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Dragon Age drabbles

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Ch. 1 - Table of Contents

Ch. 2 - Fenris goes to the Hawke estate, but only finds Leandra.

Ch. 3 - Dorian/Bull. Bull uses his watchword.

Ch. 4 - Tag to Coming Home. During the Kirkwall invasion, Anders saves some soldiers.

Ch. 5 - Tag to the After Kirkwall series. Fenris and Bull play cards.

Ch. 6 - Fenris and Hawke ally with Dorian and Bull to attack a Venatori-held keep.

Ch. 7 - NSFW. Fenris and Hawke have morning sex.

Ch. 8 - Fenris, Hawke, Dorian, and Bull are captured by Venatori.

Ch. 9 - Tag to the After Kirkwall series. An evening at the Hendyrs' home.

Ch. 10 - Fenris and Bull reminisce about Seheron.

Ch. 11 - Tag to the After Kirkwall series. Fenris and Hawke chaperone a birthday party.

Ch. 12 - Hawke helps Fenris adjust to life as a free man.

Ch. 13 - Tag to the After Kirkwall series. Fenris fends off some bullies.

Ch. 14 - Fenris must withstand the attention of a group of Orlesian nobles.

Ch. 15 - Aveline is sick. Donnic tries to convince her to stay home.

Ch. 16 - NSFW. Hawke goes down on Fenris.

Ch. 17 - extremely silly drabble about Hawke and Fenris trying not to have sex with each other

Ch. 18 - Tag to Millstone. Anders visits Fenris.

Ch. 19 - Pre-relationship. Hawke accidentally spoons Fenris.

Ch. 20 - Fenris deals with his memories of sexual abuse.

Ch. 21 - Vivienne and Solas follow the Inquisitor down into the Deep Roads and beyond. Takes place during the Descent DLC.

Ch. 22 - A chapter of a fic I will never write about Fenris and Hawke trying to stop Solas. Completely without context and not recommended if you don't like cliffhangers

Ch. 23 - Tag to the Glow scifi AU. Fenris's splicing means he can no longer regulate his own body heat.

Ch. 24 - Tag to the Glow scifi AU. Fenris discovers his sweet tooth.

Ch. 25 - Tag to the Glow scifi AU. Hawke, Anders, and Fenris visit an exotic pets store.

Ch. 26 - High school swim team AU. Fenris and Hawke, flyers from rival teams, meet for the first time.

Ch. 27 - Part 2/? of the high school swim team AU.

Ch. 28 - NSFW. Swim team AU. Lying in bed one night, Fenris thinks of Hawke.

Ch. 29 - Bull witnesses Solas's heretofore unknown skills with a blade.

Ch. 30 - The gang gathers for Wintersend, and Varric has thoughtfully purchased a sprig of mistletoe.

Ch. 31 - Twelve years post-Inquisition. Called to fight once more, Hawke takes a fatal blow.

Ch. 32 - Tag to the Glow scifi AU. Fenris, Hawke, Aveline, and Anders are captured by the Bioethics agency.

Ch. 33 - Trans Fenris. The gang goes skinnydipping, but Fenris is reluctant to join them.

Ch. 34 - Sequel to Ch. 31. An older Hawke and Fenris go to Grand Enchanter Vivienne's ball at Halamshiral.

Ch. 35 - Trans Fenris. The gang goes to the beach. 

Ch. 36 - Hawke's early days in the Iron Ring, also featuring Athenril.

Ch. 37 - Hawke, Isabela, and Saravh go on a sailing adventure.

Ch. 38 - Blood mage Rowan AU. After the Chantry explosion, Hawke uses blood magic to kill Meredith.

Chapter Text

Fenris wakes with a shout halfway up his throat. He turns over, pressing his face into the pillow, chokes the noise off into little more than a whimper. The sheets cling to his sweaty skin, and he twists slowly, heaving in breaths. Why does he have to dream of these things? He’s been trying to put it all behind him, and it’s working, he can go days now without thinking once of Danarius, and then he has a dream like that and it’s as if he escaped only yesterday—you think the lash is bad, my pet? I have not begun to hurt you. You belong to me, you pathetic, useless slave, you should be grateful I have chosen to keep you, you should be begging for the lash that you might amuse me, that I might choose not to sell you off to much harder work as I have done to so many others—

He can’t breathe. His eyes burn, his hair sticks to his forehead. Why can’t he stop thinking about it? He presses a hand to his mouth as his stomach turns over, and he curls up, the sheets tangling around his legs. This is wrong. He doesn’t deserve this. Forgive you? You are a thing. A thing that I own. I do not need to forgive things. Stop. He begs—someone, no one, the empty air, to please stop this, to keep the voice from his head, the deadly sneer, the soft, dry brush of fingers on his face and neck—does it frighten you, to see so much of your blood spilled? Do not worry, my pet, I will heal you, and then we may continue the lesson, for as long as it takes for you to understand. No. He presses his forehead to the bed and whispers it. “Please stop hurting me.”

Ah, and still you beg for mercy. Plainly you have not learned the lesson yet. Let me be firmer in my instruction.

Fenris flinches so hard there’s a sharp twinge in his leg, a pulled muscle. He sobs, then tightens his jaw, humiliated. To be brought so low by a simple dream? And yet here he is, on the verge of tears—thank me, you base creature, I said thank me!

He can’t stay here. He needs someone. Needs Hawke.

He hasn’t been to the estate since he left it four weeks ago, in the early hours of the morning, after an apology the giving of which nearly broke him. But Hawke, of course, is ceaselessly kind, and in the time since he has been gentle and friendly with Fenris, showing no sliver of hurt, although Fenris is sure he left a gouge when he walked out that night. Hawke can help. Will help.

Fenris rises, tottering a little, and quickly washes the sweat from his skin before he dresses. The dream still shifts and coils at the back of his mind, held off only by the thinnest of walls. He can’t be alone anymore, can’t be alone with it.

Outside he finds the sun has almost set. Already? He didn’t mean to sleep that long. The streets are still bustling, even at this hour, and he hugs himself, too distracted, too afraid to navigate them. Shoulders and elbows knock into him, spinning him half around. He is too small, inconsequential here. No one drops their gaze to notice him, and if they do it is only to sneer. On most days he glares right back. Not today.

At last the Hawke estate appears to his right. He climbs the steps, lifts the brass ring on the door, and knocks.

In a moment he hears the click of the handle, and the door swings open, revealing Bodahn wearing an indulgent grin. “Serah Fenris! A pleasure to see you again!”

Unlikely. Bodahn is afraid of him and has always been. But the dwarf steps aside, and Fenris follows him through the atrium into the hall. “Is Hawke here?”

“I’m afraid not.”

The words are almost a physical blow. Fenris’s fingers ball in his shirt.

“Although he said he would be back for supper, so he shouldn’t be more than an hour or two. Would you like to wait for him in the sitting room?”

No. Fenris would not like to wait. In the quiet he knows Danarius will return to him. But all he can do is nod, because there isn’t any other choice. Hawke isn’t here, and that’s all there is to it.

“Very good, my lord. If you need anything else, you have only to ask.” Bodahn bows, then strides away with haste.

Hawke. I need Hawke. Fenris claps a hand over his mouth, his eyes burning suddenly. He shivers, though the hall is warm.

“Bodahn? Who’s there?”

Leandra’s voice. Fenris scrubs at his eyes. She stands in the doorway to the dining room, smoothing her skirt. “Oh, Fenris! I’m afraid Garrett isn’t in at the moment, but he shouldn’t be long. You’re welcome to stay for supper.”

“Th—“ Fenris clears his throat. “Thank you.”

Leandra stands there a moment, stilling. “Are you—all right?”

Fenris nods. He has no wish to burden Leandra with his vile past. “I am fine. I will wait for Hawke.” He turns to head for the sitting room.

“Oh, blast.”

Fenris looks up.

Leandra sighs. “I haven’t made the apple tart. I meant to do it this afternoon. It’s all right, there’s still time.” She hesitates. “I…don’t suppose you’d like to help? It might be more fun than staring into the fire for an hour or so. I’ve noticed you’re not much for books.”

He certainly isn’t. And to sit alone with nothing but the soft crackle of flames to interrupt the vicious ghosts of that awful dream…

“Yes,” he blurts out. “I—I will help you.”

“Oh, delightful! Thank you so much.”

Fenris follows her through the dining room and into the kitchen. It’s smaller than his own, but much better-equipped—the shelves under the counters are stacked with pots, pans, and serving dishes, and a collection of cooking implements hang from the cabinets. Leandra goes around the island to a wooden door at the back of the room. “Now let’s see…”

Her pantry is well-stocked, and she goes down the narrow lane of space. “The apples should be there on your left, I think four will be enough.”

Apples. He likes those. There’s a basket of them, red and shiny with smears of green. He gathers four in his arms and retreats back out into the kitchen, placing them each on the cutting board with care. It wouldn’t do to bruise them. 

Leandra comes out holding a small jar of flour. “Oh, just wait until you see what I got for last Wintersend. It’s this little thing…” She pulls something out of a drawer. “You can use it to peel! Better than a paring knife, you won’t slice your thumb open, Maker knows I’ve done that a hundred times.”

Fenris stares at the little metal instrument she’s brandishing. He’s never peeled anything in his life, although he’s loath to confess that—he’ll look like an absolute fool—

“Here, let me show you.” Leandra picks up an apple and presses the silver edge into it.

The skin comes off in a short coil before it breaks, landing on the counter. Leandra continues smoothly, turning the apple in small increments. It’s plain she’s expert at this. Fenris is not. If she needed someone killed, that he could do, with any of a variety of weapons, or even unarmed. But he does not think she requires any services in that vein.

“Here.” She presses the instrument and the apple into Fenris’s hands. “Now you try.”

So he does.

At first the blade skims off the firm skin. Then he digs too deep, and gouges a chunk of flesh from the fruit. It takes a moment for him to find the correct amount of pressure, the right pace so that the blade continues to catch. A short coil falls to the counter, then a longer one.

When the first apple is done he sets it down and picks up the next.

Even without Leandra talking—she’s busy mixing ingredients for the crust—he finds that Danarius does not whisper to him from the silence. Instead the repetitive motions of his hands are enough to fill the restless emptiness of his shying mind. By the third apple he has decided he is good at this, and the fourth he manages to peel entirely without once breaking the thin red coil that trickles from the white flesh.

Then he turns and finds Leandra watching him with a smile, the whisk sticking out of her bowl of ingredients, long since mixed. “Oh,” he says. “I apologize. I was…slow.”

“Not to worry. As I said, we have time.” She chooses a knife from the knife block and comes over. “Now to slice them. First you halve them, and halve them again, and then cut out the core…”

Together they cut the apples into paper-thin slices. Fenris is much better with knives than he is with peelers, and in this task he outspeeds her. Then she heats a pan and melts a pad of butter in it, tossing in the apples to sauté them, dousing the whole thing with a liberal coating of cinnamon and sugar.

It smells incredible. Fenris’s stomach growls, and he puts a hand over his middle, embarrassed. Leandra laughs. “There are some biscuits in that jar over there, if you’re hungry.”

She’s feeding him supper, and now he’s going to steal yet more of her food? He shrinks back a little. “No, it’s all right. I am fine.”

“Fenris, please. If they don’t get eaten soon, they’re going to go stale.”

He hesitates. She rests the wooden spoon on the lip of the frying pan and retrieves a biscuit from the jar, offering it to him. “Here.”

Now it would be rude to refuse. So he takes it and tries a bite.

It’s delicious, buttery and sweet. In a half-second it’s vanished down his gullet, and he looks up to find Leandra holding out three more.

Fenris gives in and accepts them.

He realizes, as he finishes the last one and licks his fingers, that he hasn’t eaten since this morning. Forgetting meals is one of his bad habits, and one Hawke’s been trying to break him of. But Hawke has been giving him space recently, and Fenris has slipped into the same pattern again, of not noticing his hunger until he’s starving.

Leandra holds out the wooden spoon. “Would you do this for a moment? I’ve got to get the baking pan. Just chase them around a bit so they don’t burn.”

Fenris obeys, prodding the bubbling apples. They’ve grown softer, and browned a little. When Leandra returns he asks, “How will I know when they’re done?”

“Oh, that’s easy. You try one.”

So Fenris slips a slice onto the spoon, blows on it gently, and pops it into his mouth.

It tastes amazing. There’s more than cinnamon there—nutmeg, perhaps? He never had many sweet foods in Tevinter, and he knows he likes them, he knows, he just never thinks of buying himself any, even thought he has his own money now.

“And if you’re not sure…” Leandra leans on the counter beside him and winks. “You just have to try another one.”

An excellent idea. The second is just as good. Leandra takes one for herself. “I think they’re soft enough.”

She rolls out the dough, then shows him how to arrange the apples, the thin slices overlapping each other in long rows across the crust. Fenris layers them with care. The effect is quite beautiful, and he does not want to ruin it.

“Well, aren’t you just a natural at this.” Leandra’s hand lands on his back.

Fenris jumps nearly out of his skin, his knuckles striking the pan and spinning it sideways. Leandra jerks away. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean—“

“No, it’s not—it isn’t your fault.” Fenris takes a deep breath, his heart hammering. Shh, my pet, shh, a palm stroking his back—he shivers, wrapping his arms around himself. Foolish to think it would all go away so easily.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Leandra asks, in a small voice.

He shakes his head. “This—this is helping.”

The slices are in disarray now. Fenris replaces them with shaking fingers. Leandra is silent, abashed. Venhedis. That’s his fault, him and his damned nervousness. So it’s up to him to fix it. “Tell me about Hawke,” he says.

“What?”

“About Hawke.” Fenris glances over his shoulder. “What was he like when he was young?”

“In Lothering? Well, not so different from how he is now, to tell the truth…”

That gets her talking. Fenris’s hands stop trembling after a minute or two, and he even begins to smile—hard not to, what with the stories Leandra’s telling. A tiny Garrett Hawke running home with a fish clamped to his finger because he couldn’t get its mouth open, riding their Mabari Rufus through the center of town buck naked, hiding inside a scarecrow and terrifying Celia Benson when she came out to check on her crops…

“That looks perfect. Here, let me get it in the oven.”

Leandra whisks the tart out from in front of him. He lurches forward. “But—there are still some slices left.”

“And that’s what we call the cook’s treat.” She plucks a slice from the pan.

Fenris follows suit. After all, she is the expert here.

And she is not depleted of stories, either. She puts the kettle on and sits with Fenris at the island, revealing more and more of Hawke’s danger-ridden childhood. How he’s still alive, Fenris has no idea. More than once he guffaws, and when Leandra pours the tea he must take great strides not to inhale any up his nose on listening to Hawke’s wilder ventures.

At last she goes to the oven and takes out the tart. It’s golden-brown and bubbling slightly. Fenris’s mouth waters. No. They haven’t even had supper yet. There will be time for tart later. After that Leandra sets the table. Fenris tries to help, although he doesn’t know where she keeps anything, so it’s hard to keep up. Then there’s the sound of the front door opening and closing, and Leandra calls out, “Garrett?”

“Hello, Mother!” Hawke appears in the threshold. “Oh! Fenris, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Yes,” Fenris replies, quieting the little ache in his chest he gets whenever he sees Hawke after a period of separation. “I came over to speak with you, but…you were not here.”

“Stay for dinner, we can talk afterwards all you like.” He grins, then turns to Leandra. “Is that a tart I smell? Didn’t you just make one this morning?”

Leandra reddens. “Well, I…I thought we could use another one.”

Fenris pauses, confused. Then it comes together. Ah. He smiles at the table. It is…nice to be cared for. He does not remember his mother. Hawke is very fortunate to still have Leandra in his life.

“Fenris, I think you’ve got a little bit of flour—“ Hawke reaches up, and his thumb rubs gently across Fenris’s cheek. “Did you help my mother with the baking?”

Fenris flushes. “Yes,” he mutters.

Hawke laughs. “You should take it up, you know. Baking. I know how much you like sweets.”

Yes. Hawke knows, because Hawke knows him, and loves him still, but Fenris left him and they cannot be together anymore.

Or, he reflects as they all sit down to dinner—maybe they can. In another sort of way. Perched on his chair with Leandra across the table and Hawke to his left, Fenris finds he feels—welcomed. Loved. When Hawke asks him what he came over to talk about, he finds he does not remember and must take a moment to think of it. Then he shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. It isn’t important anymore.”

Chapter Text

You could do it.

Bull stares out across the granite cliffs. He can just make out the Chargers to the east, and below, the two dozen Venatori marching toward them.

You could do it. You could put all that attachment aside. It wouldn’t be the first time. Seheron. Bull thinks of Seheron. So many choices to make there, and he never hesitated, not even once. You could leave them to die and you’d go back to Skyhold without an ounce of guilt.

Rain falls in spits from the sky, and the wind lashes it into Bull’s face. He squints his one remaining eye against it.

“You need to do what’s right, Hissrad.”

Gatt. What’s right. Is this right? Seems like it, when he thinks about it. But it sure as shit doesn’t feel that way. You could do it. He turns to the Inquisitor.

“Call the retreat, Bull.” Evelyn Trevelyan wears her heart on her sleeve and she isn’t even trying to hide it now. “Please. It’s the Chargers.”

Bull lets out a breath, the tension trickling out of him like the rain dripping off the tip of his nose. He reaches for his war horn.

——

“Nnh—“

Dorian writhes as the flogger stripes his skin again. Not just in pain. Bull had him kneel, then bent him down to tie his wrists to the base of the headboard. Leaves his back and his ass exposed, but also lets him fuck against the bed, because that’s what Bull was in the mood to see this afternoon.

He flicks the flogger down again. Dorian twists and moans. Fuck, that’s nice. “Bull—“ Dorian gasps. His face is pressed into the sheets, but he finds Bull above him, a plea in his eyes for—what? For more? For permission to come? Considering what his back looks like right now, might be for mercy. Bull palms his ass and gives him another lash.

“Ah!” He arches, his wrists pulling tight against the rope, tears gleaming in his eyes. “Bull, please—“

Hard to be certain with the lust clouding his voice, but Bull’s pretty sure he’s asking for mercy. Not that Bull has to grant it, not yet. After all, he’s the one in control here. He can keep going as long as he—

You could do it.

Bull freezes.

You could keep going. Keep going until Dorian begged you to slow down, to stop, and you could keep going anyway. And if he said ‘katoh,’ you could ignore it, you could keep going even then. Put aside all that attachment. You could hurt him.Stop, Bull thinks. You could hurt him. You could do it. Stop. Stop. You could—

“Katoh,” he blurts out. “Fuck. Sorry.”

“Bull?” Dorian inches himself forward, sits up as best he can. “What’s wrong?”

Fuck. Bull leans down, starts tugging at Dorian’s bindings. His fingers are clumsy. Fuck. Needs to get these knots undone. Now. Can’t—the ropes refusing to cede to him, one loop coming half-loose, allowing only an inch of space—

But it’s enough for Dorian to slip his hands out, and he sits back on his heels, rubbing his wrists. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m good. How about you?” He starts to reach out, but his hand stutters to a stop in midair. Shouldn’t do it. Shouldn’t touch him. What if—

Dorian takes Bull’s hand in both of his own. “I’m perfectly fine. You’re the one who—“

But he cuts himself off. No questions asked. That was the rule. Ah, crap. This is a fucking mess. Dorian’s confused and without a better explanation probably thinks it was something he did—since he’s the less experienced partner with this kind of stuff. Bull sits on the edge of the bed. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes.” Dorian squeezes Bull’s fingers. “I promise.”

There’s a few seconds of silence. Bull tries to figure out what to say. I was about to hurt you? I was going to ignore your watchword? He grimaces, rubbing his eyes. “I just kind of…lost my hold on what we were doing. Sorry.”

Dorian comes closer, fits himself against Bull’s side. “Lost your hold?” he asks gently.

Should he talk about this? Bull thinks about it. Saying it aloud probably sucks less than the alternative. “Yeah, I…thought I was going to hurt you.”

“You weren’t.” Dorian speaks almost before Bull’s finished his sentence. “And even if I had reached my limit, I would have let you know, in no uncertain terms.”

Yeah. About that. Bull exhales. “I—was afraid that even if you did use the watchword, I wouldn’t have stopped.”

Dorian doesn’t have an answer to that, at least not right away. Fuck. Bull tries to pull his hand back.

But Dorian recaptures it. “You would have stopped.”

Bull lifts an eyebrow at him. “How do you know?”

“Because I trust you.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t.”

“And yet I do. Maybe you should trust me.”

Bull growls in frustration. “You’ve only known me for a few months, Dorian.”

“Yes, but I do know you. At least enough to know you wouldn’t hurt me. Do you think I’d have let you tie me up otherwise?”

Dorian’s steady gaze borders on a challenge. So Bull has to decide whether to fight back, or concede. Seheron is with now as it always is. He wonders again vaguely how many lives he took there, even though it’s impossible to make an exact count—how many died in the fires he set? How many from the water he poisoned? Not just the Vints, of course. The natives, too, and the Tal-Vashoth. He never really thought about it. No, he did—or would start to, anyway.

But then he would just put it aside. With that skill, he could do anything.

“You don’t want to hurt me.”

Bull looks down.

Dorian has lain Bull’s palm on his thigh and traces it absently. “Even if you could.You make your own choices now, and you don’t want to.”

Right. Because he betrayed the Qun when it betrayed him. And now he has no orders, no purpose. Well, maybe a purpose. Protect the Inquisitor. Fuck Corypheus every chance they get.

Make Dorian smile now and then.

“No. I don’t want to hurt you.” Bull leans over and kisses Dorian’s hair.

“And you haven’t,” Dorian replies. “So would you please stop looking at me like I’m some expensive vase you’ve just broken? I’m quite all right.”

Bull holds Dorian’s face in both hands and kisses him.

Slowly. Cautiously. Dorian takes Bull’s waist, pulls him closer. The kiss grows less careful, Dorian settling himself on Bull’s lap. “Mm,” he murmurs into Bull’s mouth. “That’s better.”

Bull runs a hand down his back, over the welts from the flogger, grasps his hip. “Sorry about all that.”

“You haven’t anything to be sorry for.” He presses his lips to the sensitive skin at Bull’s neck. “You know, I wouldn’t mind picking up where we left off.”

“Hm,” Bull rumbles. “Let’s maybe leave the flogger this time.”

“Whatever you want, amatus.” Dorian grinds against him. “I’m all yours.”

Chapter Text

Anders feels the tug in the Veil a split-second before the explosion of flame shakes the building he’s standing on.

The roof shudders under his feet, and he wavers and nearly falls, planting his staff just in time to avoid plunging to the cobbles below. Shit. That came from the next street over. He dashes across the roof and assesses the situation.

No archers here—he’s the only ranged support in the area. Starkhaven is taking advantage of their superior numbers, spreading Kirkwall’s defenders thin rather than concentrating their strikes. There’s a platoon of Kirkwall soldiers down there, some with their shields up, the rest trying to drag away their injured comrades whose red-and-silver uniforms are singed black from that explosion.

Facing them a Starkhaven platoon advances, and at the rear—a mage. Shit. Only one of them, but if that explosion was forceful enough to shake the building, she must be good.

Well, he’s good too. The mage raises her arms, and on the street below the Veil ripples. Anders lashes out a hand, catches the ripple, and flattens it out. A few small tongues of flame flicker in the air, only to be extinguished a second later. There. Take that. He grins at the mage—not that she can see it, not with the black cloth covering his nose and mouth. (There are still those in Kirkwall who might recognize him, and if he dies he’d rather it not be by the hand of those he’s trying to help.)

She looks up and finds him, narrowing her eyes. Then she focuses on the street again, casting once more. And still the platoon advances. Anders exhales. Military training. Achieve the objective. And that objective is the death of these Kirkwall soldiers. The nagging distraction up on the rooftops is secondary. He counters again, nullifying her spell before it can take shape. It won’t be enough. While he’s going back and forth with her, the Starkhaven soldiers will catch the remnants of the Kirkwall platoon and destroy them.

