve been terribly embarrassed the whole time. That’s why I didn’t want to come in, so nobody would see how red my face had got.”

Fenris lets out a pained sigh. “I see you haven’t changed.”

Hawke shrugs one shoulder, nonchalant. “Lost some weight.”

“Mm, that was one of the last things I liked about you. Ah well, one less regret.”

“Maker.” Hawke claps a hand to his chest. “That’s hurtful. Anything else I should watch out for, lest I lose you completely?”

Fenris frowns, thinking. “No, I believe that’s it."

Hawke grins. “Ruthless, aren’t you?”

“I’d like to think so.”

The grin stays on Hawke’s face as he follows Fenris down the pass to the base of the Frostbacks.

——

Apparently the Exalted Plains are full of undead.

When Fenris said there were “complications” with the war, Hawke had expected…well. Something else. Not dozens upon dozens of animated corpses stumbling towards him, gauntleted hands or shredded fingernails trying to claw his eyes out. As the battle—battles, who knows, there’s so many of them—wore on, he sort of hoped that the urgency of the situation would encourage his magic to come back and be of any bloody use whatsoever. But it is not to be.

“Fucker—“ Hawke swipes at the nearest undead, trying to seam open the Veil between them. But he can barely even feel it, and the gout of fire he summons is more like a trickle. It singes the corpse’s tabard a bit and does absolutely nothing to slow its momentum. Hawke swears and brings up his staff to block the sword-strike.

The staff came with the horse. Seems the Inquisition favors ones with blades on the end. Hawke’s never used such a thing, because he’s a blood mage. After a bit of begging Fenris agreed to teach him some martial forms suited for it. But he’s only been practicing a week and there are a lot of undead, so mostly he just defends himself and runs away while Fenris takes care of everything.

As now: a blaze of blue-white and Fenris’s sword cleaves the corpse in half. He’s a dervish, cutting down the undead with incredible speed—implausible, in fact. There’s a weightlessness to his movement, and the greatsword’s, that doesn’t quite seem possible.

“Thanks,” Hawke gasps, taking a second to catch his breath.

Fenris regards him. “You used to be much better at this.”

Hawke waves a frustrated hand. “I told you already, my normal magic is bloody useless!”

“Perhaps you should not have become a blood mage, then.”

“That’s really not very helpful right now.”

“Just like you,” Fenris replies, and goes off to fight more undead.

Ass. Hawke thinks of trying with his knife but corpses don’t give half a fuck about knives, they don’t go down until they’re in pieces. And anyway, he should be practicing. Fire would be optimal but doesn’t seem to be an option. Fine, then. He’ll go back to his old favorites.

Some of Gaspard’s soldiers wanted to come with them when they announced their mission to retake the fort. Fenris wasn’t very enthused about having to watch over yet more fighters with little ability to slay the undead, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. In fairness, they’ve been holding their own—Hawke recognizes one of them to his left, Leclerc, their captain and the first to demand a place on the battlefield beside them. She’s making liberal use of her shield, and it seems to be working; but she’s cornered now, with a trio of corpses wobbling toward her.

All right, he can do something about that.

Hawke raises his arms and static snaps over his skin. A good start. He gathers it in his hands—didn’t this used to be faster?—and hurls it at the trio of corpses hobbling toward Leclerc. It falls over them like a thunder shower, and they jerk and shake, smoking. Hawke blinks, a surprised smile rising to his face. He can’t believe it actually worked.

Then they start staggering toward him and he shouts, “Fuckers,” and backs off, preparing another spell.

All in all, it’s a very bad time. He can slow them down, it’s true, and saves a dozen Orlesian lives by merit of his battlefield sense and a few shaky but well-timed spells. But the whole thing is just embarrassing. Lightning used to be his, and force like thunder on its tail. Now he struggles to summon them at all. At last Leclerc breaks through and lights the last pyre.

Flames roar towards the sky. Hawke moans, “Oh, thank the Maker,” and sinks to his knees. The dirt’s a bit bloody but by this point he really, really doesn’t care.

Leclerc runs over, breathing hard. Her armor’s dented, her tabard in shreds, and when she removes her helmet there’s a big bruise blossoming on her right cheek. But she seems exhilarated. “We did it!”

Hawke nods and goes to lean on his staff but there’s a great stupid blade on the end. He lays it down instead. “We did.”

“Thank you, Ser Carver. I’d be dead thrice over if it weren’t for you.” She beams at him.

Carver—the alias he gave instead of ‘Rowan Hawke’ so they wouldn’t get any ideas about turning him in for a nice big purse. It’s a name he’ll remember. “Ah, you know.” He waves a hand. “Just trying to help.”

Another soldier jogs over—Roussel, that was his name. “I didn’t think there were any good mages left. It appears I was wrong.”

Hawke chuckles. “Wish my magic were a bit stronger, but I’m glad I could do something.”

“You did. Gaspard owes you. We owe you.”

Yes, they’re Gaspard’s soldiers—those were his and Fenris’s orders. More of Sanaris’s machinations, but that’s too far above his head for him to get worked up about. “Really, don’t mention it.”

“You said you were a traveler,” Roussel says. “I have heard the Inquisition is helping mages. If you seek them out they may have shelter and paid work for you.”

Hawke nods. “Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.” Leclerc and Roussel don’t know he’s with the Inquisition. Nobody knows. That way if he’s found out, Sanaris is protected.

Fenris appears, greatsword sheathed. “We should attack the fort before more of these creatures come to replace those we’ve killed.”

Hawke groans. “Can’t we have just a bit of a break?”

“No. Captain Leclerc, please gather your soldiers. We take back the fort today.”

“At once!” She and Roussel head off, picking their way over the corpse-strewn ground.

Fenris folds his arms. He seems to be waiting. Hawke looks up and shakes his head. “I’m not getting back up anytime soon, you know.”

“Yes, you are. We’re retaking the fort.”

“Fenris, I’m exhausted.” It’s true. He’s got the sort of extraordinary fatigue that comes after overdoing it with magic, after pulling too hard on his Fade-sense. Body feels as if it’s been strained through a fine sieve, can’t focus because his head is sitting a thousand miles away on a mountaintop somewhere. His fingers tremble when he tries to close them. “Look at this. I’m going to be a liability up there.”

“You’re still coming. I’m not leaving you alone and these soldiers need me.” Fenris holds out a hand.

Hawke gazes up at him, plaintive; but Fenris simply arches an impatient eyebrow and waits. Hawke senses that any further pleas for lenience will be met with no capitulation whatsoever, so he lets out a long breath and reaches up, grasping Fenris’s hand.

Fenris releases him and jerks back, going instantly for the hilt of his greatsword. “What did you do to me?!”

Hawke stares up at him, still kneeling. “What did I—what are you talking about? I didn’t do anything!”

Fenris’s eyes narrow as he scrutinizes Hawke. “Just now, when you touched me—you…used no magic?”

“No! Why would I do that? What would I even do?!” Hawke feels he should maybe be afraid of an angry Fenris but is much too tired for that.

Fenris lets go of his sword and gazes instead at his palm. The fine bands of lyrium glow faintly before they fade out. “Then…never mind. Forgive me.”

“What happened?” Hawke asks.

Fenris frowns. “It felt…strange.”

Hawke waits. Nothing more. He tries again. “Strange how?”

Fenris hesitates; then he drops his hand. “As if you were touching something—beneath my skin.”

“Hm.” Hawke picks up his staff and struggles to his feet. “Well, the Veil’s always been a bit fucked around you, because of the lyrium, and it’s gotten fairly fucked around me, because of the demon, and it’s still sort of fucked everywhere, because of the rifts. Maybe that’s why.”

“Mm. Then I would ask you not to touch me.”

“Fair enough.”

He jerks his head. “Let’s go.”

Hawke suppresses his groan. No use whinging about it.

Leclerc and Roussel are waiting for them with two dozen more. The approach to the fort is scattered with corpses, and by the gates far ahead a rage demon seethes and flickers, girded by shades.

Lesser creatures.

Yes, yes, Hawke thinks, we all know you’re the best there is. “So, do we know what’s inside?” he asks.

Leclerc shakes her head. “Whatever it is, nobody made it out alive.”

“We will kill it nonetheless,” Fenris says, and turns to Hawke. He opens his mouth to say something but halts; then he continues. “Er…Carver and I will lead the charge. Those of you who have experience fighting demons, march at the fore.”

The soldiers start to organize themselves. Hawke murmurs, “Did you just almost forget my alias and blow our cover?”

“No,” Fenris retorts, watching the demons intently. “…Perhaps.”

Hawke sighs. “I need to teach you a few things about being on the run.”

“We are not on the run.”

“We sort of are. I am.”

“Well, I haven’t committed any crimes against the Chantry, the laws of magic, human decency, or common sense.”

“True, but you’re my chaperone. And that makes you on the run by proxy.”

“Will you just—“ Fenris breaks off, exhaling. “Never mind. Are we ready?”

Gaspard’s fighters have formed up. Fenris strides up the dirt road, Hawke beside him, legs still shaky. Doesn’t matter. Nobody else here can stop a demon in its tracks from twenty yards away. Although, truth be told, that’s about all he can do, and not for very long at that. The demons look up, still milling by the gate. But Hawke doesn’t feel a rift, which is the good news. Then they’d be helpless. There would just be more demons, more and more.

Fenris breaks into a run.

He engages the rage demon with no hesitation. Its fire crashes over him but even from beneath his armor, the lyrium rises out to eat the flames away and protect him from the worst of it. The Orlesians seem emboldened by his fearlessness, and a battle cry goes up as they start hacking at the shades. Hawke backs off. He isn’t needed on the front lines. On the dirt road there’s shifting among the corpses, and one of them rises with a bow on hand. “Undead!” Hawke shouts, and throws out a hand.

The Veil is ragged here and he manipulates it without too much hardship, drawing through electricity to give the corpse pause. But as the magic rushes through to envelop it his head starts spinning, vision wobbly, and he almost buckles. Definitely at his limit, or over it. Another undead archer rises, further down the approach, and of course nobody has reached it yet so he must cast once again, sweeping his arm forward. A wave of force this time—hardly more than a gust, but it buys a few seconds as the creature staggers.

Hawke’s vision goes out completely, his head feeling as if it’s been hurled backwards over the dry grass and splashed into the river, ferried along beneath the broken bridge they passed earlier. Someone’s yelling at him but he can’t move. There’s a strange, muffled whine. That’s a familiar noise. It’s a fucking shade, in fact, but he can’t defend himself against it when he’s so far away—

Something shoves him into the dirt, and he grunts as the wind is knocked out of him. Can see again, at least, which is something.

Fenris stands over him, fighting the shade. Even in the sunlight the blaze of his lyrium is bright as ever, and his sword glides through the creature, slicing it like pudding. It hoots softly, and the pearlescent black material of its body begins to puddle on the ground and evaporate. Hawke tries to rise but his arms and legs feel like the inflated pigs’ bladders he used to punt around with Bethany as a child, and he gets to all fours but no further.

Fenris remains. The Orlesians continue merrily hacking away at the final few shades; they outnumber their enemies and with the rage demon slain, they do not have so much to fear. But Fenris stays where he is, sword readied, standing above Hawke. Hawke wishes he could say something but can’t draw the breath for it. Would laugh if he could. It’s really pathetic, this state he’s been reduced to. A few little crackles of lightning and he’s in the dirt?

At last all of the shades are dead, and Leclerc returns to them, beaming again. “We didn’t lose anyone! Got a few who’ll have to sit out the coming fight, but they’ll be all right in time!”

“That is good.” Fenris sheathes his sword. “Take some time to collect yourselves.”

She runs off to attend to her troops. Fenris watches her go, then turns. “You froze in place.”

“Yes,” Hawke mutters, and sits back on his ass.

“What happened?”

“Too much magic. Another spell would’ve put me out for certain.”

Fenris crosses his arms, thoughtful. “You truly are much weaker than you once were.”

Hawke snorts. “Kick me while I’m down, why don’t you?”

“No, it was not an insult, only an observation. I…did not expect this.”

Hawke looks up. “Really? I told you I’d be useless.”

“I know, but I heard the stories,” Fenris replies. “Nobody could kill you. Your power was something out of legend.”

“My blood magic, sure,” Hawke says. “But I’m not allowed to use it.”

Fenris gazes down and seems to be struggling with himself. “It…means something,” he says at last. “That you are trying.”

Means what? Hawke thinks. And to whom? But he keeps his silence on the subject. “I really think I need a break if I’m to be of any use in this fight.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I told Leclerc to take some time.”

Then Fenris sits down beside Hawke. The sun-warmed breeze blows past him, picking up stray strands of silver hair. Yet another ache lances through Hawke’s heart—they’ve been common this past week and seem to come any time Fenris’s hair escapes his usually neat ponytail, or any time Hawke catches his profile at just the right angle, or whenever he says something particularly dry or when he gets lost in thought and his face relaxes, green eyes glittering in the sun, gazing at nothing.

So a lot of the time, really. Hawke smiles to himself and watches Leclerc giving orders to her troops. “Thanks for saving me, by the way. You weren’t there, I’d have been right fucked.”

“You know more than most about red lyrium, I’m told. Your knowledge is essential to stopping Corypheus.”

More than most isn’t a lot, but Hawke doesn’t say that. He did attempt another message to Stroud just after they left Skyhold. So far, no response; although it’s only been a week.

The fatigue begins to recede as the sun inches across the sky. Many of the Orlesians are eating or drinking. Their supplies had been blocked off by the undead, which makes it all the more impressive that they stayed. Gaspard inspires powerful loyalty in his troops. Might be why Sanaris chose to back him—more feet on the ground.

Hawke leans in toward Fenris. “They seem in rather good spirits for having been set upon by walking corpses for weeks.”

Fenris shrugs. “After you’ve suffered it a while, even the worst of circumstances becomes unremarkable.” He glances over. “Did I tell you about the time the Tal-Vashoth and I assaulted a Qunari camp during a monsoon? Our own camp flooded, yet we could not afford to move, as they had set traps everywhere. After a few days we had all simply accepted that we weren’t going to be dry again for the foreseeable future.”

“Well, yes, but that’s rain. This is the undead.” Hawke rests his head in his hand. “At least it wasn’t raining undead. At that point I’d just desert, Gaspard be damned.”

Fenris smiles. “Not very valorous of you.”

“Valor can get fucked. A corpse falls on my head, I’m leaving.”

They lapse into silence. It’s nice just to sit here beside Fenris; they’ve been traveling together for days, of course, but Hawke hasn’t had enough of it yet and doesn’t think he will anytime soon. Fenris must be sick of him by now, of course. Hawke does begin to feel better, the strain easing from his Fade-sense, his head sitting back where it’s supposed to be. The Orlesians, too, seem restless, reluctant to let their momentum from the rage demon’s defeat go to waste.

Fenris rises. “Let us forge on.”

Hawke pushes himself to his feet. “If we must.”

The gate itself is a bit of a problem. It’s wood reinforced with metal, normally raised and lowered from the inside, but of course there isn’t anyone inside and scaling the walls would leave everyone a bit too exposed. Hawke steels himself, because of course he’ll have to raise it, he’s the only one with magic—

Fenris turns into a white-blue ghost and walks through the gate.

Hawke blinks. That’s new too. Leclerc’s troops glance at each other, unsure. Fenris is alone in there—but then again, he can retreat the same way he entered, can’t he? So he can’t be in too much danger.

A moment later the gate begins to rise. “It’s safe, for now,” Fenris calls.

The Orlesians creep inside, and Hawke with them. Fenris has locked the gate mostly-open, and Hawke approaches him. “You couldn’t do that in Kirkwall. It was just your arms. Half your arms, if we’re being honest.”

Fenris gives him an arch smile. “I am stronger now.” He nods at the stairs. “I’ve neither seen nor heard anything. I am guessing our enemies are further in, although…they must have heard the gate.”

Leclerc squints, peering up at the second level of the fort. Her troops search the wall above but don’t venture far into the courtyard. It is rather quiet. Hawke frowns. Odd. No rift, true, but something’s still wrong, something tugging at the Veil…

…right beneath their feet. “Move!” he shouts, and dives at Fenris, hurling them both to one side.

A terror demon erupts from the earth.

It’s the biggest one Hawke’s ever seen, twice as big as those he spotted from afar in Ferelden. Most of Leclerc’s troops have got out of the way but the ground swells beneath them and a second later a handful of them are flung into the air as a second demon appears, just as big as the first.

“They’re going to die,” Hawke gasps. “They can’t fight these things. They can’t!”

“Retreat!” Fenris shouts, scrambling to his feet and drawing his sword.

Leclerc echoes his order, guiding her troops out beneath the gate. But the second demon swipes at the chain, severing it with razor-sharp claws. The gate crashes down, trapping Leclerc and most of her soldiers inside. The demon throws its head back and screeches.

Hawke crashes to one knee, covering his ears. The screech streaks straight down the frayed threads of his overtaxed Fade-sense, and he’s far too weak right now to resist—the sound makes his bones vibrate, his teeth burning in his skull. Fuck. The first demon is still right above him. With watering eyes he looks up—

—and Fenris is there, again, sword raised to block the demon’s claws. Hawke plants his staff and staggers to his feet. The second demon is about to swipe at Leclerc’s troops. No. Hawke raises his hand, grasping at the Veil—it’s thin here, the tendrils slipping through his fingers. The demon strikes, and a strangled cry goes up from the soldiers. With a shout of frustration Hawke tries again, long out of practice, leaning on brute force instead of finesse because he hasn’t done this in four bloody years, and at last he summons a bright purple crack of lightning that strikes the demon’s middle. It turns, hissing.

The lightning seems to shoot backwards and open up a hole in him as well, although that doesn’t actually happen, it’s only the aftereffects of that awful screech and his own fatigue telling him he’s just about finished. Fenris engages the first demon, unable to do anything besides defend; it has two sets of claws and a tail. As Hawke watches the tail sweeps over the grass and catches one of his legs. He stumbles and nearly falls, one arm flailing, and only just gets the sword up in time to keep himself from being sliced into ribbons.

Leclerc’s troops aren’t faring any better against the second demon. Its tail knocks away any who approach it from behind, and its taloned feet put gashes in those not quick enough to dodge. One soldier gets in a good hack at its shin and is impaled immediately after. Its claws descend, and Leclerc raises her shield to block, only for the demon to split the shield nearly in half. Its integrity ruined, Leclerc throws it away and grasps her sword with both hands. How many dead already? How many more before it’s finished? A grunt to Hawke’s right as Fenris hits the ground, raising a block with only a fraction of a second to spare. The demon screams again, and Hawke staggers, groaning.

I can help them.

He promised he wouldn’t use blood magic. He promised Fenris, and he’s held to it. It means something that you’re trying, Fenris told him.

They’re going to die.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? Somebody is always going to die, and it’s always down to him to do something about it. Could he do enough, with his silly little sparks of electricity, the mild inconveniencing of his so-called blasts of force?

You know they’re going to die.

“Fuck it,” Hawke says to himself, only just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of battle. He raises his arms.

It’s like a sip of whiskey at the end of a long week, like a good, hot meal after a journey through the bleak, barren tundra. It’s a deep relief, a familiar friend, the two red hands that surge out of the ground and grip the demons in their fists. The demons shriek, struggling, Hawke feeling stronger and better than he has in days as the blood rushes out of him. The fists rise into the air, and violet electricity surges furiously over his prey; they twitch and convulse, smoking, their shrieks stuttering out. First one turns to ash, then the other, showers of black falling out of the red hands and piling on the ground.

Good enough. Hawke dismisses the spell and lowers his arms. Warm blood drips from his fingertips.

“Maleficar,” Roussel gasps. The soldiers whisper. Leclerc stares, her broken shield on the ground. She has no more smiles for him. The courtyard is quiet—suddenly quiet, no more shouting, no more grunts of effort or screams of pain. No more terror demons shrieking, no more moans of shades. Instead all eyes are fixed on him, and all he can do is stare at the ground. How could he defend himself? It’s true, they all saw it. He’s just what they say.

Fenris sheathes his blade. “The fort is yours,” he says, intervening at last. “And we are leaving.”

He leads the way to the bolted door across the courtyard. The soldiers part for him; Hawke picks up his staff and follows, head bowed. They aren’t hurting him yet. He’s just given them their fort back. But the gratitude may not stay their hands for long.

Fenris climbs down through the now-quiet fortifications, exits beneath the sagging wooden gate, and walks through the tall green grass toward the little copse in the distance where they left their horses. The beautiful day seems inappropriate now. There were terror demons, bigger than any he’s ever seen. A half-dozen people just died. And he’s still a blood mage.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Fenris says.

“Seemed like I did,” Hawke replies. “Leclerc’s soldiers were dying. You were flat on your back. We were going to lose.”

Fenris rounds on him. “You didn’t know that, Hawke, that’s your problem. You always think you can predict exactly what’s going to happen, but you can’t. You can’t know for sure.”

He isn’t angry, not even now; he seems only tired. Hawke stops, a little abashed, aware that whatever they gained back sitting in that breeze beneath the sun, he’s lost it now. “Fenris—you saw how the battle was going. The soldiers could hardly touch that thing. You hadn’t hit yours once.”

“You’ve seen how much I’ve changed. How the lyrium has changed.”

“So—what? Were you about to rise up and slaughter that thing?”

Fenris shrugs, turns and keeps going. “I suppose we’ll never have a chance to find out.”

Hawke follows, wading through the bright green grass. Beneath his fingers his staff is sticky with blood.

Chapter Text

The one-eyed Qunari won’t stop staring at him.

Hawke tries not to stare back, watching the fire instead. It’s uncomfortable. Is he Qunari or Tal-Vashoth? The latter shouldn’t have such a problem with mages. Except blood mages, maybe.

“Solas says it’s not much further,” Sanaris tells them. “We should get there in the morning.”

Solas.

Also staring, though he makes more effort to hide it. Hawke doesn’t much like him. Bit shifty, if he’s honest. Plus there’s something about a spirit, which must be why Sanaris is dragging Hawke along in the first place.

The real problem is how Solas spends even more time staring at Fenris. That’s bothersome. If Hawke gets offed in his sleep by a bald elf, well, somebody was going to do it eventually. Fenris, on the other hand—that he won’t stand for.

“Be glad to get out of here.” Varric, to Hawke’s right, sipping the last of the cider. “This whole place smells like death.”

Thank the Maker for Varric. Hawke’s almost sure that every single other person at this camp would be basically fine with killing him, which is making the whole situation extremely tense. But Varric is there, dependable as ever, to lighten things up when they need lightening. To Hawke’s left Fenris stretches out his legs, pointing his bare toes toward the fire. Hawke gets another one of those aches in his chest.

“So,” says the Qunari. “How long you been a blood mage?”

Hawke looks up. “Seven years,” he sighs. “Give or take.”

“Huh. You’re not kidding.”

“No, not at all. Seven years.”

The Qunari rests his chin on his hand. “Most blood mages don’t make it that long.”

“That’s not true,” Fenris interrupts. “The great majority of the Imperial Senate are blood mages, and most of them are wizened, drooling old men.”

“Yeah, I guess.” The Qunari regards Hawke again. “How about it? You ever think of moving to Tevinter?”

“Tevinter can go fuck itself,” Hawke replies.

The Qunari grunts. “Damn.”

“What?”

“Don’t like being on the same page as a blood mage.”

Hawke nods thoughtfully. “If it helps, I’m also just a plain old bastard.”

“I can affirm that,” Fenris adds.

“Oh yeah. Me too.” Varric sips his cider.

The Qunari shrugs. “Maybe that’s it.”

“What kind of demon did you forge a pact with?”

That’s Solas. Hawke looks up. “Pride. Why?”

“Hm. Interesting. Quite a powerful sort.” Solas is sitting perfectly still and, if Hawke recalls, hasn’t moved all evening. “Did it…court you?”

“Oh, yes. Ever since I was…I don’t know. Fifteen?” Hawke snaps his fingers, attempting a flame. He comes up with a single sad, orange spark. Damn it all.

“A long time. It must know you well.”

“Probably.” Hawke eyes him. “What about you? What exactly are we rescuing tomorrow?”

“A spirit of Wisdom,” Solas answers.

“Friend of yours, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” Hawke leans back on his hands. “Why is it that when I dream I only get demons?”

“It is no fault of yours. Seeking out spirits is a skill that must be practiced.”

“Think one demon is enough for me, thanks.”

“Hey, boss.” The Qunari. “Why’d you bring me along on this job?”

“Because you’re a strong fighter and I like you and you work for me,” she replies.

“Oh. Uh…thanks?"

“Fenris, if I may ask.” Solas. “Where did you get your unique markings?”

“I was a slave,” Fenris says. “My master carved them into me.”

Solas frowns a little. “Ah. I apologize, I had not meant to…”

“No need. He is four years dead. By my hand, no less.”

“Your master. A Tevinter.”

“A magister, yes.” Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “Why?”

“No particular reason. I was going to say they are quite beautiful, but…”

“It’s all right. I suppose they are.”

“You killed a magister?” Bull asks.

“Yes,” Fenris answers.

“Damn. You know any more? I could go for some of that.”

“I know quite a few. Killing them does not serve much purpose, unfortunately. They simply replace each other.”

Bull makes a face. “Like rats pouring out of the walls.”

“Indeed.”

“Hey, you looking for a job?”

“Oi,” Hawke interjects. “He’s got a job, and it’s saving my arse.”

“You looking for a better job?”

“I am already employed up north,” Fenris says. “Thank you for your offer.”

“I’m going to get some sleep,” Sanaris announces. “You can all either shut up or take this elsewhere.”

Bull nods. “I’ll take first watch.”

Hawke makes a noncommittal grunt. Bull glares. “If you’re going to make a crack about my eye, I should warn you I’ve heard it before.”

Damn. He was going to make a crack about the eye before he realized it would be rude. “No, no.” Hawke raises his hands. “Just thinking about tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sure.”

They make up their bedrolls. If the Exalted Plains do smell like death, as Varric claims, Hawke has grown accustomed to it by now; all he smells is this afternoon’s rain, the fresh, damp dirt and lush, rejuvenated tufts of moss.

It shouldn’t be that hard to fall asleep, and Hawke’s only been traveling with the others since this morning, but an inconvenient and extraordinarily strong wave of nostalgia smacks him right in the face as he lies there under the cloud-blotted stars. To the right Varric snores gently, as is his wont; to the left Fenris is curled on his side under a blanket, hands tucked up under his chin, silver hair out of its tie and falling over his face. Hawke gets another one of those aches in his chest. Sanaris and Solas lie past the fire, and Bull stands tall and still in the cool air, gazing out over the plains.

How could he have been alone for four years? How did he bear it?

A light breeze blows past him, carrying the damp of the river. Hawke shuts his eyes. He doesn’t have anyone, truly; Fenris is here out of duty, not choice, and the rest are temporary. Best not to think too hard on it.

——

“Something’s wrong,” Solas whispers.

Hawke slows his horse, squinting ahead. There’s fighting, that’s for sure. Even in the bright morning sun he can see the crest of purple lightning arcing fiercely into the air.

“Uh, yeah, I’m gonna agree with you on that one.” Varric points.

Just over the rise there’s a corpse lying on the dirt road. A mage, Hawke thinks—not particularly fit or well-nourished. “Arrows,” the Qunari murmurs. “Wasn’t a demon.”

Indeed. “We need to move,” Solas says urgently.

Hawke spurs his horse, following Sanaris’s lead. As they draw closer the pride demon comes into view, towering over the landscape, horned and spined, its rumbling growls spilling out over the grass. A much smaller figure detaches itself from a small outcropping of rocks and starts sprinting toward them.

Sanaris slows her horse, face taut. “Thought you said this was a spirit, Solas!”

“She was!” Solas says. “She can’t have…”

The figure arrives, grasping his knees as he gulps in breaths. Sanaris swings down off her horse; the others follow suit, as does Hawke. “Please!” the man gasps. “You have to help us!”

Sanaris opens her mouth to say something but Solas steps past her. “What did you do?!” he demands. “What did you do?!”

The man looks up. “We were set upon by bandits, they’d already killed—“ But then his eyes slide over Solas’s shoulder, and he starts. “Ch—Champion?!”

Hawke groans internally. Fuck. “So you were in the Kirkwall Circle, I presume.”

“Yes! Please, you must save us once again!”

Solas’s eyes widen, and he turns to Hawke. Damn it all. “Starting to regret it, honestly.” Hawke gestures. “Considering you summoned a demon and all.”

The mage gapes at him. “But—but you—”

“Yes, and didn’t we all agree that that was a bad idea?” he says, exasperated.

“She wasn’t a demon when you summoned her.” Solas. “Was she?”

“No!” the mage replies. “It was a spirit, up until a couple of hours ago! We needed help, the bandits were killing us—“

“She is a spirit of wisdom! Not a fighter! What were you thinking?!”

“Listen,” Hawke interjects. “We’re going to go and fix your stupid mistake. Why don’t you and your companions just—stay out of our way for a bit?”

He mounts again and lifts the reins, starting forward at a canter. What’s one more demon? He’s killed more since taking back the fort for Gaspard last week—no pride demons, sure, but if things get difficult he’s got one of his own.

Solas draws up next to him. “You can’t kill her.”

Hawke struggles to contain his incredulity. “Er—why not?”

“My friend may still be in there,” Solas says urgently. “A spirit denied its purpose becomes a demon, yes. But if we break the binding circle—if we release her from these fools’ command—then I believe we can save her.”

“You believe.” Hawke points. “You see that thing? It’s a demon! A great bloody big one! Whatever it was once, it’s not anymore! We have to kill it!”

“Yeah, I gotta agree.” That’s Bull, riding beside Solas. “Better to be safe. I mean, look at it.”

“You do not understand what we are dealing with!” Solas pleads. “You must trust me! Help me break the binding circle!”

“And what if it doesn’t turn back? What if it decides to fuck off and starts roaming the plains looking for more people to kill?” Hawke shakes its head. “No. I’m killing it. You can do what you like.”

Solas’s face sets, and he spurs his horse. Hawke lets him go.

Fenris is beside him now, gazing after Solas. “Is there truth to what he says?”

Hawke shrugs. “Why would I know that?”

Fenris rolls his eyes. “You made a deal with a demon. I thought you might have some flicker of insight into the situation. Clearly I overestimated you.”

“You did indeed. I’m a simple man. It looks evil, I kill it.”

To his other side the Qunari groans. “You’re supposed to be evil.”

“I might be,” Hawke replies. “Depends on who you talk to.”

“Damnit. This crap’s not supposed to be complicated.”

“It if helps, you can call me the exception that proves the rule.”

“Don’t worry about it, Bull.” That’s Sanaris, just behind them. “Go for the demon. I’ll help Solas with the binding circle, but don’t hold back on account of us. We should at least weaken it in case Solas is wrong.”

“Got it.”

They approach.

The remaining mages are exhausted; the spells they throw are messy and thin, hardly keeping the demon back. Bull shouts for them to retreat, waving his arm. Hawke dismounts and runs forward. Solas is already there, hurling powerful bolts of force magic at the stones that ring the circle. Not good enough. The creature has to die. Normal magic won’t be enough to take this thing down, especially his own sad variant. Fenris is there on his left, sword drawn. “Fenris,” Hawke tries. “I might have to—“

“Let me do it then,” Fenris replies. “Stand back with Varric. The Qunari and I will attack it directly.”

Hawke appraises the demon. It’s not the biggest he’s ever seen, and it’s singed some by the mages’ blasts of fire but still attacks without faltering. Fine. He’s got to trust Fenris. “Then good luck.”

Fenris charges.

Hawke’s grip on his staff tightens. No, it’s all right. Fenris is an experienced warrior, he’ll be fine. The Qunari follows him, axe readied.

Lightning won’t touch the bloody thing so Hawke uses force instead and can’t see that it’s doing much; the demon doesn’t even stagger. At his side Varric fires salvos of bolts, which may or may not pierce the thing’s hide. The demon is twice as tall as Fenris and Bull, who can only hack at its belly and legs. Yet they appear to be finding more success than Hawke and Varric; gleaming wounds open up in its amethyst skin, and glistening black blood pours out. The demon seems taken by surprise, and for the first moments it only swipes at them, Fenris as always light on his feet, and even the Qunari quick to move his great body out of the way. He darts right back in and slices its stomach with his axe, and the demon roars in pain. Lightning crackles at its claws. Fuck.

When the crackling whip descends Bull almost gets out of the way, but it catches his axe-tip and he jerks and drops his weapon. Hawke casts—tries to cast, comes up with little more than a gust of wind, which doesn’t dissuade the demon from raising its claws to follow up.

But Fenris dissuades it, his sword hacking into its back—an awkward angle for the weapon, and he withdraws instantly to protect himself. It allows Bull time to snatch up his axe.

They dance around it but the tide has turned; the demon’s lightning sears the air, and it repels them again and again. They can't even get in to touch it. Only a matter of time, Hawke finds himself thinking. Just like the terror demons at the keep. But there—

I can help you.

No. Hawke is pleased with how quickly the answer comes to him. I told Fenris I wouldn’t. He shapes the Veil, builds his spell and hurls it, yet as powerful as it felt between his fingers, it does nothing at all to the demon.

Fenris and Bull continue dancing around it without landing a single blow. Then—Hawke sees it before it happens. The violet whip, Bull’s positioning. He shouts “Bull!” but is sure the Qunari knows already. Bull lifts his axe to block—an instinct, a last-ditch resort, or both.

The lightning coils around the hilt and devours him, surging down his arms and over his body. He stiffens and jerks, and all Hawke can do is reach out, grasp at him with Veil-coated fingers, and try to drag him back. Can feel the life still in him—a shock like that would have killed a lesser (or smaller) man. The pride demon, however, is not content to let him go; it raises a hand, wicked claws gleaming in the sunlight.

A blazing sword-tip punches through its middle.

The demon roars in pain. Fenris. A bold move but not smart—his sword is stuck in that thing’s gut now. Or so Hawke thinks, because the blue-limned blade slides straight out as if slicing boiled liver instead of demon hide. Maker. The lyrium won’t be denied. Hawke, a bit tired of his pathetic magical efforts, sprints over the grass and grabs Bull by the arm to haul him back the old-fashioned way. Of course, he is half again Hawke’s size, something Hawke likely should have considered earlier. So he grasps the Veil and strains, both physically and along the vibrating sinews of his Fade-sense, to drag Bull out of danger.

Blood magic would be easier. Bull would be safe, the demon would be dead and there wouldn’t be anything that unnerving elven mage could do about it. But he would betray Fenris, and Hawke doesn’t want to do that again. Not after the incident at the keep last week. They still haven’t regained what Hawke felt on the grassy rise that day, sitting under the sun. The bright spot is it’s gotten easier not to use it—the itch has faded from his veins, the desire to make power explode out of him as a dam bursting, an overwhelming tide against which most have no recourse. Perhaps he’s at last getting used to not being the most dangerous person in the room at any given time. It’s been embarrassing at times, yes; but Fenris is strong enough for the both of them.

As now, he engaging the demon head-on with no one fighting at his side. Solas and Sanaris are still working at the binding circle and have almost finished. Varric has come up to help Hawke get Bull to safety. So it’s only Fenris, and the demon is unable to overcome him. He dodges the lightning when he can, but even when it strikes him the glow of his markings burns just as bright, and he twitches and staggers but does not fall. His sword hacks into the creature again and again, and each time the demon bellows, the substance of its body carved away by the blade and the lyrium flickering along its edge.

Hawke tries to help from afar as best he can, which isn’t very well. Now and then he catches a glimpse of Fenris’s face. The normal hard intensity of battle is missing, the determination that never faltered even in their worst battles in Kirkwall; instead it’s strain, an effort that reminds Hawke of how he felt last week when his Fade-sense had run itself ragged. The lyrium is powerful, certainly, but might it have a limit?

