“Did you get hurt in the woods again? That’s a dangerous patrol route.”
Carver lifted his chin. There was a bruise on his jaw, but other than that and the cut on his arm, he looked fine. Felix dipped a cloth in the bowl he had prepared, water coloured a dim rose shade by the crushed spindleweed that gathered at the bottom.
“You should have seen that giant spider, though. Had only half its legs left when I was through with it!”
Felix had to chuckle. “I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t have the stomach for that kind of thing.”
Methodically, he cleaned the cut of dirt and dried blood, which Carver allowed with a forced stoic expression. Over the month and a half Felix had worked here at the Inquisition with the physicians, he had regularly met Carver two, three times a week whenever he had accumulated smaller wounds sparring or on duty, or because he was visiting one fellow Templar or another, since quite a few of them ended up here, still being hesitant to ask mages for help.
When they had first ran into each other, Felix had simply been the only available person, as even with healer mages and physicians working together, they were often swamped with the needs of the ever-growing Inquisition. Though only a couple of days into his instructions, Felix had at least managed to apply a decent bandage, being somewhat educated in all sorts of medicine because his father had tried just about everything to cure him, even non-magical ways, which were seen as positively barbaric by Tevinter nobility.
After that time, Carver had usually headed straight for him when he came. Felix didn’t know why, but guessed it was because Carver favoured a familiar face over a stranger and he’d already been thrown in Felix’s lap and had it work out, so there was no reason to deviate. He could only guess on that, of course, but Felix had seen Carver around the Inquisition and now with the physicians, and while he seemed to have friends among the Kirkwall Templars he had arrived with, he also stuck pretty closely to that group.
“Looks like you might need to get used to wildlife,” Carver answered. “The edges of the castle won’t yield much soon with the speed you pluck it. You’ll have to go into the forest.”
With his free hand, Carver gestured at the drying herbs that hung in bushels from the rafters overhead, leaves and stalks and blossoms. Felix smiled. He had decided that if he was already here in the Inquisition’s care, he could at least make himself useful in all the small ways that aiding the physicians entailed.
“If I knew to swing a sword like you, I might. As it is, I think I will try the sides of the roads first.” He glanced at Carver’s broken skin. “I’m worried this might scar. Are you sure you don’t want to see a healer?”
“They’re probably busy.”
“Isn’t your brother a mage? I read that in the Tale of the Champion. My friend Dorian says he has come to visit the Inquisitor. I’m sure he’d be happy to help you out.”
Felix put the wet cloth he’d been holding aside.
“He has more important business to attend to, as usual,” Carver said coolly.
Felix glanced briefly at him, but did not answer and instead busied himself spreading a poultice on Carver’s wound before he pulled a fresh bandage around it. He had spent enough time in Tevinter to be able to habitually listen for those small, hard turns of the voice, notice the way Carver stared obstinately at the ground. Sometimes, correctly guessing at the relationship between two people from the same house in the heat of a political debate or at a banquet could save you months’ worth of trouble. Carver wasn’t nearly as good at hiding as the people Felix had trained on. What Varric Tethras had written of the Hawke family in the Tale of the Champion was apparently not just made up, then; but of course, even knowing that a mage’s brother had become a Templar might tell an unobservant man as much.
“Well, not that I don’t like to see you around,” Felix murmured as a deliberately light answer, keeping his voice friendly.
“Are you sure? I heard people talk about you. I didn’t mean to snoop,” Carver added quickly, “but they do, anyway...”
This didn’t surprise Felix. A Tevinter magister who had recovered from the blight and was the son of the criminal currently toiling away in service of the Inquisition for trying to empower an angry elder god was always going to be a point of discussion.
“Go on,” he said. “I read a whole book with you in it, I don’t mind that you know a few things about me.”
Carver gave a lopsided smile. “Right. I just wondered what you’re doing here? People say you were about maths. Went to university in Orlais, taught a bit there, too, even while you studied.”
“I did. I am. But the Inquisition doesn’t need a scholar right now. I’m more useful doing this. Besides, there is a lot to learn from these physicians. This sort of healing is not well-regarded where I come from.”
Carver laughed, leaning back in the chair.
“You’re an odd noble, you know that?”
“Hopefully not. It just makes sense to help the Inquisition out as I can,” Felix answered. “I owe Solas my life, and it is hard to forget that we all wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my father.”