He tracks their movements. He’s standing between the two sides, the mage’s spells aimed at the Kirkwall defenders to his left, and Starkhaven rushing forward from his right. From two stories up, his options are limited…

Let it never be said he lacked courage. Anders jumps.

When he hits the cobblestones he bends his legs and rolls. It still hurts, his knees complaining. He’s getting old. As he dashes to the middle of the street he turns to face the Starkhaven soldiers, and feels the tug of magic behind him. Close now, much closer.

He reaches back, grabs it, and pulls.

The mage resists. She’s good, but so is he. He seizes her spell, bends it, twists it into a different shape. She realizes what he’s doing and panics—a surge of power, a wild thrashing, the Veil deforming around it. Anders struggles to maintain his grip even as the Starkhaven line bears down on him. Just another couple of seconds—

She triggers the spell. Well, that was to be expected.

The explosion blows over Anders’s back in a wave of force and flame. He tries desperately to shield himself with one last burst of magic, but it’s too little too late. The blast sends him flying through the scorched air. The last thing he feels is a sharp pain in his head, and then the world falls to black.

——

His ears are ringing.

His head throbs. Dust. Can’t see anything. He coughs weakly.

“Holy shit.” A man’s voice, muffled and dense. “It’s him.”

“It’s who?” A woman.

“It’s him! The mage who blew up the Chantry!”

“No. You’re joking.”

“I’m not! I swear it’s him!”

Shit. Shit. Anders raises a hand. Startled movement, indistinct shapes in his vision. He touches his face. The mask is gone. They can see him. They know. He tries to say something and coughs again.

“Come on,” the man says. “You get the other side.”

Someone grabs his arm. Then his other arm. His body straightens as he’s dragged—pain, his ribs, something wrong, a break or a bruise, he isn’t sure, but he moans, trying to curl up again.

“Shit.” The woman. “Try and stay still, would you? Some of them might still be alive, we need to get out of here.”

“Please—“ His throat is choked with dust, and he coughs, starts again. “Please  wait—I—“ Then his breath runs out, and he gasps in air through his dry throat.

“No time for waiting,” she replies. “There’s a war on.”

He tries to move his arms, to fight against them, but the blast has left him nerveless, and his muscles hardly twitch. No. He didn’t want it to end like this. He wanted to help, that’s all he’s ever wanted. And now he’ll be stashed in some cell, awaiting execution for crimes six years past. If only he’d been just a little faster with that spell. A little better. Maybe if Justice were still with him he could have managed it.

Of course, if Justice were still with him he wouldn’t be here at all.

“Over there!” the man hisses. “The Grey Ghost, Perry’s waving us over!”

“Must be holed up in there until we get some reinforcements. Maker, this is a bloody mess. All right, let’s go.”

Grey Ghost. The name slides sluggishly over the surface of Anders’s mind, then catches at last. A tavern in the northwest part of Lowtown. The sign passes over him, a ragged phantom with a wicked face grinning down at prospective customers. Or, as now, soldiers seeking refuge. Someone holds open the door as his custodians drag him inside. “That the bloke who blew up the whole street?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” the woman answers. “Let’s get him into the cellar.”

Yes. Harder to do a runner from down there. Anders tries again to struggle, and again manages only a few sad twitches before he runs out of strength. “Please,” he mumbles. “Please. You don’t have to do this.”

“Just take it easy,” the woman says. “Hey, can you get his legs?”

Together the three of them ferry him down the stairs. He blinks, his vision still not resolved. More shapes down here, moving figures. Soldiers. A dozen at least. He’ll never get away, certainly not as he is now. They drag him into the room and lay him down. Ribs. Pain. The woman’s face appears in his vision. She lost her helmet somewhere along the way, and her blonde hair where it falls over her shoulder is singed. “Look at that lump on his forehead. That must’ve been a ringer.”

“You saw him, Bennet, he was standing right in the middle of the blast.” The man. Rivaini, with a thick, bushy beard. “You expect him to just get back up and brush himself off?”

“Shit.” Bennet turns. “Annesta! Got a head wound over here!”

An answering call from across the room. They’re trying to heal him. Need to keep him alive for the trial. After which he’ll be killed. Or made Tranquil. He shakes his head—and the world starts spinning around him, a hot flush of agony wrapping around his temples. He moans. When his vision stills again, there’s another woman, with her hair shot through with grey and her lips pressed together in a frown. But her face opens in astonishment. “No, can’t be.”

Shit. She recognizes him too. He tries to drag himself away, for all the good it’ll do.

“Anders.” She stares, incredulous. “I know you. I was there that night in Kirkwall, when the templars tried to kill us all.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry. Please don’t turn me in. Please.”

By now he’s attracted some attention. At the edges of his vision more figures appear, gathering. “Anders?” An indignant voice. “That bloke who killed Grand Cleric Elthina?”

Bennet stands and rounds on the little group. “Yes, him. He also just saved all of you. You saw how things were going, without him every single one of us would be dead! That mage would’ve burned us to cinders! And he stuck himself in the middle of it all and risked his life so we could get away! I think that earns him our help, don’t you?”

Silence. Anders tries to quell the terror. It makes his head hurt.

Then a tremorous question, from someone new. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Find me some water.” Bennet puts her hands on her hips. “And none of you breathe a word of this, d’you hear? Because if this gets out, I will track you down, and you will get my sword up your arse.”

The older woman, Annesta, smiles down at Anders. “I’ve always wanted to thank you. What Meredith was doing—and no one cared. No one did anything, until you.” But she grows serious. “Now try to relax and let me take a look at you.”

He blinks, confused. “You’re not—you’re not turning me in?”

Bennet crouches, chewing her lip. “Everyone says what you did was monstrous. Then Annesta gets assigned to my unit, and she tells me you did the right thing and bugger what everyone says. I figure this whole mess is beyond me, but you came back here to defend Kirkwall even when you could get caught at any minute, and then you stand in the middle of an explosion to save some people who might turn on you soon as they see your face. That all says to me you deserve as much of a chance as I can give you.”

“Oh,” Anders says faintly.

“Damn.” Annesta’s eyes narrow. “His head’s bleeding.”

Bennet rolls her eyes. “Yes, thank you, I can see that.”

“No, on the inside. I can help, but—Anders, I’m going to have to put you to sleep, or it’ll be a lot harder. Is that all right?”

“I just…” He lifts a hand, brushes his exposed face. “They can see me.” That wasn’t very articulate.

“Not to worry, I can fix that.” The Rivaini appearing again, fishing something out of his pocket. A square of cloth. “Hope you don’t mind orange.”

“The Champion must know you’re here, is that right?” Bennet asks.

“Yes,” Anders tells her. “And Aveline. She knows.”

“Good. Should make it a little easier finding someplace to put you. All right.” Bennet stands. “He’s all yours, Annesta.”

She takes his hand and squeezes it gently. “Try to relax. We’ll take care of you.”

Anders closes his eyes.

——

When he opens them again his head still hurts, but not as badly. Thank the Maker for small blessings.

“Ah. He awakens at last.”

A familiar voice. Anders squints. To his left Fenris sits, bare feet propped up on the edge of the bed. He bears his own injuries—one arm in a sling, a bandage wrapped tight around his leg. Recovering, still, from that fight in the alienage. Anders tries to sit up, only for a spike of pain to shoot up his neck and the back of his skull. He groans and lies back down, noticing Fenris does not offer to help. “Ow,” he mumbles.

“The healer instructed me to tell you that you need rest,” Fenris offers.

Anders stares at the ceiling. The spare bedroom in Aveline’s house. “They didn’t turn me in.”

“No, they did not.”

He blinks. His head still throbs. “I really thought I was going to die. Or be made Tranquil.”

“Did they recognize you?”

“Yes. Yes, they did. And they—they covered my face again. And healed me.” His ribs ache, and he holds them absently.

Fenris sighs. “You did take a stand against what for many was an intolerable situation. You should not be surprised that there are those who would show you kindness.”

“I am.”

There’s silence for a moment. Then Fenris shifts, setting his feet on the floor, leaning forward. “They told me you leapt into the middle of an explosion and turned it on their enemies.”

“Yes, and blew myself up in the process.” Anders hiccups out a laugh. “Not very impressive, if you ask me.”

“You saved many lives. That is impressive.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “You’re saying charitable things about me.”

Fenris lifts an eyebrow right back. “Should I stop?”

“No, it’s sort of nice.”

“Hm. I would describe it as disquieting.”

“Ah, there we go.”

“You’d best make yourself used to it.” Fenris nods at him. “The healer also instructed me to tell you that you are to rest for the next few days. And I am still recovering. So it seems we are stuck here. Together.”

Anders groans. “Oh, Maker. Is Hawke going to come by to collect the corpse of whichever one of us doesn’t survive the week?”

“I should hope so. I do not think Aveline would appreciate her home reeking of death.” He stands, stretching the bandaged leg. “Although I am thinking of going out tomorrow to fight. My injuries have healed some, they should not greatly hinder me.”

Anders struggles to prop himself up on an elbow. “I know exactly how much your injuries have healed, I checked on you this morning! You go out there, something’s going to rip open!”

“Yes. Well. Your act of heroism has me feeling rather remiss.”

“Nice try, but I’m supposed to be watching over you while you recover. I’m not just going to let you leave.”

“You are free to try and stop me.”

“Bastard.” Anders drops back to the bed. “Just make sure you leave me some breakfast before you go off to die, would you? My ribs still hurt something awful, I’d rather not have to walk downstairs.”

“As you wish, mage.” Fenris considers for a moment. “Is there anything you need, before I help Saravh with supper?”

“A cup of water would be nice.”

“I will return in a moment.”

He leaves the room. Anders stares at the ceiling again.

Strange day.

Chapter Text

Fenris taps his much-diminished stack of silvers (if it can be called a stack, being only two coins high). All things considered, it could have been worse. Wicked Grace is never kind to him. That he has any money left at all is no small feat. The ambassador waves graciously as she leaves the tavern, and the Warden grumbles into his beard as he pushes back his chair and follows her out.

“So, four of us left, huh?” Varric nods in thought. “Perfect number for a game of Gurgut.”

Sera jabs a finger at him. “You are not pairing with Bull. I’ve seen you two together, with the wink-winks and the knocking knees under the table—“

“His legs aren’t long enough to reach mine,” Bull observes mildly.

“I don’t care, you’re a pair of sneaky little cheaters! I’m not playing if you’re on a team!”

“All right, all right.” Varric puts up his hands. “How about you take Bull, then?”

“As if! He straight fucked us last time!”

Bull waves his hand. “Ah, that was only once—“

“Yeah, and we almost had the Nightingale’s underthings off, and you had to go and sod it all up! Blind-bidding on the last bloody round. Arse.“

Fenris raises an eyebrow. “Leliana nearly lost a game?”

“She was partnered with the Seeker,” Bull explains. “Cassandra told us she knew the rules, but, well, I’m not so sure she did.”

“Let’s stick to playing for money this time,” Varric cuts in. “Each team pools their coin, winners-take-all?”

Bull nods. “Sounds good to me.”

“Right. Buttercup, we’ll be on a team together, how’s that?”

She nods, her bangs swinging. “Yeah, all right.”

Fenris stares at his silvers. That leaves him and Bull as the second team.

“That okay with you, Fenris?” Bull murmurs from his right.

Fenris thinks briefly of that rumbling voice in his ear, submerging him in a steady stream of Qunlat, the only thing he could apprehend in the drug haze besides the humid air, the smell of salt and damp, the absolute darkness that surrounded him…

“That is fine,” he says.

“Hey, Tiny, switch with me.” Varric gestures.

Fenris, sitting to the dealer’s left now, is the first to bid. He considers his hand and decides on two. Bull goes with five. Fenris exhales and dearly hopes Bull has good cards.

Fenris ends up winning four tricks, and Bull three. They make their bid exactly.

The next two rounds Bull bids before him. They miss their target each time, but not by much. Then Fenris is bidding first again, and they have two more rounds of perfection.

Varric grimaces. “Damn it, Buttercup.”

“ ‘Scuse me? You’re the one who can’t bid for piss!”

“Oh yeah, this is all my fault.” He pushes his chair back. “What do you say we go get some drinks? Maybe we can discuss strategy while we’re at it.”

They retreat towards the bar. Bull stretches with a long yawn. “Looks like we work pretty good together.” He grins. “We’re kicking their asses. Two more rounds and they’re done.”

“Yes. You seem to be compensating my low bids rather well.” Fenris gathers up the cards from the table. “You must have noticed from previous games that I am a conservative player.”

“Yeah, that round of Wicked Grace helped me figure you out.”

Fenris collects the cards into a  pile. “I imagine taking part in my re-education helped as well.”

He splits the deck and shuffles. The sharp noise of cards slapping together, the soft babble of tavern conversation. An eruption of laughter from the corner.

Bull strokes one horn absently, his face drawn in seriousness. “I should probably apologize for that. So, yeah. I’m sorry.”

“Hm.” Fenris neatens the edges of the deck. “Are you?”

“What?”

“I mean no offense. I’m simply curious. If lying would help me feel better, would it not be reasonable for you to do so?”

Bull exhales. “I am. Sorry, I mean. Thought I was doing…ah, never mind. Doesn’t matter why.”

“The Qun.” Fenris splits the deck again. “You thought you were doing as the Qun demanded.”

“Yeah.”

“But you say you are Tal-Vashoth now.”

“Yeah.”

“I believe you.” He shuffles. “I know what it’s like to do that which you feel is wrong, yet also to feel that you are the one who is wrong for thinking it so.”

Bull grunts, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “Guess it kinda fucks with your head.”

“To put it mildly.” One more cut of the deck, and he lays the cards down. “I should mention—I do not recommend apologizing to Hawke.”

A deep guffaw. “Don’t worry, I’m not planning to go anywhere near him. You know what they say, third time’s the charm.”

Referring to Hawke’s two previous attempt to kill Bull. Fenris sighs. “I will try to speak with him about it, although he will no doubt dodge me.”

“Oi, Shiny! Got you a drink!”

Sera thumps no less than four mugs of ale down in front of Fenris. He corrals them to one side. “Er—thank you.”

“Trying to get my partner drunk?” Bull raises an eyebrow. “That’s dirty, Sera.”

“What? Am not!” She plops back into her seat. “All right, dealy-deal, let’s get started! Gonna wreck you two now, we got strategy!”

Fenris slides the cards to his right. Varric takes them and shuffles again. “She’s right, you know. You’d better watch out.”

Bull laughs, low and full. “Oh yeah, I’m scared. Come on, Varric, deal the hands.”

“You got it.” He starts flicking cards out onto the table.

Varric is the first to bid this time. Fenris proceeds conservatively, as always, going with three. Sera pounds her fist on the table so loudly Fenris has to ask her to repeat what she said, as he did not hear.

“Let’s put this thing away. I’m making a blind bid of six,” Bull announces.

Fenris stares. A blind bid means he hasn’t even looked at his cards. And to predict that together he and Fenris will win nine of the thirteen tricks?

Varric chuckles. “That’s a pretty big risk, Tiny. But sure. Going in blind, you match the bid, you’ll get double the points, which should put you juuust over the winning threshold.”

“That’s right. Ready to lose, Varric?”

“Nice try, but you’re not walking away with this one.”

Five minutes later, Fenris tosses down a Baron of Suns and scoops the last trick towards him. Bull roars with laughter. “That makes nine!”

Varric slumps in his seat and groans. “I can’t believe you won on a blind bid.”

Sera’s spitting out a list of curses Fenris only mostly recognizes—he knows some Fereldan curses from Hawke, but Hawke prefers to stick to a few pithy ones, whereas Sera’s array is broad and wildly imaginative. Varric pushes his mountain of coins forward. “You can work on splitting it yourselves.”

“Actually, I think you should keep half, considering what I owe you,” Fenris notes.

Varric shovels some of the money back towards his side of the table. “You have a good point. Hey, you should drag Hawke down here sometime. I haven’t played cards with him in ages.”

Fenris winces. Bull chuckles. “Just warn me beforehand, I’ll go hide upstairs.”

No one else knows what transpired in the sea cave, and Fenris thinks he’ll keep it that way. Somehow, incredibly, there has been a peaceful outcome, a positive one, for everyone here, and Fenris would rather keep it that way.

The only exception is, of course, Hawke. But Hawke is rather inexorable, and Fenris needs time with him, time and plenty of work.

“Hey, let’s do another round, just for fun.” Bull gestures. “Fenris, you gonna drink all that?”

He has three and a half mugs left, so he hands one across the table. As Varric starts dealing again, he settles back in his seat and smiles.

Chapter Text

Fenris staggers, crashing to a knee, twisting to get a better look at the trio of arrows sticking out of him.

He is armored, but it didn’t seem to matter. The two in his leg, one each above and below the knee, went straight through the treated leather plates and then punched all the way through his flesh, their bloodied heads protruding out. Walking will be awkward. The third is also lodged in him; it entered his side and sticks out just to the left of his navel, below his breastplate.

“You want to tell me why you decided to take those arrows for me?” Bull kneels next to him and grasps the shaft sticking out of his side.

Fenris grimaces. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“I can take a few arrows. You can’t.” A sharp snap, and Bull tosses the broken shaft away, moving to the one in Fenris’s thigh.

“Yes. Well, if I’d had a spare moment to think about it, I might have chosen to let them shoot you instead. But I was rather preoccupied with defending myself.”

“So your first instinct is to sacrifice yourself for an ally? That’s pretty brave.” Another snap.

Fenris gasps in pain as the shaft shifts in his thigh. “In this case, foolish.“

“No reason why it can’t be both.” Bull breaks off the last arrow. “Here, get your arm around my neck.”

Fenris obeys, although he isn’t sure how Bull, being very much the taller of the two of them, is supposed to help him walk. Then he discovers that Bull has slid an arm beneath his ass and is lifting him clean off the floor.

Fenris, seated in the crook of Bull’s elbow, holds on for dear life as they proceed down the stone hallway at an urgent pace, leaving the room of corpses behind. He notes that Bull’s weapon is slung once again on his back, and he carries Fenris’s greatsword instead, lifting it as they go. “Hey, this thing’s pretty heavy. I’m surprised a little guy like you can swing it around like that.”

“I will choose not to take offense at that. Must you carry me like a child?”

“You got a faster way? Well, besides slinging you over my shoulder and running.”

Fenris sighs. “Forget I said anything.”

The sounds of fighting drift down from above them. Inquisition soldiers, fighting for the keep. Fenris and Bull have finished their part in it—sneaking in through a narrow secret passageway (their progress hampered by Bull’s horns catching on the crags of stone) and taking the underground barracks by surprise. If the Venatori above are expecting reinforcements, they will be disappointed.

Still, the keep is enormous, and the fight no doubt far from over. Fenris wishes he hadn’t gotten himself injured; then he could go help. But he did, so he can’t. As they go he decides he appreciates the type of carry Bull chose. With the thrill of battle drained out of him, the pain is making itself known, but seated in Bull’s elbow like this he is not jarred with each step.

Bull stops by a wooden door and raps on it twice. “Dorian, it’s me!”

“All right, come in.”

Bull opens the door and steps through.

The storeroom is small, cluttered with barrels and boxes. Just past the door a sigil of fluid fire glimmers on the floor. A nasty surprise for those who are not inclined to knock. The Tevinter stands behind a low wall of crates. “How did it go?”

“Vints are dead. Fenris took some arrows for me, though.” Bull comes over and sets Fenris down gently.

“Really? How ill-advised.” Dorian kneels beside him.

“Yes, I’ve realized that,” Fenris grumbles, and squeezes his eyes shut, breathing shallowly so as not to disturb the broken-off arrow in his gut.

“I’m going back out, see if I can find where Hawke went.” Bull rises. “Stay here.” Then he leaves them, the door swinging shut behind him.

“Well, this looks unpleasant.” Dorian frowns, bracing the gut wound as he grasps the protruding arrowhead. “This is going to hurt.”

Fenris nods, then gasps, lurching forward.

Dorian tosses the broken arrow away and helps Fenris lie down. It did hurt, and does hurt, very much so. Fenris blinks tears from his eyes, cursing his stupidity yet again.

But then the pain disappears as the warm flush of healing magic seeps into him. Oh. That is very nice. His breathing relaxes. There was a time when he took this for granted, when Anders was still with them. What luxury.

“Ah! Not as bad as I thought,” Dorian says. “Let me just patch you up.”

Fenris nods. “Have you met with any trouble?”

“No, none at all.” Dorian glances behind him at the trapdoor in the floor. “Either nobody else knows about this, or they don’t think it’s worth the effort of squeezing through. Bull could hardly fit, I thought we were going to have to start pushing. Like a carriage stuck in the mud.”

Fenris had thought the same thing, although he went at the head of the group, and so fortunately would not have had to participate in such a task. “True. Although his size does have its advantages.”

Dorian gives him a knowing smile. “Oh, I’ll bet you’ve noticed all of its advantages.”

Fenris arches an eyebrow. “Exactly what are you implying?”

“Don’t try to protest, I know you go for the big ones too. Just look at Hawke.”

It’s true that Hawke is…not small. And that Fenris very much appreciates that quality about him. But he’s not about to admit any of that to the Tevinter. “That is false,” he mumbles.

“As you say.” Dorian’s hands move to the hole in Fenris’s side. “Hm. Do you do this often?”

“Do what often?”

“Take near-fatal blows for others,” Dorian replies. “Six inches higher and that arrow would have gone through your heart.”

“Oh. Well, I wouldn’t say I do it often. I’m used to fighting with Hawke, and he goes to great strides to make sure the enemy doesn’t see him. So he is not a frequent target.”

“So this wasn’t some battle tactic. Just pure, heat-of-the-moment selflessness.”

Fenris shifts, suspecting a trap. “What are you getting at?”

“I’m not getting at anything. Bull might have thought he could have taken these arrows, but these heads are made to pierce armor. They would have gone quite deep. So I’m thanking you, that’s all. For protecting the man I love.”

Fenris can’t imagine Bull failed to notice the armor-piercing heads. So all that bluster was just a show to dissuade Fenris from trying to protect Bull in the future, regardless of the danger. Selflessness is not a quality in short supply, it seems. “You do not need to thank me. I was hardly thinking when I did it.”

“Well, I’m thanking you anyway.”

Fenris hesitates, still unused to receiving gratitude. “Then—you are welcome.”

“Oh, and—this is also going to hurt.”

A tearing pain in his thigh. Fenris chokes back the shout into an agonized moan.

“Kaffas, that’s a lot of blood,” Dorian mutters. “Er, sorry about this.”

He jams his fingers into the entry wound.

Fenris sits straight up, which only makes his gut hurt, more, again, so he lies back down with great care and stares very hard at the ceiling, waiting for the healing magic to wash the pain away. And it does, eventually. “I suppose I won’t be able to do any more fighting this afternoon?” he asks.

“Well, you could try, but this leg might give at any moment. I wouldn’t suggest it.”

Fenris sighs. “Of course not.” He’s killed maybe twenty of them so far. A pitiful number.

“Don’t look so glum. You can help me defend the passageway!” Dorian offers.

Fenris rolls his eyes. “Yes, quite the dangerous task, from your earlier rep—“

The door explodes.

They are shielded by Dorian’s wall of crates, although that means instead of being thrown into the wall, Fenris finds a crate toppling onto him. Venhedis. He gets his arms up before it crashes down and manages to push himself out from under it. There isn’t time to be pinned by a crate, they are being attacked. Where is his sword? There.

He scrambles over the fallen wall on his one good leg and assesses the situation.

A half-dozen of them—venhedis—two look unconscious, good, but two more are just coming inside and the last two are rising from the floor. Fenris kills one and readies himself. He puts only the barest amount of weight on his injured leg. It must be obvious to them, and he is aware they will try to take advantage.