Fenris lets out a battle cry and swings his sword, and this time the blade cuts the demon’s leg nearly clean off. The demon wails in pain and drops to its knees, talons digging into the earth. “Finally,” Hawke gasps. Fenris raises his blade one more time. Finally the thing’s dead—

Fenris collapses all at once, as if the Maker has reached down from the sky and forced him to the ground.

What? But it’s obvious. Hawke spins and finds Solas with his hand outstretched. “You will not kill her!” he shouts.

Hawke takes a moment.

The instinct of violence flashes in his mind like blood spreads in water, so heady that he’s already taken half a step forward and aligned his focus with his veins, with the raw power pumping through them. But he can’t do that anymore. Blood mages excel at violence, are pursued by violence, are entrapped by violence. It’s true that in these four years he became a more prolific killer than he ever was in Kirkwall. But he’s been offered a way out now, in Fenris’s reluctant hand, and there’s no doubt that it’s the only chance he’ll get.

Still, attacking Fenris has made Hawke very angry. “You let him go right now,” he says—rather calmly, in his own estimation. “Or we’re going to have a problem.”

Solas’s eyes flick to him with a split-second’s flash of silver.

Hawke finds himself hurled to the ground with a thud that knocks the breath out of him. Bastard. This isn’t good. If the circle breaks, the demon might escape to lick its wounds. Is it worth it? Breaking his promise in order to kill a demon? He can’t come up with a better cause, really. All right, he thinks. We’re getting out of this spell.

His chest splits in that familiar way. The break is sort of sticky, as if cobwebbed from disuse. Pride worms through, its power crackling inside his body. Like he's being electrocuted from the inside—no, rather as if he's becoming the lightning itself. After so long without it, Hawke feels almost apprehensive. So much power. Should all of that really belong to one person?

I cannot fight him.

Hawke tries to process what Pride’s just said. Somewhere above him Varric is talking, or pleading. What?

The elf is too strong. I cannot fight him.

You’re a demon! I’m a blood mage! You’re telling me we can’t do anything?

We can do nothing. He is too strong.

It doesn’t make any sense. The weakest blood mage will give the strongest mage some trouble, and Hawke isn’t weak, especially not when he calls on Pride. Yet he's still stuck here in the dirt while one shabby elf holds him captive. He struggles to look up. “Solas!” Sanaris shouts. “Let them go!”

Solas turns his head, although his spell remains firmly in place. “They would kill my friend. I cannot let that happen.”

The Veil twists.

A shudder along Hawke’s Fade-sense, something he might not have felt two weeks ago. With teeth gritted, he searches for the source of it.

It’s Fenris.

Fenris is up on his elbows, which is far more than Hawke could do. The lyrium surges off of him, lashing the air like tongues of fire fed by breeze. He flattens one gloved hand against the ground and pushes himself to his knees.

Solas seems surprised, and takes a step forward. Fenris buckles but does not collapse. Instead he plants his foot and braces himself. Impossible. Or, Hawke thinks to himself, perhaps not. That’s a lot of lyrium, has always been. It surprised him in Kirkwall how little Fenris used the brands, and he eventually wrote it off to imperfect engineering on Danarius’s part. That appears to have been an incomplete assumption.

Fenris rises.

Smoothly, although Hawke can see the tension in his posture, how his muscles work against the magic. His sword is still on the ground but he looks no less dangerous for it. “That you presume to bind me is both insulting and telling,” he says. “I advise you to cease your efforts. They will not work.”

“Solas!” Sanaris shouts again.

Solas turns, and Hawke cranes his head. Sanaris stands by the last pillar—the remnants of it, broken on the ground. She replaces her warhammer on her back. “It’s done.” She nods at the demon. It’s still bent to the grass, seeping shiny black blood.

But the blood begins to evaporate, as do the jagged, stony ridges in its skin and much of the mass of it as well. It diminishes rapidly, its body disappearing into the air in gushes of oily smoke until all that’s left is…a woman. No, it’s not a woman. It’s a spirit.

Solas rushes to it, and the spell releases Hawke at last. He gasps, struggling to his feet. Varric is by his side, helping him up, and Fenris approaches as well. Solas kneels, taking the spirit’s body in his arms. Sanaris comes up behind them. Hawke catches snatches of Elvish.

“Well, that was something,” Varric says, relieved and bemused at once. “Fenris, whatever you did—just remind me not to piss you off again.”

“I will certainly do that,” Fenris says. “Hawke, what exactly happened?”

Hawke watches Solas and the spirit. It appears to be weakening; its substance shimmers like a summer day. “I’ll be damned. It turned back after all.”

“So you were wrong.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“Hawke.”

He raises his hands. “It was a joke, it was a joke.”

Fenris sighs and runs a hand over his hair. “I apologize. That was obvious. I am simply…unsettled over what just transpired.”

Hawke nods. “That spell he put on you. Both of us.”

“It was extremely strong. The strongest Tevinter mages did not equal it.”

Hawke glances over, attempting a grin; all he comes up with is a sort of reverence, which is a bit inappropriate. And embarrassing. “Didn’t seem to be a problem for you, though.”

Fenris lets out a sour laugh. “I assure you, it was not so easy as I made it seem. I was trying to intimidate him.”

That makes Hawke burst out with a laugh. “It was theatrics?”

“Yes,” Fenris replies. “A lesson I learned from you, I’m loath to admit.”

Hawke did employ a generous amount of trickery in Kirkwall—he didn’t much like fighting and tried to avoid it wherever possible. “Hm. Glad I was good for something. But…you’re right.” Should he confess? He has to. “To be honest with you, when he put you in the dirt—us in the dirt—I tried to call on Pride to finish the demon off, because I was afraid it would escape. Didn’t matter, though. Even Pride couldn’t shift the spell.”

Fenris regards him with a raised eyebrow. “I see.”

That was noncommittal. Sanaris approaches them. “Everything’s fine. Solas is going to heal Bull. You two can do whatever you like.”

“So he’s not going to try and take his revenge on us or anything?” Hawke asks.

She shakes her head. “You didn’t kill the spirit. It was already going to die.”

“We tried to, though.”

Sanaris glances over her shoulder. “To tell the truth, he still looks pretty pissed, but he promised he wouldn’t turn on you.” She shrugs. “Maybe he’s just trying to stay on my good side. Whatever the case, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Mm.” Fenris frowns. “Inquisitor Lavellan—“

“Please don’t call me that.”

“My apologies. Sanaris. You should know, that spell he cast…it was very powerful.”

“Yeah, sure looked like it.”

“Too powerful.”

“Fenris is right,” Hawke says, and nods over her shoulder. “I don’t know what he’s told you, but there’s something he’s hiding.”

“Hm.” She looks thoughtful. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“Hawke.” Fenris jerks his head. “Let us move on.”

He chuckles. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”

——

They say their goodbyes to Varric and travel south. Sanaris left them with new instructions; Hawke has a small sheaf of parchment stuffed in his pack. Something about Samson. Seems he’s about to be useful.

When the sky grows dark they make camp. There wasn’t much conversation in the afternoon. Hawke almost felt afraid to talk, as if Solas were still watching them and they couldn’t speak without him hearing. But now the moon glows white above them like the jasmine flowers his mother used to grow in their garden in Lothering, and the crickets chirp sedately in every direction, and Hawke and Fenris each have their own tree to lean on, facing the fire.

Hawke looks up. “You said it wasn’t easy for you.”

Fenris blinks. “Hm?”

“The brands.”

“Oh. No, it isn’t.” He opens up his hand, displaying the now-dim blue lines there. “When I draw on them too strongly, it feels as if…” He quiets for a second, thinking. “As if I am beginning not to exist.”

“Not to exist?” Hawke asks gently.

“As if I am…dissolving. Or going elsewhere. As if I’m not here anymore. It…frightens me,” he admits. “So I try to use them only as needed.”

“Hm.” Hawke gazes at the fire.

“You…didn’t have to tell me.”

He glances up. “Tell you what?”

“That you attempted to use blood magic this morning,” Fenris replies.

“Oh.” He shrugs. “Well, I didn’t want to keep it from you. I’m trying not to be an ass.”

“You are a bit late for that.”

Hawke snorts. “Don’t I know it.”

Fenris grimaces. “I’m sorry. That was unkind of me.”

“No, I don’t mind.” He grins. “I went four years without anybody to mock me to my face, I’ve got plenty to catch up on.”

They fall silent, but it’s not uncomfortable. The fire crackles before them, and Fenris’s brands shimmer with the dancing light. Hawke thinks things are a little better between them now. Fenris is distrustful still; but of course he should be. There’s plenty to make up for.

“You know, I’ve just realized,” Hawke says, smiling at the fire. “It’s a shame.”

“What?”

Hawke glances over. “You flee your dreadful life in Tevinter, you settle down in Kirkwall, you start making friends for the very first time. And the first three mages you get all made deals with demons. Every single one.” He chuckles. “Horrendous luck.”

“Hm. Anders called Justice a spirit.”

“Same thing.”

Fenris sighs. “You, at least, acknowledge that it was wrong. To forge the deal.” He looks over. “Did the demon influence you, Hawke? Or did you choose freely?”

Did he choose freely?

Of course. Of course he did. That’s who he is—shoulders burdens he shouldn’t, inevitably fails, commits various transgressions to make up for it. If anybody was going to become a blood mage, it’s him. He’s the perfect fit.

And yet, obviously, there’s no way to tell for sure. He can’t know if his own mind was manipulated, and there weren’t any witnesses standing there in the Fade when he finally came to Pride for knowledge. But he doesn’t feel like there was a magical influence at work—he came to it clear-headed, knowing full well how awful it was, what it would do to all his friends if they found out. What it would do to Fenris.

“Hawke?”

Hawke blinks, pulling his legs up slowly. “Of course,” he mutters. “I chose this.”

Fenris nods to himself and says no more.

Hawke suddenly wishes to be done with this day, and he starts to untie his bedroll without a word. Beside him Fenris does the same. There isn’t any more to be said; not for tonight, at least.

Chapter Text

“Well, that’s ominous,” Hawke mutters.

A high, mournful wind whistles across the cave mouth. Inside it the wan, clouded sunlight gives way almost instantly to blackness, the only relief of which is the faint glow of red lyrium peering like eyes from the impenetrable dark.

“Come.” Fenris strides past him. “We know they’re in there.”

Hawke is reluctant to leave the shelter of the autumn-red trees above them, but he follows Fenris closely as a child to a parent. “You have to be careful.”

“I know. You do not need to worry about me.”

The cave mouth devours him and then Hawke a second later, shadow swallowing them up. The damp cold crawls over Hawke’s skin, making him shiver. There’s been a chill in the air ever since they reached the Emerald Graves, but this is different. Like the breath of every rotting creature the red lyrium has taken gusting down his neck. He holds a palm cupped in front of him and concentrates very, very hard, and a little white flame sputters to life in his fingers.

Ahead of him, hair shining in the firelight, Fenris grunts. “Impressive.”

It’s almost enough to make Hawke chuckle. “I’ve been practicing.”

“Just as well. Our foes are formidable.”

The red templars.

They’re revolting and extremely dangerous, and he and Fenris have killed them in groups of two or three but no more. They haven’t any idea how many are down here. But somebody’s got to do it. Fenris seems startlingly unperturbed by the whole thing, considering he’s not only surrounded by corrupted lyrium but contains in himself the perfect vector to ferry the sickness through his body and transform him into a monster the likes of which Hawke does not like to imagine.

Hawke is worried enough for the both of them, of course, and hopes his extra caution will keep Fenris alive. “Are you feeling all right?” he asks, as they pass another wicked-looking jut of the awful stuff.

Fenris glances over his shoulder. “I’m fine, Hawke. You don’t need to keep asking.”

“Sorry,” Hawke mutters. “Can’t help it.”

“And you? Does the red lyrium bother you?”

“No! No, not at all.”

That’s a baldfaced lie, and he’s fairly sure Fenris can tell, but all he gets is a sigh in return. The red lyrium does bother him, and not just in the expected way. He can…feel it with the same sense he uses to feel the Veil. It’s a sort of wrongness, as if he were witnessing a parade of vile atrocities falling by on either side of them. It’s frustrating to be harrowed like that, to be set on edge and bother Fenris with his shying when there isn’t even anything there. Just more red lyrium.

There’s a moaning from deep in the cave. The soft echoes reach for them through the black.

Fenris halts, as does Hawke. “More of them,” Hawke whispers.

“Or their victims,” Fenris points out. “Come, we must hurry.”

Hawke can only follow, embarrassed of his cowardice. Fenris is an unflinching pillar of calm, advancing through the passage ahead. The dark eats at his edges, little fingers of shadow worrying at his silhouette. Hawke fears, irrationally, that he’ll be snatched away into the nothingness, gone forever.

The cave is endless, a close, damp tunnel that draws them forward like a man’s gut pulling down food. Hawke is afraid of what lies ahead, of course, but now that they’ve made the decision to go forward there’s a sort of pitched urgency in him to keep moving, a child’s fear of the ghoulish monstrosities that await them and a semi-hysterical desire to simply get it all over with. The red lyrium cants over them to either side as the crossed swords of a king’s guard, a mocking tribute to their approach.

The moaning grows louder and seems to thrum out of the earth around them. Hawke stops. “Wait—where’s it coming from?”

Fenris hesitates, glancing around uncertainly. “It must be ahead. We have not passed any branches in the path.”

“Are you sure? Maybe we missed one.” Hawke turns, raising his little flame. It does nothing to scare away the darkness.

“Unh—“

Hawke spins. Fenris is pinned to the ceiling, struggling against the enormous red claw caging his chest. It appears to have sprouted out of the wall, and Hawke tenses, urging his flame to burn brighter. It grows reluctantly, illuminating the cave wall in sputtering white.

There’s a face in the rock.

Human once though not anymore, its skin riven by crags; yet its eyes still shine wet and empty, a pale, sickly red. On the ceiling Fenris grunts, straining to free himself. The creature groans, shifting, and the stone shifts with it, spires of lyrium twisting out into the lumen of the cave. "No!" Hawke shouts, and tries to call up lightning, thunder, anything. He gets a spurt of purple sparks that race up the creature’s wobbling body without effect. It rumbles, heaving itself further out of the rock, and Fenris gasps as its movement crushes him against the ceiling. Hawke has to stop it. He squeezes his eyes shut and calls on Pride.

The red lyrium intervenes, sluicing his Fade connection with the sense of—something, a hundred things, the memory of his siblings’ blood on his hands, the smell of the bloated bellies of Blight victims bursting in the sun, the feeling of his own viscera spilling out over his skin. Hawke doubles over, eyes burning, stomach twisting. The wall at last vomits the creature forth, and it lets out a deep, vibrating roar that sieves the strength from Hawke’s body. He collapses with a retch and struggles with tear-blotted eyes to look up.

Blood drips from the ceiling, glowing in the lyrium’s red light. The creature’s claws have pierced Fenris’s leather armor and begun to cut into him. Then Fenris’s brands begin to glow, his face tight, and he summons a wild, searing burst of power. It’s blinding in the dark. Hawke shields his eyes, and the creature squeals. When Hawke drops his hand Fenris is on the ground and the creature is squirming away into the blackness.

“Fenris?” Hawke scrambles closer. “Fenris!”

Fenris sits up, grimacing. “Shallow wounds, I think.” He probes them gingerly and examines his fingers.

Red crystals shine on his fingertips.

“Oh, no,” Hawke breathes. Fenris’s eyes lock with his, wide with fear.

Then the red blossoms in them like a flower and Hawke hopes the ceiling caves in on them both, trapping them here from now until the end of time. “Hawke,” Fenris says, and takes his hand.

Hawke shakes his head. “I can’t do anything. I can’t stop it.”

“Hawke.”

“It’s too late. You should never have come here—“

“Hawke, wake up.”

——

He opens his eyes.

The first thing he sees is Fenris above him, and he sits up in the dark. “You’re sick—it hurt you, you're sick—"

“I am not sick—“

Hawke reaches out and cups his face in both hands, making him start. But his eyes are green like leaves in summer, the same as they’ve always been. “I—I saw it infect you—“

“Nothing infected me,” Fenris says. “You had a nightmare.”

“It wasn’t,” Hawke insists, turning Fenris’s face gently, inspecting his eyes and the lyrium brands for red. “It was real, I felt it—“

“Hawke, it wasn’t real,” Fenris tells him, taking his wrist. “It was a dream. You can see for yourself that I am not sick.”

A dream.

Hawke pulls back and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. “Fuck me,” he mutters.

Fenris snorts, amused. “You were thrashing. I thought it best to wake you.”

“Sorry. Hope I didn’t thump you in my sleep.”

“No, nothing like that.”

They sit in the quiet for a while. The sounds of the forest surround them, which helps: the friendly chirp of crickets, the soft rustle of wind through sunset-red leaves. He’s not entombed in the earth, and Fenris isn’t sick—he sits, arms encircling his knees, by the fire and gazes into the cool night with a soft smile on his face.

But something still nags at Hawke, and it takes him a minute to think of it. At last it strikes him—the lingering sense of Fenris’s warm skin under his palms. “Oh.” He stirs. “I touched you. Sorry.”

Fenris exhales. “It’s all right. If it bothered me I would have pulled away.” He shrugs one shoulder. “As I said, it’s not unpleasant, exactly. Only strange.”

“Hm.”

“Is it the red lyrium?” he asks. “That gives you these dreams? I’ve noticed you’re tired.”

Fuck. Hadn’t meant to be that obvious. “Might be.”

“What was it this time? I was infected?”

Hawke hesitates. “Yes.”

“I see," Fenris says. "Might I observe that the red lyrium seems to be affecting you more than it is me?”

Hawke smiles ruefully. “You’re right. I shouldn’t be so scared, you’ve proven well enough you can handle yourself.”

“But you are vulnerable.”

Hawke looks up. “I can do this. This is why Sanaris spared me, isn’t it?”

Fenris gazes back. “There’s no shame in admitting weakness, especially not to such a dangerous foe.”

“I can do it,” Hawke says, insistent. “It’s only dreams.”

Fenris lets out an annoyed sigh. “Of course. Presumptuous of me to suggest otherwise.”

Fuck. “Just—let me try. I know we’re close.”

“As you wish.” Fenris lies down. “Good night, Hawke.”

Hawke rubs his forehead. Fucked that one up. “Good night.”

——

A half-dozen red templars outside and probably just as many within.

“We should call for reinforcements,” Fenris murmurs, crouched next to Hawke at the crest of the rise.

“Well, that would be nice, but I doubt we’ve got the time,” Hawke whispers back. “If he’s here, it won’t be for long.”

Days of eavesdropping and rifling through correspondence finally turned up a promising lead: negotiations with the Freemen being conducted at the Chateau Mireil. Fenris did not think the general of the red templars would negotiate in person with a group perhaps a hundred and fifty strong, but, considering Samson’s background, Hawke disagreed. Fenris showed little interest in fighting back so here they are.

The chateau must have been beautiful once; the stone facade is carved with a dozen gallant knights fighting off a veritable parade of fearsome beasts. The tableau hides now beneath a curtain of ivy, and the garden’s wild tangles of flowers battle with weeds. The templars stand watch on the patio. “I do not see any way to approach them covertly,” Fenris says. “Unless you can provide a distraction.”

“I can do that,” Hawke asserts, and rises, taking care to stay hidden.

Fenris seems a bit surprised but nods. “Very well. I await your signal.”

Hawke heads back down the rise, the green grass lush and slippery under his boots. He makes a wide circle around the courtyard, staying out of sight. Hasn’t spent much time apart from Fenris, having only a knife and a few laughably weak spells with which to defend himself; but he’s been practicing and thinks his chances are better now. The other part of it is that this variety of sneaking reminds him a bit too much of his pre-Inquisition days, hunting and hunted, and he doesn’t much like it. Only a handful of weeks ago, but there’s something…strange about the feeling, like there’s some veil he’s passed through in the intervening time. And before—

No time to ruminate. He’s got a plan, and this is as good a spot as any to execute it. The trees here are grown but not ancient yet, their trunks still pliable. Hawke raises his hands.

He grasps at the Veil, scooping it around the shaggy, rust-brown bark, and pulls a tree down, feet planted and muscles straining. The trunk bends ever so slightly. With a gasp he lets it go all at once, and it snaps back to attention with a shudder, releasing a shower of golden leaves. There. Hopefully they’ll think that’s an encroaching giant and come to investigate. Hawke backs off a little and repeats the process. The strength of the magic makes his head buzz like his elbow when he bangs it on a chair. Still, the fact he can do it at all is progress.

Then he hunkers down inside a squat evergreen and waits until a trio of templars appear. Not the replete company he was hoping for, but three foes is better than six for Fenris and the shouts go up a second later. The templars start and turn back toward the chateau.

Hawke hesitates.

He wants to try and stop them. They’re in metal armor, his electricity would do well against it. But there are three and he’s still weak and they’re templars—they’d kill him for sure. Unless he used blood magic.

I am here if you need me.

The templars dart back through the trees. No thanks, Hawke thinks. Fenris can handle this.

It would not surprise me. I am only offering my aid. Without me your magic will not touch them.

It’s true. Even his blood magic might not do the job without the demon’s help. Still, he’s done well recently—no slips, no more stinging disappointment from Fenris. And he’d like to try and keep that up for as long as possible. Instead he simply follows the templars at a distance, navigating through the trees until he emerges once more into the clearing.

On the patio Fenris is fighting them.

Two are dead already. The last is of the more monstrous variety, swollen, brown, and spiked, and it tries to shamble away only for the gleaming greatsword to punch straight through it. (“Like jelly,” Fenris said once, and Hawke made a face.) But the last three charge the stone patio and from inside the chateau there are calls to arms, and Hawke suspects things are about to get hairy. Fenris rips his sword out, and the stricken creature collapses in a pile of mushy proto-organs. Lovely. He turns to face the others.

They’ve hardly engaged when the door to the chateau crashes open. Another pair, somewhat less monstrous on the scale of things, but behind them a towering warrior with jagged red spikes protruding from his shoulders like pauldrons. Still more shouts from inside. This isn’t good. Fenris already has his hands full with three opponents, but he hasn’t been struck yet, it seems—he’s very fast, almost—

Flickering.

His body is subsumed in the blue-white glow, and he moves in ways that should be impossible, crossing spaces without actually existing at every point in between. Or so it looks, and it might well be Hawke’s own mind exaggerating simply because his eyes aren’t quick enough to catch what’s really happening. What he does catch is the strain on Fenris’s face, the same as when he stood up beneath Solas’s spell. Fuck. He needs help, especially with that officer in the fray. Hawke takes a deep breath and raises his hands. They haven’t seen him yet, probably, so he might get one good shot in before they negate him.

It takes time to prepare the spell—always does these days, because he has to search for the Veil, gather it with care lest it slip away. Would it were as easy as his days in Kirkwall. Still, he is patient, coaxing electricity out of the air until the mere friction of breathing makes his lungs crackle with static. Fenris defends himself, his blade ringing as he parries and blocks, although he has little opportunity to counter them: if he doesn’t keep moving they’ll surround him. Another trio of templars rush out of the chateau. “Damn it all,” Hawke whispers. All right.

He raises his arms.

Above the patio the air ripples and lightning bursts out of it, a dozen bolts spearing down at the melee. A satisfying chorus of screams, and Hawke grins to himself, exhilarated, wishing only that it lasted longer. If the demon—well. He decided against that. The disruption gives Fenris a window, and with pitiless precision he kills one, two, three of them before the rest can back off to defend themselves. Hawke’s spell appears to have killed none, only stopped them briefly in their tracks. And now a few turn toward him. He takes a step back. Should he run? Surely he’ll only be a burden to Fenris now, and yet to leave him alone against so many—

“Lower your weapons!”

A familiar voice. Samson emerges from the chateau.

Hawke can’t tell if he’s more or less unhealthy-looking than he was on the streets in Lowtown. His face is still gaunt and sallow, drawn cheeks dusted with stubble. But that suit of armor he’s wearing gives Hawke pause. It might be templar armor but for the dull spike of red lyrium sticking out of it, right over his heart. Hawke had expected something more…extravagant, and the lack of it worries him. On Samson’s back a greatsword is sheathed, but even from here Hawke can tell there’s red lyrium in it, sending baleful pulses of sickness through the Veil. The templars obey him, backing off slowly. Fenris doesn’t lower his blade, only waits.

Samson shades his eyes, peering out to the edge of the clearing. “Rowan Hawke. I thought it might be you. You don’t have to stand all the way out there, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Hawke almost musters a chuckle but can’t do even that. “Think I’ll stay where I am, thanks.”

Samson pauses, thoughtful; then he jerks his head. “All of you, go prepare the horses. We’re leaving.”

The templars hesitate but start to trickle out. Fenris shuffles half a step forward but desists. There are quite a lot of them. Samson remains, and Hawke, against his better judgement, starts to approach. This is his singular job, after all. And he doesn’t like leaving Fenris alone with a man who controls a legion of red-lyrium warriors.

“It’s been a long time,” Samson says, in an amused drawl.

“What are you playing at?” Hawke asks, coming to a stop just about between Fenris and Samson. If nothing else, his seventeen stone should work as a not insubstantial shield. “Joining up with a creepy old magister who stumbled out of the Fade?”

Samson shrugs at him. “You got a better idea?”

Hawke snorts. “Got a few.”

“Then I’d like to hear them,” Samson replies. “The Chantry doesn’t support us. The Inquisition doesn’t want us. Thedas doesn’t care about us. At least to Corypheus, we have value.”

“Right, until you’ve run out your usefulness.” Hawke considers him. “You really think anything good is coming out of this? Look at yourself. You saw what red lyrium did to Meredith.”

Samson looks down at his armor.

A breeze picks up, ferrying a swirl of flame-colored leaves across the patio. A shame there’s red templars here, because the chateau is quite beautiful up close. Stone lions filigreed with faded gold paint hold vigil along the banister, gazing out at the trees. Behind Samson the chateau is wreathed in ivy, and the bronze bracing still gleams in the autumn sun.

“It’s true, I had…misgivings,” Samson says. “As would anyone with a scrap of common sense. But I figured it was a sacrifice, binding myself to a power like this. And it was one I chose to make. Isn’t that why you did it?” he asks.

“Fuck off,” Hawke snaps. He’s right, obviously, which isn’t pleasant to think about. “I’m not serving anyone.”

Samson lets out a belly-laugh. “Ah, apostates never cease to amaze me.”

A templar appears around the corner of the chateau, leading two horses. Behind Hawke there’s a scrape of boot on stone. Fenris wants to finish this, and Hawke sort of does too.

Samson raises his hands. “I know, you both want me dead. But I have no wish to fight you.”

“Why’s that?” Fenris asks archly. “Because you know you’ll lose?”

“No. Because I don’t think you deserve to die.” Samson watches Hawke. “I’ve been wondering, Champion. I can hear the red lyrium sing, but I’m a templar. I imagine it’s different for a mage.” He rests a hand on his breastplate. “Can you hear it? What does it sound like?”

Hawke decides to have a listen.

He knows he shouldn’t—has heard it before and it wasn’t much fun then—but it might give them useful information, and anyway, it’ll only be for a moment. So he cocks his head and opens his Fade-sense and listens for the cluster of red at Samson’s chest, and the lyrium sings.

With plain lyrium, the song is crystalline and incidental, simply another facet of its existence. Red lyrium is the same, albeit wilder and more discordant, like an insane musician playing an instrument they’ve never played before. It could be maddening, certainly, with time; Hawke tried to listen in on the samples he retrieved from Varric’s brother and always found it made him feel extraordinarily ill at ease, though he still had to work to tear himself away. 

Samson’s armor is different.

The song isn’t wild, it’s intentional, although it still grates over the surface of Hawke’s mind so harshly he fears it’ll bleed him. But the worst part is that it’s not an undirected song, not the supranatural wind blowing through the spires and crags. This red lyrium has a voice, and it’s singing to him. Hawke freezes up in a heart-stop of mystification and fear, which postpones for a dear handful of seconds his decision to pull away.

The red lyrium, whatever’s in the red lyrium, turns its gaze to him.

Hawke breaks the connection, feels it snap like a finger. He stumbles back. It’s still singing. It’s still singing, its voice like moths beating against his skin and crawling into his ears. He shakes his head violently to dislodge them. To his right the quick tapping of footsteps blowing past. Hawke crashes to a knee, straining to focus. Samson strides toward the horses, with Fenris bearing down on him, blade readied. “No!” Hawke shouts, and flings out a hand.

The blast of force he summons is stronger than any he’s managed since leaving Kirkwall. It hurls Fenris ten feet sideways, sending him skidding across the stone. The sword spins out of his hand. Samson mounts his horse, and together he and the other templar start galloping off into the trees. Fenris scrambles to his feet, dives for his blade, and straightens; but it’s too late, and Samson is already disappearing between the great shaggy trunks. Hawke collapses to an elbow, overcome with relief. Fenris stands there, an irked frown pulling at his mouth.

“Hawke.” He turns and stalks over, seizes Hawke’s collar, and with an impressive feat of strength drags him upright. “Would you like to tell me why you just let the Inquisition’s second most sought-after enemy escape?”

An echo of the song drifts through Hawke’s mind and makes him flinch hard. Or is it just in his head? A terror-memory? “I’m—I’m sorry,” Hawke whispers. “He was dangerous. His armor—Fenris, we can’t fight him.”

Fenris’s brow furrows, and he opens his fist. Hawke’s legs are shaking too badly to support his weight, and he would collapse if not for Fenris catching him and lowering him to the ground.

“Samson did something to you,” Fenris says.

Hawke finds his chest heaving and heart hammering. He tries to take slow, deep breaths, although it sends pangs of pain through his ribs. “He—I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Fenris is still frowning, but the hard set of his face begins to ease. After a long moment he sighs. “Let us rest so you may recover.”

Hawke nods, swallowing hard. He’s holding onto Fenris’s arm—a bit too tightly, the hard leather plate digging into his fingers. Yet he can’t bring himself to relax his grip, considering Fenris is the only one of them who’s any good in a fight, apparently. What if he needs defending?

But nothing happens. Samson is gone, well and gone, and his templars with him. There’s no more red lyrium here. Instead it’s just Hawke cowering on a patio, chased only by the leaves that blow across the tiled stone; and Fenris kneeling there too, waiting with far more patience than Hawke deserves. He listens again but there are no more echoes, imagined or otherwise, of the red lyrium’s song, and the base of his throat doesn’t hurt so much from gulping down breaths. After a moment he nods, letting go of Fenris at last. “All right. All right. I’m fine.”

“Hm.” Fenris rises. “We must search the manor, but afterwards I think we should leave this place and find somewhere to set up camp.”

It’s only the afternoon, but their mission is over, or nearly so—Samson has fled the chateau, off to places unknown. Hawke pushes himself to his feet and goes to help Fenris.

——

The cascade glitters in the twilight, thundering down the rock face, splitting over water-worn stone and exploding into a white mist of spray at the head of the river that winds through the gorge beneath their dangling feet. Hawke leans over, peering down; the cool, humid air drifts up from below and brushes his face like a lover’s touch.

“It’s beautiful,” he remarks.

“Yes,” Fenris replies. “It is.”

Hawke looks up. “You’re glowing.”

Fenris blinks and raises a lyrium-lined hand. His markings are alight in faint white-blue. “Ah. So I am.”

“You’re not meaning to?”

A half-shrug. “No. It happens sometimes.”

Hawke frowns. “I’ve seen it glow when you’re upset or angry. Are you…” It wouldn’t be unjustified. Hawke did fling him across a patio only a few short hours ago.

“No, no,” Fenris says with haste. “I’m neither of those things.” He gazes at his hand another moment, then drops it, instead watching the waterfall catch the light of the stars only just now appearing in the vast purple sky. “I am at peace.”

Hawke swings his feet a little, like he’s a child again sitting on Farmer Morrin’s squat stone wall with his fishing line tugged along, unbitten, by the lazy current of the Southron River. He had Bethany with him then, and Carver sometimes. Now they’re both dead, but somehow Fenris is still here. “Are you…sure you’re not angry with me?” Hawke asks.

Fenris glances over and sighs. “You listened to the red lyrium, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“A foolish decision, plainly. But I cannot fault you for trying to learn from it, nor for being affected in such a way. You’ve heard it before, have you not?”

“Yes. Just not like that. Samson’s armor…” Hawke rubs his face. “Something’s been done to it. I don’t know who can work red lyrium like that, but it’s even more dangerous than the stuff that’s been sprouting from the ground all over the South. We can’t kill him with just the two of us. I don’t know if anyone can.”

“Hm. That in itself is a useful piece of intelligence,” Fenris notes.

Hawke guffaws. “Right. ‘Don’t touch him, he’s scary?’”

“I am being serious. The Inquisition’s resources grow by the day. They may be able to discover exactly what was done to the armor and how to counter it.”

Ah. When he puts it that way… “I see,” Hawke mutters.

They sit in the quiet for a moment. The night is starting to grow chilly. Hawke finds it pleasant, but Fenris shivers a little and pulls his coat on over his narrow shoulders. Hawke gets another brief pang in his chest. “So,” he says airily, leaning back on his hands. “Seems my time with the Inquisition is about to come to an end.”

Fenris raises his eyebrows. “What?”

“Well, they spared me to give them an edge on Samson, isn’t that right?” Hawke shrugs. “It’s eminently unlikely that I’ll be able to give them anything more than what I found today. I imagine Sanaris will find much more value in handing me over to the Chantry rather than keeping me on to hide in bushes while Samson destroys Orlais.”

Fenris stares at him, mouth half-open, with a mixture of disbelief and something that might be offense. Yet no words come, and Hawke cringes a little. “Did I…say something wrong?”

“You—“ Fenris shuts his mouth and tries again. “It amazes me how you have had four years to reflect on the mistakes you made in Kirkwall, and yet somehow you still manage to grate on me with exactly the same faults that landed you here in the first place!”

Hawke blinks, utterly taken aback. “What?” he blurts out.

“You are giving up!” Fenris flings a hand out. His brands flare in the night, setting his face alight in harsh, vivid blue. “You are giving up! Again! No, we can’t defeat Samson, but we’ve been killing demons and undead and templars for weeks! We've been saving lives! But now you have a chance to just—lie down and surrender, so of course you’d choose that—“

“I’m not lying down!” Hawke interjects. “Sanaris thinks in politics and pragmatics, and she knows the Chantry wants me dead—“

“Then fight her!” Fenris fires back. “Convince her! Do something!” He shakes his head, seeming to catch himself, and exhales. After a moment he continues. “If you want to go die, then go die. I certainly won't stop you. But if you want to help, then stay alive.”

Then he turns his gaze resolutely out over the gorge. Hawke stares at him a minute more and then follows suit, running a slow hand through his hair. In the gloom the trees across the river are only just visible, their red leaves traced in twilight. It’s true. He can kill undead and demons and templars—not well, but he can. “You’re right.”

“Yes, I am,” Fenris snaps.

“Fine.” Hawke takes a deep breath. “Fine. So what do we tell Sanaris?”

“The truth. That Samson escaped and you are vulnerable to him, and also that you still have more knowledge of red lyrium than most. And that you are a capable warrior and a skilled intelligence gatherer who is willing to dispatch the enemies of the Inquisition without pay.”

Hawke chuckles. “Only because the alternative’s rather morbid.”

“She knows that already.”

Fenris’s brands have calmed, lit softly now in the same brilliant teal-blue that Hawke remembers from the Waking Sea in summer, when Kirkwall Harbor was steeped in sun and the piercing rays hit the surface of the water and then burst apart, setting it aglow. It’s deeply painful to think about and has been since he left; but with Fenris here, it’s hard not to. “All right,” Hawke says. “I’ll talk to her.”

Fenris folds his knees up and hugs them to his chest, grasps his arms with thin fingers. “Everything is not decided,” he murmurs. “You must decide, at every moment. Even when it seems the hardest thing you’ve ever done.”

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Is it worth it to go on? After everything he’s done? Is it enough to defend the South now when he ripped it apart at the Gallows on that awful day four years ago?

