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Ace in the Hole

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"Remind me again why we decided to come here?"

"You know, it's funny you should ask," Varric says, "because I took the liberty of recording your answer when I asked you this exact question a week ago." He pulls out a sheaf of paper, clears his throat and adopts a deep(er) voice as he says, "I quote: 'Because I say so, Varric.'"

Hawke scowls. "That is not my voice."

"But, crucially, those are your words," Varric points out. "You were the one who wanted a break from Kirkwall. See some sights, meet some people, coax those people out of most of their net worth. You know, standard holiday activities."

"I take it all back," Hawke says with a sigh that's bordering on melodramatic. It's been a long day. "If I never have to set foot outside the Free Marches again, it'll be too soon."

"Luckily for you, our ship leaves first thing tomorrow," Varric says. "You'll be back to complaining about Kirkwall by the end of the week. Until then..." He pats Hawke on the lower back and peers through the thinning crowd to the street ahead. "...that looks like a promising establishment for the evening. I'll be right back."

He's off before Hawke can object, weaving his way through the clusters of people to scope out the tavern's ale and/or gambling prospects, and Hawke slows to a stroll as he waits for the verdict.

The streets are emptying for the night, the sky painted in orange and gold as the sun sinks, and Hawke leans against the wall of a bakery to enjoy the lingering smell of bread as he contemplates his dinner options.

He's leaning towards chicken when his attention is caught by a suspicious bustle of movement from across the street. In the dimming light, it takes him a moment to make out the couple pressed against the wall of an alley and he rolls his eyes in judgement. He's not opposed to a quick fumble in an alley but he at least has the decency to wait until it's dark.

A purple shimmer between the couple makes him look again, however, and he frowns when he sees that, far from kissing, the taller of the two has his hand around his partner's throat. He's a mage, going by the robe (and also the fact that his hand is currently glowing with magic), but the alley is too dark to see much of his companion, save for a shock of bright hair.

The light catches their feet when the mage steps in closer and Hawke's eyes widen when he sees the mage's companion is being held clear off the ground, bare feet scrabbling for purchase against the dirty wall.

"Hey!" Hawke calls, shoving through the crowd. "What are you-"

"Hawke!"

The shout's accompanied by a whistle from Varric and Hawke can't help but turn to seek out his friend. Varric waves at him from the doorway of the inn, smiling wide enough that there must be some stellar marks inside, and Hawke hesitates.

There's a blur of movement at the corner of his eye -- like someone getting smacked to the floor, his brain helpfully supplies -- but when he looks back to the alley, it's empty. Varric beckons again, eternally impatient, and Hawke yields. Chances are the mage was just lashing out at an unfortunate pickpocket; winning money from foolish locals beats checking on the well-being of clumsy criminals.

Putting those kicking feet out of his mind, Hawke yawns and follows Varric inside.

 

:::

 

As it turns out, Varric's smile was not inaccurate. It's a successful evening as far as these things go: good ale, good company, and a good haul of winnings from the last eight card games that Hawke has won. By the time the barkeeper rings for last orders, he's slightly more wealthy and significantly more drunk than he was when he started, and he gives Varric a lopsided grin when he pats him on the shoulder. "Hey there."

"Hey to you too, princess," Varric says with a smirk. "I've got us two rooms booked - you want to head up to bed or are you planning on just making doe eyes at me the whole night?"

"Who's to say I can't do both?"

"How many times do I have to tell you, Hawke, you just aren't my type," Varric says, rolling his shoulders. "Now, are you coming or not?"

"Not quite yet, I'd hope."

The answer comes from behind him and Hawke swivels, somewhat unsteadily, to face the speaker. The mage is older than he expected, his hair greying and his pale eyes lined with wrinkles, but his robe speaks of wealth and his strong hands speak of power.

Hawke grins. "You looking for a game, Ser...?"

"Magister," the mage corrects. "Danarius. And yes, if you'd be so inclined. It's rare to face such a challenger in these parts."

"If by challenger, you mean conqueror, then sure," Hawke says, ignoring Varric's elbow to his shoulder. "Take a seat, Magister."

"Such confidence," Danarius says, sinking fluidly to a seat. "I'd hate for it to be misplaced."

He keeps talking, voice as smooth as his silken robe, but Hawke doesn't hear it as he catches sight of the elf behind Danarius. The sweep of white hair is instantly familiar from the glimpse he caught in the alley and he begins to piece things together in the light of the tavern, taking in the elf (male, gaunt, kneeling), his throat (collared, bruised by magic, not by fingers) and his relationship with the magister (slave, slave, slave).

"We're just passing through," Varric says, loud enough to draw Hawke's attention. "We'll be on a ship back to Kirkwall first thing."

"Kirkwall?" Danarius' nose wrinkles a little. "Well, I'm glad I caught you before you departed. All my games in the city have been awfully dull so far."

His hand slips to the elf as Hawke shuffles the deck, sharp nails carding through the elf's hair. The magister isn't the first slave-owner Hawke's encountered, isn't even the first slave-owner he's played against, but experience does nothing to shake the wrongness of the situation.

"Guess I'll have to liven it up for you," Hawke says, dealing the cards with feigned cheerfulness. "Starting bet is five sovereigns."

Danarius smirks and drops a handful of coins on the table. "Make it ten."

As much as Hawke is loath to admit it, the magister's confidence isn't wholly misplaced. The game stretches on into the night, dozens of sovereigns being traded back and forth like a dance partner, with the occasional couple being tossed to the bartender whenever he mutters about closing up for the evening.

It's a close-run game, the stakes building to just over a hundred sovereigns by the time the moon is high, but when Hawke sets down his last cards, he can't help the whoop of victory that escapes him.

"Looks like the old gods are sleeping on the job tonight," he says, sweeping the coins towards him with a grin. "Better luck next time, Magister."

Hawke's dealt with plenty of men who are unaccustomed to losing -- at this point, he figures he's essentially performing a public service by introducing them to the embarrassment of defeat -- but he pauses when Danarius' eyes narrow, his fingertips flickering red as he taps the table in contemplation.

"One more," Danarius says. "This time for a real prize."

"I don't know," Hawke says, biting down on one of the sovereigns, "all this gold looks pretty real to me."

Danarius smirks. "You should set your sights a little higher."

His hand slides off the table, reaching behind the kneeling slave to grasp the leash hanging from the back of his collar. It's been hours since they started playing and while the slave's wince is expertly concealed, Hawke knows his legs have to be in agony when Danarius yanks him forward.

The slave falters, choking briefly on the collar, but regains his balance as he settles closer, chin almost resting on the wooden table. There are curls of white tattoos on his face, creeping up below his lips, but Hawke's attention lingers on the dark bruise around the slave's eye and the thin cut on his cheek.

He wonders what Danarius hit him with to cause it.

"We play again," Danarius says. "Winner takes him and all the coin from the evening."

Hawke raises his eyebrows. "All the coin? I hate to break it to you, Magister, but I'm not exactly in the market for a slave."

"I'm sure you can find a use for him," Danarius says. His gaze cuts to Varric. "I find elven slaves far more appealing than dwarven ones. So much more supple."

"Hey," Varric cuts in, "I'm plenty appealing, thank you."

"I was expecting a protest about you not being a slave," Hawke points out.

"Yeah," Varric says, "that too."

Danarius ignores him. He runs his hand through the slave's hair, fingers ghosting over the tips of his ears as he says, "I can guarantee he's fully trained and quite talented, if I do say so myself."

Hawke watches in sick fascination as he picks a sliver of cold meat off his dinner plate and pushes it between the slave's obediently parted lips. The slave never looks up as he chews and swallows, just leans in to suck the grease off Danarius' fingers without complaint.

The implication is clear but far from arousal at the prospect of the slave sucking anything of his like that, Hawke mostly just feels the need to ensure the poor guy never has to go through that degrading process again.

"Point taken," Hawke says, averting his eyes as Danarius feeds the slave another scrap from his plate. "But how do I know I'm not getting ripped off here? Is he even worth that many sovereigns?"

"If you station him in a brothel, you could make twice that in a month," Danarius says, and Hawke can't help feeling queasy about how quickly he answered that. "Nevertheless, even if you take him to pieces, he's worth a fortune."

He taps the slave's chin, forcing him to lift his head and bare his bruised neck. "These markings are made of pure lyrium. You carve it out of him, you'd make far more than a hundred sovereigns."

Hawke stares at the intricate patterns disappearing below the slave's armor. "Lyrium? How did you-"

Danarius chuckles. "A long and arduous process." He strokes a finger down the slave's cheek. "For all involved. But as you can see, he is quite a prize." He taps the edges of his cards on the table. "So, Serah Hawke, do we have a wager?"

The slave doesn't look up as Danarius holds the end of his leash in the centre of the table, ready to be laid down as the prize. Given the amount of money at stake, it takes less time than Hawke expects for him to make his choice.

"You have yourself a bet, Magister."

He pushes the coins into the middle of the table, the leather of the leash coiling through them like a snake, and readies himself as Varric deals the cards. High stakes are fairly commonplace -- it's what keeps things interesting, after all -- but usually it's pride on the line rather than an actual person.

Danarius keeps his eyes on Varric's hands while he deals and in turn Hawke keeps his eyes on Danarius' slave. He doesn't look up, barely even seems to register the game going on in front of him, and Hawke tries to ignore his worry that the slave is already too badly broken to be salvaged.

"One," Danarius says, sliding one card across the table for Varric to replace. His face is studiously blank but there's enough confidence in his choice that Hawke's own confidence falters.

His instincts have served him well in the past (except for that one time in Rivain which they don't talk about) and he makes a snap decision as he lays his cards down. "Give me three."

Beside him, the slave swallows but otherwise stays silent as Hawke inspects his new cards.

"After you," Danarius says calmly.

"Oh, no, I insist," Hawke says, frowning at his selection. "Age before beauty, right?"

He flashes Danarius a grin and only smiles wider at the frosty glare he gets in response.

"As you wish," Danarius says. He lays them out one by one, bony fingers moving in the candlelight as he murmurs, "I must thank you for a very enjoyable evening. It's rare I best such a worthy adversary."

He lifts his hand away with a flourish and Hawke purses his lips when he sees the cards running from seven to ten with a Bann to round out the flush.

"What can I say," Hawke shrugs, "I aim to please. Unfortunately, I seem to have fallen short this evening."

He sets his cards out in a line beside Danarius. "That's nine, ten, a Bann, an Arl and a Viscount. Not quite a noble flush but definitely more noble than yours." He beams. "Better luck besting that worthy adversary next time."

Danarius' eyes flash with fury before settling back to ice. There's a tick in the corner of his jaw as he clenches his teeth and Hawke's hand goes to the hilt of his blade rather than to his winnings as he waits to see if Danarius' wounded pride will get the best of him.

Danarius' fingertips crackle red again but fade as he says tightly, "Well played." He stands, drawing himself up to his full height and looking down at Hawke and the still-kneeling slave. "You've certainly earned your reward."

He grips the slave's hair, pulling his head back sharply enough that the slave struggles to keep his eyes lowered. "He's trained as a bodyguard primarily. He could be used for manual labour or basic domestic work as needed but I would certainly recommend taking advantage of his other skills." He smirks at the slave. "Isn't that right, Scorto?"

The slave winces when Danarius pulls on his hair. "Yes, master."

The voice is a surprise, deeper than he was expecting from an elf, and Hawke clears his throat as Danarius lets the slave go. "Is that his name? Scorto?"

Danarius' smile broadens. "It is." He nods his head in a bow that seems more mocking than respectful. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Serah. I do hope you enjoy your winnings."

With one final cold smile, he sweeps out of the tavern, leaving Hawke alone with a tired bartender, a tipsy friend, and a new slave.

Fortunately, Varric is the one who decides to speak up first. "You know, if you'd told me at the start of this trip that we'd be coming home with a slave in tow, I probably would've punched you."

The world wobbles a little as Hawke stands up. "So what's the likelihood of you punching me now?"

Varric shrugs. "Sixty-forty."

"You guys mind moving it along?" the bartender calls. "I'm closing up."

"Sure thing," Varric calls back. "You got any more rooms free?"

"Sorry," the bartender says around a yawn. "You already took my last two." He eyes the slave. "Skinny little thing like him should fit on the couch though."

"Sounds like a plan," Varric says, rolling his shoulders. "Hey, kid, you wanna bunk with me or with this idiot tonight?"

"He kicks, I snore," Hawke adds. "Although I've been told it's very tasteful snoring."

The slave doesn't look up. "Whatever you wish, master."

"All right, bunking with Hawke it is," Varric says cheerfully. "See you both in the morning."

He's off up the stairs before Hawke can protest. The bartender taps his fingers impatiently on the countertop and Hawke crouches down beside his winnings. "Can you look at me?"

The slave obeys and Hawke fails to hide his smile when he gets a proper look at his face. He always did like green eyes.

"I'm going to be honest with you, Scorto," he says, resting his shoulder against the table for support. "I'm pretty drunk right now and this whole 'having a slave' thing is way beyond what I can deal with tonight. I'm happy to just turn you loose with a handful of sovereigns tomorrow if that's what you want but how about we just get some sleep for now, huh? I promise I'm not going to hurt you."

A tiny frown of confusion creases the slave's brow but it soon smoothes out again when he nods. "Yes, master."

"Hawke," he corrects, fumbling to unbuckle the collar strapped around the slave's throat. "Call me Hawke."

"Yes, Hawke." He's pliant under Hawke's hands as Hawke tips his head back to work at the buckle but he lets out a quiet breath of relief when the collar falls away.

"Come on," Hawke says, sliding an arm around his back to help him up. "Your legs have got to be on fire by now. Lean on me as much as you need."

"Master, I don't-"

"Hawke," he says again, mildly. "And don't worry about it. If I can manhandle an angry dwarf, I'm sure I can cope with an elf with leg cramps."

It's a slow process to get up to the bedroom. Scorto's legs give out every couple of steps, his jaw clenching as he tries not to wince at the pain in his muscles. Hawke is pretty sure it would be quicker if he just picked him up and carried him but after watching him be leashed and hand-fed, he'd prefer to spare him any further humiliation, however well-intentioned it may be.

They finally make it upstairs just as the cramps are easing and Hawke lets Scorto limp around on his own two feet as he readies himself for bed. It takes everything he has not to just collapse onto the sheets and fall straight to sleep but as it turns out, a slave standing awkwardly at the foot of his bed is enough of a distraction.

"What's up, Scorto?"

Scorto stills under Hawke's gaze but doesn't look up. "I-" He swallows. "What would you like me to do, Serah?"

"Sleep, ideally." Hawke yawns. The barkeeper's description of the furniture as a couch was a little generous but it looks comfortable enough. "You're welcome to share the bed if you want or you can take the big chair." He rubs his eyes. "Do you need sleep clothes?"

"No, Serah." Scorto shifts awkwardly from foot to foot. "I- May I please use the chamberpot?"

"What?" Hawke blinks. "Maker, yes." Giving up, he slumps back onto the bed as he mutters, "You don't need to ask permission for that. Just go whenever you want."

"I apologise, Serah," Scorto says, formal and utterly sincere, and Hawke buries his face in his pillow with a groan.

"Go to sleep," he mumbles. "We'll talk about it in the morning."

"Yes, master."

Hawke is asleep before he can correct him again.

 

:::

 

Hawke wakes up early the next morning. He takes this as a personal affront and swears bloody revenge on the sun, the Maker, and his own body for their combined cruelty.

His head and mouth both feel unpleasantly fuzzy, and as he clambers out of bed to relieve himself and clean himself up, he keeps his movements as slow and quiet as possible to avoid exacerbating the already vigorous pounding in his head.

Unfortunately, this makes dressing himself a challenge, which is how he ends up standing shirtless in the middle of the room staring dumbly at the sleeping elf on his chair.

Half-convinced the elf was a drunken hallucination (along with the magister, the wager, and the memory of his fingers brushing the buckle of a collar), it takes a moment for him to adjust to his current situation. The elf -- his slave -- is curled up in a position that looks anything but comfortable, bare feet tucked down the side of the chair and knees pulled up to his chin, but he doesn't stir when Hawke inches closer.

"Hey," Hawke says softly, "rise and shine, Scorto."

He reaches out to tap his knee but Scorto opens his eyes before Hawke's fingers brush the material of his leggings. His hair falls in his face as he lifts his head a fraction and Hawke watches in fond amusement as Scorto looks between the bed, the door, and Hawke's own face in sleepy confusion.

The situation goes from endearing to worrying the instant that Scorto's eyes go wide in realisation.

He tumbles from the chair, barely getting his legs underneath him as he thumps down onto his knees at Hawke's feet.

"I'm sorry, master," he says quickly. "I-" He's hunched and tense, eyes fixed on Hawke's bare feet as he bites back his excuses. "How may I serve you?"

Hawke decides that maybe his headache is punishment for making that last wager the previous night.

"All right," he says with a yawn. "We need to set some ground rules."

Scorto freezes at his feet. "Yes, master."

"Rule one, no kneeling," Hawke says. "You can stand up, sit down, whatever you like. You never need to kneel around me or anyone else."

Scorto is silent for a moment but then pushes himself up to his feet. "Yes, m- Hawke."

"You see, you've already got rule two nailed," Hawke says with a grin. "No 'master'ing me. I'm just Hawke."

Scorto nods. "Yes, Hawke."

"Rule three," Hawke continues, on a roll. He can absolutely handle this whole slave business. "You can look at me -- you don't need to keep your eyes on the ground the whole time. I know I have great feet but they'll get too full of themselves if you keep staring at them like that."

"I-" Scorto presses his lips together and looks up at Hawke. "I'm sorry."

"Rule four!" Hawke says, triumphant at having thought of a fourth. "Stop apologising for things you didn't know you shouldn't do. If you accidentally stab me in the face, you can apologise but otherwise there's nothing for you to be sorry for."

The slave nods again and Hawke runs a hand through his hair as he thinks. "Oh, and rule four-and-a-half, I suppose. Don't apologise for sleeping later than me. I would like to sleep later than me today." He yawns again and drums his fingers on his stomach. "Unfortunately we have a boat to catch this morning."

An unreadable expression flits across Scorto's face but he promptly lowers his eyes and keeps his mouth shut.

"Rule six," Hawke says suspiciously. "Or five. I've lost track. You can ask whatever you want. If you're curious or confused or just need something, feel free to just ask -- I'm not going to shout at you for it."

Scorto worries his lip between his teeth for a moment before summoning the courage to ask, "Why are we going on a boat?"

"To get back to Kirkwall," Hawke says, crossing the room to locate his shirt. "Thankfully I don't consider this pisspot masquerading as a city to be my home."

"How long is the voyage?"

"Just a day or two, depending on the weather." He glances back over his shoulder at him as he pulls on his boots. "The captain's a friend of mine." He looks from his own feet to Scorto's. "Wait, do you not have shoes?"

Scorto shrugs. "I don't require shoes, Ser."

"And I don't require those candied pears Varric always finds but my life would be so much emptier without them." He looks Scorto squarely in the eyes in the hopes that he'll know if he's lying. "Would you like shoes?"

"I don't req-" Scorto stops himself and looks down at his bare feet. "No, Hawke."

Hawke honestly has no idea if he's lying but he decides it's far too early in their friendship for him to start blatantly disregarding his wishes.

"If you say so." Dressed, washed, and booted, Hawke begins packing his bag up while Scorto inches over to use the chamberpot and smooth the wrinkles out of his clothes. "Oh, I meant to say: you don't need to come with me if you don't want to."

Scorto's head snaps up. "Ser?"

"I mean, if you hadn't figured it out by now, I'm not exactly experienced with owning slaves." He wrinkles his nose. "Honestly, it's a pretty unpleasant thing to do. I don't want to drag you halfway across the Free Marches against your will but also I have no desire to strand you in this wretched city if you don't want to stay here."

He flashes him a hopeful smile. "It's your call - I'll give you some sovereigns and you can be on your way or you can stick around until Kirkwall and we can figure things out there."

Scorto twists his fingers together. "You wish me to leave?"

"No!" Hawke says quickly. "Well, not unless you want to. Which I'm assuming you do, because…" He waves his hand vaguely in Scorto's direction. "You know. Slavery: not all that great."

Scorto stares at him, uncomprehending, and Hawke adds, "Or you could stay! That's a valid choice too."

Somewhere deep down, he's reassured by the fact that Scorto does actually take a moment to weigh up his options. Hawke almost wants to ask what Scorto's thinking, what's tipping the scales so heavily in favour of continued slavery, but he gives him the time he needs to make his choice.

"May I stay?" Scorto says, voice barely above a whisper. "Please?"

"Yes!" Hawke says. "Not a problem." He smiles. "I know Kirkwall's kind of a shithole but I can promise it's much less of a shithole than here. By most measures, anyway."

There's a definite look of relief on Scorto's face as he gives him a tiny smile. "Thank you, Ser."

"Thank you for what?" Varric asks. The door creaks as it swings the rest of the way open but Varric seems to have made himself comfortable leaning against the doorframe. "Are you being a kind and benevolent master, Hawke?"

Sighing, Hawke decides to come clean. "He may have been thanking me for letting him stay a slave, at least until Kirkwall."

Varric raises his eyebrows.

"There is a strong possibility that I fucked up here," Hawke admits, "but let's focus on the positives: no more creepy magister."

"Every cloud," Varric says dryly. "Are you both ready to go?"

"All set," Hawke says. "Scorto, do you need anything?"

"No, Ser."

"Well, all right." Hawke claps Varric on the shoulder as he leads the way back down the stairs. "Let's go find us a boat."

 

:::

 

"Boat?" Stopping in the middle of the gangplank, Isabela rests her hands on her hips. "I'll have you know that this is a ship, Hawke. A mighty fine one at that."

Varric ducks into an exaggerated bow. "Please forgive this heathen for maligning your fair vessel, my good captain."

Isabela grins and strolls the rest of the way down. "Better."

Behind her, the crew are loading the Siren's Call up with the last of the crates for the voyage. The skies are grey behind them, turning the waters dark and murky, and Hawke lets Isabela steer them off to the side of the dock as she looks them up and down. "Well, it looks like someone's had a successful trip," she says, eyes lingering on Hawke's face. "Although possibly not such a successful evening?"

Hawke narrows his eyes. "Look, not all of us can put away six glasses of Antivan brandy without breaking a sweat."

"Evidently." Isabela's grin is sharp but it softens to a frown when she looks over to where Scorto is all but hiding behind Hawke. "And who's this sweet little thing? Please tell me you didn't stumble into a drunken marriage last night. That's tacky, even for you."

Varric chuckles. "Trust me, Rivaini, marriage will sound classy compared to this."

"Thank you both for your support," Hawke says with a sigh. "I played cards against a magister last night. To cut a long story short, I might have ended up with a slave."

In all his years knowing her, Hawke's never seen Isabela's gaze turn so cold so quickly.

"A slave," she says flatly.

"I know," Hawke says, holding his hands up to pre-empt any accusations. "It's awful and I know that, but I didn't know what else to do. The way his master treated him… I couldn't just leave him there."

"So, what," Isabela says, "you decided to play the kindly slave-owner?"

"I tried freeing him!" Hawke says. He already feels guilty enough about the situation; he doesn't require any external validation to confirm that it was a crappy choice. "He said he wanted to stay until we reached Kirkwall. Come on, Isabela, you know me. You know I'd never want to keep a slave."

Isabela's eyes narrow but Hawke lets out a sigh of relief when she finally steps back and relents, "Fine. Two of you can sleep in the spare cabin and one of you can stay with me; I've got a full crew and no spare berths."

She rounds on Hawke. "You look after him," she says firmly, before lapsing into a reluctant smile. "And if you cause any trouble with my crew, you can swim back to Kirkwall."

Hawke salutes. "Ser, yes, Ser."

"I believe it's 'Captain, yes, Captain'." Varric says. "Maybe with some 'Oh my's thrown in there for good measures." He hoists his bag up on his shoulder and gives Scorto a nudge. "C'mon, kid, let's get you settled in. Give Hawke and the captain some time to get reacquainted."

Scorto hesitates for a second but doesn't protest. Hawke watches Varric lead him up onto the ship, weaving their way across the bustling deck to where their cabin awaits. Varric says something to Scorto, glancing back over at Hawke, and Hawke calls across the ship, "You can room with the captain if you want? Scorto can sleep with me."

The two deckhands by the mast start sniggering, whispering between themselves as they look over at Scorto, and Hawke scrubs a hand over his face as he replays his less than stellar phrasing.

"I mean Scorto can stay with me," he calls again. "Platonically. In the same cabin."

The laughter from the two deckhands only gets louder. Varric waves him away, shepherding Scorto inside the cabin, and Hawke makes a mental note to apologise to Scorto later.

"So," he says, turning back to Isabela, "when Varric says reacquainted…"

He trails off. Isabela has a face like thunder and Hawke is pretty sure the sky actually darkens when she says through gritted teeth, "What the fuck did you just call him?"

"Who, Scorto?"

The flat of her hand collides hard with his cheek before Hawke even sees it coming.

"Ow!" He staggers back, hand to his stinging cheek. "What was that for?"

"What-" Isabela frowns. "Please tell me you're joking. I mean, it would be a terrible joke but it's better than you being this stupid."

"Not joking." Hawke rubs his face. "Probably stupid. What's wrong? Did I do something to Scorto?"

Isabela presses her lips together. "You really don't know what that means?"

"His old master said that was his name," Hawke says, lost. "Is it not?"

"Not anymore," Isabela says firmly. "You're going to go in that cabin and get him to tell you what it means, and then you're never going to call him it again on my ship. Understood?"

Hawke swallows. "Isabela, I'm sorry. I- Can you just tell me what it means? Whatever it is, I swear I didn't know."

"Nope." She folds her arms across her chest. "Consider this a lesson in communicating with your slave."

"Got it." He backs up towards the gangplank as he says, "I'm really sorry."

"I'm not the one you should be apologising to," Isabela says. "We're setting sail soon. Come and find me when you have an actual name to call him."

She turns away, bending to pick up one of the last crates, and Hawke heads for the ship. He tries to remember if he's ever heard 'scorto' in another context but by the time he reaches their cabin, his best (and only) guess is the Tevinter equivalent of 'knife-ear'.

He knocks on the door and waits for Varric's response before poking his head inside. The cabin is relatively spacious as these things go, with a decent sized bed and a small chest which Scorto is filling neatly with Hawke's things.

"Well, I'd ask if everything went okay," Varric says, "but since I can see the imprint of Isabela's ring on your face, I'm guessing it didn't."

"That would be a safe bet," Hawke says. "Do you mind giving us a minute alone?"

Scorto looks up, clearly expecting to be told to leave, but he blinks when Varric walks to the door. "No problem," Varric says, and then, more to Scorto than to Hawke, "Shout if you need anything."

"Thanks," Hawke says. He nudges the door shut behind Varric and keeps his voice low as he approaches Scorto. "Can we talk?"

Scorto turns to face him, offering up his full attention with painful obedience. "Yes, Ser."

"What does 'scorto' mean in Tevene?"

Scorto's eyes go wide. He looks away quickly but can't lower his head enough to hide the embarrassed blush that colours his cheeks. "I don't-"

"Just tell me," Hawke says. "I won't be angry at you -- I just really need to know."

Scorto swallows hard. "Master, please…"

His voice is thick with shame and despite his better judgement, Hawke can't help but hate Isabela a little bit for pushing them both to this point.

"Tell me," Hawke says.

He doesn't like making it an order but it seems to do the trick. Scorto straightens up, cheeks still red in humiliation as he meets Hawke's eyes.

"It means 'whore', Ser."

It takes a few long moments of Hawke opening and closing his mouth for any actual sound to come out. "Whore."

Scorto looks down. "Yes, Ser?"

"Shit, no, I wasn't-" Hawke sighs. "I didn't mean to call you that." He sinks to a seat on the bed and nods to the chest. "Sit down. Please."

The slave perches on the closed chest, and Hawke decides to start from the beginning. "So when Danarius called you 'scorto', he was just being a dick? That isn't your real name?"

The slave gives a tiny shrug. "You can call me whatever you like, Ser."

"What I'd like is to be able to call you by your actual name," Hawke points out. "What did Danarius call you?"

"He called me Fenris, Ser," the slave says. "If I had another name before that, I don't remember it."

"That's a start," Hawke says. "What does that mean?"

The slave purses his lips but the lack of reddened cheeks is a definite step in the right direction. "It means 'little wolf'." He flexes his lyrium-covered hands and Hawke watches the tattoos shimmer in the light. "Danarius felt it suited me."

"And what about you?" Hawke asks. "Do you think it suits you or would you rather pick a different name?"

The slave looks at him in surprise. "You don't wish to call me 'Scorto'?"

"I would really like to call you anything that isn't 'Scorto'," Hawke says honestly. "My only naming criteria at this point is 'something that isn't horrendously inappropriate'."

The slave ponders for a moment before saying hopefully, "I prefer Fenris, Ser."

"Excellent choice," Hawke says with a grin. He stands and holds his hand out. "It's good to meet you, Fenris."

Fenris' eyes flit between Hawke's hand and face, clearly watching for a trap, but Hawke's grin widens when he finally reaches out to accept the handshake. "Hawke."

Chapter Text

"His name's Fenris," Hawke says, leaning against the doorframe to Isabela's cabin. "It means 'little wolf' and he says that's the name he prefers."

Isabela glances over her shoulder at him. "I take it you're not expecting applause for figuring out what you should call the person you own."

Hawke shrugs. "Maybe a light pat on the back."

The bad joke has the intended effect as Isabela thaws a little, turning around to look at him fully. "And you found out what 'scorto' means in Tevene?"

"I did." Hawke grimaces. "I promise I had no idea. His master called him that and I just figured it was his name." He clears his throat. "I haven't- I mean, we haven't…"

"Again, you'll forgive me for holding back on the congratulations," Isabela says. She leans back against the table, arms folded across her chest. "I honestly thought that fort would be the stupidest thing you won in a card game."

Hawke smiles at the memory. "That was a great week."

Isabela rolls her eyes but can't quite hide her smirk. "You've outdone yourself this time though. I mean, snaking a maltreated slave out from under a magister? That couldn't possibly end badly."

Hawke raises his eyebrows. "You're complaining about me freeing him?"

"I'm complaining about you keeping him," Isabela says. "It's not like you're taking in a stray cat, Hawke -- you can't just pet him until he likes you."

"I can't?"

She shakes her head with a smile. "Just look after him, idiot. And look after yourself too -- I don't want to hear from Varric that you've been knifed in your sleep."

"Oh, good idea!" Hawke says, perking up. "His old master said Fenris was his bodyguard -- I should find out what weapon he prefers. Maybe he'll feel safer if he has a dagger or something."

"That's not what I-" Trailing off, Isabela opens and closes her mouth before settling on a shrug. "You know, some days I'm honestly surprised you're still alive."

Hawke grins. "All down to my dashing good looks, I assure you." His eyebrows pull together as he glances out at the ship through Isabela's cabin window. "You don't know where Fenris went, do you?"

Isabela gives him a despairing look.

"I should probably be the one who knows that," Hawke concedes. "What with me owning him." He shuffles back to the door. "I'm just going to go and wander around your ship for a while. For fun. Definitely not because I lost my slave." He clears his throat. "I'll see you later."

He hears Isabela sigh behind him. Sighing is a fairly common reaction among his friends at this stage in his life and so Hawke's mostly learned to tune it out. He makes a quick circuit of the bustling ship, poking his head into his own cabin and peering up to the crow's nest, but when his search doesn't yield results, he heads below deck in search of Fenris.