The man before him carries a shortsword, his buckler lost in the explosion. In another situation, an easy kill. Fenris parries a low thrust and nearly overbalances—leads with the pommel as he pivots, misses his target, splits the man’s chin open rather than his temple. A gust of cold and a crackle of ice. A second soldier frozen. But the third, just past the threshold, has his arm cocked back—

Fenris blocks the shortsword and lurches sideways. The throwing knife lands in his shoulder with a bright burst of pain. Better his shoulder than Dorian’s neck. Still, the strike makes him stagger—too many wounds, too many things hurting, and he can’t keep his focus. His next block is weak, and the soldier only has to lean forward a little to send Fenris falling backward.

His lower back collides with the sharp edge of a crate. An inglorious injury. It’s time to save his own life and trust the mage. The soldier hesitates, perhaps surprised that the fight was this easy. It’s enough time for Fenris to call on the lyrium.

The shortsword passes through him and splits the wood of the crate below. Fenris moves as a ghost, standing—no pain in this form, a blessing, shame it can’t last—and slipping out to the side. The man turns, bewildered, afraid, raising his sword to block a blow that isn’t coming.

Not from the front, anyway. Dorian’s staff-blade pierces the man’s neck, the tip pointing straight out at Fenris, dripping with blood. Fenris discovers the last soldier has also been frozen solid. That should be all of them. With great reluctance he releases the lyrium. The pain hits him all at once—his gut, his leg, his shoulder, his lower back. He wavers and begins to fall.

Only to have Dorian catch him and guide him to the ground. “Well, that was exciting.”

Fenris tries to breathe. That hurts as well. “Are you—wounded?”

“Me? Oh, no, not at all. You really didn’t need to take that knife for me, though, I could have shot it out of the air.”

Fenris grimaces. “Perhaps for my sake you could at least pretend—“

“I’m joking! I’m joking. I didn’t even see it coming. Thank you, sincerely.”

Well, that’s one useful thing he’s done today. He grasps the knife sticking out of his arm and rips it out, tossing it to the floor.

“It’s at times like this I wish I’d learned battlefield healing,” Dorian mutters, pressing a hand to the wound. “My own methods are just so very slow.”

“Against. The wall.” Fenris jerks his head. Close to the forward wall, they might not be seen by passing soldiers. Dorian drags him over and resumes his healing. The pain in Fenris’s shoulder abates, which does not make up for the pain elsewhere.

“You two okay?”

Fenris looks up. Bull’s standing just inside the doorway, and slung over his shoulder—Hawke. Who is far too big to be slung over anyone’s shoulder, except, of course, a particularly large Qunari. Fenris tries to struggle to his feet, only to be pushed firmly back down again by Dorian. Fine. “Hawke? Is he injured?” he asks.

“Got knocked on the head. Had some trouble staying awake. Think he’ll be okay, though.” Bull kneels and lays him down.

Hawke wakens, blinking, sitting up. “What happened?” he slurs.

“Pulled you out of there. How are you feeling?”

“Head hurts. Maker’s tits.” He rubs his eyes.

“Well, that’s a new one,” Bull muses.

Dorian glances up. “Bull, you again appear completely unhurt.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m fine.”

“Don’t tell me Hawke was injured protecting your bodily integrity too.”

“Nope. He tried to hide behind me, actually, but their mage was good, she tossed him into the wall anyway.”

“I hate mages,” Hawke mutters.

Dorian heaves a quiet sigh. “I will strive not to take offense at that.”

“Not all of them. I miss Anders. Fenris, let’s go find Anders after this.”

“Yes, Hawke,” Fenris replies. “But first we should retreat.”

“Yeah, we need to get you two out of here. Okay, come on, big guy.” Bull hauls Hawke to his feet.

Dorian helps Fenris rise. “An excellent plan. I’d rather not be blown up again.”

“Neither would I,” Fenris concedes. “Er—thank you both for your help. Hawke and I spent a long time fighting without anyone at our backs. It is...good to have allies on whom we can depend.”

“Yeah, well, I might be depending on you to shove me through that damn tunnel if I get stuck again.” Bull grins. Then he kneels and yanks open the trapdoor, and they are on their limping way.

Chapter Text

Fenris wakes to something rubbing against his lower back.

On his bare skin. It’s the height of summer, and Fenris has adopted Hawke’s strategy of sleeping naked. To some success; it’s certainly easier to fall asleep that way. Fenris gazes at the wall of the tent. He knows what it is, rubbing against him. He just hasn’t decided what to do about it yet.

“Mm.” Hawke’s arm tightens a little around his chest. “Mm. Fenris.”

He can tell from the mumble that Hawke isn’t actually awake yet, although the fact that it’s Fenris in his dreams and not some other mysterious dashing figure is reassuring. Fenris smiles to himself.

“Fenris—nnh, Maker—“

The rubbing grows more insistent. Perhaps it is time for something to be done about this. Fenris flips over on the bedroll. “Hawke.”

Hawke inhales, his eyes slitting open. He blinks blearily. “Hm?”

“Good morning.”

“Oh. Morning.” He heaves a great sigh. “You know, I was having the most amazing dream—“

“Yes, I’m aware.”

Hawke lurches to a halt. “You’re…aware?”

“Yes,” Fenris replies. “You were trying to couple with my lower back. Rather vigorously, in fact.”

Hawke goes very quiet. Then he buries his face in Fenris’s neck. “I’m so sorry.”

Fenris laughs. “You don’t need to be sorry, Hawke.”

“I’m really sorry. I’m so embarrassed.”

“It’s all right. It was amusing, that’s all.” He strokes Hawke’s hair, waiting.

After a moment Hawke resurfaces. “So…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of us making that dream come true?”

There it is. “Why don’t you tell me how it went?”

Hawke shrugs with one shoulder. “I don’t know what to say, really. All I remember is that you were sucking my cock, except it was absolutely bloody amazing. Which isn’t to say you aren’t amazing normally—“ he hastens to add, “—because you are, but this was just…indescribable.”

“Mm.” Fenris traces a finger down Hawke’s broad chest, through the dark hair there. “So you’re asking me to suck your cock, and to make it…indescribable.”

Hawke’s eyes shine. “Please?”

Fenris kisses him.

Slowly, amorously, his tongue just dipping forward to part Hawke’s lips. He rolls forward, their bodies pressing together, captures Hawke’s thigh between his legs, grinds against it a little—so Hawke can feel how wet he is, how ready. Then he reaches down, finds Hawke’s cock, still just as hard as it was when it was fucking against his back, and he slides his fingertips down the shaft with the lightest of touches…

He sighs. “I’m sorry, Hawke, but I’m afraid I simply cannot indulge you this morning.”

He watches on Hawke’s face his heart breaking into a dozen pieces. “Please? I’ll return the favor. I’ll return it five times over.”

“A tempting offer.” Fenris tilts his hips, grinds again on Hawke’s thigh. “But I’m afraid…” He kisses Hawke’s neck. “…there just isn’t any chance of it.”

“No chance?”

“None at all,” he murmurs into Hawke’s skin, and moves lower, to his collarbone, leaving a trail of lingering kisses. Still he strokes Hawke with only his fingertips. It would be cruel to leave the wrong impression, after all.

“Please. Fenris. I’ll beg. Do you want me to beg?”

“Aren’t you already?” Fenris pushes Hawke onto his back.

A second’s hesitation. “I’ll beg harder?”

Fenris kisses Hawke’s ribs, then his stomach. It’s missing the layer of softness it had while they still lived in Hightown, which is a shame; Fenris rather liked that softness, and he hopes one day when they stop running and settle down it will make its way back again. “I’m afraid my decision is made.”

“Fenris. I love you. You know that, don’t you? I love you more than anything else in the world. I love you more than—ah—“

Fenris has slipped Hawke’s foreskin down to expose his cockhead and now draws little circles just under it, in one particular spot he’s grown very familiar with over the years for its ability to draw just this reaction—Hawke’s legs hiking up, his hips lifting off the ground. Fenris grins. Perfect. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

A groan. “I don’t bloody remember.”

“Hm.” He kisses the inside of Hawke’s thigh, starting low, above the knee, and moving higher, then higher, until his cheek is just brushing Hawke’s swollen shaft…then he moves to the other thigh and repeats the slow, lazy process.

Hawke lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a whimper. “Fenris. Please. I can’t take this anymore. I’m literally going to die.”

“There’s no need to be so dramatic. It’s only sex.”

“No, it isn’t, that’s the problem!”

“Hm.” He wraps his hand around Hawke’s erection and pumps it.

Just once before he lets go. Hawke’s hips jerk up, then he settles back to the bedroll. “Maker, Fenris—“

“Oh, I’m so sorry. My hand must have slipped.”

“You’re a bastard.”

Fenris begins kissing Hawke’s thigh, trailing upwards once more.

“You are an absolute bastard. You are the worst person I have ever met. I can’t believe, all this time, I’ve been sleeping—“

Fenris takes Hawke’s cock into his mouth and sinks down until it’s sheathed in his throat to the root.

Silence. Fenris holds like that for a few seconds, then comes back up—to the head, sucking it, nudging the foreskin down a little with his tongue. At last Hawke makes a soft, broken sound. “Fe—Fenris—“

Fenris reaches up, finds his hand, and takes it, their fingers twined together. Then he sinks down again.

He is diligent, attentive, seeking at each moment to create that indescribable pleasure Hawke spoke of earlier. He goes slowly, taking Hawke into his throat with every stroke, hollowing his cheeks on the way back up, lavishing the underside of Hawke’s shaft with his tongue. Hawke does not say anything more, but to either side of Fenris’s head his thighs, thick with muscle, tense and relax, tense again. He squeezes Fenris’s fingers, and in the small tent his breathing turns to hitches and gasps.

Fenris loves hearing that sound. He descends. Hawke is thick, and fills his throat; but Fenris can swallow him with ease by now. They’ve done this many times, because Fenris loves to turn Hawke into this, beholden, vulnerable. He’s always so in control, except like this, except when he’s with Fenris. Fenris comes up—slowly, as always—and holds Hawke’s cockhead in his mouth, tracing his tongue over that one spot, listening to Hawke gasp out his name. Their hands are still linked. Fenris likes it best that way—they can communicate when speaking is…difficult.

The taste of salt on his tongue. Hawke is close. Fenris takes a deep breath and goes down again—and stays, rocking slightly, his lips locked tight and trembling around the root of Hawke’s shaft.

“Nn—Fenris, Fenris—“ Hawke squeezes his fingers again. “Fenris, I’m—“

His hips jerk, and he comes.

Fenris rises a little, lets Hawke fuck into his mouth with short, desperate thrusts. Hawke’s groan is so profound Fenris thinks he sees the walls of the tent quiver in response. The orgasm goes on, for seconds and seconds; Fenris can’t help smiling to himself, feeling no small pride. Hawke’s thrusts are accompanied now by short, breathy moans, and the sound sends a flush of warmth into Fenris’s cunt. He reaches down and dips a finger between his folds. Oh yes. He is very wet. Sucking Hawke’s cock will do that.

At last Hawke’s hips fall back to the bedroll. Most of his seed went straight down Fenris’s throat. The rest Fenris swallows, and he finds Hawke tugging at his hand. So he crawls upward onto Hawke’s chest. “Was it everything you dreamed of?”

Hawke kisses him.

With tenderness rather than prurience. Fenris responds in kind, kissing Hawke softly, leaving off the teasing he employed the last time. Hawke strokes his hair, then breaks away. “I love you.”

Fenris laughs. “Oh, so we’re back to love now, are we?”

“Yes. And not just because you’ve just given me the best orgasm of my life.”

“Mm.”

“I mean it. I love you and every day I ask myself how I got lucky enough to be with you.”

Fenris settles on Hawke’s chest, still, still unused to such declarations of love. “I…feel the same,” he murmurs.

Hawke wraps one arm around him, and with the other hand grabs his ass, squeezes it a little. “So…I did promise I’d repay you.”

“You did.”

“What do you want from me? I’m all yours.”

“Just your fingers, I think.”

Hawke kisses him again, then flips him over onto his back, slipping a hand between his legs.

First he cups Fenris’s cunt, massages him gently, lips pressed soft and close to his neck. Fenris grasps Hawke’s back, the firm muscle there, and reaches down, finds his clit already swollen with arousal, so sensitive his legs twitch up as soon as he touches it. This will not take long.

Hawke must sense it too, because he parts Fenris’s labia, brushes his entrance with two fingers…yet does not penetrate him, just stays there, making little teasing circles. Fenris groans. “Hawke.”

“Yes?”

“Please.”

A pause. Then: “I’m sorry, Fenris,” Hawke murmurs into his neck. “I’m afraid I just can’t indulge you—“

Fenris grabs Hawke’s hand and slips his fingers inside.

The sensation overwhelms him for a moment—he doesn’t feel particularly full, relaxed as he is, but having Hawke inside him is something to savor, and he falls still, shivering slightly. Hawke sits back, grinning. “You are such a cheater.”

“Mm,” Fenris says.

“You’re also extremely wet. Is sucking me off really that much fun?”

Fenris nods, faintly dazed.

“I’m flattered.” Hawke wraps his free arm around Fenris’s leg, hiking it up onto his lap, and starts fucking him.

His thrusts are neither gentle nor slow. Good. Fenris rolls against him, coaxing him deeper. His fingers curl, and Fenris gasps as they drag over his inner walls, stroking him hard and quick. His clit surges with each little motion, and he strums it, his cunt contracting briefly, his back arching off the bedroll. Hawke’s still holding his thigh, and rubs it with one calloused palm. “Fenris, you look amazing.”

Fenris smiles, reaches down, and takes his hand. “I love you.”

Hawke kisses his knuckles. “I love you too.”

Fenris dips down to his entrance, gathering fluid, smearing it over his clit, still engorged under his fingers. He slides the hood back and drags one finger over the tip—too intense, the lightning-bolt of pleasure drawing a guttural grunt from him, making his leg jerk in Hawke’s grip. Then he presses harder, deeper, digging at the base, the pleasure evening out to a burgeoning swell, stirred by Hawke’s relentless stroking. “Ah—“ Fenris’s hips tilt of their own accord, and he fucks himself on Hawke’s fingers. Hawke is deep, stretching him, opening him up, but it isn’t enough. “Hawke—please—“

“What is it?”

“Please—I need more—“

Then his cunt is empty, and he exhales, disappointed, his hips rising into the air, thigh sliding through Hawke’s grip.

A light touch at his entrance. Fenris stills, waiting—

—and is filled again. Three fingers this time, and Hawke’s fingers, like the rest of him, are big. But Fenris wanted this, and he nods, words failing him, and beckons weakly.

So Hawke hooks his fingers and starts thrusting.

His strokes are short and forceful, each one dragging across that spot deep in Fenris’s cunt that makes his legs go nerveless, sends pulses of pleasure straight to his clit. Fenris rolls it faster now, lets out a shuddering moan. He’s so full, so full, and it’s Hawke—he thinks of earlier, Hawke’s shaft filling his throat, those little gasping noises of orgasm at the end—

His own orgasm is approaching now, the edges of it glimmering into his awareness. “Hawke—” He reaches down, finds Hawke’s hand again. “I’m—I’m close—“

“Fenris, I love you,” Hawke breathes.

“I love—I love you—I’m—“ He squeezes his eyes shut. It’s too much, Hawke’s fingers plunging deep into his cunt, the slippery friction building in his clit, and he wavers at the edge.

And then plummets over.

The orgasm roars through him, the first rush like a whip-crack, or a bowstring pulled tight and released all at once. Fenris sits straight up, wraps an arm around Hawke’s back—still rubs his clit furiously with the other hand, needing the climax to overwhelm him completely. His cunt grips Hawke’s fingers—tight, tight, and he gasps into Hawke’s shoulder, pulling him closer. Hawke kisses his cheek, his neck, and Fenris moans, his hips jerking as his cunt relaxes and tightens again. His toes curl, his legs shuddering in the air, and his clit pulses under his fingertips—still he rubs it, even though it’s too much, he’s too sensitive, and his cunt clenches again in response. Fenris makes a small, defeated sound, clinging to Hawke as if letting go will send him plunging into an abyss from which there is no return.

Hawke holds him close, kisses his hair, his forehead. The searing waves of pleasure begin to abate, dimming out to a pleasant heat that washes through his whole body. He feels the flush rising in his cheeks.

At last Hawke’s fingers ease out of him. “Do you want to lie down?”

Fenris nods.

So Hawke turns and lies back. Fenris isn’t particularly inclined to move at the moment, so Hawke does the work instead, pulls Fenris onto his chest. “That was incredible.”

“Mm. I would have to agree,” Fenris mumbles.

“Are you going to fall asleep now?”

That is what normally happens after he comes. “I think so.”

“Good. I could go for a nap myself.”

Fenris shuts his eyes. Hawke rubs his back in wide, slow circles. It is, as always, unbearably comforting. “Hawke?”

“Hm?”

“If you have another such dream.” He kisses Hawke’s chest. “Be sure to let me know.”

Chapter Text

The door swings firmly shut, and Fenris settles himself against the back wall with  a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” Dorian mumbles.

Fenris glances up. The cell is large enough to house two, so he and Dorian have been thrown in together. “No need to apologize. This was never going to be easy.”

Dorian sits, resting his manacled hands on his knees. “And I’ve just made it much harder. Clearly I need more practice.”

It’s true that Dorian is by far the least experienced of them at hand-to-hand combat, hence his capture moments ago that forced their surrender. Fenris recognized his techniques, having learned them himself during his training in Tevinter all those years ago. Too basic, unfortunately, for so many foes.

“Don’t worry, Tevinter,” Hawke calls, from the cell across the way. “The fault isn’t yours. In fact, I’d say it rests entirely with your blockhead of a partner.”

“Hey,” Bull growls.

“I’m sorry, was it someone else’s plan that ran us straight into an entire bloody platoon?”

The cells, while plenty large enough for a pair like Fenris and Dorian, are not quite so comfortable for Hawke and Bull. Bull in particular cannot stand straight, it seems, without his horns scraping the ceiling. “It was a good plan,” he says, crouching awkwardly. “They weren’t supposed to be there.”

“Or maybe it was a shit plan and you just don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hawke shoots back.

“Oi!” One of the soldiers smacks the bars. “Quiet in there!”

There are many soldiers. By the time they got their hands on Dorian, a fifth of their men had been killed. So they have taken precautions. Two dozen men are spread out now in the hallway between the cells. As they walked, Fenris caught Hawke’s eye, asking silently if he should use his lyrium to break himself out, and received a subtle head-shake in response. Understandable. Even should Fenris escape, there is no telling what retribution the soldiers might inflict on the others, who would all be jailed and manacled still, unable to defend themselves.

“I do know what I’m talking about,” Bull says coolly. “But I guess my plan did depend on us having a decent scout, and it seems we forgot to bring one of those—“

“Oh, was that a dig at me? I’ll have you know there was no platoon there when I went up to check—“

“Or maybe there was and you just don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I thought they didn’t hate each other anymore,” Dorian remarks to Fenris.

Fenris sighs. “Hawke is not fond of failure.”

“I said shut up!” The man smacks the bars again.

“I suppose it’s a good thing you turned your back on the Qun to go Tal-Vashoth,” Hawke says, tugging absently at his armor with shackled hands. “With skills like yours, you could bring down entire Qunari empire in a day—“

Bull narrows his eye. “Suppose it’s a good thing you left Kirkwall when you did, at least there’s still a city there now instead of a smoking hole in the ground—“

“At least I have the decency not to be fucking a Tevinter—“

“I resent that,” Dorian mumbles miserably.

Bull guffaws. “Pretty sure you’re fucking one too.”

“Mine’s not a bloody magister!” Hawke retorts.

“And neither am I,” Dorian puts in, although it goes rather unheard.

Another rattle of the bars. “Vishante kaffas, will the both of you shut you damned mouths—“

Bull’s mouth curls into a nasty grin. “Least I never fucked off and left Dorian stranded because of some pompous self-righteous crap.”

A beat of silence.

“Excuse me?” Hawke says, in a low voice.

Bull stares him down. “You heard me, Champion.”

Hawke throws himself across the cell.

He only gets about two feet—the cell is small, and Bull takes up a lot of it. But he drives his shoulder into Bull’s sternum, hard. Bull growls, circling, putting his back to the bars. A grunt as he’s slammed against them. He and Hawke circle again, and Hawke dodges a hammer-blow, ducking in for a quick counter.

“Oi! Stop that fighting!” A couple of more soldiers are on their feet. But of course they daren’t open the door and try to break it up.

Dorian stands. “Er—should we do something?” he asks urgently.

Fenris rises as well. “No, I don’t think so.”

“So—you’re sure they won’t kill each other?”

Fenris shrugs. “Reasonably.”

“Well. All right then.”

Bull roars, lunging. Hawke tries to slip outside of the blow, but the space is too small, and Bull’s fists clip him. He doubles over, folds his arms up against his ribs to block the next strike. When it hits it sends him crashing into the bars.

Dorian glances over. “I’ll bet you fifty silvers mine wins.”

Fenris snorts. “Yours can’t even stand up straight in that cell.”

“So you’ll take the bet?”

“I’ll take it.”

“I look forward to collecting. Hawke may be rather large, but even he isn’t big enough to take Bull down unarmed.”

“Hawke also practices fighting in manacles. Which I assume Bull does not.”

Dorian sniffs. “I can’t imagine it’ll make a difference.”

Bull steps across the cell and makes a grab. Hawke darts behind him, clambers up his back, and somehow manages to get both arms around Bull’s horns, tightening the manacles around his neck.

“Sneaky bastard, isn’t he?” Dorian mutters.

Fenris smiles. “An accurate description if I’ve ever heard one.”

“Stop that! Now!” the soldier shouts.

Bull whirls around and around, pulling at the chain, then stops and backs up, smashing Hawke into the bars. Hawke holds on, clinging to Bull has he’s slammed back once more. After the third strike Bull heaves his body forward, flipping Hawke over his head. Hawke lands hard on the floor, gasping. Bull disentangles his horns from the manacles, picks Hawke up, and throws him bodily into the bars.

The lock snaps and the door springs open, sending Hawke tumbling out into the hall.

Fenris calls on the lyrium.

Hawke is already attacking, and Bull is out of the cell as well, pushing the other way down the corridor. Fenris manipulates his markings, letting his own shackles slip to the floor and then breaking Dorian’s. “Cut them off on the left!” he says.

Dorian nods. “Got it.”

Fenris breaks the lock of their cell, kicks the door open, and lets the lyrium wash through him. Insubstantial now, he sprints right, through the press of bodies. On the way he notices that Hawke already has a sword. Good. When Fenris reaches the end of the hall, he turns and releases the lyrium, summoning to mind his unarmed forms. They will not escape to raise the alarm.

A much easier fight here, in this corridor, than in that open space from earlier, when the enemy could surround them on all sides. The corridor is not especially narrow, but Fenris has had plenty of practice defending himself these last few years on the run, and he does not let them past to threaten his back. Dorian, too, can cast without fear of interruption. Standing outside their cell with Bull pressing forward on one side and Hawke on the other, he is protected.

Fenris is about to kill the last when the man lets out a squeal of pain and goes limp, crumpling to the ground. Hawke straightens, yanking his weapon out of the body. “Well, that’s done with.”

Fenris kneels and begins to clean off the sword he liberated from one of the soldiers. “Indeed. Are you hurt?”

“Not much. The worst is those bruises I got in the cell.” He turns and calls over his shoulder, “Did you have to be quite so rough?”

Bull approaches, shrugging. “That’s what you get when you spar with the Iron Bull.”

“So. Er. Just to confirm.” Dorian appears, stepping over corpses. “Your little fight in the cell was planned?”

“Kinda,” Bull replies. “Saw Hawke trying to start something with me, figured he had a reason for it. Took me a couple seconds, but I realized what he was going for.”