“This place is breathtaking.”

Hawke looks up.

“A shame about the Chantry statues,” Fenris continues. “But the trees are beautiful nonetheless.”

At peace, he said, and he looks it now, despite the fact that he sits beside the man who betrayed him in the worst way and has done little to atone. Yet he watches the shining waterfall with contentment. Hawke rises, stretching his arms above his head, and goes to lay out his bedroll.

Chapter Text

Sanaris heaves a sigh, dragging a chair forward, dropping herself down in it, and putting her feet up on the edge of the war table.

The maps look sort of expensive but Hawke doesn’t argue. Fenris opened with “Samson got away,” which isn’t really the way Hawke would have done it, so he’ll avoid irritating her any further. Sanaris waves a hand. “Tell me what happened.”

Fenris recounts their adventures in the Graves. There’s a man standing behind Sanaris in fancy dress, rubbing his chin in thought. Stands out a bit among the rest of the Inquisition’s forces, most of whom are in uniform or simple Fereldan clothing (cheaper to get it there than from Orlais to the west, no doubt)—that’s real silk, trimmed with what looks like samite in silver and blue. Not to mention the style is…

Hawke keeps looking back at the man despite himself and finds, unsurprisingly, that Fenris is doing the same. Fenris finishes his story and waits. Sanaris heaves another sigh and shifts, recrossing her legs. “So you can’t kill Samson,” she says.

“I suspect no one can,” Fenris replies. “Not as he is now.”

She groans, rubbing her face. “Fuck me. Fine. So we have to look into this damn armor.”

“That would be wise.”

Sanaris eyes Hawke. “You heard from your Grey Warden contact yet?”

“I only sent the message a few weeks ago,” Hawke says. “Give him some time.” Right. As if he’s any more likely to respond in the next couple of months than he has been the past year and a half.

“Okay.” She sets her feet on the ground and pushes herself out of the chair. “In the meantime, I’ve got a job and not a lot of people who are chomping at the bit to come with me. So you two are being reassigned.” She points at the map, to a spot just south of the Emerald Graves. “There’s some elven ruins here that may or may not house a sword out of Dalish legend.”

“Why does no one want to come with you?” Fenris interjects. Again, somewhat blunt, but Hawke was wondering just the same thing.

Sanaris waves a hand. “It’s supposed to be cursed. But honestly, a lot of these old Dalish tales are bullshit and there’s at least a small chance the blade hasn’t been taken by looters yet. So I want to go check it out.” She jabs a thumb over her shoulder. “Dorian’s coming because I need someone who knows about magic and I don’t trust Solas and Vivienne doesn’t like me.”

“I know about magic,” Hawke mumbles.

“Nice try. I saw what you dredged up in the Plains.”

That’s embarrassing. “Well—yes,” Hawke tries. “But I still know about magic and the Veil and the Fade—“

“Yeah?” Sanaris says drily. “Doesn’t blood magic totally disconnect you from the Fade or something?”

Hawke gapes. How did she—doesn’t matter. She’s absolutely right, and he shuts his mouth before he can dig the hole any deeper.

“Anyway,” Sanaris sighs. “Dorian’s good with spirits and things, so he’s coming with us.”

“And where did you pick him up?” Fenris asks.

There is it. Thing is, the man’s Tevinter—at least his fashion and features imply it strongly. Not just any Tevinter either. Money like that means mage. “Redcliffe,” Dorian answers brightly. “My ex-mentor was trying to shepherd the rebel mages under his nefarious wing. The Inquisitor and I put a stop to it.”

“How noble of you,” Fenris remarks. “Are you a magister? Young, I think, and yet—“

“The son of one,” Dorian answers.

“Ah, I had thought as much. A well-heeled upbringing, then. You own slaves, I expect?”

“Technically, no. Not since my father disowned me.”

Fenris chuckles. “I see. And why was that?”

Dorian waves a hand. “Bit of a personal matter. Suffice to say I dishonored the family name.”

“Some taboo variety of midnight tryst, is that right?” Fenris gazes at him with bald contempt, tempered by an amused smile. He turns to Sanaris. “Did you wish this man dead, Inquisitor? Is that why you brought me here?”

Dorian’s face has hardened but otherwise he does not move. Hawke hadn’t expected things to escalate quite so fast, but he’s perfectly ready to help to the best of his limited ability. It’s rare to find a slave owner who doesn’t deserve to die. Fenris is weaponless and has not even unfolded his arms; still, the capacity for violence radiates from him like the glow from his brands.

The wooden chair scrapes across the floor as Sanaris rises, and she doesn’t seem amused, not at all. She’s no taller than Fenris yet her presence seems to fill the entire room. “Do not threaten any of my allies again, or there will be consequences. Do you understand?”

Fenris narrows his eyes and seems about to reply; but then his gaze flicks sideways and he relents. “Very well.”

It takes a moment for Hawke to get it. Fenris is a powerful warrior and well-connected up north, and does not make himself an easy target. But it’s not him Sanaris is threatening: it’s Hawke, whose vulnerabilities are many. It’s a little bit flattering that Fenris would choose him over killing a magister’s son.

“You were a slave,” Dorian realizes at last. “Was it Danarius? He carved that lyrium into you, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Hm. I suppose it wouldn’t help to tell you I thought he was an evil bastard and celebrated his death.”

“No. It wouldn’t.”

Sanaris smacks a hand down on the table. “Enough! We leave at dawn.”

Without another word Fenris turns and pushes the door open. Hawke follows him down the hall. It gladdens him to see Fenris ready to face a Tevinter mage with such steady confidence—a far cry from his days in Kirkwall, when he spoke of them alternately with hushed, fearful tones and a rage that seemed to pour uncontrolled out of some place cracked opened deep within him. He’s killed quite a few more Tevinter mages in the intervening time, of course. Now that sounds like a good life.

“I am going to find something to eat,” Fenris says, and turns down toward the kitchens.

“Bit hungry myself,” Hawke replies, and follows him. As they pass through the stone halls he runs a hand through his hair. “Fenris…thank you. For shielding me back there.”

Fenris only shrugs a little. “I did reproach you not three days ago for not wanting to live. I thought it would have been awkward if, having done so, I then personally led Sanaris to order your execution.”

Hawke laughs, an impulse that’s been hard to come by in recent times. “That’s fair.”

They’re quiet for a moment, Fenris proceeding to the kitchens unerring. Just as well: Hawke is quite lost. Then Fenris speaks. “I will not enjoy traveling with a Tevinter. Especially not one of such a pedigree.”

Hawke grunts. “Didn’t seem to be taking the whole thing too seriously, did he?”

“Agreed.”

“Well, it seems bodily harm will be frowned upon, but if you’d like to continue confronting him with the myriad atrocities of his homeland, I’ll be happy to back you up.”

Fenris sighs. “I had planned to resist doing so. It would accomplish nothing but to fuel my anger, and anger only helps me for so long before it starts doing just the opposite.”

“I see,” Hawke says, thoughtful. “Then I’ll keep my peace.”

Beware.

Hawke stops.

The sense of danger flares up all round the edges of his mind, even though he hasn’t the faintest idea why—they’re deep inside an impenetrable fortress, what threat could there possibly be? He swivels, scanning.

Fifteen yards down the hall the elven mage appears.

He follows a cross-corridor and is only visible for a brief moment; but he looks up and meets Hawke’s eye and Hawke holds his flinch down, almost, just the tiniest twitch of shock running down to his fingers and toes. Solas says nothing and does nothing, only turns the corner and disappears, yet behind his eyes Hawke thinks there was a glint of the same lambent silver that pinned him down on the Exalted Plains.

“Hawke?”

Fenris is ahead and saw no one. Hawke looks up. “Sorry. Let’s go.”

——

“Fasta vass—“

That’s Dorian, summoning up another gout of flame from Hawke’s left. The spell incinerates one shambling corpse, and Hawke reaches out and grasps at the second one, clamping it in a vise. Sanaris steps in to finish the job, hacking its head off with her sword. Done, thankfully so. Hawke’s Fade-sense is feeling the strain.

The elven ruins are nearly surreal—Sanaris had speculated that looters might have emptied the place out but it appears untouched except by the inevitable passage of time. So the floors are sunken in places, yes, the stones swallowed by earth and the ceiling sagging or caved. But beneath layers of dust the mosaics still gleam, reflecting the torchlight like predators’ eyes in the dark. Many of them are patterns or landscapes, furiously exuberant trees bristling with leaves in spring-green or jade beneath black skies that shine with the iridescence of a raven-feather. But in some of the walls strange figures abide, ghosts in the lacquer, imprisoned behind the lattice of white-grey mortar. Hawke knows that the Dalish Creators are supposed to be people, or at least look like people. These depictions…give him pause. The elves in the walls watch them with eyes a little too dark, and their skin has a faint bluish tint that reminds him of Fenris’s lyrium.

Sanaris is sheathing her sword. “So,” Hawke says. “I’m no expert, obviously, but it seems like earlier clans had, er…a slightly different view of the Creators.”

Sanaris grunts. “I’m not the best person to ask.”

“Ah. I apologize. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“It’s all right. I was raised Dalish, everyone knows that.” She picks up the torch again. “But there’s a reason I became a spy.”

It’s not just the walls but their enemies as well. The corpses here are all in armor from no nation Hawke knows; instead they must be Dalish, clad in breastplates and vambraces with strange, ridged curves and narrow silhouettes—dozens upon dozens of elves drawn from their long slumber, rising to punish those who would disturb their rest. The slumping walls and bulging ceilings make for cramped quarters, so Hawke cannot help but get close, using his staff to fend off graceful, wicked blades that seek his throat.

All in all it seems like a dream, or another nightmare. The only respite is the dusty rays of sunlight that pierce down from the ceiling high above, sprinkled sparsely along their journey, meager scraps thrown to strays. Shaking off the shivers down his spine from another battle with the undead, Hawke realizes what’s been bothering him so much about the corpses. All in Dalish armor, to the last, and all perished here.

So who killed them?

“We really shouldn’t be here,” Dorian mutters.

Sanaris glances over her shoulder, ducking past a fallen strut. “Gonna need you to pull back the doom and gloom a little, Dorian.”

“I’m sorry, but so many undead—something evil happened here,” he says. “We are in danger.”

“No shit. I saw the corpses.”

“I don’t mean the corpses. The corpses are a byproduct.” He picks his way over a pile of rubble. “Do you know the sheer magnitude of magic it would require to raise this many undead over this great an area, without even being present oneself? One necromancer couldn’t do this. Ten couldn’t do this.”

“That’s just great,” Hawke mumbles.

“I’m assuming you felt it too.”

“What? That the Veil’s fucked here?” It is fucked, which has made his spells harder to cast—the Veil puckered in some places like a scar, in others sloughing apart like putrefied skin. It’s tired him out even faster than normal. “Thought it was because of the corpses.”

“A possibility, though not a strong one. Far more likely it’s the other way around.”

There’s a moment’s pause. Fenris is glowing slightly, which helps a little with the dark. Sanaris’s torch burns bright but not bright enough. “So, uh…” she says. “There’s an old Dalish story about the Sulevin Blade.”

“A story?” Dorian urges. “How does it go?”

Another pause. “I’m trying to remember.”

Ah. Hawke nods. “Well, that’s helpful.”

“Mock me again and I’ll hand you over to Val Royeaux,” she replies. “Anyways, you think I gave a shit about the stories? Clan talked a lot about the great warriors of ages past. But talking’s all they did.”

Fenris grunts. “There are doors up ahead.”

Hawke sighs and steels himself.

The double doors are beaten bronze, emblazoned with an image of an elven brigade astride armored halla, riding through the trees. The one at the front holds aloft a weapon that radiates light. “Could that be the Sulevin Blade?” Hawke asks.

      Sanaris squints. “I think it’s an axe.”

“Oh.”

“It’s okay. Probably one of the other thousand weapons the Dalish have a story for.” She drops the torch and puts her shoulder up to the door. “Fenris, help me.”

The door isn’t wide enough for more than two bodies so Hawke stands back, glancing over his shoulder. Dorian lingers there at the edge of the light, the shadow creeping over his back. “It’s in there,” he whispers. “The center of it.”

Hawke turns, reaching out with his aching Fade-sense. Ah. Beyond the door, the Veil is…sucked in, twisted and rotting like flesh strangled of blood. And if he can feel it, Dorian, who has proven himself a much more skilled mage, must be nearly sick. With a growl of effort, Sanaris—Fenris helping—manages to open up a gap, the door grinding over the stone floor. Hawke thinks of trying to aid them with magic but suspects he wouldn’t add much and anyway, he wishes to save what little power he has left for whatever lies ahead.

   Sanaris and Fenris shove at the door for another long minute and try their hand at the other as well, but they can’t widen the gap. At last Sanaris stands back, huffing out a breath. “Hawke, can you fit through there?”

  Hawke winces. He is by far the biggest of them. “Let’s find out.”

He doesn’t much like the thought of all of them squeezing into a mysterious, evil room from which there is no easy egress, but Sanaris appears determined to go ahead. Hawke goes up and plants a hand on the other side of the door to try and pull himself through. At first he thinks his chest will get stuck, and then he thinks his arse will get stuck, but with a great deal of struggling he manages to stumble out onto the other side. It’s almost pitch-black without the torch. Fenris is next—he tosses his sheathed sword to Hawke first and barely brushes the sides. Dorian pushes past with a grunt, and Sanaris slides through last. She lifts the torch, bathing the room in flickering orange light.

There’s a pit in the middle of the floor filled to the brim with bodies.

   “Well, that would do it,” Hawke says airily, though his voice shakes.

At least two dozen of them, some no more than skeletons but others have been mummified in the dry, dusty air. They watch Hawke with black, empty sockets and their mouths gape in permanent horror, desiccated skin drawn tight over ancient bones. The space above the pit seems to vibrate as if in danger of tearing apart and revealing whatever lies beneath. Fenris draws his sword, and Sanaris hers as well. She glances over. “Think I remember how the story went now.”

There’s a rumble in the room, like a creature inhaling deeply, wakening from its slumber. “This was back in the days of the Exalted March,” Sanaris says. “A bunch of elves were on the run from Chantry forces after a catastrophic loss. They were desperate and decided to summon spirits to aid them in their revenge, so they captured a bunch of human villagers and marched them down here.”

Two figures begin to form above the corpses, emerging as if the air is the shroud which hides them. “The elves sacrificed the innocents and the spirits appeared,” Sanaris continues. “But they didn’t take vengeance on behalf of the elves. They did it on behalf of the humans.”

The figures take shape, suspended above the pile of bodies—mirror images of each other, faceless phantoms clad in heavy armor with enormous greatswords at their sides. Hawke swears to himself.

“And then I guess they never left,” Sanaris finishes.

Revenants.

Hawke’s fought revenants before—he shares a glance with Fenris—but only a couple of them, and he had three friends with him each time. Not to mention it was never in a place like this one so vast, so steeped in blood. Now they’ve got two revenants at once, and Hawke’s shabby magic is already running dry.

The revenants glide forward and Sanaris shouts “Back me up, Dorian!” and Hawke readies himself. The first revenant approaches her, sword at its side, and the second appears to set its ghostly sights on Fenris, perhaps recognizing him as a worthy challenger.

How can they possibly win?

Fenris parries and their blades clash together, metal on metal ringing out like a death-knell. Hawke reaches for the Veil but it’s gnarled and knotted and resists his efforts. Gritting his teeth, he pulls together a bolt of lightning and hurls it at the revenant. The electricity races over the creature’s armor, but of course there’s no flesh inside to cook, and the revenant’s greatsword cleaves through the air, swinging at Fenris again. He raises a block, but the sheer force of the blow staggers him.

The revenants’ blades appear almost weightless, slicing through the air like fish darting through the shallows, and the torch flickers off of them like ripples of sunlight. Fenris’s lyrium bursts to life and then dies almost immediately; Hawke watches the flare of shock and strain pass over his face. The ruined Veil must be affected his brands too. Fuck. He glances back and finds Sanaris at least has hers contained; she loses ground in a steady but controlled pattern, and her foe is badgered by Dorian’s plumes of royal-purple flame. Meanwhile, Fenris can only defend himself, quick enough on his feet not to get backed into a corner but unable to return the blows. Hawke tries—really tries to help, twining together what he can of the ravaged Veil to hurl blunt volleys of force that often swing wide, misguided on taut contracture lines that shouldn’t be there. The revenant hardly stumbles, and even when Fenris finds a half-second for a strike its blade leaps through the air with impossible grace to deflect.

From behind Hawke Sanaris snarls in pain. Fuck. He spins, sees blood shining on the ground beneath her. Reflexively he shapes a spell—wild and off-target, but it clips the revenant’s raised blade, bouncing it off the wall. That might not have been necessary, as a sheet of crystalline blue magic wraps Sanaris up like a blanket. Dorian’s barrier.

A clattering of metal on stone. Hawke spins.

Fenris’s sword is on the ground and so is he. He rises to an elbow, shaking his head. A thin stream of blood in his shorn hair. Pommel-strike. The revenant raises its blade. “No!” Hawke shouts, and lunges forward.

The revenant’s blade halts in midair, arrested by a crackling whip of lightning.

Hawke yanks, wrenching the creature’s sword off-course. It turns to him, attention shifting, and glides over the stone floor. Its weapon slices through the air, and Hawke raises an arm to block.

The edge buries itself in a keratinous ridge of black-purple flesh, and he winces, burning pain spreading through his forearm. Before the revenant can dislodge its blade he grabs the strong of it and pulls, dragging the thing closer—then seizes its breastplate with his clawed hand, fingers dipping into the empty space beneath. Lightning pours from him in a cascade, lashing out on all sides, and he can only hope none of the others were in range. The revenant shudders but does not fall, and it tugs its blade out. This time the sword hacks into his upper arm, heavy enough to pierce the leathery skin.

Hawke roars in anger and pain, and he grabs its helmet, putting his fingers through the eye-slit. Electricity erupts from his fingertips in a burst and races over the revenant’s armor—over and over, streaming from him without end, and the revenant convulses in his grasp. His vision, warped and purple, picks out the ghostly form inside it being seared away by the sheer force of the magic. Its hollow eyes rise to meet his.

“Look out!”

Sanaris. Hawke starts to turn but it’s too late; the second revenant’s blade buries itself in the back of his shoulder, and he snarls, flinging a hand out, striking it hard enough to shove it away. A clattering as the first revenant collapses—except for its cuirass, impaled from behind by Fenris’s glowing greatsword. The second sweeps forward again, and this time when the blade parts the air Hawke catches it.

He’s finished with this. The edge splits his palm but he holds it tight and with the other hand grabs the revenant’s torso and squeezes, claws indenting the heavy steel. The revenant levers its blade, sliding it through Hawke’s grip. The tip pierces his shoulder and lodges there. Hawke roars in its face, its not-face, and his claws puncture its cuirass.

Sanaris and Dorian are there to finish it off; her weapon crushes its helmet, and the inside of its armor blazes bright purple with a gout of magical fire. The creature’s arms slowly fall to its sides and then disconnect, armor plates crashing to the ground. Hawke flings the cuirass at the wall. It clangs off the stone and rolls onto the floor.

He turns.

Sanaris and Fenris have their blades readied still, and they split apart slowly. Bracketing him. Dorian is further back, fingers still wreathed in flame, though he trembles and his eyes are wide with fear. Who is the enemy? Who is left?

He looks down at himself.

Taller now; the floor is further away. There are twilight-purple ridges grown out over his limbs, and an odd ache at the crown of his skull. The demon. He’s transforming again, though he had not meant to, had not called on it at all. “It’s me,” he tries to say. His mouth is crowded with pin-sharp teeth and the words distort on their way into the air. “It’s me. It’s me!”

“Then prove it,” Sanaris hisses.

He has to turn back. He tries to force the demon out, to stuff it down through the split in his chest…

…and can’t. It’s stuck, lodged in him like a flail-head just the same as when the Breach first ripped apart the sky. Get out of me, he demands. Get out of me!

I cannot.

What’s that supposed to fucking mean?!

The Veil is marred. I have no purchase.

“Hawke!” Sanaris warns.

Help me, he pleads. They’re going to kill me.

I am trying.

There’s a crawling in his chest, a nest of beetles scraping away behind his ribs. He falls to his knees, gasping. He’s split open, the Fade bulging out through him. But he can’t be this way. He isn’t this way. It’s been weeks since he’s done blood magic, he’s come so far, it can’t end now, it can’t end like this.

His hands begin to shrink, claws shedding like a cat’s to reveal his own fingers beneath, the bruise-purple skin peeling away as dried wax. And it hurts too, sticking to him, leaving him red and rubbed raw beneath. He scrabbles at his arms, trying to scrape it off faster.  The ridges crack off, revealing strings of sticky, gray-green ichor beneath that cling to his armor. Black blood seeps from the wounds the revenant put in him. He reaches up and feels around the back of his head. Horns—four of them, spiraling out of his skull. He grasps one and pulls. It wrenches his head but the horn remains. Gritting his many teeth, he tries again with a firmer yank.

The horn snaps off and the base rubs away, a charcoal-smear on his fingers. With effort he works on the others, stopping now and then to spit out tiny, razor-sharp teeth that cut his lips on their way to the floor. The carapace that coats his left arm clatters to the stone with a hollow sound. Hawke sticks his fingers in his mouth and fishes around, gathering up the remaining fangs, tugging the last stubborn few out of his sore gums and tossing them to the stone.

At last the demon is gone and he is himself again.

He hasn’t any strength left to stand up, so he stays where he is on his knees. There’s the sound of blades being sheathed and he looks up. Sanaris and Fenris are putting away their weapons, although she doesn’t look too convinced.

“You’re bleeding,” Dorian says sharply. Hawke starts.

Dorian kneels and Hawke looks down. He is, in fact—the gashes in his arm and shoulder didn’t disappear with the rest of the demon’s trappings. Now that he sees them the wounds start to burn terribly, and he sucks air in through his teeth, squeezing his arm to staunch the flow.

“I must admit, I’m not much of a healer at the best of times, and the Veil down here makes things…difficult,” Dorian says. “But I hope at least I can staunch the bleeding.” His fingers glow white like diamonds, not like the moon-white magic Anders used in Kirkwall. Hawke swallows, his throat dry. Fenris stands away with arms folded.

It takes a few minutes of Dorian frowning and muttering to himself but finally he sits back and sighs. Hawke examines the wounds beneath his armor and finds them covered in thick, crusty brown-red scabs. So he won’t bleed to death down here after all. With effort he struggles to his feet.

“Well, would you look at that.”

At the edge of the gloom Sanaris plants her foot on a pile of rubble, grasps something, and pulls. With a coarse screech her prize comes free, and she hefts it, bringing it closer to the light.

It’s a greatsword—a rusty one, but even beneath the tarnish it’s obvious the blade is unique in design. The corner of Dorian’s mouth pulls down. “Should we really take it with us? After…well. All this.”

Sanaris thinks for a moment. “I’ll give it to Dagna,” she says finally. “Maybe she can make something good out of it.” She retrieves a long, rough strip of cloth from a pouch at her waist and starts to wrap the sword. “Hawke?”

“Yes?” he rasps.

“Don’t do that again. I know you mentioned the Veil was pretty messed up down here, and my reports say you’ve been doing good work, so I’m not going to hand you over to Cullen or anything. But…well. My tolerance has reasonable limits. I’m sure you understand.”

Hawke nods, concealing his surprise. He’d thought he was done for.

——

They had planned to camp in the ruin aboveground but nobody felt comfortable doing that after the scene that greeted them beneath the earth. Sanaris and Dorian went their own way, trekking off into the night, and Hawke followed Fenris east. The message Sanaris handed him the very morning they left is still in his coat pocket. Four words in Stroud’s hand: Meet me in Crestwood. Hawke knows the spot.

They make camp in a hollow, sheltered from the chill wind that weaves through the trees. Fenris stretches his legs out and crosses his ankles over each other, leaning back on his hands. Out of armor now, though he wears a jacket for the cold. He has made no remark but the mild annoyance has hardly left his face since they emerged from belowground.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” Hawke says quietly.

Fenris’s eyes flick up, then return to the fire. “What exactly does that mean?”

“I didn’t use blood magic. I didn’t even say anything to the demon. It just—came out.”

Fenris watches the flames impassively. “Are you sure about that?”

Hawke hugs himself—with care, his arm and shoulder still aching deeply from the revenant’s blade. Is it true? Does he misremember? Maybe he did call out to it and just doesn’t recall because everything happened so fast. “I—no. I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t.”

“So the demon was able to emerge and twist you halfway to an abomination all on its own? Is that what you’re telling me?”

Hawke crushes a hand to his eyes, trying very hard not to start crying. An eminently bizarre sensation, because he hasn’t wept since his mother died. But this is important, and it’s something he might not be able to fix. “I don’t know. I didn’t use blood magic, I swear.”

“Hm.” Fenris rises, stretching. “I am going to sleep.”

Hawke’s eyes burn, and he swallows, taking a shuddering breath.

It’s not until a few minutes later, when he’s just lain down on his bedroll, that Pride’s voice comes to him. You did call for me.

Hawke’s heart lurches. What? I didn’t!

I heard you. That is why I came.

That’s impossible! I would never have done that!

You did. You were afraid Fenris would die. You called on me to save him because you could not do so on your own.

Hawke gazes into the dark. The faintest flickers of flame brush the roots that bulge from the earthen slope in front of him. Could it be? Was it a reflex—a last, desperate cry to save the man he loves? His fingers curl into the blanket. No, because that would mean—

It would mean he’s a blood mage at his core. That his instinct is still to fall back on the demon that granted him so much power, that still lurks with him at every moment. Even after all these weeks, even with how hard he’s trying to do well by Fenris. To do well by himself.

Hawke stares into the night, unable to tear his thoughts away from the only conclusion that makes any sense. He’ll keep trying, of course. But he begins to realize that his choice was made back in Kirkwall, and he’s deceiving himself if he thinks he can change it.

Chapter Text

Hawke groans. “Not more of them?”

Bull lets out a surly grunt. “We’re in the fucking Fade. Yes, there’s more of them.”

Two Pride demons this time, which is just mean. Neither of them seem to recognize him, which is a bit of a shame. He’d love to kill the ugly bastard who’s been riding around in his head. Sanaris leads the charge with Bull and Fenris just behind. Stroud follows, wary; he’s been protecting Hawke and Dorian. Hawke sighs and attempts to cast. He’d thought it might be easier in the Fade, but it’s not—raw Fade-stuff is much more ethereal than the Veil. It’s like trying to shape mist. His blood magic’s probably fine, since that comes from him, but he won’t use it until absolutely necessary. And maybe not even then.

“Oh, please don’t do that,” Dorian says breathlessly and sweeps an arm out, draping Sanaris in a Veil of sparkling blue just as one of the pride demons swats her into a rock.

The demons fall, eventually, as they all have. But again, Sanaris, Fenris, Bull and Stroud come away with a few more bruises and burns. As they limp back Dorian rubs his fingers together, conjuring a fine crystalline sparkle Hawke recognizes as healing magic; then he grimaces. “Feeling the strain a bit. Are you sure you haven’t got any healing magic?”

Hawke snorts. “You stubbed your toe? That’s about all I can manage.”

Dorian sighs. “Never mind.”

Hawke was always clumsy with healing magic and hasn’t missed losing it after making his pact. Hasn’t needed it, anyway, if he’s careful not to get tagged by any sharp blades and if he gives his body enough time to replenish the blood he’s consumed for fuel. Sanaris winces, grasping her side. Dorian goes to help.

Fenris approaches, a bit stiffly out of fatigue or pain, but not bleeding anywhere Hawke can see. Bull shakes his head. “Damn, Fenris. Watching you fight is poetry.”

“Flattering, though I must tell you it is not intentional,” Fenris replies.

“Yeah, still.” Bull considers him. “You looking for a partner, by any chance?”

Fenris’s eyebrows shoot up almost as fast as Hawke’s do. “Are you—propositioning me?”

Bull shrugs. “Well. Yeah.”

Fenris regains his composure quickly. “Again, I am flattered, but I must respectfully decline.”

“Ah, well. Worth a try.” Bull tips his head back, turning his one eye toward the heavens.

The sky is the color of pond scum and makes Hawke a bit queasy. His pact with Pride cut off his connection with the Fade, and with it his dreams. But he remembers this part, certainly. He wandered through here after his siblings died, and his mother. And now they’re all stuck here with only the Divine’s bloody ghost for a guide.

Sanaris is having difficulty handling the whole thing, though the rest seem to be doing all right. Stroud is stoic as always, cleaning the blood from his sword. Dorian is a mage and has seen all this before. Bull fought blood mages in Seheron and probably ran up against his fair share of demons there.

Fenris has seen the Fade once before for sure—in a dream state, at least, brought on by the Keeper of Sundermount’s Dalish clan, and it certainly didn’t look like this. Still, he seems unbothered by the whole thing, or perhaps just resigned. The only exceptions (which he’s been hiding, and Hawke suspects he wasn’t meant to see them) are the moments when his lyrium flashes like a firework and his whole body tenses, joints locking with shock. Not surprising; Hawke cant imagine how his brands feel in a place like this. “Are you all right?” he asks.

“Yes,” Fenris replies. “You?”

Hawke blinks, having not expected a reciprocal question. “Er—yes, mostly. Just the usual.” Those wounds the revenant put in him, three weeks old now. Hurts to raise his arms but if he doesn’t overdo it he should come out all right. As long as this doesn’t take too much longer.

If he’s honest with himself, it’s sort of nice to be stuck in the middle of a huge fucking mess that, for once, isn’t his fault. It was Sanaris’s hand that put them here—well, and the Grey Wardens, and the dragon. But it wasn’t him. Hawke smiles up at the bile-green sky.

Bull grunts. “Must be mistaken.”

Hawke blinks. “What?”

“ ‘Cause it looks like you’re in a good mood,” Bull says. “Except we’re in the Fade. So I must be mistaken. Right?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Hawke shrugs. “It’s sort of amazing, isn’t it? We’re actually here.”

“Amazing?” Fenris interrupts. “We can’t go three steps without being set upon by demons.”

“Well, yes. But look at the place.” Hawke points. “The rocks are floating.”

“Hawke.”

“All right!” Sanaris calls. “Let’s move.”

Hawke rises, dread floating on top of his wonder like an iridescent sheen of lamp-oil on water. The ghost of the Divine said the way out was ahead, but they haven’t even seen the Nightmare yet, and it surely won’t let them escape without intervening. He follows the others, tagging along at the back. Another door. Sanaris pushes at it and can’t get it open; with a shout of frustration, she pounds on it with her fist. Bull sidles in, putting his shoulder to it and shoving. Together they work at it, and it shudders open at last.

An open plain, a field of rocks bathed in infected light. A half-mile ahead a rift crackles.

“You thought you could simply leave? Ah, I think not. My servant will show you your error.”

The servant's an ugly bastard, four slimy tentacles hanging from an eyeless face with six legs like spiders poking out of its back. Hawke also hasn’t seen anything like it before, which doesn’t bode well; he’s seen most demons, and if it’s rare that’s not a good sign. “Maker protect us,” Stroud whispers; Hawke glances over and decides not to comment on that.

Sanaris is already charging, plainly eager to be out of this place once and for all. Fenris is behind her. For the first time since they arrived Hawke gets a twinge in his stomach. This thing’s obviously powerful—will Fenris be able to defeat it without his brands? Will he be safe?

The ground erupts beneath Hawke’s feet, flipping him onto his back as a terror demon appears with a grating screech. That’s just great. He hurls himself to one side, its claws scraping the stone where he was a split-second earlier. Then the demon hisses—Stroud’s hacking at its leg, drawing its attention. Hawke scrambles to his feet.

It’s times like these when he wishes he spent any time at all imbuing his staff—used to when he used blood magic, when the power flowed out of him without end and his staff was a convenient place for him to store it. Now he’s got enough trouble with one single fight. Instead he whips out the blade of his staff and takes a chunk out of the demon’s middle. There, that’s better. He’s been practicing every morning under Fenris’s tutelage—has never won a sparring bout but the losses have grown progressively less embarrassing. To the left Sanaris and Fenris are dealing with the servant, and Bull and Dorian have paired up against a second terror demon.

Then the servant tips its head back and a scream rips open the air.

Hawke buckles, covering his ears. No use: his vision’s already gone, papered over in black and shredded with terror-claws to reveal Bethany dead in his arms again, nineteen years old with saliva-thick blood burbling out of her mouth and blue eyes gone wide and glassy. “Bit late, aren’t you?” Hawke hisses, crawling forward just to feel the wet stone under his palms, the grit digging into his skin, and he drags himself out of it it last. Not a moment too soon, either; the demon swipes at him and he deflects the blow only at the last second, his staff knocking the scythelike claws aside so they gouge into the rock. He seems to be the first one up, though Dorian’s rising. Hawke summons a bolt of lightning, stunning the demon for a precious second to let him back off. Dorian’s already handling the other.

Which leaves the servant. Sanaris is still on the ground, rousing slowly. Fenris is struggling to rise—but his brands flash white-blue and he buckles, face twisting in pain. Damn it all. Awful fucking timing. The servant turns to him.

The lightning Hawke calls down strikes true. The servant groans, shuddering. Fenris stands shakily and this time climbs to his feet, his blade lashing out. The blow lacks his usual precision but summons a spray of black blood.

Then the demon’s tail thwacks into Hawke’s middle and sends him flying through the air. What he gets for not paying attention. He collides with the stone wall and slumps to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Fuck. His staff—there beside him, and he snatches it up because that deadly tail is coming at him again.

Not fast enough. Hawke manages to knock the blow off-course so it doesn’t spear him through the brain, just slices open his cheek and ear with its jagged ridges. Flecks of stone spray off the wall behind him and embed themselves in his skin. He swears and scrambles to his feet only to hear the demon let out a doglike yelp. Stroud’s sword has impaled it through and through.

They survive. It isn’t easy, and it’s tiring, Hawke stretched to his limit, Bull bleeding, Sanaris sloppy, Fenris staggering; but the first terror goes down and then the second, and then Dorian drags the servant in with a blaze of opaline magic and Sanaris puts her sword through it and it screams and dies.

Hawke collapses to his knees. “Andraste’s fucking tits.”

Bull grunts, leaning on his axe. He’s got a half-dozen gashes oozing blood that glitters deep brown like rich soil. “You can say that again.”

“Is anybody in imminent danger of death or permanent impairment?” Dorian asks. After no one responds he sighs in relief. “Good. I can’t do anything about it anyway.”

“A terrible enemy,” Stroud remarks, inspecting the gouges in his shield. “But it is dead.”

Fenris frowns. “Hawke, your face.”

Hawke touches the ragged gash. It does burn quite a bit, although the thrill of battle had dulled the pain and the fact that it’s over is helping now. He can feel blood seeping into his beard and running down his neck. “Not fatal, I think.” He grins, which smarts. “Except to my natural good looks.”

Fenris shrugs. “No great loss, then.”

Hawke guffaws, clapping a hand to his chest. “Thanks a lot.”

The ground trembles.

“We should move,” Stroud says. “The Divine told us the rift may not stay open for long.” He gestures, and Hawke rises with a groan, following after the group. All together they pick their way across the slippery rock toward the rift that awaits them, crackling with livid green light.

Hawke has a bad feeling.

It’s the earthquakes, he decides. No mere tremors; there’s something strange about them, something—he stops, staring down. It’s not just the earth that’s trembling, it’s the very stuff of the Fade, vibrations thrumming along his tired, worn-down Fade-sense. Late to the realization, he finds, as Dorian has stopped several yards behind.

“What’s wrong?” Bull asks.

Dorian looks up, stricken with terror, as the ground splits open before them.

Perhaps he sensed its shape in the earth, glimpsed its silhouette in the Fade-stuff before it began to rise like a leviathan from the sea. A mountain of a creature that tries to look like a spider but is much too evil to manage it, big as a high dragon or bigger. White, pustular eyes forest its head like barnacles on a rotting ship's hull. And of course it starts to surface directly in between the rift and where they stand. “Fuck,” Bull breathes, and Hawke is inclined to agree.