“But you helped stop him, didn’t you?”
“I did.” And yet, Felix was still the catalyst that had led to the hole in the sky. He tied the bandage firmly and looked up at Carver. “This is done,” he said, wiping the other topic away with those words. “Maybe I can take you if I ever have to venture into the forest. Obviously you know to handle yourself in the wilds.”
“Of course. Just tell me when beforehand so I can make sure I’m not on duty,” Carver answered.
Felix looked up from the water bowl. He’d been joking, but Carver looked serious.
“Right. I will,” Felix said, hiding his surprise.
However, any trips to the forest, or anywhere else for that matter, were for now delayed as Felix found himself away from the sickbeds of the Inquisition soldiers and in his own. A brisk morning walk along the road in a drizzling cold rain, accompanying a healer to meet a party of wounded scouts halfway, had wreaked havoc on his brittle constitution, leaving him feverish and faint.
“I’m going to put somebody up to watch you if this is what you do when I don’t keep an eye on you,” Dorian told him, sitting at the edge of the bed.
“Don’t worry. Most of the time, I’m not stupid enough to make the same mistake twice.” Felix adjusted the blanket, watching Dorian from under half-lidded eyes. “Where are you going, then?”
Dorian made a face.
“To the southern foothills of these glorious mountains – searching for some artefact, as I understand it. You’ve seen a little of them as we walked up here. Vast, beautiful expanses of forest and snow-covered meadows in which to brawl with bears. Enough natural splendour that I’m certain I almost won’t miss actual civilisation.”
Felix chuckled. “If I had told you five years ago that you were going to such a place willingly, you would have called me mad. This time, you volunteered.”
“I can’t let the Inquisitor saunter off with Cole and Sera as his only companions! The man is too friendly. They’ll end up distracted chasing spirits or wayward nobles through the crags for days.”
It used to be that Dorian would not have been bothered about such things enough to insert himself. It wasn’t that he hadn’t cared, Felix didn’t think. Dorian and his father had often spoken about the ways they would change Tevinter with their combined wisdom and influence. Felix himself had had no expectations to ever gain the leverage necessary to move much in his country, as his talents were not recognised there, but even he and Dorian had still fantasised, too. Now, however, they had been ushered into action, finally forced to fight against the fastenings screwed so tight around their minds by their upbringing, and Dorian had taken to it like a fish in water.
There was a knock at the door. A young dwarven woman stuck her head in. Edna was one of the more experienced field physicians Felix worked with, seeing as dwarves had little access to magic and a greater resistance to the damage it could cause as well as its boons.
“Felix? Do you have a minute?” she called breathlessly.
“Sure, yes,” Felix said. “Come on in.”
“Thanks, I’m on my way over to the mages, but I just wanted to say that the Champion’s brother came by today. I told him you were sick and that he could visit you here. Hope that was alright?”
Felix nodded his head. He hadn’t missed a day since he had started working with the physicians, so Carver hadn’t had to do without his help yet when he wanted it.
“Yes, of course.”
“Just wanted to make sure. He said he was going to drop by. Guess it’s only fair with how often you’ve patched him up, huh?”
With that, she was already out of the door again. Felix smiled at Dorian.
“Edna. I’d have introduced you, but she’s generally too fast for me.”
Dorian tsked. “And that after you’ve had all this practice managing to get a word in edgewise against me. But I’m sure your admirer, the little Hawke, is going to have more time for you.”
Felix raised a brow at Dorian. His friend had met Carver at Felix’s side sometimes and it was true he didn’t usually leave when he was done being treated, instead hovering for a bit, chatting about the Inquisition, the remedies Felix worked with, and who was currently recuperating; but Felix considered that simple courtesy after you’d met someone a few times.
“Normal men and women don’t have admirers, Dorian,” he teased. “That’s reserved for people like you.”
Dorian, after all, sparkled with wit and had enough charm to ensnare anyone even without a spell, and he was just bold and reckless enough to get himself into the most outrageous situations. You couldn’t help but be fascinated with him. Felix did not think badly of himself, but he was not that sort. Besides, Carver struck him simply as a kind man, even if he didn’t care or know to show it, so of course he’d look out for Felix. After all, he’d often not really known the Templars he’d visited, either, from what he’d said, and he’d only hung around for a few words of small talk with them before retreating, or even just assured himself of their well-being and leaving without seeing for themselves, or indeed being seen by them. He figured it was just the same here, Carver trying to make sure an acquaintance was alright.