“Using him as a battering ram.”

“Hey, I did my share.”

“Excuse me? I was the one who got tossed into the bloody door,” Hawke points out.

Bull lifts an eyebrow. “You insulted Dorian.”

“I was trying to make the fight realistic!”

“So was I.”

“It did seem very real,” Dorian notes. “But you two aren’t actually…”

“Mad at each other? Nah.” Bull makes a gesture of dismissal. “Sorry for saying all that crap, though. If it makes a difference.” He sticks a hand out.

“I’m sorry too.” Hawke shakes it. “I suppose one good thing came out of this. We are deeper in the keep now.”

“That’s right. Time to kick some Vint ass!”

“An excellent plan,” Dorian agrees. “Also—Fenris, I expect those fifty silvers when this is over.”

“Fifty—it wasn’t a real fight!”

“Mine wasn’t the one who got tossed through the air like a trebuchet stone.”

Fenris grumbles. “Fine. Hawke, I need to borrow fifty silvers.”

Hawke circles an arm around his waist. “Not a problem. I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better next time.”

Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “There’s going to be a next time?”

“Oh yeah.” Bull grins. “After all, we never got to finish. I just feel so…unsatisfied.”

“Mm.” A dreamy smile blooms on Dorian’s face. “Do tell me when this match is taking place. I would so love to watch.”

“I—will also spectate,” Fenris mutters. The tips of his ears burn a little.

“Excellent.” Hawke kisses his cheek, murmurs “Maybe if I win, you can reward me afterward—“

“I expect I will be consoling you instead. Your chances are slim.”

Hawke slumps. “Fenris. That hurts.”

“The truth often does. Now let us go.” Fenris heads down the corridor. The four of them go together, leaving the killing field behind them.

Chapter Text

Fenris’s back hits the ground with a thump, a hard knee sitting heavy on his chest. The silhouette of his attacker above him occludes the sunlight that streams through the fluttering orange oak leaves. “Help—“ Fenris gasps. “I cannot—do this on my own—“ He gropes to his left, where he knows he lost his sword, but it is too far, hopelessly far, and he’ll never be able to reach it—

“YOU GET AWAY FROM HIM!” Saravh charges forward, snatching up the sword on her way, and smacks Hawke in the arm.

Hawke cries out, stricken, as the blunt edge of the practice weapon bounces off his shoulder. Nimbly he leaps away, then puts his hands on his hips and lets out a booming laugh. “You think you can defeat me? You’re only three feet high!”

“I am four feet high!” She goes around in front of Fenris, shielding him from Hawke. “And I will kick your big hairy arse!”

Hawke breaks character for a moment at that, but he stuffs his grin back down beneath an imperious sneer. “We’ll see about that!”

“S’pose we will.” She beckons. “Come on, show me what you’ve got!”

Fenris crawls away as they engage, and sits up against the back wall of the Hendyrs’ home. Hawke’s wielding his daggers, still wrapped in their sheathes so no one gets poked by accident. He and Saravh dance back and forth across the courtyard, circling the thick trunk of the oak. Fenris watches Hawke broadcast his strikes so Saravh has a chance to catch them, to remember the right counter. The whole process is much quicker now than the first few times they did this. She’s improving, and fast.

“Well, she’s better than I was at that age.”

Fenris glances up to find Donnic standing above him. “Good evening.”

“Evening,” Donnic replies. “Just got back from the keep. I’m supposed to be working on reports, but…this seems like a lot more fun.”

Fenris notes that while he is out of armor, his sword is still at his hip. “I am sure they would not object to you joining the battle.”

Donnic hesitates. Then he unstraps his sword from its belt, sheath and all. “Just don’t tell Aveline I’m out here.” Then he strides forward. “My lady! Would you like some assistance?”

Saravh backs away from Hawke. “Right. Let’s team up.”

“As you wish.” Donnic circles around. “And who are we fighting today? A bear? Another dragon?”

“No!” Saravh calls. “Just a great sodding bastard!”

Fenris hides his smile. More colorful phrases she learned from Hawke. Donnic falters a little. “Please don’t say that in front of your mother.”

They engage once more. Donnic gives advice on fighting two-on-one and how not to stab your partner by accident. An area in which he is well-versed, having worked in the guard for twenty years now. Hawke, meanwhile, endeavors to trick them into running into each other. But Donnic will not be drawn, even when Saravh falls for Hawke’s subterfuge.

Fenris rises, rubbing his chest—Hawke landed on that knee a little harder than he’d intended, and Fenris caught the apologetic expression but shook his head to reassure Hawke that he was fine. And he is, mostly. But he is done fighting for today, and so he ducks inside.

The house is warm, the brass heating pipes along the wall radiating heat to chase away the autumn chill. Aveline is in the kitchen, chopping parsnips. “You four having fun out there?”

Fenris pauses. “Er—four?”

“I know Donnic’s joined the fray.” She smiles over her shoulder. “I heard the back door.”

“…oh.”

“I suppose I can forgive him just this once.” She sighs. “Would you check on the mutton for me? Should be nearly done.”

Fenris has a feeling that she has forgiven him before, and will do so many more times. But he makes no remark to that effect, only slips past her to the oven.

An hour later supper is ready, and Hawke, Donnic, and Saravh stumble in, exhausted and covered in leaves and stray bits of grass. Aveline kisses Donnic on the cheek. “Looks like those reports got the better of you.”

Donnic winces. “Er—sorry. I’ll do them this evening.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. As long as they’re done before I forget where they need to be filed.” She sets the plate of mutton down.

They gather round, Fenris sharing a side of the table with Saravh, the two of them being the smallest there. Hawke shows great restraint and only takes thirds (and fourths) after everyone else has had their seconds. Donnic tells tales of what criminal organizations he’s broken up today, expressing at one point respect for the smoothness of the operation, at which point Aveline raises a pointed eyebrow and his tone quickly changes to one of disapproval and unqualified condemnation. But Saravh is not as attentive tonight as she normally is.

Aveline reaches out and squeezes her hand. “It’s all right, sweetheart. We’ll all be there with you at the College tomorrow.”

She nods, poking listlessly at her parsnips.

Hawke leans across the table. “If anyone says a single unkind word, tell me and I’ll give them a good thrashing for you.”

Aveline glares. “Hawke.”

“It’s all right, I’ll thrash them myself.” Saravh grins.

Aveline is about to say something but Fenris cuts in. “I should hope that will not be necessary. The College of Enchanters is a far cry from the Circle.”

“That’s right,” Donnic puts in. “The College is run by mages, they’ll be happy to teach you. And you can still come home every night.”

Saravh sighs and rests her chin in her hand. “I know. I’ll be fine.”

But she’s still afraid. Fenris supposes she has been given reason; although she grew up in Rivain, where hedge witches are treated with respect and reverence, she arrived in Kirkwall while the rebel mages were busy happily killing the templars who stood against them, and all the Marches were alive with tales of terror. She has not used her magic since Starkhaven’s assault on Kirkwall some months ago. Fenris asked her about it once, carefully; she told him she was afraid of hurting him, or Hawke or Aveline or Donnic.

He embraced her then and told her that she was not something to be afraid of, and that she was not alone in this.

Aveline leaves after that, promising to be back in an hour. Business at the keep, she says. Donnic bakes some pears and serves them with cream, and then Hawke reads with Saravh in the living room while Fenris joins Donnic in the office with a bottle of brandy. Fenris never much liked any drink besides wine, but brandy is growing on him, and two glasses down he finds it’s grown even more.

“I have to admit.” Donnic tips his glass at Fenris. “When I first met you, I was absolutely sure you would strike fear into the heart of any child who laid eyes on you.” He takes a sip. “But Saravh loves you. She talks about you all the time.”

Fenris pulls his knees up to his chest, his toes hanging off of the plush seat cushion. “I—very much enjoy spending time with her as well. Spending time—here.”

Donnic grins. “You’re welcome here anytime, you know that.”

Fenris sets his glass down on the table beside him. Two is enough for one night. “And how are things with you? I can’t imagine you ever expected you’d have a mage for a daughter.”

Donnic stares for a moment at the opposite wall, the bookshelves stuffed half with books and half with unfinished paperwork. “Oh, Maker,” he whispers. “I just want her to be all right. She’s gone through enough already without half of Thedas turning her into some—bogeyman—“

“I expect that will change some in the coming years,” Fenris says. “The College of Enchanters is popular, from what I hear.”

Donnic smiles a little. “Free healing will do that. Maybe you’re right. I hope you’re right.”

“And if she is mistreated.” Fenris draws absent circles around the rim of his glass. “You can rest assured she will not go undefended.”

That gets a laugh. “I expect you, Hawke, and Aveline will be fighting each other to get at the offending party. I’m just—afraid of what happens when we aren’t there.”

“Mm.” Fenris nods. “She is strong. She may not need our help.”

“She is, isn’t she? I never thought—when Aveline brought her home, it was only going to be temporary, a few months at most, but—well, I’m glad it was longer. I’m glad she stayed with us.”

Fenris notes a glimmer in Donnic’s eyes and looks away so Donnic might preserve his dignity in front of a good friend.

Later they hear the front door creaking open and go back to the living room, where Saravh sitting on Hawke’s lap, holding a heavy book. “Blood sprayed from the w—wound, and his in—in—“

“Intestines,” Hawke puts in.

“What’s intestines?”

“It’s your guts.”

“Hm.” Saravh finds her place again. “His intestines spilled onto the—“

“Oh dear.” Donnic rushes forward and closes the book gently. “I think that’s enough of that one, wouldn’t you say?”

Saravh looks up at him, pleading. “But it was just getting exciting!”

“Listen, how about we don’t tell—“

“Evening.” Aveline emerges from the atrium, stripped of her cloak, jacket and boots. “So what have you all been up to?”

“I was reading a book!” Saravh hoists it. “There was a fight! A man’s intestines came out of his stomach!“

Aveline turns her wrathful gaze on Hawke, who quails slightly. “You are no longer allowed to choose bedtime stories.”

“But Mum, I liked it—“

“You can finish it when you’re older. Let’s get you ready for bed.”

She and Donnic take Saravh upstairs. Fenris stays below with Hawke to clean up the kitchen. They wash the dishes and pans in soap and water, Hawke scrubbing, Fenris drying. They work for some time in silence.

Then Fenris asks, “So. How was your evening?”

Hawke stops for a moment, suds halfway up his forearm, a white ceramic plate balanced in his hands. Then he smiles. “It was good. It was really, really good.”

Fenris circles an arm around his waist and kisses his shoulder. “I’m glad.”

A sound drifts down through the ceiling above them. Quiet crying. Not unexpected. But Aveline and Donnic are there.

Fenris and Hawke finish with the dishes and gather their things. Then there’s a creaking on the stairs—Aveline, descending, holding Saravh. “She wanted to say good night.”

Saravh’s face is buried in Aveline’s neck, but when she’s set down she runs to Hawke, and he kneels to embrace her. “You did really good today,” he murmurs. “Another few months and you’ll be winning every match.”

She nods into his shoulder, then steps back.

Fenris kneels as well, and her thin arms wrap around his chest. He holds her gently—overwhelmed, all of a sudden, by the strangeness of it all, how it wasn’t that long ago that something like this—a child embracing him, a child who loves and trusts him and whom he loves in return—would have seemed inconceivable. Yet here he is. “I will see you tomorrow,” he tells her. “You may be sure of that.”

“All right,” she whispers, and lets him go.

Aveline waves them goodbye before scooping Saravh up again, and Fenris follows Hawke out into the chilly autumn night.

“Fenris?”

He looks up. “Hm?”

“I love you very much.”

Fenris pauses. “Might I ask what brought this on?”

Hawke sighs. “I don’t know, I just—I’m really glad we have this.”

“As am I.” Fenris slips his hand into Hawke’s, and they go through the dark streets of Hightown together.

Chapter Text

Varric lays his hand out on the table. “Sorry, Buttercup, but this round’s mine.”

“No! No, wait, don’t take the plant—“

Varric chuckles. “You’re the one who bet it.”

Blackwall is already rising to ferry the plant over to Varric’s seat. Sera flings her arms around its trunk, pleading with him not to take it from her; he pats her shoulder in a consoling fashion as he gently but firmly tugs it out of her grasp. The table bubbles with laughter.

Fenris does not laugh.

The plant. A novelty gift from some Orlesian noble. It’s six feet high, with a trunk as thick as Fenris’s arm, and enormous green fronds that bow to shade whomever has won it most recently. The Inquisitor had no use for it, apparently, and Varric is the one who decided to appropriate it as a betting token. It has become a symbol of confidence, bet only when a player is sure they will win, and its presence at one’s back an echo of decadence, transforming a plain wooden chair into seat of pride, a throne.

It is not a novelty to Fenris. He knows this species. Not so common in Tevinter itself—they grow too large to fit comfortably in cities, and were often passed over for citron trees instead. But they grew in Seheron. He remembers well the vast emerald jungles of them, their trunks tangled with vines, roots interspersed with ferns as high as a man. He would accompany Danarius on the cut paths, defiant surges of foliage encroaching on both sides and spilling onto the dirt, as soldiers went before and behind, watching for the Seheron natives. They were attacked more than once, and more than once Fenris and Danarius were the only ones who made it to the forward forts.

Fenris eyes the plant. It sways as Blackwall carries it by the pot and thumps it down behind Varric’s chair. Such a vivid green. It is summer now, yes, but this is Ferelden; this generous gift will not survive long.

Perhaps for the best. Next time he and Hawke visit, it will hopefully be dead already.

Varric nods. “Hey, Tiny. Your turn to deal.”

Bull shifts. “Right.”

Bull is not laughing either.

He smiles, does just enough to deflect attention. (A tactic Fenris has not attempted, and he knows his lack of humor must be a grain of discomfort in this otherwise celebratory gathering. But he has not the skill to fix that.) Fenris has grown more familiar with Bull, having played with him a hundred rounds of cards or more by now. So he recognizes the diminished enthusiasm as irregular, especially since Bull is normally one of the more raucous players.

Qunari. He used to be, anyway. Fenris wonders what he did before he founded the Chargers. Bull shuffles, his single eye watching only the cards.

They play. Fenris wins a couple of times, but only when the plant is not part of the bet. Bad enough when Sera, to his left, has possession of it. (Bull, to his right, never wins it either, despite being the most skilled player there besides Varric.) Fenris does not want it at his back, its broad leaves bending over him, shading his vision with that brilliant emerald green.

He could leave early, true. But he and Hawke won’t be here more than a few days, and while he has friends in the Kirkwall guard, they aren’t quite as colorful as the group he plays with in Skyhold. So he stays, and finds his mood drifting up in between the moments when the great fronds catch his eye and he loses track for a moment of the situation, fears that his memories are intruding here. A sting. He’s worked hard to get to where he is. And to be taunted by this incongruous phantom of his old life, always waving just at the outside of his gaze…

Bull pushes his chair back. “Think I’m gonna turn in.”

“Aww, come on, it’s still early!” Varric gestures. “Just one more hand.”

Bull grins. “Sorry. Just been a long day.”

Fenris finds himself getting to his feet. “I am afraid I am also retiring.”

“No, just one more round! Just one more?” Sera pleads.

She is desperate for another chance to win the plant back. Fenris smiles. “I am sorry. I will play again tomorrow.”

She groans. “Fine. Promise?”

“I promise.”

“You better.”

Fenris leaves them then, lifting a heavy frond out of the way as he walks past the table to the door.

——

The jungle closes green around him.

There isn’t a path. There was. It’s grown over. Danarius hovers just off his shoulder. The soldiers are dead, scattered, their blood dripping weakly into the thick carpet of green. Movement in the trees, everywhere, not the wind, too quiet, too dangerous. They are coming. His sword is drawn and ready, the weight of the weapon comforting in his hands, he the counterbalance.

A flicker from his left. He turns and blocks.

A Fog Warrior. She wears their uniform, clothes in dark green, the jungle’s shadow. Her face is painted with mud. From the smear of glittering silt her eyes lock on his, pleading.

He kills her.

Danarius is far away. Separated. Venhedis. Fenris needs to get there. He forges up the path—the place where the path used to be, now overgrown, the jade-green grass tickling his ankles, tangling him up, the thick, waxy leaves sliding past his shoulders. Where is Danarius? Invisible. The green rises around him, fecund, branches dripping with leaves dripping with vines that reach out to brush his face, soft, questioning. He moves as if underwater, as if submerged below an emerald sea. Ferns paw at him, supplicant. The humid air condenses on his skin, the close, hot breath of the teeming verdure.

Another elf, a dark green sliver of shadow. Fenris kills them. When he looks up the path is lost to him. He is lost. Danarius is gone. Failed. Fenris has failed. He begins to shake, his palms trembling against the hilt of his greatsword. Sweat rolls in rivulets down his temples, his spine, from his underarms over his ribs. His weapon is too heavy all of a sudden, and it drags down, until his wrists cannot bear its weight and the tip sinks into the thick green foliage, into the loamy soil beneath. Motion, again. Fenris tries to raise his blade, without avail. They are coming. They will kill him. They appear from the leaves, green against brighter green. He is surrounded. His weapon is too heavy.

There is a woman there. She looks familiar—something about the shape of her face beneath the glittering silt. She reaches out. Fenris flinches away, but he is surrounded.

She is careful and slow. She does not wish to startle him. Fenris watches her thin fingers draw closer, smooth as if gliding through water.

She touches him.

Nothing happens. No grabbing or wrenching. No fatal poison passed from skin to skin. Has there even been time for it? Nothing is happening. Is time passing now, or have they all caught here, balanced comfortably on a rock in an ever-moving river? But then she smiles, the green vines trickling down either side of her face, her mud-smeared face.

Another elf approaches, and touches him too. And another. And another. Their hands rest on him, their palms flat against his back, his chest, his arms and stomach. Gentle. For once. No threat. No expectation. Like he was ready to fall and they are holding him up, all together. They murmur now, and he can’t hear the words but knows they are words of comfort. And his name. They say his name.

Fenris.

Who else has said his name like that? Who else has spoken it with such pure kindness? Fenris stares, confused. Why are they helping him?

I don’t want to kill them, he thinks.

And starts. Why did he think that, unprovoked? The elves stay, the jungle pressing in between them, vivid green fronds surging forward, shiny green leaves shading him from the merciless sun. I don’t want to kill them. Why does he keep thinking that? I don’t want to kill them. I don’t want to kill them.

Through the leaves, a far-off shriek. “Kill them!”

Fenris kills them.

He kills them, and it is easy. They don’t resist. They don’t even run away. They just wait, standing there, so abundant he almost mistakes them for tree-shadows. In the air their blood sprays a bright acid red.

——

Fenris wakes with a gasp and rolls to his hands and knees.

He’s sweating, his shirt damp on his back. Venhedis. He presses a hand to his face—sweat there, too, smearing under his fingers.

“Mm? Fenris?” Hawke mumbles sleepily. “What’s wrong?”

“A dream.” Fenris sits back on his heels and takes a deep breath. “Nothing more.”

Hawke reaches out and takes Fenris’s hand. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Do you want me to kiss you a hundred times until you fall back asleep?”

Fenris smiles. “A tempting offer. But I think I’m going to take a walk.”

“All right.” Hawke rubs his eyes, sits up, and gives Fenris a clumsy kiss before he flops back down to the bed with a great thump. “I’m here if you need me.”

Fenris changes his shirt and then leaves Hawke alone in their room. With only a minimum of backtracking, he manages to find a door to the courtyard.

It’s late—or early, rather, the sky pitch-black but for a generous scattering of stars. The night air is cool despite the heat of the day, and Fenris shivers, folding his arms around himself. A pair of Inquisition guards stroll past on a lazy patrol. Fenris nods at them as he strides across the grass. He finds himself heading for the Herald’s Rest, although he has no idea why, as it’ll certainly be closed at this hour. Perhaps because he is used to finding respite at the tavern, as he did in Kirkwall.

When he arrives he tries the door, and it drifts open.

Fenris hovers in the threshold for a moment. The dawn hasn’t even begun to break—the owners can’t be awake already. The tavern is empty, although a cluster of candles flicker behind the bar. “Hello?” Fenris calls tentatively.

Shuffling from the door that leads to the kitchen. Then a large horned head pokes out. “Hey.”

The Iron Bull.

Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah, well.” He waves a hand. “Couldn’t fall back asleep. How ‘bout you?”

“I had a dream.” Fenris pushes the door shut behind him. “It was…rather vivid.”

“Dream, huh?” Bull emerges from the kitchen, a bottle of some liquor in hand. “What was it about?”

Fenris comes over and sits at the bar. Should he talk about it? Perhaps better to do it here, with a man he sees only a handful of times per year, rather than with Hawke. “I…dreamt of memories I had not thought on in years.”

Bull stills, the bottle dangling from his fingers. “Memories.”

“Yes.”

“Huh.” He takes a pair of glasses from the shelf and comes around the bar. “When were you on Seheron?”

Fenris looks up, a little alarmed. He had not mentioned Seheron—

“Saw you staring at that thing during the game.” Bull nods at the back corner, where, Fenris notes, the accursed plant still stands proud as ever. “I was staring too. You probably noticed.” He pulls out a stool and sits with a faintly bitter grin. “Doesn’t take much, does it?”

“You unlocked the door,” Fenris notes.

“Hm. I guess I kinda hoped someone might wander in. No fun drinking alone.”

Fenris is quiet for a moment. Then he straightens, resting his elbow on the bar. “And what are we drinking?”

Bull uncaps the bottle and begins to pour. “Rivaini arrack. Sweet as shit, but it burns real nice.”

Fenris takes one of the glasses and slides it closer. The liquor is a deep burnt orange. A warm color.

Bull raises his own glass. “To…ah, never mind. Seheron’s not worth drinking to.”

Fenris smiles. “To leaving.”

A quiet clink.

The arrack does indeed burn as it slides down his throat, and Fenris coughs into his elbow. Bull chuckles. “Too strong for you?”

Perhaps. “No.” He takes another sip, and manages not to cough this time.

“So. When were you there?”

Fenris swills the liquor around, postponing his next sip. And his answer. But he wants to talk about this—this hidden thing, this confused guilt, this distant horror. Hawke knows and can’t know. He wasn’t there. “I was sixteen the first time,” Fenris says. “And then a few more times, until I escaped my master at twenty-four. Never for more than a couple of months at a stretch. You?”

“Got there at sixteen. Didn’t leave for ten years.” He shrugs. “Doesn’t mean your time there was any less shit than mine, though.”

“How many do you think you killed?” Fenris asks.

Bull laughs, deep and full. “I got no fucking idea. Way over a thousand. Not personally, but we would set fires, poison water supplies. Worked like a charm.”

“Mm.” Fenris nods. “All of my killing was done personally. Perhaps a hundred, a hundred and twenty. I tried to keep track, but my master and I worked seamlessly together. I do not know how many of the deaths were his.”

Bull grunts. “You ask me, they were all his.”

Fenris’s eyes flick up. Bull is wearing a frown, tracing the rim of his glass. The barest glimmer of arrack remains at the bottom. “What do you mean?” Fenris asks.

“You were a slave. You didn’t choose to kill them.”

Fenris thought plenty about that early on, and he accepted it as true. But it didn’t change much. “I still remember the taste of their blood when it sprayed onto my face,” he says. “It is difficult to hand someone else the blame for that.”

Bull watches him levelly. “You didn’t choose to do it.”

I don’t want to kill them.

It did not happen, as he dreamed, in the thick of the jungle. It was a clearing, the grassy bank of a fast-flowing river. The village was small and humble, but when he was there it seemed to him enormous. Vast beyond comprehension. That is where he killed them. It was the first time he had been aware of his own want as a separate entity. Not as integral to him as Danarius’s want—but it was different, and not only that, painful in a way he did not understand. He only knew it hurt beyond any beating or lashing or humiliation he had endured so far. 