“The rift is growing unstable!” Stroud calls, pointing. It’s true. The odd, jewel-like juts of dark green twitch and flicker in the air. There’s no time for them to even try to kill this thing.

Someone has to stay behind. This realization Hawke seems to make at the same time as everyone else, because everyone’s looking to Sanaris except Stroud, who says, “I will stay. Let me correct the Wardens’ mistakes.”

A hollow rattle from the chasm as the Nightmare heaves more of its body out into the air. Hawke finds, to his extraordinary surprise, that he doesn’t want to volunteer. The similarities to the situation in Kirkwall are too much to ignore—impossible circumstances, an insurmountable enemy. Hawke sacrificed himself then, though it was by revealing his blood magic rather than giving up his life. But he doesn’t want to do it again, not anymore. Because he isn’t finished. He still has to prove to Fenris that he can keep his promises. Has to prove it to himself.

“Hawke.”

He looks up.

Sanaris gazes at him with eyes the same green as the pines in the Emerald Graves, the enormous, weeping firs that grasped the bodies of buried elves with their roots and grew from that desecrated ground tall enough to blot out the sky. “You’ll stay behind to cover our escape.”

He blinks, stung. Stroud tries to intervene but can’t stand against her and the others don’t try, because they already know it’s pointless. She’s the most powerful person in Thedas and she’s made her choice, not to mention there’s no time left.

The worst part is that, from where Sanaris stands, it makes sense. He’s got by far the most raw power out of all of them, if he decides to use blood magic—with Fenris as the only possible exception, although the brands have been uncooperative here—and will have the best shot at keeping the spider from turning on everybody else before they can escape. Not to mention that he was a risk Sanaris took three months ago and he’s never really managed to justify it, not quite. Hawke’s jaw tightens. “As you wish, Inquisitor,” he says curtly.

“Good. Then let’s go.” Sanaris jerks her head and moves off, skirting the edge of the chasm. The rest go with her—not quickly, perhaps feeling the sting of it as well, the absolute certainty with which Sanaris condemned Hawke to death. The twisted fact that, of all of them, he’s the one who deserves it the most.

Only Fenris hesitates.

He pauses before the yawning abyss and looks back with wide, summer-green eyes. Hawke shakes his head. “Go, Fenris.”

A shout from beyond him. The Iron Bull. “Hey! You gotta move or the damn rift’s gonna close on you!”

Fenris pauses a second longer; then he turns and starts to run. Well, that’s the end of that. All right. Hawke turns. It’s time to fight this thing.

The spider screeches, a horrible noise that sets Hawke’s teeth on edge. He’s got to hold it until the others get away, and he needs blood magic for that, plain and simple—Sanaris knew it when she named him. It’s not as if it matters anyway: the thing will kill him, it’s a simple matter of how long it takes. The demon’s the size of a small town.

This time when he opens his veins it doesn’t feel like it used to. There’s no sense of relief, of coming home, of unburying his true power from where he’s suffocated it all these weeks. Instead his scarred arms sort of prickle where the skin splits and then the blood comes out in gushes and spurts and that’s all. That’s all it is. Hawke lets out a small sigh and looks up. The spider is turning, attempting to track Sanaris and the rest.

So Hawke sweeps his hand forward and a dozen spears in red slice through the air and impale its many eyes, drawing forth a shower of black blood. The spider screams again, rearing, and starts to turn back. Good. The additional eyes bubbling out of its vast head aren’t so good. But he’s got blood in his body still, and as long as that’s true it hasn’t won. Hawke raises his other hand and a cage rises from the slippery rock, piercing the Nightmare’s head. It screams again and writhes, tearing its head on the spell that pins it to the ground.

Now is a good time to back off a bit. Hawke retreats, and not a moment too soon, as its pustule-ridden leg takes a swipe at him. He ducks, scrambling back over the stone. It’s slimy under his fingertips. Lovely. He looks over his shoulder, flicks his wrist, and a red guillotine plummets through the air and chops the leg clean off. Another incensed screech. That’ll teach the great big bastard to overreach.

It shambles toward him, away from the chasm—and the rift, which is the important part.  Hawke summons a forest of blood, many spears shooting up out of the dead ground to pierce the underside of its carapace. That slows it a good bit, as it must tear itself to shreds to advance. Progress, Hawke thinks, or maybe not. The thing is enormous. The wounds bother it, certainly, but has he truly hurt it at all?

Hawke finds he’s coming up against the door they breached to come in here. It’s closed now. With a sort of idle curiosity he summons a crimson gauntlet to try and pry it open. It shudders a little, and a tiny gap appears. Yes. That will take some doing. In the meantime the biggest demon he’s ever seen is bearing down on him, and it would be wise to defend himself.

Its legs come down and Hawke deflects with flashes of red. The whole thing sort of reminds him of sparring with Fenris in the mornings, which is unfortunate because he’ll never see Fenris again and the thought makes him furious, furious he’s going to die, furious he’s been made to use his damned blood magic again as if all of it, the capture, the promise, the weeks of slowly recovering his Fade-sense—as if all of it were for naught. But it wasn’t. It was important and he felt better and now he’s going to die trapped in the Fade, and who knows what’ll happen to him then. With a growl of frustration he hurls a barbed javelin at the spider’s head. It takes the thing straight through a cluster of white, milky eyes; the eyes burst and the spider reels, hissing.

The next screech it lets out puts Hawke on the ground, which he was afraid of. If the servant could do it, then of course the master could as well. Hawke shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to scrub his vision clean of his dead mother’s head sewn onto a patchwork body of disparate flesh. Can’t imagine he’s fast enough, but he tries anyway as he waits to be impaled on a spider-leg the size of a harbor piling.

But no spiny pincer bursts through his gut, and instead the screech is cut off by a rattling gurgle. Hawke staggers to his feet, rubbing his eyes.

There’s a greatsword tip poking out between the nightmare’s mandibles.

Hawke swears forcefully and whips around, grasping the air. The crimson gauntlet obeys him, gripping the door. Cracks radiate out into the stone beneath its fingertips. Can’t die here now. At least not yet.

Fenris clears his blade and hacks at the demon’s leg, severing the last three feet or so. He ducks past it, emerging before Hawke and raising a last-second block. “Are you all right?”

Hawke lashes out his other hand and another gush of blood pours forth, shaping into a second gauntlet. “Hold it off!” he shouts, as the demon lets out a thunderous scream. “I’m getting us out of here!”

“You’d best hurry!” Fenris calls.

Yes, that’s the main problem. The door is incredibly stubborn, and Hawke’s muscles strain as he tries to pry it open, the gauntlets dug into the stone. “Come on,” he snarls, another wave of blood like a sheet of silk floating forth to reinforce the spell. The hinge groans, starting to give. From behind him a grunt, and he twists, terror surging through him; but Fenris is uninjured, still fighting off the nightmare. Hawke returns to his task. His shoulders ache and his chest feels tight, like he’s just been sprinting for too long. Still, it’s better than the damned magic headache, and here in the Fade there’s no pride demon crawling out of him. Which is nice and all but the door still isn’t bloody open. Hawke growls, leaning into it. The muscles in his arms and chest feel as if they’re about to explode beneath his skin.

The hinge gives suddenly, only for a half-second but it’s enough to open up a two-foot gap. Hawke gasps, stumbling forward. “Fenris, let’s go!”

He shoves himself past with urgency and Fenris slips through right after, and together they start running. Hawke twists and spots through the gap a tangle of legs, then nothing. “Fuck,” he breathes. “It’s climbing the damned wall.”

“We can’t outrun it,” Fenris warns. That’s true. Hawke scans the landscape, finds great bloody cliffs towering to their right, and on the left a steep drop—

He spins suddenly. “Fenris, do you trust me?”

Fenris nearly crashes into him. “What? No!”

Fair. Hawke falters. “Well—I’m going to go jump off that cliff into the ocean, and you can feel free to stay and fight that thing by yourself, but I wouldn’t fucking recommend it!”

Fenris grimaces. “Fine! Let’s go!”

Hawke turns and starts sprinting. The edge approaches quickly, and regardless of his many reservations it would be wise not to hesitate; the demon’s got about a million legs, which probably means it’s a fast climber. His boots grind into the stone, and Fenris holds pace just to his left.

Then the ground disappears from under them and they fall through open air.

Hawke squints down and sees rocks below. Fuck. Once again blood issues from his arms, a lashing tail of red that wraps them up and hurls them further out, beyond the rocks. Just in time, and Hawke plummets into the dark green water.

The impact knocks the breath out of him. It’s not as cold as he expected but a little more viscous, and he kicks frantically—makes the surface with ease, blinking water from his eyes. Fenris pops up a second later. Hawke jerks his head toward a boulder jutting out from the lapping waves, and he begins to swim for it.

It’s canted, providing a gentle slope for them to drag themselves onto. Hawke climbs up, peering far above at the cliff-top. No giant spider peering back. Maybe they’ve lost it, or maybe it simply can’t get to them down here. Fenris climbs out next. His sword is still on his back. Smart man. Hawke’s staff was lost somewhere. Hawke sits up and shakes the water out of his hair.

Fenris shields himself with a noise of displeasure. “You’re like a dog.”

“What? Loyal but ultimately stupid?” Hawke fires back. “Because I’d say you fit that descriptor better than I do!”

Fenris blinks, flabbergasted. “I—what?”

“You came back!” Hawke flings an arm out. “You could have gotten away from this awful bloody place but you came back and now you’re stuck here with me!”

Fenris takes a step forward. “I came back to help you!”

“Fenris, I was already fucked!” He jabs a finger to his chest. “Now you’ve fucked yourself too for no bloody reason!”

“No reason? You lived!”

“Fenris, I can’t get out of here,” Hawke tells him. “Yes, I lived, but I’ll never leave this place. And neither will you.”

Fenris folds his arms. “What’s to stop us from finding another rift?”

Hawke, exasperated, displays his bloodied hands. “Do you see an Anchor? No?”

Fenris’s anger stutters a little but steadies. “Well. Do we need one?”

Hawke stares at him. Do they? He hasn’t any idea. Hasn’t any idea where the nearest rift is. How even to go about finding it.

Then he wavers, balance deserting him suddenly, and Fenris darts forward to catch him and guide him to the ground. “Hawke? Are you all right?”

Hawke shakes his head, woozy. “Overdid it a bit,” he mutters.

Fenris frowns. “You’re bleeding.”

He is. The long, shallow cuts on his arms where the blood burst out of him still ooze slowly. With a sigh he digs at his belt and comes up with a soggy roll of linen bandages. Fenris plucks it out of his hand and goes to work. There is no pretense of tenderness; he’s practical and a bit clumsy, plainly unused to receiving injury and thus treating it.

“Sorry,” Hawke mumbles.

Fenris looks up. “For what?”

“For using blood magic.” He shrugs one shoulder. “For shouting at you.”

Fenris pauses a moment; then he continues wrapping. “What Sanaris did was…wrong. I could not allow her to do that to you. I could not let you face the demon alone.” He sighs. “I must admit, I was not thinking of escape.”

Hawke snorts. “Fucking right it was wrong. Stroud bloody volunteered.”

Fenris glances up. “You’re angry.”

“Of course I’m angry,” Hawke replies. “She threw me under the wagon.”

Fenris smiles. “That’s good. I had half-expected otherwise.”

Hawke grins, even though his arms burn beneath the linen, even though he just threw half his blood at a giant spider without measurable result, even though they’re trapped in the Fade with no means of escape. At least he’s done something right. “Thanks for coming back.”

Fenris finishes with the second bandage, tucking the edge, and then gazes out at the horizon. “Shall we rest for a bit?”

Hawke nods. “I’d like that.”

The water slops at the edge of the stone and leaves behind a grimy charcoal sheen. The waves seem curdled, struggling to break. Hawke wrinkles his nose a bit. The horizon is pale, stretched thin over the razor-edge of the shining, jade-black sea.

“What an odious place,” Fenris remarks.

Hawke lets out a startled laugh. “It is, isn’t it?”

On a normal sea one might expect a refreshing breeze, and there is a breeze here but it’s got the heat and damp of dog’s breath and Hawke is sweating before long. He dips a hand in the water and comes away with slimy fingers. “Ugh.”

Fenris sighs. “We probably should not linger. The nightmare will find us soon enough.”

“I know, I know.” Hawke groans to his feet. “Let’s head off.”

Fenris dives back into the water with admirably little hesitation. Hawke keeps his whining to himself and follows. The swimming tires him faster than he’d hoped, which is inauspicious. Not enough blood left in his body. With luck they’ll won’t meet much resistance.

The rocks at the base of the cliff are craggy and not well suited to climbing, but he and Fenris climb regardless, skirting the base of the cliff. The stone is slippery with adherent patches of slick green seaweed that thwart any attempts to grip it; Hawke nearly loses his balance more than once. Fenris calls over his shoulder, “Perhaps we should turn back and find another way!”

Hawke flails as his boot skids on a patch of seaweed and catches himself at the last second on a nearby jut of rock. “Bad idea! The demon’s back there!”

“Our path ahead is treacherous, Hawke!”

“Don’t worry! If I know the Fade, it won’t stay this way for long!”

Fenris keeps his silence and advances with care. Indeed, before long—and without Hawke noticing—the turbulent sea has turned into a susurrant field of grass, and the cliffs to their left a steady procession of shadowed trees so high the tops disappear into the gloom. Hawke plods on, putting one foot in front of the other, watching his boots disappear beneath the underbrush. He’s grateful that the seaweed is behind them but even the knee-high ferns seem to cling to him, dragging at his trousers. It might be the Fade, or it might simply be his own exhaustion. His body is completely drained of energy and his thoughts all veer towards how much he’d like to lie down and fall asleep for a very long time.

“Hawke.”

He looks up. Fenris is there, cupping his face in both hands. “Holding off that demon sapped your strength.”

Hawke rolls his eyes. “Me against a spider the size of Sundermount. It’s a miracle I held it that long.”

“No miracle, I think,” Fenris mutters. “We should rest.”

“No,” Hawke says instantly. “We need to find a rift.”

“Hawke. We should rest.”

He shakes his head, frustrated. “The longer we stay still, the more danger we’re in. I need weeks of rest, not minutes. We keep going.”

Fenris glares. “You’re stubborn.”

“And right. And you know it.”

“Fine.” Fenris jerks his head. “Then let’s go. But do not overexert yourself.”

Hawke almost issues a biting retort but realizes that would be needlessly rude and cuts himself off. The exhaustion is making him cranky. He trudges forward again; this time Fenris remains at his side, one hand resting on his back.

The air grows cooler but no less damp, the humidity almost choking. The forest seems to have taken over; there’s no sky above them anymore, only endless leaves, rustling constantly as if whispering to each other of the unwelcome trespassers drifting by below. All green, a dark green like a storm at twilight. Hawke is sick of green. Beside him Fenris shivers a little. “Where are we now?”

Hawke glances around and tries to think but can’t remember ever seeing this before in a dream. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t like it,” Fenris mumbles.

They go forward. Fenris’s hand on his back is extraordinarily welcome. The forest seems almost to cage them in, a pair of jaws shepherding them down the throat of some unknowable creature that will consume them whole, leaving behind no trace at all. “Can’t see anything in this dark,” Fenris says. “The trees are too close.”

True, and they’re getting closer. Hawke peers to either side, trying to spot any light in the darkness. Nothing. What if there’s a rift nearby and they can’t see it because of the trees?

A soft, heavy noise behind them.

“We should move,” Fenris says urgently, and he starts to run, Hawke right behind him. No way to know what made that sound but it’s nothing good, not here. Another sound, and a third and fourth. They’re getting louder and Hawke is tired, struggling to keep up, his feet slipping on a carpet of pine needles. His muscles feel like so many sandbags strapped to his limbs. Fenris is far out ahead but stops and looks back; then he draws his sword.

Hawke catches up at last, limbs tingling. “What are you doing?! We have to run!”

“We can’t outrun it, Hawke,” Fenris says evenly.

“And I can’t fight it!” Hawke thrusts out his bandaged arms.

“Then I must,” Fenris growls. Fuck. Hawke spins, watching the trees. The thick trunks shudder, disturbing the leaves, sending them down in agitated showers.

Through them emerges a massive black wolf.

Its six crimson eyes fix on them, and its lips peel back to expose sickly white teeth half as long as Hawke is tall. Beside him Fenris flinches. Hadn’t been expecting an enemy like this. The wolf bounds forward, unimpeded by the towering trees, and Hawke and Fenris split apart, diving to either side as its deadly jaws snap shut inches behind them. Its great shaggy head swings toward Hawke. Scrambling back through the undergrowth, he attempts a spell, a lightning bolt that diffuses in the misty Fade-stuff and breaks harmlessly over the wolf’s muzzle. But it barks in displeasure and rises, and Fenris is sanding there with glimmering, nacreous blood on his sword. “Hawke, retreat!” he shouts.

The demon wolf snarls, swiping at Fenris. Its paw is the size of a small house and as quick as a viper but the glow of the lyrium brands warms to life and Fenris isn’t there at the instant it strikes him—instead he’s just out of reach and hacks into the dark, oily fur. The wolf bays, its jaws diving down gain, and again Fenris is gone, traversing ten feet in a split-second and leaving behind an spectral trail of white-blue. “Hawke, retreat!” he repeats.

“No!” Hawke calls back, scrambling to his feet. “I’m not leaving you!”

The wolf’s six eyes lock on him. Fuck. He darts to one side, and its massive paw only clips him, but even that’s enough to knock the wind from him and send him sprawling again. Then a yelp as Fenris’s blue-limned blade chops into it. Fenris doesn’t bother arguing. He stranded himself here for Hawke’s sake. He knows.

The demon wolf snarls so deeply it shakes the earth, and it lunges at Fenris. The brands glow and he dodges out of the way, his silhouette outlined in blue. The strain is showing through on his face just as it was against the red templars in the Graves. The wolf snaps and swipes, missing him each time by inches and coming away with only wounds. But it's tireless, fast and not dissuaded by Fenris’s blade. Mirrorlike blood shines on its thick cords of fur.

Fenris’s sword bounces off one grooved fang. The creature rears its head back and re-engages. Hawke attempts a spell, gathering a blast of force—but his head is fuzzy and it falls apart in his fingers like spun sugar. Bloody useless. The wolf’s fury seems only to grow. Fenris avoids its blows, the lyrium blazing, the light of it seeming to devour the air; but each time the demon comes a little bit closer.  At last the wolf clips him and the bare edge of its paw is enough to send him tumbling over the gnarled roots, blade spinning out of his hand. Hawke won’t get there in time and goes for the sword. The wolf’s paw descends, casting a shadow over Fenris’s prone form.

Yet when its claws score the ground he isn’t there, and instead the brands sear open the air, leaving a ragged, glittering trail. Hawke blinks. Hazy, yes, but inside the luminescent blue…

An image of sand dunes, crowned by wind-worn ruins.

Hawke tosses the sword through the air. “Fenris, use your brands!”

Fenris catches the hilt. “I am!”

“I mean use them!” Hawke shouts. “You have to trust me!”

Fenris grimaces and sidesteps another sweeping paw, and flame rises from the lyrium.

Lashing tongues of it, gusting off him like sea-spray on a windy day. And there, in a faint halo around him, the desert shines through. The wolf’s lip peels back, and it shies away. Hawke dashes forward and grabs Fenris’s hand. A sudden blast of heat, a breeze lifting fine grains of sand into his face. “Keep going!”

Fenris turns, and his eyes are aglow from someplace deep within, wide with fear. “Hawke, I—I don’t know what’s happening—“

Hawke squints against the blinding sun. “You’re getting us out of here, Fenris, but you must not stop!” Because they need to escape the demon wolf, yes, but also because the way they are, one foot in the Fade and the other beyond—Hawke doesn’t like to think what would happen if the path Fenris is carving collapsed in around them. “Please, just—keep going! I’m here!”

Fenris is still fearful but squeezes Hawke’s hand and the lyrium glows bright as a forge’s heart. Hawke turns his face from the sand-laced wind. He does feel a bit like somebody’s taken all his organs and set them down in a different room, but if the wolf catches him his organs will endure far worse than that.

A menacing growl. Fuck. Hawke looks back over his shoulder. The wolf courses after them, paws thudding over the ground. Hawke lifts his free arm and tugs the end of the bandage out with his teeth. The bloodstained linen loops off in a long ribbon, fluttering out behind him. The wolf lunges, opening up its slavering jaws.

Hawke’s red javelin takes it in the eye. Its head whips back, and Hawke hears a satisfying yelp. It begins to lose pace, appearing to give up on catching them, and from down the long, shadowed corridor it watches them go, its five remaining eyes fixed on Hawke.

In them, just as it turns away, he catches a flash of gleaming silver.

His heart stops in his chest but there’s no time to think further on it because he’s plummeting through the air. Fenris’s hand is still clutched in his so he pulls Fenris in and twists and his back hits the dune first, knocking a grunt out of him. They roll down the slope, Hawke’s mouth filling with sand as he curls around Fenris, until at last they lurch to a stop at the bottom.

Fenris’s body is tense in Hawke’s arms, and he writhes, arching. “Hurts—it hurts—"

“We’re out.” Hawke sits up, cupping Fenris’s face with a bloodied hand. “We’re out! We’re safe now!”

Fenris shudders, fingers curling into Hawke’s armor. “Hawke—I can’t—can you—“

“It’s all right.” Hawke strokes his panicked face, leaving a smear of red. “Fenris, everything’s fine. We escaped, thanks to you.”

Fenris nods. “We…we…”

Then his eyes roll back and he goes limp. Hawke wraps both arms around him, feeling his back rise and fall with quick, shallow breaths, and tries to figure out what in Andraste’s name they’re supposed to do now.

Chapter Text

The sun appears to be drifting down in the sky, which is the singular piece of good news Hawke can come up with.

They’re in a desert. If they’re lucky, it’s the Western Approach, already staked out by the Inquisition and only a few days from Skyhold by horse; if they’re unlucky, it’s the wastes far, far to the west, where the Inquisition has no hold and from which rumors of Venatori have been slithering like snakes across the South. Whichever it is, it’s still a bloody desert and Hawke didn’t bring a canteen.

So he’s low on blood and can’t fill his veins back up, and Fenris is out cold and will need to be carried, which is just going to drain Hawke even more. And they’re in a bloody desert. Hawke stumbles back down the slope to where he’s left Fenris lying.

Fenris’s brow is slightly creased, his cheek crusted with golden sand. Hawke tried, with vigor, to rouse him to no avail; so he sleeps, and there’s nothing to be done for it. Hawke gazes at him, resigned. He’s very handsome. Perhaps not the most useful thought, but Hawke is quite fed up right now with just about everything and allows himself the indulgence of it.

Then he starts unbuckling his vambraces. His armor, and Fenris’s armor, are weight he can’t afford right now, because they’ve got to get moving. The vambraces fall, then the tassets, then the leather cuirass and greaves. His shirt is linen and white—small blessings. He kneels, working at Fenris’s armor. It’s well-crafted and comes off with ease, leaving Fenris in that fitted shirt and those slim trousers. He’s very handsome. Hawke sighs and rises again.

The first problem is water. With a grimace Hawke unsheathes his knife and pricks the tip of his finger. Hopefully his natural raw power will save him from needing to sacrifice too much blood. Nothing happens for a long moment. Hawke swears at the empty air, squeezes his finger, and milks the blood out. A little, quivering sphere of dark red grows upon the grooves of his fingertip. At last there’s a shimmer in the air that’s not from the heat, and a slender, ghostly white spirit appears. “Thank the fucking Maker,” Hawke mutters, squinting his eyes. A piercing headache’s just started up in the back of his skull. “Water,” he commands. “Give me knowledge of where I can find water.”

The spirit of journeys points and the location squirms its way into Hawke’s mind. He releases the spell instantly and the headache eases a little; the blood droplet trembles and spills off his finger, soaking into the sand.

All right.

Hawke doesn’t know how long the knowledge will last so he lifts Fenris onto his back—piggyback, the way he used to carry the twins around when they were children—and staggers to his feet. Despite the slim frame Fenris’s weight is not inconsiderable. “Why d’you have to be so—bloody strong?” Hawke grumbles, climbing the slope again. There is no answer. He makes the top, sand slipping beneath his feet, and pauses for a brief moment. The desert stretches out before him, the dunes scalloped softly like the golden silks hanging in shop windows in Hightown. And dunes are all he sees. Hawke starts trudging forward. Shouldn’t have stopped to look—all it’s done is depress him. He knows where the water is, yes, but he won’t get there until it’s well and dark, especially not with a brawny elf on his back. If he makes it at all.

Hawke puts one foot in front of the other and goes forward.

The sun is punishing, even this late in the day. Sweat drips down his forehead, ribs, and spine; that’s more water he’d rather not lose, but there’s nothing to be done about it. They need to find the place the spirit pointed to and they need to find civilization. Hawke trudges on. Now and then he kneels to try and wake Fenris, because Maker knows he’d prefer to do this without an extra eight or nine stone on his back. No luck. Fenris’s eyelids flutter but do not open. He will wake—he’s strong, and lyrium is a source of energy, not a sink for it. But not yet. Each time Hawke heaves him up again and continues the journey.

It’s awful.

His side cramps almost immediately. His arms ache from holding Fenris. His legs are the worst, screaming with pain; resting doesn’t really do anything for them so he just keeps going. Blood magic would help, could fortify him against the pain and exhaustion. But he’s barely got enough blood left to keep himself moving, let alone cast a spell with that kind of staying power.

He must keep going, that’s all there is to it. So he does. There’s no rescue coming. Everybody thinks they’re dead. Who could survive a monstrous creature like that? A demon the size of Redcliffe Castle? And then afterwards, to escape?

Well, an elf inscribed with a king’s ransom in lyrium and the South’s most powerful blood mage might pull it off. Still, that doesn’t mean anything if they die here in the desert.

The slow descent of dusk and the onset of night is a welcome relief. Hawke’s already got a wicked headache, but at least now he won’t sweat as much. The knowledge the spirit gave him is beginning to fade from his mind, so he marches on. The desert is exquisitely empty; there are no chirping crickets or buzzing cicadas, no hooting of owls or mournful howling of dogs in the distance. Only his own harsh breathing echoes in his ears. That’s bloody depressing too. He misses Ferelden, sharply and suddenly, misses being a child and running about in the woods without a care in the world. Of course, he isn’t a child anymore.

As the sky purples and the stars begin to emerge, the sand hardens to rock beneath his feet. Another blessing—easier to walk on, and his legs don’t hurt quite as much with each step. Plateaus rise up on either side like great tidal waves from the stone, frozen at the peak of their crest. Hawke passes beneath their shadows, peering into each craggy opening in the rock. If there’s light from one of the caverns, he has to risk going in. Friendly travelers would be best, of course, but unfriendly travelers still carry supplies. And he isn’t powerless yet.

His boot steps on something that squishes under the sole. Hawke frowns, lifting his foot. It’s an apple core—dried but not withered yet, some of the flesh still on it. Recent, then.

He’s not alone.

Hawke stares at it a minute more, then looks up and keeps going. Doesn’t matter. Whoever they are, he can’t do anything about them. And anyway, the water is nearby, a half-mile or less. Almost there. He stumbles toward it, Fenris slipping down his back, his legs burning, breath rasping out of him. No fires in the distance, no murmured echoes of conversation. Nobody to stand in his way. If there were…well. He might just give up right then and there.

No, he wouldn’t. He’s still alive. No one’s going to bring him down without a fight.

The spirit’s knowledge clings like cobwebs to his mind, and he squints at the passing splits in the stone. None of them feel right, not yet. Will he know? Could he miss it? Wouldn’t that just be perfect. Tossed into the Fade, almost eaten by not one but two enormous demons, dropped in the middle of the desert with an unconscious elf to cart around, and then he walks right past a perfectly good water source. Sounds like something he’d do.

It’s that one.

Hawke is seized by uncertainty but the instinct is too sudden to ignore and he makes a hard left, striding toward the craggy rust-red rock. The gap yawns open at the base, completely dark. Of course it’s fucking dark, it’s a cave and it’s fucking night. Hawke groans and squeezes his eyes shut, working very hard to ignore the awful headache that’s been splitting his skull all afternoon.

When he opens his eyes there’s a little orange light bobbing in front of him, wan and weak but it’s there, and it stays at his side as he ducks into the cave. Hard to maintain the bloody thing—the headache’s fucking his concentration, and it takes a lot of effort to hold the Fade connection steady. Close. He’s so close. The cave descends, and Hawke plants his boots carefully. An injury might mean his end. The light shows him juts in the stone, uneven ledges where he’ll find a good foothold.

Then there’s a glimmering reflection in the dark and Hawke staggers forward, the cave leveling out beneath the ground. A little trickle of water wets the wall, and at its base a shallow pool half the size of a man. Hawke crashes to his knees, sets Fenris down carefully, and then dips his hands into the water.

He remembers at the last moment to drink slowly, because it wouldn’t do to throw it all up now. It tastes like dust and mold and he very much doesn’t care. It's water. He won't die of thirst, his body can start replenishing his lost blood. He drinks and drinks, almost laughing at the sheer magnitude of relief that floods through him.

Which is quickly truncated by the realization that the pool is getting much smaller and not filling back up. Hawke sits back on his heels, wiping his beard.

Fuck.

That tiny trickle is the only thing feeding it. This is all he’s going to get. Hawke stares down at it, then twists, turning Fenris onto his back. With care Hawke lets water drip through his parted lips for several long minutes. Fenris wasn’t doing all the trekking, true, but he had the same sun beating down on him.

Hawke drinks the last dregs himself, leaning down to suck up all that’s left. Not enough but it’s bought him time, and he sits against the wall, pulling Fenris in, holding him close. Now that night’s fallen it’s starting to get chilly.

It’s not a good situation.

Sitting here in the dark, damp cave with only his pallid orange light for company Hawke is nearly overcome with the hopelessness of it. Who knows where the closest civilized outpost is? If they’ve even gone in the right direction? And it’s not only him, either. Fenris has survived so much and now he might die out here for no good bloody reason. Hawke hugs Fenris to his chest, eyes burning. He could really use some comfort right now. But of course there isn’t any. There’s only him in this cave in the middle of a desert, the man he loves unconscious in his arms. Hawke tips his head back and blinks a few times, loath to weep if only because the tears are precious water he can’t afford to waste. “I’m sorry, Fenris,” he whispers.

Why did Fenris stay behind?

Hawke shifts, digs in his trousers, and comes up with the square of red cloth. The battered favor. It’s been burning a hole in his pocket ever since Varric gave it to him three months ago. What does it mean anymore? Well, to him it certainly means something. He used to think he could never love anyone as much as he loved Fenris back in Kirkwall, when things weren’t so bad and the blood magic was something he rarely needed, not a part of him yet. And Fenris was unsure but bold and resolute all at once, and his courage humbled Hawke every single day.

Hawke was wrong, though, because four years later he loves Fenris even more dearly than before. The dry wit he uses to great effect (even at Hawke’s expense), the absolute confidence and uncompromising demand that others rise to his level and do what’s right. He’s amazing and Hawke is smitten and doesn’t deserve him, not one bit. Hasn’t any illusions of the fact, either; he only soaks up the companionship, delighting at he and Fenris merely occupying the same space. Meanwhile, Fenris is practical and blunt, plainly long moved on from the ill-fated almost-relationship they shared in Kirkwall.

Yet he stayed, and Hawke rubs the worn favor with his thumb and curses himself. Hadn’t meant for a memory to fuck over the man he loves. Fenris still sleeps, his back rising and falling against Hawke’s arm. His brands remain dormant.

Hawke shuts his eyes and tries to ignore the pounding headache. He’s aching and exhausted and needs rest if they’re to make any progress tomorrow. Maybe Fenris will wake up in the morning. Would be nice to not have to carry him. Would be nice to know he’s all right.

——

Hawke wakes to Fenris shifting against him. That’s good. He rouses, blinking in the soft glow of torchlight.

There are people standing over him.

Hawke tries to scramble to his feet but the butt of an axe slams into his chest just below the breastbone, and he sinks down, gasping. “Not so fast,” someone says, amused.

Fucking Venatori. Of course. Six of them, four armed, the other two probably mages, all dressed in white to mitigate the desert heat. A pair of them kneel next to Fenris, whom they’ve lain out on the ground. The axeman is almost as big as Hawke, and he flips his weapon. Hawke allows the gleaming steel blade to drift to his neck. He can’t fight off six Venatori. Not when—

“Lyrium,” one of the mages breathes.

—they have Fenris.

“His skin! There’s lyrium in his skin!” the mage says excitedly. “We must bring him back. Liviana will want to see this.”

“And the other?” the axeman asks.

The mage gestures. “Yes, yes. Bring him too. He might know something about the elf.”

The axeman chuckles. “What if he won’t talk? Do we get to persuade him?”

“No,” the mage snaps. “I’d like him to live long enough to divulge what he knows, thank you. Liviana will extract what she needs.”

Extract? A blood mage, from the sound of it. Well, that’s not as bad as it could be. Of the two of them, he’d bet money he’s the stronger. The axe flicks against Hawke’s sweat-crusted shirt and he rises, eminently aware of how weak his body still is. Shouldn’t be a problem, though. Almost a relief to be fighting humans again who aren’t templars; these Venatori have got plenty of blood to spare.

But he promised Fenris that he’d only use his own blood, that he would no longer break that ultimate taboo and sacrifice the lives of others to fuel his own power. Hawke decides not to bother grappling with it just yet, as he’s marched back up the sloping cave and into the lilac light of a desert sunrise. They’ve got Fenris, and as such they hold all the cards.

The air is blessedly cool, the sun just starting to peek over the horizon. Hawke still feels relatively awful but the rest helped, and he isn’t panicked even though the biggest of the Venatori has Fenris slung over his back like a sack of turnips. It’s a very bad situation, true; but he survived for four years with most of Thedas wanting him dead and this should be no exception. The biggest problem is Fenris. If he were conscious, he could defend himself with ease. In his current condition, he limits Hawke’s options. If they hurt him, he might wake and start killing them all, which would be nice. But he also might not wake. Hawke has no idea how or how much ripping open the Veil drained him. He’s certainly being jostled around enough on this big bastard’s back, and his eyes remain closed.

Hawke weighs the alternatives. Taking on a patrol of six Venatori would be much easier than fighting a whole camp. He just can’t afford to right now. If he fails, they’ll know he’s a blood mage, and that’s one card he may get a chance to surprise them with. Behind him the mages whisper over Fenris, conjecturing about the lyrium and how it got there. Hawke lets them guess. Odds aren’t bad that somebody’s going to remember the rumors of a glowing elf massacring slaver caravans all over the North, and he doesn’t want to hurry that along; perhaps it’s fortunate that Fenris was much more occupied with Qunari raiders in the months before he came south. If any of these Venatori moved in the upper echelons of Tevinter society fifteen years ago then they may remember Danarius and his branded slave, but that’s far less likely.

The axeman leads them through the rises of stone, weaving among the long, cool shadows. Hawke stares down, watching his boots grind against the rock, leaving faint imprints in the sand. Stupid mistake not to cover his tracks last night. But he was exhausted and desperate for water, and it’s hard to blame himself for it. Considering the circumstances, he thinks he did pretty well. Not his bloody fault the Venatori were out and about on a morning jaunt.

As they go on, little tufts of yellow grass and hardy bushes sprout up on either side. The heat is starting to rise, and sweat prickles on his skin beneath his shirt. The warriors have all been trading Fenris off to share the weight; even with all the jostling he hasn’t woken, which bodes poorly. The walk’s worn Hawke out again, too. He’s not in any shape to take on the Venatori alone. He sighs to himself. Tossed out of the Fade into the middle of a desert, then to have his tracks spotted by a bloody Venatori patrol. What absolute shit luck.