Dorian sighed. “I can just imagine the hearts you unknowingly broke in Orlais with your blithe naiveté. But whatever you say. I have to go get packed now.” A brief stern look crossed Dorian’s face. “Stay in bed. You can’t help others if you have to be scraped off the floorboards yourself.”
Felix was dozing the next time there was a knock on the door. Through the window of his tower room, he saw the sky purple behind the mountaintops. He had gone to sleep in the early afternoon and could have easily closed his eyes again and slipped back into unconsciousness, but he had years of experience in fighting against the numbness of exhaustion, so he propped up his pillows to sit and called in his visitor.
It was Carver Hawke who stood in the half-opened door, awkwardly glancing around it before he took a step into the room. He surveyed the golden sunbeams on the wooden floor first, the stack of books Dorian had brought which sat next to Felix’s bed, the decanter with water, before he allowed himself to look Felix in the eyes.
“Good evening. Did I wake you?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve been sleeping for long enough and night is ahead, so I’ll soon be sleeping more,” Felix said, gesturing at the chair.
Carver did not sit, but instead stood by the window. The soft evening light fell on his face, shimmering in his dark hair. Felix’s mind flashed back for a moment to Dorian’s words, but he chased them away as just his friend’s usual good-natured mocking.
Then Carver brandished a handful of flowers, white clusters of small blossoms over thin strips of tiny leaves.
“We were on our way back from dealing with a group of bandits who were preying on pilgrims to Skyhold. I saw these and thought of you. Yarrow, right? You always had these hanging overhead. Bet you wasted a lot on me. Figured they might come in handy.”
“They weren’t wasted if they treated wounds,” Felix said when he’d found his tongue again. “Thank you, though.” With a twinge of nerves, he decided to put out a lure. “This room is somewhat empty, don’t you think? I’ll keep the flowers in water for a bit until I dry them.” He gestured at the decanter. “If you’d put them there? I can get something else to drink.”
As flirting went, it was paltry. He hadn’t tried since before he’d contracted the blight and even back then had never been a natural.
“Don’t worry, I will get you more water,” Carver said, quickly dropping the flowers in the stone decanter, where they fell to all sides, spreading out like a star.
From his expression, which was just neutral now, Felix could not tell if he’d come here with an offering just to assist him, or if there was anything more to it, after all. It would have helped to know Carver better, to figure if he was the sort to show up with healing herbs as a practical gift, or with pretty flowers as a present for a prospect. Both would have been nice things to do.
Carver fiddled with the flowers for a bit before he turned back to Felix.
“Nothing serious. I overexerted myself taking a walk out of Skyhold. It’s difficult to gauge how much I can take on. There aren’t many people who have recovered from the blight, after all, though strangely enough there are two in Skyhold.”
“Grand Enchanter Fiona, right?” Carver said. “Commander Cullen told me about that.” His shoulders didn’t sit quite so tense anymore. He pulled the chair closer to sit. “She seems much better off than you.”
“She’s been cured for much longer. Although, since she was a Warden, it might be totally different than my case, anyway. There was nothing purposeful or exalted about my blight affliction. I was just sick. I might always stay weaker, or I might not.”
“I hope you’ll recover. I’d go mad not being able to even walk for a few hours!” Carver exclaimed, shaking his head. “If I were you, I’d probably be up and running as soon as I could, and then I’d be laid up in bed again, and so on.”
“It’s not that bad. I got used to being sick, I was for years. I guess what I’m not used to is not feeling like death anymore, that’s why I get tempted to do too much. In comparison to a few months ago, I’m the picture of life.”
Carver hadn’t been around for that time, so it was easier to speak of how much acting he had done then to appear reasonably put-together, stop people from constantly fussing over him because of a sickness that, in the end, no one could have reasonably expected to cure. Felix doubted he would ever admit as much in front of Dorian or his father or his friends in Tevinter.
“I get it. I’ve seen what the blight does first-hand. It’s a miracle you survived this long.”
“Yes, I read that you fought darkspawn in Ostagar. You were so young, too. That must have been terrifying.”
Felix himself still had nightmares about that grey, cold day he had met the monsters.