And another want—he wanted to listen to that hurting part that begged him not to kill them. He had the bizarre thought that it could save him.

So he ran, while Danarius’s back was turned. He still hurt. Still hurts.

He tips the glass back, and the arrack floods into his throat, sweet and searing. He swallows with a grimace. “No. I did not choose to kill them. Nor, I would venture, did you.”

Bull raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Listen, say what you want about the Qun—“

“You were told the natives and the Tal-Vashoth, being opposed to the Qun, were worthy of killing. Isn’t that right?”

“Well—I guess you could say that.”

“They lied to you. They manipulated you with false information. A tactic that, as I’m sure you know, can be quite powerful.” Hawke has certainly used it often enough. “Do you still think they were worthy of killing?”

Bull’s lips peel back in a grimace. “Not all of them.”

“The Qun made your choice. Not you.”

Bull rubs his thumb against his empty glass. “You know, I’ve been trying not to think about that.”

“Oh. Then you have my apologies.”

“Nah, it’s okay.” He waves a hand. “Thing is, I’m not as dumb as I look. And I try to remember if I had started to doubt. If the Qun was starting to wear thin, even back then. Because if it was—“

“—then you were still under its thumb. Or its heel. You are a different man now.”

“Yeah, that makes two of us. I don’t see anyone else deciding things for you anymore.”

Fenris smiles. “No, you would not.”

Bull sits back, relaxing a little. “Hey, thanks for drinking with me.”

“Yes. It is…hard to speak of this with those who were not there.”

“Oh, I just meant because you’re good company.”

He snorts. “I am?”

“Yeah.”

For a moment Fenris doesn’t know what to say. “Well—thank you.”

“You want another?” Bull lifts the bottle.

Fenris slides his glass out. “I wouldn’t say no.”

Chapter Text

Fenris gazes across the courtyard, deep in thought.

Scattered strategies drift across his mind. From Seheron, in the vast humid jungles—no, those won’t work in this environment—or the cluttered cities. Perhaps. An enclosed space, although there are no shadowed side alleys to hide in and no roofs to climb up to. There are a few trees, including the great oak in the center, but he doesn’t want anyone to fall and hurt themselves—

“So who wants to be on defense?” Saravh asks.

Three of the children put up their hands. “All right,” she says. “That leaves me, Edward, Remy, and Genn going for their banner. Uncle Fenris, d’you have any advice?”

“Hm. Hawke may have let them in on some of his tricks. I recommend a few tricks of your own.”

“Right. Pascal, you’re quick. How about you stick to defense for a while until no one’s looking at you and then come across for their banner while the rest of us act as a diversion?”

“Got it!” Pascal pipes up. He’s nine years old and skinny as a stickbug—impressive, considering how very invested his Orlesian parents are in their native culture, most especially the cuisine. Fenris spoke to them once and decided after that to save himself the torment of doing so again.

As the children plan, he listens, offering one or two suggestions. Across the courtyard, Hawke, surrounded by his own gaggle of children, waves jauntily. He leapt at the chance to leave the adults inside and supervise the games in the courtyard—Fenris was happy to help, of course. Almost nine years since they fled Kirkwall after the Chantry explosion and they’re still famous. Fenris has long since tired of deflecting questions he doesn’t want to answer.

Children don’t care whether or not he was famous. Mostly they care about whether or not he can carry them, or how many he can carry at one time, or if he’ll be useful in helping them win Capture the Banner.

“Right!” Saravh claps her hands together. “Let’s kick their sodding—“

Fenris clears his throat loudly. Saravh freezes. “Er—let’s get that banner!”

A rousing cheer. Fenris relaxes, glancing with some concern at the group of children still gathered around Hawke. He fears their vocabularies will have expanded by a certain few words by the time they adjourn.

The game begins.

He watches carefully, as does Hawke across the courtyard. There are occasional disagreements, most often about whether someone was past the line when they were tagged. (The line is less of a line than an abstraction that stretches between the articles of clothing dotted across the grass.) But the arbitration of adults keeps any vitriol out of the game. There has been progress: Hawke’s banner lies a few feet ahead of where it began, and Fenris’s likewise. The children are wary and quick, but even their youthful energy is not without limit, and they are beginning to tire.

Then Saravh calls out, “Let’s end this!”

The plan begins.

Both sides have taken losses, a pair of children in each jail. But Saravh has two companions as she charges ahead. The chase begins, the three of them splitting, making long loops that fast draw the attention of their foes. The last roaming defender takes up the cause as well, drawing off the remainder of the enemy forces. Pascal drifts forward, waiting until the path is clear. Then he begins to run.

He crosses the dividing line. At last he is noticed. High, panicked shouts. The chase abandoned in favor of this new menace. Their world crumbling around them. They were foolish to disregard little stick-thin Pascal and his forlorn loitering beside the jail. Their own jail guard leaps into action. Pascal makes a speedy dodge, and she trips over her feet.

Something falling. Fenris blinks. There is a child on his side of the yard who was not there before. Who has just dropped down from the branches of the great oak tree. One of Hawke’s.

Of course.

The banner sits alone and vulnerable in the grass. The boy snatches it up. Too easy. He sprints across the line, nearly running into Pascal, who has Hawke’s banner clutched in his hand.

A roar of triumph from Hawke, followed by a brassy chorus of cries from his abettors. Fenris rubs his eyes. Saravh stomps back over to Fenris, and her six teammates as well. “Can’t believe he put Ereck up the tree,” she mutters.

“Yes,” Fenris replies. “We are going to have a talk about that.”

“Sock him in the nose for me, would you?” Then she turns and yells, “Who’s up for a game of Trap Tag?”

In mere moments the bitter sting of loss is forgotten, and the children are happily gamboling about. (Some, anyway—in Trap Tag, one who is tagged must pretend their leg is caught in an animal trap; the point is that they are not allowed to move, but it is tradition for players to take up the spirit of the affliction as well. Several of the trapped children are moaning and screaming, clawing at their legs as they roll on the ground in ersatz agony. Their stricken cries reverberate off the stone walls of the courtyard.) Fenris jerks his head, and he crosses the grass, meeting Hawke by the door. He already senses he won’t get very far, but he has to try, at least, has to make the gesture.

“You told that boy to climb the tree,” he starts.

Hawke shrugs. “Actually, he asked if he could climb the tree.”

“And you told him to.”

“Well—I said he could.”

“He could have fallen and broken his neck!”

Hawke raises his hands. “He said he’d done it a hundred times before! And really, you should have seen him, he was like a bloody nuthatch clambering up that thing—”

Fenris jabs a finger at the tree. “A fall from that height could very easily have hurt him! We’re supposed to be watching these children, not letting them crack their skulls open—”

A particularly shrill cry of false pain pierces the air. Fenris glances over to ensure nothing is amiss. It is not. Hawke sags. “Fine. I’m sorry.”

Fenris leans up and kisses him. “When they are home, let them climb as many trees as they like. But when they are here, we are responsible for them.”

Then the door opens beside them, and Donnic steps through. “I can take over for a bit, if you two want to head back inside.”

Inside. Where still lurks that dreaded web of wide-eyed admirers, not to mention the palpable tension that quivers taut between the noble parents and the parents of the Lowtown- or Darktown-born mage children. Hawke winced when Aveline announced her intentions to invite everyone over all at once, but she would not be swayed. “We’re perfectly all right out here!” Hawke says hurriedly. “No need to relieve us, we can keep our post—“

“Oh, no.” Donnic nods at him. “It’s your turn to do the mingling. I’ve had quite enough for one afternoon.” He heaves a sigh. “I’m just not cut out for this sort of thing. Neither is Aveline, by the way. You might want to get in there before any fights break out.”

“Oh dear,” Hawke mutters. “Fenris? Shall we?”

Fenris snorts. “I’m not going back in there.”

Hawke grasps his hand, fixing him with a desperate gaze. “Please, Fenris, if I have to do it alone I might literally die.”

“I doubt that.”

“I’ll—I’ll make dinner for a week, I’ll buy you three extra presents for Wintersend, I’ll take you on that trip to Rivain I’ve been promising for months—“

“Fine, fine.” Fenris opens the door. “Let us go.”

Donnic visibly relaxes. “Thank the Maker.”

Upon entering the house and slipping into the living room, Fenris discovers that a fight is indeed on the verge of breaking out, although it is Aveline whose eyes are narrowed and the nobleman before her who gestures wildly. Hawke inserts his great bulk between them with an abundance of grace. “Ser Yarden! I’m so glad we have the chance to speak at last.”

The nobleman’s eyes light up. “Ser Hawke! What an honor.”

Aveline excuses herself to go attend to the rest of her guests. Fenris catches her on the way. “Are you all right?”

“If I have to hear one more bloody noble tell me what an irresponsible parent I am for inviting mage children to a birthday party…” She breathes out through her nose. “I’ll be fine.”

Fenris shrugs. “I noticed no wayward tongues of flame while they were playing.”

“Exactly! Because the first thing they learn is how to control their magic! But of course, none of these bloody prigs want to listen to me, I’m only a commoner, after all.” She waves a disgusted hand.

Fenris watches her for a moment. “There was a time when you would have agreed with them. When you would have thought such a gathering was too dangerous to risk.”

Aveline blinks. “Well—aren’t I allowed to change?”

“Yes, of course. There was a time when I would have wished Saravh locked up in a tower for the rest of her life. Obviously that is no longer the case.”

“Have to admit, though, I’m glad they keep a few templars on hand at the College,” Aveline mutters. “Better to be safe.”

Fenris nods. “I agree.”

After that he attaches himself to Hawke so that he does not have to navigate this labyrinth by himself. Alone he is fascinating—the Champion’s partner, and an elf, no less, not to mention those breathtaking tattoos—but next to Hawke’s boundless charm, he becomes little more than an accessory. Fine with him. At times the chatter becomes so overwhelmingly inane he must block it out or risk rolling his eyes in front of Aveline’s guests, and that would not do. Yet somehow Hawke manages to look utterly engrossed, hanging on their every word. A formidable skill.

“Fenris?”

He looks up. “Hm?”

Hawke smiles down at him. “Lady Larisse was just asking what you do for work these days.”

“Ah. Pardon me.”

Later, when even Hawke’s best efforts are beginning to fail and tensions are rising again, Aveline claps her hands together loudly and suggests that everyone go out into the courtyard for cake.

The cake is Fenris’s creation, and as Aveline ushers everyone out the door, Fenris goes into the kitchen and unveils it, carefully lifting away the parchment paper balanced on top of the ten candles—two each in red, orange, pink, green, and blue. He is quite proud of the cake, in truth; he already knows it tastes excellent, having made this recipe before, and his penmanship was meticulous as he inscribed the dedication in looping formal script, sugar-white icing on a field of cocoa-black: HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAVH.

Fenris takes the matches from the cabinet next to the spice rack and begins to light the candles. As he shakes the first match out, a pair of thick arms wrap around his middle, and a bearded face kisses his neck. “That looks fantastic. You are very talented.”

“Thank you.” Fenris strikes a second match and finishes with the candles.

Hawke’s booming baritone leads the chorus. Fenris carries the cake, which he decides excuses him from the singing. Saravh manages to blow all the candles out in one go—although Fenris thinks he sees her wrist flick subtly at the end, and one stubborn flame is extinguished somewhat late. Hawke would be proud. 

The cake goes over well, and children with frosting-smeared mouths come up and thank Fenris for making it. He accepts their words (and their embraces) with modesty. Hawke serves himself seconds but Fenris manages to stop him before he goes for thirds. “Perhaps you should leave some for the children?” he suggests.

“But…it’s so good.”

Fenris knows—knows—that the despondent, forlorn expression is calculated, crafted by Hawke to weaken Fenris’s will. Now, as always, it works exactly as intended. “I’ll make you your own after this, how’s that?”

Hawke gazes at him with utmost adoration. “You’re the best partner I’ve ever had.”

Fenris snorts. “I should hope so.”

The presents come next. Saravh sits on the bench beneath the oak tree, with all her guests gathered around her. This is the part that worries Fenris, where the gap will be most obvious. The nobles will have been able to afford extravagant gifts, but for the others—the families of the children Saravh met at the College instead of here—the price of a gift is not an afterthought but a serious consideration.

But Fenris should not have doubted. Saravh, having grown up under Aveline and Donnic’s compassion as well as Hawke’s charisma, handles the situation with extraordinary grace. Each gift, whether it’s a golden bracelet set with opals or a stuffed fennec hand-sewn in motley cloth by one of the children’s mothers, is treated with genuine and heartfelt gratitude. Sitting among the wrapped packages is a bouquet sitting in a chipped ceramic mug with no handle—a collection of city wildflowers, colorful but common. The littlest child, Genn, is the one to present this; she approaches with eyes downcast as she lifts the mug and whispers an apology.

Saravh hugs her the hardest and thanks her for everyone to hear. Then she sits back and plucks a flower from the bouquet, tucking it behind her ear, a lively bloom of yellow among her bushy black curls.

The sun begins to go down, and the party draws to a close. Of course the work is not finished, and Hawke picks up the scattered glasses and discarded gift wrappings while Fenris washes dishes. Saravh offers to help, but Aveline tells her to relax and to enjoy her new gifts; then Aveline offers to help, but Fenris tells her to sit down with a glass of wine, as he and Hawke are perfectly capable of doing this themselves. When Hawke’s finished picking up, he comes in and dries the dishes Fenris has stacked up on the counter.

Finally the last plate is washed and dried, and Fenris leans back against the counter with a long sigh. “Children are exhausting.”

Hawke doesn’t reply, just reaches out and takes his hand.

Fenris looks over and finds Hawke’s holding something—a ribbon from one of the party gifts. It’s thick and velvet and a deep blood-red. He wraps it around Fenris’s wrist once, twice, and ties it off.

It’s been years, but Fenris knows immediately, even as Hawke’s fingers are still working. “The handkerchief,” he murmurs.

Perhaps two months after Fenris left him, Hawke came to the mansion in the late evening, with a soft smile and dark, sad eyes. Fenris wanted to close the door and turn him away and also to let him in and apologize a hundred times and beg him to stay. As all these thoughts collided clumsily in his head, he shuffled back a step, and Hawke took it as a sign to enter.

They talked a bit. Hawke didn’t ask—was careful not to ask—but eventually Fenris told him anyway, or at least said all he could. I can’t. I’m sorry. I still love you. I want to, but I can’t. Please forgive me.

It was then that Hawke spotted the red handkerchief on the side table. Is that—mine?

Fenris’s face flushed hot with shame. I—yes, I apologize. I should not have taken it.

Hawke picked it up, then took Fenris’s hand—with such gentleness as Fenris could hardly believe, those powerful hands exerting only the lightest of touches. He wrapped the handkerchief around Fenris’s wrist and tied it off. There. You can keep it. I want you to have it.

Fenris, leaning against the counter, gazes at the ribbon and runs his thumb over the velvet. Then he leans up and kisses Hawke softly. Hawke holds his face and kisses him back, and wraps an arm around his waist.

When they leave the kitchen they find Aveline sitting sideways on the divan with Donnic behind her, giving her a back massage. Her eyes are closed, although she slits them open to reach out and pick up her glass of wine. “Hawke, next time I disagree with you—“ She gestures at him with the hand holding her wine. “Remind me of this party.”

“I thought it went quite well!” Donnic says brightly. “Er—all things considered, anyway.”

“I had fun!” Saravh pipes up. She sits in an armchair, curled up with a new book on her lap and the stuffed fennec under her arm. “Even if Uncle Hawke is a dirty cheating bastard—“

Hawke cuts in to defend himself. “Listen, we hadn’t even set any rules about that tree—“

“Last time I invite you to my birthday party—“

“Now, now,” Donnic interrupts, in a soothing tone. “Maybe we could keep it down for a bit, your mother’s had quite a long day.”

“Aveline, I believe there is some leftover cake. Perhaps I could cut you a piece?” Fenris offers.

Aveline groans. “Oh, Maker, yes.”

So he cuts a piece and presents it to her. When she takes it she notices his wrist,  and her lips curl in a knowing smile. “Did Hawke give you that ribbon?”

It seems she remembers the handkerchief he used to wear. Fenris shrinks back. “Er—yes.”

She shakes her head. “You two are just—oh, never mind. I’m really glad you came back, that’s all.”

“So am I.” Hawke flops down in another armchair—carefully, so as not to break it with his enormous bulk. “Say, when’s the next party? I rather enjoyed myself.”

“Why don’t you throw one?” Aveline suggests. “At your house? So that you’re the one with the responsibility of making sure nobody starts throwing punches—“

“If it’s at Uncle Hawke’s house I won’t go,” Saravh sniffs.

Hawke leans over. “I’m sorry, really, I won’t do it again—“

“All right, I forgive you.”

That was quick. There are no chairs left, so Fenris comes over and sits on Hawke’s lap, kissing his hair. “It is late. We should head back.”

“No, wait!” Saravh claps her book shut. “I got a new game for my birthday, could we play it just once before you go? Please?”

Hawke lifts a sullen eyebrow at her. “How d’you know I won’t just cheat the whole time?”

“Because if you do, I’ll kick your lousy crooked—“

Everyone in the room sort of half-lunges at her, with the exception of Aveline, who simply fixes Hawke with a murderous glare. Saravh halts herself just in time. “—er…behind?”

“That’s right,” Aveline mutters.

“You can stay over if you like,” Saravh says. “I don’t mind sleeping on the divan.”

As is custom—Fenris and Hawke normally sleep in her room. Hawke looks up. “Is that all right, Aveline?”

“Yes, fine. But no swearing.”

“Oh, come on, swearing is an integral part of anyone’s childhood—“

“That I agree with, but I don’t trust your swears. If she’s going to learn any, they’ll be mine.”

Fenris chuckles at that. Saravh leaps up, the fennec still stuffed under her arm. “I’ll go get it!”

As she runs off, Fenris reflects that he, too, had a very good time. “Aveline?”

“Mm?” she says, her mouth full of cake.

“Thank you. For doing all this.”

She waves her fork. “Of course. Couldn’t have done it without your help.”

Yes. He did help. He remembers the children coming up, mouths smeared with frosting, and wrapping their skinny arms around his middle as they thanked him.

He’s not sure it was more fun than killing slavers, but it was close. And certainly less dangerous. He rubs the red ribbon around his wrist, and then finds Hawke’s hand covering his own, stroking his fingers. Across from them Aveline is finishing off her slice of cake, Donnic still working her back. The glass of wine sits half-empty on the table. “Really, though,” Donnic says. “Thank you, the both of you. It’s a lot easier with four.”

“I’m telling you, any more parties you want to throw, I’ll be here. Helping, I mean,” Hawke replies. “Well, and eating.”

Fenris nods. “As will I. Whenever you need me.”

Chapter Text

Hawke straightens with a groan. “Oh, Maker. I’m getting old.”

That earns a small smile, which, on Fenris, is not so small a victory. He glances up from the pile of books he’s stacking. “We do not have to continue. It is getting rather late.”

It’s true. Winter has wrapped its frigid little fingers around Kirkwall, and while it does get dark early, the sun’s been down for at least several hours. “All right. I have a client meeting tomorrow afternoon, but I can come back in the early evening, if you wish. There’s still plenty more to sort through—this place is enormous, even for Hightown.”

Fenris hesitates.

They’ve only known each other a couple of months but Hawke’s figured out by now that Fenris doesn’t ask for help (that first night notwithstanding, and then only because the stakes were so very high). Getting him to accept help requires a mixture of assertiveness, cajoling, and sometimes a pinch of trickery. “Excellent!” Hawke claps his hands together. “Listen for my knock around suppertime.”

Fenris rests the book on his crossed ankles. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem. Nice to spend some time up here for once.” He heaves an airy sigh and heads for the doorway. “Well, back to Lowtown for me. Send a prayer to the Maker I don’t get mugged again.”

“Wait—“

Hawke turns.

Fenris has lurched his feet. “Again?”

Whoops. Shouldn’t have said that. “Oh, you know what Lowtown’s like at night.” Hawke waves a hand. “It’s nothing to worry about, they mostly just want your purse, perfectly happy to let you go after that.”

“This has happened to you before?”

Hawke winces. “Once. Well, twice.”

Fenris rubs his forehead. “Hawke. There is no need for you to place yourself in unnecessary danger. You are welcome to stay here for the night.”

Hawke tries to contain his excitement. That’s a big marker of trust, coming from Fenris, and Hawke accepts it as a token of honor. “I—right! That’s very kind of you.”

“I have not yet cleaned out any of the other fireplaces, so we will have to share the master bedroom. You may of course take the bed, I am happy to sleep on the floor.”

“Oh, no, I’ll take the floor. Really, I don’t mind.”

Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “You are my guest. I cannot allow you to sleep on the floor.”

A battle of politeness. Quite the challenge, with Fenris. But Hawke is patient. “I insist. That’s how I sleep at Gamlen’s house, I’m used to it.”

“So am I,” Fenris mutters.

Oh.

Hawke knows almost nothing about Fenris’s past—he does not speak of it often, and then only briefly before he changes the subject. But there are times when the dark shows through the cracks, as now, and gives Hawke a glimpse of what lies beyond. “Well, that settles it.” He folds his arms. “You definitely get the bed.”

“Hawke—“

“I’m sorry, Fenris, but I refuse to put you on the floor while I sleep in a bed above you. I just can’t do it." Shit. Might be a little too much for this stage in the relationship. “If it makes you feel better, I fully plan to assemble an enormous pile of pillows in which to submerge myself. I think we counted at least two dozen today, what with the three sitting rooms and that closet at the top of the stairs.”

Fenris balls his hands at his sides and won’t meet Hawke’s eye.

Hawke wants to come forward and rest a hand on his shoulder, but he’s aware of how much Fenris values—requires, really—personal space, not to mention his aversion to touch. “Please, Fenris,” Hawke says. “I swear I’ll be more comfortable than I have been in months. You’ve been to Gamlen’s house, you know what I have to deal with.”

“You should not.”

The words burst out of him, but then he tightens his jaw and shakes his head a little, as if acknowledging a mistake. Hawke asks gently, “Shouldn’t what?”

“Have to sleep on the floor. You are a good man. Better than any of the pompous fools who inhabit these mansions.”

“Unfortunately, deserving doesn’t mean much of anything in Kirkwall.” Hawke shrugs. “Money’s about the only thing that matters. And that’s why I’ve got a client meeting tomorrow afternoon. Really, though, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a pile of pillows to sleep on.”

“I…very well. If you insist.”

“Good! Now what do you say I pour us each a nightcap before we turn in?”

The pile of pillows is indeed enormous. Hawke sinks into it and decides this must be what it’s like to be taken to the Maker’s side after death. In the flickering firelight he can see Fenris above him, curled into the top left corner of the bed beneath a single blanket. He takes up less than a quarter of the mattress.

“Good night, Fenris,” Hawke murmurs.

“Good night, Hawke,” comes the quiet reply.

Hawke closes his eyes. It’s very late, and he should be quite tired; but instead he finds himself excited to be here, and about how Fenris let him stay, and it takes some time for him to drop off at last.

——

The mattress creaking.

Hawke cracks an eye.

Fenris slips off the bed and tiptoes to the fire, crouching to stoke it. It’s burning a little low. Hawke squints at the window. Through the lace curtain the light is weak, nearly absent. Not quite dawn. Good. He pulls his double layer of quilts a little higher. The mattress hasn’t creaked again yet. Where’s Fenris? Hawke opens his eyes again.

At the bureau, choosing clothes.

Hawke groans. “Fenris, are you waking up already?”

Fenris freezes, then turns. “Yes. I normally rise at this hour.”

“Normally? It’s still dark out.” Hawke wipes his mouth. It’s too early for this. “What do you do?”

“In the mornings, you mean? I practice my forms.”

“I’ve seen your forms. Daily practice seems sort of superfluous.” Hawke, with a great effort of will, sits up, pulling the quilts around his shoulders. “Have you ever just gone back to sleep instead?”