The mess hall and the crew's quarters are both empty and as he makes his way down into the quieter storage rooms at the far end of the ship, Hawke wonders if he missed something or if Fenris already jumped overboard to spare himself the awkwardness of having Hawke as his temporary master.

He's about to admit defeat and start his search afresh when he hears a muffled grunt from the far storage room. It's followed by quiet laughter, two voices muttering something that Hawke can't make out through the wood of the door, but he catches the tail-end of a question as he gets closer.

"-that right, scorto?"

The question's answered by a pained plea and Hawke's through the door before he can stop himself.

He's peripherally aware he may have broken a latch in the process but can't bring himself to care when he sees Fenris on his knees in the corner of the cramped room. He recognises the two men standing over him as the deckhands who'd laughed when they'd first boarded the ship and guilty rage flares up when he sees that one of them has a hand fisted in Fenris' hair while the other has his belt unbuckled.

"Get your hands off him," Hawke says, distantly surprised at how calm he sounds. "Or I cut them off, throw them overboard, and let you scrub the decks with your feet."

The man holding Fenris lets go quickly, stumbling backwards as they both offer explanations.

"We weren't-"

"We figured he's-"

Hawke grits his teeth. "I'm going to be honest with you, I'm pretty close to just killing you both right now so it's probably not the best idea to come to me with some bullshit justification. Get out. Now."

Their expressions darken but they're apparently smart enough not to argue as they hurry out past Hawke without a word. It doesn't do much to quell his urge to bludgeon them both to death with the nearest crate but when he finds himself faced with a kneeling Fenris, it's easy enough to box his anger up for another time.

He doesn't look too badly hurt, although from the way he curls his arm across his stomach at least one punch or kick was aimed there. There's a cut on his lip and a smear of blood on his chin but he flinches when Hawke reaches down to wipe it away.

"Easy," Hawke says. "It's just me."

"I'm sorry."

The response is reflexive and Hawke sighs.

"You don't have anything to be sorry for," he says, slipping his arm around Fenris' back as he helps him up to sit on the nearest barrel. "Are you all right? Did they hurt you?

Fenris shakes his head and wipes absently at the blood on his chin. "I'm well, Ser."

"I- You don't have to do that," Hawke says firmly. "I know what your old master called you but that's not- I don't want that. If you want to have a fumble with a sailor in a storeroom, by all means, knock yourself out, but no-one should be touching you if you don't want them to."

"You don't want me to obey your friends?" Fenris asks, and Hawke's a tiny bit reassured by how hopeful he sounds.

"If they're trying to force you into that, they're not my friends," Hawke says firmly. "But no, you don't need to obey anyone anymore. And if anybody takes issue with that, they'll have to deal with me." He smiles. "I hear I have a very intimidating glare."

Fenris nods, digesting the new rules, and Hawke settles on a barrel next to him. "Can I ask you something?"

Fenris' eyes dart up in surprise. "Yes, Hawke."

"Danarius said you were trained as a bodyguard," Hawke says. "You must've dealt with guys like that all the time. Worse even -- I can't imagine Danarius was short of powerful enemies. What happened this time? Did you just freeze up?" Fenris looks down and Hawke backtracks. "Not that it's a problem if you did. I just…"

"The captain said not to cause trouble with her crew," Fenris says quietly, "and they posed no threat to you. I had no reason to fight them."

"I can think of a couple," Hawke mutters. Fenris shrinks in on himself at the implied failure and Hawke reaches out to put a hand on his knee. "Just for the record, defending yourself is a perfectly good reason to fight people. Anyone touches you without your permission, you are completely allowed to punch them."

Remembering what he actually came there for, Hawke leans in closer. "Oh, which reminds me: do you mostly stick with punching or do you have a weapon you prefer? We can pick up a bow or something for you in Kirkwall if you want."

"I was trained with most weapons," Fenris says, "but Danarius usually had me carry a greatsword."

"Greatsword, huh?" Hawke shrugs. "I think I can manage that. Do you usually prefer one that's taller than you or about the same height?"

Fenris frowns and Hawke grins. "I'm kidding, Fenris. If it's a greatsword you want, a greatsword you shall have. When we get to Kirkwall," he adds. "I don't exactly have any giant swords stashed in my bags."

"I- Thank you," Fenris says. "I'll serve you well with it."

"I don't doubt it," Hawke says, pushing himself to his feet. "But until then, I'd really like it if you served yourself some lunch instead." He holds his arm out for Fenris to take. "Shall we?"

Fenris stares at him like he's grown a second head but eventually stands and accepts Hawke's offered arm.

Hawke decides to take it as a win.

 

:::

 

They make it the whole way to sunset without any major Fenris-related incidents. He slips away as soon as they get to the mess hall but Hawke manages to keep track of him from a distance during lunch and during the long, slow afternoon aboard the ship.

Fenris seems content enough as these things go, darting between the kitchen and the mess hall, and then mingling with the crew late into the evening to hoist the sails, swab the decks, and other ship-related tasks Hawke doesn't pay that much attention to. With the two troublesome deckhands cowed by Hawke and hauled over the coals by Isabela, the rest of the crew don't seem to have any problem with a quasi-slave in their midst and Hawke's pretty sure he sees Fenris crack a smile at two separate points during the afternoon.

By the time evening rolls around, the crew are tired but happy as they settle around the tables for dinner. On Hawke's left, Varric is building up to his punchline in the story about the Orlesian donkey but Hawke tunes him out when he catches sight of Fenris down the narrow hallway leading away from the mess hall.

It's too dark to make out any details but it doesn't take much to fill in the blanks when he sees two men crowd Fenris up against the wall. Hawke's on his feet in an instant, ready to intervene, but when one of the men reaches up to stroke Fenris' cheek, Hawke is utterly unprepared for the sudden burst of blue light that follows.

Fenris' entire body seems to ignite, hands, legs, even his face glowing white in the dark of the hallway. A hushed silence spreads through the gathered sailors as they take notice but that silence turns to stunned gasps when Fenris seemingly plunges his hand through the chest of one of the men.

The man bellows in pain, clutching at the arm in his chest in disbelief, and Hawke hears Fenris say coldly, "Feel that? Put your hands on me again and I rip it out."

"All right!" the man begs. "Fuck, please-"

Fenris' fist slides out as easily as it went in. Beside him, Hawke catches Isabela's stunned murmur of "Maker's arse" before the deckhand collapses to the ground, hand to his chest and breath ragged.

"Go," Fenris orders, nodding to the man's friend. In the dimming blue glow, the guy looks to be on the verge of wetting himself as he grabs his friend by the shirt and drags him away as fast as he can. Fenris watches them go, flexing his fingers as the glow fades, and then turns back to the mess hall.

Where he is promptly stared at by a room of flabbergasted pirates.

From the way Fenris' eyes go wide, he clearly didn't intend for that display to be so public. He shifts his weight, eyes darting around the room like he's expecting an attack from all sides, and he physically flinches back when a stocky guy at the head of one table lets out a whoop of appreciation.

More cheers follow -- from the appreciative shouts, Hawke wasn't the only one who disliked those two deckhands -- and Fenris' cheeks turn red as applause and laughter ripple around the room. His eyes lock on Hawke's for a moment, wide and lost, but before Hawke can make any move to reassure him, he bolts.

The applause tapers off as the crew go back to their food and Hawke stays frozen in place as Isabela leans across him to whisper to Varric. "Did you know he could do that?"

"News to me," Varric says, downing his ale and giving Hawke a nudge. "I told you this was a bad idea."

"You never told me this was a bad idea," Hawke says, clambering over him and snatching his bread roll as he goes.

"Didn't I?" Varric shrugs. "You have so many bad ideas. I lose track."

"You're such good friends." Taking off up the stairs after Fenris, he calls back over his shoulder, "Don't eat my chicken!"

It's dark when he makes it up onto the deck, the sea stretching out ahead of them under a cloudy night sky. Torches blaze on the deck in the darkness and it doesn't take him long to make out a slim silhouette against the lapping waves.

Fenris' legs dangle between the slats lining the sides of the deck, his bare heels swinging against the wood of the ship as he stares out across the water. He doesn't look up when Hawke approaches, but offers up an apology before Hawke can even figure out how to start the conversation. "I'm sorry, master."

The wind is cold where it whips across the deck and Hawke feels Fenris shiver when he drops to a seat beside him, sliding his legs through the slats as well to hang above the water. He tears the bread roll into uneven halves and passes Fenris the larger one. "Here."

Fenris looks at him in surprise but takes it nonetheless. When Hawke tears off a chunk and pops it in his mouth, Fenris follows his lead and Hawke watches the way his white-lined fingers dig into the soft roll. "So that's lyrium, huh?"

"Yes, master."

"Hawke," he corrects absently. "Do they hurt?"

Fenris curls his empty hand into a fist to make the lyrium shimmer on his knuckles. "Sometimes."

"Now?"

Fenris gives a tiny shrug and Hawke nods. "How badly?"

"Less," Fenris says with certainty. "Some days I can hardly feel it."

"I'm guessing it can't be reversed?" Hawke asks. "At least not in a horribly unpleasant way involving knives."

If he didn't know better, he would swear Fenris smiles at that. "No," he says, staring out at the sea, "they're there until someone rips them from my flesh."

"And they give you powers?" Hawke says. "Like the glowing and the…" He mimes punching a hole through someone's body, complete with squelchy sound effects. "You know."

"I don't know that I'd describe them in that way," Fenris says. It's as close to backtalk as he's got so far and his eyes stay locked on Hawke's face as he watches for any repercussions. "But yes. They give me abilities which my m- Danarius valued in a bodyguard."

"It was certainly impressive from where I was sitting," Hawke says. "Did you get a chance to use them much? I'm guessing plenty of people wanted Danarius dead."

Fenris' lips quirk up in what could barely be classed as a smile. "I had occasion to defend him," he says, measured as ever, "but the markings were used for conducting demonstrations as often as for dealing with genuine threats."

"Demonstrations?"

"Fights," Fenris clarifies. "Against mages, soldiers, slaves, demons, whomever Danarius wished to see me best."

"Demons?" Hawke winces. "I'm sorry. That sounds awful."

Fenris glances at him in surprise. His face is lit orange by the flicker of torches on deck but the lyrium in his skin remains a ghostly white. "I- It was tolerable."

Hawke leans forward, resting his temple against the wood of the railings. "You liked the fighting?"

Fenris shrugs. "I learned to take pleasure in small freedoms. Being displayed in combat was preferable to being displayed on the end of a leash."

"I was kind of hoping the leash was a one-off," Hawke admits. "There goes that theory."

Fenris frowns. "What theory?"

"That Danarius was only eighty percent terrible," Hawke says. "From the sounds of it, he's firmly at the one hundred percent level, although I may be persuaded to lower that to ninety-nine if I find out he really likes dogs."

"He always found them unclean," Fenris says. "He preferred pets which were more… controllable."

A tremor runs through his hands as he speaks and Hawke swallows, piecing together the extent of Fenris' place in Danarius' household.

"Well, in that case he's sticking at a solid one hundred," Hawke says.

Fenris doesn't look up and Hawke reaches out to rest a hand on his shoulder as he says quietly, "You don't ever need to go back to him, I promise. I mean, you're a free man as far as I'm concerned."

Fenris shivers, not taking his eyes off the waves, and Hawke puts a little more space between them as he asks, "Are you cold? That armour doesn't look particularly windproof."

"I'm fi-" Fenris begins but looks over in surprise when Hawke shrugs off his coat.

He's got more than enough layers on that the cold wind is an annoyance at best and the slight chill is more than worth enduring to see the stunned look on Fenris' face when he drapes the coat over his shoulders.

"Hawke, I don't-"

"Call it a loan," Hawke says, "just until we get to Kirkwall and buy you some new clothes." He frowns. "Well, I can give you money and you can buy yourself new clothes. I'm not going to force you to dress only in elaborate scarves or anything."

Fenris stares.

"Did I mention I'm bad at this whole slave thing?" Hawke says sheepishly. "The sooner we get to Kirkwall and get you properly freed, the better."

Fenris still looks perplexed but burrows further into the warmth of Hawke's coat nonetheless. It's too big on him -- too big on Hawke if he's honest -- with a decadent feathery collar which brushes the bottom of Fenris' ears as he huddles into the coat.

His bare feet dangle over the water, lyrium glinting in the darkness. Silence settles for a long moment, broken only by the rumble of noise from below deck and the steady sweep of waves against wood, and Hawke finds himself relaxing as he stares up at the stars.

"Hawke?" The question comes as a surprise and Hawke glances over as Fenris asks nervously, "Have I done something to displease you?"

"What?"

"I- I've tried to obey," Fenris says, shivering despite the coat. "I know you didn't want me but I can help. I can serve you, however you wish."

"Whoa," Hawke says, lost, "slow down. Why are you worried about displeasing me?"

"You keep talking about disposing of me," Fenris says, hunching in on himself even more. "I know you don't like slaves, Ser, but I can be of use."

"I don't not like slaves," Hawke says. "I just don't like having them. Or anyone else having them for that matter." He sighs. "Fenris, I want to free you, not dispose of you."

"Why?" It's almost defensive, as though the idea has offended him somehow. "No magister would rid himself of valuable property for no reason, not unless it was defective."

"Well, fortunately for both of us, I'm not a magister," Hawke says with a half-hearted attempt at levity, "and you're definitely not property."

Fenris shakes his head. "You own me."

"I don't want to own you!" Hawke says. "Maker, I can barely keep myself alive most days, let alone be responsible for someone else's life."

Fenris opens and closes his mouth. Frustration pours off him, fingers tangled together in his lap, and Hawke inches closer as he says, "I'm not just going to throw you out on the streets, if that's what you're worried about. I can give you money -- I can even help you find a job if that's what you need -- but I don't want to keep owning you, Fenris." He watches his face closely for his reaction as he asks, "Do you believe me?"

Fenris won't meet his eyes. His silence is enough of an answer and Hawke takes a moment to digest it. Despite spending most of his life snaking people's money out from under them, he's surprisingly hurt (but not altogether shocked) that Fenris doesn't trust his promises of freedom.

"Okay," Hawke says, careful to keep his tone light, "I guess trustworthiness is something for me to work on then."

"I don't understand," Fenris admits quietly. "I know you say you want to free me but I'm a slave. I'm your slave -- I'm yours to command -- and yet you've asked nothing of me." The torchlight catches his black eye when he looks over at him. "I don't understand how to please you."

Another piece of the puzzle finally clicks into place as Hawke says bluntly, "And you're scared that you'll be punished if you don't please me."

From the way Fenris' curls in on himself, Hawke can tell he's hit the nail on the head. In retrospect, it's an embarrassingly obvious conclusion and Hawke runs his hand through his hair with a sigh.

He's not entirely sure a quasi-hug is an appropriate response but it's late and he's got nothing else in him. Fenris tenses as Hawke shuffles closer, markings flaring up for a heartbeat before fading again, but his wide eyes soon narrow in bemusement when Hawke wraps an arm around his shoulders.

He's skinny, even with the padding of Hawke's coat, and he shivers when Hawke tucks him in close, green eyes peeking through white hair as Hawke rubs soothing circles on his back.

"I know it's asking a lot to believe I want to free you," Hawke says, "so what do you say we start smaller? I didn't punish you for anything yesterday, right?"

Fenris' brow crinkles in a frown. "No?"

"And I didn't punish you for anything today either."

"You didn't," Fenris agrees.

"So how about we go out on a limb and assume I'm not going to punish you for anything tomorrow, no matter what you do?" Hawke suggests. "Do you think you could get on board with that?"

Fenris stares at him for a long moment before giving a serious little nod. "Yes, Hawke."

"Excellent," Hawke says with a smile. "Baby steps." Fenris leans into him a fraction as the wind picks up and Hawke clarifies, "Just for the record, I don't ever intend to punish you for anything -- beating people isn't really my thing -- but I appreciate it may be asking too much for you to believe that yet."

Fenris' lips twitch up in a smile and Hawke grins in return. "What's that for?"

"I didn't expect you to be so kind," Fenris admits.

"They don't call me Serah Kind for no reason," Hawke says cheerfully.

Fenris looks downright skeptical and Hawke yields, "All right, they mostly call me 'Hey, you son of a bitch!' but that's usually because they just lost to me at cards." He purses his lips. "Or because I stole some of their breakfast. You can never tell with these things."

Fenris definitely smiles at that. Hawke resists the urge to celebrate as he pats him on the back. "So, now that we've established that no-one is getting punished in the near future, what do you want to do now?" He pulls one leg back through the railings, wiggling his toes to get feeling back into his foot. "I'm going to head back down to salvage what's left of my dinner but you could stay out here or just head up to bed, whatever you feel like."

"I'd like to stay," Fenris says, looking up as Hawke staggers to his feet, "if it's permitted."

"No problem. You know where I'll be if you need anything."

Fenris shrugs the coat off but Hawke holds his hand up. "Keep it. The mess hall's warmer than up here. Anyway, it looks much more endearing on you."

Fenris raises his eyebrows. "Endearing."

Hawke edges back towards the mess hall. "In the least patronising sense of the word?"

Fenris' unconvinced look is also very endearing and Hawke coughs into his fist as he says, "I'm just going to- Y'know. Eat. Down there." He clears his throat. "Have a good evening, Fenris."

He'd bet that Fenris' gaze stays on him the whole way back down to dinner but as great as the temptation is to glance back and check, Hawke decides this is one wager he probably shouldn't take.

 

 

:::

 

Despite his earlier request, most of his chicken has mysteriously disappeared by the time Hawke makes it back downstairs. Isabela and Varric swear their innocence and back it up with a couple of mugs of truly terrible ale which is more than enough to loosen Hawke up for the evening.

After the stress of a day spent as an unwitting slave-owner, Hawke's more than happy to kick back and by the time he strolls back to his cabin, he means that in the most literal way. The allure of the bed -- a solid one, not the dubious hammock he slept in on his last voyage -- is strong but he comes to an unsteady stop when he sees his coat in a crumpled heap at the foot of the bed with a tuft of white hair poking out from beneath it.

"Fenris?"

Going by the time it takes him to respond, Fenris was fast asleep. Even so, he pushes himself up to his knees out of instinct and says sleepily, "Master?"

As bad as Hawke feels about waking him, the thought of him sleeping on the hard floor with just Hawke's coat for warmth is not an acceptable alternative.

It's easy enough to guess what Fenris' logic will have been -- that's where Danarius had me sleep, master, I couldn't take your bed, master, I don't mind sleeping on the floor, master -- but Hawke is too tired and too full of ale to unravel that many of Fenris' knots this late in the evening.

"Get in the bed, Fenris," he says with a sigh. "There's more than enough room for two."

Fenris blinks, still half-asleep. "I thought-"

"Don't make me carry you," Hawke says. "I will do it." He considers his sobriety or lack thereof. "Or I will at least attempt it. It could end badly. Please don't make me attempt it."

Fenris is on his feet in an instant. "Yes, Hawke."

He follows obediently when Hawke takes his hand and leads him around to the other side of the bed. Flipping back the blanket, Hawke gives Fenris a nudge in the right direction and orders, "Stay. Sleep."

Fenris looks suspicious but complies. He's down to his leggings and a sleeveless top and Hawke takes a moment to process how far up Fenris' arms the swirls of his markings travel. He's too tired to pry further and instead lets the blanket settle over Fenris before stepping away to strip off his own clothes and pull on his sleep pants.

He can feel Fenris' eyes on him as he slides into bed beside him, but he resists the urge to look over as he closes his eyes with a yawn. "Night, Fenris."

In retrospect, Fenris' silence should have been a sign that something was amiss but it isn't until the bed dips and Fenris' weight settles on his hips that Hawke realises what the problem is.

Fenris' lips are on his before Hawke can open his eyes, an odd mix of practised and tentative, and Hawke makes a muffled noise of surprise. Fenris is straddling him, cold hands resting on his shoulders and hips angled to rub up against him in just the right way, and Hawke groans as he wraps his hands around Fenris' upper arms and shoves him back.

The glow of Fenris' markings flicker and fade in confusion. He looks downright wounded by the rejection which does nothing to help Hawke maintain his resolve that this is a bad plan.

"This is a bad plan," he announces, and is immediately disappointed when saying it out loud doesn't make it any more convincing.

Fenris doesn't move, just sits there looking sad and gorgeous and lost, and Hawke scrubs his hand over his face. Maybe he had more ale than he thought.

"Okay, no," he says. With one hand on Fenris' hip, it's easy enough to propel him back over to his side of the bed.

Fenris bounces when he lands and Hawke props himself up, ready to pre-empt the inevitable offers of sex and servitude. "The only thing you're in this bed to do is sleep," he says. "I'm not going to fuck you. I don't know how much clearer I can be about that."

He's pretty sure Fenris would look less stunned if Hawke just slapped him across the face.

"Which is not to say you're not attractive," Hawke says quickly. "I mean, you're handsome and I absolutely have a type but…" He fumbles for the second half of that sentence and, coming up blank, falls back on the familiar. "…this is a bad plan."

"So you said."

There's a tiny smirk on Fenris' lips but it's enough to make Hawke feel marginally less terrible about the situation.

"Well, as a rule, I try to avoid bad plans," he explains. "Admittedly, I'm not always successful but it's the intention that counts. So how about we just go to sleep and never speak of this again?" He swallows. "To anyone. Especially Isabela."

Fenris nods. "Yes, Hawke."

"Excellent." He settles back down on the pillow with a yawn. "Feel free to kick me if I snore."

"Yes, Hawke," Fenris says with possibly an unwarranted amount of enthusiasm.

Hawke laughs as Fenris stretches out next to him, as far away as the bed will allow, and reaches over to pat him on the shoulder. "Sleep well."

Fenris' brow furrows and as Hawke rolls over and closes his eyes, he can't help but wonder if that's the first time anyone's ever wished Fenris a good night's sleep.

Chapter Text

It's late in the afternoon by the time they make it back to Kirkwall.

After an awkward encounter in the morning consisting of Fenris trying to help Hawke get dressed and Hawke doing his very best to stop him, Hawke doesn't see much of him one-on-one during the day. It's hard to miss the brightness of Fenris' hair against the dull grey of the surrounding sea but whenever Hawke looks, he's keeping himself busy and out of trouble and so he decides not to intervene further.

Kirkwall is a flying visit at best for the Siren's Call -- Hawke isn't sure the ship even stops moving while they climb off. Isabela gives all three of them a kiss on the cheek as they depart, with an extra slap on the ass for Varric, a pat on the cheek for Fenris, and a flick to the ear for Hawke, before she hustles them off the ship, tossing their bags behind them with a promise to stay in touch.

The walk back to Hightown is a pleasant change from the rocking of the sea and by the time they're settled in Hawke's mansion with a fire blazing and the pile of winnings divided between them, it feels like he never left.

"And finally there's the money from the magister," Varric says, laying out the last stacks of coins. "Not counting your stake, there's a solid fifty sovereign profit here. Less my cut, of course."

"Of course," Hawke agrees, watching Varric add ten more coins to his pile. "Fenris, you can take the rest."

Fenris sits up, evidently surprised at being addressed. "The rest?"

"The other forty coins from your old master," Hawke says. "I'd say you earned them more than we did." He looks to Varric. "Is forty enough?"

"Call it fifty," Varric says, passing Fenris his cut too. "That should be plenty to get you set up in the city or to travel to wherever you want to go."

"You're giving me coin?" Fenris asks, stunned.

"Well, yes," Hawke says. "You're a free man as far as I'm concerned. You're more than entitled to your share of ill-gotten gains."

Varric prods his thigh with his boot. "Ill-gotten my ass. We won those fair and square."

"In that case, you're entitled to your share of completely legitimate gains which are in no way morally dubious."

"Better," Varric says, counting his own coins.

Fenris looks down at the money. "Do you wish me to leave?"

"Maker, not right now," Hawke says with a sigh. "You can stay as long as you like but please do take the money. I'm not going to set you free with just the clothes on your back."

"Speaking of which," Varric says, plucking at Fenris' leggings, "how about you find the nice elf some spare clothes, Hawke? No-one wants to smell like Isabela's ship for longer than they have to."

Hawke wrinkles his nose. His skin feels tight from the salt-spray of the last two days and he grimaces when he runs a hand through his equally grimy hair. "We should probably bathe first."

"I wasn't going to say anything but now that you mention it, bathing should probably be high on your priority list." Varric pushes himself to his feet, purse newly laden with coin, and pats Hawke on the shoulder. "Don't forget to clean between your toes this time." He looks at Fenris. "Don't let him forget to clean between his toes."

"My toes are fine," Hawke protests.

Varric only chuckles as he heads for the door. "Have a good night!"

The front door closes behind him and Hawke looks over at Fenris. "My toes really are fine."

Fenris smiles a little. "I'll take your word for it."

Hawke grins. "Then you're already ahead of Varric on that front." He groans as he stands up, already too accustomed to the comfort of his favourite chair. "Come on, let's see if I have anything elf-sized in my wardrobe."

Fenris follows him up the stairs, the stacks of coins forgotten by the fire as Hawke speaks to fill the silence, "I suppose Orana's stuff would fit you but unless you have a secret preference for large skirts, you're probably going to be more comfortable in something of mine."

"I-" Fenris clears his throat. "I would prefer no skirts."

Hawke laughs. "I think I can manage that." Most of his clothes are in his bags, worn and dirty from the trip, but he rummages through his chest to locate an old shirt and the tightest pair of trousers he can find. He tosses them both in Fenris' direction with the instruction, "Try these. I think I have some spare smallclothes in here too."

Behind him, Fenris obediently begins to disrobe and Hawke keeps his eyes averted as he digs deeper into the chest for some smallclothes that will fit him. He lets out a noise of triumph when his fingers brush silk and he fishes them out before turning to Fenris with a smile. "Here you g-"

He trails off at the sight of him. Fenris is half-naked, with Hawke's shirt in his hands and the old trousers riding low on his hips, but it's the markings which hold Hawke's attention. They cover his whole torso, intricate loops and swirls tracking over his stomach and hips and dipping down below the waistband of his trousers in a way that only makes Hawke want to see the rest of them.

Fenris shifts nervously in front of him, shirt held to his chest, and Hawke blinks back to reality. His cheeks heat at the realisation that he was staring and he offers the smallclothes to Fenris by way of an apology. "I, uh- These might fit you."

Taking the smallclothes, Fenris turns away to finish dressing. The shimmer of markings all down his back comes as no surprise but Hawke's eyes widen when the candlelight reveals more than just brands on Fenris' skin.

"What in the name of-"

Catching Fenris by the arm, Hawke pulls him around to let the light fall across his back. The wounds are uglier up close, swollen welts crisscrossing Fenris' shoulders and ribs with more visible just above the fabric of his trousers, and Hawke steps back, wiping his hand over his mouth in shock.

"Maker, Fenris, what happened to you? Who did this?"

Fenris' shoulders are tense, like he's expecting Hawke to pull out a switch and add to the mess on his back, but he doesn't move from the position Hawke pulled him into as he says, "I didn't- I disobeyed. Danarius corrected me."

"He-" Hawke swallows, trying not to look at the dried blood on Fenris' skin. "I'm sorry," he says. It's pitifully inadequate when faced with the evidence of Danarius' corrections but Fenris seems to relax a little nonetheless.

"Wait," Hawke says, rolling the days back in his mind, "you've been like this since we met?" He thinks of Fenris kneeling in the tavern, sleeping on a cramped chair, straddling Hawke in bed, carrying one of Hawke's bags on his back less than two hours ago. He feels sick. "Why didn't you say something?"

"It wasn't my place," Fenris says, almost too low to hear. "They'll heal."

"That's not the point, Fenris," Hawke says, inspecting the welts again. "Some of them look infected -- we need to get you to a healer. Are there any more?" he asks, moving around to face him. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"Hawke, you don't need-"

"To worry about you being injured? I'm fairly certain I do," Hawke says. It comes out harsher than he intended and he sighs when Fenris shrinks back, expecting a blow. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm not angry at you. I'm angry at the bastard who did this to you."

Fenris looks down, still holding the shirt to his chest as he says quietly, "I- They go lower. Down to my thighs."

He sounds ashamed, like being whipped bloody is a personal failing rather than something that should never have been done to him.

Tamping down his anger, Hawke steps in closer and rests his hand on Fenris' shoulder as he says, "This isn't your fault, you understand that, right?"

Fenris won't look at him. "I disobeyed my-"

"This isn't your fault," Hawke says again, more firmly. "Now, no more suffering in silence. Go lie down on the bed -- you can keep your smallclothes on if you'd feel more comfortable -- and I'll help you get those wounds cleaned up once I've sent for a healer."

He isn't sure what Fenris looks more horrified by: Hawke getting him a healer or Hawke cleaning him up.

"Don't worry, I've cleaned up worse wounds than this," he lies, giving Fenris' shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "And the healer's a friend of mine. He owes me a favour."

 

 

:::

 

"I feel like you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how favours work," Anders says. He lets go of his staff long enough to shrug his overcoat off and tosses it over one of Hawke's chairs. "You don't get to call in favours from me after you put my life in danger."

"I saved your life!"

"From a band of thugs who were only after me because you cleaned their leader out at cards and told him you were me."

"That's an oversimplification," Hawke says. "There were circumstances."

"You and your circumstances," Anders says under his breath. "You know, I had a very nice month when you weren't here. Found a cat, helped a lot of people, had no run-ins with anyone who wanted to kill me. It was lovely." He sighs. "And then you get back and I'm already being dragged up to Hightown in the middle of the night."

Hawke grins. "I missed you too."

Anders glares at him but Hawke doesn't miss the tiny smile on his lips as he asks, "So where's this patient?"

"Upstairs," Hawke says, beckoning for Anders to follow. He takes the stairs two at a time as he explains, "He's a former slave. I won him from a Tevinter magister a couple of days ago in a card game but it turns out that his old master beat him before I won him and the wounds still look infected."

Arriving at the bedroom, Hawke makes the introductions before Anders can respond. "Anders, this is Fenris. Fenris, this is Anders, the healer." He pats Anders on the shoulder. "He's all yours."

The stunned silence from both Anders and Fenris is not reassuring. However, it's somehow even less reassuring when they both then speak at the same time.

"He's your slave?"

"He's a mage?"

"No and yes," Hawke says, pointing to Fenris and Anders in turn. Since Fenris looks downright terrified rather than just judgemental, Hawke focuses on him first as he says, "Anders is a good mage, I promise. He's nothing like Danarius. No demons, no blood magic, no human sacrifices."

"At least not this week," Anders says cheerfully.

Curled up in Hawke's bed, Fenris eyes him with suspicion. It's a step up from blatant fear and so Hawke moves on to Anders' question. "And no, he's not my slave. He's free to leave any time he wants -- he's just staying here until he's ready to go." He holds his arms out. "Happy?"

"'Happy' would be a stretch," Anders says but he approaches the bed anyway.

Fenris inches back, eyes locked on Anders' staff, and Hawke moves around to the other side of the bed to calm him down. "It'll be okay," he says. "I'm right here. If anything hurts, just tell me and I can stop it."

"It's healing magic," Anders mutters. "It's not going to hurt." Setting his staff down, he shifts into what Hawke has privately termed his 'cat luring' voice when he addresses Fenris, "Can I see your wounds?"

Fenris' eyes dart to Hawke but he nods as he turns his back to Anders. Anders' lips press into a thin line when he sees the damage but he keeps his voice low as he says, "They look sore but fixable. Can you lie on your stomach for me?"

Fenris obeys. His markings flicker blue as he lies down flat on Hawke's bed, the too-big trousers barely covering him, and Anders looks at Hawke in shock. "Is that lyrium?"

"I probably should've mentioned that," Hawke admits. "The magister put lyrium in his skin somehow. He can put his hand through people. It's amazing."