Carver squared his shoulders. “It’s fine. They showed me there were good reasons to pick up my sword.” He pressed his lips into a thin line. “I know my family thought I only became a Templar to spite them, but I figured I’d really have a chance to, I don’t know, protect people? Inside and out of the Circles. And have you ever seen Templars fight? They have powers that go beyond a guy with a sword.” He frowned. “Figured I’d end up under someone like Knight-Commander Meredith, though. Guess my brother was right as always.”
“You’re not under her now,” Felix pointed out.
“I should have caught on sooner, though.”
“You could say the same about Dorian’s and my relation to Tevinter. The Venatori are new, but they were certainly born of our culture and we were old enough to see its flaws and help combat them had we tried,” Felix said thoughtfully. “It would have been better to act then, but you can’t change the past. Ask my father, he would know. So the next best time to make amends is now.”
Carver gave a hesitant nod that was followed by a firmer one. “Yeah, you’re right. No point in dwelling on it anymore when there’s enough to do here.” He grinned. “You know, sometimes you sound like you’re much older than you are.”
Felix huffed a quiet laugh.
“I guess dwelling on death for so long makes you a little philosophical. I’m not sure you’re complimenting me, though.”
“Well, sure, I am,” Carver muttered, hesitating. “I – everybody else is pretty tense around here, me included. You’re – calm. It’s good talking to you.”
“Come by anytime,” Felix suggested, with a flutter of carefully curious excitement in his stomach. “You don’t always have to get beaten on first, either.”
Carver grinned. “No promises.”
Twigs of hawthorn, leaves of spindleweed and elfroot, lavender and jasmine joined his yarrow over the course of the week. After a couple of days, Felix knew he could read the clock by how punctually Carver would stand in his doorway with a new handful of plants, almost as if he was dragging his feet somewhere until he decided it was the right time to see Felix – a pleasant if self-absorbed fantasy, Felix conceded. He found that he himself always tried to be awake and fully aware for Carver’s visit, napping during the afternoon so he could listen with attention to Carver talking about his day. Once he did not manage, but as he woke up there were still new flowers in the decanter on the bedside table next to him and an extra blanket covering him, perfect to protect him from the cold that had moved over Skyhold during the day with the snow and storm.
When Carver visited him on the tenth day, Felix was collecting his belongings and putting the room in order, as Solas had finally cleared him to leave bed rest. Carver smiled as he saw Felix on his feet when he came through the door. He had a few stalks of goldenrod in his hand.
“Good evening,” Felix said.
“Evening. Feeling better?”
“Yes, I think by tomorrow I can finally patch you up again,” Felix said, spreading the blanket out over the bed.
He was still wearing the wide, too-long long tunic and simple trousers he’d been dressed in to rest. Carver looked him up and down. Maybe Felix should have felt embarrassed about the lacking outfit, but nothing in Carver’s eyes showed disapproval.
“Right, about that.” Carver scuffed the ground with the heel of his boot. “I’m not as squeamish as I must seem to you, you know? Some of the stuff I came to you with probably didn’t need patching up, but...”
The sentence ended unfinished. Carver had more or less delivered his plant offerings without commentary and otherwise stuck to friendly conversation, which had left Felix still wondering what he really hoped to achieve. However, from the way Carver cleared his throat now and seemed to struggle to hold his gaze, it was much clearer.
“I thought at times it might be something like that,” Felix admitted. “Though this was all a little unexpected.”
“I’m not that boy from the book anymore, you know?!” Carver said, taking a step towards Felix in his bulky Templar armour. Felix stood his ground and from the way Carver stopped abruptly in his movement, he could see he hadn’t meant to intimidate him. Carver took a deep breath. “I might have been a bit of a moron when I was younger, but I grew up.”
“That’s not what I meant. I just didn’t think a Templar would be bringing flowers to my bedside,” Felix corrected.
Carver straightened a little.
“Oh. I just thought, since you brought up the book before...”
“No, I realise that was eleven years ago by now. Besides, it’s a book, they always take liberties. I’d like to know your side of the story.”
“Sure, I can tell you. Though... it’s probably not as different as I wish it were,” Carver admitted. He looked pleased with the idea, anyway.
Felix had to smile.
“It was very sweet, the flowers,” he added, hastily collecting what courage he had. “I enjoyed you coming here.”