“I…no. This is simply my routine.”

“Well, let me tell you—one of life’s greatest pleasures is waking up early in the morning, realizing that you don’t have any appointments or obligations or any other reasons to get out of bed, and then burrowing back under your nice warm covers and letting yourself fall back asleep. I would give up plum tarts for the privilege of being able to do that every day, and you know how much I love plum tarts.”

Fenris doesn’t seem to know how to respond. Hawke gestures at the bed. “Why don’t you try it this morning and see how it feels? Just crawl back under the covers and whenever you wake up, go back to sleep again until you can’t sleep anymore. If you don’t like it, then obviously you can go right ahead and return to your normal routine tomorrow. What do you say?”

Fenris hovers, apprehensive. “I—I suppose…one day could not hurt,” he says uncertainly.

“I’m glad to hear it. You’re making me feel like a layabout.” Hawke smiles at him.

Fenris navigates around the pile of pillows and climbs back into bed. Hawke is about to lie down when he notices the extra quilts he’d brought up, should he need them. The room is a little chilly now, what with the fire having shrunk in the night, but Hawke is warm as ever. So he reaches out, picks up one of the quilts, and rises.

Fenris blinks in surprise as Hawke shakes the quilt out and gently lays it over him. “Hawke—it’s all right, I don’t need—“

“I saw you all curled up earlier.” Preserving body heat, he thinks, although he does not say it. “It’s only gotten colder. There’s no reason not to throw on some extra covers, Maker knows this house has plenty.”

Fenris’s eyes flick to the floor. “You…you don’t have to do this.”

Hawke grins. “You’ve seen how I fuss over people. I can’t exactly help it.”

“I…thank you, Hawke.”

“My pleasure.” He settles back down in his makeshift bed. “Sleep well.”

——

When Hawke wakes up again, light is streaming bright through the curtain and Fenris is still asleep.

Not curled up in a little ball anymore—the low rise of his body is lain out loosely across the mattress. He’s got the covers tucked up under his chin, and he looks more at peace than Hawke’s ever seen him.

The sight warms Hawke’s heart.

He just sits amongst his pillows for a moment. There’s something striking about Fenris—besides the white hair, besides the glowing tattoos, besides his remarkable skill in combat. Hawke has seen the edges of it, the hints and shadows that glimmer through every now and then. There’s an extraordinary want in him—not just for the death of his master, that’s only a single facet. Hawke doesn’t know what it’s for, really. But it’s buried beneath his history, beneath the deferential manner and the constant caution, the guilt that attaches itself to any kindness he is shown or small pleasure he indulges in.

Although he certainly doesn’t look guilty now. He looks fine. He looks happy.

Now the challenging part—to keep him dozing while sneaking out of the room. But Hawke is very good at sneaking. He eases himself out of the quilts, out of the pillows, and to his feet with only the tiniest amount of rustling.

Fenris sleeps on, oblivious.

Hawke slips out the door and creeps down the stairs. Fenris might wake to the sounds of activity in the kitchen, but at least this grants him a few more minutes of peace.

Indeed, Hawke’s only been at the skillet a couple of minutes when Fenris appears in the kitchen. Through the bleariness his expression is faintly horrified. “You’re—you’re making breakfast.”

Hawke grins. “I don’t know what Bethany’s told you, but I’m not that bad a cook.”

“No, you’re—you’re a guest in my home. I should be the one doing this.”

Oh. Right. Hawke shrugs. “I didn’t want to wake you up. Anyway, I like making omelettes, I swear to the Maker I do. I’m always trying out different ingredients or techniques. Today we’ve got ham, onions, and chèvre.” He motions with the spatula. “Here, sit down. Should be done soon.”

So Fenris sits at the table, hands folded. Hawke glances over. “How d’you feel?”

“I…I do not know. Strange,” Fenris mutters.

“Good strange or bad strange?”

“Good, I suppose,” he admits.

Hawke wonders if Fenris has ever felt rested in his life. He prods at the skillet thoughtfully.

The omelettes are quite good—Hawke files this combination of ingredients away in his mind for the future. Fenris even compliments him, which sets off a little flutter of delight in his chest. Hawke, of course, finishes first, but he goes to pour himself another cup of tea, and tops Fenris’s off as well.

Fenris, staring hard at his cup, appears to be steeling himself. “Hawke.”

“Hm?”

“I am sorry if I seem reluctant to accept your kindness. Rest assured that I am indeed grateful, for all that you’ve done for me. I am simply…unused to this.”

Hawke sets the teapot back down. “You don’t need to worry about the gratitude half of it. You’re my friend, that’s all. Of course I like doing nice things for you.”

Fenris half-smiles, bemused. “Your friend?”

“Of course! We’ve shopped for clothes and food together. I’ve beaten you at cards. You saved my life just last week—never even saw that archer until after you cut him down.” Hawke shrugs. “That’s got to make us friends, doesn’t it?”

“I’m afraid I cannot answer that question. This is another area in which I have little experience.”

“Then I can try and answer it, at least,” Hawke replies. “I’d like to be your friend, if you’ll have me.”

“I—I think I would like that.”

“Well, I’m glad we’ve come to an agreement.” Hawke grins. “Now unfortunately, I think I have to run—might have stayed in bed a bit later than I meant to, got to run back to Lowtown to meet with that client—“

Fenris snorts. “And after you tried so hard to sell me on the idea of sleeping in—“

“Listen, it is still a very enjoyable activity, and one I highly recommend, just, well, not on days when you’re an hour’s walk away from where your appointment’s supposed to be.” He heads for the main hall, pauses in the doorway. “But I’m still coming back this evening to help you get this place in order!”

Fenris smiles. “I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

Aveline goes past Fenris into the atrium. He twists, peering around the back of his chair.

Saravh stands in the atrium, her face flushed red, tears glimmering in her eyes. There’s a decided brownish cast to her clothes that wasn’t there this morning, and her bag is gone. “I fell in the bay,” she says quietly. “And I—I lost my bag in the water. I’m really sorry—“

“Don’t be sorry, it’s just books. We can get you some new ones. Really, it’s all right.” Aveline kneels and squeezes Saravh’s shoulders. “Now what d’you say we get you washed up? I can’t imagine that water was very clean.”

Saravh sniffles, scrubs at her eyes, and nods.

Hawke watches the two of them go upstairs. “Hm.”

Fenris knows that tone. “What is it?”

“There’s something she’s not saying.” Hawke glances over his shoulder. “If she just fell in the bay, she’d be frustrated, but not ashamed. And she’s ashamed.”

“Couldn’t it be because Aveline will have to go out and buy new books for her?”

“Don’t think so. Aveline makes plenty enough to absorb the cost of books.” Hawke thinks for a moment, then turns. “Could you talk to her about it?”

“Me?”

“You are her favorite uncle.”

“I—what?”

“Really. She’s smart, she can tell my trustworthiness is limited. But you she trusts.”

She is rather perceptive. Fenris nods. “All right. I’ll speak with her after supper.”

Supper is just the four of them, Donnic being out on an evening shift. Hawke makes gentle conversation, and Saravh rises to the occasion once or twice, but the red flush of shame lingers in her cheeks. Aveline can tell something’s wrong by now—her concern shows through, although her efforts at comfort fall flat; Saravh counters ably with “I’m fine, Mum, really, don’t worry about it.”

Fenris catches Aveline’s eye and gives her a slight nod. So she stops asking questions, allowing Hawke to guide the conversation to more trivial topics.

Fenris waits until later, until Saravh’s ready to head upstairs, before he approaches her. “May I speak with you a moment?”

She gazes up at him, sullen and forlorn; but then she nods, and he follows her into her room, where she flops down on the bed, pulling her pillow under her head.

Fenris sits on the edge of the bed. “What happened today?” he asks.

Saravh shrugs with one shoulder. “It’s all right, I can deal with it on my own,” she mumbles.

Fenris reaches out and rests a hand on her knee. “Not an accident, then?”

She heaves a frustrated sigh and flips over onto her other side. “It was just some boys. They were being mean to another boy.”

Ah. “And you intervened.”

She nods.

“And they pushed you in the water.”

“Well—they threw my bag in,” she says quietly. “Off the other side of the dock. I tried to go after it but they pushed me back and I fell off the edge into the water.”

Fenris exhales. Petty cruelties seem to him sometimes even worse than those with purpose. “Who were these children?”

“Just some boys from the College.”

“How old were they?”

“Dunno,” she says. “Fifteen, maybe?”

Fenris stares. “Fifteen? You’re ten. They pushed you anyway?”

She’s silent for a moment. “I told them I was thirteen.”

Fenris presses a hand to his forehead. “Of course you did.”

She doesn’t reply.

“You need help. I will take care of this,” Fenris tells her

“I don’t! It’s just some stupid kids—“

“Who will be targeting you now. Fighting back will only bring further retaliation. I can put an end to these confrontations.”

She sits straight up. “I don’t need anyone else to do things for me!”

“And I am doing it regardless.” He stands. “I will see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Fenris, I don’t need your help!”

He pauses in the doorway, smiling at the floor. Then he looks over his shoulder. “You sound like Hawke. Ask him how things have gone when he’s refused to let me help him.”

“Just go away!” She flops down again and pulls the covers over herself.

Not a permanent injury, Fenris thinks. They will be back to normal as soon as this is over. He leaves her, shutting the door behind him.

——

In the afternoon he goes down to the docks and stands with the ship-watchers.

He is not armed, nor in armor; his only protection is a light jacket against the cool breeze off the Waking Sea. His hair is tied back—a hasty job, and a few wayward strands of white float across his face, but he hasn’t a mind to retie it. He waits there for a time, surveying the vessels coming into the harbor. He knows Tevinter warships, but trading vessels are unfamiliar to him, especially the variety here—the structures and styles, the number of sails, the different flags they’re flying. Most of the ship-watchers give him a wide berth, but perhaps fifteen minutes into his vigil a wizened old woman clutching a tarnished telescope approaches and says she hasn’t seen him there before. He introduces himself, and they converse for a time, she happily answering his questions and even lending him her telescope for better viewing.

Then Fenris spots the ferry embarking from the Gallows, its white sails emblazoned with the symbol of the College of Enchanters. He thanks the woman and bids her farewell, heading to the ferry dock.

The schooner slows as it approaches. A pair of dinghies row out to meet it, and the sailors throw down heavy lines. Students of the College are clustered on the deck, children and adults both. As the ship draws closer, Fenris scans for Saravh, for her bushy black hair.

The gangway thuds onto the dock, and passengers begin to disembark. Fenris waits onshore, still scanning. At last he spots her, clustered with three other people who cage her in and jostle her as she walks. Three boys. As the crowd thins, they start pushing her toward the edge of the dock. She clutches her bag close to her chest.

Fenris slips between the stream of people and approaches.

They’re shoving her now, although she’s planted herself in front of one of the posts that rise from the water to keep herself from falling in the bay. Fenris stops a few feet behind the boys. “Good afternoon,” he says loudly.

Saravh glares at him, but the boys turn. The biggest one speaks up—must be the leader. “What d’you want, knife-ear?”

Fenris raises an eyebrow. The presumptuousness of humans. “I heard you’ve been bothering some of the other students. I advise you to desist.”

“Oh yeah?” the boy sneers. “What makes you think I give a nug’s ass what you say?”

“I do not abide cruelty. Especially when it is inflicted on those who cannot defend themselves.”

Saravh’s glare hardens further at that. The boy guffaws. “Come on, we’re all mages here. ‘Course we can defend ourselves.” He raises his hands.

A tower of flame shoots up from the wooden slats in front of Fenris. It crackles sharply, heat pouring off of it. Fenris narrows his eyes. If that’s how this child would like handle the situation, then Fenris will answer in kind. His markings flare, and he takes a step forward.

The flames roar around him. But the lyrium rises from his skin like swells on the ocean, consuming the magic, and he stands untouched in the center of the tower and folds his arms. The boy gapes, terror blooming on his face. Behind him his companions have already begun to edge away.

“As I said earlier,” Fenris tells him, “I advise you to desist. If you do not, I will hear of it, and I will be back. Is that clear?”

The boy gives a jerky nod, shuffles sideways, and flees down the dock. The flames disappear. Fenris inspects himself. The jacket is singed. Venhedis. He had liked this one.

“You are such a show-off. Just like Uncle Hawke.”

He smiles at Saravh. “It worked well enough.”

She glares a moment more, but then a smile breaks on her face as well. “Yeah, all right.”

“In the future, let me recommend you do not pick fights with mages five years older than you.”

“But what if I have to?” she asks urgently.

You don’t have to. But of course she does. She is Aveline’s daughter, after all, and even if the relationship is not one of blood she still carries the exact same intolerance for injustice. Fenris sighs. “You don’t have to take them on yourself. I suggest making powerful friends.”

“Like you.”

He sighs quietly. “I’m not in Kirkwall all the time.”

Saravh thinks about it a moment, then nods. “Fine. I’ll be smarter about it.”

“Good.”

He holds out his hand, and she takes it. Together they head for the great stone stairs.

Chapter Text

Fenris folds his arms and silently curses Hawke again for being late.

“So striking!” Half of the woman’s face is obscured by a mask in mother-of-pearl, but beneath its lower edge her fuschia-painted lips are split in a wide smile. “Really, you could do so much more with it. No need to simply tie it up like this.” She reaches out and runs her fingers through his ponytail.

Fenris flinches but does not pull away. He is here, waiting for Hawke, because the two of them need allies and have none outside of Kirkwall. Now that Hawke is out of hiding, his particularly decisive brand of solving problems has been gathering notice—as well as calls for sanction.

Sanctions, of course, will only exacerbate the problem. Hawke does not take well to being leashed. They need a buffer, preferably one both influential and rich—in other words, Orlesian. So close to a dozen interested parties are gathered this morning in Skyhold’s most lavish sitting room, the tables set with flutes of sparkling wine and plates of madeleines. And he and Hawke are to be interviewed, judged to see whether or not they’re worth the risk.

But Hawke is late.

The nobles’ eyes cling to Fenris like a film of grease. He does not want to be some rare treasure, some exotic marvel that provokes hungry stares and demanding touches.  But he cannot argue or pull away or tell them to stop. He must ingratiate himself. He will not be the reason these nobles turn their backs, not when he and Hawke need help so urgently.

“I read Messere Tethras’s book.” A man, his mask rimmed with bronze-white feathers. “Is it true your tattoos cover your entire body?”

“Yes,” Fenris mumbles.

A series of delighted gasps from the half-dozen people crowding him against the wall. Someone asks, “Can we see?”

Fenris folds his arms tighter around his chest and tries to figure out how to respond—

“Oh, we don’t need you to strip naked or anything.” The woman with the pearl mask laughs lightly. “Just a little peek. Please, won’t you show us?”

He had worn gloves for the specific purpose of hiding his markings from the nobles; but with reluctance he removes one of them, displaying his hand.

“How exquisite.” The woman takes hold of his wrist—his muscles tensing, but hemust not pull away, must remain acceptable, attractive to these people. She turns his hand over, uncurling his fingers. “And they give you—abilities?”

Venhedis. “Yes.” He prays they do not ask him to demonstrate.

“Are they…” She traces one. “…sensitive?”

He nearly jerks away at that but manages to remain still—not because they’re sensitive, they haven’t been since that cursed Tevinter woman altered them; but still the revulsion rises in his chest like bile. Another noble chuckles, a man whose mask is studded with opals. “Please, Lady Marechal, you know he is spoken for.”

“Oh, yes, not to worry, I know you belong to our beloved Champion—“

“It’s not right, if you ask me.”

A third man, although he isn’t one of those walling Fenris in. Instead he stands further back, near the window. “What isn’t right?” Lady Marechal asks.

“The Champion, together with a…” He waves his hand. “Take your pick. An elf. A sellsword. A slave.”

Yet another voice, elderly. “Oh, Guillemin, you ass.”

But Fenris is not so piqued. This, he thinks, might be preferable to how these other people were looking at him.

“Come now, Ser Hawke is the Champion of Kirkwall. That is not just a series of words, that’s a title. This pairing is just…a shame. A waste.” Guillemin gestures at Fenris. “What could a slave contribute? He’s a ball and chain, if you ask me. A pretty one, but the fact remains.”

Everyone seems to realize that Hawke is standing silent in the doorway about a split-second before Guillemin realizes it. He spins to find Hawke already advancing; with a choked, startled noise he stumbles backwards. But Hawke does not stop, and Guillemin continues retreating until his back hits the wall. Hawke halts mere inches away.

He is not touching Guillemin but towers over him, his enormous frame casting a dim shadow even in the sunlit room. There's a lurch in Fenris's gut as he finds he cannot tell what Hawke will do next. Hawke is out of place here, among this flock of peacocks, he dark and drab and dragging behind him a thousand corpses or more, ten years' worth of casualties. The nobles are protected by their propriety but Hawke is inside the cage now and does not stand much on ceremony. He has knives at his belt, Fenris notices, as he always does, and why ever would he leave them behind?

A second of silence. Around Fenris the nobles' mouths beneath their masks are frozen and drawn in terror.

Then, in a low voice, Hawke says, “Don’t talk about Fenris like that.”

Guillemin swallows audibly and nods.

Hawke jerks his head. “Get out. Don’t let me see you again while I’m here.”

Cowering, Guillemin ducks around him and flees from the room.

Hawke turns. “The rest of you, pawing at him. Leave now.”

A burst of nettled mumbling. But the gaggle of nobles begins to trickle away until at last they’ve all departed and Fenris, uncaged, can breathe again.

Still, this is hardly an ideal result. “Hawke.”

“Hm?” Hawke comes over and squeezes his arm gently, kissing him on the forehead.

“You were supposed to make friends of these people. Instead you’ve made enemies of all of them.”

“Yes, well, they were—“

“Not all.”

The same elderly voice that berated Guillemin earlier. Fenris looks up. An older woman, sitting in the corner. “Lady Deschamps.” She rises. “I must admit my holdings are not the most impressive of the company you have just dismissed, but I am at your disposal, should you need me. I’ve seen quite enough to decide that you’re the sort of man who deserves my support.” She makes a shallow curtsy. “There are in fact a few things more important than status. I’ll leave you two be for now, but I will be at Skyhold until the end of the week. Good morning, Ser Hawke. Ser Fenris.”

Then she leaves them alone.

Hawke pulls Fenris into his chest. “You’re important.”

Fenris embraces him, holding the back of his shirt. “Thank you for rescuing me.”

“You don’t have to just grin and bear it. You can toss them out into the rosebushes if they’re bothering you.”

“As I mentioned a moment ago, you were supposed to make allies.”

“If they treat you like that, then they’re no allies of mine.”

Fenris sighs. “If we’re thrown in chains tomorrow, I’m blaming you.”

“Oh, please. Chains can’t hold either of us.”

“That is not the point.”

“I’m sorry.” Hawke kisses his hair. “But I’m not going to let people treat you like that. Ever. I don’t care who they are.”

“I’m glad,” Fenris mumbles, yielding at last.

“You know…there is one good thing that came out of this.”

He looks up. “Lady Deschamps?”

“All right. Two good things.” Hawke nods at the table. “That’s ten peoples’ worth of madeleines, all for us.”

Fenris smiles. “Hawke, I love you.”

“I love you too.” Hawke steps back, then takes his hand and guides him toward the table. “Almost as much as I love madeleines.”

He sits on the divan and plucks three from the platter. Fenris sits next to him and leans into his side, feeling in that moment like the luckiest man in the world.

Chapter Text

“I am going to work, Donnic, you know as well as I do this damned city’s going to fall apart without me—“

“Aveline, please, you’re going to be miserable—“

“It doesn’t—“ She pauses, then lets out an enormous sneeze into the crook of her elbow. “—doesn’t matter how miserable I am, someone’s got to make sure everything's running smoothly!”

“That’s why you’ve got lieutenants.” Donnic squeezes her arm, subtly attempting to position himself between her and the bedroom door. “They can handle things for one day. Just one day.”

Aveline glares, the effect both diminished and bolstered by her bloodshot eyes. “One day is plenty of time for this entire bloody city to go crumbling into the sea. It’s not that bad, Donnic, it’s only—ah—“ Another deafening sneeze into her elbow. “—only the damned cat.”

The cat. Saravh brought it home yesterday, a skinny grey tabby that was friendly and docile and didn’t claw any of the furniture. Unfortunately, when Aveline got home it only took a few minutes for her to turn into a coughing, sneezing, headache-y mess.

She’s allergic. Donnic hadn’t known. He persuaded Saravh, with difficulty, to evict the cat. It sat meowing at their door for hours into the evening while he and Saravh cleaned the house. It was tough work, but they did it; and then despite it all Aveline woke up this morning again with her eyes puffed up and her nose leaking onto the pillow and sneezing up a storm. Apparently the cleaning was not thorough enough. Donnic hopes very much that she’ll listen to him and rest, although he suspects his efforts will not be sufficient to stop her. “How about the morning?” he offers, desperate. “Just take the morning off. If you’re better in the afternoon, then you can go to work. I’ll start cleaning again, maybe it’ll help.”

Aveline sniffles and wipes her nose on her sleeve. She battles with herself a moment; then she exhales with a cough. “All right. Fine.”

Donnic sags in relief. “Good. Excellent.”

“Is Mum sick again?”

A quiet voice. Donnic turns. Saravh is peering around the threshold, eyes wide. “It’s all right, sweetheart—“ Aveline starts, only to sneeze again.

So Donnic goes and crouches in front of Saravh. “Yes, but I think she’ll be better very soon.”

Saravh shrinks back a little and nods.

There’s a great honking noise from behind him. Donnic starts, spinning around. But it’s only Aveline, blowing her nose. “Oh, don’t mind me,” she mumbles from behind her handkerchief. Right. Handkerchiefs. They’re going to need a few more of those.

From downstairs there’s a firm knock.

Donnic goes to get it, and when he opens the front door Hawke stands there beaming at him, holding a brown paper bag. He lifts it. “I brought plum tarts!”

“Oh! Come in. Er—Aveline’s a bit under the weather this morning.” He steps back.

“Under the weather?” Fenris follows Hawke inside. “Is it serious?”

“No, it’s just Saravh brought a cat in yesterday, and Aveline’s allergic. We got rid of the cat and cleaned the house, but—“

A thunderous sneeze from the second floor. Donnic sighs. “—well. She’s not quite better yet. I’m going to try cleaning again today.”

Fenris stops. “Got—got rid of the cat?”

“What? No!” Donnic scrambles to clarify. “We had to put it back out on the streets, that’s all.”

“Oh. I—of course. Foolish of me to think otherwise.”

Saravh troops down the stairs. “Uncle Hawke!” She runs up to him and hugs him around the middle.

“Good to see you too.” He shakes the bag. “Now what d’you say we bring these up to your mum?”

“Hm.” Fenris goes to the closet and comes out with a fistful of rags.

Donnic lurches forward. “No, you don’t have to—“

“Donnic, I don’t mind. I recommend you follow Hawke, I imagine leaving him alone with Aveline can’t be good for her health.”

“Oh, Maker,” Donnic mutters, and jogs upstairs.

He hears Hawke through the open door of their room. “—new Carta leader’s actually quite agreeable, Varric tells me. The last one was a complete ass—sorry, a ninny, a complete ninny—but this one I think we can work with—“

As Donnic enters the room he finds Hawke and Saravh sitting on the floor with their plum tarts, staring up at Aveline as she struggles out of bed. “Donnic, I am going to work. Right now.”

Blast. Donnic grabs her arm as her foot catches on the blanket. “You know the Carta only work when it’s dark out, they won’t ruin the city in a few hours—“

“No, but Varric will!” she retorts.

It’s time for a change of subject. “Hawke!” Donnic suggests brightly. “Why don’t you go put the kettle on? Saravh, maybe you could choose the tea.”