Fenris and Anders both stare at him.

"Also awful," Hawke adds. "Really, really, incredibly awful. His old master is disgusting."

Despite his obvious nerves, Fenris smiles a little at that and Hawke grins as he takes Fenris' hand. Anders' gaze lingers on them for a moment before his attention turns to the bleeding welts on Fenris' back.

"The lyrium complicates things," he says. "Tell me if this hurts, all right?"

His hands glow blue as he holds them out over Fenris' shoulders. The markings flare in response, pulses of energy thrumming through them as the open wounds begin to knit back together. Fenris buries his head in the pillows, grip tightening on Hawke's fingers, and Hawke holds his hand up when he hears his muffled noise of pain.

"Stop," Hawke says. "Anders, stop, it's hurting him."

The glow in Anders' hands dies in an instant and he wipes his forehead with a frown. "It must be the lyrium. Let me try something else."

He waves his hand, casting a shining green aura over Fenris' body, and Hawke winces at the sharp squeeze to his fingers. "What?" he asks, worried. "Does it hurt?"

Fenris turns his head, looking down at his shining arm in disbelief. "No."

Anders smiles as the blue glow returns. "See? This is why I'm the best healer you know."

"You're the only healer I know," Hawke points out.

Anders rolls his eyes as he goes back to work on the welts. "You really know how to make a man feel valued, Hawke."

His hands move down, the magic drawing out any infection and sealing the wounds up neatly, but he stops at the base of Fenris' spine. The blue light pushes at the edges of the wounds under his clothes but can't go any further as Anders says, "I, uh- I'll need to see the rest of the wounds."

Fenris' expression is carefully blank as he lets go of Hawke's hand and lifts his hips to push the pants down his legs. The markings and the welts both continue down over his rear and thighs, delicate silver curls with cruel red lashes laid on top, but Fenris hides his face in the pillow again before Hawke can read any more of a reaction from him.

His thighs are just as bad as his back, whipped raw and left untreated, and from the expression of disgust on Anders' face, Hawke guesses his feelings towards Danarius are pretty much level with Hawke's own. He takes Fenris' hand again, stroking Fenris' hair with his other hand as Anders closes up the last of his injuries.

"That's all of them," Anders says. He waves his hand again to get rid of the green shimmer and gives Fenris' calf a quick tap. "You can get dressed again."

Fenris tugs his trousers back up before sitting up and peering over his shoulder at his newly healed back in disbelief. "Thank you, ser."

"You're welcome," Anders says, aiming a knowing smirk in Hawke's direction. "I don't suppose you feel like passing on some of those manners to our host while you're here? Like how in polite society it's considered nice to thank the people who heal you rather than immediately getting drunk and throwing up on their shoes."

"It was only the one shoe," Hawke clarifies. "But thank you, Anders."

"My pleasure."

In between them, Fenris pulls on one of Hawke's oversized shirts and Anders reels off his usual speech, "You might feel sore for a couple of days -- don't do anything too strenuous, drink plenty of water, and let Hawke know if you get any headaches." He frowns as he looks at Fenris. "You know, you'd heal up even faster with some more meat on your bones."

Fenris looks down. "Yes, ser."

"Are you getting enough to eat?" Anders asks. "You're thin, even by elf standards."

Hawke opens his mouth, ready to defend his provision of food, but he falters when he tries to recall what Fenris ate for supper. Or lunch. Or breakfast.

"Fenris," he asks, ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach, "when did you last eat?"

Fenris blinks in confusion. "After you, Hawke."

"On the ship?" Hawke's brow crinkles. "I didn't think they served dinner in different sittings. What did you-"

He trails off, remembering the night at the tavern and the strips of cold meat Fenris ate from Danarius' plate. The sinking feeling becomes more of a plummeting feeling.

"Fenris," he says carefully, "please tell me you haven't just been eating my leftovers for the last two days."

Fenris' guilty silence is enough of an answer.

Hawke puts his hand over his eyes. "Shit."

"Maker's breath, Hawke!" Anders says. "How could you not feed him?"

"I didn't not feed him!" Hawke says. "I just didn't realise he wasn't feeding himself."

"And what, you didn't think to offer him food at any point to make sure? You didn't notice him eating your leftovers?" Anders paces back and forth. "I've seen you eat, Hawke -- he'd have to damn near lick the plate clean to get any leftovers from you!"

"I didn't know!" Hawke snaps. "I'm sorry for not keeping track of every scrap of food left on my plate!"

"You didn't need to keep track of your food, just of him," Anders retorts. "You were supposed to take care of him, not leave him to starve because you couldn't be bothered to check on him!"

"I'm not one of your damn templars, Anders!"

Anders' eyes narrow at that. Hawke braces himself for a (not undeserved) punch but relaxes when Anders' breath comes out in a rush, his shoulders sagging as he leans against the bed.

"I know you're not," Anders says, exhausted. He glances over to where Fenris is sitting nervously in the middle of the bed. "I just-"

"I know," Hawke says, patting him on the shoulder. His apology is aimed at both of them when he says, "I'm sorry. I fucked up, I know. Slave-ownership really isn't my area of expertise."

"For which we're all grateful," Anders says. "At least you know better now, I suppose."

"If I accidentally end up owning any more slaves, I'll be set," Hawke says sarcastically. "Lucky me."

Turning to Fenris, he holds his hand out as he says, "Come on, let's get you some actual food before we go to bed. No more eating my leftovers."

Fenris takes his hand, following him down to the kitchen as Anders calls from behind them, "While you're making peace offerings, I wouldn't say no to some of that mushroom soup if you've got any lying around."

 

:::

 

As it turns out, Orana did leave some mushroom soup lying around, along with enough bread, eggs, and bacon to feed Fenris full to bursting. After making some valiant in-roads into a cheese wheel and having a perfunctory bath, Hawke sends a clean, well-fed, fully-healed Fenris off to one guest bedroom and a sleepy, slightly grouchy Anders off to the other.

He's therefore understandably confused when he wakes up a couple of hours later to a blue glow in his bedroom.

For a moment, he thinks that it's Anders, that he's been injured in a fight somehow and Anders is there to patch him up, but as his eyes adjust to the darkness, there's no mistaking Fenris' hair or the glimmer of the brands up and down his arms.

"Fenris?" Propping himself up on his elbow, Hawke rubs his eyes. "What's wrong?"

Fenris is wearing his own clothes again, fitted black rather than baggy beige, and Hawke squints against the light as his right hand glows brighter. "What are you-"

"I'm sorry," Fenris says. His voice wavers as he speaks and cold fear uncoils in Hawke's belly. "I'm so sorry, Hawke."

The markings blaze blue and Fenris' hand slides into Hawke's chest before he can say another word.

Chapter Text

Despite some Varric-fuelled rumours to the contrary, Hawke has never had anyone's fist inside him before. As Fenris' hand slides in to the wrist, Hawke quickly reaches the conclusion that it's not an experience he wants to repeat.

Fenris pushes deeper, ghostly fingers sliding through skin and muscle and bone to brush Hawke's heart. It hurts, a deep, eerie slice of pain, and Hawke bellows, lashing out on instinct rather than in any kind of coordinated response.

His left hand slips straight through Fenris' glowing forearm but he jolts in surprise when his right hand catches his solid upper arm. The impact is enough to almost knock Fenris' hand free of his body until just his fingertips remain pressed against Hawke's ribs.

Wincing at the change in sensation, Hawke kicks out without thinking. His legs are still tangled in the blanket but that doesn't do much to lessen the impact as his feet slam into Fenris' stomach, sending him staggering back against the window.

"Blighted fuck…" Hawke gasps, pressing one hand to his chest and scrabbling for a blade with his other. "What are you doing?!"

Fenris' expression is colder than Hawke has ever seen it. His markings ignite once again when he lunges forward, winded but determined as he throws a punch towards Hawke's head.

Hawke ducks just in time, rolling out of bed and landing another flailing kick to Fenris' hip as he goes.

It's enough to keep Fenris off-balance while Hawke raises one of his daggers and yells, "Fenris, stop!"

Fenris ignores him, catching Hawke on the shoulder with a surprisingly solid punch and following up with a jab of his elbow to Hawke's head. Hawke stumbles, pain lighting sparks behind his eyes, and he slashes wildly with the dagger as Fenris approaches again.

For a guy who flinched every time Hawke raised his voice for the past two days, Fenris is terrifyingly self-assured when faced with a blade heading towards his throat. He leans back from Hawke's swing, movements swift and fluid, and his momentum carries him into a spinning kick which lands low on Hawke's leg.

Hawke drops to one knee but manages to block Fenris' punch as he pleads, "Stop! Fenris, this isn't-"

"What in Andraste's-"

The noise from the door catches them both by surprise and Hawke can't help his sigh of relief when he sees Anders in the doorway.

His ponytail is askew; he's wearing one of Hawke's old shirts with a rip in the sleeve; and he looks completely bemused by the fight to the death currently taking place in Hawke's bedroom.

Fenris recovers faster than Hawke, glowing from his feet to his ears as he grabs Hawke's wrist and twists hard. It doesn't quite break but it's a close-run thing, and Hawke drops fully to his knees with a grunt of pain.

His blade clatters to the floor, leaving him defenceless as Fenris raises his glowing hand again.

"No!"

Hawke barely sees the spell fly from Anders' staff.

Jagged bolts of electricity crash into Fenris, slamming him back against the wall and leaving the skin on Hawke's wrist feeling vaguely singed. Fenris struggles back to his feet, legs unsteady, but Anders hits him with lightning again before he can take so much as a step forward.

The purple tendrils crackle against Fenris' skin, dancing along the lyrium markings, and he collapses to his knees with a cry.

Hawke's chest still feels raw on each breath in but he glances over at Anders as he pulls himself back to his feet. "What is that?"

Anders shakes his head as Fenris curls up even more, eyes clenched shut and fingers digging into the carpet. "I- It's just supposed to keep him contained, not hurt him."

Fenris' whole body trembles with barely concealed agony and Hawke runs a hand through his hair. Despite the whole hand-in-the-chest incident, he can't take much pleasure at the sight of Fenris kneeling and in pain.

"We can't leave him like this," Hawke says. "I mean, I don't want to be murdered any time soon but this isn't-"

He's cut off when Anders takes a step forward and promptly clobbers Fenris on the head with his staff.

Already close to unconsciousness, the blow is enough to knock Fenris out cold and Hawke lets out a breath when he slumps to the floor.

The magic flickers and dies, the lyrium lines fading back to white, and Hawke looks over at Anders. "Did you start moonlighting as a kidnapper while I was away?"

"It was the first thing that came to mind!" Anders says with a scowl. "I can heal any damage."

There's an awkward silence as they stare down at the unconscious elf on Hawke's bedroom floor.

"So," Anders says, clearing his throat, "I assume he hasn't attacked you before now?"

"He lasted two days," Hawke says with a shrug. "It's not the worst relationship I've ever had."

Anders' eyes narrow. "This isn't funny," he mutters. "He tried to kill you!"

"I did notice," Hawke says, rubbing his aching chest. "I don't understand why though. I know I'm not exactly a model slave-owner but I was trying to help him. As far as I'm concerned, he could've left tomorrow with his freedom, fifty sovereigns and as much food as he could carry -- why jeopardise that just to kill me?"

"Maybe it's the lyrium," Anders suggests. "The templars are happy to murder innocent people and they're only taking rations of it -- Maker knows how someone might react with that much of it shoved into their body."

"Maybe." Hawke purses his lips. "It could be a spell? Someone wanted me out of the picture and cast a mind control spell on him while we were walking home?"

"A lot of people do want you dead," Anders says helpfully.

On the floor, Fenris starts to stir and Hawke glances over at Anders. "We should probably do something about him before we have this discussion."

"We could send for Aveline?"

"At this time of night?" Hawke wrinkles his nose. "I need to be much more awake before I have to explain to Aveline how I ended up with a murderous ex-slave in my bedroom." He takes a stealthy sniff of his underarm. "Also I'd like to smell better for that conversation."

They both look down at Fenris in contemplation.

"Well," Anders says eventually, "there's always tying him to a chair?"

 

:::

 

It takes both of them to get Fenris downstairs -- one to do the actual carrying and one to watch out for walls -- but chair-tying turns out to be a reasonably sound plan.

They track down enough cords and ropes to bind Fenris' wrists and ankles to the chair, and Hawke sends a messenger to Varric while Anders heals the knot on Fenris' head and his lingering black eye. The moon is still high by the time they're done and so Hawke makes a pot of tea while they settle in to wait for him to wake up.

"Are you going to kill him?" Anders asks, leaning against the fireplace. "If it was all his idea, I mean."

"It's not high on my list of ideal outcomes," Hawke admits, "but I don't want to rule anything out yet. Let's just talk to him first."

"Talking to the elf who just tried to rip your heart out," Anders says under his breath. "There's a foolproof strategy if I ever heard one."

Hawke glares at him. Before he can retort, however, he's distracted by a movement from the chair and looks over to see Fenris wince as he lifts his head.

He tries to move his arms but jerks awake when he realises he's bound, pulling sharply against the ropes. His eyes are wide when he looks up but the fear and confusion on his face is replaced by carefully honed blankness as he takes in Hawke, Anders and his current predicament.

"Good morning to you too," Anders says, folding his arms. "We slept wonderfully, thanks for asking."

Fenris' jaw tightens and his empty gaze fixes on the wall between the two of them.

Aiming a half-hearted scowl at Anders, Hawke perches on the arm of his couch and asks, "Do you want to tell us what happened back there?"

Fenris doesn't look at him but Hawke presses on, "I won't lie, usually people have a good reason for wanting me dead but I'm clutching at straws here. What brought this on?"

Fenris doesn't react and Hawke leans in, genuinely confused. "Did I do something to you? Hurt you somehow?"

Fenris' eyes dart up to his in surprise, as if he can't fathom the idea of his maltreatment being a justification for attempted murder, but it's a fleeting glance at best. He settles back into stony silence, much to Hawke's frustration.

"I'm going to guess that's a no," he says. "Is it the lyrium? Does it make you act without thinking?"

That provokes no response. Hawke can't decide if it's because it's a bad suggestion or because Fenris is well-trained enough not to react to a correct guess.

"Or is it a spell?" he asks. "Did you get accosted by any shady mages on the way back here? Possibly with malevolent-looking facial hair?"

Predictably, Fenris says nothing and Hawke looks over to Anders for assistance. "Is there anything you can do? Check that he's not under a compulsion or something?"

Anders steps forward, stretching his arms out with a yawn. "I can try." His hands glow white with magic as he flexes his fingers. "Let's see if this can give us something to go on."

He steps forward. Terror flashes across Fenris' face and he flinches back sharply before catching himself. Holding up a hand for Anders to stop, Hawke watches the way Fenris' hands curl into helpless fists and how his breathing grows shallow even as he tries to maintain a calm facade.

"It's just a test," Hawke says, unable to stop himself from trying to soothe Fenris. "It shouldn't hurt, right?"

Anders' eyebrows shoot up. "You do remember he tried to murder you less than an hour ago?" Magic crackles between his fingers as he mutters, "Maybe a little hurting wouldn't be such a bad thing."

Before they can argue further about the potential merits of pain, Hawke's front door swings open and Varric strolls in. He's fully dressed, which is more than either Hawke or Anders can say, and covered in a light splattering of blood from dispatching whichever bandits have staked a claim on Hightown lately.

He stops in the doorway, looking between Hawke, Anders, and Fenris, and folds his arms when he says, "Well, that certainly escalated quickly."

His gaze lingers on Anders' hands as he moves to stand between him and Hawke. "I leave you alone for a few hours and you both start resorting to torture."

His tone is light but his disapproval is clear, and Anders waves away his magic in an instant.

"It wasn't torture," Anders says. "He tried to kill Hawke -- got damn close too. We were trying to find out why."

"Right," Varric says. "Via torture."

"There was no torture," Hawke cuts in. "We just want to know why he tried to kill me. We don't want to hurt him."

Anders' unimpressed noise indicates he isn't opposed to the idea of hurting but Hawke chooses to ignore it as he turns to Varric. "We were hoping you could help us out. Maybe you saw something I missed today."

"You know what, I did see a mysterious hooded figure give the elf a dagger and a purse of coin on the way back here," Varric says conspiratorially.

Hawke's mouth falls open and Varric rolls his eyes. "No, genius, I didn't see anything."

He looks past Hawke to Fenris. "What did he do, anyway? If he tried to smother you in your sleep, I'd lay odds that your snoring is the reason."

"He came into my room while I was sleeping and shoved his hand in my chest," Hawke says bluntly. Pushing away the parts of his memories filled with drowsiness or panic, he tries to recall as much as possible. "The glowing was what woke me up but he apologised first. He said he was sorry right before he…"

He gestures to his chest. Varric looks back at Fenris in confusion.

"I don't know about you," Varric says, "but the assassins I know aren't exactly renowed for being apologetic. How did you get away?"

"I fought him off," Hawke says. "Then Anders showed up and knocked him out."

"Speaking of," Varric says. "What brings you to this part of town, Blondie?"

Anders nods to Fenris. "He was injured. Hawke needed a healer…"

"And you're the only game in town," Varric fills in. He takes the chair next to Fenris as he says, "So what you're telling me is that after Blondie healed him up, he came into your bedroom, apologised to you, stuck his hand in your chest, and then left it there long enough for you to fight him off?"

Hawke rubs his temples. "I don't follow."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, kid," Varric says to Fenris, "but I'd guess sliding your hand into someone's chest and yanking out their heart is a pretty quick process."

Fenris' eyes lower, which is an answer in itself.

"Wait, so you weren't trying to kill me?" Hawke asks. He racks his brain for another reason why Fenris would want to be fist-deep in his chest but comes up blank. "Then what-"

"My guess?" Varric says, not taking his eyes off Fenris. "He was half-assing it on purpose. Giving you a chance to fight him off."

"Why?" Anders asks Fenris. "If you wanted us to kill you, there had to have been easier ways to go about it. Like asking, for instance."

"You know, I wrote a story like this once," Varric says. "About a princess who was captured by bandits. They held her captive for weeks but when the king wouldn't yield to their demands, the leader ordered his second-in-command to kill her.

"But the second-in-command had fallen in love with the princess. Unable to see another way out, he didn't resist when she fought back -- he let her kill him in order to secure her freedom." He shakes his head. "That book sold terribly, by the way. Not enough fights and far too tragic."

Hawke's brow creases. "Am I the princess?"

"The fairest in all the land," Varric says. "And my guess is the elf is our second-in-command." He glances at Fenris. "Am I close?"

Fenris doesn't answer as Varric leans in. "Come on, kid. I'm not saying you're in love with Hawke or anything crazy like that, but I'd wager you also had an order you didn't feel much like following."

Fenris flinches at that, tucking his shaking fingers in against his palms.

Varric smiles colourlessly. "Talk to us, Fenris. I know we haven't exactly filled you with confidence so far but we can help you if you tell us what happened."

Silence fills the room for a long moment as all three of them stare expectantly at Fenris. Beside him, Hawke hears Anders shift position, readying a complaint, but before he can voice it, Fenris finally speaks up.

"There's nothing to help," he says, voice flat and defeated. "My master ordered me to kill you. I failed and I'll pay with my life, either at his hands or at yours."

"Danarius ordered this?" Hawke wrinkles his nose. "Why? Because I beat him at cards?"

"People have tried to kill you for less," Varric points out.

Fenris' eyes stay trained on his lap. "It's not my place to question my master's motives."

"But he's not your master anymore!" Hawke says. "I am!"

Varric pointedly clears his throat.

Hawke rephrases. "I mean, he lost you to me. You don't need to do what he says anymore."

"I-" Fenris hesitates. "I've been wagered and lost before. My orders are always to kill the victor and return to my master."

It takes a moment for Hawke to deal with the unpleasantness of Fenris being gambled away like a coin purse on more than one occasion.

Ever-helpful, Anders steps in to fill the silence. "So why didn't you follow orders? Hawke's far too trusting -- you must have had more than enough chances to kill him before now."

"We were on a ship last night," Varric points out. "Not a lot of places to escape to when you're out at sea." He glances to Hawke. "I don't know about the first night…"

Thinking back to the morning in the tavern and the sight of Fenris curled up, fast asleep, on the oversized chair, it's not too difficult to guess the answer.

"You were exhausted," Hawke says. "You'd been kneeling for hours with those wounds on your legs -- you just fell asleep."

The pieces start falling into place and Hawke keeps going, victorious at putting it all together, "That's why you were asking questions about the boat; you weren't scared of sailing, you were worried about not being able to kill me at sea. But then tonight you didn't really want me dead so you gave me a chance to fight you off. You were hoping I'd stop you."

Peripherally aware that he shouldn't be smiling so much when discussing his own near-death experience, Hawke tries and fails to look serious when Anders asks, "So what happens now? 'I didn't really want to kill you' isn't a great defence for attempted murder."

Varric leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "If we let you go," he asks, "are you going to try to kill Hawke again?"

Fenris' hesitation is not reassuring. He weighs up the question for a long moment before saying, "No. If you let me go, I- I would run."

Varric and Hawke exchange glances as Anders asks, "You wouldn't return to your old master?"

Fenris shakes his head. "Not by choice."

"All right," Hawke says. He wipes his hands on his thighs, relief sweeping through him now that no-one's life is in any immediate danger. "You're free to go." He gives him a weak smile. "I'd definitely recommend saving any important life decisions until the morning though."

Fenris' eyes widen.

Hawke stoops to untie him and Fenris rubs his wrists as the ropes fall away. "You're letting me go?"

"Good question," Anders says under his breath. "You're letting him go?"

"You heard him," Hawke says. "He didn't really want to kill me and won't do it again. Problem solved."

"He's not a cat that pissed in your shoes, Hawke!" Anders says, disbelieving. "He's a trained killer -- he could kill you as soon as your back is turned."

"He said he wouldn't!"

"Because he's been so incredibly trustworthy up to now?"

"What am I supposed to do?" Hawke asks. "Kill him? Have him locked up just for doing what he was told?"

"He's not a child," Anders snaps. "He can't just hide behind his master's robes -- he's responsible for his own choices."

"He's a slave! Was a slave," he corrects quickly. "You saw how badly he was hurt, what his master did to him when he disobeyed -- it's hardly a fair choice if that's the alternative."

"It's still a choice," Anders says. "He could've told you what his orders were, he could've run away when you weren't looking, but no, he chose to try to kill you." He eyes Fenris with distrust. "What's to stop him from trying again?"

"All right!" Varric calls, running a hand through his hair. "I'm too tired to referee a slap fight tonight. This is a discussion to have over a large plate of bacon, not in the middle of the night."

He puts his hands on his hips. "Blondie, go sleep in your usual guest room. Fenris, you can stay in the other guest room but we'll lock the door for now, just to keep everyone happy. Hawke, you can have the couch."

Hawke frowns. "But my bed-"

"Is mine for the night," Varric says. "Think of it as a reward for solving all your problems for you."

"You didn't solve all my problems," Hawke grumbles.

"True," Varric says, "but the dilemma of finding a shirt to go with those pants is all on you, my friend."

Hawke looks down at his favourite pair of striped pajama pants and glowers at Varric, who ignores him.

"C'mon, Blondie," Varric says, heading up the stairs with Anders, "let's put you all down for a nap."

"I'm not an infant," Anders grouses but the rest of his complaint is lost once they make it upstairs.

Next to him, Fenris perches nervously on the edge of the chair as though he half-expects a punch in the face, and Hawke claps him on the shoulder to guide him up to the bedroom on the other side of the house.

"Sorry about having to lock you in," he says, sliding the key in the door. "It's just a precaution."

"I understand," Fenris says.

He waits just inside the room, his shoulders tense as he opens and closes his mouth before settling on a quiet, "I'm sorry."

He sounds wretched, somewhere between the timidity of the last two days and the steely blankness of the last few hours. "The mage is right. It was my choice and I chose poorly. I'll accept whatever punishment you wish."

"Fenris…" Hawke swipes a hand over his face. "This isn't a punishment. It's just to keep the peace for one night." He rests a hand on Fenris' shoulder, wincing a little at the sight of the dark circles under his eyes. "Get some sleep, okay? We'll talk about it in the morning."

Fenris gives a tiny nod. "Yes, ser."

He's still standing by the door when Hawke eases it shut and locks him in for the night.

Even with the lock on the door, the windows are big enough for an underfed elf to slip through, and as Hawke heads back out to make up his bed on the couch, he wonders if Fenris will still be there in the morning.

 

:::

 

Much to Hawke's relief, Fenris is indeed still there the next morning.

Judging by his crumpled clothes and the even darker circles under his eyes, it's doubtful whether he got much sleep but he gives Hawke a small, grateful smile when Hawke presses a warm bowl of porridge into his hands.

They eat in companionable silence for a while, Hawke in the armchair and Fenris cross-legged on the bed, before Hawke's curiosity gets the better of him.

"Why didn't you kill me?"

Fenris' spoon stutters against the bowl and Hawke is quick to clarify, "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be alive but you said Danarius had lost you in card games before. I'm guessing you killed all those guys without any problems?"

Fenris nods. He keeps his head lowered, either in contrition or submission, but Hawke doesn't miss the way he keeps glancing up at him, watching for his reaction.

"So what made me different? Other than my ravishing good looks, I mean."

Fenris' lips quirk in a smile before he lapses back into consideration for a long moment.

"You're a better man," he says eventually.

"Better man, huh?" Hawke smiles. "I've not been described as that before. Do I need to get Varric in here to record this for posterity?"

Fenris' smile widens at that and he picks up his spoon again. "No-one is without faults," he says carefully, "but you're a good man, Hawke. Better than the others I was given to. Better than Danarius."

"Kind of a low bar on that last one," Hawke says. "Most of the scumbags in the city jail are better men than Danarius."

"I mean it," Fenris says. "You healed me, fed me, gave me clothes -- far more than you needed to do for a useless slave."

"Hey," Hawke chides, "you're not useless."

The look Fenris gives him is surprisingly cynical. "You don't need to spare my feelings, Hawke. You haven't given me any orders -- I know I'm of no use to you."

"I don't-" He stops himself, unsure how to start explaining that Fenris' worth doesn't solely depend on his usefulness.

"That doesn't matter," he says instead. "You should be treated decently, regardless of what you can or can't do for me."

"As I said," Fenris says, eating another spoonful of porridge, "you are a better man than most."

"I don't know about most," Hawke says, still impressed by the lowness of the bar. "All the people who beat Danarius at cards could've just been exceptionally terrible. Maybe they enjoyed kicking puppies in their spare time."

"I wouldn't know," Fenris says. "I was only with them for a night before returning to my master."

The implication of what exactly happened to Fenris on those nights hangs heavy in the air between them. Not trusting himself to confront that particular ghost yet, Hawke lets it pass and sidesteps to a different topic.

"You know, on the subject of usefulness…"

On the bed, Fenris suddenly goes very still.

"Not sex!" Hawke says quickly.

Fenris blinks but relaxes as Hawke adds, "For both our sakes, let's just assume that I'm never going to order you to sleep with me. I've never been with someone against their will and I have no intention of starting now. Got it?"

"Yes, Hawke."

Coming from Fenris, his name still sounds too much like 'master' but Hawke brushes it off as he says, "I actually wanted to make you an offer. Or give you another option, however you want to see it."

Fenris frowns but keeps listening, setting his bowl down on the sheets.

"I know you were planning on running," Hawke begins. "Making a break for freedom, starting a new life, the whole nine. And you can absolutely do that but I figured I'd also give you the option to stay. Here. If you wanted."

Fenris stares. "But I nearly killed you."

"You did," Hawke says. "Which is why Anders isn't one hundred percent on board with this plan yet, but since Varric's okay with it, he's been outvoted."

He leans forward, meeting Fenris' eyes. "As last night demonstrated, I need a bodyguard and I was thinking maybe that bodyguard could be you."

"Me?"

"I know it's what you were trained for," Hawke says. "You need a job, I need someone to help me not die: it seems like a good match. Assuming you want to stay, that is."

He gives Fenris a wry smile. "I know Kirkwall isn't the most scenic place in Thedas but it's a good city. You'd have friends here, plus somewhere to stay and a steady income, and if anyone ever comes looking for you, we'd have your back."

Fenris' gaze snaps up at that. "No," he says sharply. "I wouldn't ask anyone to defend me."

"That's the beauty of making friends," Hawke points out. "You wouldn't need to."

Fenris looks back down at his lap, apparently lost in thought, and Hawke pushes himself to his feet.

"Take your time," he says. "If you'd be happier as a lone wolf in Fereldan, that's fine -- I can get you a pack full of food and passage on the quickest ship -- but promise me you'll at least think about staying?"

"You-" Fenris' voice cracks and he swallows hard before nodding. "I'll consider it."

"Great," Hawke says with a grin. "Excellent."

He backs up towards the door. "I'm just going to go-" He gestures at the bowl in his hand. "Porridge. I think Orana's already started something ham-related for lunch -- that should be ready by noon if you want to come down and eat with us."

Fenris looks uncertain. "Is the mage…"

"Anders stole the last of the eggs and went back to his clinic," Hawke says. "I know things were a bit frosty last night but as long as neither of you try to kill me, each other, or innocent bystanders, you should get along fine."

He flashes Fenris a cheerful grin and says with confidence, "Give it six months and I bet you'll be inseparable."

Chapter Text

After six months in Kirkwall, Fenris is still of the opinion that he and Anders are very separable. Preferably by at least two districts and a handful of armed guards.

Unfortunately, the most separation he has today is ten feet as Hawke and Anders stroll ahead on the way back into Kirkwall. Hawke's attention is on Anders more than the road -- he's tripped over one tree root already -- but Fenris is too far back to hear what they're saying as Hawke laughs loudly, one hand on Anders' shoulder.

The day has already been a long one. There's good coin in traipsing out to the Wounded Coast to rescue the Viscount's son, which Hawke claims is his primary motivation, but Fenris' muscles ache from a long, messy battle with the mercenaries who had the same idea.

Not for the first time, he wonders if he still counts as a bodyguard if he's just clinging on for the ride when Hawke goes plunging into trouble.

"Did you and Hawke have a fight?"

As with most things Merrill does -- sneezing, clapping, blood magic -- the question comes as a surprise and Fenris glances over to find her closer than he'd expected.

They'd run into Merrill four months ago. Hawke won an amulet in a card game and instead of displaying it as Danarius would have or selling it as Varric suggested, he decided to return it to the Dalish. The trip involved a hike up a mountain, fights with spiders, horrors, and the undead, plus an encounter with a resurrected dragon witch, and when they finally left, it was with a dangerous Dalish blood mage in tow.

It was not one of Fenris' favourite days.

Nonetheless, he endures. He hasn't yet breached Hawke's threshold for the level of disrespect he'll tolerate from his slaves but he still watches his tone when he answers Merrill's question. "I haven't fought with Hawke."

"Are you sure?" Merrill says with a frown. "You're looking extra grumpy today. And a little sad too."

"I'm fine."

"Is it Anders?" she asks. "He doesn't like me much either. I was thinking that maybe if we bought him a cat, he might be less angry about things. Cats can be very soothing." She looks over at Fenris. "Do you want to go halves on a cat?"

"I don't think that would be wise," Fenris says with as much diplomacy as he can muster. "Besides, there are lots of strays in Darktown."

"True." Merrill sounds surprisingly despondent at the thought of stray cats but soon perks up when she asks, "So it's not Anders making you miserable?"

"I'm not miserable," Fenris mutters. "But no, I have no quarrel with Anders."