The axeman guides them around another curve of rock and in the next purple shadow the Venatori camp appears.

There are another half-dozen of them at least. Of course there fucking are. Worse, at the back of the camp is a cart topped by an iron cage, and inside a group of captives. Elves and humans both, half-starved and huddled together in fear. Fuck. They’ll do for hostages. Hawke’s so preoccupied with planning he’s late to notice how the rocky ground in the center of the camp is cracked and a spring burbles out of it, forming a clear, shallow pool. It looks extremely tempting. That spring might be the mages’ work; there’s water underground here, obviously, because he found it in that cave, but magic may have been what persuaded it to break the surface. If Anders or Merrill were here they could probably pull that off. Hawke can’t, and he resists the urge to dive at the spring face-first.

“What have we here?”

A woman sits on a rock across the spring, wearing a light, sleeveless robe. Her aquiline face displays a thoughtful curiosity. Liviana, Hawke expects. “Look at this elf!” one of the mages exclaims. “He’s tattooed with lyrium!”

Liviana’s eyebrows rise. “Tattooed with lyrium?”

“Yes! It’s all over his arms and chest!”

Liviana’s gaze lingers on Fenris a moment, then shunts to Hawke. “And this brute?”

“That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?” Hawke responds.

“His traveling companion,” the mage supplies.

Liviana taps her chin. “Come.” She gestures. “You must be thirsty. Drink.”

Hawke doesn’t argue, kneeling by the pool and gulping down water. She’s trying to befriend him so he’ll talk about Fenris, and the fact that the ploy is obvious doesn’t mean he won’t drink ’til his gut’s fit to burst.

“You’re right,” Liviana says after a moment. “It was rude. I’m sorry.”

Hawke sits back on his feet, wiping his beard.“ ‘S all right, I’ve been called worse. Anyway, you Tevinters don’t get out much, do you?” He shrugs. “I imagine you haven’t seen a lot of Fereldans before.”

She chuckles. “A Fereldan? What are you doing in Orlais?”

“Dying of thirst, mostly,” Hawke replies.

“Mm, then it’s a good thing we found you.” She gestures to the spring. “Drink as much as you’d like.”

Hawke obliges her, leaning down to scoop water into his mouth again. Would be nice to stall a bit—the spring water’s bloody delicious, and it would give Fenris time to wake up. But even that might not be enough, not when they’ve got a cage full of vulnerable innocents to threaten. Hawke’s got power—especially with so many juicy, blood-filled bodies nearby, and not a templar in sight—but he’s only one man and can only focus on so many variables at a time.

I could help you.

Hawke rolls his eyes as water spills down his beard. Not enough. There’s fourteen of them.

Some of the captives would likely survive.

Not big on those odds, thank you.

We haven’t much time to decide.

Hawke’s about to wonder what in blazes Pride’s on about when he feels the tickle of magic at the edges of his mind.

Fantastic. Liviana’s making her move already. Offering water was nothing so sophisticated as a ploy to gain his allegiance: she was only softening him up, assuaging his truculence with relief. Hawke doesn’t pause, washing the sweat from his face and glancing over his shoulder. The two mages behind him, no more at the camp (they’re all armed here)—and Liviana, their leader. He’s got the start of a plan.

First he lets her in a bit, glimpses the trickle of red running down her fingers, the droplets splashing to the orange rock below. It’s an ambush of sorts that he’s setting up, and from the subtlety with which she’s infiltrated his head, he can tell that she’s a blood mage of some ability and not an optimal target. So he needs to dangle the bait a little. Finally he shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “What is—what are you doing to me?”

Liviana chuckles. “It’s nothing to worry about, Fereldan. Just…relax.”

A surge of power, a vise clamping tight around his mind. Hawke struggles to his feet, pressing his hands to his temples. It’s not hard to fight her off—she’s good, but he’s better. Still, he makes a show of it, pushing back in fits and spurts, squeezing his eyes shut. That might tip her off he’s got magic, but no more. “Get—out of me!”

“Hm. Darius,” Liviana calls. “Let’s move things along, shall we?”

Good. Hawke opens his eyes and finds a second mage spilling his blood into the air; it winds around him in a lazy spiral. A renewed assault on Hawke’s mind, and he grimaces, beating it back.

We could take him as a thrall.

Hawke’s never taken a thrall and he recoils instinctively from the idea. Absolutely not.

Two blood mages are much better than one. Are we not simply going to kill him anyway?

It’s true. Hawke’s biggest problem is that if it came to a fight, he simply couldn’t keep track of the number of enemies facing him. Adding a thrall would theoretically cut that number in half, and does it really matter what Hawke does to the man in the few minutes before his death?

But the next moment Hawke is disgusted with himself for even considering it. To crush a person’s mind with brute force and replace it with nothing but a series of orders is one of the most vile uses of blood magic there is, and he snaps at Pride, abashed. No! We are not taking a thrall!

A sullen growl. If you’d like to make this much harder for us, then I am powerless to stop you, but I shall strive to help nevertheless. Within acceptable parameters, of course.

Irritated, Hawke quickly unwinds the second mage’s spell from Liviana’s. The blood is the thing. It’s Darius’s, of course, what he’s using as fuel for his casting; but any maleficar can use anyone’s blood, so long as they’re alive. It’s just a matter of reaching out and taking it.

Hawke reaches out.

Darius, to his credit, realizes what’s happening and tries to resist. It’s inconsequential. Hawke has a Pride demon at his back, and the familiar static prickles just beneath the surface of his skin. He takes hold of the blood with an iron grip, wresting it from Darius’s control. Darius screams, “No!” and attempts to break the connection. Too late. Hawke surges down it, digging in with purple-black barbs, jamming himself into the closing gap and pushing through.

Once he’s inside he rips Darius’s mind in half.

No finesse about it; it’s just a surge of power, fueled by Darius’s own blood, detonated at his most vulnerable point. Darius’s head snaps back and he crumples to the ground. His chest still rises, heart and lungs working as they always have; but his eyes have gone glassy, and they’ll never focus again. His blood, drained of power, splatters to the ground around him.

The Venatori rise nearly as one, drawing weapons. They’re stunned and afraid, which was the intended effect. A bit of leverage. Hawke meets their eyes, challenging them with his gaze—and, if he's honest with himself, basking a bit. “You’re a maleficar,” Liviana gasps.

“Yes, and a better one than you,” Hawke tells her. “You want to keep on doing this or shall we go our separate ways?”

She stops and thinks about it, which isn’t a great sign—he’s been hoping she’d skip over that part, but it seems there’s a reason she landed herself a position of command. “So much power, yet you didn’t attack the patrol,” she says. “They’ve plenty of blood between them. The elf you’re with, you care about him. You were afraid they’d hurt him if you didn’t come quietly.”

Hawke shrugs. “D’you want to find out?”

“Quite,” Liviana replies, regaining her composure, and nods at the axeman.

The fucker puts a knife to Fenris’s neck. Hawke swears to himself some more. She called his bluff, and he hasn’t many cards left to play. “Yeah, how d’you like that, Fereldan?” the axeman asks with a grin. The knife digs into the thin skin at Fenris’s throat, drawing a trickle of blood.

His markings flash.

There’s a brief second in which Fenris’s green eyes open and meet Hawke’s, and when it’s over Hawke feels he’s missed a vital opportunity even though there’s no way, in that single moment, he could have communicated everything he needed to say. In the next second Fenris is a ghost and the axeman dies and Hawke shouts, “Fenris, no!” as the Venatori scramble to action, but above it all—as he knew would happen, if the woman had half an ounce of smarts—Liviana’s voice crying out, “Stop, or I’ll kill them all!”

Fenris halts, another warrior slumping dead before him, and the Venatori halt as well, waiting on their leader. Liviana’s arms are raised, and her blood weaves threateningly around the iron cage at the back of the camp. The captives inside scramble away from the bars, pressing together in the center of the wooden floor. Fenris stands frozen. His markings are powerful, yes, but crossing forty feet in an instant is a tall order, and Liviana might be quicker than he. They’ve been caught out. Hostages. Fucking hostages.

Hawke makes a plan.

If he doesn’t act they’ll both be subdued. And that isn’t an acceptable outcome. Fenris’s markings don’t play well with blood magic; the maleficarum here might well be enough to contain him for a journey back to Tevinter. As for Hawke, well. They can try to penetrate his mind again, but it won’t work. They can try to torture him, but he doesn’t anticipate breaking easily. So they’ll probably just kill him and save themselves some trouble. And then Fenris will be alone, ferried back to an ancient magister who has a great fondness for red lyrium. And after that—who knows? A dozen possibilities, none of them good.

So Hawke raises his hand.

His blood races past the spring in eager streams, darting over the pool of water like tree swallows in summer. It enters the cage and wraps up a dozen innocent necks and Hawke squeezes, feeling from afar their pulses jump against his palm. They scream until they can’t, clawing at their throats, their cries guttering out into choked noises that fade away into the desert air. Liviana whips around, horrified. Not at him killing innocent people, of course. He’s a blood mage, and who among them doesn’t do that sort of thing? No, she’s just afraid because she’s lost her biggest advantage.

He lowers his hand. “Problem solved,” he says curtly.

There’s fighting again; the Venatori close around Fenris, and without a cart full of hostages to worry about he kills them as he’s been doing for the past three months. Hawke struggles to focus. That spell took a lot out of him, and he didn’t have much to spare. The blood mages, that’s the important part. He can deal with them a lot better than Fenris can. Liviana needs to die first, so—much as he hates to do it—he summons a deadly javelin from his veins and sends it hurtling over the water, lifting a hand just in time to catch the red daggers she's hurled at him in return. His concentration is frayed and to seize them in the air takes a real effort of will, but a disturbance at the back of his mind disrupts his focus and he stumbles sideways, letting the daggers shoot past him.

Liviana’s caught his javelin as well. Now that irks him. A Tevinter, stealing his blood? It’s offensive. Growling in anger, he reaches out, meeting her where she is. Her will meets his, the potency in her blood measured against his own.

Hawke finds her wanting. He steps forward, feeling Pride in the way he overwhelms her, how his blood is alive with power she simply can’t contain. Liviana screams as the javelin punches through her ribs, a splatter of red staining the rock at her feet. She’ll be dead in seconds.

There are more. Right.

Hawke spins and nearly loses his balance. Fuck. Lightheaded like he’s been drugged. But it’s not the drugs, it’s the fact he hasn’t any damned blood left in his body. The last mage is hurling mundane spells at Fenris, fortunately too slow-witted to have realized it’s not working. Fenris glows so bright it’s nearly blinding, little more than a blazing silhouette, tongues of white-blue lashing out to eat away the mage’s spells. Fire, ice, lightning. None of it works. There’s a blade in Fenris’s hand and he attacks without stopping, moving fluidly from one enemy to the next. He must, of course. They’re afraid and half-blind and the only way he can beat ten people at once is to keep them off-balance.

A couple of them seem to discover there’s another target and decide to take their chances.

Hawke still hasn’t quite decided whether or not to rip the blood from their bodies when the mage, realizing at last he can’t touch Fenris, changes targets too. Not good. Hawke senses the ripple in the Veil and instinctively slices the spell to shreds with yet more of his own blood, ribbons of it spooling sluggishly from his arms. More enemies. Two warriors bearing shortswords, and Hawke blocks with blood that he can’t afford to lose, but he’s only one man unarmed against two blades. What else can he do? They’re right on top of him. For a few seconds he manages it, sweeping his hands through the air and leaving red shields in his wake. No time to cast. No time to do anything but survive. And it won’t last. It can’t.

It doesn’t.

His vision’s getting slow and blurry, and his head pounds. Every second he lives is another small miracle. Then the miracles run out and Hawke misses a thrust and the shortsword punches straight through his gut.

It’s a good, clean strike, and Hawke buckles, clutching the wound. The warrior yanks his blade out, which really fucking hurts, and the two of them run to go help their friends. Hawke crashes to his knees and splays a hand on the ground. A gut wound. That means he has to wait a minute or two to die. Wonderful. What’s he supposed to do until then? Try to help Fenris? Not bloody likely. It won’t do anything and it’ll just make him die faster.

Fuck, that’s painful. Hawke grimaces, watching blood drip from his fingers and spatter on the dusty rock. He really thought he had a chance. But in the end he was just too tapped out, too drained from fighting off the demon spider and then wading through the barren desert for hours. And now he gets to die in that desert, at the Venatori’s hands. That’s a bit humiliating. He survives a hundred templars who all want his head on a stick and it’s a gang of overzealous Tevinters that finally does him in. Least he killed a couple of them. The maleficarum, no less. Nice to know that their final moments were consumed with the realization that this bearish Fereldan stranger was a better blood mage than they were. He shakes his head, coming up with a grin though the searing agony in his muddle. A comforting thought to send him off.

“You killed them!”

Ah, fuck. Hawke looks up just in time to find Fenris grabbing the front of his shirt and hurling him onto his back. Apparently the Venatori are dead. Hawke grunts, his wound jarred. Fenris’s bony knee lands on his chest. “You killed them! Innocent people! They didn’t have to die!” Fenris shouts. “What was it for? For me?! For yourself?!”

Hawke blinks, trying to focus. Fenris’s face appears above him, only a little blurry, alight with rage. Right. Hawke points weakly. “They’re—fine. Look.”

Fenris turns.

Hawke does feel a bit badly choking all those people out without warning, but he needed to make it convincing; they’ll probably carry around some bruises on their necks for a few days but even from across the spring he sees them beginning to stir. Only wishes it hadn’t taken so much damned blood to pull it off, but choking twelve people into unconsciousness simultaneously is no small feat, even for a mage of his ability. It did work, sort of. The hostages lived. Fenris lived. “You—you tricked them," Fenris says. "The Venatori.”

Hawke nods. Fenris is still kneeling on him, which hurts quite a bit, but he hasn’t the energy to protest. “You…”

You believed I would do it?

He wants to ask. But he knows the answer.

“You’re injured.” Fenris has discovered the wound, and he shifts, his weight disappearing from Hawke’s breastbone. “You—this is grave. You must heal yourself.”

Hawke laughs, or tries to; it sort of splutters out of him. “I don’t—think so. Blood magic—can’t heal.”

“Then use your true magic! Like you did in Kirkwall” Fenris’s hand balls in his shirt, but not in anger this time. “You must! This—this wound will kill you—“

Hawke breaks the news. “Think it already has."

“No, Hawke, you can’t give up, not now—“

Hawke shakes his head. “I thought—I could make it. Thought I’d have enough. Just—awful bloody luck.”

“Please heal yourself.” There’s something in Fenris’s voice Hawke hasn’t heard in a very long time. Not in years. Not since Kirkwall. “There’s still time.”

“You know—my healing magic is—worthless,” Hawke manages. “Even on—my best day.”

Fenris does know. It used to be something of a joke amongst them all, how Hawke was a force to be reckoned with during battle and then little more than a clumsy apprentice as soon as it was over. He doesn’t want to die here; he didn’t want to die in the Fade, and he didn’t want to die at the bottom of that dune with Fenris lying unconscious beside him. But there’s nothing for it anymore. Sanaris got her wish: he stayed behind, and everybody else escaped.

“Use me,” Fenris says.

Hawke blinks slowly, uncomprehending. The sun lances in from his left, spearing across Fenris’s face. “What?”

“The lyrium! Use the lyrium! Use me!” Fenris grabs Hawke’s hand and places it on his own arm.

“N—no,” Hawke gasps. “Don’t know—what’ll happen. To you.”

“You have to try! Everybody is always saying there’s so much power in it, it must be able to save you.” Fenris’s hand clamps over Hawke’s, tightening it around his arm.

“Fenris, you just ripped the Veil open…all by yourself,” Hawke says weakly.

“I feel fine! Please…” He squeezes Hawke’s fingers with an unexpected gentleness. “I can’t do this for you. I just—please, Hawke. Trust me.”

Hawke squints. It might be the blur in his vision, and it might be the glare of the sun. But he thinks those are tears glimmering at the corners of Fenris's eyes.

So, with no small amount of reluctance, he reaches for the lyrium in Fenris’s skin.

It’s like touching a lightning bolt with his bare hand, and he must work not to flinch away. Concentrating isn’t easy, considering most of his blood was either left in the Fade or is soaking into the ground beneath him. But with a tremendous effort of will he focuses the wild blaze of power into something he can use, a surge of magic that rushes into him in much the same way that shortsword speared through his middle. “Fuck,” he hisses, back arching. So much lyrium in one place—and not only that, it’s different than the stuff he’s used to, more…alive.

The wound burns like a new sun’s being born in his gut. Hawke realizes with terrible certainty that it’s too much—if he keeps this up, the lyrium will kill him before the blood loss does. Terrified, he breaks away, jerking his hand back from Fenris’s arm. The connection snaps like electricity and then dies. Hawke’s body flushes with pins and needles. Is that the lyrium, or just his impending death?

“Hawke? Hawke!”

Fenris. Hawke reaches up. Would be nice to hold Fenris’s hand again, one last time.

“Hawke—“

Thin fingers clasping his own. It’s the last thing he feels before darkness takes him.

Chapter Text

That was extremely foolish.

The sky passes by above him. Brilliant blue, touched by wisps of spun-sugar clouds.

You could have died.

The cart jostles over a particularly rugged pothole. Something soft falls over onto his arm.

If you require more power, I can give it to you. All you need to do is ask.

Another jostle. It makes Hawke’s gut ache.

He closes his eyes.

——

When he opens them again the sky has been replaced by a stone ceiling.

A stone ceiling. That means he’s probably alive because if he were dead, then the Maker would have cast him into the Void to be devoured eternally by the Old Gods and he doesn’t feel any vast, malevolent jaws gnawing on him. In fact, he feels quite comfortable. Is he in…a bed?

He lies there for a long time.

A bed, he decides at last. Candles flicker, bathing the stone walls around him in orange light. He tries to think about how he might have gotten here but never gets very far. He’s extraordinarily fatigued. There’s a dull ache in his arm and shoulder, and a more insistent one in his middle. After a while he figures it might be a fun experiment to try and move, so he moves and is delighted to find that while his limbs are heavy it’s actually not all that difficult.

“Oh. Hey.”

Hawke turns his head.

The Iron Bull is sitting in a chair against the wall, candlelight shining dully off his horns. There’s a book balanced on his leg, and he’s using the cover as a hard surface on which to write…something. “You,” Hawke says.

“Yeah. I bet you weren’t expecting to see me when you woke up.” He sets the book down on the floor. “That’s because this is a dream.” He winks. “A sexy dream.”

Hawke frowns. “That doesn’t seem right.”

“What? Not into big guys?” Bull sighs. “Shoulda known, the way you look at Fenris.”

“Oh, no, quite the opposite,” Hawke replies. “I just feel like a bowl of week-old porridge, is all.”

“Fine, it’s not a dream,” Bull admits. “You’re at Skyhold. Varric had to scram for a few hours, so he asked me to keep an eye on you, since…well. No one else is supposed to know you’re here.”

Varric. Just the mention of him sets off a wave of longing in Hawke’s chest, followed by a grin on his face. A love as strong as any storied romance. “How did I get here?”

“Fenris showed up with you squashed in the back of a supply cart,” Bull recounts. “He was pissed. It’s probably a good thing Sanaris is still away.”

“What about those people we freed?” Hawke asks.

“Apparently you guys weren’t far from an Inquisition camp. He dropped them off, stole a cart, and left.”

Stole a cart. It warms Hawke’s heart. “You talked to him? He’s all right?”

“Yeah, he’s fine. Came around earlier, asked if you were awake yet.”

Hawke struggles to sit up. Maker’s balls, he’s weak. “I need to see him.”

“Whoa there.” Bull rises. “You need to rest.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I really have to go.” Hawke swings his legs over, plants his feet, and stands.

When he comes to a pair of very beefy arms are lowering him to the bed again. “Damn,” Bull grunts. “Like carrying—a karasaad.”

“Fuck,” Hawke mumbles. Can’t even stand up without blacking out. His head comes to rest against the pillow.

“No one’s healed you, you know.” Bull steps back. “Cullen’s in charge with Sanaris gone, and he wouldn’t send anyone.”

Hawke smiles weakly. “What if I—threatened to blab?”

“Told him that, too. Leliana said she’d find someone discreet. Not here yet, though.”

“Fuck,” Hawke says again.

“Can’t believe you walked out of the Fade.” Bull settles down in his chair. “How’d you do it?”

“I didn’t,” Hawke tells him. “Fenris did.”

“Mm.” Bull nods in understanding. “I tried to stop him from going back, you know. Thought I really fucked up when he got past me. But I guess then you’d be dead.”

“No, it’s all right,” Hawke says. “I wasn’t happy he came back.”

They’re quiet for a moment. Hawke doesn’t mind at all. Nice to not be in imminent danger for a change.

“Fenris said you guys killed a bunch of Venatori,” Bull notes.

Hawke chuckles. “He killed a bunch of Venatori. I only got two before they stabbed me in the gut.”

“So he took the whole camp down by himself.”

“Basically, yes.”

“Damn.” Bull crosses an ankle over his knee. “He’d make a great Charger.”

Hawke shrugs. “He’d help you out, I’m sure. Don’t think he’s all that big on taking orders.”

Another moment of silence. But Hawke’s got some questions that need answering. “D’you know much about Solas?” he asks.

Bull heaves a deep sigh. “Only that I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.” He tips his head back against the wall. “Although I could throw him pretty far, so I guess that’s not saying much.”

“Right. D’you know where he spends his time? I think he tried to kill me and I’d like not to run into him by accident.”

“Tried to kill you?”

“This huge demon wolf attacked us in the Fade. I know he sent it,” Hawke says. “You should have seen its eyes.”

Bull lifts an eyebrow. “What, he’s still pissed at you over the Exalted Plains?”

“I’m very good at inspiring long-standing grudges.”

“Hm.” Bull frowns darkly. “Well, he pretty much spends all day holed up in that room below the library.”

“All right, thanks.”

“Ah, crap. You’re not gonna try and go after him, are you?”

“I mean, once I can stand up without fainting I might think about it,” Hawke replies. “But I haven’t got that far yet.”

Bull leans forward. “Because you know the guy can probably kick your ass on his worst day.”

“Oh, I’m very aware.” Hawke looks over. “What time is it?”

Bull shrugs. “Late evening or so.”

“Would you mind telling Fenris I’m awake? If he hasn’t gone to bed yet. Please,” Hawke says. “It’s important.”

Bull groans to his feet. “Fine, I’ll go look for him. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

“Thank you,” Hawke says.

Bull leaves the room. Hawke flips on his side and lies there. After a minute, when he’s sure Bull’s done watching the door to make certain he doesn’t sneak out, Hawke sits up.

He's almost completely naked, which is his main obstacle. But he finds his clothes in a pile by the bed, cleaned and folded, and his much-worn hunter’s knife beside them. The shirt is miraculously free of bloodstains, and the tear has been stitched up. Hawke looks down at himself. The shortsword wound, and the lyrium patch job, have left a scar in his gut like he was struck by lightning.

He takes it slow this time, grasping the bedpost and rising at the speed of one elderly and infirm. No blacking out. Good. When he dresses he finds a knot in his trouser pocket and digs for it—the favor, balled up and still slightly damp from the washing. He sets it on the table next to the candles to dry. Once clothed, he shuffles out of the room. He isn’t cold but has the jacket on with the hood up. Wouldn’t do to be recognized in the halls. Walking is fairly difficult—his legs feel sort of fluffy, and his balance is tenuous. Hasn’t much of an idea where in this great bloody fortress they hid him away, but he pulls aside a tipsy Orlesian and asks for directions. At last he emerges in the great hall.

Not many people here now; Hawke looks up at the stained-glass windows and finds darkness outside. For a half-second he feels a bit badly wandering around where someone might see him and then he remembers the Inquisitor tried to leave him in the Fade so he doesn’t feel badly anymore. Under the library, is that right? Hawke heads past a roaring fireplace, pushes open a wooden door. Beyond, torches illuminate painted walls.

Not much blood to spare but Hawke uses it anyway, drawing shadows up around his body, obscuring his silhouette in the flickering torchlight and softening the sound of his footsteps. He advances through the narrow hall and finds the elven mage reading a book at his table, and when he looks up Hawke is there already and grasps the front of his shirt, dragging him upright and shoving him up against one of the gaudy murals.

“Ah,” Solas says mildly, his shirt still clenched in Hawke’s grip. “The hero returns.”

Hawke’s knife is out and he presses the point of it just beneath Solas’s ribs. There’s no agitated jump of a panicked heart against the blade. “So, we both know you summoned that demon wolf to kill me.”

Solas says nothing, only waits with the blandest of interest for him to continue.

“I get it,” Hawke says. “Really. I nearly killed your friend and never sent you an apology, and honestly, I’m a bit of an all-around bastard, so I don’t mind if you tried to murder me in cold blood. But.” He leans on the knife a little harder. “You went after Fenris, and that bothers me. He’s done about one thing wrong in his life and that was trusting a pirate to watch over his clothes while he went for a bath in the lake. He doesn’t deserve you sending your dogs after him.”

“I am sorry—are you attempting to threaten me?” Solas says with faint amusement. “Because I see no threat. You will not kill me. Champion.”

It’s true; Hawke had not hoped to maintain the ruse very long, and it’s already fallen away. “You’re right.” He withdraws the knife. “I’m not going to kill you. You seem to be the only one who knows anything about Sanaris’s magical glowing hand.” The blade returns to its sheath at his lower back. “But you should keep your distance from Fenris. I’m not known for my good decisions.”

Solas chuckles. “You must forgive me—again, I fail to see the threat.”

Hawke shrugs. “Well, I don’t know. Started a war, didn’t I? That’s got to count for something.” He turns. “Have a lovely evening.”

Solas says nothing. Hawke leaves the room, tugging his hood a little further over his face.

That went about as well as expected. Couldn’t hope to frighten the sort of mage who can control an enormous demon like that, but he hopes Solas will at least think twice before setting his sights on Fenris again. Hawke nearly gets lost but makes a couple of good guesses and finds his room. Except when he pushes the door open, his bed is already occupied.

“This thing’s pretty comfy.” Bull presses on the mattress beneath him. “They must really be afraid you’ll spill their secrets.”

“Yes,” Hawke replies. ”Only thing is my feet hang off the end.”

That provokes a laugh. “Yeah, I get that.” He sits up. “You and Solas have a nice talk?”

“Not really. I don’t think he listened to me.”

“Yeah, well. He’s pretty self-absorbed.” Bull shrugs. “Kinda like a certain someone else I could name who asks a guy for a favor and then lies to his face.”

Hawke winces. “I’m sorry. It was rude and I won’t try to excuse it.”

Bull grunts. “Long as you two didn’t kill each other.” He rises, holding his knee. “Anyway, I found Fenris.”

Hawke lurches forward. “You did? What did he say?”

“Didn’t say anything. Just kinda stared at me, folded his hand, and walked away.”

Hawke smiles. “He was playing cards?”

“He was losing at cards.”

“Let me guess, Wicked Grace?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s better at Diamondback.”

“I’m pretty good at Diamondback. Does he play the kind where you bet your clothes?”

“Only if you’re really convincing. I do, though.”

Bull lifts his hands. “Listen, you’re a good-looking guy, but I do actually draw lines and one of them is ‘blood mage.’”

Hawke gives him a suggestive grin. “Sounds like you’ve got no sense of adventure.”

“I’ve got a sense of adventure,” Bull counters. “I just also have principles.”

Hawke sighs. “Well, if we’re not going to use it, would you at least get off my bed?”

Bull rises, smiling. “Think I’m starting to get it.”

“What?”

“How you lived so long,” Bull says, walking past him. “You work that charm pretty good.”

“I’m not working it, I just…”

Bull pauses.

Hawke lowers himself to the bed. “That’s just how I am. I like making jokes.”

Bull lingers by the door. “What exactly happened while you were gone? Fenris seemed…upset.”

Hawke rubs his face. “We landed in a desert and ran into some Venatori. The Venatori had taken hostages, I created the illusion that I’d killed them so we could fight without worrying about collateral damage. And in the process almost died because my staggering optimism about my condition didn’t quite pan out,” he says. “But Fenris…believed I did it. Believed that I would do it.”

Bull nods, thoughtful. “But you didn’t.”

“No. I would never.”

“So maybe that’s not why he’s upset.”

Hawke looks up but Bull is already halfway out the door. “Get some rest,” he says, and then disappears.

Hawke kicks off most of his clothes and lies down but can’t sleep despite the exhaustion. He tosses and turns halfheartedly, sheets twisting around him. Fenris didn’t come to see him. What did he do? Was it the fact he used blood magic? Perhaps, but their options were extremely limited, and anyway, nobody got hurt except the Venatori. And Hawke. The captives are all safe, Fenris is safe. Hawke flips on his stomach and hugs the pillow under his head. He shouldn’t be so disappointed over it. He should be trying to get some rest.

But he can’t stop thinking about Fenris.

It’s foolish. Hawke is and will always be a blood mage, and they’ll never have what they had so many years ago. They were both different then, of course—Hawke was bright-eyed and loved too deeply and paid for it over and over until his mother’s murder finally broke him of the habit. Meanwhile Fenris was only just starting to shed his fear—it hadn’t left him yet when he showed up in Hawke’s manor that night but the fire between them was enough to overcome it anyway.

Now it’s gone and the fire belongs to Fenris, burning in him steady and strong. It’s amazing how much he’s changed in four years, but it was amazing how much he’d changed in the seven years prior. Hawke flips over and stares at the ceiling. He’s amazing, is the truth of it. And they might have had something incredible if Hawke hadn’t completely fucked it by making the damned pact. Hawke heaves a disgruntled sigh, kicking the covers off his legs. The fact that they spend so much time together now doesn’t help one bit. Despite Fenris’s professed disinterest it took only days for their conversation to fall into the same easy rhythm they used to have. Hawke’s been trying very hard to stay passive and just go along with the whole situation, and it was going all right, he thought. The two of them have grown comfortable around each other again, although Fenris has been much more cutting in his assessment of Hawke’s character. Which Hawke doesn’t mind. It lightens the mood more than anything.

But now Fenris is upset with him and Hawke thought he knew why but it doesn’t quite fit together. It was literally the only way to save the captives and escape. He didn’t use anyone else’s blood, except for stealing what was already aimed at him, and his near-death wasn’t a surrender but a miscalculation. He tried. He really tried.

And still Fenris doesn’t want to see him. Hawke rests a hand on his stomach, feeling the cool air on is skin. Much as he tries, he can’t make sense of it.

His bedroom door creaks open.

Hawke props himself up on his elbows, about to apologize for his near-nakedness, but the words die on his tongue. “Fenris?” he blurts out.

Fenris is there.

His hair is down for once, hanging over his face, the ends curling loosely beneath his chin. He shuts the door behind him and crosses the room in three strides. Hawke sits there dumbly in his underclothes and finally comes up with an “Are you all—“ that’s cut off when Fenris leans down and kisses him on the mouth.

He tastes of wine but Hawke’s seen him drunk and he isn’t drunk—perhaps just a cup or two to calm his nerves. The kiss is aggressive and Hawke accepts it without thinking, Fenris’s tongue delving into his mouth. The bed creaks as Fenris climbs on top of him, hands running over his bare chest. Hawke hasn’t the faintest idea what’s happening and even less of an idea how to respond. Is this a dream? He still feels like he was dead in the very recent past so probably not. Hawke tries to say something but doesn’t make it very far because Fenris is still kissing him. So he grasps Fenris’s shoulder and pulls him away, breaking them apart. “Fenris—what are you doing?”

Fenris rises and for one relieved second Hawke thinks he’s going to leave, but instead he strips his shirt off over his head and drops it on the floor.

Next he extracts himself from his trousers and Hawke tries in vain to come up with a good way to stop him—in a wrestling match between Hawke and a lyrium ghost, there’s only one smart bet—and all he can do is splutter out, “Wait—what are you—“

“I want to fuck you,” Fenris interrupts, dropping his trousers on top of his shirt. “Are you going to let me?”

Hawke doesn’t reply.

It’s an awful idea. Truly awful—Hawke betrayed him, he recovered, he’s moved on, he’s fine. He shouldn’t be here. Hawke must say no or be complicit in miring him back inside this muddled-up mess between them, this thing that was broken beyond repair. Fenris stands there waiting in the low flicker of candlelight, lean and hard; the shadows trace the clean lines of muscle, break over his dark nipples and the small swells of his chest. It has been a long time since Hawke’s seen him nearly naked—had almost forgotten the way the brands curl around his thighs in bold, graceful lines just as Hawke would like to do with his own hands.

And yet Fenris is here demanding it. Is it Hawke’s fault, then? If they do this? Of course it is. But not only his.

“Yes,” he says at last.

Fenris is on top of him again, straddling his hips and kissing him deeply. Hawke kisses him back, cupping his face, stroking his cheek, grasping his thigh with the other hand. The muscle there is hard, tensed with Fenris leaning down like this, and his skin warm under Hawke’s palm. Hawke wants to hold him forever.

Fenris grunts, grabs Hawke’s wrists, removes them from himself and pins them to the bed. “I’d prefer it if you stayed down there,” he says.

Stayed down here? Hawke stares up at him, disbelieving and—more—vaguely angry. At himself, of course, for being a fool and saying yes, but also at Fenris for coming here and asking in the first place. And now he wants Hawke to stay down there. As if he wishes to sleep with the memory of Hawke, the man he fucked seven years ago, rather than the one lying under him right now. But Hawke isn’t a memory—he’s a man and he’s worked quite hard over the last few months to make himself into one who’s worth something.

It might not quite be that. What the Iron Bull said still rattles around in Hawke’s head. Maybe that’s not why he’s upset.

Still, climbing on top of Hawke while making him lie passive on the bed borders on insulting, and Hawke grasps the bedsheets, watching Fenris above him, how the candlelight makes his skin glow almost gold. They’ve both changed. Fenris does not kiss Hawke anymore but flattens a hand on his belly and rocks his hips, grinding on Hawke, who hardens almost immediately. It’s not as if he’s been celibate during his time on the lam, but none of his partners have been the man he’s loved since he was twenty-six years old.

And none of them have been so perfect. Fenris’s body is lean and strong and his markings gleam like the moon; his hair falls over his face, eyes closed, lips parted as he rolls his hips. Two layers of cloth separate them but Hawke can still feel how Fenris parts around his trapped shaft. Fenris wastes no more time and slides a hand into his underclothes to pleasure himself.

Hawke swears in his head. Things are so, so different now. Last time it was Hawke who initiated that, after they’d spent enough time kissing each other, taking their clothes off, getting accustomed to how their bodies fit together with nothing to separate them. Now Fenris is getting himself off and Hawke is left to lie there on his own. Fenris bites his lip, grinding against Hawke, his hand moving faster inside the fabric. Hawke’s leg twitches up at the pressure, the way Fenris’s cunt parts over his cock and hugs the shaft. He’s mesmerized despite himself. The way Fenris’s body undulates, the candlelight falling over him like silk.

But it’s a game he’s already growing tired of. “Are you just going to do that all night?” he growls. “You think if you keep your clothes on it won’t actually count?”

Fenris’s eyes open and narrow, irritated. “Is that desperation I hear?” he snaps.

“What’s the point? Hawke retorts. “You don’t even want me to touch you.”

“What’s wrong? Are you afraid I won’t make you come?” Fenris says, and the next thing Hawke knows his cock has been exposed to the open air and Fenris is sinking down on him, hot and tight.

“Fuck,” Hawke hisses, squeezing his eyes shut and opening them so he can see it, Fenris descending slowly, underclothes pushed aside, his cunt gripping Hawke’s cock. He sits back as if to show himself off and he’s beautiful—older now, certainly, the lines of muscle worn in, his breasts slumping a little lower on his chest. Hawke wants to touch him but won’t, more out of spite than anything. Fenris wants pleasure, he’ll have to get it himself.