The two of them rise and slink out of the room, leaving the bag of pastries. Aveline sinks back down to the bed, holding her head. “Oh, Maker. I’m sorry for snapping at you. Sickness isn’t good for my temper.”

Donnic sits beside her and kisses her cheek. “It’s all right.”

A noise of disgust. “I can’t believe you’re still kissing me when I’m like this.” She reaches for another handkerchief and blows her nose again. “Really, you don’t—ah.” Another sneeze. “Don’t have to force yourself.”

“I’m not forcing myself. I love you just as much no matter how scary your eyes look are or how much snot you’ve got dripping out of you.” He kisses her cheek again.

She coughs out a laugh. “You’re supposed to tell me I’m just as beautiful as ever.”

“Oh. Er—do you want me to try again?”

“No, I like your way better.” She leans against him, resting her head on his shoulder.

They sit like that for a moment, even when Aveline sneezes again. Donnic eyes the dwindling pile of handkerchiefs with mild concern. Then Aveline shifts, lying back against her pile of pillows, and Donnic holds her hand and strokes her hair.

“I’m sorry for being such a mule,” she mumbles.

Donnic kisses her fingers. “I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

It isn’t long before Saravh enters, bearing a tea tray. “It’s mint,” she says quietly. “I hope it helps.”

“That’s perfect.” Donnic sets the tray down on the night table. “Where’s Hawke?”

“He said he was going to get more handkerchiefs.”

An astute man. “Good.” He turns to Aveline. “We’ll let you get some rest. There’s cleaning to be done.”

Aveline sniffles. “Thank you.”

Fenris is hard at work downstairs, stripping the covers off of pillows and piling them in the corner. Saravh picks up a wet rag and begins wiping down the bookshelves—at least those she can reach—while Donnic gets started on the kitchen. Hawke appears a little later with an armful of brand-new handkerchiefs, and he goes to deposit them by Aveline’s bed. When he comes back down he picks up a rag of his own and wipes the shelves that are above Saravh’s head.

When Donnic’s done with the kitchen he goes to help the others. Fenris stands, wiping his forehead. “I’ll get started upstairs.”

“Wait—“ Saravh whips around. “Er—can I help?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Yes, of course.”

“All right! I’ll do my room!” She dashes up the steps.

Fenris pauses, then follows her. Donnic watches them go, faintly mystified; then he picks up his rag again.

But he’s only been at the mantle for a minute before Fenris calls down, “Donnic, I think Saravh would like to speak with you.”

Hopefully to let him in on why she’s been so timid all morning, not to mention why she was so eager to clean her room—a first, for her. At the top of the stairs Fenris nods at her closed door. “I think I’ve discovered the source of Aveline’s misery.”

So Donnic slips inside. Fenris comes too, and shuts the door behind them.

Saravh is sitting on the bed, her eyes glimmering. In her arms she’s clutching the grey tabby they put out yesterday evening. She watches Donnic with a mixture of trepidation and terror; then she bursts into tears.

“Oh, sweetheart—“ Donnic sits down on the bed and hugs her. “Did you let the cat in again last night? And you hid it in your room?”

Saravh nods, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. “I just couldn’t—“ She sobs. “I just couldn’t leave her, what if she got—attacked by a dog, or what if someone threw rocks at her, or what if she starved—“

She—right. They did determine the cat was a girl. Donnic heaves a sigh. “I know you don’t want her to get hurt, but you’ve seen what being around cats does to your mother. We just—we can’t keep her here.”

Saravh begins bawling again. Donnic hugs her tighter. He doesn’t remember being eight years old, but he guesses he’d be crying too. Then Saravh wriggles away from him and hops off the bed. “You could take her! You could protect her!” She goes up to Fenris and presses the cat into his arms.

Oh dear. Donnic is quick to cut in. “Saravh, you’re not really supposed to just ask—“

“No, we—we can take her.”

Donnic halts.

Fenris holds the cat curled up against his chest. She wriggles, making a small squeak as she resettles herself. But she seems perfectly content to be held. Fenris gazes down at her, tentatively scratching her neck. “Although…I will have to make sure Hawke is all right with it.”

Saravh wraps her arms around him and buries her teary face in his stomach.

Donnic lets out a sigh of relief. “Saravh, did you give the cat a name?”

Saravh shakes her head no.

“Well, then.” He looks up at Fenris. “Have you got any ideas?”

“Ellen,” Fenris says.

Donnic pauses. “Er—Ellen?”

“Yes. Is there something wrong with it?”

“No! Not at all. Listen, why don’t you make sure Saravh gets a good scrubbing-down before she goes anywhere near Aveline? If she slept the night with the cat in here…”

“I will see it done.”

There’s a honking noise from across the hall. Donnic rises, brushing the cat hair off his trousers.

Aveline blinks blearily at him when he enters. “I heard most of that.”

“Ah.” The walls are rather thin. “Sorry. I should have talked with her more about it yesterday evening.”

“Oh, don’t worry. At least we’ve gotten to the bottom of it.” She gestures at the brown paper bag. “Could you pass me a plum tart?”

Donnic takes one too, and they sit together on the bed, each taking a brand new handkerchief to catch the crumbs. Halfway through her tart Aveline sighs. “I don’t think I’m going in to work this afternoon.”

Donnic hardly dares to believe it. “Aveline. I’m so proud of you.”

She snorts and hits him with a pillow. He laughs, shielding himself with one arm, protecting his precious pastry.

“Oh, hang on a moment.” She reaches out and combs her fingers through one of his sideburns, mussed by the pillow. He captures her hand and kisses it.

She starts to heave a sigh and sneezes again in the middle of it. Wiping her nose on yet another handkerchief, she mumbles, “Thank you for convincing me not to go in.”

Donnic nods. “Let me emphasize that I am happy to do so again anytime.”

“Hm.” She tosses the handkerchief into the pile of its fallen comrades. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Donnic leans forward and kisses her. “Snot and all.”

Chapter Text

“Mm—“

Fenris leans back into Hawke’s chest, squeezing his eyes shut. His cheeks are flushed with heat, and it’s not just from the flames crackling in the fireplace. Hawke’s arm wraps a little tighter around his chest as the other hand works inside Fenris’s trousers, stroking his vulva, fingers gliding easily over his soaked folds. “H-hawke—“ Fenris grinds against him, seeking the pressure—he gasps, rocking into Hawke’s palm—the pressure against his clit that shoots straight into his core—

Hawke cups him, massaging his vulva. “I love you,” he murmurs.

“Nn—I—I love you—“ Fenris’s hips are up off the divan by now, rolling against Hawke’s hand.

Hawke kisses his ear. “Can you get your trousers off?”

Then his hand withdraws, and Fenris sags, twisting, holding his face and kissing him.

Hawke grabs his waist and pulls him closer until they’re grinding into each other, overtaken by the closeness, the lust driving them both to a frenzy. Fenris, frantic with want, reaches between their bodies to grasp at—

Hawke breaks away. “Mmh. Shit. Please get your trousers off, please.”

So Fenris sits back, containing his disappointment, and undoes his laces. Hawke kneels on the carpet and helps him slip the trousers off of his ankles, Fenris so eager he nearly knees Hawke in the head, and a quick smile passes between them, a sliver of clarity in this fevered evening.

In the orange light Hawke’s eyes shine with need. He drags Fenris’s underclothes down and tosses them aside, only just missing the fireplace. Fenris gropes at the embroidered fabric of the cushions, so sensitive that even the fire-warmed air against his exposed cunt is almost too much right now. Hawke grabs his thighs and yanks him closer to the edge of the divan, and he wastes no time pressing his mouth to Fenris’s cunt.

Fenris only half-manages to swallow the cry that breaks out of him, so it comes out soft and stuttered, almost delicate—absurd, really, compared to the shattering flood of pleasure radiating from between his legs as Hawke laps at his cunt. He tries to breathe—Bodahn is asleep somewhere, it would not do to be heard—but it’s hard, because Hawke is busy taking him apart. With a fervor split halfway between devotion and hunger, he sucks at Fenris’s labia, tongue laving over his folds. “Fuck, you’re wet.” His voice is harsh and rough, his breath hot. “Fuck, you’re so wet.”

Fenris whimpers and nods, though Hawke is not looking at him, is once more bent to the task at hand. He wraps his arms around Fenris’s thighs and hauls them up onto his shoulders, his face buried in Fenris’s cunt.

It’s too much, almost, but at the same time it isn’t enough and Fenris wants more of it, wants Hawke to break him open in such a way that when they lie together afterwards he will feel as if Hawke is filling in the cracks and mending him, making him whole again. Hawke’s hands trace the dips at his hip bones and flatten against his stomach. He exhales, and the heat of his breath makes Fenris press a hand to his mouth to muffle another moan.

Then his tongue splits Fenris’s folds and pushes into his entrance, and Fenris cannot hold back the guttural sound he makes low in his throat. “Hawke, please, Hawke,” he mumbles, not knowing what he’s begging for. Hawke’s tongue circles his entrance, and Fenris rolls his hips unconsciously, fucking against Hawke’s mouth. Everything around him grows hazy, and his eyes flutter shut to close it all out. The crackle of the flames, the flicker of light, the shadows in the corners of the room, all of it falls away. His body slumps on the rough fabric of the divan, his shirt bunched up at his back; the air is warm against his skin, the heat seeping into him and soothing the strength from his muscles. Hawke’s beard is wiry but not unpleasant against his thighs, and still Hawke’s tongue licks broad strokes over his soft folds, now and then pausing to tease his entrance with agile little flickers, the pleasure building to a wave that crests over him all at once. Under Hawke’s palms his stomach tenses, and his legs shudder, propped up to either side of Hawke’s head—

“Fingers,” he gasps. “I—nnh—I need—”

Hawke doesn’t bother to break away, only rises to lock his lips around Fenris’s clit before slipping two fingers into him.

Fenris writhes, toes curling, as he’s penetrated at last. “Please, Hawke, please,” Little more than a whisper, but the message gets through, and Hawke plunges in and out of him with no thought spared for gentleness. The time for gentleness is long past. He can hear the faintly obscene sounds of his cunt being fucked—wet, so wet, he was wet the minute he walked in here and saw Hawke lain out lazily on the divan, eyes dancing with mischief. Fenris has to swallow another cry as Hawke sucks on his clit, his lips locked tight around it. Just as Fenris starts shaking his head in confused protest (too much, it’s too much for him to endure), Hawke relents, instead pressing his broad tongue to Fenris’s clit and simply keeping it there. Fenris tips his head back, and he lifts his hips again, grinding on Hawke’s tongue, meeting his thrusts.

Somehow he manages to open his eyes, even as heat wells, pools, spills over at the juncture of his thighs, washes through him to the tips of his fingers in a great swell that demands release—somehow he manages to open his eyes and find Hawke below him, gazing up with such tenderness and reverence as Fenris can hardly believe. How did he end up here? With Hawke, with Rowan Hawke, whom he has loved for years, and who (somehow) loves him back just as strongly?

Hawke makes a muffled, needy sound, his lips closing around Fenris’s clit but not sucking again (a small mercy). His fingers hook, and Fenris does cry out this time as Hawke strokes that spot deep inside that always makes a mess of him. The swell of pleasure turns into a surge that sweeps away everything else in its path—everything besides Hawke’s clever fingers stretching his inner walls, the deft tongue circling his throbbing clit. “Hawke,” Fenris breathes. “Make me come, please make me come—“

Even before he’s finished saying it Hawke’s tongue is lapping at Fenris’s clit, dragging over the exposed tip with quick, eager strokes. It’s worked each time before as it does now, the heat and friction making Fenris shout and arch up off the divan. Hawke’s fingers are still curled against that spot, and he thrusts into Fenris furiously, not so much tipping him over the edge as pitching him off of it.

So Fenris falls.

His legs spasm, and he digs his heels into Hawke’s back, fucking against his face and fingers with desperate rolls of his hips. His cunt contracts, and each thrust against his tight inner walls generates another wave of pleasure to rise up and break over him. He’s aware that he’s moaning, a defeated sound from low in his throat, a plea he cannot shape into words. He can feel the muscles in his stomach tensing under Hawke’s hand. At last his cunt releases Hawke’s fingers, only to clench around them again, and still they keep plunging into him, Hawke as relentless here as he is on the battlefield. Fenris’s moan tilts off into a soft, broken cry as he tries to remember how to draw breath. He’s still coming, his swollen clit pulsing against Hawke’s tongue. At last the clenching of his cunt begins to trail off—yet it continues to contract until the pleasure is too much to endure and Fenris is shaking his head and begging “Please, Hawke, I can’t, I can’t anymore, please—“

Hawke stops. His mouth is still locked to Fenris’s cunt as he murmurs, “I love you.”

“Nnh.” Fenris nods weakly in response.

Hawke kisses his clit one more time before sitting back, sliding his fingers out with care. Then he climbs onto the divan and wraps Fenris in his arms, lying them both down.

Fenris wants to say something—that was incredible, I love you, I’ll repay you in a moment—but all he can manage is to drag himself a little higher on Hawke’s chest and kiss his neck, his shoulder, his collarbone, the base of his throat.

Hawke lets out a quiet laugh. “You’re very affectionate.”

“Mm. I love you.” Fenris reaches up to run his fingers through Hawke’s hair.

“I love you too.”

Hawke starts to rub his back, but Fenris rolls on his side and undoes the buttons on his shirt, stripping it off and tossing it to the floor. Then he rolls onto his front again. This time when Hawke rubs his back he can feel the rough callouses running over his own smooth skin, and he shivers a little, burying his face in Hawke’s chest.

“You’re perfect,” Hawke whispers, stroking Fenris’s hair. “That was perfect.”

Fenris nods into Hawke’s shirt. He feels now as if all of his defenses have been carefully taken down, leaving him pliant and vulnerable. But his body contours with Hawke’s as if they were meant to fit together, with no sharp edges or raised seams. As if he belongs here, like this, with Hawke. He lets out a long breath, closing his eyes. The warmth of the fire is soothing on his exposed skin.

“Are you falling asleep naked on top of me?”

“Maybe,” Fenris mutters. “I apologize.”

“No, Fenris, don’t apologize, this is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me. Please fall asleep naked on top of me.”

Fenris smiles. “Your wish is my command.”

The hand that isn’t rubbing his back reaches down to cup his ass. That also feels nice. Fenris kisses Hawke’s neck one more time, then settles again on his shoulder and lets the crackle of flames send him off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“No.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“No.”

“Look at this.” Hawke kicks Meredith’s desk. “Look how sturdy it is. No more mishaps like what happened at the barracks.”

“Do you have a single ounce of self-preservation, or has all of it been replaced by an inexhaustible desire to fuck me?”

Hawke cringes. “Er—most of it, to be honest.”

Fenris presses a hand to his forehead. “Let us hope your libidinous eye is not drawn too readily to my martial forms, else I fear for our fortunes in battle.”

“Mm. You are rather…athletic.”

“I cannot believe we have survived this long,” Fenris mutters.

“And, I might venture to say…” Hawke draws closer, his hands settling at Fenris’s hips. “…lithe.”

“You do realize that whether or not Meredith escalates her campaign to rule Kirkwall rests almost entirely in your hands? Champion?”

Hawke groans, then leans in to kiss Fenris’s ear. “You are killing the mood.”

“Good!”

“Are you sure? Can you really say you don’t want me to toss you down on this desk and fuck you until it cracks beneath us?”

“Yes, I can.”

Hawke falters. “Well—how about it I just sit you up on it and go down on you instead? Probably keep the desk a lot neater that way—“

“No.”

Hawke whines. “Please. It’s been so long.”

“We slept together the night before last.”

“It’s been so long!”

“Here.” Fenris holds Hawke’s face and kisses him. “How about I promise to make it up to you later? Ardently.”

Hawke grins. “I like the sound of that.”

——

“What’s the matter?” Fenris's hands are planted on the wall, caging Hawke in. “I thought you wanted to fuck me.”

Hawke tries very hard to coax down his burgeoning erection. He makes little progress. “I didn’t mean like this!”

“Mm.” Fenris murmurs into his neck. “What’s wrong? You’re afraid of getting caught?”

“Yes!”

Fenris runs his fingers through Hawke’s hair and then grasps it, tilting his head back. “Why? We’ve been caught before.”

“Yes, but not by Anders! Ah—“ Hawke gasps, as Fenris’s lips trail up his throat. “And—and definitely not in his clinic!”

“Then would it not be wise…” Fenris grinds—actually grinds on Hawke’s thigh. “…to do this quickly, before he returns?”

Hawke discovers that Fenris’s leg is rubbing up against his crotch, which very much does not help with the erection, or at least not in the way Hawke would like. “Oh, Maker—we can’t, he’ll kill both of us—“

“I will defend you,” Fenris growls.

Fuck. He gives up on the erection. “Please, Fenris,” he whispers.

Fenris tilts his hips, making short, quick thrusts against Hawke’s thigh. “Ah—you know much how I like it when you beg.”

“You are such a bastard,” Hawke moans.

Then there’s the creak of a door and a strangled yell. “What are you doing?!”

“Shit,” Hawke mumbles, and grabs Fenris by the shoulders, prying him off. “Sorry, sorry—“

“In my clinic?! Andraste’s ass—“ Anders stares, aghast. “Please tell me you’ve got all your clothes on.“

“Well, now we do,” Fenris says.

“I’m going to be sick—“

“He’s joking! He’s joking. We didn’t do anything. Oh, shit.” Hawke’s just remembered the extremely obvious erection he’s sporting, and he sidles around behind Fenris.

“And you—” Anders deposits his armful of supplies on the sickbed and rushes across the room. “How could you do that in front of the cats?! You degenerates!”

There is in fact a row of no less than four cats all lined up on Anders’s desk, facing Fenris and Hawke. Hawke covers his eyes. He doesn’t think he’s ever been this mortified in his life.

Anders picks up the nearest cat, hugging it to his chest. “Now do you have any actual reason to be here, or did you just want to despoil my clinic?

“There was a reason,” Hawke mumbles. “But I’ve forgotten.”

A small mercy—the embarrassment has dampened the spirits of his overeager cock. When he grasps Fenris’s hand and hauls him out the door, he can at least walk with a gait that is bowlegged only to the mildest degree.

——

By the time they return to the estate the sun has set and dusk has begun to fall.

Hawke shuts the door, then leans back against it and sinks down to the floor. Fenris stands in front of him, arms folded. “Difficult day?”

“You are the worst person I have ever met.”

“Mm.”

Hawke glances up. “So.”

“Yes?”

“Do you still…”

“Hawke, if you don’t fuck me right now I’m going to be very upset.”

Hawke is on his feet in half a second, grabbing Fenris and kissing him hard. Fenris’s legs wrap right around his waist, and Hawke carries him through the hall and up the stairs.

Chapter Text

“What in the Void is that made of?”

Fenris glances across the table. “Stormheart. If I keep it sharp enough, it’ll cut through steel armor.”

“Mm. Still hunting slavers, then?”

“When we have the time.” He sets the blade on the table, the sheath lying across his lap.

Anders slouches in the armchair. “Don’t you ever get tired of fighting?”

Fenris smirks. “Don’t you ever get tired of healing?”

Anders grins. “Fine. Point taken.”

Fenris dips his rag into the tub of wax and rubs it over the leather. “So how are your travels, now that the College of Enchanters is starting to establish itself?”

Anders rests his chin in his hand. “It’s…it’s good. I never thought it would be like this.”

He describes his most recent journeys through eastern Orlais and Ferelden. Fenris listens, working at the sheath. It’s still strange to be making small talk with him like this; what lay between them was a wound that never quite got a chance to heal in Kirkwall, and was ripped wide open after Anders killed that mage girl below Darktown. It was still oozing blood when they both fled the city, Fenris with Hawke, Anders alone.

Nine years later, the demon Vengeance is gone and Fenris was glad to see Anders coming up the path to his and Hawke’s home, and now they’re talking like two civilized people with tea steeping in the kitchen.

“It’s weird walking around with a staff on your back and still getting smiles and friendly waves,” Anders muses. “I mean, not everyone loves me on sight, but it’s pretty amazing. Especially when Ellis comes out with the ‘we’re with the Inquisition’ line.”

Ellis. His handler, ever since he was made an agent of the Inquisition as penance for his crimes. “Well. That’s…good to hear.” Fenris places the sheath on the table and lifts the sword onto his lap. He isn’t particularly happy about the widespread level of comfort with mages that Anders describes, but he’s long accepted there’s nothing he can do about it.

“I was in Markham before I came down here. They’ve turned the Circle building into a school and library. I think that’s pretty neat,” Anders says. “Keeps the Tranquil employed. They get a lot of compassion from non-mages. I was a little afraid of that, I thought people might be…I don’t know, put off, I suppose.”

“Mm.” Fenris rubs wax into the leather-wrapped pommel. “A shame the cure has such grave side effects. At least the practice is less common now.”

No response. Fenris looks up.

Anders is staring at him stricken with horror. “The what?” he whispers.

Fenris curses himself.

How incredibly foolish to let it slip out like that. Nobody is supposed to know about the cure’s existence—certainly not Fenris, but Hawke makes it his business to know everything. Fenris shuts his eyes briefly. It must have been the small talk that lulled him into it. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

“The cure? There’s a cure? Tranquility can be reversed?”

“Anders. Forget I said anything.”

“They haven’t—who knows about this? Why haven’t I heard of it?” It’s too late, of course, Anders sitting forward in his seat, near-frantic. “How does the cure work?”

Fenris gazes at him levelly. “I am not going to tell you. Do not pursue this further.”

“Who else knows? The Divine? Why haven’t they told us?”

“Did I not mention the grave side effects? You know the Divine supports freedom for mages, she will reveal it when the time is right.”

“When the time is right? And who gets to decide that?!”

Venhedis. It’s been years but the fury is still as sharp as ever, and Fenris sees now that the sickness in it did not belong entirely to the spirit. “Not you, for one. What good, exactly, do you think you could do with this knowledge?”

“Fenris, tell me.”

“No.”

“Fenris!”

“Anders, everyone blames you for the mages starting a damned war!” Fenris flings a hand up. “You barely escaped the Inquisition trial with your life! You’ll be executed just for knowing this secret, let alone doing—whatever you plan to do with it!”

“Well, no one else is doing anything, so it’s got to be me, doesn’t it?”

Fenris stares. “What?”

Anders rises from the chair. “There are hundreds of Tranquil out there, I’m not going to let the Chantry keep them—imprisoned like that until it deigns to give them their lives back!”

“I will not let you make yourself a fugitive again.”

“Fenris, damn it all, tell me! Now!”

Flames burst from the wooden floor and dance at his feet. Fenris feels it opening up again, the wound that had begun to scab over but is tearing now under the strain. “Are you—threatening me?” he asks, incredulous.

Anders flinches, and abashment bleeds into his face. The flames die.

Fenris realizes that through the rag his grip on the sword’s pommel had tightened; he releases it now. “Your safety is not the only reason. The grave side effects I mentioned earlier are not trivial. I was told the cure often leads to death.”

“Better that than Tranquility,” Anders mutters.

“Let me clarify: suicide.”

Anders doesn’t have a response for that.

Fenris feels tension trickling out of his body that he had not even noticed was there. “The Nightingale dissolved the Circles entirely. I hardly think she keeps the cure a secret to maintain control over mages. I expect it will be made public when it has been made safer and the victims are not in such great danger of killing themselves. Things are different now, Anders. It’s time you started living for yourself, not everyone else.” He waves a dismissive hand. “You know you don’t have to trudge around atoning for your sins for the rest of your days. You can settle down somewhere. Build a house. Adopt a cat. Or ten, if you like. Be happy for once.”

Anders glowers, his sullenness lingering; until it dissolves all at once, and his eyes well with tears. “Oh,” he whispers, and presses a hand to his mouth.

Fenris freezes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Karl. I shouldn’t have killed him. I could’ve—waited, I could’ve given him the cure, we could’ve been together. But I killed him instead. Oh, no.” Anders sits again, unsteady.