It's an optimistic assessment. He'd spent his first few weeks in Kirkwall terrified that it would be like Hadriana all over again, with Anders forcing him to his knees every time Hawke's back was turned. However, the worst Anders has thrown in his direction so far are sarcastic barbs and dirty looks and so Fenris has learned to accept the situation (while also maintaining a healthy level of fear).

Merrill's nose wrinkles. "Is it mages then? Because we're not all like your magister, you know."

"Of course not," Fenris says. "Magisters consort with demons for power and wealth, not helping with home repairs."

Merrill huffs out an offended little sigh. The servile part of Fenris cringes at his own insolence but he quashes it as he says carefully, "I've seen enough of mages to know what they're capable of."

"We're capable of good things too," Merrill counters. "Look at how many lives Anders has saved."

The charity of one apostate is nothing compared to the number butchered at the magisters' hands but Fenris bites his tongue to stop himself responding. Merrill is just as dangerous as Anders -- the lyrium in his skin prickles just as much at her presence -- and while Hawke may have no sense of self-preservation (Fenris' continued survival included), Fenris knows well enough not to push them too far.

"I have little experience with mages who wish to do good," he says eventually. "But I will defer to Hawke's decisions on these matters."

Merrill hesitates, as though she wants to say something further, but sidesteps to another topic when she asks, "On the subject of Hawke, I don't suppose there's anything to report there? No exciting new developments?"

"Developments?"

"I'm not blind, Fenris," Merrill says with a grin. "Don't think I miss all those looks you keep giving each other. You never take your eyes off the man."

"I'm his bodyguard," Fenris says flatly. "It's my job is to watch him."

Merrill deflates. "Oh. I suppose that makes sense." She kicks a stone along the road, shoulders slumped as she asks, "Did you look at your old master like that then?"

Fenris honestly can't remember. He'd always thought he loved Danarius; he was the favourite, finely crafted to be both loyal and lethal, but while he used to feel pride at being taken to his master's bed, there's nothing there now but an empty sense of shame.

Hawke falls into a different category entirely, somewhere between stupidly naive and stupidly generous, but even after six months following at his heel, Fenris still can't find the right word to describe it.

"It's different," he admits. "Hawke's requirements are not the same as Danarius'."

"Really?" Merrill asks. "Are there different types of bodyguard? What did you-"

Fenris is almost grateful for the distraction when a rustle in the bushes catches his attention.

"My apologies," he interrupts, putting a hand low on his stomach and nodding to the bushes. "I'll catch up."

"I can wait?" Merrill offers. "I don't mind."

"No, I'm fine," Fenris says. "Stay with Hawke."

Merrill eyes him uncertainly for a moment but Fenris exhales in relief when she shrugs. "I can do that."

She strolls on ahead to catch up to Hawke and Anders, and Fenris ducks out of sight, ostensibly to relieve himself behind the closest tree. The foliage provides a decent amount of cover and he keeps his back to the tree as he waits for the sources of the rustle to make themselves known.

They don't take long, two creeping around to his left and one to his right, and Fenris' hands curl into fists as the three men step out of the bushes, each with the same dumb smirk on their faces.

"Well, Maker be damned," one says with a low whistle. "I can see why that magister wants him back so badly."

His accent is local and Fenris relaxes a fraction. He hasn't had any problem with Free Marches mercenaries so far.

"Got a message from your owner, knife-ear," another one says, sneering. "You come along quietly and the magister says he won't use the choke collar."

Fenris' lyrium ignites faster than he can think.

The mercenary's eyes go wide but Fenris' fist punches through his spine before he can get another word out. It's only Fenris' hand over his mouth which keeps him from screaming and Fenris snaps his neck with brutal efficiency before rounding on his companions.

Killing them is the easy part; it's killing them quietly that always provides a challenge. Hawke doesn't know about Danarius' persistence and when Fenris advances on the second mercenary, he doesn't intend to let anyone change that.

The second one draws a sword, lashing out at Fenris in clumsy indignation, but Fenris ducks the swipe without difficulty. He phases as he moves, lyrium making him a blur until he appears behind the mercenary to grab his sword arm and drive the blade through his throat. The mercenary crumples, gasping out his last breaths into the dirt, and Fenris steps over his corpse, gaze fixed on the one survivor.

"You- What the fuck are you?" the last man stammers. His grip on his sword is unsteady and he inches back as Fenris advances. "The magister said you were a whore, not a fucking freak of nature."

He's been called far worse in the past but after six months in Kirkwall, humiliation burns through him at the reminder of just how thoroughly he served Danarius.

Blue light pours from his markings but Fenris keeps his voice level when he speaks, "The magister says a lot of things."

His hand closes around the man's windpipe before he can say any more. The man gasps, thrashing in terror in Fenris' grip, but after one bloody squeeze, he's no more than carrion for the birds.

Checking to make sure he hasn't been overheard, Fenris kicks the body aside as he wipes the blood off his hands and face. His armour is already splattered with dried blood from the fight on the coast; with any luck, no-one will notice a little extra.

The lyrium in his skin calms, fading back to white, and Fenris waits for his hands to stop shaking before he heads back out onto the road.

Danarius knows where he is. He's known for months now, sending slavers, mercenaries, and assassins after him like a cat toying with a mouse, and with each one Fenris kills, he only becomes more certain that this will never last.

It's luck that brought him here -- luck that Danarius decided to play against Hawke, luck that Hawke's draw was better than his master's, and sheer, dumb luck that Fenris wasn't tortured to death as soon as Hawke found out what his orders were -- but fortune has never been that good to Fenris. For all of Hawke's impossible kindness -- the food, the bed, the lax discipline -- it's still Danarius' collar he wears around his throat and he knows it's only a matter of time before his leash is pulled tight to haul him home.

Back on the road, Hawke and the mages haven't got far and Fenris jogs to catch up with them, his greatsword smacking against the backs of his thighs with every pace.

He falls into step beside Merrill who looks up at him with a smile. "Do you think Hawke would like to take a detour past Dead Man's Cove?" she asks. "It's supposed to be very pretty this time of day if you ignore the bodies."

His mind still on Danarius, Fenris gives a non-committal shrug. "You can ask him?"

He should've seen it coming but still jumps when Merrill shouts beside him, "Hawke!"

Hawke breaks apart from Anders, walking backwards as he turns to face them. "Merrill!"

Merrill laughs, running ahead to explain her idea. Anders cuts in with a counter-argument -- apparently (and unsurprisingly), a place named Dead Man's Cove is something of a death trap -- and the two of them settle into a benign squabble with Hawke caught in the middle.

Glancing back over his shoulder, Hawke catches Fenris' eye with a pleading expression and Fenris can't keep himself from smiling. Hawke grins back, winking in his direction, and Fenris ignores the tightness in his chest as he lowers his eyes back to the ground.

This won't last, he reminds himself. It's only a matter of time.

 

:::

 

Seneschal Bran doesn't like Hawke.

Fenris knows this, the mages know this, and based on the waves of irritation pouring off the Seneschal when Hawke approaches, the rest of Kirkwall probably knows this.

Hawke, however, appears entirely oblivious when he greets him with a cheerful grin. "Bran the man! How are you?"

Bran's lips thin. "Serah Hawke."

He says it as though the words cause him actual pain. Danarius had public officials killed for lesser slights but Hawke only beams and claps him on the shoulder. "Guess who found the Viscount's son?"

"Might it be Blessed Andraste herself?" Bran says with poorly disguised disdain.

Hawke chuckles. "Well, I can see the resemblence. You think the Maker is in the market for a new bride?"

Bran stares at him. To Hawke's left, Anders is doing his best not to smirk and is failing miserably.

Getting no response, Hawke nods to the office. "Is the Viscount in?"

Bran straightens up. "I'll let him know you've arrived."

"Oh, no problem," Hawke says, barrelling past him into the Viscount's office. "I can say hello myself."

"You can't just-"

Hawke is already through the doors before the Seneschal can stop him.

Bran breathes out through gritted teeth. "I suppose it was too much to ask that he follow protocol."

"Oh, much too much," Merrill agrees.

Bran pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs.

Leaving him to stew, Fenris peeks inside the Viscount's office. The doors are all open and while Hawke is too far away to hear, Fenris can see enough to be satisfied that there's no immediate threat to his life (aside from the Seneschal finally snapping and trying to bludgeon him to death with the nearest ornamental candlestick).

The Viscount shakes Hawke's right hand, pressing some sovereigns into his left, and Hawke is whistling when he re-emerges, making a gold coin dance over the backs of his fingers.

"Ah," Bran says. "I see you claimed your reward."

From his tone, it's clear he isn't in favour of Hawke receiving any kind of reward but Hawke doesn't acknowledge his apparent disagreement when he says, "That I did."

He heads for the stairs, calling back over his shoulder as he goes, "Let me know if the Viscount needs my help with anything else!"

The expression on Bran's face is one of a man who truly, deeply hates his job.

Fenris can't help but feel a slight pang of sympathy for him which only increases when Merrill hangs back on the stairs.

"I'll see you later, Hawke," she says. "I wanted to talk to the Seneschal about the alienage. We need some new paint for the Vhenadahl and I was wondering if maybe they had any spare ribbons we could borrow."

"I'll leave you here too," Anders adds. "I need a word with Aveline on the patrol schedules through Darktown."

They disperse in opposite directions, leaving Fenris alone in Hawke's company as they head down out of the keep. The sun is setting, long shadows falling across the stone steps, and Fenris tenses when Hawke tugs him into an alcove at the side of the stairs.

For a moment he wonders if this is it, if he's talked back to the mages one too many times for Hawke to let it slide, but he exhales in relief when he sees that Hawke is smiling rather than angry.

"Come here," Hawke says, tugging him closer. "I have something for you."

There's a chest in the alcove, which Hawke rummages through quickly, pocketing a pair of torn trousers out of habit before setting his pack down on its lid.

Fenris approaches, bemused, as Hawke admits, "Actually I have a couple of things for you. I didn't know what you'd like so I sort of…" He gestures to the pack. "…hoarded."

"Hoarded."

Hawke gives him a sheepish smile. "There's a locket?" he says, holding it up. "Apparently it's enchanted but uh, I'm not really sure what you'd put in it. Maybe a really tiny sketch of something?"

He tilts his head. "You're probably not a locket person, are you?"

Fenris doesn't get a chance to reply before he tosses the locket over his shoulder and moves on. "Or there's a scarf? I know you get cold and don't tell me about it so I figured this might help."

He holds up the scarf but scrunches his nose up before Fenris can take it. "Andraste's tits, that smells like a corpse."

The scarf joins the locket on the floor as Hawke delves deep for the next item.

"Ah!" With a flourish, he pulls out a hefty book and holds it up for Fenris' inspection. "I thought you might like this."

The evening wind feels colder against Fenris' skin as he reaches for the book. The shapes on the front mean nothing to him and he wonders if this is a test, like Hadriana's favoured game of sending him to the library to retrieve a tome, only to punish him for his ignorance whenever he came back with the wrong one.

"I…"

"It's by Shartan," Hawke says. He sounds so eager, as though he actually cares what Fenris thinks, and Fenris looks at the cover again, willing the shapes to make any kind of sense to him. "He's the elf who helped Andraste free the slaves. I thought you might be interested in it?" He grins. "You know, in case you ever get sick of me and decide to go off and lead a revolution."

"You-" Fenris swallows. He doesn't want to tell the truth, doesn't want Hawke to think he's even more stupid than he already does. However, even if Hawke doesn't always act like one, Fenris knows better than to lie to his master.

"I can't read," he says quietly. "I- Slaves are not permitted to learn."

Rather than the expected disdain, Hawke's expression turns to one of sympathy. "Shit, I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. It's not too late to learn though," he says hopefully. "I could teach you. If you wanted, that is."

"I- I would like that," Fenris says, hating that he stammers.

He doesn't quite believe the offer is real -- even for someone like Hawke, personally teaching a slave to read seems far too much to ask -- but Hadriana's taunts echo in his ears when he adds, "Please."

"It's a deal," Hawke says, running his hair through his hair with a relieved grin. "Maker, I'm just glad one of those gifts wasn't awful. Presents aren't one of my strengths."

Slinging his pack over his shoulder, he puts his hand on Fenris' back to lead him out into Hightown as Fenris asks, "I don't understand. Why are you giving me gifts?"

"Call it a thank you," Hawke says easily as they stroll down the rest of the steps. "You've put up with me for six whole months now -- I think you deserve a reward."

"I don't need-"

"A reward for doing your job? Yes, I know," Hawke teases. "What can I say, I like giving you things. Just humour me. Please?"

Fenris has never managed to say no to Hawke before and as Hawke links his arm through Fenris' to steer them back towards the manor, he decides he has no intention of starting now.

 

:::

 

One of the first things Hawke teaches him to read is the menu at the Hanged Man.

Fenris can't quite work out the full words yet but he's grateful to know enough to be able to order anything but the daily mystery stew. He's halfway through something pork-adjacent as he leans against the bar, one eye on the corner where Hawke and Varric are deep in conversation, but jumps when someone gives him a pat on the shoulder.

He whips around, markings flaring, but blinks in surprise when he finds Isabela standing behind him.

"You know, you really light up when you see me," she says with a grin. "If you want to save time and confess your love for me, I'd be okay with that."

Fenris smiles in spite of himself when Isabela moves in for her usual hug. The smell of salt clings to her hair and Fenris finds himself relaxing at the familiarity of it.

She only stops by once every few weeks, too busy causing havoc on the high seas to spend much time in Kirkwall, but Fenris can't help but look forward to her visits. She's uncomplicated, with no magical powers or hidden agendas to speak of, and seems far less fazed by his initial attempt to kill Hawke than most of Hawke's other friends.

"How was your voyage?" he asks.

"Tremendous," Isabela says with a fond sigh, motioning to Corff for a drink. "Dry land is always such a disappointment." She glances at him, gaze lingering on the dark bruise high on his cheek. "Speaking of disappointments, am I going to need to speak to Hawke about that?"

Fenris shakes his head. "He didn't mean to hit me."

Isabela's eyes widen. "He hit you?"

"He didn't mean to," Fenris stresses. "There was an assassin -- Antivan Crow going by his blades -- and it was dark when we fought. It was just an unlucky punch."

"Hmm."

"He apologised," Fenris says. No-one has ever apologised for hitting him before and definitely not as many times as Hawke had. "A lot. He made me an apology cake."

"Huh." Isabela's drink appears and she takes a sip. "Was it any good?"

Fenris rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "I don't have any other apology cakes to compare it to."

Isabela smiles. "If I ever meet that magister of yours, remind me to use all the coin from his corpse to buy you a giant apology cake."

She takes another long swig of her drink and looks over at Hawke as she says, "Punch to the face aside, I take it the bodyguard thing must be going all right if he's still alive."

Fenris nods, chewing on another mouthful of his dinner. "It's fine," he says. "I- Hawke's a good man."

"He's got much more restraint than me," Isabela says wistfully. "If you were my bodyguard, I'd have you in something far more skimpy." She looks him up and down. "Possibly with strategically placed straps."

"Thank the Maker for small mercies," Fenris says, smiling when Isabela makes a faux-offended noise.

"He just has no imagination," she says dismissively as Fenris takes another bite of his food. "Well, I was going to ask if you're eating properly now but you've already answered that question. What about your old master? Have you heard anything from him?"

"Nothing," Fenris lies. "Perhaps Danarius has decided I'm not worth recovering."

"And just when I thought he couldn't get any more wrong," Isabela says, patting Fenris on the shoulder. "For what it's worth, even if that pillock changes his mind, I don't see Hawke ever giving you up."

Fenris shrugs awkwardly, not meeting her eyes. "It's his decision. If Danarius made a good offer…"

"Hawke would still turn it down flat," she says with confidence. "Trust me, Fenris, the way he looks at you, I doubt all the gold in the Imperium would be enough to persuade him to give you up. And Hawke really, really loves gold."

"I-" His words stick in his throat and he pushes at the food on his plate when he says, "That's foolish. I'm just his bodyguard."

"As far as Hawke's concerned, I doubt you're 'just' anything," she says before flashing him a grin. "Besides, we're talking about a man who tried to pet a giant spider. Foolishness has never been a good reason for Hawke not to do something."

Across the room, Hawke looks up from his conversation with Varric. "I heard my name and 'giant spider'," he calls. "Did you find a tame one?"

Fenris hides his smile behind his gauntlet as Isabela rolls her eyes. Hawke jogs over, pulling her into a friendly hug as he asks, "How long have you been here?"

"A while," she says, glancing at Fenris. "You see, this is why he could never let you go. He's very unobservant."

"Wait, let who go?" Hawke says, moving over to rest his hands protectively on Fenris' shoulders. "Are you trying to steal my bodyguard, Isabela? I'm shocked and appalled."

Varric strolls over to join them. "Are you really shocked?"

"I'm appalled," Hawke amends.

Isabela grins. "I mean, if Fenris ever wants a change of scenery, I wouldn't say no," she says, "but I don't think I have a crowbar strong enough to pry you two apart."

"For which we're all thankful," Varric says. "I definitely wouldn't recommend visiting Duke Petralac without Fenris as back-up."

"Who's Duke Petralac?" Fenris asks, confused.

Hawke takes his hands off his shoulders long enough to produce a formal-looking invitation which Isabela promptly snatches from his hand to read aloud, "Messere Hawke, Duke Petralac humbly requests your presence at a dinner honouring your continued efforts to maintain the dignity, safety and prosperity of Kirkwall." She raises an eyebrow. "Really?"

"You know me," Hawke says. "Dignity is my middle name."

"Your middle name is Frances," Varric says.

"It's a very dignified name."

Fenris frowns. "This seems like a trap."

"Definitely a trap," Isabela agrees.

"Oh, I know," Hawke says, "but it's a trap with free food. We haven't had one of those for nearly a year now."

"You need to sound less excited about that," Varric advises. "Going in numbers might be a good strategy though."

"Well, Fenris is my plus one," Hawke says, patting Fenris on the shoulder again, "and if the dinner's in my honour, I'm sure they can make room for my friends." He looks between Varric and Isabela as he asks, "How about it? Nobility, hors d'oeuvres, probable attempted murder -- what more could you want?"

"I do love obvious traps," Isabela says, "but I'm setting sail in two days. You should take Merrill. Let her practice not thinking aloud."

Hawke looks at Varric. "We could-"

"We're not taking Daisy."

Varric doesn't even pretend to consider it and Hawke purses his lips in annoyance. His hand stays on Fenris' shoulder, fingers brushing absently through his hair as he thinks aloud, "What about Aveline?"

"Oh, yeah," Varric says, "nothing puts a roomful of homicidal nobles at ease like a visit from the captain of the guard."

"Then I guess that settles it." Hawke beams, resting one hand on Fenris' shoulder and one hand on Varric's to pull them in for a quasi-hug. "For the record, there's no-one I'd rather start canapé fights with."

 

:::

 

"You know, if you want someone to help you with something," Anders says, following Hawke through Hightown, "you don't usually tell them that they were your fourth choice."

"I never said you were my fourth choice," Hawke counters. "I said you were my only choice."

"After you exhausted the three other possibilities!"

"Let's not point fingers," Hawke says benevolently. "We're just here to have a nice evening with some free food and a duke who might want us all dead."

"I honestly don't understand your definition of 'a nice evening'," Anders says.

On Fenris' other side, Varric hums in agreement but before the argument can devolve further, they come to a stop at the Duke's mansion. It's guarded, the door flanked by two severe-looking men and Hawke steps forward, keeping a smile on his face as he says, "Hawke and party, here to see Duke Petralac."

The guards exchange glances before ushering them inside and Fenris moves in as close to Hawke as protocol permits.

Hawke and Varric are dressed up for the evening, with puffy sleeves, fine shirts, and tight-fitting trousers, although Fenris had gently dissuaded Hawke from wearing the trousers with a stripe of fire embroidered down the sides. Even Anders has made an effort, fastening his pauldrons for what may well be the first time in his life, and Fenris can't help but feel a little out of place in his usual black armour.

However, what was good enough for a banquet full of magisters will have to be good enough for Free Marches nobility, and he straightens up, scanning the room as he follows Hawke inside.

"Everything all right?" Hawke whispers.

"Nothing out of the ordinary so far," Fenris says under his breath. "Although people don't usually make assassination attempts as soon as the target walks in."

"That wasn't what I-"

"Messere Hawke!" A tall, well-built man with a thin nose and a thinner moustache steps out from a small cluster of guests to greet them. "Welcome to my humble home. I'm so pleased you could join us."

It's not the most sincere opening -- his home is far from humble and the Duke looks far from pleased -- but no-one's set each other on fire yet, so Fenris considers it a relatively tame start to the evening.

"Duke," Hawke says, bowing his head and shaking his hand. "It's so kind of you to invite us."

"Ah, these must be your friends," the Duke says. "How delightful."

"This is Varric Tethras, local businessman; Fenris, my bodyguard; and Anders, a Grey Warden," Hawke says, gesturing to each of them in turn.

The Duke's gaze follows, sizing them all up before reaching out to shake hands with Varric and Anders. "Serah Tethras, of course, I've heard so much about you. And 'Anders', was it? Such an unusual name."

"Oh, no, I'm very usual," Anders says quickly.

The Duke frowns. "Very well. Would you care for a drink, gentlemen?"

Two servants scurry up at the snap of his fingers but Hawke frowns, looking back at Fenris as he says, "Hey-"

Both Varric and Fenris elbow him discreetly, and he shuts up. The Duke moves away, mingling with the crowd, and Fenris takes a sip of wine before passing the glass to Hawke, who is doing very badly at hiding his anger.

"He just ignored you!" he mutters. "Do you think it's because you're an elf?"

"It's possible," Fenris says, refraining from pointing out that in polite society, the host doesn't greet slaves. "He may just dislike bodyguards, especially ones protecting people you're trying to kill."

"I hope he tries to kill us soon," Hawke says grumpily. "I want to punch him."

Fenris gives him a soothing pat on the arm. "Forget about it," he says. "Think about the free food."

Hawke laughs at that, fingers curling around Fenris' wrist for a moment as he says, "What would I do without you?"

"Physically assault a member of the aristocracy."

"You do spoil all my fun," he agrees.

His thumb brushes the markings on Fenris' throat as he reaches up to adjust the collar of his armour, and Fenris' cheeks heat; he shouldn't need his master's help to make himself presentable.

"There," Hawke says with a smile. "You're perfect."

 

:::

 

By Tevinter standards, the mingling portion of the evening is blessedly brief.

With no demons to summon or slaves to grope, Fenris supposes there's less to keep them occupied but he's all too happy for the evening to move along. Duke Petralac has maintained a decent pretence so far, enough that Varric questioned whether this was actually a trap, but Fenris is still on alert as the guests take their seats at the long dining table.

It's a big gathering, thirty guests at least, but the Duke's house is more than up to the task. The table is laid out, servants bustling around as the guests take their seats, and it's all too familiar for Fenris to settle at Hawke's shoulder, not so close as to disturb but close enough to pick up any quiet commands.

Hawke does a double-take when he sees him there, looking around in confusion for another chair, and Fenris is grateful when Varric shushes him, whispering something into Hawke's ear.

"We gather today," Duke Petralac says, holding his glass aloft, "to celebrate the presence of Messere Hawke and the wonderful impact he has had on our fair city." He smiles. "Some may remember Messere Hawke from when he was but a young man, alone with his modest estate after the tragic death of his mother."

Hawke's hand curls around his butter knife. Anders pries his fingers off as subtly as possible.

"Since then, however, he has prospered into the fine gentleman we know today," the Duke continues. "His quick wits and sharp eyes have served him well over the years, and over the card tables."

Polite laughter ripples around the table and Fenris smirks. He'd lay odds that Hawke has cleaned out every single person there at cards at least once (Varric and Anders included).

"But he has built on that," the Duke says, "and in combating slavers, bandits, and corruption, he has risked his life to make Kirkwall into the great city that she is. It is these bold deeds, undertaken without consideration for the powerful enemies he may be making and without concern for his own safety, that we celebrate here this evening."

Fenris raises his eyebrows. As far as 'you've ruined my plans and I want to kill you' speeches go, the Duke's is one of the most blatant he's heard for a while.

"To Hawke!" the Duke calls.

The toast is echoed around the table, with varying degrees of sincerity, and Hawke clears his throat awkwardly.

"Uh, thanks," he says. "I didn't prepare a speech or anything but I'm honoured by the invitation and I promise that I will continue to do everything I can to allow Kirkwall to flourish. Also I hear there's a dragon-"

Varric gives him a sharp poke in the thigh with his fork.

Hawke coughs into his fist. "So yes. Thank you."

"Well said," the Duke lies. "Now please, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the evening."

The servants reappear when he claps his hands, each bearing bowls of steaming soup. Fenris' stomach rumbles at the smell and he steps forward, smoothly intercepting a timid servant before she can set Hawke's bowl on the table.

It's mushroom, far nicer than most of the dishes Fenris has tasted on Hawke's behalf at the Hanged Man, and he sets it down neatly in front of Hawke, satisfied that it won't kill him.

The room swims when he steps back and Fenris rapidly revises his opinion on the lethality of the soup.

He's been poisoned before -- by a couple of junior magisters who thought Fenris was at his master's side solely for decoration rather than poison-tasting -- but as he stumbles forward, he doesn't remember ever feeling quite so ill so fast. His legs give out as he falls forward but he's satisfied that he at least manages to knock over the soup as Hawke catches him.

"Fenris? What-"

"Poison," Fenris chokes out, losing feeling in his hands. "The soup."

He looks to Duke Petralac, who is already turning scarlet with rage, and as he drops to his knees, his only regret is being too far away to kill him.

The room erupts into chaos, bowls being overturned and guests screaming, but Fenris' world narrows to just Hawke's face and the terrified press of Hawke's fingers against his upper arms.

"Can't," Hawke says, and Fenris is pretty sure there are some other words in that sentence that he's missing. "I'll kill…"

Hawke's voice sharpens and even half-conscious, Fenris can recognise an order when he hears one. "Stay with-"

It hurts too much to obey. Hawke's voice fades when he closes his eyes and as he slips away, Fenris can't help but be relieved. If he's going to die for his master, he's glad that master is Hawke.

Chapter Text

The last of his opponents crumples to the ground at Hawke's feet. On either side of him, Varric and Anders are busy finishing off the remaining conspirators but as it's been a while since he heard a battle cry, a pained yell, or any shouts about mages being feared, Hawke figures it's a safe assumption that they're both holding their own.

The same can't be said for Duke Petralac. He's on his knees when Hawke approaches, cowering behind a chair and bleeding from a nasty head wound, but he tries for a smile as Hawke looms over him.

"I'm so glad you stopped them!" he says. "Assassins, at my own party! I assure you, I would never-"

He shuts up when Hawke punches him hard across the face.

It's not quite as satisfying as Hawke had hoped, most of which he chalks up to the absence of silent disapproval from Fenris over his lack of self-control. However, mild dissatisfaction isn't enough to stop him from punching him again as he demands, "The antidote. Where is it?"

"What antidote? I don't-"

Hawke punches him again, harder.

The Duke slumps to the floor, hand over his bloody face as he says, indignant, "You broke my nose!"

"Trust me, friend," Varric says, appearing at Hawke's side, "a broken nose is the least of your concerns right now."

"Watch him," Hawke says, putting a hand on Varric's shoulder and scanning the room for Anders.

He catches sight of him just as he knocks one of the conspirators out with his staff, adding another body to those already strewn about the dining room. Those not involved in the murder plot (and those involved who just lost their nerve) fled as soon as the fighting started and so Hawke has no sympathy for any of the men groaning on the floor.

"Anders!"

Anders' head snaps up at the shout. He looks exhausted, hair flying loose from its tie, but he hurries over to where Fenris is lying on the floor, still unmoving.

Hawke hovers, painfully aware of how long Fenris has been out when he says, "Can you fix him? Do you know what they used? Is it reversible?"

"Maker's breath, Hawke," Anders says, rolling up his sleeves, "I'm a healer, not a psychic. Let me look at him first."

He kneels beside him, checking Fenris' pulse and lifting each of his eyelids in turn, before casting a icy blue spell over his body.

"What was that?" Hawke asks sharply. "What did you do?"

"Oh, nothing, I just removed all the blood from his body to sell on the black market."

"I-" Hawke glares. "That isn't funny."

"And it's about as helpful as you asking me ten questions every time I cast," Anders grumbles. "I'm holding him in stasis. It won't last long but it'll stop the poison spreading further." He glances over at Duke Petralac. "If he wanted to cough up an antidote, now would be a really good time."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," the Duke says.

He dabs delicately at his broken nose but groans when Bianca promptly collides with his head. "Excuse me! I will not take this kind of abu-"

"Shut up," Hawke and Varric say in unison.

"Look," Varric says, "despite all evidence to the contrary, we're not stupid. We know you invited Hawke here to kill him, but since that's not going to happen now, it would be wise to give up the antidote. I don't want to think about what Hawke'll do to you if our elf friend here dies."

The Duke's sneer is half-hearted. "Do you really expect me to care about putting down your attack dog?"

Hawke sighs, crosses the room, and punches him in the face again.

The Duke whimpers, gasping for breath on the floor, and Hawke looks to Varric. "I really thought he would've learned by now."

"You have been very consistent in your approach," Varric agrees. "I could try shooting him?"

"Wait!" the Duke cuts in. "Wait, wait, don't shoot! I don't even have an antidote-"

Hawke raises his fist again but Varric holds a hand up to stop him.

"You're trying our patience, Duke," he says calmly. "You expect me to believe you arranged a poisoning in your own home without a back-up plan in place? What if the dishes had been mixed up? What if one of the servants had tried to murder you instead of Hawke here?"

The Duke's gaze drops to the ground as he regroups for another approach. "If I give you the antidote," he says, "will you let me go?"

"Nope," Hawke says.

"Oh, not a chance," Varric adds.

"These are your options," Hawke says. "Option one: you give us the antidote and we turn you over to the city guard to stand trial. Option two: you don't give us the antidote and I see how many more times I can punch you in the face before you die."

"My money's on four," Varric says helpfully.

"So," Hawke finishes with a pointed crack of his knuckles, "what'll it be, Duke?"

The Duke scowls up at him but something uncoils in Hawke's chest when he finally relents. "Fine," he mutters. "Take your damn antidote, but I expect you to mention my selfless cooperation to the guard."

He slips his hand inside his robe, producing a small vial of silvery liquid which Hawke snatches from his grasp.

He bolts over to Fenris, hearing the Duke grunt behind him when Varric knocks him out, and holds the vial in Anders' face. "Save him."

"I'm working on it," Anders mutters. He flexes his fingers, purple lightning sparking around his fingertips as he says, "I need to wake him up. If you wanted to stop him from killing me, I wouldn't complain."

Hawke nods, settling on his knees beside Fenris as Anders reaches out to lay a hand on his chest. The magic crackles through him, the lyrium lighting up at the contact, and Hawke jumps when Fenris jerks awake.

He cries out, curling in on himself as his markings flash erratically, and Hawke gathers him close, letting Fenris' head and shoulders rest on his lap as he says, "Shh, it's okay. I know it hurts but we're trying to help you, I promise." He looks up at Anders. "We are trying to help him, right?"

Anders rolls his eyes. There's a new spell gathering in the palms of his hands, a green, spiky mist that Hawke hasn't seen before, but even half-conscious, Fenris shies away from it with a muffled plea.

"What is that?" Hawke asks. "What are you doing?"

"I know he only ate a little," Anders says, "but I need to clear out his system as much as possible before I give him the antidote." He nods to the bucket at his side. "It's an emetic. It may not be pleasant."