“Mm—“

Fenris’s eyelids flutter a little as he takes Hawke to the base, settling on top of his hips. The noise transports Hawke, against his will, back seven years to that night at the manor when the gravity between them grew too strong to resist and they fell into it as one, spending hours together—not all of it fucking but the greater part kissing each other, each exploring the other’s body, reveling in the almost unbearable intimacy of skin on skin. They fucked too, of course. And Fenris’s moans, how his face softened and his body rose so responsively to Hawke’s touch and his own—Hawke felt as if he experienced the divine, party to something beautiful and rare.

Fenris’s thighs tighten as he rises a little and sinks back down again, still slowly, still adjusting to Hawke inside him. He seems more a phantom now. A spectre of the past, seeking recompense. One lyrium-lined hand advances up Hawke’s chest, coming to rest on his breastbone, fingers brushing the base of his throat. Hawke tilts his head back ever so slightly. The sense of vulnerability is dizzying and makes his cock throb inside Fenris’s cunt. Fenris hunches, bracing himself on Hawke’s breastbone, pinning him to the sheets. But Hawke doesn’t fight it. Too much time spent struggling with his aloneness, with Fenris, with himself. Now—with Fenris here, taking him—he wants to just be.

Fenris rises, his slick walls gliding over Hawke’s shaft, and impales himself again.

He’s tight and Hawke murmurs a curse under his breath. The heat where their bodies meet stokes his pleasure—and Fenris’s as well, it seems. He fucks Hawke hard and fast, hips slamming down, leaning on Hawke’s chest. A functional rhythm; still, the friction builds quickly and Hawke feels it too, and he grabs Fenris’s hand, pressing it to his breastbone. Fenris looks down, startled.

Hawke wants to be angry at him still, and the same thing shows in Fenris’s face, but there's a fire between them and it isn’t anger. Fenris’s eyes burn bright with desire for…something. Hawke, maybe. But more than that. Something denied him, something he’s still fighting for. His pace slows and he arches his back as he rides Hawke, a flicker of uncertainty on his face.

The angle puts pressure on the underside of Hawke’s shaft and he whispers “Fuck, that’s amazing.” Fenris’s head drops forward, silver hair hanging down as he rocks his hips. His free hand moves between his legs.

Then he squeezes Hawke’s chest, thumbing his nipple. Hawke sucks in air through his teeth, stroking the back of Fenris’s hand. A satisfied noise above him, and Fenris’s voice, only a little shaky. “I remember—you used to like that.”

“Touch me,” Hawke gasps, and Fenris massages the muscle there, rolling his nipple with a calloused fingertip. Hawke doesn’t want to just be anymore. Wants to make Fenris feel good. Bracing his feet on the bed, he lifts his hips.

Fenris is soaking wet and he hilts instantly. A shuddering moan, Fenris taken by surprise—but his thighs tremble in response. Hungering for more, Hawke thrusts again and this time Fenris stays where he is, back arched, and lets Hawke fill his cunt.

Hawke fucks up into him steadily, decisively, savoring the impact each time their hips meet and the tightness of Fenris’s slick hole. “Yes—Hawke—“ Fenris pleads, fingers moving furiously between his legs, and he leans back and braces himself on the bed. Hawke can see better now how his cock disappears into Fenris’s body where the underclothes were hastily pulled aside, opening him up with each thrust. Fenris plows his hips down to meet Hawke’s pace, noises of need shivering out of his parted lips.

No longer pinned, Hawke sits up and cups Fenris’s chest, and the lyrium flares to life.

“A-ahh—“ Fenris gasps. “Hawke, you’re—touching me—“ His hand flies to Hawke’s and he squeezes, massaging his own chest with Hawke’s fingers. That’s right. The way he described it. As if you were touching something beneath my skin. His heart beats strong and quick against Hawke’s palm. Hawke leans in, kissing his throat, sucking at his neck, delirious with arousal. Fenris’s moans grow desperate, and he wraps an arm around Hawke, clutching the muscle of his back. Hawke teases Fenris’s nipple, rolling and tugging it, unable to get enough. The faint taste of salt at Fenris’s neck, the tickle of his hair brushing Hawke’s forehead. How his body rolls against Hawke’s, lithe and hard. “Yes—“ he pants, hand flying between his legs as he grinds on Hawke’s shaft. “I’m—I’m—“

The room fills with radiant blue light.

Hawke is in love with him and the intensity of his orgasm, with his open mouth and the hot flush in his cheeks and chest. With how he fucks himself still, hips bouncing up and down, how he rubs himself furiously to milk the climax. He’s beautiful. He’s sublime. Hawke is so entranced he hardly notices how Fenris’s inner walls are squeezing the life out of his cock and his own orgasm takes him by surprise; he spills himself deep inside Fenris’s cunt and hisses a long, drawn-out curse into his skin.

When Hawke comes to his senses again Fenris is still rocking gently on his softening cock, making little sounds of pleasure. Hawke cups his face and kisses him.

Fenris responds instantly and their mutual desire takes them over like a wildfire, ravening Hawke to his core such that he can think of nothing else, only Fenris’s lips on his, the heat of their bodies pressed together, the thin fingers at the back of his neck pulling him closer. He kisses Fenris like a man addicted, tongue diving into his mouth, and Fenris makes a noise of need and runs his fingers through Hawke’s hair. It will never end—can never end, the two of them intertwined like this, hungering so deeply for each other that they surely could not survive apart. Hawke starts to harden again, still sheathed inside Fenris’s cunt.

All at once Fenris breaks off and pushes him away.

Hawke plants a hand on the bed, breathless. Fenris braces himself on Hawke’s hips and rises with one last quiet, shuddered moan; Hawke’s shaft slips out of him, white come smearing on his thigh. He reaches down and shakily fixes his underclothes, climbing off the bed.

“Fenris,” Hawke whispers. It’s all he has. His mind is too scattered for anything more.

Fenris leans down and picks up his clothes. He slips his shirt over his head and pulls up his trousers, leaving the strings undone. Then he stumbles for the door, steadying himself on the table. The candles catch him there, bathing him in flickering orange, his markings gone dormant again.

Then he pulls open the door and leaves, swinging it shut behind him.

Hawke is alone again. He drops back down onto the bed, his half-hard cock flopped over his hip. “Fuck,” he says at the ceiling. The ceiling gives him no answer.

Chapter Text

Hawke wakes to his door bursting open, and he registers the woman striding into his room a second before he realizes he fell asleep with his cock still lying soft over his hip. He scrambles to cover himself, heart thudding unpleasantly in his chest, but the woman waves a hand. “No need to be modest. I’ve seen it all before.”

Hawke does it anyway, throwing the blanket over his lower half. She’s an elf, he discovers, gray-haired and warmly wrapped. “Who are you?”

“A healer.” She plops herself down on the edge of the bed and plants a hand on the pale, lightning-strike scar that covers Hawke’s abdomen. “Oh. Messy. You do this yourself?”

Hawke grunts. “Sort of.”

“Coy, aren’t we? Ah.” She nods. “Blood mage.”

Hawke narrows his eyes. “What makes you say that?”

“I can feel it, I’m a spirit healer,” she answers. “Like you but smarter.”

Hawke sighs to himself. Deserving or not, he gets a bit sick of being insulted all the time. “You still going to replace my blood?”

“The Inquisitor made a personal request, so yes. And I’ll fix you up in the bargain. Another week or two and your guts would be so twisted you’d be spouting blood out of both ends. You may want to lie down,” she says.

Hawke isn’t given time to obey before her magic hits him in the stomach like an ogre’s fist. He gasps, collapsing to the bedsheets and squeezing his eyes shut. Feels like someone’s pouring molten metal into his navel. Sweat breaks out over his whole body, trickling down his temples. The healer sits above him placidly, a familiar moon-white glow emanating from her hands.

It takes a long few minutes, but the pain does fade and—miraculously—he starts to feel better. Much better, like he wasn’t fatally wounded by a sword-wielding Tevinter just a few days ago. And it’s not just his stomach, either; his marrow blooms, fecund, and his veins swell with blood. Powerful again. He tries not to think about it. “Hm. Color me impressed.”

“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice.” The woman removes her hands and rises. “I must say, you’re the least argumentative blood mage I’ve ever met.”

“Oh. Thank you?”

“I’ll be going. Do try not to overdo it again, I’m expensive.” She leaves the room.

Hawke sits up, scratching his beard. He comes away with a long, delicate silver hair. Ah. Not a dream then. What faint hope he had is crushed. Hawke flicks the hair away, irritated.

But what good will that do? He rises with a delightful lack of dizziness and stumbles to the small washroom. The water is chilly on his skin, and little bubbles of soap collect in his chest hair as he washes himself. What use is it to be angry with Fenris, or himself? They both wanted it and knew they shouldn’t and did it anyway. Hawke certainly doesn’t expect anything more out of Fenris. Fenris clearly doesn’t want anything out of him. So it was a stupid mistake and shouldn’t be of any consequence whatsoever. Hawke dries himself off and finds some more clothes in the wardrobe. The trousers fit, barely—he has a to dance a bit to get them up over his arse. The shirt is hopeless. His shoulders strain the seams almost to their bursting point, and no matter how he tries he can’t get it down over his chest. Yielding at last, he throws it on the bed.

Then his door bursts open for the second time that morning and Hawke swears, snatching from the wardrobe another shirt he can already tell is too small. Sanaris stands there in a fresh set of traveling clothes. She must have returned just this morning, yet it seems she anticipates another excursion. “Got another job for you. You’re going to the Emprise du Lion. We’re retaking Suledin Keep.”

Then she withdraws and shuts the door behind her. Hawke is across the room in a second and yanks it open again. “Hey!”

She turns, waiting impatiently.

The hall is chilly and gooseflesh breaks out over Hawke’s bare skin. “What, nothing to say after you left me to die?”

Sanaris lifts her eyebrows, exasperated “What do you want to hear?” she asks. “That I’m sorry? I’m not. That I made the wrong decision? I didn’t.”

“How about Stroud volunteering?” Hawke snaps. “Did you forget about that?”

“Yeah, and where would that leave the Grey Wardens? They might all be absolutely fucking brainless but no one else can kill the Archdemons,” she retorts.

Hawke chuckles. “And I’m just ballast, is that it?”

“You’re not ballast! Nobody’s ballast!” Sanaris flings a hand out. “Have you heard of Corypheus? The fucking—thing killing anyone who has the bad fucking luck to blunder across his path? People are dying, Hawke! We’re at war! Not everybody gets to live!”

“And what gives you the right to choose?” Hawke snarls. “The Anchor’s only yours because of your shit luck!”

“Because they trust me!” Sanaris fires back. “Because my choices are working! You were the strongest of us, Hawke! Do you think I wanted to leave someone to die? You were our best shot!” She pauses a half-second, collecting herself. “No, it’s not fair, but neither is Corypheus stampeding across all of fucking Thedas murdering people because they don’t want to kiss Tevinter’s ass. These choices belong to me. I have to make them and I have to own them. You can get pissed at me, I don’t care. Just do me a favor and don’t get on my ass about it. I already know.”

Hawke lets her turn and stride away down the hall. “Emprise du Lion,” she calls over her shoulder. “Get to the gates so we can head out.”

Hawke’s jaw tightens, and he returns to his room, kicking the door shut behind him. Nice not having to face any consequences for your actions. He’s been running from his own set of consequences for bloody years. He stands there in the middle of the room, frozen. Nowhere to put this anger. No way to soothe it.

He stares down at himself, at his bare chest, the gooseflesh prickling on his skin. Opens his palms, his eyes passing over the many nicks and scars in his forearms from seven years of blood magic.

Fenris’s appearance last night still seems like a dream but wasn’t; the ghost of sensation is too real, the phantom hands squeezing his chest, the fingers at the base of his throat. This is what Fenris saw when he came here and what he touched, this skin that’s been split open so many times, a magician’s curtain beneath which flows the blood that’s killed hundreds.

Hawke goes to his bed and lies down very slowly.

You’ve done no wrong. You saved a city.

I did save it, Hawke thinks. But I might have been a bit hasty to make the pact.

Everyone was dying, Pride replies. You had to act.

Hawke stares at the ceiling. The argument’s just going to run circles so he leaves it. Nothing to be done. He’s a blood mage until the day he dies. And yet, the way Fenris touched him last night…

With a frustrated sigh he rises. They’ll be waiting for him in the courtyard.

——

“Hey, you didn’t die!”

Hawke grins down at Varric from beneath his hood. “Not for lack of trying.”

The sun is out, shining gaily down upon Skyhold. The grass is yellow with the winter but the bustle of people going about their business is still heartening—crates being carted from building to building, soldiers frowning at a makeshift map, trainees thwacking mannequins with wooden swords. “Fenris told me what happened on the Approach.” Varric shakes his head with a grimace. “Anyone ever tell you you’re reckless?”

“Lies and slander,” Hawke replies. He rubs his horse’s neck—a pale gray animal, young but well-behaved. “Are you coming with us?”

“No, no,” Varric says. “I’m actually headed back to Kirkwall. Did you know they went to war? Not for very long, but still. Aveline could use a hand.”

Hawke pauses. Aveline. “How is she?”

“Good, good.” Varric nods. “Still works from dawn ’til dusk ’til dawn again.”

“Did you tell her about me?”

A chuckle. “No, I don’t want her to march down here and clap you in irons.”

“Thanks,” Hawke mumbles. He misses her deeply but also would prefer not to spend the rest of his days locked in the Kirkwall dungeons.

“Hawke.”

He turns around. Sanaris is there, walking toward him. Varric eases away. “I’ll, uh, leave the two of you to talk.”

Wonderful. Sanaris stops beside him. “We think Samson’s at Suledin Keep.”

Hawke groans. “Why are you bringing me along again?”

“Because I’ll be leading a small team to infiltrate the keep while our forces draw the bulk of the templars to the front gates, and you’re one of the very few mages I have who will be appropriately cautious.

“An infiltration, you say?” Hawke points past the horse. “Is that why he’s coming?”

The Iron Bull is a few yards beyond, buckling his pack to what looks like a draft horse. They’re the only animals big enough to carry him. “He’s an experienced spy,” Sanaris counters. “Anyway, you’re not so small yourself and you’ve been slipping through everybody’s fingers ever since you blew up that Chantry.”

“I didn’t blow it up,” Hawke mutters.

Sanaris waves a hand. “Whatever. Hope you packed warm. Snow’s up to your knees down there.” She goes off to her own steed—a gorgeous stag with thick auburn fur and at least sixteen points that looks like it might snap in half if Hawke tried to mount it. Sanaris is half his size, though. So it’s her, him, Bull, and…

Fenris approaches the gate, leading a stout pinto.

He squints balefully up at the sun, drawing the pinto up behind Hawke’s gray, and makes no acknowledgement of Hawke’s presence. “Morning,” Hawke says brightly.

“Hello,” comes the terse response. Fenris flips open the saddlebag. He’s wearing a Fereldan-style shirt, but he’s flipped the collar up and buttoned it all the way to his chin like the people in old paintings used to do.

“So,” Hawke begins. “About last night—“

“No.”

Hawke halts. He’d feared something like this. “You don’t want to talk about it.”

“No.”

“You show up in my bedroom at Maker knows what hour, fuck me like I’ve never been fucked before in my life, and then leave, and you won’t even talk about it?”

“No.” Fenris flips the bag closed.

Hawke considers him. How best to get through? They can’t just leave it stuffed away in the dark—must at least acknowledge that it happened. That something passed between them deeper and more raw than anything since that last, awful conversation at Hawke’s manor after Meredith’s death.

“Well,” Hawke says. “You’ve certainly been doing well for yourself since we parted.”

Fenris’s head snaps up. “What?”

If they can’t talk about the substance of it, then Hawke will settle for a different angle. He lifts a coy eyebrow. “That was not the technique of a man who hasn’t fucked anybody for four years. In fact, I’d venture to say it was quite the opposite.”

Fenris stares a moment, dumbfounded; then he seems to recover with a nonchalant shrug, though his cheeks grow a bit red. “I don’t know what you expect me to say. I like fucking. I liked it when we did it in Kirkwall and I waited for you but you turned into a blood mage so I stopped waiting. I’ve met quite a lot of people who were happy to join me in my bed. Or my tent.” He looks up, thinking. “Or in the grass by the shores of the Antivan Strait. Or on the banks of the Minanter, or once in a cave while it was raining. Or another time when it was snowing—“

“All right! All right.” Hawke can’t help grinning. “I get it, you’re terribly attractive to everyone you meet.”

Fenris seems more relaxed now. “I’m a freelancer. I simply meet a lot of people.”

The Iron Bull appears, leading his plodding draft horse past them. “Hey, Hawke. Hey, Fenris. Nice love bites, by the way.”

Fenris flushes red instantly and claps a hand to his neck, which is, of course, covered by the high collar. Bull gazes at him for a moment, then his smile disappears. “Crap. Please tell me it wasn’t him you fucked.” He jerks his head at Hawke.

Hawke makes no reply. He’s not the one being asked. Fenris splutters out, “That is—none of your business!”

Bull lets out a groan from deep in his chest. “Great. You two are already pissed at Sanaris and now I gotta deal with this crap too?”

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think we’re going to fuck again,” Hawke offers.

“That’s the problem. All the tension. Is it too much to ask for everyone to just—get along?” He tugs the reins, and his horse plods slowly forward.

“How did he know?!” Fenris hisses.

Hawke points. “Probably because no one wears those shirts all buttoned up like that anymore unless they’re trying really hard to hide something.”

Fenris grimaces and undoes the buttons, revealing his neck. Ah. Hawke realizes he may have been a bit overzealous last night. “Let’s—get on our way.”

“As you wish,” Hawke says, and leads his horse toward the gate.

——

He can’t stop thinking about it.

Not all the time. Quite often there’s worse things to occupy him. The Emprise du Lion is absolutely infested with red lyrium. Hawke hears it sometimes, especially during long periods of silent travel and in the minutes just after he wakes, the careening, violent melodies that splinter to bits each time they collide and dig into him like shrapnel. But he shifts it aside and senses an irritation from Pride with the way it dogs him and creeps along the curbs and gutters of his mind. Perhaps Pride is a protective factor and helps him fight it off. Wouldn’t that be something.

Fenris hunches on his horse, shivering with each gust of freezing wind that steals down the rocky pass.

He doesn’t bear the cold half as well as Hawke does; he grew up in the tropical North, for one, and he’s also got perhaps half an ounce of spare meat on his bones (which is half an ounce more than he had in Kirkwall) whereas Hawke is far better insulated against the Southern winter. So he ducks his face into his collar and shivers and looks extraordinarily miserable, and Hawke wants nothing more than to hold him, to warm and comfort him, but that’s of course impossible. They don’t belong to each other anymore, despite—

Despite the night they shared just a handful of days ago, and the intensity of Hawke’s need to be with him in some capacity, any capacity, simply won’t recede. Hawke sighs, puffing out a cloud of breath into the frozen air. Was hoping the situation wouldn’t get any more fucked but here they are.

“Is it much further to the camp?” Fenris asks.

Sanaris glances over her shoulder. “Few hours. We’re not exactly making good time.”

“Sorry,” Bull adds. “Taashath here isn’t built for speed.”

His blasted draft horse. The thing’s used to pulling plows, and it’s as tireless as it is slow. Bull’s enormous weight on its back can’t be helping. “Why?” Sanaris asks. “Your ass getting sore? If Harding’s right, we should be coming up on some more templars before long, that’ll get you out of the saddle.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Fenris mutters. “I’m only cold.”

“Hm. Well, my ass is definitely sore.”

“You need some more padding,” Bull puts in. “You too, Fenris.”

“I need nothing. I eat well.”

Bull shakes his head. “Elves.”

“What sort of templars?” Hawke asks. “A couple of poor bastards who got shipped off to the snowy wasteland by their lonesome, or three knight-captains and a few of those awful things that are ten feet tall with knives for hands?”

“They took over an old watch keep,” Sanaris replies. “I’d guess there’s a lot of them.”

Hawke groans. They’ve already encountered—and cleared—two smaller camps today (although there was one of those awful things that was ten feet tall with one knife-hand and one hand that was just a great bloody club of red lyrium). His Fade-sense is already frayed.

Come now, Hawke. You’re not in danger.

Hawke frowns, disgruntled. I’m not using blood magic.

You may pretend you’re in danger, if you like.

And you can fuck off.

As you wish.

And then it fucks off, which is a pleasant surprise. Hawke shifts in the saddle. His arse is sore.

Perhaps an hour later they’re creeping up a snow-covered slope, shaded by thick pines. There’s red lyrium up ahead, Hawke can tell that much, because the mad tune is running its tremoring fingers over the ridges and folds of his brain. Bull and Sanaris are wearing full plate but the fur padding helps the clanking. Hawke’s brought his staff, praying dearly he won’t need to defend himself in melee combat against these things. As they approach the top he prepares to cast. The Veil resists his attempts to grasp it, his Fade-sense grown clumsy with the cumulative fatigue of the day’s battles. He grits his death, forcing open a few shallow toeholds. It makes his head hurt.

The top of the slope grows closer. Snatches of conversation float down, dampened by snow. News and rumors, the political climate, the state of the region. Information exchanged two ways. They don’t react—there’s no cynical chuckles, no snarls of exasperation. Hawke saw it in the Graves too. It’s like they haven’t got any emotions left; or maybe they’ve just forgotten how to externalize them.

Sanaris glances over her shoulder. Beside him Fenris tenses.

Then she charges over the top of the slope and they’re engaging.

When Hawke makes the top Bull’s already split someone’s breastplate in half with his axe, which is a good start. The camp isn’t small—it’s broken up by juts of slate-gray rock that play host to twisted spikes of red lyrium that emerge from the ground, impaling the very stuff of the world on their malevolent spires. At the back of the camp the squat watch keep sits, and more templars emerge to join the battle. Hawke thinks of cracking the spears of rock and burying a few of them beneath it, but he hasn’t got that kind of power left.

Don’t you?

Though I told you to fuck off. He raises his hands and feels for static in the air, teasing out the fragile threads and weaving them together into something worth using. At the edge of the camp like this he’s all right; the other three wall him off, protecting him from the press of the enemies. They’ve done this before, and it reminds him a bit of Kirkwall with Aveline and Fenris and sometimes Isabela giving him room to breathe. He misses those days very much. Ready at last, he calls down lightning—not quickly, because each bolt is crafted with effort and care to ensure it’ll actually do something; but it works to an extent, creating openings which Bull or Fenris or Sanaris use to great effect. They all favor the heavier weapons, which works well for the red templars, who shrug off most anything that doesn’t cleave them in two.

Then a familiar groan shakes the frozen ground beneath his feet and Hawke swears, his concentration broken. A hulking shape detaches itself from one of the rocky spires, crystals of red lyrium showering off as it straightens. Fucking behemoth. The thing starts to lumber toward them, picking up speed as it charges over the snow. The templars scatter; even they don’t want to get caught in its path. Bull and Fenris let them go, readying for the bigger problem. Sanaris does not. There’s a wildness in her eyes, and her blade scythes and dives, hungry for blood. Fine. She’ll keep the rank and file off their backs. The behemoth stampedes forward, snow flying up in its wake.

Hawke realizes too late that it’s not slowing, that the glassy eyes rooted in its sagging face gaze beyond Bull and Fenris. It’s still a templar, after all, deep down. And if there’s one thing a templar hates, it’s a mage. Bull and Fenris split, knowing they can’t break its momentum. “Hawke!” Fenris shouts. Hawke hurls himself to one side, scrambling through the calf-deep snow. But the creature veers, and its gleaming red club-hand arcs through the air. On instinct Hawke lifts his staff to block.

The wooden shaft explodes in a shower of splinters but it attenuates the force of the blow, at least, and the club-hand doesn’t pulverize any of his organs when it thwacks him in the chest and sends him flying down the hill. He’s airborne for a few gut-tightening seconds and then collides with the ground, rolling through the drifts, blinded by white. Not fucking good. The wind’s knocked out of him and he struggles to find purchase so he can see where the damned thing is—at last his shoulder smacks painfully into a tree, and he can plant a knee and squint up the slope. The trees are plenty sparse enough to allow the behemoth through, and it hurtles down the slope in pursuit, rumbling out a cry like the baying of a hunting hound.

This creature will kill you. You need help.

Hawke doesn’t respond. Pride may be right. The thing is ten times his size and his Fade-sense is fatally weak from the other battles he’s fought today. Without blood magic there’s no way he can hold it off.

And yet he hesitates. He’s faltered a number of times but still holds dearly to the promise he made to Fenris—and to himself—before this whole thing began. The behemoth’s hook-arm swings down and Hawke dives out of the way; the hook gouges the pine trunk where he was just standing, rending the shaggy bark.

Hawke! You are going to die! You must act!

He isn’t dead yet. Hawke wraps up a coiled spring of force and releases it at the creature’s face. Its flesh holds form poorly and half its face liquidates beneath the ruined helmet; one of its eyes bursts, the pink, gelatinous contents streaming down the rest of the sagging mess. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to care very much, and the hook descends again, forcing Hawke to lurch sideways through the knee-deep snow to avoid it.

The behemoth tips its head back and howls. The noise echoes from deep within its body, from a space that might not be real. Hawke hears it anyway. It’s the red lyrium song, sung by an entity that used to be human; her voice catches Hawke off-guard. She asks him for something, he hears it, the desperate request hidden inside the senseless melody. Hawke can't comprehend exactly what she wants but knows he cannot give it to her.

The behemoth's club-hand appears at the edge of his vision and Hawke snaps back to reality just in time to try and dodge but not to succeed. The blow takes him in the gut and hurls him sideways into a tree. His armor absorbs some of the damage but there's a couple of nasty pops signifying that his ribs took the rest. He crumples in the snow, gasping at the shocks of pain searing through his chest. Damn it all. Is there time? He might still be able to save his life, even if it means breaking his promise—

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! YOU MUST ACT NOW!

because it's pointless to die here, buried in a snowdrift, to the red bloody templars. And yet—he doesn't want to—

Snow sprays up in front of him and Fenris appears, hacking away the behemoth's reaching claws.

Of course. The others are here with him. Why didn't he remember that earlier? The behemoth groans, staggering down the slope; the Iron Bull appears behind it, blade smeared with glimmering red-black blood. He and Fenris pursue, pressing their advantage. Hawke struggles to rise, gritting his teeth against a groan of pain. He should help. Once again he reaches out with his strained Fade-sense, scrambling desperately for just a little more power. The shocks of agony radiating from his ribs with every breath disrupt his focus. Come on, he prays. Come on.

His vision whites out like it hasn’t in some time, and his head becomes a point in space, floating unsupported except by the threads linking him to the Fade. But the power is there and Hawke hears the bellow as his bolt of lightning strikes the behemoth. His arms are numb and tingling like they’ve been under tourniquet. He shakes his head and waits for his vision to come back. There’s a patch of snow-laden branches before him, a glimpse of a flashing blade and the glitter of red lyrium. Hawke reaches out, gathering energy from the air around the creature. What sight he had goes quickly; all he sees is a purple mesh of static.

Hawke.

No, he grits out. No.

Let me help you.

No! Hawke pulls the static through the Veil and into reality.

Poorly done. Pride has distracted him; the static races as well down the strings linking him to the Veil, and he moans as his body is wracked with electricity. Through it he hears the behemoth keening. His joints lose their tension and he collapses, cushioned by snow. The cold seeps in through his coat—a balm to his stinging skin. He lies there for a moment, trying to decide whether to stay here, to try and stand. But he can't even pull his mind together enough to consider the options.

Someone is calling his name, and a gloved hand cups his face. “Hawke. Hawke.”

Still can’t see but he recognizes Fenris’s voice. “Yes,” he gasps. “Fine. I’m fine.”

“That seems unlikely.”

It’s true. Not only his blown Fade-sense but the agony in his ribs clawing its way to the top of his awareness once more. Hawke sucks in freezing air through his teeth. “Not dying,” he manages. “Just ribs. I’m all right.”

The white fog over Hawke’s vision starts to recede, showing Fenris frowning down at him. “We should rest.”

A shadow falls over them—Bull, chuckling. “Not here we shouldn’t. Look at all this crap.”

The red lyrium. He’s right. Hawke doesn’t want to hear the song anymore. “Let’s—move on. I can ride.” Technically true, although it’s going to hurt like a bastard.

Fenris says nothing, helping him rise. Hawke swears as he straightens. In a while, when his Fade-sense returns, he can get the healing process started, but that will require focus and—considering he just shocked himself with his own bloody spell—a good few hours of recovery first. When they reach an Inquisition camp then he can ask the aid of somebody who actually knows what they’re doing.

“Everyone still alive?”

Sanaris. Covered in blood that may or may not be her own; it never seems to matter much. Bull nods. “We should get going. Don’t like being here.”

“Fine with me.”

Bull follows her down the hill. Fenris takes a step after them but pauses. His hand is still resting on Hawke's back.

Hawke turns. Broad furrows are carved or stamped in the snow; across the slope the behemoth is slumped at the foot of a tree. Already a lacy coating of crystalline white is beginning to cover over its twisted, hideous body, cooling the red lyrium's malevolent gleam. The behemoth's one remaining eye is closed as if in sleep. "You saved me from that thing," Hawke says.

Fenris shrugs. "You would do the same for me."

Hawke starts down the slope, slowly for his broken ribs and spinning head. Fenris's hand remains on his back, steadying him through the knee-deep drifts of snow.

——

Riding is awful.

He knew it would be and is still taken by surprise. Even the gentle jarring of a walk sends shocks of agony through his chest. He hunches over the neck of his horse, trying not to curse or weep, and even finds himself wishing the Tevinter were here. Would be nice to have a halfway decent mage who could fuse a rib without straining himself into uselessness. Their path ascends, weaving up into the mountains, and as they rise so does the winter wind, racing up the crests of rock and slowing their pace. The horses duck their heads, pausing now and then when the wind threatens to knock them off-balance. Even Hawke's warm Fereldan clothing can't block it out, and he must work not to shiver because that makes his ribs hurt too.

Fenris shivers.

He's never been very tolerant of the cold, and he's been in Tevinter for four years, where "winter" means a spot of freezing rain now and then at worst. The Iron Bull, meanwhile, seems bothered not at all. Perhaps he was right, and Fenris should add a slice or two of roast pork and dumplings to his plate the next time they have a decent meal.

As they make the crest at last, the sky cracks open and snowflakes appear on the wind, which just fucks the whole thing.

The gusts whip snowflakes into their faces, turning the world white. Vision goes to about two feet in just a few minutes and Hawke squints, peering ahead. The sun was already threatening to dip below the horizon, and they haven't even made it beyond the pass yet, let alone sighted the watchtower where they'd meant to camp tonight. The wind howls, making Hawke's horse stumble. He grunts as the jar runs up his ribs.

"We gotta take shelter!" Bull calls from the fore.

Bull is right. The pass is rocky and narrow, dangerous even when they can see what's in front of them. "There was a cave behind us!" Sanaris shouts. "Let's turn around!"

Hawke persuades his horse to do an about-face, ambivalent about the plan. On one hand, they can't keep going through a blizzard like this. On the other, they're poorly supplied and it's freezing outside. They've managed to bounce between towns and Inquisition camps thus far, because it's dangerous to sleep rough with red templars roaming about. But snow blinds templars too, and they won't be out hunting in this storm. Hawke curses the damned behemoth, then himself. He's slowed their pace with his injury, he knows it.

"There!" Sanaris points.

Hawke squints through the curtain of white. There's a crack in the wall of rock, and Hawke guides his horse toward it, through the powdery drifts. When he passes into the cave the wind drops off immediately—not gone, but much attenuated, and he breathes a sigh of relief. It mists in the air before him.

The cave widens out a bit, and he dismounts, leading his horse. There are a few tiny crystals of red lyrium spiking up from the floor. Enough for bad dreams, he thinks, but no more. The others troop in behind him, and a couple of hundred feet further in they find a spot where the cave floor flattens out. Sanaris stops, her hart shaking its shaggy head.

"Freezing," Bull grunts. "Gonna go look for firewood."

He retreats out of the cave, axe on his back. Hawke thinks of offering to help and decides he hasn't the fortitude to even try, despite knowing Bull would turn him down. Instead he lowers himself to the ground. Time to do something about these bloody ribs.

"You look like that man with the beard."

Hawke looks up.

Sanaris gestures to her face. "You know. The man with the white beard. He brings presents to shem children at...what is it called? Wintersend?"

"Greatfather Winter," Hawke supplies.

"Yes. You look like him."

Hawke brushes the snow out of his mustache and beard. "No offense, but don't expect any presents this year. You sort of left me to die in the Fade."

Sanaris looks thoughtful. "An Orlesian noble visiting Skyhold a few weeks ago gifted me a life-size porcelain statue of a snoufleur. It was painted in gold."

"Oh," Hawke says. "What did you do with it?"

"I gave it to some kids to play with and they broke its head off before I could even walk away." She shrugs. "I don't think I need presents."

They erect the tents, and Sanaris builds a circle of stones for the fire. Bull returns dragging most of a tree. While he builds the fire Hawke starts working on his ribs at last. They're not catastrophically broken, at least, and with careful effort he manages to persuade them not to be broken anymore. He's not the only one injured. The others, even under their sturdy armor, all sport a variety of sore spots. Sanaris bears it the worst, grunting in pain when she shifts. Bull only narrows his eyes or presses his lips together—an acknowledgement, pain as an old partner rather than an adversary.

Fenris is uncomfortable and Hawke wishes to the Maker there were something he could do.

Even inside the cave the chill wind rushes through, and Fenris shivers, hugging himself, grimacing now and then when he irritates an injury. He is bearing it because he must, and he can, it's true, has made no complaint and does not lag behind. But he should not have to. The fire helps a little, at least, and Fenris hunches before it, taking down his hair.

Bull sighs, breath misting before him. "Damn storm."

"If there weren't fucking templars everywhere we'd have made the watchtower," Sanaris grumbles.

Hawke rests his chin on his hand. "We must have killed at least half the templars in the Emprise by now."

"I don't know," Bull replies. "Red lyrium everywhere. No wonder they're here."

Fenris hugs his knees, fingers tightening on his arms.

Sanaris is the first to turn in; she rises slowly, exhaling as she straightens. Fenris climbs to his feet soon after, ducking into the other tent. Hawke stays out a bit, nudging his fractured ribs in the right direction. A drawn-out process, but things are much better than they were a few hours ago. Bull stays with him, gazing into the fire with one lidded eye. There's a frown on his face.

At last Hawke's Fade-sense is blown again, and when his brain starts to feel like a beggar's tatters fluttering in the chill wind that pierces the cave he at last makes his way to the tent, crawling inside. Fenris is curled up under the blanket. His body is tense. Not asleep. Not even close. "We should share," Hawke says, rubbing his eyes. He lies down behind Fenris.

Fenris looks over his shoulder.

"I mean it. You're freezing, I'm, you know. Warm." Hawke tugs his own blanket from his pack and throws it over both of them.

Fenris doesn't move. "Thank you," he says quietly.

Hawke tucks his arm under his head. "I should be thanking you. If you hadn't intervened with that behemoth earlier, I'd be dead."

"Well. None of us could defeat a creature like that alone."

"You planted yourself between its claws and me," Hawke murmurs, unsure if he should be saying this. If it's too much too quickly. If he is allowed to say things like this, after what happened between them last week. Or because of it.

Fenris says nothing for a moment; then he says, "We are both alive," in almost the same tone he would use in Kirkwall after they'd finished a difficult battle and emerged, barely, victorious.

The tension has drained from him a bit with the extra blanket, the trapped heat welling between them. Hawke watches his shoulders ease, the coil of his body relaxing. His hair splays on the pack serving as his pillow. Hawke wants to touch him—the gap between them so small it seems artificial. There's a gravity there that makes his head spin with how hard it pulls on him, and every day he’s been falling deeper in; that they will eventually come together seems inevitable. He's felt it since their early days in Kirkwall, six months out from their first meeting or less. Yet here they are, so close the lack of contact is almost a physical hurt. "I missed you," Hawke says.