A little rushed, Carver asked: “Then, would you maybe come to the tavern with me sometime?”
That was a rendezvous, Felix figured. He hadn’t had one in – well, not really ever, not one like this. Tevinter was more formal and in Orlais, a lot of people had been somewhat wary of his status as a magister. Dorian had dragged him along to a few taverns that both of them shouldn’t have been in given their status, but he’d mostly sat on his own just watching in awed amusement how Dorian played the crowd. Even then, though, he remembered thinking that it would have been fun to come there to meet a lover, too.
“Yes,” he said, “though I have to admit, I’ve never done that with a man before.”
That encompassing everything that came after a tavern visit, too. He figured if Carver was looking for something quick and easy, it was best to be honest.
“Do you want to?” Carver asked.
“Yes. Tevinter is not very open to that, though, not when it comes to highborn sons and daughters. I was interested in women, too, so I could pretend to forget I liked men. Dorian will always say that he was as free with who he was because he was insolent, but he was also brave in a way I could only admire back then. I’m just warning you that I’m a tyro.”
“Don’t worry,” Carver said with a laugh. “I can teach you all you need to know.”
There was a playfully arrogant confidence there that Felix had to smile at. “Then we’ll go.”
When they entered the Herald’s Rest on the next day’s evening and the first thing Felix saw in the dim room was a group of about fifteen Templars clustered around a few tables, he figured that Carver might turn around and decide they should come back at a different time. To his surprise, he was tugged through the crowd by his elbow, and as he listened to the bard singing Orlesian folk songs and the laughter and chatter around them, Carver put a mug of ale in his hand and waved at him to follow.
“This is Felix,” he was introduced to the Templars, and if any of them had objections to his being there, Carver’s warning glance did not invite them.
Walking here, Carver had been a little stiff and short on words – nervous, though Felix was sure he’d have bristled if he had called him that. As they sat with his fellow Templars, though, and he had downed his first mug of ale, he loosened up, joining in loudly to add to the jokes and stories that flew across the table. Soon enough, he put his head together with Felix and gave him all of his friends’ names and the tales of how long they’d been with the Kirkwall Circle, answering all questions Felix had with enthusiasm.
“Carver!” one of them interrupted an anecdote about Carver’s training with one Harris, apparently the freckled young man sitting at the end of the right table. “We’re going to join the competition. You in?”
Felix and Carver both craned their necks to see that a bit of room had been cleared in the middle of the Herald’s Rest. A young woman held a handful of throwing knives and an old table was turned against the wall, several targets drawn on its surface with a piece of coal from the fire.
“No, thank you. I don’t work with little daggers, I like using my greatsword,” Carver said, flashing Felix a grin.
His comrades laughed as they pushed past them and Felix did, too. He and Carver stood to let two Templars move out of the bench they were sitting on, and when Carver fell down on it again, he pulled Felix down by his hand and onto his lap.
They looked at each other, each perhaps as surprised as the other. Apparently, Carver had let instinct guide him. However, as he opened his mouth, maybe to apologise, Felix leaned back and grabbed his mug of ale, settling into his new position. He felt like a much younger man in this moment, carefree and cut loose from the world. Carver snapped his mouth shut again and put a hand on Felix’s thigh instead.
“Who of your friends has a chance to win, you think?” Felix asked.
“Could be a race,” Carver said into his ear over the din, his chin almost on Felix’s shoulder as he pointed at people to show whom he meant. “Janette almost never misses when she shoots or throws anything, but Gernot may be right on her heals, he has an eagle’s eye. When Timothy is up, you better duck your head, though. Somebody might get hurt.”
Felix chuckled and was about to ask about a few of the other names he remembered when something flicked the back of his head. Both Carver and him looked up at Dorian, who stood behind them still in his traveller’s cloak.
“Dorian, I didn’t know you’d returned,” Felix said.
“Just now, and we heard there was quite the feast here tonight. Just what I need after almost two weeks seeing mostly deer and rabbits. Anyway, I’ll be in the back with the Inquisitor and Varric if you need me – I have a game of Wicked Grace to win. So I didn’t come to steal you, don’t worry.” He raised a brow. “I just wanted to tell you that from now on I expect you to remember that I’m always right.”
Dorian swept away and Carver turned a confused look on Felix, who grinned into his ale.