Gulping, Hawke props Fenris up a little more as Anders prepares to cast. Fenris struggles, eyes wide and unseeing as he begs, "No, no, please! Mistress, please, I haven't-"

Baffled, Hawke looks to Anders but it's too late. The spell slips from his fingers, the spiky mist sliding into Fenris' nose and throat, and Fenris lets out a wretched sob as his body convulses against the floor. Hawke's ready with the bucket and he holds Fenris' hair out of his face as he throws up, rubbing soothing circles on his back while Anders' spell does its work.

Fenris is even paler when he collapses back to the ground and Anders hands Hawke the antidote with the order, "Quick, before he passes out again. It should take now."

Fenris keeps struggling as Hawke holds the vial to his lips but he's weak enough that it's disturbingly easy to overpower him. Hawke tips the liquid down his throat and tries not to notice the terror in Fenris' wide eyes when he holds his mouth closed until Fenris swallows.

Overall, it's definitely in Hawke's top ten least enjoyable experiences ever and he can't help the relief that fills him when Fenris passes out again, even as he looks to Anders for guidance. "Please tell me that's a good sign?"

Anders runs a hand through his hair. "Well, it's not a bad one. He just needs to rest -- I can check on him again after he's had some sleep." He looks him over. "How about you? Want me to fix that head wound?"

Hawke pats at his head in confusion. His fingers come away sticky with fresh blood. "Huh. Didn't even feel it."

"Traditionally that's not a good sign," Anders points out. "Do you really want to pass out in the middle of carrying the elf back to your place?"

"You make a compelling case," Hawke says, leaning in to let Anders heal him. The magic tickles as it snakes through his hair, leaving Hawke with a slight headache when it dissipates, and Hawke flashes Anders a smile as he smoothes down his hair. "Thanks."

"You three should head home," Varric says. "The guard'll be on their way by now -- I can walk them through what happened."

"Are you sure?" Hawke asks. "I was kind of looking forward to giving my story."

"Hawke, I've heard your stories," Varric says. "The world is better off without them. Plus, of the four of us, I look least like I'm about to keel over dead any second."

Hawke glances between Anders, who looks drained and barely awake, and Fenris, who is doing a very good impression of a corpse.

"I take your point," he says. "You know where I'll be if you need me."

Varric smiles, resting his elbow on Bianca's stock. "If I decide the story needs any more bloodthirsty druffalo, you'll be the very first person I call."

 

:::

 

Hawke wakes up the next morning to the clatter of books falling to the floor. It's followed by the thud of a person falling in the same vicinity and he cracks his eyes open in confusion.

It was easy enough to get Fenris back to the manor the previous evening. He hadn't stirred once, not even when Anders accidentally banged his shoulder into a wall or when Hawke not-so-accidentally tickled one of his bare feet, and after sending an exhausted Anders off to sleep in the guest room, Hawke settled into a chair beside Fenris' bed for the night.

As such, it takes him a moment to remember he's not in a bed when he wakes up. He stumbles when he climbs off the chair but manages to stay upright as he goes to investigate the noise.

Fenris' bed is empty but it doesn't take long for Hawke to find him on his knees by the door, books scattered around him from where he fell against the shelves.

"Just for future reference," Hawke says, leaning against the bedpost, "you're definitely allowed to stay in bed after you've been poisoned."

Fenris starts at the sound of his voice. There are still dark circles under his eyes but he ducks his head when Hawke approaches. "Hawke. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

Hawke raises his eyebrows. "I nearly got you killed," he points out. "I'm pretty sure I should be the one apologising."

Fenris' legs give out as he tries and fails to pull himself back to his feet, and Hawke swoops in to help him up. They limp back to the bed, Fenris tense against him, and Hawke is all too happy to bundle Fenris back under the sheets before taking a seat on the end of the bed.

"How are you feeling?" Hawke asks. "The real answer, not the Fenris special."

"The Fenris special?"

"'I'm fine, Hawke'," Hawke says, deepening his voice to mimic Fenris'. "'It's not that bad, Hawke. I only lost two out of four limbs, Hawke.'"

Fenris' cheeks turn a slightly healthier colour when he flushes in embarrassment and Hawke reaches out to rest a hand on his knee. "So how are you really feeling?"

"Better," Fenris says, "but my legs are still weak. If we were attacked, I may not be able to defend you." He looks up at him seriously. "You should hire some more protection until I'm stronger. You can reduce my stipend to pay for it -- I can-"

"Fenris," Hawke says with a sigh. "I'm not worried about my protection, I'm worried about you." He turns to face him fully, tucking his legs up underneath him. "Maker's arse, I thought you'd died back there."

"There was poison," Fenris says, brow knitting together as he tries to remember. "The soup. Did you-"

"I didn't eat any," Hawke says. "No-one did -- we fought off the conspirators and Petralac himself is with the city guard awaiting trial. You saved my life. Again." He smiles. "Guess I'm lucky you were so hungry last night."

"Hungry?"

"Well, hungry enough to steal a bit of my soup," he says. "I still can't believe the Duke didn't let you sit down for…" He trails off when he sees the guilty look on Fenris' face. "What?"

"I wouldn't steal your food, Hawke." Fenris almost sounds offended at the concept, despite Hawke's own well-documented food-stealing habits at group dinners. "I- I was testing it," he says carefully. "I'm your bodyguard -- it's my job."

Hawke blinks. "Your job."

"Some assassins use poison," Fenris says. "A bodyguard should sample everything their master intends to eat."

"I'm not your master," Hawke says out of habit before focusing on the crux of the issue. "Wait, so you've been tasting everything before I eat it? What, to make sure that if it's poisoned, it kills you and not me?"

"Yes." Fenris' expression turns fearful when he asks, "Did I do something wrong?"

"No," Hawke says. "Yes. No. I don't know." His head hurts and he can't help his rising nausea at the thought of Fenris dying on his behalf. "Fenris, I- I'm grateful for you saving my life but I don't want you getting killed in my place. I don't want you getting killed at all -- minimal death would be the ideal outcome here."

"But I'm your bodyguard."

"And you're my friend," Hawke stresses. "More than my friend, you're-" He coughs and decides to save this conversation for later. "My really, really good friend. You dying is not acceptable."

Fenris looks down. "Yes, Hawke."

"And now you're giving me the sad puppy eyes." Shuffling up the bed, Hawke wraps his arm around Fenris' shoulders as he says, "Stop looking so depressed about not dying."

Fenris smiles a little. "I'll work on that."

"And I'll work on my weakness for canapés," Hawke promises. "I have definitely learned my lesson about walking into traps just to get free food. In future I will only walk into traps for free gold or a free mabari."

Somehow Fenris only looks more exhausted when he laughs and Hawke dips down to get a better look at his face when he asks, "Are you hungry? Do you want me to get you some breakfast?"

"I'm not hungry." Fenris' fingers curl in the blanket before he asks, unsure, "Hawke, how did I survive? The poison acted faster than any I've tasted before. All I remember is passing out."

"You've got Anders to thank for that," Hawke admits. "He's around somewhere -- I'll get him to check on you when he wakes up. He slowed the effects of the poison until I could get the antidote from the Duke."

Fenris raises his eyebrows. "He just gave you the antidote?"

Hawke glances down at his bloodied knuckles with a shrug. "Eventually. You'll be pleased to know that I did get to punch him, although it wasn't as fun without you judging me for it."

Fenris smiles at that. "The next time you punch someone, I'll make sure I'm conscious enough to disapprove."

"I'll hold you to that," Hawke teases. Fenris' hair brushes his fingers and Hawke plays with a strand of it as he says cautiously, "When Anders was healing you, he needed to get you to throw up, to get the poison out of your system. He used a spell."

Fenris won't look at him, gaze fixed on the blankets over his legs, and Hawke keeps his arm around him when he says, "You mentioned a 'mistress'. You seemed scared."

Fenris' voice is barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry."

"Hey," Hawke chides, "no apologising, remember? I'm pretty sure that was rule two." He frowns. "Or possibly rule four. I'm not great at lists."

It doesn't lighten the mood any and Hawke starts to regret asking as he says, "You don't need to talk about it if you don't want to. I just wanted to check there was no-one else I needed to worry about, like if you had an earlier mistress or if your former master had a wife." He pats his shoulder. "It doesn't matter."

"She wasn't Danarius' wife," Fenris says, "as much as she might have wished to be. She was his apprentice."

"I'm guessing she was about as pleasant as Danarius himself?"

"She was petty." He pauses, choosing his words carefully. "Spiteful. For all her social climbing, she wasn't ascending as quickly as she would've liked, and she took her frustrations out on those powerless to respond."

"Slaves?"

"She was a torment," Fenris admits. "She would ridicule me, deny my meals, hound my sleep…"

"She didn't let you eat?" Hawke asks, appalled. "Is that why you were thinking of her last night?"

Fenris nods, still not looking up. "If she thought I had eaten without her permission, she would cast that spell on me," he says quietly. "The feel of magic inside me, choking me, I- I hated it."

"Maker," Hawke says, stunned, "I'm so sorry."

Fenris' smile is colourless. "I thought you said there was to be no apologising."

"I'm making an exception," Hawke says firmly. "Every time you tell me about a magister being awful to you, I'm allowed to say that I'm sorry and give you a hug." He squeezes his shoulder. "I really am sorry though. Especially about making you go through that again last night."

"You didn't know," Fenris says. "Besides, the mage was saving my life."

"Call the town criers," Hawke says with a feigned gasp. "Are you actually saying something nice about Anders?"

Fenris is smiling when he elbows him in the ribs. "I'm stating a fact," he says. "I don't know if it was your order or the mage's choice but you both saved me when you had no cause to."

"For a smart guy, you can be remarkably obtuse sometimes," Hawke says, stroking his fingers through Fenris' hair. "You're my friend, Fenris. You're not my slave or my property or even just my bodyguard -- I have all the cause in the world not to want to see you die."

Fenris' head comes to rest against his shoulder and Hawke keeps running his fingers through his hair as he says, "When I won you in that card game, I wasn't thinking straight. Honestly I'm not sure I was thinking at all -- you were so quiet and Danarius was such a dick that all I wanted to do was get you away from him. I figured I'd just cut you loose and send you on your way but I, uh-" He rubs the back of his neck. "I'm really glad you stayed."

Fenris looks up at him, sleepy and relaxed, and despite his better judgement, Hawke keeps talking.

"I like you," he admits. "I'm still kind of surprised how much but, uh, it's not an insubstantial amount."

Fenris' smile is equal parts pleased and surprised when he curls in closer against Hawke. "I like you too."

His tone is painfully open and Hawke tries to ignore the drop of disappointment in his chest at the confirmation that 'like' is the extent of Fenris' feelings towards him.

It doesn't take long to convince himself that it's for the best though -- while his bad choices may be numerous and near-legendary, he has no intention of taking advantage of Fenris' trust -- and he plants a light kiss on the top of Fenris' head before taking the easy way out.

"Well," he says with a smile, "now that's agreed, I think it's time for you to get some sleep, hm?"

Fenris frowns, even as he struggles to keep his eyes open. "My duties-"

"Can wait," Hawke says, shushing him. "Isabela's already going to have my head for getting you poisoned -- I don't want to think what she'll do if I let you drop dead of exhaustion." He grimaces. "Probably something unpleasant involving my nostrils and my intestines."

Easing Fenris back down to the pillow, he shimmies out of bed and straightens his clothes as Fenris succumbs to sleep again. Hawke pats him on the head and grins at the sleepy little noise he makes as he burrows into the blankets. "Sleep well."

As he leaves Fenris' bedrooom, he makes a mental note to set much clearer bodyguard rules in future. While standing there being attractive and intimidating is to be encouraged, there should be no more poison tasting or near-death experiences.

With that decided, Hawke hums to himself as he heads down to the kitchen to locate ingredients for a larger, more contrite apology cake.

 

:::

 

It's five weeks later when Hawke plops down to a seat at the Hanged Man with a sigh. "I have a problem."

Isabela looks pointedly at his beard over the rim of her mug. "Just the one?"

"Your support is always appreciated," Hawke says, taking a large swig of ale. It tastes less like rats than usual. "It's Fenris."

"Did you get him poisoned again?"

"No!"

"Stabbed?"

"No."

"Ah, I know," Isabela says triumphantly. "Choked unconscious!"

"None of those things have happened to him for at least two weeks," Hawke says. He puts his head in his hands. "Maker's arse, I'm a terrible person."

"We're all terrible people," Isabela says dismissively. "You're just very prone to being in danger and Fenris is very prone to propelling himself between you and said danger." She gives him a pat on the head. "What's the problem this time?"

"I like him," Hawke says miserably. "As more than just my bodyguard."

Isabela's gaze sharpens. "You haven't-"

"No!" Hawke says. "No, of course not."

"Good," Isabela says. Her grin reappears. "But you want to."

"Only with Fenris as a very willing participant," Hawke stresses. "I don't even know if he can be a willing participant in this. Or if he'd want to be."

"Is it too much to hope that you've tried asking him?"

"Of course I asked him," Hawke says. He makes an offended noise before reconsidering his response. "Well, indirectly."

She arches an eyebrow. "How indirectly?"

"A tiny detour at most," he says. "It was right after we dealt with Duke Petralac."

"You mean right after Fenris got poisoned and nearly died?"

"Yeah, the next morning," he continues, undaunted. "I told him I liked him and he just said it back, as though I was saying Iliked his shirt or something."

"Uh-huh."

"And I don't want to push him. If that was him saying that's as far as this goes, I can respect that, but I keep thinking that maybe he-"

He falls quiet when Isabela holds her hand up.

"How many times do you think anyone has ever told Fenris they like him?" she asks. "In literally any capacity, not just a romantic one."

"Not many?" Hawke ventures.

Isabela raises her eyebrows.

"All right, none."

"Precisely," she says. "Now, I'm not exactly your resident romance expert-"

"My other choices were Varric, Anders, Aveline and Merrill."

"Point taken." Isabela takes a sip of her drink. "My suggestion? Talk to the poor guy. Actually talk this time, don't just grunt something about liking him and then retreat back to your cave."

"I do not grunt," Hawke mutters. "Anyway, even if he says it's reciprocal, what do I do then? How do I know he's not just saying it because I'm his boss and he wants to keep me happy?"

"You know how you could find out for certain?"

Hawke sits forward. "How?"

Isabela's stare is flat. "By talking to him, you idiot."

Hawke lets his head thunk against the table. It's unpleasantly sticky. "I hate you."

"You love me," Isabela says with confidence. "Possibly not quite as much as you love Fenris but I'll try not to be too jealous."

The door to the Hanged Man clatters open and she sits up. "Right on time." Hawke whines when she lands a kick to his shin. "Go forth and talk."

"Or I could just stay here with you and never have any awkward conversations with Fenris ever again," he suggests. "That's a very underrated option."

"Hawke, the new barmaid has been looking my way for the past hour," Isabela says, straightening her dress. "Please leave."

She gives him another nudge with her foot and Hawke reluctantly sits up. From the look of surprised distaste on Isabela's face, the table was not as clean as he'd hoped and he sighs. "Just tell me where it is."

"Forehead," Isabela says helpfully. "Also nose and cheek."

Rubbing his face clean on his sleeve, Hawke waits to get the thumbs up from Isabela before heading over to where Varric and Merrill are sitting in the corner with Fenris. The three of them are flecked with paint from Merrill's latest efforts with the Vhenadahl and Hawke approaches just in time to catch the end of Varric's story.

"…and then he says 'Oh, I'm just hanging around'."

Merrill dissolves into laughter and Fenris smiles even as he shakes his head. For his part, Hawke folds his arms when Varric turns around to greet him.

"What happened to 'my lips are sealed'?" Hawke asks.

"My lips were sealed," Varric says. "It's just that sometimes the situation calls for a story about someone falling out of a tree and getting caught in a vine, and you happen to be the only person I know who's accomplished that. If you think about it, it's really a compliment."

"Do you have any more stories?" Merrill asks. "They don't have to involve trees."

Varric looks at Hawke with a smirk. "Well, there was one incident at a swamp…"

"Hey, that was not my fault," Hawke cuts in. "That gurgut tricked me."

"Gurguts are known for their duplicity," Fenris says.

Hawke blinks. "Really?"

"No," Varric answers for him and Hawke groans.

"I'm outnumbered," he says, putting a hand to his head. "This isn't a fair fight." He looks over to Fenris as he asks, "Do you want to get a drink? Make it two-on-two?"

Fenris is on his feet in an instant, moving to Hawke's side, and Varric chuckles. "I can't believe you're backing down from a friendly discussion here, Hawke." He turns to Merrill and says loudly, "All right, Daisy, let me tell you about the time Hawke tried to go fishing."

Hawke winces at the memory -- in retrospect, naming an electric eel 'The Ari-shock' wasn't the most auspicious choice -- and hurriedly shepherds Fenris away to the bar. With the new barmaid happily (way)laid by Isabela, it takes a moment to catch Corff's eye and Hawke pitches up against the bar as he waits for the ale to arrive.

Fenris leans beside him, specks of red and green paint visible in his white hair. "Did anything happen while I was away?"

"Now that you mention it," Hawke says, "I did nearly get kidnapped by some golems."

Fenris blanches and Hawke lapses into a grin. "I'm kidding. There were no attempts on my life of any kind in the two hours you were gone." He reaches up to rub a smudge of red paint off Fenris' cheek but only succeeds in smearing it further across his face. "How's the tree looking?"

"It's hard to tell," Fenris admits. "Merrill seems pleased, although I suppose that's not unusual."

"If the paint on the tree looks anywhere near as good as the paint on your face, I don't blame her," Hawke says.

Fenris blushes, scrubbing at the paint on his cheek in embarrassment, but he has no more success than Hawke in removing it.

"You look fine," Hawke promises, tapping the red stripe across his own nose. "At least now we match."

Fenris smiles at that and stops scrubbing long enough to take a drink of ale when the mugs appear. The lull in the conversation isn't unpleasant but it provides enough of an opening for Hawke to make his move.

"So I was thinking," he says casually, "how would you feel about going out for dinner one of these days? Just the two of us, somewhere nice."

He looks around at the drunk guy snoring on the nearest table and the unidentified substance dripping from the ceiling before clarifying, "Somewhere nicer than here, anyway."

"Whatever you wish," Fenris says obediently. There's a tiny crease of confusion between his brows and Hawke waits for the inevitable question. "Why?"

It's an effort to stop himself waving it off as just a friendly dinner but Hawke pushes through, committing himself to the potential awkwardness as he says, "I like spending time with you." Fenris blinks in surprise and Hawke perseveres, "And if you're okay with it, I'd like to keep spending time with you. Potentially as more than just a friend."

Fenris' eyes go very wide.

Hawke cringes. "Please don't run?"

He doesn't miss the way Fenris' gaze darts to Varric and Merrill for back-up and he's pretty sure that it's only his training which stops Fenris from bolting.

"I- I thought you didn't want- You said-"

He's stammering worse than he has for months and Hawke immediately regrets the choices that led him to this point.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he promises, resting a hand on Fenris' shoulder. "I'm not like Danarius, remember? I'm never going make you do anything you don't want to." He tries for a smile. "Also my beard is much less creepy than his."

Some of the fear fades from Fenris' eyes and Hawke gives him a reassuring smile. "Look, this doesn't need to go any further. If you're not interested in anything more than being friends, that's absolutely fine. You can still live at the manor, you can still be my bodyguard -- nothing has to change." He squeezes his shoulder. "We can even go out for dinner somewhere nice just as friends if you want. No recreational kissing required."

Fenris looks at him with big serious eyes for a long moment. Hawke's cheeks heat at the scrutiny but he holds his gaze until Fenris says, "I don't want that."

The sting of rejection is less painful than Hawke anticipated. He straightens up and finds that he's entirely sincere when he says, "Not a problem. Are you still up for dinner as just friends, or-"

"That wasn't-" There's a hint of frustration in Fenris' voice and he pauses to take a breath before saying, "I want to try the more than friends dinner." Then, softer, "Please?"

Keeping the smile off his face proves to be too much of a challenge so Hawke gives in and beams at him. "Really?"

Fenris seems to be having the same problem when he smiles up at him. "If that's all right?"

"That's more than all right," Hawke says. "I mean, you- I-"

He stops before he embarrasses himself any further and says with a winning smile, "Just for the record, I am really great at wooing."

"I… have little experience with wooing," Fenris admits, and Hawke aims an exaggerated wink in his direction.

"Then prepare to be amazed."

 

:::

 

"I'm close," Hawke says, panting for breath. "Little more…"

Fenris obliges, pushing up between Hawke's legs, and Hawke groans, arching his back and pushing his cheek harder against the wall. "Next time," he says between gasps, "you can go on top."

"I don't mind," Fenris says. His hands curl around Hawke's thighs to help him stay upright, as he adds, "I'm stronger."

"I'm nearly twice your size," Hawke points out.

Fenris just laughs. "You're not quite that big."

They sway again, Hawke's fingers clutching at the stone for balance, and he sighs as he reaches up again. "Maybe we should just assume that I won't accidentally throw my keys on any rooftops in future?"

He stretches up higher, face to the stone wall as his fingers brush the ring of his keys. For someone who's had Hawke sitting on his shoulders for a while, Fenris is impressively sturdy beneath him, arms hooked over Hawke's feet and hands on Hawke's thighs, and Hawke gives him a pat on the head with his left hand as he reaches up with his right.

"Almost there…"

The keys tumble off the roof into his hand and he lets out a whoop of triumph. "Victory is ours!"

He can feel the vibrations of Fenris' laughter between his thighs and does his best to keep his balance when Fenris sinks to his knees to deposit him back on the ground. Hawke thumps his shoulder against the wall as he dismounts, pleasantly tipsy from dinner, and he holds out his hand to a pink-cheeked and dishevelled Fenris with a flourish. "Good ser."

Fenris shakes his head as he lets Hawke help him to his feet. "Is this how wooing usually works?"

"Partly," Hawke says. "Good food, good wine, and charming company come as standard but sitting on someone's shoulders to rescue my keys is completely unique to you."

Fenris laughs, falling into steps beside him as Hawke slings an arm around his shoulders. "I suppose I'm flattered."

"As you should be," Hawke says.

"Please don't throw your keys on any more rooftops."

Hawke puts a hand to his heart. "The sacrifices I make for you," he teases. "No more rooftops, I promise. I'll keep a close watch over them until we get-" He looks down at his empty pockets. "Wait, where did they go?"

Fenris dangles them in his face.

"Ah." The lingering effect of the wine hums through him as he shifts his arm from around Fenris' shoulder and takes his hand instead. "I don't know how I'd cope without you."

"Poorly, I suspect," Fenris says but he's smiling as he links his fingers with Hawke's. The door to Hawke's manor looms and they slow their pace as he says quietly, "I enjoyed tonight."

"Me too," Hawke says, and means it.

The meal had been good and while Fenris sampled most of Hawke's food, it was only after Hawke had already taken the first bite (and usually after Hawke had stolen a bite of Fenris' food too). The conversation flowed easily, with Hawke only making one ill-judged attempt at juggling bread rolls, and as they come to a stop in front of the door, Hawke can't help but be disappointed that the evening is ending so soon.

"I guess we're home," he says. "How would you feel about doing this again sometime? Next time with no after dinner acrobatics."

Uncertainty flickers across Fenris' face but he sounds surprisingly confident when he says, "I'd like that."

He lets go of Hawke's hand, his gaze flickering between Hawke's eyes and his mouth, and Hawke lets out a stunned yelp when Fenris pushes him back against the wall and kisses him.

It's different to their first kiss on the ship. Fenris' mouth is hot and eager against his, one hand cupping the back of Hawke's head to stop it smacking on the stone and one hand on his hip as he draws him in deeper. There's no nerves there this time and any hesitancy on Fenris' part is gone in an instant when Hawke holds his hips and kisses him back.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows they should probably talk about this but after hours of talking and tentative touches, he can't help but enjoy this new, more decisive side of Fenris.

Hawke lets him take the lead, curling his tongue against Fenris' only when Fenris' tongue first eases past his lips. Fenris stretches up on his tiptoes, elbow resting on Hawke's shoulder for balance, and Hawke pulls him closer as he offers up everything Fenris' kiss is demanding.

Fenris' face is flushed when they break apart and Hawke guesses his is no better when he says, breathless, "I was going to suggest we take it slow but…"

Fenris' smirk is downright mischievous when he gives him another quick kiss on the lips.

"…that's good too," Hawke finishes, dazed.

Even kiss-drunk, he has enough presence of mind to catch Fenris' hand, stealing the keys from Fenris' belt as he leads him towards the door. It opens with a thunk and Hawke backs inside, glancing up to the bedroom as he asks, "Do you want to-"

He's airborne before he can finish talking.

For an instant, he thinks it's Fenris' doing, throwing him bodily towards the couch to have his way with him, but that theory is tragically disproved when Hawke collides hard with the wall before collapsing to the ground.

The glyph around him shimmers a fiery orange and he looks up to see Fenris crash to the floor in the middle of the room, winded but thankfully still conscious.

Outraged and aching, Hawke drags himself to his feet and glares at the handful of shadowy figures loitering by his stairs. "Well, that was uncalled for."

"Silence."

It's a woman's voice. Before Hawke can explain that he's never been silent for anyone, let alone a shady intruder, the glyph at his feet flares and he drops to his knees with a groan as heat races up the backs of his legs.

The light of the glyph dies again just as quickly and Hawke looks up to where the woman is walking down the stairs. The candlelight catches her face, revealing short dark hair, cold eyes, and a mage's stave on her back, and Hawke frowns in confusion. Usually when someone breaks in to try to kill him, he has at least some idea of how often he's beaten them at cards, how many of their henchmen he's taken out, or how many of their blood relatives he's flirted with.

"All right," he admits, "I'm drawing a blank. Who are you?"

"Not here for you," the mage answers with a cold smile.

Hawke follows her gaze to where Fenris is sprawled on the floor. His eyes are wide and Hawke can't tell whether there's more fury or terror in his voice when he finally speaks.

"Hadriana."

Chapter Text

As far as break-ins go, Hadriana's operation is surprisingly well organised.

She has six guards with her, stationed at even intervals around the room with their swords drawn. If it were just them, Hawke would consider it a fairly standard Thursday evening, but the presence of three blood mages (plus Hadriana herself) shifts his assessment of the current threat level from 'in mild peril' to 'possibly fucked'.

Both the mages and the guards ignore him when he shouts, save for the occasional flaring of the glyph whenever he gets too noisy for Hadriana's liking, and so there's nothing Hawke can do when the blood mages focus their attention on Fenris.

He struggles when their magic wraps around him, one dark tendril coiling around his arms from wrist to elbow while two more snake around his neck. One of the mages takes his sword, flinging it across the room with ease, and gives a cruel tug on the magic around his neck when Fenris curses at them.

His lyrium flares as he thrashes, tethered in place with one mage behind him and one on each side, but he can't stop them from dragging him forward on his knees to Hadriana, a wild animal bound for slaughter.

Hawke still has no idea who she is but he already wants to kill her.

"Really," Hadriana says with a sigh, "I expected more from you, elf. You usually know better than to resist."

"Oh!" Hawke says as realisation dawns. "You're her! The bitter apprentice!"

Hadriana narrows her eyes when she looks over at him. Hawke isn't exactly sure what he expected from someone who starved slaves for her own amusement but he decides she fits the picture.

"I don't know which sty you were raised in," she says scathingly, "but an apprentice to a magister of the Tevinter Imperium outranks a Free Marches mongrel calling himself nobility."

Hawke's honestly more offended by the implied insult to mongrels than the actual insult to himself and he meets Hadriana's anger with a smirk.

"Wow," he says, "I can't imagine why your master sent you away to Kirkwall. He must be absolutely devastated at being parted from you for such a long journey."

"Magister Danarius values my skills," Hadriana says coldly. "He is my mentor -- I'm his apprentice, not his slave." She glances down at Fenris. "Unlike some I could mention."

"Danarius is not my master."

Fenris' protest is close to a snarl and both Hawke and Hadriana look at him in surprise. Hawke half-expected him to shut down, to revert back to the kneeling, cowering slave he'd been when they first met, and he can't help the swell of pride at the confidence in Fenris' voice.

"Is he not?" Hadriana says. "When I last checked, you were listed as his property. Is the ownership certificate in the Hall of Records mistaken?" She smirks. "Perhaps I should have you read it for me on our return."

Fenris' eyes lower at that, jaw tightening in shame, and Hawke speaks up before she can twist the knife deeper. "Danarius lost him to me. He has no right to claim him."

"I see," Hadriana says, unruffled. "I assume you have a deed of transfer to verify that you own the slave?"

"Uh," Hawke says intelligently.

"Or a contract for the wager? Some sort of proof of transaction?" Her smile is knowing and victorious. "You understand I must be thorough, of course. We wouldn't want your claim to be declared invalid." She grips Fenris' jaw, tilting his face from side to side as she inspects him. "He does get so difficult if he doesn't have someone to take proper care of him."

From what Fenris told him, Hawke has a good idea of what Hadriana's definition of 'proper care' encompasses. His desire to kill her intensifies.

Fenris wrenches free of her grip but is still held in place by magic when he growls, "I do not need your 'care'."

"That isn't for you to decide, elf," she retorts. "You belong to Magister Danarius, just as you always have. Even if Serah Hawke did own you, I would still be here to call in his debt."

She says his name as though he's pigshit she just stepped in but Hawke's attention hangs instead on the end of her sentence. "Wait, what debt?"

"For the cost of Magister Danarius' men," Hadriana says. "Your dog here has killed dozens of them over the past few months. The Magister is within his rights to demand recompense."

She wrinkles her nose as she looks around Hawke's reception room and adds, "Since the elf appears to be the only thing here of sufficient value, I'll be taking him as repayment."

Hawke looks between her and Fenris, baffled. "What are you talking about? Fenris didn't kill your men. He…"

He trails off at the guilty expression on Fenris' face. Apparently blanket denials were the wrong tactic and Hadriana seizes upon it with glee.

"You didn't know?" she says, voice mocking as she looks back down at Fenris. "Have you been lying to your betters, dog?"

Fenris keeps his eyes on the floor but Hawke starts in shock when the guard to Hadriana's right steps forward and backhands him hard across the face.

Fenris' head rocks to the side, eyes clenched shut as Hadriana orders, "Answer when you're spoken to."

"I'm sorry," Fenris says but his gaze finds Hawke rather than Hadriana. "Danarius sent men after me. Mercenaries. I always took care of them."

"Without telling me?"

It comes out harsher than he intended, fuelled by fear rather than anger, but Fenris lowers his eyes in apology before Hawke can clarify.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I- I didn't want you to have to fight on my behalf."

There's a physical ache in Hawke's chest. "Fenris…"

Fenris won't look at him and Hawke tries Hadriana instead. "How many?" he asks. "How many mercenaries did Danarius send?"

Hadriana's lips are pressed into a thin line. She doesn't answer straight away but from the way she looks at Fenris, as if re-evaluating the threat he poses, Hawke guesses that it's not an insignificant number.

"He sent enough," she says eventually and Hawke can't help the bark of laughter that escapes him.

"Clearly not," he says. "Not if Fenris is still here and they're all in the ground."

"Then it's fortunate that Magister Danarius sent me to rectify that," Hadriana says curtly. "The slave will be returning with me. With any luck I'll have chance to improve his behaviour by the time we reach Minrathous. The discipline here seems lax, to say the least."

"No," Fenris says, pulling uselessly at the magic binding his arms. "I will not go back to him! You-"

The guard delivers another brutal backhand before he can finish. The dual coils of magic around his throat are just about the only thing holding him upright but Hadriana holds up a hand to stop the guard before he can hit him a second time.

She grasps his jaw again, bending down until they're eye to eye. Fenris' fingers flex nervously in his restraints but Hadriana's grip only tightens when he tries to pull away.