Not appropriate, perhaps, but he's already fucked up once this month (as did Fenris, to be fair) and figures he might as well go for two. He half-expects Fenris to rebuke him, or to throw the blanket off and make do with just the one.

What he doesn't expect is for Fenris to say "I miss you," quietly, the words hanging there in the dark of the tent without him making any effort to chase them away. It should be salt in the wound, Hawke thinks, to hear that while they lie so close together. Fenris flips over, hands curling in the space between them. But it isn’t. They haven't talked about it yet, and it might be too raw to talk about still. But this feels like talking around it, at least, and what Hawke finds it doesn't make him want to weep or rend his clothes or anything of the sort. Instead it makes him want to fall asleep right here, just as they are, with Fenris's face sleepy and relaxed, silver hair falling over his brow. He realizes with an abashed sort of surprise that it’s almost exactly as it was ten years ago, when he first fell in love and thought Fenris might have too, how the tension made him almost giddy whenever they drew just a little too close together.

Hawke closes his eyes and listens to the howling wind weaving through the cracks and crags of the dark, weathered cave. It takes him a long time to fall asleep; his heart beats in a quick-step and Fenris’s fingers lie so close to his that with one small shift, one deep, sleepy breath, they might touch. But they never do.

———

"Do you want help?" Bull asks. "I can help."

The sudden interjection breaks Hawke's concentration again, and he heaves a sigh. "I appreciate the offer, but I'd rather do this without hewing the thing down. We're supposed to be infiltrating, after all."

He resumes his work, crouched in the snow-piled remnants of the dead garden, wriggling his little tendrils of force magic inside the iron lock. The kitchen door is stout wood, and while the Iron Bull certainly has the volume of muscle necessary to hack through it, that method would be both time-consuming and loud. Hawke narrows his eyes, fingers moving minutely on the freezing iron. That's one tumbler down. The second trembles, sliding ever so slowly into place—

"Can you do this or not?" Sanaris grumbles. "My toes are going to turn black and fall off."

The tumbler shoots past the catch and the lock resets. Hawke growls in frustration, shaking out his hand. "I can do this, in fact, unless you all keep interrupting me every five seconds and forcing me to start over from the bloody beginning."

A chuckle from behind him. That's Fenris, who's been in a good mood all day despite the cold, despite the lack of rest, despite Sanaris's daredevil plan. Hawke, at least, managed to steal a nap in the loft of the watchtower before they departed, stuffed in a corner with a pair of pilfered blankets tucked around him. Fenris did not sleep. Something about "being prepared." Hawke didn't see the need; Sanaris already gave them the basics, following the Inquisition contingent to the keep and then sneaking around the back while all the red templars are drawn out to the gates. Simple enough, and if anything unexpected pops up, well. He'll improvise.

One tumbler down. The Veil's a bit fucked here because of all the red lyrium, so it's harder than it should be to start with. Hawke chews his lip, working the second tumbler. It clicks into place. Almost. His breath mists in the air, over the frozen crystals already stuck to his mustache and beard.

"Hope they're doing okay out there," Bull murmurs.

The Inquisition forces. They have orders to fight conservatively. The goal is Samson, and if they take the keep in the process, that'll be icing. (Or so Fenris relayed to him.) Hawke manipulates the lock with extreme care, praying that nobody sneezes before he's finished.

The third tumbler clicks into place. "We're in," he gasps, and rises. Bull claps him on the back in a congratulatory gesture that makes him stumble.

Sanaris goes first, moving quickly and quietly through the dark kitchen. It looks little used; indeed, from the templars' gaunt appearance, Hawke has suspected that consuming red lyrium abrogates both one's need and desire for food. He follows Bull, and Fenris goes last, guarding their rear. Out the kitchens and into a narrow corridor, and Sanaris takes them left. She must know the layout—perhaps from one of the Orlesians who was stationed here before. The halls are lit by flickering torches which do little to warm the chill air.

There's singing from the stone.

The walls are too close—cavelike, almost, seeming to bow in above his head. It reminds him of the Graves, of the vast red lyrium mines which they avoided whenever possible, how there seems now to be something inside the rock that that watches him, leaning in from all sides, its hot breath condensing along the spider-silk threads of his dormant Fade-sense. The lyrium sings, of course, as always, and he shoves the melody from his head and slams the door shut behind it. If only the damn thing had a lock.

Sanaris leads them up a spiral staircase. The distant sounds of fighting float down from above. Suledin Keep is enormous, a monument to the eminent mystery of the ancient elves: vast halls of glittering stone emblazoned with bronze bracings and iridescent mosaics, a feat of art and architecture, now in ruin, tumbled and buried beneath drifts of snow. Samson hasn't shown his face in a good few weeks—ever since Hawke and Fenris hunted him down in the Emerald Graves, and if they're lucky he's still hanging back, holed up in the depths of the keep.

A door at the top of the steps. Sanaris pushes it open.

The midafternoon sun shines bright and clear, the sky a brilliant blue through the drooping trees that shade their passage. The snow is shin-deep, an obstacle for Sanaris and Fenris, less so for Hawke and Bull. Brown, curled vines hug the embossed stone walls. "This place must be beautiful in summer," Hawke says absently.

“What a nice thought, Hawke.” Sanaris jerks her head. "Come on, let's go."

There are no templars in sight. The diversion is doing its job. Sanaris heads for the dividing wall before them and Hawke follows her, wishing they weren't here to kill someone. This seems like the kind of place he'd love to explore—there were ruins like this in the woods northeast of Kirkwall, and he used to go on camping trips in the summer with Aveline, when he could tear her away from work, and Isabela, when he could tear her away from the tavern. Fenris would always come. The next hall is somewhat more trampled, the snow packed down, hardy plants ripped up or squashed. The dead tree in the corner is shaggy with brown moss, and a rusted chain thick as those used to hoist ships lies curled at its roots. Up ahead the keep opens up into what should be the great hall, sitting almost on the edge of the cliff. With luck Samson is back here.

“What the fuck?” Sanaris gasps, drawing her sword. Oh. That’s not a dead tree.

The creature stands up, unfolding from its position against the wall. The heavy chain clinks dully. There’s a rusty metal cuff wrapped around its ankle. “A fucking giant?!” Bull growls, unshipping his axe.

It rises with a roar, towering above them.  Hawke remembers them well from the Graves, the knobby fingers and knees, the maned heads, the crooked yellow teeth. But this one’s got red lyrium growing like tumors all over it, which is a very bad sign. Fenris lurches to a stop beside him, green eyes gone wide.

“Bull and I will kill it!” Sanaris shouts. “You two find Samson! Make sure he doesn’t escape!”

Fuck. How exactly are they supposed to do that? Fenris is already edging past so Hawke follows, supposing that he’d be even more useless against a giant. At least with Samson he can hold a conversation. The giant doesn’t seem like much of a talker. The snow, tamped down by the passage of dozens of templars, makes escape a bit easier than the approach. Fenris is quick, darting through the empty keep. Hawke would be better at keeping pace if the snow weren’t so slippery and he weren’t six and a half feet tall. Away from the giant, out from beneath the shaded trees into a hall whose roof has been gone for decades, centuries or more, the sun bright and piercing and making the ground glitter. But something else glitters too—a flash of movement between the white stone pillars above. “There!” Hawke shouts, pointing.

Fenris is off like quicksilver, unerring even on the wintry terrain. Hawke’s legs are longer but he has to go cautiously or risk falling on his arse. The Veil gets subtly more fucked as he goes, sick almost like it was beneath Sulevin, the corruption here eroding its ability to heal. He makes the top of the stairs, dashes through the high archway to find Fenris there, standing still with sword readied.

The first thing Hawke notices is the pile of bodies, two dozen or so sitting in the center of the wide room. They might be commoners suffering the winter starvation, or templars who didn't make the cut, or perhaps both; they're little more than skin and bones and, Hawke imagines, would have been corpselike even in life. They've been heaped up without dignity into a mass of bent spines and twisted limbs, but the blood oozing from them has been treated with much more care, drawn into some ritual design which Hawke doesn’t precisely recognize but as he ponders them, the hooked shapes and letters seem almost to gnash like teeth inside his soft, vulnerable mind, and he relinquishes them with haste.

There’s a man, too, standing before the pile.

He’s very good-looking, which is all the information Hawke needs. Fenris leans forward as if to charge but Hawke grabs his arm. “Demon,” he murmurs. “Strong one.”

It looks human. Really human, except its coat isn’t nearly warm enough for the cold. Most demons—unless they’ve been here before—tumble out of the Fade like newborn babes, understanding nothing about this all-too-unchanging world. Except, of course, newborn babes aren’t driven by a fathomless primordial malevolence and also can’t breathe fire. A demon that knows merely how to communicate is unusually clever and to be feared. One that has learned the nuances of its existence in an alien world such that it can make itself look like a handsome young bloke in a nice coat is a foe more formidable than most anything Hawke can think of.

“Greetings, my friends,” the demon says. “My name is Imshael, and I am a spirit of choice.”

“Great, here’s a choice,” Hawke replies. “Tell us where Samson is or we kick your teeth in.”

Fenris looks over, startled. But with a demon this powerful, negotiating with it is certain to be more dangerous than fighting, and anyway, Hawke finds solace in telling demons to fuck off, given there’s one riding in his head that almost never fucks off when he tells it to.

Imshael grimaces in exasperation. “That isn’t how it works. I give you the choice.”

“And then we tell you to shove it up your arse,” Hawke shoots back. “Can we kill you yet?”

It’s not a good situation.

Imshael lifts its hands and the frost-laced blood on the ground starts to move; crystalline flakes of it break off and rise, glittering, into the air. It's a lot of blood and Hawke knows better than most exactly how much power is concentrated there—he isn't terribly surprised when the Veil shears open and not one but two pride demons, bellowing in triumph with the mindless joy of caged animals loosed at last, step through into the ruined hall.

Hawke.

Fuck off, he thinks, a vindictive and useless retort. He can't take one pride demon, let alone two. And Fenris? That's a long shot.

"We must kill it," Fenris says urgently. "If Samson is here, we need to get to him. We may not have another chance."

Hawke is about to argue but the damn demons are hurling electricity at them so he has to dive backwards. The explosion crackles in the air. Fenris goes in the other direction, ducking under the missiles and charging forward. Reckless bastard. Samson may be a very tempting target but he's not worth dying over. Hawke scrambles to his feet, grasping for the Veil. He's not quite back to full strength after yesterday's conquest of the templar camps, but there's no way he's leaving Fenris to fight these things alone.

The demons are each twice as high as a man and all the force magic Hawke can muster is hardly enough to knock them off balance, even when he does manage to steer it straight. Imshael's machinations have mangled the Veil, which absolutely fucks Hawke's accuracy; it's soft in places like a rotted pumpkin and gives at the smallest pressure. Fenris is holding up well, all things considered. The lyrium blaze cuts through the air, and Fenris escapes each blow by a hair's breadth, hacking at the demons when he can spare it. Lightning sparks from the wounds he opens, and black blood smears on the greatsword. Yet the demons seem more enraged than cowed. Hawke builds his spells, catapults them forward, wrenches them back on targets when they stray. Each time it buys Fenris a split-second, and a split-second versus two demons isn't enough to make any difference at all. Fenris retreats further and further. The demons are herding him into a corner.

"Hawke."

Hawke looks up.

The desire demon is airborne, slightly, drifting up next to him. It watches the fight with hands folded behind its back. "No," Hawke says.

"I haven't even said anything," the demon replies, mildly affronted. "It's a bit silly, isn't it? You've already made a real bastard of a deal. Where do you get off telling me to stuff it?"

"Just because I was a stupendous fool seven years ago doesn't mean I've got to be one for the rest of my life." Hawke rakes another spell through the air, but the Veil won't hold the tension he needs from it and the spell collapses, spinning off-course.

"A fool? I don't know about that." Imshael shrugs. "I think you considered all your options. I think you made a choice."

How would you know? But Hawke doesn't ask that. Imshael gestures, a small flick of the hand.

A flagstone rises beneath Fenris's boot, making him stumble. He rights himself but not before one of the demons unfurls a lash of lightning. Hawke's heart stops in his chest, and he tries to intervene—tries, a terrible pain lancing through the twisted-up threads of his Fade-sense, but he's neither strong nor quick enough and Fenris cries out, entangled in the roil of purple electricity. The second demon laughs, a harsh noise that makes the air crackle, and reinforces the bonds with its own magic. Fenris's body shivers, wracked by lightning. His grip springs open and the greatsword clatters to the stone.

"Well?" Imshael says. "What do you think?"

Choice spirit. Right. So he's supposed to choose between losing Fenris or indulging Pride to save him. Hawke spares a furious glance at Imshael. Fucker. Fenris buckles, crashing to a knee. The lyrium brands flicker in white-blue. You're oddly quiet, Hawke thinks. His heart pounds in his throat.

I was waiting for you to come to me. And here you are, again.

Hawke whips around, praying, but there's no sign of Sanaris or Bull charging up the steps and he still hears the giant's rumbling bellows from beyond the courtyard. No help on the way. No one here to back him up. He's alone, except for Pride. Should he break his oath once again? What choice does he have?

In the corner of the ruined hall Fenris plants a foot and starts to rise.

That's right, Hawke thinks distantly, and shakes himself. Of course he's not alone. Why does he keep forgetting that? There's a growl from one of the pride demons and Fenris shouts in pain, collapsing again. The lyrium flashes in wild surges.

Hawke reaches out.

The veil is soft and pulpy and clumps like wet parchment under his fingers, which is just fine; it comes with him, which is the whole point, globs of it piling up to either side of the split he's building right between the two demons. Right on top of Fenris. Imshael frowns, dipping a little in the air. "Fenris, your brands!" Hawke shouts, and digs his hands into the Veil, maiming it with all he has.

The lyrium glows bright as the noonday sun, forcing Hawke to shield his eyes. When he opens them Fenris appears out of the air twenty feet above Imshael and falls upon it. His sword-tip pierces the demon's chest through-and-through. It screams, driven to the ground. Fenris lands hard on top of it, the blade jarred out of his hand, yawing and falling to the side. But Hawke is ready with his hunting knife and pounces on Imshael, yanking its chin back and slitting its throat. The demon gropes at the wound, startled and gurgling. Amazing how true to life it is, how the thing's face creases softly in mortal surprise (although there's a mistake there still—its ghost-pale skin should be ruddy from cold). Hawke isn't sure the slit throat will do it but needs not worry, as Fenris's hand turns a ghostly blue and punches through its chest. The lyrium glow shoots through it from head to toe and the demon jerks and screams, the stuff of its body disrupted and growing insolvent. Hawke recoils a bit and Imshael pulls apart beneath him, dispersing into nothing.

A pair of grinding roars. Hawke scrambles to his feet. The bloody pride demons. Yet at their edges he feels a current—a riptide, more like. Fenris is up too, blade readied, trembling a little in his hands. He's shaken. "I think I've got this!" Hawke shouts over the harsh screams of the first demon, the one starting to veer toward them. "Can you keep them off me?"

"I can try!" Fenris replies, advancing to engage the demons.

Hawke raises his hands, excruciatingly aware of his limits. And yet despite the fatigue, despite the years of disuse, his Fade-sense now feels almost as sharp as it's ever been. His strength is another story—he won't able able to brute-force this, but if he can just be a mage again, if he uses what he learned from his father and from his years navigating the swells and storms of Kirkwall's underbelly with friends at his side, then he can do this. Fenris meets the demons, circling back to draw them away. Hawke takes a deep breath and opens up the floodgates of his Fade-sense.

His instincts were right—Imshael was anchoring the rent in the Veil that allowed these demons through, and now the inexorable gravity of the Fade is drawing them back. It just needs a little help. Hawke gathers the Veil, smearing it aside, straining the already warped matrix. Not enough; the demons remain here, solid, sluggish but still pushing Fenris back. Fine. Hawke takes a second and shakes out his hands.

It can't be that different from casting any other spell—molding the Veil like clay, extracting raw possibility from the Fade and shaping it with his own will. The wrongness of the pride demons' presence here helps, and Hawke draw the Veil through them, sieving their essence through the tatters. They shouldn't be here. They shouldn't be here. He enforces it, his electric will surging down the taut lines of his Fade-sense.

The demons howl and shiver and when he tells them to fuck off this time they fuck off, swallowed up by the Fade, the air folding around them and concealing them from his eye in a place they'll hopefully never again escape. The backlash hits him a second later, and he swears through the static filling his throat, coughing from deep in his chest, half-surprised when no sparks come out. But the demons are gone. He did it.

Hawke staggers forward to where Fenris is crouching on the ground, sword fallen at his side. "Fenris," he gasps, and kneels.

Fenris shakes his head and struggles to his feet. "Samson," he says. "We need to move."

He picks up his sword and starts to run and Hawke follows him, feeling a bit like a thundercloud drifting across the ground. "Are you all right?"

Fenris nods. "Well enough to fight."

They burst out onto the parapet that overhangs the cliff below but there's nothing, only more infiltrations of red lyrium creeping out of the stone. Fuck. Are they too late? Hawke squints down the wall to either side, the sun gleaming off the bronze bracings. Gone to all those lengths and he's run off already?

Unacceptable. "Fenris?"

Fenris looks over. "Hm?"

"Slap me if I'm gone too long, would you?"

"What?"

Hawke shuts his eyes and listens.

The red lyrium keens and howls all around him, mad and sick. There's no pattern in the discord, only a thousand voices singing hymns in a language he doesn't know. The temptation to understand tugs at the back of his mind but he catches and quashes it, refusing to lose himself to the tideless cacophony. So much noise. This isn't what he's looking for. He dives deeper, straining to hear, aware of how difficult it'll be to surface. That's what Fenris is for.

There.

The melody makes a modicum of sense, which sets it apart from the noise—a seething, vengeful tune, and it notices him almost in the same instant. Hawke has no time to attempt an escape and wouldn't make it out anyway, deep as they are down here. A lance of red advances toward him, seeking the tempting, soft matter of his uncorrupted brain. Hawke struggles to stave it off, fighting desperately to keep it from contaminating his mind. This might be the time when his recklessness finally catches up with him; his own amusement at the fact actually bolsters him against the malevolent will prying at his defenses.

"Hawke!"

He stumbles.

A shaft of brilliant blue light like the sun through clouds pierces the red depths from above, punching a hole in the dense wave of profane song that keeps him trapped down here. Hawke follows its pull gladly, yanking out the hooks and barbs of whatever evil lives inside Samson's armor.

"Hawke! Wake, damn you—"

Fenris's leather-gloved hand smacks him across the face for—from the sting in his cheek—the fifth or sixth time, and Hawke gasps in a breath. "I'm fine! I'm fine."

"You collapsed." Fenris kneels before him, brow furrowed in concern. "I feared..."

"No, no. You pulled me out in time. I'm all right." Hawke struggles to his feet. His limbs feel sort of fucked—pins and needles prickle through his muscles. "Tower. Samson's waiting for us on the highest tower."

Fenris helps him rise. "Waiting for us."

"Yes. I doubt he'll hang around for Bull and the Inquisitor to come too."

Fenris grimaces. "Fine. Let's go."

They enter the tower at the corner of the parapet, and Hawke groans to himself at the staircase spiraling up above them. But Fenris ascends without complaint so Hawke follows, despite his protesting legs. Doesn't have much of a plan for when they get up there, and mostly he's hoping Fenris does something incredible with his brands like with Imshael a few moments ago. The truth is, neither of them are in any real shape to face Samson.

Fenris emerges first into the brilliant sunlight and Hawke a second after. The tower isn't terribly big and it presides over a very high cliff, which makes him nervous. Samson is indeed there, standing with his arms folded and his back to the low wall. "Good afternoon,” he says airily.

"It's been a bit shit, actually," Hawke responds. "You really used a bloody desire demon to bolster your numbers?"

"You know, you find friends in the strangest places," Samson says. "May I ask why you all settled on this..." He waves his hand vaguely at the rest of the keep. "...convoluted plan?"

"We had hoped to catch you alone," Fenris says, and pulls something from his coat.

Samson reacts instantly, clutching his chest. Sweat breaks out on his face despite the frozen air. The stone Fenris is holding glows a fiery red, and the spike of red lyrium jutting from the armor glows in response. Cracks start to appear as Samson buckles, crashing to his knees. Hawke glances over at Fenris, bewildered. Where in Oblivion did he pick that thing up? Fenris is steady, gazing at Samson dispassionately. "You consort with demons," he says. "You may expect no sympathy from me."

Samson lets out a final cry as the spike of lyrium shatters into a thousand pieces.

It's an impressive display. Samson is already struggling to his feet but the dread that's been dogging Hawke since they arrived is lifted. Fenris replaces the now-dimmed stone in his coat and draws his sword; Samson's face is rigid with fury, and he draws his weapon as well.

Ah.

Hawke recognizes the blade instantly. No wonder Samson went batty. Whose idea was it, he wonders, to salvage Meredith's sword from Kirkwall's broken Gallows? It seems even more wicked now, the red, vascular trabeculae dug into the warped metal. Fenris remains steady, although he must recognize it too.

Samson charges.

At Fenris, thankfully, the one who destroyed that evil armor and also the only one of them who can defend himself. The air seems to contort around Samson—and the Veil, too, already shredded, now damaged further by the unbound power leaking from what remains of the armor. Not the same as Fenris's brands; if Samson is a powder-keg, then Fenris is a ghost, although whatever that terrible blade is doing seems to be throwing him off.

It's affecting Hawke, too. His first attempt at building a spell gets uncoiled instantly, spinning off in a dozen directions. Fucker. The repeated clash of blades is the gnashing teeth of a hungry animal eager for blood. Fenris is pushed back, leading Samson around the circle of stone while Hawke endeavors to remain well away. Fenris looks alarmed, which is a bad sign, considering they've already played their best card. Meredith's blade leaps through the air with the speed of a rapier, and there's a familiar madness in Samson's eyes that bodes quite poorly. Hawke again begins to weave a spell, pulling Fade-stuff into skeins, catching loose threads when the shockwaves from Samson's blade threaten to yank it apart. Fenris is on his back foot but still in the fight; hopefully, one solid opening will be all he needs to put an end to it.

The spell coalesces, solid and ready. Hawke picks out a trajectory that'll hold, where the Veil isn't completely rotted through. Then he just has to wait for Samson to stand in the right bloody spot—almost—

Hawke releases the spell. The blast of force races over the stone and smacks Samson directly in the hip. He stumbles and Fenris darts in, blade descending—

Only for it to strike stone as Samson tips over the wall with a strangled yell and disappears.

Hawke dashes forward, looking over just in time to see Samson vanish into the thick evergreen canopy far below. "Fuck, I shoved him off." He leans over, peering down, but it's impossible to see through the dense cover of firs. That was a mistake. "Ah, bollocks."

Fenris stares down, still tense. "Do you think he's still alive?"

"I don't know. Probably." Hawke waves a hand, still scanning the trees though he knows it's useless. "You saw him, he's hardly human anymore."

"Hm." Fenris stands frozen a moment more; then, seeming to realize there will be no more fighting this afternoon, he straightens and sheathes his weapon. “Perhaps fortuitous. I could not best him."

Hawke looks up, surprised. "Really?"

"Yes. He was faster and stronger than I. Had I not been injured...maybe. I don't think so."

Hawke heaves a sigh, standing back. They're quiet for a few seconds. Hawke feels he should apologize for completely wasting their opportunity, but Fenris seems to feel they would have failed anyway, so Hawke holds his apology. The wind is chilly up here, and he shivers a little. "I consort with demons," he says absently.

Fenris is checking his vambrace. It hangs by a single strap. A close call. "Hm?"

"Just saying. You told him off for consorting with demons. But I do too and you still fucked me."

Fenris looks up sharply and stares at him a moment; then he lets out a laugh, merry and full.

Hawke raises an eyebrow and grins. "Have to admit, I didn't think you find that so amusing."

Fenris shrugs. "It's true. I did fuck you."

Hawke gestures in mock exasperation. "Oh, so now you'll talk about it."

"I suppose." Fenris folds his arms and lets out a long sigh; his breath mists in the air before him, carried away by the wind. Hawke keeps his own mouth shut. He won’t disturb this chance to finally, maybe, start to fix what lies between them.

"Hawke, I have enjoyed these past few weeks,” Fenris begins. “I have enjoyed traveling with you. I have enjoyed being by your side again. I did not want to, but I cannot deny how I feel.”

On hearing it a weight lifts from Hawke’s shoulders. He had suspected as much but didn’t want to say anything, and he says nothing now, waiting.

“What you did in the desert…” Fenris trails off as if unsure how to begin. “You were faced with an impossible circumstance. The Venatori had a dozen hostages. I was weaponless. You were weak from thirst. And somehow, you still managed to come up with a plan in which nobody was hurt. Except you,” he says. “I was faced with the hard truth that the things that drew me to you in Kirkwall had not, in fact, disappeared with time. That you were a blood mage and also Rowan Hawke, the first man I ever loved.” A rueful smile appears on his face. “Upon realizing this, I reacted poorly.”

“You decided to sleep with me,” Hawke supplies.

Fenris winces slightly. “Yes. I should not have done that, and I need to apologize and ask your forgiveness.”

“Of course. I shouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place,” Hawke mutters.

“Regardless,” Fenris continues. “I…feel strongly about you. That much is true.”

Hawke waits. He senses where this is going.

“But I cannot be with you,” Fenris says. “Blood mages stole the first twenty-two years of my life away from me.” He turns. “Do you understand? No matter what sort of a man you are, you made that choice. I can’t be with you, Hawke. I can’t.”

Hawke gazes at him for a moment. His eyes are green like summer leaves with the sun streaming through them, irrepressibly alive. Hawke wants to be with him and loves him more than anything in the world and can’t be with him for precisely that reason. Hawke nods. “I understand. Thanks for talking about it.”

“Of course,” Fenris says, and gazes out across the snow-covered landscape.

He looks relaxed despite the confession, the thorny maze they’re still trying to navigate. Hawke is doing all right but is too curious not to ask. “You don’t seem too troubled about the whole thing. Not since we left for the Emprise, anyway.”

Fenris glances over, and the hint of a smile beneath those green eyes makes Hawke’s heart beat just a bit faster. “I have made mistakes,” Fenris says. “I make mistakes. But I have been learning to forgive myself. And it is…” He turns to gaze out over the landscape again, still smiling. “I’ve been happy these last four years, Hawke. It’s come more easily by the day. I don’t know what else to say.”

Hawke has a hard time looking away. In Kirkwall he would have done anything to give Fenris the kind of peace that’s on his face right now; but here it is, and at the end of the day Hawke had very little to do with it. “I’m glad you’re happy,” he says.

Fenris glances over. “Thank you.”

“And I’m glad you’ve been sleeping your way across Tevinter.”

Fenris snorts at that. Hawke grins. “Really. It’s good to release some tension every now and then, don’t you think?”

“Hey!”

Sanaris appears at the top of the stairs, spattered in thick, muddy red giant blood. “Where’s Samson?”

Fenris cocks an eyebrow at Hawke; Hawke winces. “Er…I shoved him over the cliff.”

Sanaris stares for a second, and then scrambles to the edge of the tower. Bull appears too, limping a bit. Sanaris whips around. “Why didn’t you go after him?!”

“He…was too strong.”

“You’re a blood mage!” She jabs a finger at Fenris. “He’s covered in lyrium!”

“Hawke is right,” Fenris offers. “We could not have bested him.”

Sanaris groans in defeat. “So you let him slip through your fingers. Again.”

“Your arcanist’s rune worked.” Fenris digs the stone out of his coat. “The armor is destroyed.”

He throws the stone. Sanaris catches it. “At least there’s that. And we took the keep.”

“Ah. A successful venture, then,” Fenris declares.

Sanaris glares, but Bull comes up and shrugs one large shoulder. “The armor’s busted. Templars are out. We lost some people but not as many as we could have. I’ll call that a good day.”

“Fine. I’ll just have to send out a search party.” Sanaris jerks her head. “Banner’s going up. People should be arriving soon, let’s go start getting things ready.”

“I will join you in a moment,” Fenris says. Sanaris turns and disappears into the tower. Bull follows with a mumble of “Damn stairs.”

Fenris is still gazing out at the glittering white plain. Hawke waits a moment, then another moment. “Enjoying the view?” he asks finally.

Fenris glances over. “I’ve been in the North for four years. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen snow.”

“We’ve been trudging through it for five days,” Hawke points out.

Fenris rolls his eyes but smiles. “It looks much nicer from up here.”

“D’you want to do your sightseeing somewhere else?” Hawke asks. “Veil’s fucked here. Makes all my hair stand up.”

“All of it? Impressive.” Fenris turns. “Very well. Do you think we can escape through the kitchens without being noticed?”

Hawke grins. Looks like he doesn’t want to get yoked into cleaning duty either. “What do you say we find out?” He turns and descends the stairs, Fenris behind him.

Chapter Text

After they take the keep it's back to Skyhold, which means four more days of riding with hardly any red templars to get them off the horses and moving their legs. By the time Hawke passes under the gates high in the Frostbacks he's as sore as he's ever been and in a terrible mood.

It's late but not that late, so he keeps his hood up as he dismounts without darkness to hide his face from the passers-by. Further back there's a deep, rumbling groan. "I can't feel my ass."

That’s Bull. ”Get someone to spank the sensation back into it," Sanaris tells him. "You're into that, right?"

To Hawke's left Fenris smiles to himself, hopping off his horse and leading it toward the stables. Hawke pulls his things from the saddlebags. "Hey, Fenris," Bull calls.

Fenris looks back. "Hm?"

"You into big asses, by any chance?"

"Regardless of my predilections, I am afraid I'm quite tired," Fenris replies graciously. He continues toward the stables.

Hawke needs a drink.

The bag is heavy on his shoulder but he's careful with it, navigating back to his tiny room in the depths of the keep. It's dark when he enters and he lights the candles with a gesture, pleased with how much easier it is now than it was a few months ago. He sheds his cloak and gently lets the bag down, crouching down to fish through it. There, wrapped in thick winter clothes, a single bottle of Orlesian wine he begged off of Bull, who in turn charmed it off a merchant on their return journey. It took some whingeing, but Bull bequeathed it upon him eventually and only grumbled about it a little. Hawke's rather looking forward to it—he hasn't had Orlesian wine since he left Kirkwall. He rises, wincing at his sore legs. There's a cup in the washroom, and he hefts the bottle, gazing down at the label. Lily of Royeaux.

He stands there for a minute, staring down at the gold-embossed picture of a field covered in radiant ivory-white flowers.

Then he pulls his hood up again and goes out the door, turning left.

It's not hard to remember where in the keep it is—tucked away at the back, far from the strutting nobles. Hawke does get a bit lost in his journey but finds the door at last and raps on it twice. "It's me."

"Come in," Fenris replies, and Hawke enters.

He's never actually been inside—just followed Fenris here, carrying a night-table, as the place wasn't furnished when they arrived. The room is several times bigger than his own, and the bedframe is modest but the mattress is two feet thick and heaped with blankets—not that they're needed; despite the winter the air is plenty warm. Must be close to the hot springs that lie below the keep. Fenris is sitting on the floor unpacking his things. "What is it?"

Hawke lifts an eyebrow. "Plush accommodations you've got here."

"Well. When you are the only person on the continent who can perform a job, you may ask any price." He uncrumples his scarf and sets it aside.

"Are you thirsty?" Hawke raises the wine bottle.

Fenris looks up, then smiles. "I wouldn't mind a taste." He gestures. "There are cups on the table."

Hawke goes over and pops the cork, envious but mostly amused. Mercenaries might be paid well but they spend their lives on the road, and he can't blame Fenris for taking wholehearted advantage of his arrangement with the Inquisitor. Would that his own mattress were something more than a sad, wilting sack of straw. He pours the wine and has just set the bottle down when he hears, "Do you mind if I have a bath while we drink?"

Hawke pauses, then turns, cautious. "I don't mind, but.."

He trails off, leaving the obvious question hanging. Fenris takes the tie out of his hair, and it falls down over his ears. "We slept together the week before last, lest you've forgotten."

Hawke guffaws. "Hardly."

  Fenris nods. "So you certainly won't be seeing anything new."

"Oh, in that case. By all means."

Fenris peels his coat off and tosses his shirt onto the floor, going into the washroom. He leaves the door open behind him and Hawke follows, cups in hand. The tub is bronze and water spills into it from a pipe sticking out of the wall. Hot springs. The bastard has his very own personal supply. Fenris is bent over the tub, fingers in the falling water. There's the smallest bit of fat bunched gently over his waistband, but he's still extraordinarily lean. Hawke doesn't ask how much he's eating—he doesn't appreciate those kinds of questions. "Maker. I've got to figure out how to snag a room like this. Do you think Sanaris likes Orlesian wine?"

Fenris snorts. "I doubt it. Anyway, she doesn't like you."

"I know. Seems nobody does these days." He heaves a sigh. "I don't understand it. I used to be so likable."

"Alas, your reputation precedes you." Fenris straightens, undoes the laces of his trousers and steps out of them, revealing muscular legs wrapped in white-blue brands that glow softly in the torchlight. Then he sinks down into the steaming water with a noise of contentment.

Hawke bends down and holds out a cup of wine. "D'you think we can weasel out of traveling with Sanaris again? I've never seen anyone ride for so long without breaks voluntarily."

Fenris takes the cup. "I fear we have made ourselves too useful by this point."

"Ah, bollocks." Hawke leans up against the doorframe. "Maybe we should just absolutely fuck the next mission. You fall in a river, I'll electrocute the Iron Bull by accident."

Fenris laughs and takes a sip of wine. "I'll keep it in mind. This wine, by the way, is excellent."

Hawke takes a drink himself. "Tastes like wine to me."

"If you'd drunk anything but ale in Kirkwall, perhaps you might have refined your palate."

"But I love ale," Hawke protests.

Fenris snorts. "Even that swill they served at the Hanged Man?"

"Best in the city."

"You're just saying that."

"Now who's the one with the unrefined palate?" Hawke counters.

Fenris chuckles and drinks. The tub's full now and he reaches up to close the pipe; when he settles again the tips of his hair float on the surface of the water. "I can afford fine wines now, you know. I dare say my palate is quite sharp."

"Is that so?" Hawke says, and considers him. "What are you going to do with your wealth? Buy a home, settle down somewhere?"

Fenris cocks his head, thoughtful. "I don't know. I like traveling. But I also like sleeping in a comfortable bed."

"You like traveling?" Hawke groans. "I'd give anything to just stay in one place for a couple of years. I've been running all over the bloody South for so long, I'm ready to stop moving."

"But you're hunted, isn't that right?" Fenris says. "Perhaps that's the difference. Anybody you meet might be an enemy. Anybody I meet might be a friend."

That sounds...quite plausible. Hawke runs a hand through his hair. "D'you think all of Thedas will ever stop hating me? They've got to forget about it eventually, won't they?"

"Mm. I suppose anything's possible."

"Great. That makes me feel better."

"At least they might forget what you look like," Fenris offers.

Hawke chuckles at that, sipping his wine. He supposes it is quite good. Fenris takes a breath and submerges himself below the water. When he rises his silver hair is wet and stuck to his face, and he pushes it back. Droplets glimmer on his skin, the torchlight flickering gold in them; his cheeks are rosy now from the heat of the bath.

"You're staring," he says.

Hawke starts. Yes, he was staring. "Sorry," he sighs. "Have you thought about being less attractive, perhaps? It might help."

Fenris smiles slyly, extending his legs from the bath, showing muscular calves inscribed with glittering lyrium. "I haven't given it much thought, no."

“You are shameless,” Hawke says, but he grins.

Fenris tips his cup back, finishing the wine. "Would you mind pouring me another?"