"Stop squirming," she orders, "or I'll take an eye."

Fenris stills at that, breath coming out panicked and shallow, and Hadriana smiles in approval. "I see you haven't forgotten all the lessons I taught you. By the time I get you home, you'll be eating out of my hand like an obedient little pup, won't you?"

Fenris doesn't reply and she forces his chin up higher. "Answer me, slave."

Hawke can barely track the blur of movement that follows.

He sees Fenris lunge forward as much as his restraints allow, and then watches Hadriana stagger back, a hand to her cheek, but it's not until she draws herself up to her full height and lowers her arm that Hawke sees the blood trickling down her face.

Blood paints Fenris' teeth from the bite. While the wound isn't deep, Hawke wants to cheer at the fact that Fenris is still fighting.

Hadriana's eyes are bright with fury but her voice stays level when she addresses the guard at her side. "Scaevola, remind me to pick up an appropriate muzzle before we take ship."

"You can't treat him like this," Hawke snaps. The glyph ignites as he reaches the edge, trapping him inside, and he curls his hands into fists in frustration. "He's a person, not a damn dog!"

"Not for long," Hadriana promises. "He'll soon be back on his master's leash." Blood drips from her cheek to stain her robe as she eases the stave from her back. "Although I suppose there's no time like the present to restart his obedience training."

She lands a kick to Fenris' ribs and he chokes on the magic around his throat as he doubles over. "Bark for me, dog. Show Ser Hawke what you really are."

Fenris stays silent even as Hawke bristles. "You fuck-"

Fire blazes at the tip of Hadriana's stave before Hawke can mount any further protest and he watches, open-mouthed, as she slams the blunt end against the floor.

Fenris' markings flare orange, burning brighter than the fire in the grate, and Hawke pushes desperately against the barrier of the glyph as Fenris cries out in agony.

The magic doesn't stop, dancing eerily along the lyrium like flames, and Fenris' cries get louder as he curls in on himself as much as his restraints allow. His whole body trembles with pain, fingers locked into fists and shoulders pulled in tight in a useless attempt to shield himself from the magic tearing through him, and when Hadriana finally ends the spell, he all but collapses to the ground.

His hitching gasps are loud in the silent room and Hawke's fingers itch to reach out and comfort him (or to reach out and murder Hadriana, which seems like a solid alternative option).

"Bark," Hadriana orders again.

She raises her stave in warning. However, as Fenris pulls himself back upright, his only response is to spit at her in defiance.

Her stave lights with a furious crackle of electricity and she slams it down again as Hawke yells, "No!"

Fenris' cry is ragged this time as he writhes helplessly under the fresh onslaught. Even without the mages holding him in place, there'd be nowhere for him to escape to as the spell arcs along the lyrium in his skin, and Hawke finds himself pleading on Fenris' behalf.

"Stop!" he begs. "Maker, you're killing him! Stop it!"

Hadriana waves her hand dismissively, leaving Fenris wreathed in lighting still. "It will stop when he obeys."

Another burst of lightning leaps from her fingertips. Fenris jerks, sobbing at the renewed pain, but Hawke frowns when he catches a flash of something out of the corner of his eye. The glyph beneath him stutters as Hadriana aims bolt after bolt at Fenris and Hawke keeps his movements slow and unobtrusive when he reaches out to test the stretch of the barrier keeping him in place.

His hand passes over the edge of the circle as though the glyph were no more than chalk on the ground.

Across the room, Fenris' screams cut off when his voice gives out. The lightning doesn't stop, racing along his markings as he curls into a tighter ball at Hadriana's feet, and Hawke takes advantage of the distraction when Hadriana looks down at Fenris with a cruel smile. "Come on, dog. You remember how this works."

Hawke slips his daggers off his back as her taunts continue. The weight of them is reassuring in his hands and as he lines up his shots, he sends up a quick prayer to the Maker that his aim stays true. (After all, if he can throw his keys onto a roof, he should at least be able to throw some daggers into a couple of blood mages.)

He lets both daggers fly at once, one from each hand, and a disbelieving grin spreads across his face when both find their mark.

One of the mages holding a leash around Fenris' throat drops dead, gurgling around the knife in his neck, and the mage binding Fenris' arms falls a moment later, staring dumbly at the dagger sticking out of his chest.

Fenris pitches forward, overbalancing when the lightning disappears along with two of his bonds, but before Hawke can go after the remaining mage, Fenris is already on his feet. He's still shaking as he rounds on the mage but any residual pain doesn't slow him down when he runs towards him, lyrium flaring white in preparation.

His fist is through the mage's chest in an instant and Hawke only wishes he could savour Hadriana's shocked gasp for longer when Fenris lets the mage drop to the floor, the last of the magical restraints dissolving as he dies.

"Guards!" Hadriana yells. Shades are already rising from the floor at the first tap of her stave and Hawke rolls across the floor to retrieve his daggers as she orders, "Kill Hawke. Take the elf alive if you can."

Fenris launches himself at her with a furious yell but Hadriana's barrier leaps into place before his hands can close around her throat. She smirks at him, safe for the moment, and Fenris slams his fist against the protective cage in frustration. "I will kill you before I let you take me!"

Hadriana just laughs as she calls to the guards and shades, "Of course, if you do have to kill him, please go ahead."

"Fenris!"

Fenris turns at the sound of his name and catches the sword that Hawke throws in his direction. He stumbles a little at the weight of it, which gives Hawke a good indication of just how much Hadriana's spells took out of him, but he hefts it aloft as two shades race towards him, claws bared.

It's a long fight. They cut down the first waves of shades with relative ease but as more and more rise up on Hadriana's command, exhaustion starts to slow the pace of Hawke's blades.

Fenris gets quieter and quieter as he hacks his way through the shades swarming around him, every last bit of his energy focused on getting through the fight, but when a rage demon erupts from Hawke's fireplace, it proves one step too far.

He's felled by a swipe of fiery talons and Hawke looks over with a panicked yell as Fenris' sword crashes to the ground beside him. "No!"

The desire demon to Hawke's left laughs in wicked delight. Hawke barely gives it a second look when he decapitates it in one quick swipe before rushing across the room to where the rage demon is looming over Fenris.

He's honestly surprised by how far his tired legs propel him when he jumps and he grunts as he sinks both blades deep into the rage demon's back.

It bellows, staggering back in an attempt to throw him off, but Hawke clings onto the hilts of his blades as he stabs again and again and again. He can feel the heat of it against him, its embers searing through the soles of his boots where his feet are braced against its back, but he only registers the sting of the burn once the demon sinks back into a smoking heap on the ground.

A few feet away, Fenris has his sword in his hand once again as he tries to push himself to his feet but his legs are shaking too badly to stand.

"Worthless elf," Hadriana says with a sneer.

There's magic building in her hands when Hawke looks over and he hesitates, torn between standing guard over Fenris and attacking while he has the chance.

"Danarius has wasted enough on his inane fixation with you," Hadriana says as the dark spell twists around her fingers. "I won't allow him to waste more."

The spell flies from her hands, sharp and swift and aimed straight at Fenris, and somehow Hawke's choice is no longer really a choice at all.

The spell doesn't hurt when it hits him. The first sensation is one of impact rather than injury, as it knocks him back across the room to crash hard to the floor. It's only when he stares up at the ceiling and takes a breath that the injury finally makes itself known.

"Maker's fucking balls…"

Squeezing his eyes shut does nothing to lessen the pain and so he risks a glance at where the pulses of agony seem to be emanating from his side.

As it turns out, that's a bad choice and Hawke's head thunks back against the floor at the sight of the open wound in his side. He's fairly certain he can see at least two of his internal organs but decides against further inspection as he groans, "Fuck…"

"Hawke!"

It's an effort to turn his head but he figures it's worth it when he sees the shock on Hadriana's face. The expression on Fenris' face is far less satisfying but before Hawke can offer any kind of comfort, Fenris' gaze turns murderous as he looks up at Hadriana.

He stumbles when he tries to stand, his legs still weak from the spells, but even without his sword to support him, he makes it upright.

Hadriana steps back, fresh magic gathering on her palm, as she says, "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You always were stupid, elf. It's fitting you'd end up serving someone just as dim-witted as you."

Her smirk can't quite conceal her fear when she glances at Hawke. "What kind of fool gives his life for another man's slav-"

Fenris throws himself forward before she can finish speaking. The spell slips from Hadriana's hands as she fumbles for her barrier but can't raise it in time to protect her.

With no barrier between them, the collision knocks them both to the floor. Fenris' hands find her throat, his markings flaring blue as he tightens his grip, and Hadriana chokes, clawing at Fenris' arms and kicking out into nothing but air.

"Stop!" she gasps. "You do not want to do this, elf! I can-"

Fenris' fingers push into her neck, a flat refusal to her unfinished offer. It's quick, just a sharp tug and a wet rattle, and Hadriana's body goes limp as Fenris drops her torn-out throat to the floor.

He's on his feet again immediately, not giving her a second glance as he stumbles over to Hawke. His hands settle on Hawke's hip and shoulder but his eyes widen at the sight of the wound.

Hawke can't help but smile. "That good, huh?"

His lips aren't moving properly. His words come out slurred which only makes Fenris look even more worried as he tears some silk off the nearby body of a mage and holds it to Hawke's wound.

Hawke howls. The press of the silk seems to make the pain at least eight times worse and as he clutches at Fenris' wrists in a vain attempt to pry him off. "What are you…"

He's fairly certain Fenris says something in response but he doesn't hear it above the blood rushing in his ears. His head feels light all of a sudden, like he's had a few too many drinks, and he blinks faster when the ceiling starts to disappear around the edges.

"I'm going to pass out now," he says. He's a helpful guy; he feels like he should keep Fenris updated on things like this. "Please don't panic."

"Hawke!" There's a significant amount of panic in Fenris' voice but Hawke can't muster enough strength to complain about his request being ignored. "Hawke, no. No!"

Something is shaking him. Hawke's fifty-fifty as to whether it's Fenris or an earthquake but his eyelids are too heavy for him to open his eyes to check. Fenris' voice sounds further and further away and when the shaking stops for a moment, it's far too easy for Hawke to just let go.

 

:::

 

"Fix him!"

"In case it somehow escaped your notice, that is exactly what I'm trying to do," Anders snaps.

Hawke lets out a slow breath. His brain is foggy but there's something pleasingly familiar about Anders' complaints.

"Then try harder!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Anders says sarcastically, "I didn't realise you'd suddenly become a mage and acquired years of healing experience when I wasn't looking."

Exasperation pushes through again when he says, "I'm trying as hard as I can. I promise you, if he doesn't make it, it won't be for lack of effort on my part."

"He can't die. You can't let him die, not like this. Please."

Hawke can't tell if his mouth is moving but given his usual involvement in the healing process, he's pretty certain that he's the one harassing Anders.

He can't quite remember who's dying this time, but since he sounds upset about it, it's probably someone important.

"It's not as if he's waiting for my permission," Anders says with a sigh. Hawke can't manage to open his eyes to check but he's sure Anders is wiping the back of his hand across his forehead. "Look, I'm doing everything I can. He's lost a lot of blood."

"I know that! Just- Just fix him. Heal him. Do something!"

"Well, that explains what you see in each other," Anders mutters. "I suppose relationships have been formed on less than a shared lack of respect for the healing arts."

Hawke smirks. He isn't sure who else could be as impatient as him when it comes to healing but he's confident he would get on well with them.

He's still smiling to himself when he passes out again.

 

:::

 

Hawke wakes up to find himself levitating.

It's a pleasant feeling, being numb and weightless and floaty, and as such, he's slightly disappointed when he opens his eyes to see that he's lying in his bed rather than hovering a short distance above it. His mind feels equally detached but as he twitches his fingers and toes to wake himself up, his thoughts come tumbling back together.

The memories of Hadriana and of the spell tearing through him are both equally unpleasant and Hawke pushes the blankets down to check on his wound. It doesn't hurt, suggesting magical pain relief, and he prods clumsily at the bandages wrapped around his torso until he gets the expected twinge of pain.

"Huh."

Satisfied (and honestly kind of impressed) that he's still alive, he turns his attention to his surroundings. There's a sizeable heap of bloodied bandages in a pile against the wall and two snapped hair-ties on his nightstand, both of which prove Anders was definitely here.

There's no sign of him in the room but Hawke smiles anyway when he sees his current nurse.

Fenris is curled up on the chair beside Hawke's desk. It's been turned to face the bed but after Hawke being out for Maker knows how long, Fenris' head has drooped forward in sleep, his chin resting on his chest and his hair falling down over his eyes.

Hawke almost feels guilty about waking him when he clears his throat.

Fenris jerks awake, blinking in confusion, but Hawke's feigned throat-clearing turns into an actual cough before he can manage any kind of greeting.

Every cough pulls on his wound and he drops his head back onto the pillows as he waits for the coughing fit to run its course. Fenris is by his side like lightning, cup of water in one hand and pillow in another, and Hawke lets him prop him up as he takes a much-needed drink.

"That was less smooth than I pictured," Hawke admits. His mouth tastes like something died in it and so he takes another sip of water. "I had a slick introduction lined up and everything."

It doesn't draw the expected smile from Fenris. He settles in position at the side of the bed, back straight and arms at his sides, but there's definite worry on his face as his eyes skim over Hawke's body.

"Why are you looking at me like I'm dying?" Hawke asks suspiciously. He peers down at his wound again, suddenly concerned. "Wait, am I dying?"

"No, ser," Fenris says. Hawke frowns at the form of address but Fenris continues before he can query it. "You need rest but you should be stable now." He doesn't meet Hawke's eyes when he says, "The mage said you were very lucky."

"That's me," Hawke says with a groan, "much too lucky to die. Not to mention much too attractive." The wound aches when he stretches and he winces as he admits, "Although I suppose it helps having a great healer who owes me favours."

"The mage said to tell you that you owe him seven favours now."

"Please note I said he was a great healer, not a great counter." A tiny smile tugs at Fenris' lips and Hawke glances over again at the messy pile of bandages as he asks, concerned, "What about Orana? I gave her the night off yesterday -- is she all right?"

"She's fine," Fenris says. "She never even saw Hadriana." He hesitates before saying tentatively, "But you gave her the day off three days ago. You've been in and out of consciousness since you were wounded. I didn't-" He swallows. "It will take time for you to heal."

Recognising Fenris-speak for 'you nearly died and I'm upset about it', Hawke reaches out to give his hand a reassuring squeeze. Fenris all but jumps at the contact, looking down at Hawke in surprise, and Hawke frowns as he angles the topic away from his brush with death.

"What about you?" he asks. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm well," Fenris says quickly.

"Right," Hawke says, drawing the word out. "Of course. All the well people I know were tortured by magisters and have a nasty looking bruise on their face."

Fenris' hand goes to his cheek, to the dark bruise put there by Hadriana's guard, and he amends his answer. "I'll be fine, ser."

"That's the second time you've called me 'ser'," Hawke points out.

It's an effort to drag himself further up the bed but it's worth it to get a better look at Fenris' face as he avoids Hawke's eyes. "Please tell me Varric didn't change my name while I was unconscious. I was quite fond of 'Hawke'."

"No, Hawke," Fenris says. "I apologise for the mistake."

Hawke sighs. His head is swimming; there's a low level ache in most parts of his body; and the enthusiastic kiss from a relieved Fenris has yet to materialise. Too exhausted to work out the reason on his own, he squeezes Fenris' hand again and asks, "Please tell me why you're walking on eggshells around me?"

Fenris blinks. "Hawke?"

"Eggshells," Hawke says again. With his free hand, he mimes someone tiptoeing. (It's not his best work.) "Because honestly, I didn't anticipate my miraculous escape from death making you this nervous. I was sort of hoping for hugs."

Fenris' mouth opens and closes once before he manages to come up with a response. "You're not angry?"

Hawke is lost. "At the lack of hugs?"

"At me."

Hawke remains lost. "Is this still about the hugs or…"

"I should've told you about the men Danarius sent," Fenris says, slipping his hand out of Hawke's grasp. "If I had warned you, if I hadn't lied to you, you wouldn't have-" He stops himself, lowering his eyes in submission as much as contrition. "I'm sorry."

Hawke's first instinct is to tell him not to apologise. It's an effort to suppress it but given how unhappy Fenris looks, he figures he owes him more than a quick dismissal.

"Apology accepted."

Fenris ducks his head further, moments away from dropping to his knees but Hawke pushes on.

"You're right," he says honestly. "You should've told me Danarius was sending people after you, but you apologised and I forgive you. There's nothing else for you to be sorry for."

"But Hadriana-"

"Hadriana is an incredibly unpleasant person," Hawke says. "Just staggeringly awful. Chances are that she would've found her way in here anyway, whether I knew about Danarius' mercenaries or not."

Fenris shakes his head. "She only came because I was here."

Hawke shrugs. "It's not like it's the first attempted murder this house has seen. Besides," he teases, "what's the alternative? Kicking you out?"

Fenris' gaze drops guiltily to the floor.

Hawke feels a bit like he's been punched.

"I am not kicking you out," he says, trying to find the correct tone of voice to convey just how much that won't happen. "Ever. Anyone else comes to steal you, they'll have to go through me."

"Hawke…"

"I mean, I may need a couple of weeks to heal up but after that, I'll take on all comers."

"Don't," Fenris says. "You shouldn't be hurt because of trouble I caused. I'm your bodyguard, Hawke; I'm your slave -- you shouldn't be risking your life on my behalf."

"Hey," Hawke chides. "First of all, you're not a slave."

"You heard what Hadriana-"

"Hadriana is an ass," Hawke says. "Was an ass. I don't care what some paper in Tevinter says. You're here with me -- that's all that matters." He catches his hand again. "And secondly, I'm perfectly capable of deciding whose behalf I want to risk my life on, thank you very much." He flashes him a grin. "I think it's working out pretty well so far."

"You almost died!"

"'Almost' being the operative word." His stomach twinges when he lifts his hands up but he ignores the pain as he wiggles his fingers. "See? I live to snore another day."

Fenris shakes his head but Hawke is pleased to see him smiling a little.

"So," he says, shuffling further down on the pillows, "are there any more ludicrous notions I need to disabuse you of or can we move towards some gentle hugging? Possibly with naps."

"No," Fenris says quietly. "No more notions." There's a strange note of sadness in his voice but it falls away when he straightens up and asks, "Is there anything I can do for you? Food, more water, fresh bandages?"

"I feel like I've been fairly upfront about my hugging needs," Hawke points out. He pats the bed beside him and smiles tiredly up at Fenris. "Come here."

"You're injured…"

"I trust you to be gentle with me," he teases. "Besides it's a big bed. Much more comfortable than that chair."

He pats the sheets again and tries to look both alluring and pitiful at the same time.

It's a bold strategy and not one he's certain he pulls off, but he counts it as a victory anyway when Fenris climbs up on the bed to lie down beside him.

He keeps his distance at first, staying as far away as the bed allows, but it doesn't take much effort to coax him in closer. Turning is currently a step too far for Hawke and so he stays flat on his back, blinking sleepily up at the canopy as Fenris stretches out along his side.

It's hard to keep his eyes open, especially with Fenris tucked up against him, warm and lean and safe, and Hawke finds himself speaking aloud in an effort to stay awake.

"I meant what I said," he murmurs. "About fighting for you. I've been wanting to punch Danarius in the face for a while now." Fenris looks up at him and Hawke runs his thumb over the bruise on his cheek as he asks, "Do you think he would come? Himself, I mean, not just his lackeys?"

"No," Fenris says. It's almost too quick and Fenris traces the faint scar on Hawke's chest as he adds, "He wouldn't leave Tevinter for that long. Not to retrieve a slave."

"The latest in a long line of his terrible choices," Hawke says with a sigh. "Do they throw a parade in Tevinter whenever he makes a good decision?"

"Yes," Fenris says around a yawn. "The last was nine years ago when he stopped wearing orange and purple together."

Hawke laughs at that, harder than he anticipated, and he tips his head back with a groan when his wound makes itself known. When he glances down again, it's to see Fenris watching him with concern. "I can get help if you're in pain?"

"I'm fine." It's a wild exaggeration but Fenris lets him get away with it as Hawke strokes his fingers through his hair. "I just need some sleep."

Fenris hums in agreement, resting his head on Hawke's shoulder, and Hawke can't resist leaning down to kiss him on the forehead. He feels Fenris' jolt of surprise before relaxation takes over and Hawke's eyes drift closed as Fenris leans up to kiss him on the cheek in return.

Fenris whispers something into his shoulder, unknown words pressed against his skin like a kiss, and Hawke smiles at the pleasant lilt of the foreign tongue. "What was that?"

"A thank you," Fenris says, "and a wish for good dreams."

Hawke smiles. "It sounds nicer than when I say it." He yawns wide, too tired to care about decorum, and curls his arm around Fenris' shoulders. "Sleep well, Fenris."

He's close enough to sleep that he can't tell whether the sadness in Fenris' voice is real or imagined when he murmurs, "Goodnight, Hawke."

 

:::

 

When Hawke comes to the next morning, it's to a blaze of sunlight lighting the room and a serious-faced Anders doing his best to drag it back into shadow.

"You're a delight," Hawke tells him as he rubs his eyes. "Did anyone ever tell you that?"

"Every day," Anders deadpans, winding a fresh bandage into a roll. "How's the incredibly severe gut wound?"

Hawke chuckles as he stares up at the canopy of the bed. "You may have just answered your own question there." The bed beside him is empty and he lifts his head to peer down at Anders. "Did Fenris go for breakfast? Did you make sure he was eating properly when I was unconscious?"

"I was a little pre-occupied with stopping you from bleeding to death," Anders points out. "You're welcome for that, by the way."

"I'm grateful," Hawke says sincerely. "Fenris said it didn't look good."

"I see he shares your gift for understatements," Anders says dryly. "You're very lucky -- I've seen dozens of people die from lesser injuries."

"I'm very resilient."

"Like a cockroach," Anders mutters. He smiles at Hawke's offended noise and sets his bandage at the foot of the bed as he says, "You still need to rest though. You're through the worst of it but my healing could only go so far -- you'll need to let your body repair itself properly."

"I can do that," Hawke says with a yawn. "I'm not against being waited on hand and foot."

"Promise me you'll take it slow," Anders says firmly. "I didn't waste all that magic just for you to overestimate your capabilities and undo all my hard work."

"I promise," Hawke says easily.

Anders looks down, fingers curled around a scrap of paper, and Hawke's smile fades.

"You know, I think this is the first time you've given me serious medical advice," he says. "Or at least medical advice which doesn't include smacking me around the head and telling me to be less of an idiot." He's trying for levity but doesn't quite get there as worry starts to settle over him. "What's brought this on?"

"You promised you'd take it slow," Anders reminds him. "I'll hold you to that."

Hawke pushes himself up, ignoring the sharp tug on his wound. "What's happened?"

Anders sighs. "Fenris' room was empty when I arrived this morning."

"Empty?" Hawke sits up straighter. "Did someone break in? Did they kidnap him?"

"Not unless they also kidnapped all his things," Anders says. "There was no sign of a struggle, just this left on the bed."

He passes Hawke the paper. Fenris' handwriting is shaking but unmistakeable, a couple of the letters written backwards but still legible on the torn-off scrap of paper, and Hawke's heart sinks when he reads it.

I'm sorry, Hawke.

Too many counterarguments sit on Hawke's tongue: denials, challenges, protests that this could never happen, that Fenris would never up and leave without telling him. Anders just watches him, silent and sympathetic, and Hawke swallows down all his lying responses as he scrubs his hand over his face.

"Fuck."

Chapter Text

Fenris is out to sea before he has time to doubt his decision.

The ship is an old one with an equally old captain, a Ferelden trader who looks like he wouldn't notice or care if he steered directly into a cliff face. Even with a cloak covering most of the lyrium, Fenris still causes a glimmer of curiosity but it's nothing that can't be quieted with cold, hard coin and a colder, harder stare.

It's his own money, at least as far as a stipend provided to a slave can be considered his own, but as he curls up down in the hold, Fenris is fairly confident that Hawke won't pursue him for a handful of sovereigns.

He hasn't ruled out Hawke pursuing him for other reasons -- loss of the lyrium, loss of a slave, loss of pride -- and not for the first time, he regrets not leaving while Hawke was still unconscious. It was only selfishness which kept him there that long, his pathetic need for an (unwitting) goodbye losing him a two day headstart, but he hopes even a few hours will be enough.

By the time Danarius' men come to Kirkwall -- and they will come, Fenris isn't stupid enough to believe his former master will take Hadriana's death lightly -- it'll be common knowledge that he's no longer there. Danarius' men will pass on through and then Hawke will be safe, his friends will be safe, and Fenris won't have their deaths on his conscience.

He reminds himself of that again and again, tightening the knots of his logic every night he spends in the cramped hold, and by the time the rickety ship makes port in Ferelden, there's no room for any more of his doubts to slip through.

 

:::

 

"I feel a lot better today," Hawke says as soon as Anders walks in. "I'm very fortunate to have such a talented healer."

"You are," Anders agrees, before promptly crushing Hawke's hopes. "You're still not going anywhere."

Hawke slumps back on his pillows. "You're a monster."

"I try."

"I'm feeling better," Hawke points out, just in case Anders missed it the first time. "I can't stay in this bed forever."

"It's been four days," Anders says flatly. He moves around the bed, pushing Hawke's sheets down to look at his still-healing wound. "You need to take it slow -- you should be focusing on your injuries instead of chasing after the elf."

Hawke knows he's sulking but can't bring himself to do otherwise. "But I miss the elf."

"I know you do," Anders says with more sympathy than Hawke was expecting. "You're doing all you can. One of Merrill's friends on the docks saw him boarding a ship for Ferelden and Aveline and Varric are sending word to their contacts. He's noticeable -- I'm sure they'll be able to track him until you're well enough to travel."

He does something to Hawke's wound. Magic is probably involved but since it mostly just feels like prodding, Hawke opts to ignore it.

"What about Isabela?" he suggests. "If we could get word to her, she could intercept the ship, maybe bring Fenris back with her."

"I'm so glad you're jumping directly to piracy and kidnapping," Anders says. "Very reasonable. Not at all rash."

"I- That's not what I'm doing," Hawke says, appropriately offended. "Anyway, it doesn't count as kidnapping if I'm trying to help him."

"That definitely doesn't sound like something a kidnapper would say," Anders mutters. "Besides, I'm sure Fenris of all people wouldn't take issue with his owner pursuing him across the continent and hauling him back home."

"That's-" Hawke's wound twinges when he folds his arms. "I'm not his owner. He's free."

Anders' voice is thick with sarcasm as he steps back, wiping his hands clean. "My mistake."

Hawke can't keep from tensing. "I didn't-"

"I know," Anders says, and Hawke doesn't want to look up to see the pity on his face when he continues, "I know you liked him but be honest, Hawke -- he was always going to see himself as your slave. Maybe he's better off making a clean break."

Hawke scowls. "Glad to see you're not biased."

Anders rolls his eyes as he mixes up a fresh mug of healing potion. "I'll admit it would've been nice to be called by my actual name more than once a month but I'm not saying this out of spite. When you spend years of your life under people's boots, it takes a while to learn to walk upright again."

"So, you're saying I should just leave him to it?" Hawke asks. "'Good luck in Ferelden, I hope you like dogs'?"

Anders smirks. "Honestly, it's not the worst idea you've ever had."

"That isn't saying much," Hawke points out. "I've had a lot of bad ideas."

"Well, this is definitely ahead of the time you won the domesticated bronto from that baron."

Hawke smiles at the memory. "Percy was very affectionate."

"He nearly smothered you to death while you slept."

"You just didn't know him like I did," Hawke says with a sigh. "You know the farmer I gave him to still sends me updates about him? Apparently he really likes the open fields."

"Well, with any luck, so will Fenris," Anders says. Before Hawke can protest that Fenris is not a large, horned, overly friendly beast of burden, Anders adds, "Not that he's an animal, but he sounds like he might be happy being out from under people's yokes. Get Varric's contacts to keep track of him if you want but otherwise just give him space. He chose to leave -- if he really is free then it should be his choice."

Hawke sighs. He woke up less than an hour ago but he still wants to roll over and sleep for at least another day (and ideally until Fenris puts in a miraculous reappearance.)

"You're right," he says. As much as it pains him to admit it, Anders does have a point. "I should let him go."

Tugging his sheets back up to his chin, he aims a half-hearted glare in Anders' direction. "Why couldn't you have just been a good friend and supported my kidnapping plan?"

 

:::

 

"Can I get you another?"

Lost in thought, it takes Fenris a moment to realise that the bartender is speaking to him rather than his master. Her smile dims when he looks up in surprise and Fenris clears his throat as he says, "No. Thank you, I- I don't need another."

"All right," she says, smile back in place as she wipes down the counter. "Give me a shout if you change your mind."

He nods, waiting until she turns away before staring back down at the lingering froth of his ale. Even after three weeks on his own, it's still unsettling to be interacting with people of his own accord rather than at the behest of his owner.

As pleasant a notion as freedom seemed, it's a terrifying reality, and out in the plains of Ferelden Fenris finds himself more adrift than he ever expected. It's pathetic, he knows that, to be squandering his fleeting taste of freedom on fear and regret, but try as he might, he can't shut it out.

He misses his routine.

Danarius' household was run with military precision and even with Hawke, Fenris knew all the basics: when to sleep, what to eat, how to dress, and how best to obey. He was always quick at adapting -- a trait borne out of necessity; Danarius was mercurial to say the least -- but adjusting to the absence of authority is taking longer than it should. (Although, on the bright side, at least he can't have himself beaten for his own failings.)

He misses Danarius.

It isn't hard to think of reasons why he shouldn't, doesn't miss Danarius but the momentary lapses keep coming nonetheless. When he misjudges the distance to the next town and ends up sleeping in a leaky barn, he misses the plush prison of Danarius' mansion; when he forces down an unappetising fish stew, he misses the rich food Danarius would offer from his hand; and when the locals shove him out of their way with mutters of 'knife-ear', he misses the intimate slide of Danarius' hand through his hair and the fond murmurs of praise.

Most of all he misses Hawke.

He's no stranger to showing affection on command but he doesn't remember ever enjoying physical contact as much as he did before right Hadriana's attack. Hawke was careful with him, taking him to dinner, asking his opinion, treating him like an equal, as if Fenris wouldn't have just dropped to his knees at a snap of Hawke's fingers.

There are hundreds of things he misses about Hawke but his smile when Fenris kissed him is right at the top of the list.

"Hey there, sweetheart…"

The thump of a meaty hand on his shoulder jolts Fenris out of his memories. He slips off his chair, readying himself for a fight but relaxes a little at the sight of the burly drunk guy leaning against the bar next to him.

"Andraste's arse," the guy slurs, reaching out to brush the lyrium on Fenris' chin. He doesn't seem fazed when Fenris avoids the touch. "You're a pretty one, aren't you? How much d'you charge?"

"I'm not a whore," Fenris says flatly but the guy just laughs.

"Free then?"

He's bigger than Fenris, his worn clothes smelling of sweat and ale in equal measure, and Fenris averts his eyes when the man moves in, big hand inching down over Fenris' hip. Submission is shamefully familiar but it's Hawke's friends, not Danarius' fellow magisters, that he pictures when he straightens up and shoves the man away.

"Not for you," he says firmly. "Get out of my way."

The man's drunk enough that the order takes a moment to register but Fenris doesn't bother waiting as he pushes his way past him and out of the door. The cold night air is a welcome change and he watches his breath billow out in clouds as he wraps his cloak tighter around himself.

Some deep, pathetic part of him is grateful for the interest. After being reduced to a pet at Hadriana's feet, he can't imagine Hawke ever looking at him with anything other than pity, but the fact that there are (drunk, desperate) people who'll eye him with want rather than disgust is oddly reassuring.

Nonetheless, being alone is still preferable to warming the bed of a stranger, and as he sets out along the shore of Lake Calenhad, he decides he could learn to live with this part of freedom.

 

:::

 

Varric raises an eyebrow when Hawke drops to a seat in the middle of the Hanged Man. "Should I even ask how the date went?"

"No," Hawke says morosely, "but we both know you're going to anyway."

"I am very thorough," Varric agrees, pulling up a chair next to him. "Maybe we should start with whose blood is in your hair."

"That would be Lucian's," Hawke says, patting at his head to discover his hair is an unpleasant combination of sticky and crunchy. "There was a lot of bleeding involved."

"In having dinner?"

"In trying to kill me in the middle of dinner," Hawke says with a sigh. "He could've at least waited until after dessert."

"Not everyone has our priorities," Varric says sadly. "Did he give a reason for trying to kill you or was it just that you made one too many jokes about his wardrobe choices?"

"I was trying to help him," Hawke protests. "If I looked like the Blooming Rose's interpretation of a sexy necromancer, I'd want people to tell me."

"I think the most troubling thing is that you looked at him, saw 'necromancer prostitute', and still agreed to the date."

"You were the one who said I needed to get my mind off Fenris!"

Varric gives him a pitying stare. "You do know there are other ways to do that, right?"

Hawke narrows his eyes and Varric wisely moves on. "So, was there any actual necromancy over dinner or was it a less exciting assassination attempt?"

"He tried to strangle me," Hawke says. "It was very dull."

"Huh." Varric props his boots on the table. "Any idea why?"

"He was a Crow. He said Lady Belmont hired him."

"Shit, Belmont?" Varric runs a hand through his hair. "I guess those rumours about her working with the Carta are true. I owe Merrill four sovereigns."

Hawke sits up straighter. "Wait, the Carta? I thought she was angry because I tried to steal her dog."

"You try to steal everyone's dogs," Varric says dismissively. "At this stage, people would be insulted if you didn't."

Hawke can't really argue with that.

"Anyway," Varric offers, "at least you had an eventful evening? Of all the people I know, you're probably the one who enjoys near-death experiences the most."

"It wasn't even that fun," Hawke says miserably. "Maker, I miss Fenris."

"You're still alive," Varric says. "You're definitely coping without a bodyguard."

Hawke sighs. He's tired and miserable and his hair is starting to smell but somehow having Fenris there would help with all of that. "I don't miss him in a bodyguard capacity," he says. "I miss him in a Fenris capacity. He would've been much better company than Lucian."

Varric pats him on the arm. "I'll admit, even though he did a good impression of a shadow most of the time, it does seem a lot emptier without him around."

Hawke makes a mournful noise of agreement and Varric pats him some more. "He's doing all right though. Last I heard, he was heading down through Ferelden, nearly to Lake Calenhad." He eyes Hawke suspiciously. "You are still planning to leave him alone, right?"

As much as he wants to charge down into Ferelden, sweep Fenris up, and carry him triumphantly back to Kirkwall, Anders' words have stayed with him for the past few weeks: it should be Fenris' choice whether he comes back, not Hawke's.

"I won't chase after him," he promises. Peering over Varric's head, he motions to Corff for a drink as he says, "Although I can't promise not to wallow in self-pity on occasion."

Fenris would've been rolling his eyes if he were there but Varric's smile is sadly sympathetic when he raises his ale and says, "Wallow away, my friend."

 

:::

 

Fenris is in Ferelden for just over six weeks before he encounters his first real fight.

He's been in plenty of scuffles -- he hasn't gone more than a few days without an encounter with a blood mage, a couple of slavers, a handful of guards, or someone else looks at him and sees prey -- but as he cleans the slavers' blood off his sword, he's exhausted in a way he hasn't been for weeks.

There were seven of them, plus one mage, all better trained and better armed than Fenris was expecting. He won, thankfully, but his body aches after the drawn-out battle, the lyrium still itching under his skin as he catches his breath.

He does his best to clean the blood off his face and armour but can't bring himself to care too much when people on the road still give him a wide berth. There's a long, deep cut down his forearm where one of the slavers caught him off-guard and he uses his elbow to nudge the tavern door open, already looking forward to climbing into bed for the night.

"Oi, elf!"

Drained and distracted, it takes Fenris a moment to realise that the tavern keeper is speaking to him. He looks over, eyebrows raised, and the man nods towards the back of the tavern. "Messenger here for you."

For one tired, foolish moment, Fenris thinks it might be from Hawke. He pushes the thought down just as quickly as it arises -- Hawke has better things to do than chase a lost slave -- and he holds his injured arm to his chest as he asks, "Where?"

The tavern keeper frowns, glancing around the packed room. "He was here a moment ago. Must've gone out back to water his horse -- said he'd had quite a ride."

Suspicion prickles under Fenris' skin. "What did he want?"

"Do I look like a seneschal?" the man retorts. "Said something about slavers maybe? Go ask him yourself."

The suspicion fades a little -- Fenris has freed a lot of grateful captives over the past few weeks -- but he still draws his sword as he slips out of the tavern and heads around to the stables behind it.

Night is falling, the sky turning from grey to black as the moon rises up over the lake. The torches scattered around the stables flicker in the wind as Fenris' eyes adjust to make out a man pulling a waterskin out of his saddle bag.

"Are you the messenger who was looking for me?"

The man is smiling when he looks up. "That I am, elf."

His accent is Tevinter.

Fenris' lyrium flares in warning but his attention is caught by a rustle behind him. It's accompanied by the shuffle of footsteps and the clank of armour to his right and left and he spins around to see soldiers and mages emerging from the darkness on all sides, weapons drawn and trained on him.

There's a least a dozen of them, all bearing the Tevinter crest, and Fenris curses his own stupidity as he shifts into a defensive stance. His arm throbs, his body still recovering from the ferocity of his last battle, but he'd rather die fighting than be hauled back to Tevinter and to-

"Is that any way to greet your master?"

Fenris is convinced his heart stops for a moment. Defeat crashes over him, the weight of it crushing the tiny path to freedom he'd carved out for himself, and even with his sword in his hand, he can already feel the phantom tug of his leash being pulled tight once again.

Danarius is standing in front of him when he turns around. He looks older than Fenris remembers, with more grey in his beard and more wrinkles across his brow, but there's no mistaking the authority in the way he carries himself, the power simmering away inside him.

It's an effort for Fenris not to drop to his knees.

"No," he snaps, turning his sword on Danarius even as he backs away. "I'm not yours any longer."

Danarius just smiles. "You will always be mine, Fenris. Just as you always have been."

"No," Fenris says again, telling himself as much as Danarius. "No. I don't want-"

"You have no idea what you want," Danarius cuts in. "Look at you. You disobey my orders, stay in Kirkwall of all places, kill my favourite apprentice, and for what? Your new master?"

"I-"

"Yet you run from him just as you ran from me," he continues, silk robes skimming the dirt as he steps forward. "You're not suited for freedom, Fenris. Out here you're nothing but a rabid dog, barking at everyone who passes by, and I have no intention of waiting for some Ferelden peasant to lose his temper and snap your neck." His voice softens, lips curling in a smile as he says, "Not after I came all this way to bring you home."

Fenris swallows. His feet won't obey when he tries to retreat and he tightens his grip on the sword as Danarius comes nearer.

"You were at your best with me." Danarius' words carries the weight of a command and Fenris has no choice but to listen. "You were strong, talented, feared by everyone who set foot on my estate; you can be all that again."

Fenris shakes his head, fighting to stop his hands from trembling as Danarius moves in. "I was your slave."

"You were my favourite," Danarius says smoothly. "You still are."

His fingers brush the flat of Fenris' blade, the same way they used to trace along Fenris' cheek. "Put the weapon down, Fenris. I don't want these people to have to hurt you."

Hawke bought him the sword months ago, pressed it into his hands with a sheepish smile, and Fenris can't help but cling on for a moment longer.

Danarius' pale eyes turn icy as he holds Fenris' gaze. "Put the weapon down," he orders. "Or are you that eager to throw your life away?"

Fenris hesitates. He doesn't want any of this, doesn't want to live at Danarius' beck and call or die at Danarius' hands, but his choice is made by the scrap of pride he has left.

He wants to be more than just another slave slaughtered by a magister.

"No." The sword drops into the dirt with a thump and Fenris keeps his eyes on it as he murmurs, "I will go with you."

He doesn't need to look up to know Danarius is smiling.

 

:::

 

"Fold."

Hawke's opponent slumps back in dejection as Hawke scoops the winnings into his already substantial pile. Varric leans in, gathering and shuffling the cards again as he asks, "What do you say, Caddas? You want to win back some of that dignity?"

"What dignity?" Caddas mutters. "He's cleaned me out and he's not even trying!"

Hawke can't really argue with that. Even with some substantial prizes on the table -- last week he won a mansion, a mountain chalet, and an obnoxiously large emerald -- it's hard to summon up much enthusiasm for his usual pastimes.

"Don't be ridiculous," Varric lies. "He's under pressure here, aren't you, Hawke? You're making him sweat, friend."

"I think I just ate too much roast pork," Hawke admits.

Caddas glares at him, gathering up his one remaining handful of coin and storming out of the Hanged Man.

Varric cuffs Hawke around the head as soon as he leaves. "Roast pork? Really?"

"I wasn't about to lie to the man." Hawke lets his head fall back to rest against the wall as he says, "There's no challenge here anymore. I can feel my skills withering inside me."

"Thank you for that delightful image," Varric says, taking Caddas' empty seat. "Well, I'd suggest going somewhere for a change of scenery-"

Hawke hums in consideration. "I hear Montsimmard is nice this time of year. Good cheese."

"-except the whole vacation idea didn't work out so well last time," Varric finishes. "What was it, 'if I never have to set foot outside the Free Marches again, it'll be too soon'?"

"You still need to work on your impression of me."

"And yet my memory for what you actually said remains solid," Varric says. "Are you really up for another trip?"

"It wasn't all bad," Hawke says, resting his chin in his hands. "Last time I went away I found Fenris."

"You probably shouldn't make a habit of acquiring elven slaves every time you take a vacation," Varric says helpfully. "Try collecting art instead."

Before Hawke can point out that Fenris is much nicer to look at than any Orlesian artwork, the door to the tavern crashes open and a young man with questionable hair comes tumbling through, brandishing a letter. "Ser Tethras!"

Hawke gives up and puts his head the whole way in his hands as Varric turns to deal with the newcomer. "Good evening to you too, Jimmy."

"I got a letter for you, ser," Jimmy says, panting. "It's not good."

Hawke can practically hear Varric raise his eyebrows. "You read it?"

"Of course," Jimmy says, as though it should be obvious. "How else am I supposed to know how fast to run?"

"I-" Varric sighs. "Thanks, Jimmy."

There's a rustle of paper as Varric takes the letter and Hawke looks up to see Jimmy hovering at his shoulder as he says, "It's about that elf, ser. The one you told Liv to keep an eye on."

Hawke sits up at that. "Fenris?"

Jimmy points at him in triumph. "That's the one!"

"My informant says she lost track of him," Varric says, skimming over the letter. "He disappeared as he was travelling along the lake, but then one of her friends saw him headed for the coast with- Oh."

Hawke leans forward. "That doesn't sound like a good 'oh', Varric."

Varric's expression is grim when he looks up. "He was with a mage. He was in shackles."

Hawke's heart drops. "Danarius?"

"Liv's friend says he looked 'evil as shit'," Varric says. "So yeah, I'd say Danarius is a strong possibility."

He slips a couple of coins into Jimmy's hand and dismisses him with a pat on the shoulder before passing the letter over to Hawke. There's nothing in it which Varric hasn't already told him but seeing it in writing somehow feels so much worse.

"I thought Danarius wouldn't go after him," Hawke says weakly. "Fenris said he would never leave Tevinter for that long."

"Fenris is a better liar than we've been giving him credit for," Varric says. "I guess that explains why he ran."

"What, to make it easier for Danarius to catch him?" He knows it's unfair as soon as he says it and he scrubs a hand over his face in frustration. "Maker's arse, I could've helped him. We could've protected him if he'd stayed here -- why in the Void would he run?"

"He did just watch Danarius' protégé nearly kill you," Varric says. "Maybe he wasn't all that eager to see what the man himself would do."

"That's-" Thinking back to Fenris' behaviour on their last night together, Hawke reluctantly stops his protest as he admits, "That does sort of sound like Fenris."

"You know, you two do make a good pair," Varric says. "You're both strong, protective, prone to making rash decisions -- I should write you into a book."

"As if you haven't already," Hawke says as he pushes himself to his feet.

Rolling up the letter for safe-keeping, he drums his fingers on the back of the chair as he tries to work out whether Isabela's more likely to be found at the docks or in the Blooming Rose.

Varric doesn't even bother to ask what he's thinking as he pulls on his coat and settles Bianca on his back. "I guess it's time for more rash decisions?"

"They're the best kind," Hawke says seriously. He finds he's more enthusiastic than he has been for weeks when he declares, "Let's go stab Danarius in the face."

 

:::

 

It's been a long time since Fenris was caned.

However, as the latest guard lands his final strokes, it still hurts just as much as he remembers.

The guard doesn't spare his arm, landing two hard blows across Fenris' shoulders and the backs of his calves in turn, and Fenris clenches his teeth as he's pitched forward under the force of the strikes. The boat rocks, knocking him the rest of the way off balance, and it's only the shackles attached to the cabin ceiling which stop him from falling to his knees.

The guard takes the opportunity to land a quick slap of the cane against Fenris' exposed soles and Fenris cries out in pain as he struggles to get his feet back under him.

After days spent shackled and loaded into a wagon like cheap cargo, he'd assumed Danarius was waiting until they'd taken ship to make his displeasure with Fenris' disobedience known. He was right -- the ship had barely left port that morning before he'd been strung up like a piece of meat in one of the storage compartments -- but any comfort to be taken in his master's predictability is outweighed by the agony suffered at the hands of the guards.

The back of his body feels as though it's been flayed, the skin split open under the strikes of the cane which the guards have spent the afternoon delivering with relish. He's fever-hot, his body marked by welts from his shoulders to his ankles, and when the guard sets the bloodied cane on a crate and walks out, Fenris allows himself a moment to process the pain that comes with each breath in and out.

He just has to endure, he reminds himself. He's still alive, will most likely stay alive until Danarius tires of him, and so all he needs to do is keep breathing until his master decides he's been punished enough.

The door creaks as it open. Not for the first time that day, Fenris looks up in the hopes of seeing his master rather than another guard eager to take their turn with the cane, but he frowns when two deckhands enter.

They look oddly familiar but Fenris can't place them until the taller of the two says with a grin, "Nice to see you again, scorto."

Fenris' eyes widen. He remembers them from his first day on Isabela's ship, the two deckhands who'd tried to make use of him, and as he pulls helplessly on his shackles, he misses Hawke so much it hurts.

The deckhands circle him like sharks, all cold eyes and cruel mouths, and Fenris grits his teeth as the shorter one comes to a stop in front of him. "Looks like me and Leon got lucky, huh, scorto?"

Fenris narrows his eyes. "You work for Danarius?"

"We do now," Leon says. "That pirate bitch kicked us off her ship as soon as we left Kirkwall."

"Didn't even bother to pull into port," his friend says. "Fucking cunt."

The thought of the two of them being forced to swim to shore is a pleasant one and Fenris feels another pang of loss at the realisation that he'll never get to thank Isabela for it.

"Fortunately," Leon continues, "we were in Ferelden when the magister came through looking for crew to get him to Tevinter. Me and Milo would've taken the job anyway but then we heard about the perks…"

Milo's hand slips between Fenris' thighs. His palm is clammy against his skin and Fenris snarls as he pulls away as much as his restraints allow. "Get off me!"

Leon moves fast, grabbing his hair and yanking his head back as he moves in closer. His breath is hot on Fenris' cheek but with his hair caught in his fist, Fenris can't even turn away as Leon says with a sneer, "And here the magister said you'd be an obedient little whore."

Fenris spits in his face.

He honestly isn't sure whether he or Leon is more surprised by his act of defiance but even when Leon hauls back to punch him in the gut, Fenris doesn't regret it.

"Knife-eared piece of shit," Milo mutters, spitting at Fenris in return as Leon rubs his face clean with his stained shirt. Milo's saliva lands beside Fenris' nose and he tries to wipe it off on his raised arms as Milo paces behind him. "No wonder the magister's guards worked you over so good."

Fenris cries out when Milo kicks his thigh, his boot scraping cruelly against his wounds. His legs are shaking when he stands upright again but he doesn't dignify the two men with a response as he stares forward at the wood of the cabin door.

"You know," Leon says in his ear, "the last time we saw you, I seem to remember you shoving your whole damned hand inside me." He taps his fingers against Fenris' ribs. "You remember that?"

Not answering gets him another punch in the stomach and Fenris grits out, "I remember."

"Well, now we've got you here to ourselves," Milo says, "we thought we'd return the favour." He grins. "In a fashion."

Leon's hand ghosts down his back but Fenris pulls away in revulsion when his hand settles on his bare ass. "No-"

Milo hits him again before moving in to grab his jaw. With his arms bound to the ceiling and the solid wall of Leon's body behind him, there's nowhere for Fenris to escape to when Milo looks down at him with a grin.

"I'd say it won't hurt," Milo taunts, "but you're not dumb enough to believe that, are you?"

Behind him, Leon chuckles as his hand settles on his ass again. "I don't know," he murmurs, "I can't imagine this is worse than what the magister's got planned for him."

Leon's fingers dip down to find skin unmarked by welts and Fenris closes his eyes to try to brace for the inevitable. Milo's fingers dig into his jaw, stubby and strong, and Fenris focuses instead on the memory of Hawke's hands tilting his head back as he first unbuckled the collar from around Fenris' throat.

Maker, he misses Hawke.

Doing his best to slip away into the past, he almost misses the creak of the door opening again but Fenris' eyes fly open when he hears the screams.

At first, all he sees is fire. Milo and Leon stagger back, arms flailing as the flames swarm over them, and Fenris' stomach rolls at the stench of burning flesh. Smoke starts to rise when they collapse to their knees, their shrieks dying as the fire pours down their throats, and by the time their blackened bodies crumble to the floor, there's nothing left but bones and ash.

Danarius walks straight through their remains to get to Fenris.

"Are you all right?" he asks, cold fingers cupping Fenris' face. "Did they hurt you?"

It isn't until he tries to speak that Fenris realises how badly he's shaking. There's more concern in Danarius' eyes than Fenris ever remembers seeing there before and after hours of pain and punishment, everything in him chases the faintest hint of kindness.

"T- They didn't-"

He stops himself, takes a breath. Danarius hates when he stammers. "I'm all right."

"Animals," Danarius says in disgust. "I should never have allowed them aboard the ship. Still, they can't hurt you now."

Hawke didn't kill them.

The thought rises unbidden but through the haze of pain and relief, Fenris can't work out whether Hawke's decision was a good one or a bad one. (Hawke didn't kill them; Danarius is a murderer. Hawke didn't kill them; Danarius saved him.)

Danarius runs his thumb over Fenris' cheek but wrinkles his nose in distaste when he sees the spit on his face. Expecting a slap for being unpresentable, Fenris flinches in surprise when Danarius pulls a handkerchief from his belt and wipes his face clean.

"Much better," Danarius says and Fenris hates himself for how he calms at the approval. "Now let me look at you."

Fenris says nothing as Danarius paces around him in a slow half-circle. He's been stripped naked in front of his master enough times that nudity is no longer a source of shame but he closes his eyes anyway when Danarius inspects the welts covering his back.

He prays that he doesn't decide to give him more.

"Well," Danarius says, "this is a mess, isn't it?"

Fear races through him at the first sign of disapproval and Fenris eyes the bloodied cane as he says, "I'm sorry, master."

Danarius tuts but as he walks back around to face Fenris, no punishment seems to be forthcoming.

"I didn't intend for you to be beaten this badly."

Fenris' mouth falls open in shock. "Master?"

Danarius smiles, moving in to brush Fenris' hair out of his eyes. "I know it was difficult for you," he says. "Taken away by a stranger… I can only imagine how frightening that must have been. How confused it must have made you."

There's a threat hidden under his concern but when Danarius cups his cheek again, Fenris is submerged too deep to decipher it.

"It's disappointing that you would flee to Ferelden rather than returning home," Danarius says, gaze lingering on Fenris' mouth, "but I'm not without sympathy. Or forgiveness."

He leans down to kiss Fenris' forehead before saying with a sigh, "You did need to be punished though. You killed my apprentice -- it wouldn't do to let that pass without consequences. We wouldn't want any of the other slaves to get any ideas, would we?"

It's a question and Fenris provides the answer he's seeking. "No, master."

"I knew you would understand," Danarius says fondly. "You always were intelligent for an elf." He peers at Fenris' back and legs again as he says, "It had to be done, although I regret that it went as far as it did."

He steps back. The hook holding Fenris' shackles snaps with a click of Danarius' fingers and Fenris collapses to his knees on the wooden floor. The movement pulls at his wounds and he cries out at the pain, fingernails digging into the floor as he fights to get himself under control again.

"Up," Danarius orders. "You can rest in my cabin."

Nodding, Fenris pulls himself to his feet. Warm blood trickles down his ribs and thighs from where the cane strokes broke the skin but he stumbles forward on weak legs as Danarius moves to the door.

"Ah," Danarius says, "I almost forgot."

Turning, he taps Fenris' chin and Fenris lifts it obediently to allow Danarius to buckle a new collar in place. His old one was discarded as soon as Hawke pried it off, tossed under some table at the tavern like trash, and when he feels the familiar tug of the leash being fitted into place, Fenris can't decide if he's angry at Hawke for the removal or at Danarius for the replacement.

Shame washes over him when Danarius leads him out on faltering legs through the hold and up onto the main deck of the ship. The sky is heavy with clouds, the horizon threatening rain, but after that brief glance skyward, Fenris keeps his eyes on the floor.

The murmurs swarm around him, whispers and smirks shared between the crew and the guards, and Fenris' cheeks burn hot at the thought of what he looks like, what he is: a shackled, beaten slave being led to his master's quarters on a leash.

Danarius heads towards the bed as soon as they get inside, looping Fenris' leash around one of the bedposts and nodding towards the foot of the bed. "Put your hands on the mattress."

Even with an empty stomach, Fenris wants to throw up at the thought of Danarius fucking him like this. His options are limited to compliance or more pain and forced compliance, and so he bends over to rest his palms flat on the sheets as he closes his eyes.

His knees buckle at the first touch of magic against his skin.

The lyrium ignites, the spell glowing blue as it settles over his body, and Fenris buries his head in the sheets to muffle his cries as the magic burrows under his skin.

It takes him a moment to realise that it's a healing spell. It tugs at his welts, knitting together the worst of the wounds, but unlike Anders, Danarius doesn't bother casting anything extra to lessen the pain of the lyrium while he works.

Fenris is clinging onto consciousness by the time he finishes, hunched over and shaking at the foot of the bed, and Danarius strokes a hand through his hair as he says proudly, "Good, Fenris. Doesn't that feel better?"

It hurts worse than before, his whole body stinging as the lyrium calms, but Fenris nods anyway. "Yes, master."

"Good."

His hand tightens in Fenris' hair for an instant before he steps away, footsteps quiet on the thick rug. "Are you hungry, little wolf?"

Fenris' nod is sincere this time. He's barely eaten since they captured him, subsisting on scraps thrown to him in the wagon when the guards remembered, and the thought of actually being allowed a meal is enough to make his stomach rumble. "Yes, master."

Seated at the table, Danarius raises an eyebrow and Fenris' hunger overtakes his pride. "Please, master," he begs, "please may I eat?"

Judging by Danarius' smile, he's done a good enough job at supplication.

Danarius sits back in his chair, a plate of food on his lap as he says, "Very well. Come here, pet."

Fenris does, inching (crawling) forward as far as the leash will allow. It's not close enough to be comfortable but is just close enough to allow Danarius to hold each scrap of food to Fenris' mouth. He takes it all eagerly, lips brushing Danarius' fingertips as he wolfs down everything he's given, and it's only when he sits back on his heels that he remembers his first night at Hawke's mansion with plates and plates of food laid out for him to eat however he wanted.

His meal sits heavy in his stomach as Danarius stands to clean his hands. Nausea rises up at the realisation of what he's been reduced to yet again, but he forces it back when Danarius looks down at him with a smile.

He's never going to see Hawke again, Fenris tells himself. It's Danarius' preferences he needs to accept now, not Hawke's charity.

"You always were happy after you'd been fed," Danarius says, giving him one last pat on the head before moving to the door. The leash prevents Fenris from following but Danarius doesn't seem to mind as he orders, "Stay. I'll return when I want you."

Fenris bows his head.

The lock clicks into place when Danarius leaves and Fenris promptly shuffles backward to curl up by the foot of the bed. His body still aches from the caning and the magic, and as he wraps his arms around his bare legs, he misses the soft warmth of Hawke's coat as a blanket.

As useless as it is, he still misses Hawke.

 

:::

 

The Siren's Call is at sea for three days before they spot a ship flying Tevinter colours.

As far as Hawke is concerned, that's three days too long. He stays on the bow as the Siren's Call draws closer, ducking the barrage of spells cast by the mages on the other vessel as he tries desperately to see if Fenris is there among them.

Unfortunately, there's no telltale shock of white hair anywhere, just a smattering of angry guards and angrier mages, and by the time they catch up to the Tevinter ship, Isabela sounds ready to slaughter everyone aboard as she pats out a blast of magefire for the third time.

Hawke's beard is slightly singed from a too-close encounter with a fireball but Fenris takes priority over his facial hair as he darts across the ship to help Isabela. "Any tips for fighting at sea?"

The ship lurches, wooden splinters scattering across the deck as it scrapes along the side of the Tevinter vessel, and Hawke grabs the nearest rope to hold himself upright as Isabela calls, "Avoid pointy things, don't get set on fire, try not to drown."

"That it?" Hawke yells. "That's all the advice I'm getting?"

Isabela's smile is wicked and gleeful as she slings a dagger across the water into a guard's chest. "That's all the advice you need!"

Behind him, the crew cast ropes to lash the Siren's Call to the Tevinter ship. Magic rains down around them, the mages putting up a spirited defence, and Hawke ducks a sharp spray of ice as he scrambles across one of the adjoining planks to reach what he hopes is Danarius' ship.

Two guards rush at him as soon as he jumps down and Hawke drops easily into a roll. The momentum carries him under their swords and both his daggers are in his hands as he leaps back to his feet and dispatches them with quick, matching strikes.

Varric and Merrill land beside him, dealing damage at a distance while Hawke takes care of anyone foolish enough to get close, and as he tosses one of the guards overboard, he takes advantage of the cover they're providing to scan the ship. Isabela and Anders are holding their own by the bow, working their way through mages and guards alike, but Hawke's eyes narrow when he sees the man standing on the bridge.

There's something intensely satisfying about the dumbstruck expression on Danarius' face when he finally catches sight of him.

Ducking under the arc of Merrill's magic, Hawke makes a dive for the stairs. When he looks up, daggers in hand, Danarius is still watching him and Hawke stutters to a halt when Danarius calls, "Fenris!"

Fenris is at his side in an instant. He's still alive, which is a good first step, and as Hawke looks him over quickly, he's pleased to note the lack of any obviously life-threatening wounds. Fenris is thinner than he remembers, although not quite as gaunt as when they first met, and his hair has grown out over the past few weeks to nearly reach his shoulders. He's in a dark tunic rather than his usual armour but when the lyrium markings shimmer beneath it, Hawke figures that those are all the protection Fenris needs.

There's a smirk on Danarius' lips as his hand curls around the back of Fenris' collared neck. Hawke honestly can't decide whether he wants to chop off the smirk or the hand first.

"Kill them," Danarius orders. It's accompanied by a gesture towards Anders and Isabela, even as he looks at Hawke with a smug smile. "Make me proud, little wolf."

Hawke isn't sure whether Fenris even knows he's there when he replies, "Yes, master."

He's on the move as soon as Danarius lowers his hand, a ghostly streak of blue across the deck of the ship. Danarius' barrier springs up around him before Hawke can shove his blades somewhere painful and Hawke lets out a growl of frustration as he races after Fenris, cutting down any guards in his path. "Fenris, no!"

Pinned against the side of the ship, Anders and Isabela have their weapons raised but Hawke's relieved to see they're not attacking as Fenris stalks towards them. He's ablaze with lyrium, as bright and deadly as Hawke has ever seen him, and Hawke slices his way through another guard when Anders yells, "Maker's breath, Fenris, stop! We're here to help you!"

Isabela scrambles backward, looking over Fenris' shoulder as she shouts, "Hawke, this was not part of the plan!"

Fenris seems to slow his advance for a moment and Hawke takes advantage of the opening to leap between Fenris and his current targets. It's not his most graceful landing ever but it provides enough of a distraction for Isabela and Anders to escape as he draws himself up to his full height.

Fenris' lyrium flickers out abruptly when he comes to a stunned halt.

"Hawke?"

Even after everything, he still sounds like himself, his voice deep and gravelly and vaguely disapproving of Hawke's choices, and against his better judgement, Hawke finds himself smiling.

"Hi, Fenris."

Fenris blinks at him like he's expecting him to disappear any second and Hawke gives him an awkward little wave. "I'm not a hallucination, I swear."

"How…" He almost sounds angry when he asks, "What are you doing here?"

"Rescuing," Hawke says. "Also supervising. You didn't think I'd let these idiots come without me, right?"

To his right, Isabela stabs a guard in the neck and looks over, offended. "Hey!"

"Danarius will kill you." Fear and worry bleed together as Fenris pleads, "He's stronger than Hadriana. He'll hurt you -- you need to go."

"Not without you," Hawke says firmly. "If anyone's getting hurt today, it's him." He glances over to where Anders is clubbing a guard over the head and rolling him over the side of the ship. "And possibly also his henchmen."

Fenris' shoulders are tense when he looks up to see Danarius summoning shades on the bridge. Merrill and Varric are dispatching them as quickly as they arise and Hawke says with a shrug, "He doesn't look so tough."

"You don't understand." Fenris' lyrium flickers in terror as he stares up at Danarius. "He can-"

"No," Hawke says with confidence. "He's not going to do anything else, not to me and definitely not to you. That bastard's not leaving this blighted ship alive."

Fenris doesn't retreat when he takes a step forward but Hawke is careful to shape his words into a question rather than an order when he says, "So, how about it? Do you want to help Danarius get what's coming to him?"

He barely restrains himself from punching the air in triumph when Fenris gives a firm little nod.

There are more bodies littering their path as they make their way back across the ship, along with more guards who don't seem to have learned any lessons from their now-deceased colleagues. Hawke gets waylaid by a blow to the upper arm, slicing through his armour and knocking his blade from his hand, but even as he pauses to jam his other dagger between the ribs of the perpetrator, Fenris doesn't slow down for a second. He leaves a trail of bodies behind him, guards and mages with torn-open throats and chests, and when Hawke catches up to him on the stairs, both of Fenris' hands are stained red up to his wrists.

One last lightning bolt flies from Danarius' fingers as he turns to face them. He barely spares Hawke a second glance, cold eyes focusing solely on Fenris as he says with disapproval, "And after I showed you such mercy. You disappoint me, slave."

Crimson magic crackles in his hands. At Hawke's side, Fenris takes a step back in fear, lyrium cooling to white as he pleads, "No…"

Hawke has no idea what the spell will do but after seeing the pain Hadriana's magic caused, he's certain that he never wants to find out.