Hawke refills his cup and replaces the bottle. Fenris has tucked his feet back beneath the surface of the water. "This far south you can't be nearly as well known as you were in the Marches," he says. "Have you really had to hide so diligently?"

Hawke shifts, letting out a long breath. "Perhaps I haven't had to be quite so careful. You'd be surprised, though. This one time, perhaps a year ago, I was badly hurt in a fight with some templars and sought out a healer. I found one eventually, in a village south of Redcliffe..."

Fenris closes his eyes as he listens, so Hawke keeps talking, mostly to himself after a point. Indeed, by the time he gets to the healer's wife setting their shaggy, arthritic sheepdog on him, Fenris is well and truly asleep, head slumped to the side, empty wine cup floating on the surface of the bathwater.

Hawke finishes the story and gazes at Fenris's sleeping face, trying very hard not to be in love. But he gives it up quickly, because Fenris is happy and in the face of that Hawke is having a hard time wallowing in self-pity, or even drudging up any at all. He crouches beside the tub, dipping his fingertips in the water and touching Fenris's shoulder.

Fenris blinks awake. "Hm?"

"You fell asleep in the middle of my story," Hawke tells him. "I'm not saying I'm offended, but..."

Fenris smirks. "Perhaps you should have made it more exciting."

"I almost died," Hawke protests.

"You've almost died a dozen times since I came down here," Fenris points out. "You'll need to conjure up something more impressive than that."

"Well, I'm sorry there was no political intrigue or torrid romance to be had. I was in the bloody Hinterlands."

"That was your first mistake. You should come north, there's plenty of both. Not to mention the almost dying." Fenris rises and stretches his arms over his head. Water beads on his ribs and stomach, sparkling where it trickles over the lyrium. "Perhaps I should turn in for the night in my bed rather than the tub."

"Smart idea. Wouldn't want you waking up in the morning a prune," Hawke says.

Fenris dries himself off while Hawke opens the wardrobe. It's stocked with fine clothes. There's a shirt and linen trousers in there that look more expensive than all his worldly possessions put together, and he hands them over. Fenris takes them, wearing underclothes now but still stunning in his near-nakedness. His hair is stringy and damp and hangs over his face, the tips curling under his jaw. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Hawke says. "Sleep well. I'll just go back to my pile of straw and pray I'm not too achy to crawl out of bed in the morning."

Fenris laughs, pulling the shirt on over his head. "You're getting old, Hawke."

"Old?" Hawke feigns indignation. "You're older than me!"

"I'm not complaining about my aching bones."

"You fell asleep in the bath!” Hawke shoots back.

Fenris falters, then concedes. "Well. I suppose you're right."

Hawke grins. "I'll see you tomorrow. I expect Sanaris will have another task for us."

"Indeed. Good night, Hawke."

"Good night."
By the time Hawke returns to his room he still feels full of warmth, as if he were the one who fell asleep in the bath instead. He undresses and scrubs himself off, still thinking about Fenris sitting in the bathtub and laughing; and when he lies down on the lumpy mattress it's Fenris's invitation to come up north that swirls round and round in his head until sleep takes him at last.

——

Hawke wakes with his mouth full of teeth.

He blinks, hissing at the pain in the crown of his skull. Something's wrong. When he tries to push himself upright the blanket snags on his ridged limbs, and his claws punch through the cloth of the mattress.

Hawke freezes. Fuck.

Hadn't felt it until now but the split in his chest yawns wide again, the stitches snapped. He rolls onto the floor and clutches at his breastbone, flinching when his claws split skin. Stupid. Wouldn't help anyway. Fuck off, he snarls. Get out of me!

Once again, this is not of my doing. Something is wrong.

Oh, you think? Hawke shakes his head, feels the counterweight of the horns spiraling from his skull. This isn't the first time. He can get the demon back under control. Can't he?

The door to his room bursts open.

He looks up, seized for a moment by wild fear. Who is it? What will they do to him, when they see him transforming like any of the other dozens of abominations he's put down over the years? But it's only Fenris, who kicks the door shut behind him with haste. "Hawke?" he asks with caution.

"It's me," Hawke gasps. "It's me. I don't—"

He breaks off, shuddering and groaning as pain wracks his body. Where his heart was is now a thunderhead, pumping lightning through his veins. He curls in on himself and lets out a mindless sob. It burns. Everything burns. Fenris takes a stuttered step closer but Hawke waves a clumsy arm to ward him back. "Stay away," he manages, hardly intelligible through the thickening of his vocal cords, the leathery surfaces of his singed throat. Doesn't know what will happen in the next minute. In the next ten seconds.

Fenris freezes, caught. Hawke pleads, half-delirious from pain and terror. Don't, he says. Don't. There's no reply. His body swells with demon-flesh. Is this how it ends? He, trapped inside an abomination, watching as Sanaris's templars tear him down? Or will he lose his mind as well? Perhaps that would be better, so he would not have to face the awful justice of it, the comeuppance that's been chasing him for four long years…

But no. Fenris is waiting at the door and beyond, something is wrong. Something he might be able to help with. So he can't give up. Not yet.

With an effort so great he fears it'll break him, Hawke swallows the static in his throat, forcing Pride back down into the depths whence it came.

When he sits back against the bed Fenris kneels at his side. "Hawke? Are you all right?"

"Fine," Hawke mumbles, wiping his mouth. Feels like he's about to throw up. "What's going on? Do you know?"

"I don't know the details. The mages are in an uproar."

"No wonder. Something's fucked the Veil again." Hawke struggles to his feet. "Come on."

They make their way up to the first floor. People stream past them every which way—Inquisition soldiers, laborers, a few nobles, children with or without their parents. Fortunately nobody seems to recognize him under the hood, or at least in the chaos, they're not paying attention. The split in his chest is still there but he holds it firmly shut. If he transformed in the middle of the great hall—well. Then they'd pay attention. Fenris is not in armor but has brought a longsword—a more dextrous weapon than his usual greatsword. Hawke didn't put on armor either. He hopes Skyhold isn't under siege at this very moment. They're both woefully underprepared.

They walk out the main doors together and discover the sky is the black-green of a swamp after a bloody battle, fetid and dyed in effluvia. A light in the east draws Hawke's eye and he swears, drawing an affirmative grunt from Fenris.

Another bloody Breach. Just what they need.

"Hawke! Fenris!" Sanaris's voice. She stands on the first landing, still in her nightclothes, although it hasn't diminished her stature any; a small company of soldiers salute her and run off to do whatever it is she's just told them to do. "That's the Temple of Sacred Ashes." She points to the hole in the sky. "Where the first Breach opened. I'm leaving as soon as I can with whoever's ready. The templars will be behind us, but I don't want them there until they've got enough to close the damn thing again. Are you coming with me?"

"Yes," Fenris says, and Hawke groans to himself, nodding his assent.

"Good. You're not gonna fuck us, are you, Hawke? Like in Sulevin?"

The ancient belowground elven temple—mass grave, more like, where he transformed without meaning to. He shakes his head now. "If it's acting up on the journey, I'll turn back."

"Fine. Try and keep it under control. I'll feel better with a mage at my back." She turns her gaze to the east, her frown deepening. "Corypheus is probably waiting for us."

Wonderful. Wonderful situation all around. I will try to keep myself in my proper place, Pride offers helpfully.

Is this what you call trying? I woke up with fifty more teeth than I had when I went to sleep!

I was taken by surprise.

Hawke grimaces and heads for his room again. Armor will protect him from outside threats. The rest he'll have to do himself.

——

Pride keeps its word on the ride.

The Iron Bull was ready, and the Grey Warden Fenris played cards with. An extremely well-dressed Orlesian mage came along as well. She spoke in hushed tones with Sanaris at the start of the ride, about him (while the mage was discreet, Sanaris turned and glanced at him several times with little care). But he hasn't been struck from behind by a spire of ice or anything so they seem to have reached an agreement. And Pride keeps its word so he does not turn into a demon, in which case he would expect the spire of ice and a lot more on top.

They ride at as quick a pace as they can manage, considering the length of the journey. The closer they get the more Hawke feels...unwell. The sickness isn't physical, it's in his Fade-sense, yet after a time it starts to turn his stomach as well. There's a strange feeling of a rough and rotted weave infiltrating the air around them, replacing what's left of the Veil. It never really healed after the first Breach, of course, and the red lyrium is like so many worried fingers plucking the scabs off over and over, prising open the skin-edges to expose the soft wet flesh beneath to the desiccated mountain air. The hole in the sky grows ever closer, roiling endlessly above them.

At last Sanaris takes them over a final narrow, rocky path and the Temple of Sacred Ashes appears.

The first thing Hawke is reminded of is the Gallows after Meredith's defeat. Pieces of buildings strewn everywhere, smashed stone floors, splatters of blood (fresh and shining in Kirkwall, here only sickly brown stains that won't come out, ever). The Iron Bull grunts in displeasure. "Where is he?" Sanaris says, scanning the ruined temple.

She wants to kill Corypheus. Whether or not she can seems a completely unknown quantity. She spurs her horse and advances and Hawke can do nothing but follow. Reflexively he glances to his left where Fenris comes up beside him, eyes flicking about with unease.

A scream splits the air.

Fuck. Hawke looks up just as a great shadow passes over them. Of course it's the bloody dragon—Corypheus’s pet, looking just as horrible as Sanaris described. He has killed a dragon before, albeit not in a good five years. Fenris looks equally taken aback. Alas. Hawke had hoped his ventures since leaving Kirkwall might have given him some experience in the matter. Well, there are six of them, so it could be worse.

The dragon looks...ill, its skin wrinkled and brown, red lyrium protruding from the leathery folds. It banks and circles back around, and the horses snort and buck, spooked. Sanaris dismounts with a snarl of frustration. "You think that'll stop me?!" she shouts at the sky.

Another cry echoes through the ruined temple, and a second dragon appears.

This one's much less hideous than the first—brilliant like the sun, gliding smoothly to meet Corypheus's sickly creature. They clash in the sky, spiraling out past the jagged peaks of stone. Well. Nice to see Sanaris came here with a plan. Hawke hopes the pretty one's the stronger, but in truth, it doesn't need to win. It just needs to buy them enough time.

The ground trembles. Fuck. Hawke shouts "Demons!" but Vivienne is already off her horse, casting a spell that settles over the ground around them like clean linens flung over a bed. Whatever threads the demons were pulling on to pass through the Veil unravel instantly. That's useful.

There are more, though. Shades emerge, fading into reality, and a terror demon crystallizes like a rift from the air a few dozen yards off. Then the Iron Bull calls out, "Boss!" and points. Hawke looks up sharply. Above and away from them, on what might have once been a second floor, is gleaming red shape. Corypheus? Wouldn't surprise him. This whole thing stinks of a trap.

Sanaris turns and meets Hawke's eye. "You two keep the demons at bay. I have to kill him."

Fine. Hawke can do demons. He's about to suggest Fenris might be more useful at the front but Fenris might also be the only person who can rein in Pride if things go wrong again, so Hawke keeps his mouth shut. Anyway, he's grateful for someone to watch his back. There are a lot of demons.

The shades croon as they glide over the charred, shattered tiles, their soft yellow eyes burning in the shimmering not-substance of their bodies. Hawke is much happier to deal with those than the terror demon; its screams will put him on the ground, whereas Fenris seems to a degree resistant. Hawke pulls lightning from the air and finds he hardly has to try, which isn't a good sign. If his eminently mediocre Fade-sense can conjure this kind of power, then the Veil is quite fucked. Those templars had better be hurrying. The Breach needs to be sealed. But Corypheus has to die first.

Purple electricity wraps the shades up like a net and Hawke pulls it tight, feels it crackle around his fingers. Sparks fly, showering into their pearly black bodies like glittering grains of river-sand floating down through the water. It shreds them from the inside. The shades keen, dissolving. A good start, but more are coming on their heels. Hawke's blood itches in his veins—it would be faster, safer to use blood magic here. But, he reminds himself, he doesn't need to. So instead he hurls a spray of purple bolts, and they leap through the Veil and into reality with such eagerness that he has to rein in the surge before it floods out to where Fenris is holding back the terror demon. Static blankets the ground, a well of power, and he needs only call up lashes and spouts from the brimming electricity to intercept the shades that slither mindlessly toward him.

Then a scream splits the air, but it's not the terror demon. It comes from above. Hawke squints up at the swirling green clouds. The dragons spiral across the sky, locked in battle, but the sickly red one flares its wings suddenly and their trajectory lurches in the air, the two of the plummeting like a stone. "Oh, fuck me," Hawke breathes.

Fortunately Fenris seems to have noticed as well and starts sprinting out of the way in the same moment as Hawke. There's no bloody cover so Hawke just hurtles over the cracked tiles, praying to Andraste that he doesn't meet his end squashed under a dragon's scaly arse. Will Fenris get away in time? No spare moment to look back and check.

The impact is behind him and shakes the ground. Hawke stumbles and tries to catch himself, his hands skidding over the shattered stone, and he lands on his shoulder rather than his face. With the barest glance at his bloodied palms, he scrambles to his feet. Should keep running because a dragon is bad, and a Blighted dragon is worse. But he needs to know if Fenris is all right.

Sanaris's beast lies broken and still on the rock, its skin riven with ragged gashes leaking blood the color of peach-skin. A gust of hot wind rushes past, and its body bursts into golden dust, carried away into the diseased green sky.

Fuck.

Corypheus’s creature struggles to get its feet under it—wounded but alive, its eyes bright with red lyrium madness. How are they supposed to face it, just the two of—Fenris. Where is Fenris? There, only a stone's throw from the dragon, a figure stirs.

He must have escaped the impact by inches. Hawke's heart pounds in his throat. He's clearly shaken and rises with agonizing slowness. Stay down, Hawke wants to shout, stay down and maybe the dragon won't notice you, but it's too late. The creature's grotesque head swings toward Fenris, and it lets out a grating scream. Hawke buckles at the sound and Fenris does too, collapsing to his knees. His sword is nowhere to be seen.

The dragon's tail whips around, striking Fenris's body. The force of it throws him into a jut of rock, and he crumples at the base of it, unmoving. The dragon's hungry eyes linger on him, and it rises on shaking legs.

"Oi!" Hawke shouts, with all the breath left in his body.

The dragon turns.

So this is it. He and this terrible beast, alone in the ruins of a broken temple. It is wounded, perhaps mortally, but it hasn't died yet and may well be able to kill him first, him and Fenris and then it'll move on to Sanaris and the others and then who will close the hole in the sky? Fenris is unconscious (not dead, Hawke thinks to himself, though he has no way of knowing that), Sanaris and the Warden and the Orlesian and the Iron Bull are fighting Corypheus. So it's Hawke and a dragon the size of Hightown’s finest manor.

You don't have a choice.

Hawke pushes himself to his feet. Doesn't want to use blood magic. The dragon's quite hurt, maybe—

You don't have a choice.

He shakes his head against Pride's voice. The dragon's quite injured, blood fountaining from its wounds—

You don't have a choice.

—but it's still a dragon, and he's one man. The odds are not in his favor. Still, he doesn't want to—

You don't have a choice, Hawke.

His head hurts, like the stuff of his brain is burning. He squints, eyes tearing up. Does he have a choice? Did he, with Meredith? Another insurmountable foe? And yet afterward—

It is too powerful, Hawke. You need me.

It's too powerful. It's a dragon. Hawke stares at his arms as the beast starts shambling toward him, at his skin criss-crossed with a thousand scars. The revulsion is nearly strong enough to make him retch. Is it the revulsion?

You need me, Hawke. Use me, Hawke. Use me.

As if in a dream he raises his arms and blood bursts out into the air.

The dragon's throat ripples, and its mouth fills with red sparks. Hawke starts running, and the blast sears into the rock behind him. The javelin is in his hand already, and he hurls it, feels how it flies unrestricted by the breached Veil. The tip of it pierces the dragon's eye.

The beast screams and Hawke staggers at the awful sound, wreathed with red lyrium song. But he can't afford to falter and gasps out a plea, Pride, help me, and the split in his chest cracks open. When another bolt of vile red magic hurtles toward him he's ready for it, unnatural strength fortifying his limbs and moving him out of the way just in time. The dragon is close now, lumbering over the rock. Pride laughs with glee at the back of his head; it must be delighted, being allowed to run free after so long chained up like a dog.

Another missile of crimson energy flies through the air. This time a crackling whip flicks out from Hawke's hand to intercept it. The collision creates a thunderclap explosion in the air, and Hawke stumbles, but his talons dig into the rock and he does not fall. The dragon roars in anger, dragging its wounded body toward him. Hawke bares his teeth and catalyzes the air, drawing a cascade of lightning down over its head and neck. It screams, smoke rising from its blackened flesh, but still stampedes forward. Fine. More, Hawke thinks. I need more!

Of course.

The dragon closes and Hawke allows it, standing his ground. It roars again, sending a gust of hot breath over him that reeks of decomposing flesh, like the livestock killed by rogue mages or templars and left to rot in fields their owners were too frightened to go back to, swollen and bloated and leaking in the sun. Hawke narrows his eyes, waiting.

When the dragon's jaws dive at him he catches them, his claws digging into the soft flesh of its gums and nostrils. It shrieks in pain or rage or both, then lets out a gurgling growl. Its head jerks and shudders, and next Hawke knows he's being sprayed with a mixture of crackling red magic and regurgitated blood. That hurts—the corrupted blood stings like acid even on his hardened skin, and smoke rises from his face and chest. He snarls in anger, and lightning erupts from his body, pouring out in a limitless torrent. The tattered Veil is no barrier to him anymore, and his body is a gathering storm, a vast black cloud waiting to be unleashed. In the back of his mind he feels Pride's rapturous joy. More! it urges. We can kill it!

They’re close—the dragon is howling, raw brown-red burns cracking open across its head, a hissing sound coming from its one remaining eye. Hawke digs his claws in, sensing the burgeoning Fade-stuff that lies just beyond the Breach and pulling from it recklessly. Too much for a normal mage, but Pride is there to steady him, to control the flow of raw power. He's little more than a conduit now, a path through which the Fade itself passes to turn this dragon to ash. A flicker of fear flashes deep in his awareness. What if he turns to ash as well? But Pride whispers, fear not, Hawke, and his body gleams a deep amethyst, ridged like rock, untouched by the electricity.

The dragon screams, its flesh desiccating around his claws. Black smoke clouds over Hawke, and with a bubbling spurt boiling blood splatters from its mouth over his thickened skin. Close now. Very close. Hawke rips his claws out, shoulders its head aside, and impales its neck instead.

The shock of heat instantly vaporizes the blood inside its vessels, and its leathery throat explodes outward, spraying him with scorching red steam. Its scream truncates abruptly, and its head drops to the rock, still at last.

Dead.

Hawke stumbles back, staring at it. He killed it. He killed a dragon, all by himself (well, finished off what Sanaris's ally couldn't). The elation courses through him almost as strong as the electricity. Corypheus's beast lies broken at his feet, a torrent of blood rushing from the gaping hole in its neck. Pride's lightning still crackles in his chest, and he hisses in pain, trying to shove the demon back where it came from. It's starting to sting like the boiling blood that seared his skin.

But Pride won't go.

Hawke buckles, crashing to a knee. Pride is wedged in him, breaking him open infinitesimally more with each passing second. Fuck off, Hawke snarls. I'm finished with you! There's no response, only a distant sort of laughter in the back of his head. Hawke scrabbles desperately for purchase, but the Breach has ripped the Veil to shreds and there's nothing for him to hold onto. Another lurch, and the laughter gets louder. Hawke gasps out a curse and spits static into the air. There's a deep ache in his bones like they're being compressed by a giant's fist—and they might well be, with the swelling of his violet flesh, the spikes and ridges that punch through what was once skin.

He realizes with a sudden, crystalline clarity that it's too late.

The split in his chest bursts apart and the laughter rumbles out of him, thundering over the rock. He stands—he doesn't stand but his legs unfold, his back straightens, and Pride rises to its full height.

"I AM FREE!"

Hawke thrashes and struggles to no avail. His limbs are frozen, encased in twilit amber, carried along for an unwilling ride inside this abomination's body. You said you didn't want to possess me! he screams out, silent. You've said it from the beginning!

"I LIED!"

He can feel the savage revelry in the demon's cry, in its new freedom, in how its voice reverberates in the air. "I TRIED WHEN THE FIRST BREACH TORE OPEN THE SKY! I TRIED AGAIN BENEATH SULEVIN!"

Hawke remembers it well, how each time his body mutated into something other, how each time the demon shifted blame onto the damaged Veil. But it wasn't the Veil. Pride was trying to possess him, when it thought its chances were good. How could he have been so stupid? How?

The demon laughs, and Hawke feels it in his bones. "YOU WERE NOT STUPID, HAWKE! I COULD NOT SWAY YOU WITH MY CLEVER WORDS, EVEN WHEN YOU WERE ONLY A CHILD!” it says. "BUT I PERSEVERED! FOR THIRTEEN YEARS I WARPED YOUR THOUGHTS! I BENT AND MOLDED THE VERY STUFF OF YOUR MIND!" It takes a step forward, then another step and another, an acrid joy rushing through it that singes Hawke's very marrow. "AND YOU NEVER SUSPECTED! YOU THOUGHT THE FAULT WAS YOUR OWN, HAWKE! BUT I CREATED IT! I BUILT YOUR WEAKNESS! I FED IT FOR YEARS, WITH LONELINESS! WITH SHAME!"

It wasn't him.

Hawke knows he should be fighting but sits paralyzed inside Pride's body. It wasn't him. The whole time Pride was twisting and breaking him, and he never noticed. How could he have been so blind? How could it have escaped him that a demon—a demon—was manipulating him? And who paid for it? Kirkwall. His friends. The man he loves. But not him, not for a long time. Now, of course, he's fucked. He’s stuck here with no magic, no strength, no recourse—

"Let him go."

Fenris.

He must have awakened during the fight or after. Found his blade, because he raises it now, and the tip trembles for a moment but stills. There's a red cut on his forehead, and blood trickles over his eyebrow and down his cheek. His stance is a little off-balance—the grip on his blade, Hawke realizes, weak in one hand. A sprain or a break when he was hurled into the rock. Hawke's heart seizes. He's hurt. Pride will win. Pride will kill him.

A ripple of laughter bubbles from Pride's chest. "You think you can defeat me?! I have grown fat on the blood Hawke has fed me!"

There's nothing he can do.

As the demon and Fenris engage the scene grows further and further away; Hawke feels the rush of joy from Pride with every motion of its brand-new body. He drifts, immobilized, buried deeper with each passing moment. Everything fades. This was Pride's plan from the start. How many chances did he have, over the years, to spot its ruse? Before and after he said yes? How many times did he fail? He thinks again of the demon emerging from the split in his chest beneath Sulevin, unbidden, how he almost couldn't force it back in. It told him that was his fault. It said he called on it, though he knew he didn't. And he believed it anyway. How could he have been so stupid? It's a demon. Why did he think it never had any designs on taking his body for its own?

The worst part is Fenris. Fenris cares for him—too much, more than he deserves, and fights for him now. It's futile. He's an abomination, and abominations can't be saved. After Pride wins and Fenris is dead, what will it target next? The Inquisitor, weakened from fighting Corypheus? Then all of Skyhold, left leaderless and in disarray? He's given it so much blood since the pact was forged seven years ago. Who can stop it? Certainly not him. He's stuck here, frozen and nearly blind, little more than the bones on which Pride has built its body. And who's left? Who—

Hawke!

Someone's shouting his name.

In the distance there's a faint glow of light, and Hawke squints, trying to focus. Hawke! comes the call once more. I need your help! I can't do this without you!

The light is a familiar white-blue. It's Fenris. Fenris who's reaching out to him. Hawke strains to resolve his shape in the murk, the white-blue glow burning away the fog that clouds his vision. With effort he can see the ruined temple again—not well, but enough.

Fenris's blade is gone, lost somewhere; but his brands are blazing and his arm is buried deep in Pride's chest. Hawke feels how Pride panics as the lyrium surges through it. Nevertheless, its body is strong, fortified with seven years of blood, and that alone won't be enough to finish the job. Clumsily it swipes at Fenris, fighting through the wild, pure energy lashing from the brands.

The struggle is taking its toll on Fenris too. His face is tight with strain. "Hawke!" he calls out again. "Help me!"

Hawke wants to but knows it's useless. He can't move, trapped inside Pride as he is. Anyway, he's the one who got them both into his mess in the first place, and if the past is any indication, he's got no ability to fix it. A few honeyed words from Pride and he handed it his body on a platter. Has he done a single thing right since that night he made the pact? Before, even—since that night he let his mother die? Since he led Bethany to her inglorious end in the deep roads, or watched Carver crushed by an ogre's fist?

Hawke.

His vision is gone again but Fenris's voice is steady and clear. Please. Don't give up again. His ghostly hand extends into the dark, a snow-dusted silhouette. I will fight your demon with everything I have but I can't do it by myself. Don't give up, Hawke. You can still fight.

I can't, Hawke thinks, I can't, I can't, I can't—

Listen to yourself, Hawke. The demon feeds you these words. It has seen your strength, as have I. And it is afraid of you.

Is it possible? Could it be Pride, poisoning his mind with the fear of failure? Of fucking it all to Oblivion again? It's too much for him to think about now. Thirteen years of Pride visiting him in his sleep, another seven with it riding along in his head. How is he supposed to trust himself?

It doesn't matter right now, because he trusts Fenris. So he reaches out and takes Fenris's hand.

Just holding on requires all of his strength. There's a strange feeling as if he's passing through the Veil itself, its shredded edges brushing his face, as Fenris drags him out of the demon's body. Its flesh clings to his armor, thick and sticky like clay. A gurgled sound ripples out of its throat. Fenris has Hawke's hand in an iron grip, his whole body tensed. The lyrium blazes as bright as it ever has, and pain lances through Hawke's hand, a burning that crawls along his Fade-sense. Still he holds on. The demon is afraid of him. Of both of them.

At last its twisted flesh releases him and he's free of it. He falls to the rock, landing hard on his shoulder. Fenris collapses before him, teeth gritted. His brands sputter and flare. No time to rest—what if the demon survived? Hawke scrambles to his feet to face Pride.

There's a great caved-in hole in its chest, and it gazes down at him with a dozen slitted eyes. It lists forward a little, unsteady. "We could have been powerful," it whispers.

Hawke realizes it's over; the loss of its host is a mortal blow, and it only waits to die now, midnight-purple blood cascading out of the rent in its body. "We were," Hawke replies. The temple is quiet now, no more dragon-screams, no more of Pride’s booming cries. ”I’ll give you that."

Pride lets out a guttural laugh. "I liked you, Hawke. You were my favorite."

"Some bloody way of showing it," Hawke mutters. But the gleam in the demon's eye has faded, leaving just the brittle, insect-black husk.

As Pride dies Hawke feels as if he does too, like his heart stops in his chest and his lungs freeze, braced open in the sickly air. Like his soul has been snuffed out. It's too much to force himself to comprehend so instead he kneels unsteadily next to Fenris, who's crouched on the ground. "Are you all right?"

Fenris is clutching his elbow. Up close Hawke can see the split in his vambrace where the break must be. "Fine," he says through gritted teeth. "It's only my arm. I will be all right."

Hawke nods. "Stay here," he says. "I should—I should go to Sanaris. She might need help." He starts to rise.

But Fenris grasps his wrist and pulls him back down and next Hawke knows Fenris is embracing him, arms wrapped tight around his back. Distantly Hawke holds Fenris's thin body. The threat of Corypheus above them seems almost invented, a drama playing out on a stage. His demon is dead. And Fenris is alive.

Then a rumble like thunder rolls across the rock and the sky clears to a pure, bright blue, and where the Breach was there's only a swirl of white clouds eddying gently over the mountains.

Fenris sits back and squints in the glaring sun. "I believe...it is over."

Hawke gazes up, barely listening. The sudden shift makes him suspect that the whole thing was a dream, and he waits for Pride's voice to come to him, whispering words of comfort. But the only thing he hears is the whistle of the wind through the mountains. The Breach is closed. Corypheus must be dead.

It's done.

——

Skyhold celebrates, as one might expect.

The courtyard is packed and the great hall as well, stuffed with gaily dressed nobles and soldiers out of armor, healers and merchants, smiths, refugees. Hawke doesn't know how they scared up that much food that fast but the tables are lain out and dozens of casks of ale and wine line the walls. The hall is filled to the rafters with a near-uproar of conversation broken by bouts of laughter or cheers when somebody proposes the fiftieth or hundredth toast of the night.

Hawke hears it through several doors and a long maze of hallways. He sits on a broad windowsill on the western wall of Skyhold with Fenris sitting across from him.

"It wasn't you," Fenris says, breaking the silence at last.

"You don't know that," Hawke replies distantly.

"You heard the demon. It...changed you."

"What if it lied?"

"Why would it? Would your suffering not have been greater if it had held the ruse? If you had continued to blame yourself?"

"I do blame myself."

Fenris shifts. ”As you have done for seven years. I do not expect you to break the habit in a day."

Hawke tips his head back against the stone wall and takes a deep breath, trying not to weep again. It's been a constant battle since they returned from the temple and one he's lost several times.

"I should have guessed. I should have at least considered it,” Fenris says, seeming irritated with himself. He stretches his legs out, his bare feet extended between Hawke's knee and the window. His arm has been seen to and is whole again. "At least your mind was clouded. I have no such excuse.”

"Was it clouded?” Hawke asks. "How much was the demon? All of it? Half? A quarter?"

"Hawke—"

"We can't know," he interrupts, and looks up.

For some reason he expects to see Fenris as he was seven years ago, with wide eyes and short, messy hair. But his hair is neatly tied and his eyes are calm, steady and clear. "You're right. We can't know," he counters.

Hawke's throat hurts very much from stifling his sobs. "Have to admit, I didn't expect you to be so...forgiving."

"I...did not know," Fenris says. "That it was not you who chose the demon, but the demon who chose you. But I've seen how you have suffered, Hawke. Doing all those things you did. You did not want to become a blood mage."

"What am I supposed to do?" Hawke whispers. "Seven years. I've caused so much pain."

"Well, that's always the problem, isn't it?" Fenris sighs, hands folded in his lap. "But you can't do anything about what's passed. None of us can."

Hawke shakes his head. "Fenris, I feel like I've been torn in half. Like—the other half's been ripped to shreds, and it's just me and empty air. I don't know how to keep going. I don't even know how to stand on my own anymore."

"You were living with that thing for seven years," Fenris notes. "I expect it might feel a bit strange."

"But what am I supposed to do?" Hawke flings a hand up, frustrated with Fenris's stubbornness, with his staunch refusal to concede Hawke's point that he'd be best off just fading into nothingness.

Fenris gazes at him for a moment; then he says, "I think...you should be kind to yourself."

That at least makes Hawke cough up a laugh. "Did I hear you right?"

"I am being serious. The demon said that it used shame to twist you. So now you should—"

"Get un-twisted?" Hawke offers.

"In so many words, yes." Fenris hesitates, then sits forward. "Hawke, what you did in the Approach...you saved a dozen lives, even with the demon whispering in your ear. I know you are still a good man. And you are not as weak as you believe."

Hawke shakes his head. "For all the time you've known me I've had that—thing scraping out the inside of my mind and filling it up with whatever it liked. I don't—" He stares down at his knees. "I don't know who I am without it."

Fenris considers him for a moment. Then he says: "How would you like to find out?"

Hawke doesn't answer.

Fenris leans forward and takes his hand. "Come north with me. Your magic has grown stronger. The Tal-Vashoth would gladly fight beside you."

Hawke grins bitterly. "Right. I hear there's no demons up there at all."

"Perhaps. But..I will be there."

His hands are warm, wrapped around Hawke's. Hawke can't bring himself to answer. A dozen replies are lodged in his throat. I want that. I can't do that. I don't deserve that. I need that.

"I saw the favor."

Hawke starts and looks up.

"When I left your room that night," Fenris tells him. "I saw it on the table."

The favor. Hawke curses his stupidity for leaving the damn thing lying about. "Listen, I didn't—"

"It's all right," Fenris interrupts. "I am...glad it survived, somehow."

Oh. Hawke chuckles, relieved. "Thank Varric for that."

Fenris smiles in return. "I should have known. I will have to speak with him."

Then Hawke's throat gets unstuck and he says, "Yes, I'll come with you."

Fenris’s surprise turns into satisfaction. "I am pleased to hear it. I suppose we can linger here, if you’d like—“

Hawke groans. "Oh, please no. If I hear one more Orlesian complaining about the bloody snow I'm going to snap."

"Mm, I feel the same. Then we can leave early in the morning."

"If Sanaris will let me," Hawke points out.

Fenris raises an eyebrow. "I was not planning to tell her."

"Er...aren't you afraid she'll, you know, hunt us down like dogs?"

"Then we will have to ride with speed. Beyond the Tevinter border we're safe."

"Well." Hawke shrugs. "How can I say no to that?"

Fenris leans back and gazes out at the setting sun, a smile still on his face. Hawke does the same, watching it sink infinitesimally lower between the jagged peaks of the Frostbacks. Strange to think that it's really happening—that the sun is setting, that the evening advances despite the fact of Pride's death. He didn't think it was possible—didn't think he'd ever be free. Yet here he is, and the sun is setting and Fenris watches the mountains beyond the window with Hawke's hand in his.

Pride is dead, and the dawn still comes.

——

"Fuck, that's Cullen. Course the bastard wakes up in the wee hours of the bloody morning—"

"Quiet yourself!" Fenris whispers, elbowing Hawke in the ribs. "The stables are not far."

"Right, it's just open bloody ground all the way," Hawke grumbles, and flattens himself against the stone as Cullen strides across the courtyard—almost at the opposite wall, fortunately.

"Hm." Fenris frowns. "Then we will have to pick our—Hawke!"

Hawke has grabbed his hand and begun sprinting across the grass. It's slippery with dew and he flails once, nearly losing his balance, but regains his footing and runs. Fenris is right behind him. "Are you mad?!" he hisses.

"Not if we go fast enough!" Hawke hisses back.

He glances over and finds Cullen has turned. There's a sharp call of "Who's there?!" But it doesn't matter, because they're at the stables and the stable boy's asleep with a couple of wine bottles beside him and he must have gotten started early last night because a dozen of the horses are tied outside with their saddles and harnesses still on. Hawke picks the biggest one and mounts it.

"Oi! Stop right there!" Getting closer. Fenris is mounted as well and wheels around, urging his horse into a gallop. Hawke hesitates, taking a split-second to think. Then he gestures, and the horses' lines all snap in two. He navigates past, his eyes finding Fenris in the murk of early dawn.

"What are you—" Cullen draws up outside the stables. His face opens in shock. "Hawke?"

Hawke snaps his fingers and a crack of thunder splits the air. Bit too loud, if he's honest, because even his own ears are ringing, but it did the job. The horses spook instantly and scatter through the courtyard, kicking and whinnying. His own tries something of the sort, shooting forward so fast he almost topples off, but it's expensive and well-trained and he wrangles it without too much difficulty and directs it out the gates. There's a furious shout of "Get back here!" behind him.

He grins and disregards that order, flying through the purple predawn light. Fenris is ahead and slowing but spurs his horse when he spots Hawke. Together they gallop down the road.

"Are we free?" Fenris calls.

"Er—sort of!" Hawke replies.

Fenris rolls his eyes but doesn't quite manage to look bothered by it. Hawke breathes the cold mountain air into his lungs—his lungs now, free of sparks or static. Their mad dash reminds him of the time in Kirkwall when he employed Fenris as a distraction while he fleeced a notorious gang boss of her Diamondback winnings—he was drunk and his pickpocketing imperfect, but he got the coins and he and Fenris ran cackling through the night for miles before her cronies gave up the chase.

He hopes there'll be gang bosses to fleece up north. "Fenris!" he calls. "Cullen might still come after us! He isn't very fond of me!"

"Then we will face him together!" Fenris replies.

Together. Hawke likes the sound of that. He squints against the wind rushing past his face and rides.