It's not his most elegant or heroic intervention but when his last dagger sinks deep into Danarius' shoulder, it has the intended effect.

"You-"

Danarius staggers back, stunned by the sudden blow, and the magic dissipates from his fingers in an instant. He drops to the deck, blood pouring down his robe as he pulls the dagger out with a bellow of rage, but a fresh host of shades burst up from the floor before Hawke can finish him off.

Outnumbered and freshly unarmed, Hawke dives to retrieve a sword from the nearest corpse. It's not his weapon of choice but as he springs back to his feet and swings it in the direction of the oncoming shades, he figures it's not the worst weapon he's ever fought with.

(That honour still goes to one very unlucky swordfish.)

One of Varric's arrows goes through the head of the rage demon looming behind him and a flurry of Merrill's magic takes out the two shades to his right as Hawke focuses on those swarming up the stairs to his left. He honestly isn't sure what his tactics are beyond slashing blindly with the sword but as the shades scream and fall beneath his blade, whatever he's doing seems to be working.

Lopping the head off another shade, Hawke glances back over his shoulder to Fenris but does a double-take when he sees him striding towards the now-righted Danarius.

Fenris is incandescent, the lyrium shining bright enough to hurt Hawke's eyes as he passes through the shades like they're no more than water. There's grim determination on his face and as Danarius holds his ground, Hawke can't help but feel like the magister has made his last mistake.

In his place, Hawke would definitely be running.

"You pathetic little whore," Danarius spits, icy demeanour giving way to sheer fury. "I saved you. I created you, and you would turn on me for some mongrel upstart!"

Fenris doesn't slow his advance and as Hawke cuts down the last of the shades, he smiles at the sight of Danarius taking a belated step backward.

"He is nothing," Danarius sneers. "He can give you nothing, not compared to the power I granted you. He has no idea of your value; he would squander everything I made you into." His gaze flickers to Hawke and there's nothing but disgust in his eyes when he says, "He has no idea what to do with a slave like you."

Fenris' hand solidifies just enough to close around Danarius' throat. He lifts him clear off the ground, high enough for Danarius' feet to kick out helplessly as Fenris snarls, "I am not a slave!"

His other hand slides into Danarius' chest, showing none of the hesitation he had with Hawke, and he meets Danarius' wide eyes when he says, "Not anymore."

The sound of Danarius' heart being ripped from his body is one Hawke won't forget in a hurry. It drops from Fenris' bloody fingers, rolling across the swaying ship, and his body slumps beside it a moment later when Fenris lets him fall.

On the deck behind them, the fighting is winding down, victorious cheers rising up in place of clashing swords. In the absence of panicked shouts for Anders, Hawke figures it's safe to assume injuries are minimal and holds a hand to his own injured arm as he straightens up.

Fenris' lyrium is still lit when Hawke approaches.

He jumps backs out of reach, bloodied hands raised in a stance somewhere between attack and defence as he snaps, "Don't. I meant what I said to him." He swallows hard, eyes fixed on Hawke's sword. "I don't want to fight you…"

"Well, that's good news," Hawke says. "I'm pretty sure you would wipe the floor with me right now."

His attempt at levity falls flat when Fenris only backs up further.

"I didn't kill Danarius just to trade him in for another master," he warns. "I won't be your slave either."

Hawke halts his approach. He can see the blood glittering on Isabela's blades as she waits at the top of the stairs, can hear the thump of Varric's feet on the bridge behind him, and as he meets Fenris' eyes, he prays he doesn't fuck this up.

"Fenris, you being my slave is the opposite of what I wanted."

Fenris' eyes go wide, the lyrium-glow fading as he asks, stunned, "You don't want to own me?"

"Absolutely not," Hawke says. "I came here to free you, not steal you. I want you to be free to choose what you do with your life, whatever that might be."

Fenris stares at him, laid open by the question, and Hawke smiles. "You don't have to decide right now," he says. "Just take it step by step. Where do you want to go first?"

Fenris says nothing and Hawke offers, "I mean, I can help you get a ship back to Ferelden if you liked it down there?"

"I- I don't know." Without his anger guiding him, Fenris looks lost as he murmurs, "I didn't know where I was going when I left. I just wanted to lead Danarius away from you. Ferelden was…" He gives a tiny shrug. "It was Ferelden."

Varric steps forward with a chuckle. "Well, that's a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one." There's a surprising amount of sincerity in his voice when he says, "You know, there's always a place in Kirkwall for you if you want it. We missed you, kid."

Fenris blinks at that, looking around at the five of them in surprise. No-one contradicts Varric but Hawke's heart sinks a little when Fenris shakes his head.

"I- I can't." His eyes find Hawke's as he says, "I don't want to be kept."

Isabela sighs behind him. "Hawke, if you've driven him away with your ungodly snoring…"

"It's not because of that," Hawke says, risking a couple of steps forward. "Or at least not totally because of that." He gives Fenris his most soothing smile when he says, "I get it. You need some space after all this -- you definitely deserve it"

When Fenris relaxes a fraction, Hawke is even more certain it was the right thing to say, and he continues, emboldened, "I may actually have a solution. If you still want to come back to Kirkwall, that is."

Fenris looks at him in confusion and Hawke explains, "I had a good run of card games last week. Won an emerald, a chalet, a couple of goats, some really neat stuff."

To his left, Varric coughs pointedly.

"And a mansion," Hawke finishes. "Another one in Hightown, a few streets away from mine. Some prince bought it as a summer home but as it turns out, no-one wants to vacation in Kirkwall."

"It's kind of a shithole," Isabela says helpfully.

"And so I don't think he really minded losing it. It needs a bit of work but it's a nice enough place," Hawke says. "You could stay there?"

"And you didn't think to mention this empty mansion to the guy who lives in Darktown?" Anders mutters under his breath.

"Obviously you can decorate it how you want," Hawke says, opting to ignore Anders for now. (He can buy him a separate mansion later.) "You can get some furniture, put up some paintings, restock the wine cellar. You know, make it a place of your own."

Fenris' eyes narrow as he folds his arms across his chest. "And what would you have me do in return for this generosity?"

"Nothing!" Hawke says quickly. "And definitely nothing unsavoury." Fenris still looks suspicious and so Hawke takes an alternative approach. "You could pay rent?"

Fenris blinks. "Rent."

"Not too much," Hawke says. "But you're free now. I'm not saying you need to still work as my bodyguard but if you wanted to help kill bandits on occasion, you'd be entitled to a share of the loot. Or you could get a job with the guard, or see if Corff needs any help in the Hanged Man-"

"I think Corff needs a lot of help," Merrill chimes in.

"Either way, you'll have your own money," Hawke says. "You can use it to pay rent on the mansion or on wherever else you want to live." He gives Fenris a hopeful smile. "How does that sound?"

"Good." Fenris' voice is quiet, his eyes fixed on the ground, but Hawke's smile widens when Fenris catches himself, posture changing from submissive to resolute even as his cheeks heat in shame.

"Thank you," he says, glancing around at the rest of them. "I didn't think-"

"You're welcome," Isabela cuts in, and Fenris' shoulders sag in relief at being spared from saying anything further. She moves him to give him a friendly pat on the shoulder instead of the usual hug before ducking down to yank the coin purse off Danarius' corpse.

"One giant apology cake coming up," she says with a wink in Fenris' direction.

Fenris' blush deepens but there's a tiny smile on his lips as Isabela jogs back down the stairs with a call to her crew, "What happened to all the looting? Honestly, it's like none of you have been listening to a thing I've taught you."

Varric laughs as he follows her down onto the deck, Merrill and Anders close behind, and Hawke takes another couple of steps towards Fenris, keeping his voice lower now that they're alone. "Are you all right?"

"I'm alive," Fenris says with a little shrug. "It's more than I expected."

Hawke smiles at that, sidestepping the sprawl of Danarius' corpse, but Fenris pulls back as soon as Hawke gets close enough to touch him.

"I'm sorry," Fenris says softly. "You shouldn't have come all this way just for someone who won't give you what you want."

"I have what I want," Hawke promises. "Danarius is dead and you're safe. That's all I came for."

Fenris raises his eyebrows in disbelief and Hawke holds his hands up. "I mean it," he says. "You coming back to Kirkwall is already a bonus. I don't need anything else."

For one panicked moment, he thinks he might actually have made Fenris cry but he calms when Fenris just shakes his head, voice rough. "How are you always so kind to me?"

"I told you," Hawke says with a grin, "they don't call me Serah Kind for no reason."

It draws the desired smile when Fenris says, "No-one has ever called you that."

Hawke beams. "I knew there was a reason I missed you."

Pleased to see Fenris calming down, he closes more of the distance between them as he gestures to Fenris' neck. "Can I take this off?"

Fenris nods but stays silent and still under Hawke's hands when he reaches around to the buckle of the collar. The leather is soft and supple, and as it falls away under Hawke's hands, Fenris' eyes dart up to meet his. His breath is warm against Hawke's jaw and as Hawke's gaze lingers on Fenris' lips, he struggles to think of anything but the kiss they shared weeks ago outside the mansion.

It seems painfully easy to just take this one last step but when Fenris tenses and steps back, Hawke has never been happier about being spared from making a rash decision.

"I'm sorry," he says, running a hand through his hair. "I'm an idiot."

"You're not," Fenris says. "Not now, anyway."

Hawke chuckles. "Thank you?"

Fenris' smile is fleeting as he straightens up. "I- I care about you, Hawke," he admits. "But I can't do this. Not now."

"That's okay," Hawke says, trying and failing to keep the pleased disbelief off his face. "I understand, I-" He pauses and attempts to regain a little of his dignity, as he says, "I guess it's probably inappropriate to kiss over a corpse. Even if it is Danarius'."

That coaxes a real smile from Fenris as he looks at Danarius' body with satisfaction, and Hawke finally decides which rash decision he wants to make.

"So when we're back in Kirkwall and everything's settled down," he says carefully, "how would you feel about another more-than-friends dinner? Ideally with no ambushes from evil magisters this time."

Fenris' eyes widen but a pleased smile spreads across his face when he says, "I'd like that."

Hawke's heart nearly gives out in relief but his delight only grows when Fenris adds firmly, "But not at the place with all the fish."

Chapter Text

It's three years before Fenris moves back into Hawke's mansion.

The offer's open from the day they return to Kirkwall, a reassuring back-up even as Hawke helps Fenris get settled in his own place, but it's only after three years, two (very) near-death experiences, and one face-off with a high dragon that Fenris finally accepts.

"I still can't believe he agreed to live with you in the middle of sex," Isabela says, taking a swig of the Hanged Man's celebratory ale. (It's remarkably similar to the Hanged Man's normal ale but slightly shinier. Hawke tries not to think about why.) "Just how good in bed are you?"

"I'm amazing," Hawke says, propping his feet up on Varric's table. "There are odes written about my prowess in the bedroom."

Isabela laughs, wrinkling her nose. "I don't think Varric's lovingly detailed romance serials count as odes."

"Close enough," Hawke says with a shrug. "What can I say, nobleman in the streets-"

"Colossal disappointment in the sheets?" Isabela holds her hands up when Hawke scowls. "Just speaking from experience."

She glances over to where Fenris is having his wine topped up by Merrill. "He seems happy enough though. I had a feeling you two would shack up again soon."

"Your amazing after-the-fact intuition strikes again," Hawke teases and chuckles when Isabela kicks his feet off the table with her own.

"The next time you have a romantic crisis, you can figure it out on your own," she mutters. "See how long Fenris sticks around when I'm not here to vet your Wintersend gifts for you."

"Hey," Hawke protests, "he might have really liked those trousers."

"Hawke, there is not a single living person who would have liked those trousers."

"You make a compelling case," he says with a sigh. "Gifts still aren't one of my strengths."

"Fortunately for both of us, Fenris seems to have overlooked that glaring deficiency," Isabela says, smiling. "Personally, I think it's the arms."

Hawke grins. He can feel the buzz of the ale as he sits up straighter but Isabela holds out a hand to stop him before he can speak. "Please don't flex."

"That's never stopped him yet."

Both of them look up at the sound of Fenris' voice. Hawke can feel a stupid grin tugging at his lips at the sight of him and he's tipsy enough that he can't do anything to quash it.

"Hi," he says and then, sounding slightly less dopey, "You've never complained before."

Fenris smirks. "Think of it more as an observation than a complaint."

The light of the torch behind him makes his hair look even brighter in the relative darkness. It's getting longer again -- Hawke gives it another week at most before Fenris gets grumpy with the length and makes him chop it shorter for him -- and when Fenris leans against the table beside them, Hawke reaches up to tuck a stray strand behind his ear.

The scar on his cheek from the previous week's fight is still healing and Hawke runs his thumb over it as he pulls him down for a kiss.

Fenris goes easily, lips still tasting of wine, and it's an effort for Hawke not to just tug him down onto his lap and kiss him harder. It's only his audience which stops him and it's with reluctance that he lets go of Fenris to look back over at Isabela. "Where were we?"

"Nowhere good," Isabela says but there's a fond smile on her lips as she looks between the two of them. "So, when's the wedding?"

"Why does everyone think we're getting married?" Fenris asks, taking the seat next to Hawke. "Yesterday Seneschal Bran asked me if I would be making an honest man out of you."

"He asks everyone that," Hawke says. "I think it's more of a plea than a question at this stage."

"I'm just moving into Hawke's mansion," Fenris says firmly to Isabela. "There is no wedding."

"And here I was already planning the bachelor parties." Her feigned sadness doesn't last long as she takes another gulp of ale with a grin. "Well, marriage or no marriage, I hope it all works out for you two. Not least because I don't want to have to give your old house back."

"Your priorities are admirable," Hawke says, and Isabela knocks her mug against his in agreement.

He'd initially offered the second mansion to Anders and Merrill but after they both declined with varying degrees of politeness, Isabela had been the next best choice. He's not entirely convinced she won't use it for some kind of illegal dealings but since most Hightown estates have at least a few rooms dedicated to crime, he figures she'll fit right in whenever she's in Kirkwall.

"It's all yours," Hawke says, settling his arm around Fenris' shoulders and trying not to get too distracted when Fenris leans into the contact. After a few months together, it became clear just how much Fenris likes being touched and Hawke has been more than happy to oblige.

"The roof leaks near the bedroom," Fenris says, "and there may still be a corpse in the hallway."

"Minor details," Isabela says, waving her hand. "It'll still be better than staying in this dump every time I'm in the city."

"You do know I live here, right, Rivaini?" Varric asks, taking a seat opposite them.

"I respect you too much to lie to you?" Isabela offers.

Varric just chuckles. "Much obliged."

Merrill and Anders join them at the table, both of them with a drink in hand and messy braids in their hair. (Merrill's braid is the tidier of the two, confirming Hawke's suspicions that Anders has reached the hair-braiding stage of drunkenness already.)

"Congratulations, both of you!" Merrill says cheerfully. "Have you got any plans to redecorate, Fenris? You were good at painting the Vhenadahl."

"My decorations are fine," Hawke protests but frowns when Fenris makes a non-committal noise. "My decorations aren't fine?"

"Just the picture of the angry bald man," Fenris says. "And the nug mating sculpture."

"What about that painting of the fruits that have come to life?" Isabela suggests. "That's horrific."

"I'm not a big fan of the smiling templar," Anders says. "Its eyes follow you."

"I quite like the sculpture of the naked lady," Merrill says, but before Hawke can thank her for the support, she adds, "Although I'm not sure why she has so many feathers on her hands."

"All right, all right, point taken," Hawke says, holding up his hands. "I just want to point out that I won all of those in card games. What was I supposed to do with them?"

Varric shrugs. "Sell them?"

"Burn them?" Isabela chimes in.

Before Hawke can get too upset about the apparent universal hatred of his taste in artwork, Fenris pats him on the thigh and says, "We can talk about it tomorrow."

Hawke would guess that he's of the 'burn them' school of thought but when Fenris leans up to kiss him on the lips, he finds he doesn't mind too much. The ends of Fenris' hair curl around Hawke's fingers as he deepens the kiss and when they break apart, it's to find the rest of the table watching them with a mixture of awkwardness and intrigue.

"I, uh-" Hawke coughs into his fist. "Maybe we should head home."

"Probably better than making out on Varric's table," Anders says helpfully. Evidently disapproving of this plan, Isabela elbows him in the ribs. "Ow!"

"Can you walk?" Merrill asks with concern. "My legs are already starting to feel a bit wobbly."

"I can walk," Hawke declares, stretching his arms above his head. "And if that changes, Fenris can carry me."

Fenris rolls his eyes as he pushes himself to his feet. Hawke follows, swaying a little, and looks at Varric with a smile. "Thanks for the drinks."

"Anytime," Varric says. "You two get home safe now."

"We will," Fenris promises.

His arm is around Hawke's back before Hawke has even made it upright and Hawke leans into him happily as he waves to the rest of the group. "Night, all."

He smiles at the chorus of farewells that follow and as they head out of the Hanged Man, he just catches Isabela's question, "So, anyone want to revise their bets on how long it is before they get married?"

 

:::

 

They make it back to Hightown without incident -- fortunately Kirkwall's gangs seem to have decided to do something better with their evening than attacking random civilians -- and when they come to a stop in front of what is now their door, Hawke rests his head against Fenris' shoulder with a sigh.

"Full disclosure," Hawke says. "I am quite merry."

Fenris smiles. "You're drunk."

"Merry," Hawke says again, drawing out the word in case Fenris misheard. "Maybe also jolly."

"I stand corrected," Fenris says but he's smiling in a way that says the opposite. Hawke really wants to kiss his very nice but very confusing mouth.

"We should do something to celebrate," Hawke says.

"Was that not the purpose of the drinking?"

"Fair point," Hawke admits, "but we should still do something to mark the occasion. Even if I am too drunk to carry you over the threshold."

Fenris laughs. "What happened to just being merry?"

"Psht," Hawke says, waving his hand. "I can be both."

He demonstrates this by way of a kiss. Fenris smiles against his mouth when Hawke's hands find his ass and give it a fond squeeze but he kisses back with equal enthusiasm, tongue sliding against Hawke's and fingers curling in Hawke's hair.

Hawke sighs happily when they break away but that soon turns to a squawk of panic when he finds himself lifted up off the ground, this time by biceps rather than magic. "What are you-"

Fenris' arms are under his knees and back as he hefts Hawke in his arms with relative ease. Hawke clings on around his neck, feet kicking out on instinct, but Fenris just smirks as he nudges the door open. "I'm marking the occasion."

"I'm not a damsel in distress," Hawke grumbles but clings on tighter as Fenris kicks the door shut behind them and heads for the stairs. "I'm a grown, muscular man."

"Who is frequently in distress," Fenris points out. The lyrium markings light the way as he climbs the stairs to their bedroom and Hawke finds himself relaxing a bit at the realisation of just how secure he is in Fenris' arms.

He decides to celebrate this by planting a wet kiss on the side of Fenris' neck. Fenris laughs, squirming away as much as he can, and Hawke finds himself dumped on the bed as Fenris rubs at his neck. "You are very strange."

Hawke chuckles as he stares up at the canopy of the bed. "Please don't tell me I've scared you off already."

When he looks over, Fenris is already down to just his leggings and Hawke sighs in blatant appreciation. There's still a bruise on his ribs from where he was charged at by a giant spider but otherwise his skin is smooth and unmarked, save the lyrium which glows faintly in the candlelight.

"It'll take more than a kiss to frighten me," Fenris says as Hawke strips off his own clothes. "I am here for as long as you'll have me."

"Is now a bad time to make a joke about me 'having you' or…"

Fenris rolls his eyes but he's still smiling as he steps out of his leggings and climbs up to settle on Hawke's lap. The hum of the ale isn't enough to dull Hawke's arousal -- he's definitely on the pleasantly tipsy side of drunk rather than the paralytic one -- and his hands find Fenris' ass again as he pulls him down for a slow, deep kiss.

It took them a while to work up to sex. The initial intimacy of kissing only came after two months of chaste dating, and even when they made it to the bedroom, there were still a lot of pitfalls to navigate around. As long as it meant Fenris was happy and unafraid and still with him, Hawke was more than willing to learn what not to do, what names brought up unpleasant memories, and what positions were best avoided, and as he rolls Fenris over onto his back, he now has a good idea of exactly what Fenris is likely to enjoy this evening.

Fenris makes a mournful little noise when Hawke's mouth leaves his. Hawke's hands wrap around his thighs to give an apologetic squeeze as he kisses his way down Fenris' neck and chest, scraping his teeth over his nipples as he goes.

Fenris groans, hands resting on Hawke's head, and Hawke looks up with a smile when he gets all the way down to Fenris' cock.

"What do you think?" Hawke asks. His shoulders are broad enough to hold Fenris' legs wide open and he runs his thumb over the soft skin at the crease of Fenris' thigh. "Where should I start?"

Fenris hates begging during sex, hates being made to plead for something to start or stop, however light-hearted Hawke's teasing is. Giving orders, on the other hand, is something he definitely seems to appreciate.

"Your mouth," Fenris says decisively. "And your fingers."

Hawke grins. "One mouth and ten fingers come right up."

"Not all your fingers," Fenris adds but he's smiling as he lies back on the pillows.

With his feet flat on the bed and his legs pressed against Hawke's shoulders, Hawke can feel the lingering thrum of tension dissipate when he ducks down to take Fenris' dick in his mouth. The lyrium flares and settles quickly, Fenris' hands tightening in Hawke's hair for a moment as he adjusts, but he relaxes back on the bed with a sigh when Hawke sets a leisurely pace.

"I- That's good," Fenris says. He already sounds dazed and Hawke rubs his thumbs over the jut of Fenris' hipbone to keep him anchored as he goes to work.

Having never been on the receiving end, this was one of the things it took Fenris longest to get used to. However, after three years, Hawke is honestly proud of just how much Fenris seems to like his mouth.

He takes him as deep as he can, wrapping his hand around any he can't reach, and when Fenris looks down, Hawke purposefully angles his cock to push at the inside of his cheek.

Predictably, Fenris groans at the picture he's presented with and Hawke chuckles at the needy little tug to his hair that he gets in response.

"You're incorrigible," Fenris mutters.

Hawke lets his dick slip free with a wet pop. "I try."

Rolling his eyes, Fenris coaxes him down again. His stomach muscles clench when Hawke takes him deeper, the lyrium shimmering as his toes curl on the sheets, and Hawke shifts position to let Fenris hook his legs over his shoulders. The press of Fenris' heels against his back is pleasingly familiar and Hawke gives his own cock a quick stroke before settling back down to pay proper attention to Fenris' dick.

While they've had their share of quick fumbles, Hawke is very aware of just how much Fenris likes slow, thorough sex. He's a bit too drunk to make it last as long as they sometimes do but as he hums happily around Fenris' cock, he figures they can try again tomorrow. (And the day after. And the day after that. They live together now -- they have all the time in the world.)

"Fingers," Fenris demands. His voice is low and breathy, back arching to push up into Hawke's mouth, and Hawke sucks gently on the head of his dick as he runs his fingers down the underside of Fenris' spit-slick cock.

It's not quite enough to ease the way. Fenris flinches a little when Hawke spits on his fingers -- being spat on was near the top of Fenris' (downright horrifying) list of things he didn't like during sex, right between being choked and getting slapped across the face -- and Hawke kisses the inside of his thigh in reassurance before rubbing his fingers over Fenris' hole.

He's tight, always is, but it's nothing Hawke's fingers can't take care of as long as he can keep him relaxed and happy. With an impressive amount of coordination, he works two fingers inside him as he takes Fenris' cock into his mouth again, pushing in up to his knuckles at the same time that Fenris' dick hits the back of his throat.

Fenris groans, hands tightening in Hawke's hair as he clenches around his fingers, but Hawke keeps his movements slow and steady as he waits for Fenris' next instruction.

"More," Fenris says. "I- I don't want to wait."

Fenris' dick rubs against his face when Hawke plants a kiss against the base of his cock and teases, "I think I can manage that."

Fenris' legs tense over Hawke's shoulders as he opens up him wide on his fingers. It only takes a quick tickle against the sole of one foot to calm him down again and he wriggles on the bed, laughing and spread open on Hawke's hand. "That's not fair."

"I can't believe you'd suggest I'd play dirty," Hawke says, working another finger inside him. "I'm incredibly offended."

Fenris just laughs. "You told Anders there was a cat behind him just so you could steal his chicken when he wasn't looking."

Hawke makes a dismissive noise. "I've matured as a person since then."

"It was two hours ago," Fenris points out.

"I mature very quickly," Hawke says. "Like…" He frowns. "Something that isn't cheese."

Fenris shakes his head, still smiling. "Why did I agree to move here?"

"Because you can't bear to be parted from me?" Hawke says, twisting his fingers to make Fenris stifle a cry. "Or possibly because you took pity on me."

"Definitely one of those two," Fenris says. He pushes down onto the shallow press of Hawke's fingers with a pleased sigh as he murmurs, "I'm ready. No more fingers."

Hawke kisses the smooth skin below Fenris' navel. "Your wish is my command."

Fenris' legs slide from his shoulders, falling open wide on the bed as Hawke sits up. He's as quiet as he can be when he spits into his palm, slicking his cock with a couple of half-hearted strokes before moving in between Fenris' thighs again.

Fenris slips a pillow under his hips, keeping his ass raised for Hawke's attentions, and the lyrium curling down over his thighs and rear pulses as Hawke begins to push inside. Fenris moans, biting his lip as he grips Hawke's arms, but he rolls his hips down to meet Hawke's first slide in.

He's tight around him, the lyrium glowing a dim white at the rush of sensations, and Hawke holds his hips as he moves in and out slowly a couple of times. "Is that okay?"

Fenris nods, tugging a little on Hawke's arms, and Hawke grins as he takes the hint. He leans down over him, knees on the bed and hands either side of Fenris' ribs as he settles into a comfortable pace and position, and he watches Fenris' cheeks flush pink when he finds just the right angle. "Hawke…"

"I'm right here." Fenris' eyes are closed as his body jolts with each of Hawke's thrusts and Hawke nuzzles under his chin as he murmurs, "Open your eyes for me, come on."

From the look of dazed confusion on Fenris' face, Hawke doubts he knew he'd closed them but he smiles when Fenris' green eyes lock onto his again. He moves his hips so that they're riding out the rhythm together and Hawke kisses his jaw as he asks, "Are you with me?"

The tiny knot of concern in Hawke's chest unravels under the sincerity of Fenris' smile.

"I'm with you," he says. He licks his lips and groans when Hawke pushes in slow and deep. "Faster."

Hawke obliges, bracing his knees wider on the bed as he fucks in harder and quicker. Fenris gasps, lyrium lighting in flutters of white-blue, and Hawke winces at the dig of Fenris' ghostly hands on his shoulders.

"Not to ruin the mood," Hawke says, "but your fingers are inside me."

Fenris' eyes go wide and he pulls his hands off Hawke's shoulders, cheeks turning red in shame. "I'm sorry."

His fingertips slip free of his body but Hawke turns his head to kiss Fenris' palm before he can panic too much. "It's all right," he says. "I'm not hurt. See?"

He picks up the pace by way of demonstration and Fenris bites back his moan as his left hand finds Hawke's arm again. His right dips down between their bodies and Hawke feels the brush of Fenris' knuckles against his stomach as he strokes himself in time with Hawke's thrusts.

Exhausted from the effort of holding himself up (and also from the copious amount of ale consumed earlier), Hawke can't keep his arms from shaking when he lowers himself down, but it's definitely worth it when Fenris stretches up to meet him for a kiss.

It's messy, an uncoordinated but eager crush of lips and tongues as Fenris cants his hips up to meet Hawke's movements, but Hawke only kisses him harder when he feels the heat of his release begin to uncurl low in his belly.

"More," Fenris gasps, and if it's closer to pleading than ordering, Hawke doesn't comment on it.

He complies either way, pouring every last drop of energy he has into giving Fenris all he has. Fenris' hips roll to meet his, lyrium glowing brighter as he gasps, and Hawke catches his lips in another desperate kiss before meeting Fenris' eyes.

Even after everything, Fenris sometimes still looks at him like Hawke owns him, like he would do anything Hawke commands. Hawke would be unsettled if not for the fact that he knows he's looking at Fenris in exactly the same way.

He isn't sure how much of that he manages to convey when he kisses him again but judging by the smile on Fenris' lips when he pulls back, Hawke's doing enough to make him happy. He strokes himself faster, the slick noise of his hand nearly drowned out by the creak of the bed and the sound of their breathing, and Hawke pushes up to drag in a breath of cool air as he asks, "Are you…?"

"Almost," Fenris gasps. His hips move faster, taking every inch of Hawke as deep as he can, and his fingers dig into Hawke's arm hard enough to leave bruises when he closes his eyes with a moan, "Hawke, I-"

His release takes him before he can finish. His eyes fly open again, head tipped back and lyrium flaring bright enough that it echoes on the inside of Hawke's eyelids. He tightens around him and as much as Hawke wants to hold it together to appreciate the very endearing stunned look Fenris gets right after he finishes, there's only so long he can hold out.

He comes hard, hips stuttering as he sinks deep inside Fenris to ride out the high. His arms tremble, the tension snapping out of him as he gasps through the crash of sensations, and he slumps down happily on top of Fenris when it fades to leave him enjoyably drained.

They're both breathing hard when it's over, their skin sheened with sweat, and Hawke cracks one eye open at the feel of Fenris carding his fingers through his damp hair.

"Mnnh," he says intelligently.

Fenris' smile is sleepy but content. "I concur."

Chuckling, Hawke pulls himself together enough to kiss Fenris on the cheek before extricating himself from the tangle of limbs. The air is cool on his cock when he slides free of Fenris and he sways when he clambers off the bed to retrieve a couple of rags from the washbowl.

Even cold water doesn't do much to keep him awake as he wipes off the worst of the mess (including some sauce from dinner which has apparently been on his elbow for hours). By the time they snuff out of the candles and slip under the sheets, Hawke is already on the verge of falling asleep and, not for the first time, he's thankful that Fenris doesn't mind his snoring.

Fenris curls up next to him, one leg hooked over his, and Hawke is so busy yawning that he almost doesn't hear Fenris say quietly, "Thank you."

"You were the one who agreed to move in," Hawke points out. "I should be the one thanking you."

The markings on Fenris' hand glow faintly as he traces a pattern only he can see on Hawke's chest. "That wasn't what I meant," he says. "I just- I owe you so much-"

"That-"

"But you don't treat me like I owe you anything," Fenris finishes. There's a smile on his lips when he looks up at him and Hawke stays quiet for once in his life. "You're a good man, Hawke. I'm grateful."

Hawke kisses him on the forehead. "You're welcome," he says honestly. "I'm just grateful you're still putting up with me all these years later."

"It's not that much of a hardship," Fenris teases, stretching to kiss him on the lips. He rests his head back on Hawke's shoulder when he says sleepily, "Although we should talk about that nug statue tomorrow."

"Deal." He yawns widely and runs his thumb along the length of Fenris' ear when he says, "Sleep well, Fenris."

"Goodnight, Hawke."

It's more of a mumble than actual words and Hawke looks down at him with a smile. They've come a long way from Fenris sleeping on a too-small chair that first night in the tavern, and while Hawke can't say that he wouldn't change a thing -- the past few years have definitely not been free of fuck-ups -- luck's been on his side in the long run.

Fenris' breathing evens out, his hand resting flat on Hawke's chest as he succumbs to sleep, and Hawke smiles to himself when he closes his eyes.

Even after years of impulsively lucrative wagers, Fenris is the best bet he's ever made.