Karl. It takes a moment for Fenris to remember; but he was there, that night in the Chantry, a handful of days after he first met Hawke. His exposure to Tranquil before that point had only been from afar, and it was disturbing to see such the man’s profound emptiness and perfect calm—not least because of the contrast to Anders’s raw grief, and how vigorously the man’s blood pumped from the knife-wound in his chest.

Fenris had not known what to make of it, so he simply accepted it and lay it aside. But he remembers well Anders’s face, twisted in total despair.

“I am sorry,” he says quietly.

Anders slumps back in his chair and wipes his eyes. "I don't think there's much of a point, really."

"A point to what?"

"Settling down. I don't know how much time I have left."

"What do you mean?" Fenris asks sharply.

Anders glances up. "I'm a Grey Warden. Been one for fifteen years."

"Is that a long time?" Fenris murmurs.

Anders taps his knee listlessly. ”It's different for everyone. But some have gone into the Deep Roads after fifteen years."

Fenris is silent for a moment. Then he places his sword on the table beside its sheath. "The tea should be done steeping. I'll fetch it."

He returns with the tray and must nudge his blade aside for room to put it down. “Cream and sugar?”

“Oh.” Anders frowns, thinking about it. “I…yes. Why not?”

Fenris fixes up both their cups and hands one over. Anders takes it, sipping with caution. Fenris holds his saucer and blows gently, swirls of steam breaking in the air. “So are you going to go into the Deep Roads, when you hear the Calling?”

Anders shrugs one shoulder. “Have to, don’t I?”

“You don’t have to,” Fenris says. “Isn’t the point of it just to die before the taint kills you? You can do that perfectly well elsewhere, and through much less unpleasant methods than hurling yourself upon a thousand darkspawn blades.”

Anders raises an eyebrow. “What exactly are you saying?”

Fenris heaves a great sigh. What is he saying? “I don’t know. I suppose, you’re welcome here anytime you like, and if you find the taint is beginning to overwhelm you, you should spend your final days in as much comfort as you can manage, considering that seems to have been denied you through most of your life to this point, and I would be happy to provide that. And we both know Hawke would as well.”

Anders stares at him a moment. Then abruptly he puts down his tea and covers his face.

“What?” Fenris asks urgently. “What is it?”

“Have I told you recently how much I hate you?”

“Fear not, mage, it is always assumed. But what’s provoked you to remind me?”

“I’m crying, that’s what! Andraste’s ass.”

Ah. Fenris sits back, mollified. “No need to worry about embarrassing yourself in front of me, I already expect this sort of thing from you.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“You are welcome.”

Then there’s a muffled meow from the front door. Fenris rises. Anders drops his hands, his eyes widening. Fenris opens the door, and Ellen trots inside and twines once around his leg. Her grey fur is spotted with burs.

Anders peers around the back of his chair. “You and Hawke have a cat?”

“Sometimes.”

“What does that mean?”

“We aren’t here all the time. And neither is she. This is the first time I’ve seen her in…five or six days, I think. A couple of weeks of absence isn’t uncommon.”

“Oh, she’s precious.” Anders crouches. “What’s her name?”

Fenris smiles to himself. “Ellen.”

Anders opens his arms. Ellen approaches with trepidation; but she noses his hand and then lets him scratch her behind the ears. “You have no idea how bloody jealous I am,” he mutters.

Fenris shrugs. “If you decide to stay a few days, she may stay as well.” He lets out a small sigh. “And it would make Hawke happy. So if you haven’t anything pressing to take care of…”

“I’ll ask Ellis. I don’t think she’d mind.”

“Very well.”

They’re quiet for a moment. Anders sits on the floor and gathers Ellen in his arms. She squeaks, purring as he scratches her belly.

“Do you really think I should settle down somewhere?” he asks.

“I think you should do what you want to do,” Fenris replies.

“What if I don’t know what I want to do?”

“Then you should think about it. You’re going to be here anyway, you can speak with Hawke and me if you need guidance.”

He snorts. “Why would I want your guidance? You just called me an embarrassment.”

“You’re staying in my house. You’ll receive my guidance whether you want it or not.”

Anders groans. “Maybe I’ll just sleep in the woods instead.”

“Mm. I hope the cat will not miss you.”

“Oh, you bastard. That’s low.”

“Fighting with honor is fighting to lose.”

“Fine. I’ll stay here. For her, not for you.”

“As you say.” Fenris nods at the table. “Come. Your tea is getting cold.”

 

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe this,” Isabela grumbles. “Harvestmere doesn’t even end for another two weeks.”

Fenris isn’t happy about it either, and he gazes balefully at the pale-grey clouds above them, the snowflakes drifting down through the skeletal trees. “How much further to the Vimmarks?” he asks. “Two days?”

“Only if we’re quick about it,” Anders replies. “Count on three. I mean, it’s not that bad. We’ve got blankets and things, haven’t we?”

Beside him Fenris notices a hitch in Hawke’s step. “Hawke,” he says sharply.

“I’m Fereldan! I’m perfectly able to sleep through a bit of autumn chill!”

“It is snowing!”

Hawke sags. “I didn’t know it was going to snow.”

Fenris presses a hand to his forehead. “You may use my blanket. I will be fine without it.”

“Fenris, I’m not going to steal your blanket—“

“Steal? Did you not just hear me offer it freely—“

“Andraste’s garters—you can just share it!” Isabela interjects.

“I’m too big for sharing,” Hawke mumbles ruefully.

“Oh, please, Fenris is the size of my pinky finger. You’ll fit just fine.”

Hawke glances over. “Is that—all right?”

Fenris nods. “That is acceptable.”

And that’s the end of it. As they trudge on through the forest, Fenris tries not to think about it. He and Hawke have shared a tent plenty of times. Sharing a blanket as well can’t be much different. He puts it out of his mind.

The sky dims. Hard to tell what time it is, with the thick canopy of clouds; but eventually the light grows so poor that they’re all tripping over tree roots and Isabela declares that it’s time to stop for the night. Hawke goes hunting while Fenris starts a fire and the others put up the tents. They sit huddled around the burgeoning flames for perhaps an hour until Hawke returns with a brace of turkeys slung over his shoulder. Then the plucking (Hawke is prodigiously quick, having both birds done within thirty minutes) and cutting and roasting, and the supper is a hearty one, with camping stories passed back and forth over the fire. Fenris abstains; he did have to sleep out of doors plenty of times before coming to Kirkwall, but those times were either on Seheron or while he was still on the run, and he does not wish to cast a pall over the evening.

At last it is time to turn in. Isabela waves them goodnight and joins Anders in the first tent. Fenris ducks inside the other, with Hawke after him.

Their bedrolls are lined up next to each other, as always. That isn’t any different. Fenris lies down and unfolds his blanket, handing over a corner of it. “Here.”

“Thanks.” Hawke takes it, apologetic. “I feel like a fool.”

“Hm. Can’t imagine why.”

Hawke gasps in mock affront. “You didn’t have to agree with me.”

Fenris smiles. “I jest. But I would advise you to take greater care in the future. No reason to make yourself miserable needlessly.”

“I’m Fereldan,” he mumbles. “We laugh at the cold.”

“As you say.” Fenris turns over. “Good night, Hawke.”

“Good night.”

Still, Fenris does not close his eyes yet, only stares at the wall of the tent. It’s the same as always, he thinks to himself. It’s just that there’s no blanket separating him and Hawke anymore.

But everything else is still there.

He pulls his knees up to his chest. He can’t say anything. What if Hawke doesn’t feel the same? Hawke is kind to everyone; Fenris could easily be misinterpreting. It wouldn’t surprise him. And if he is wrong, it could ruin their relationship forever.

Fenris doesn’t want to lose what he has with Hawke. The mere thought of it sends a flood of fear washing through him. It’s true that he wants more—wants so much more, wants everything.

But that is asking too much. He tucks the blanket up under his chin. He must not be greedy. Just being around Hawke is already a greater pleasure than anything he had ever imagined. He should be grateful for what he has.

Fenris shuts his eyes.

———

He wakes to movement, pressure, contact—something wrapped around him, over his middle, and his stomach turns, his fingers balling tight in the blanket—

Then he remembers where he is. On the way to the Vimmarks, safe, with friends. Then the weight is not a captor—

It's Hawke.

Fenris freezes.

It's Hawke. It is Hawke. The heavy arm draped over his waist, the solid bulk at his back. This can't be real. Fenris has dreamed of it a thousand times, of course, the sort of intimacy he always dismissed as unachievable, so that must be what this is now: a dream. It can't be real.

He lies there, hardly daring to breathe. The air is cold on his exposed face. Hawke's arm shifts, gently hugging his chest. A sleepy, incoherent mumble from behind him. Fenris waits to it to be over.

It does not end. It does not tilt off into some other dreamscape, or dissolve rudely into wakefulness. Hawke's body is warm, his chest rising and falling slowly against Fenris's back.

Not a dream.

Not for him. It is for Hawke, who plainly is not awake, from the mumbles and the rhythm of his breathing. Should Fenris rouse him? That would be the right thing to do.

Hawke makes a contented noise and presses a clumsy kiss to Fenris’s neck.

Fenris stays perfectly still. He doesn’t want to wake Hawke. He wants Hawke’s arm around him, the heat at his back, the kisses at his neck. He wants this, so badly that when he thinks on how it must end before morning his throat tightens up and his chest aches.

Another kiss at the crook of his shoulder, some unintelligible words spoken into his skin. Fenris closes his eyes. He cannot have this. But he has it, right now, in this single moment, and he cannot bring himself to let it go.

——

“Rise and shine!“

Fenris blinks awake.

“Come on, you two, plenty more walking to do today.”

That’s Isabela’s voice. Fenris squints at the front of the tent. The flap opens, and she steps inside.

Hawke groans, shifting.

Isabela gasps. “Oh, that is not fair! Anders flat-out refused to cuddle with me, I was freezing all night!”

Hawke inhales. “Hm? ’S it morning?”

Fenris doesn’t move.

“Oh. Shit. Fenris. I’m sorry.”

The warmth at his back disappearing, the arm gone from his waist in a scramble of motion at the edge of his vision. Fenris sits up, the blanket still draped around his shoulders.

“I’m going to get the fire going again,” Isabela says, ducking out of the tent and leaving the two of them alone.

Hawke is gazing in faint horror. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—I must have done it in my sleep.”

“It’s all right,” Fenris says quietly.

“I feel terrible. I’m sorry, Fenris, really. I didn’t mean it.”

Fenris flinches a little. Oh. He didn’t—it was a mistake, then. Only a mistake. “I—all right. I understand.” Venhedis. He should have woken Hawke after all. He curses himself, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders. How could he have been so selfish? He wanted it, and Hawke didn’t.

But he took it anyway.

“Fenris?”

Fenris looks up. “Hm?”

“Are you all right?”

They sit apart from each other, but only as much as they can in the cramped tent, and the forced closeness strikes Fenris as his fault somehow. He pulls his knees in tighter to try and put more space between them. “I am fine. We should—I will go help Isabela.”

He sheds the blanket and crawls out of the tent. A light, cold breeze pierces his clothes, and he shivers. Isabela waves at him. “You hungry?”

He nods, approaching. It’s done. It was a thoughtless and self-serving act, but it’s done. He will not show Hawke such discourtesy again.

——

The journey is largely silent.

He and Hawke were in the lead before, side by side; but he does not wish to impinge again on Hawke now, so he hangs back instead. It is hard to walk three abreast on this path, so Isabela takes his place at the front.

Anders, trudging next to him, glances over. “What happened last night?”

“Nothing happened,” Fenris mumbles.

“Right. That’s why you won’t even look at Hawke.”

“Nothing happened,” Fenris repeats, more curtly this time. “Do not press the issue.”

Anders shrugs. “Whatever you say.”

They speak no more. Isabela gets Hawke talking a few times, but always there is a shroud over him, like the clouds above them covering over the sky. The snow comes down in intermittent flurries, building to a few inches of crystalline powder on the ground. Fenris, having had the presence of mind (unlike Hawke) to anticipate snow, has brought boots. Unhappy as he is to wear them, his feet are warmer covered.

They stop when the light dims to near-darkness. They eat leftover turkey meat around the fire and then pitch the tents again. Fenris goes through the motions, not wanting to think about what happens next, to lie down again with nothing between him and Hawke but the past three years with a brand new guilt on top of it all, wispy as smoke but lingering still in the air—

“I can share with Anders tonight,” Hawke says.

Unprompted, and it falls from his lips awkward and strange. Isabela and Anders sort of stare for a moment, until Anders says, “Er—we can try, although I’m not sure we’ll both fit.”

“That goes twice over for me,” Isabela adds. “My hips are as big as yours, even if the rest of me isn’t.”

Fenris cuts in, eager to put an end to this. “I am still happy to share my tent. If—” Venhedis. “If it is…all right with you.”

Hawke gazes at him, a little lost. “You don’t have to…”

Maybe it wasn’t just the awkwardness. Maybe he doesn’t want to sleep next to Fenris anymore. “I…don’t mind,” Fenris says weakly.

There’s a pause. Then: “All right,” Hawke replies.

Fenris can see Isabela and Anders exchanging looks in his peripheral vision. He ignores them and slips inside the tent instead.

Two bedrolls. One blanket. Fenris shakes it out as Hawke enters and sits on his own side.

“I really am sorry.”

Fenris looks up.

Hawke is resting his head in his hand. “I just want you to know.”

Fenris shrugs one shoulder. “It’s all right. You owe me no apology, Hawke.” One cannot control how one feels, else I might not be in this mess. He hands over half the blanket.

Hawke takes it. “Of course I do. I just—grabbed you. And draped myself all over you. I shouldn’t have done that. I know you don’t want people touching you without asking first. And I just…did it anyway.”

Fenris stares at him.

Hawke shrinks a little. “What? What is it?”

“That’s why you were so—“ he blurts, then cuts himself off, trying to assemble his thoughts. “Hawke, I don’t care about that! And anyway, you were asleep, how could you have known?”

Confusion creases Hawke’s face. “So you didn’t—you’re not angry with me?”

“No, not at all! You have always respected my wishes, even when they were…” He sighs. “…strange, or inconvenient.” A friendly clap on the back early on that Fenris flinched at, he remembers it well; but all he had to say was I do not like to be touched and Hawke never did it again, never even questioned him about it. “I trust you. I know you did not mean to cause me discomfort, and you didn’t.”

“I…didn’t.” The pall that’s been hanging over Hawke all day is starting to lift.

“No. In fact—“ The corner of Fenris’s mouth quirks up, a reflex of fondness. “—it was…nice. You are quite warm.”

A smile breaks on Hawke’s face. “Oh. Good! That’s good! I thought I—“

“You didn’t, Hawke.”

Amazing how quickly the awkwardness breaks down into the familiar comfort which Fenris has come to treasure so dearly. Hawke chuckles. “And I got myself all worked up over nothing. I know I can be a bit dense, I’m sorry if I snarled things up today.”

“It’s all right. I could have spoken up earlier as well.”

Hawke opens his mouth to say something and hesitates. Then he speaks. “You know, you were pretty warm too.”

Fenris must contain himself so as not to sound overeager. “So—you would like to do it again?”

“Only if you want to.”

I want to. I want to. “Yes. That would be—good.”

“Then—good. All right. Let’s do it.”

They arrange themselves, the blanket draped over them. Fenris cannot help smiling for sheer happiness as Hawke wraps an arm around his chest and presses in close against his back. It’s nearly overwhelming, the constant pulse of I want this, I want this at the edges of his mind. And not only this. I want this. I want you. I want you.

Fenris says nothing more, only shuts his eyes. He misses the soft kisses on his neck and shoulder; but maybe one day, through another miracle just like this one, he can have those too.

Chapter Text

“Really? All the way from Tevinter?”

Fenris looks up.

Isabela plucks a piece from the merchant’s display—a heavy sheet of fine gold chains welded with opals that Fenris recognizes instantly as a collar. Or a necklace, he supposes, depending on who’s wearing it. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” Isabela coos. “Did you ever get to wear things like this, Fenris?”

“Yes,” he says quietly.

“I’m so jealous. You must have looked gorgeous.”

“That—“ Hawke comes up behind her and plucks the collar from her hands, putting it back down. “—is quite enough of that. Are you ready to go? Got the bloody account settled, finally.”

Yes. Ready to go. Fenris stares at the array of fine jewelry. Tevinter. Very much so. The ear cuffs—none so elaborate as the ones fitted for his own, elven ears—the rings that spiral around one’s entire finger, bracelets so broad they could belong to a set of ornamental armor, studs or hoops with hooks or screws connected by more fine chains that could link one piercing to another, a style he has not seen in—some years, quite some years—

“Is everything all right?”

Fenris starts a little. Hawke is standing in front of him. “Yes. It’s just—there was…”

Danarius used to decorate him, but only for special occasions, when he was to be displayed. Otherwise it was impractical, to drape a bodyguard in all these extraneous dangling frivolities; and Danarius seemed content, anyway, with only the markings (which were far rarer and more expensive than any mundane ornaments, of course). It is not Danarius whom Fenris thinks of now. The name remains out of his reach, just barely…

Eligius Castor. A magister by appointment, not by blood, for his incredible shrewdness and vast web of connections at all levels of society. To be owed a favor by Castor was to be guaranteed success in one’s endeavors.

Danarius enjoyed success, and as a result Castor enjoyed Fenris. For favors. The form of the exchange was not out of the ordinary for Fenris, only the regularity of it. It was Castor who decorated Fenris with a stunning variety of jewels—cuffs on his ears from which hung fringes of diamonds, one always chained to the gleaming stud in his nose, and his brows, too, adorned with rings in silver and rose gold. His wrists clasped such that he could hardly move them inside the thick bracelets inlaid with patterns of emerald-eyed serpents flowing over his arms, his fingers stiff with the elaborate rings, his nipples tender—he did not usually wear these, but Castor wanted him to, and Danarius allowed it—pierced with golden hoops connected by a thin chain (Castor left this when they fucked, that he might tug on it and watch Fenris flinch). And of course the collar, so high it forced his chin up, the cool brush of metal hanging all the way down to his breastbone. Castor would remove all of these adornments one by one, saving the collar for last, smiling as his careful hands peeled it away from Fenris’s neck. And every single time the feeling of his throat once more exposed to the air would send a sparking jolt of terror all the way down to his toes, an incongruous shock of I am in danger I am about to be hurt despite the fact that Castor never hurt him, not once, Danarius would never have suffered that…

“Fenris?”

Yes. Hightown. The market. Fenris stays very still, his chin lifted slightly. The market. Isabela. Hawke.

Who stands in front of him, blocking out the merchants’ square, his hand hovering near Fenris’s waist. A request. May I touch you?

Fenris nods and steps forward and lets Hawke wrap him up.

“Are you all right?” Hawke murmurs. “I can take you back home if you like.”

“No.” Fenris turns his face into Hawke’s chest. “I am fine. Let’s go.”

——

Heat at his back.

Warm. Too warm. Sticky with sweat. He pretends sleep, lips pressed together. Maybe it’s not happening. Maybe the motion is false, a flare in the terror that does not belong here. Here it is anyway.

Motion. Sticky with sweat. Fingers creep over his hip. Tense. His leg, he stills it. He lets it begin. An arm around him. Hot breath at his neck. Murmuring. As if calming an animal. He pretends sleep. Too late. It’s too late. He gives in. He has let it begin.

Fingers dip between his legs. Fingers stroke him. Saliva, at his neck, a swiped tongue. This is wrong. He doesn’t know that. Somehow he knows that. Fingers. His leg, again, tense, a twitch, he stills it. Sensitive. Whispered in his ear. No. He didn’t mean it. Fingers stroke and rub him. Sensitive. Sensitive. His leg, tense.

Wet.

A knife. Whispered in his ear. Fingers slick. Wet. He’s wet. No. He didn’t mean it. Doesn’t matter. He’s wet.

Turn on your back.

Back. Sticky with sweat. He turns. His legs, tense. He relaxes. They fall open. Defenseless. He does this to himself. Fingers slick. Sensitive. Breath bleeding out, trapped in his chest. This is quiet. This is not violent. He says that in his head. Wrong. Wrong. Fingers gone. Pressing. Pressing. He cannot stop it. His body does not stop it.

Every time the same. He lets it in.

A blade to part his yielding flesh. A mortal wound. A second thrust to tear him further. It does not hurt. Wrong. It never hurts. Wrong. Fingers stroke and rub him. He twists. It does not hurt. He’s wet. Above him, a smile in the dark. Every time the same.

You are so beautiful. Every time.

It does not hurt. Every time the same.

——

Heat at his back.

Fenris lurches forward, nearly heaving himself off the edge of the bed. Behind him, a sleepy, urgent mumble. Hawke. “Fenris? What’s wrong?”

Fenris claps a hand to his mouth. He’s sick to his stomach, and with great effort he holds down a retch, his gut clenched tight. He swallows and coughs into his elbow, his eyes and nose pricking.

“Fenris?” Fingers. Sticky with sweat—

Fenris jerks away from the hand at his shoulder. “Stop. Don’t touch me.”

Rustling behind him. A quiet “I’m sorry.”

No. He thinks it was his fault. It isn’t. “Hawke, no. It’s not that.”

A hesitation. “Do you—do you want to talk about it?”

“I should’ve told you before. I’m sorry.” Fenris turns, the blankets twisted up around his legs. “You shouldn’t be here.” The words pouring out of him, directly out of the blackened thing inside him, bypassing his thoughts. “It was already too late when you met me. I was—this. I was ruined. I should’ve told you. You deserved to be told.”

He folds himself up, his fingers digging into his arms. Hawke knows, theoretically, knows the fact of his abuse. But Fenris never revealed the truth of it. What really happened. He wishes he could strip this skin away, could leave this body behind and find another one. One that hasn’t been spoiled so meticulously, so thoroughly.

“You’re not ruined.”

Fenris blinks, refocuses.

Hawke’s muted anger is visible even in the darkness. “I’m not saying they didn’t hurt you, because you’ve told me they did and it makes me want to ride right up north to Tevinter and break all their bloody necks. But I’ve known you for six years and loved you for most of those and you have to believe me when I say you’ve got more strength and courage than anyone else I’ve ever met. I see that every day.” He sits forward a little. “They might’ve tried to ruin you, but they didn’t. You escaped, you built a life for yourself out of nothing. You didn’t let them.”

Fenris’s nails dig into his skin. His skin. His own. They’re hundreds of miles and ten years behind him, they can’t touch him anymore. So what happens next—he decides that. He’s the only one. And he can say no or stop.

Or he can say, yes. I want this.

Fenris crawls forward and wraps himself around Hawke, legs around his waist, face buried in his neck. Hawke hugs him close and kisses his hair. “I love you more than anything else in the world,” he murmurs.

“And I love you.” Fenris leans back and kisses him.

They stay like that for a moment, Fenris content to sit in Hawke’s arms until the sick feeling in his stomach has gone away. Hawke’s chest rises and falls slowly against his own, and he rubs Fenris’s back with one gentle hand. The distant terror dissipates, and the thudding of Fenris’s heart finally begins to abate. He gets to choose now who touches him, and he’s chosen Hawke.

He lets out a sigh. “I apologize for the dramatic display. I know it’s been almost ten years, but…it seems my escape was not quite as complete as I thought.”

“I’m here if you need me. As always.”

“Thank you, Hawke. Truly. I…never expected this from anyone.”

He hears the smile in Hawke’s voice. “Well, you’d best get used to it, because I’m going to be with you for as long as you’ll have me.”

Fenris holds him tighter. “I could not have done this alone.”

“Oh, yes, you could,” Hawke says. “But I’m glad you chose to do it with me.”

Chapter Text

Vivienne does not waver. She never does, of course, but here in particular, despite the twisted veins of lyrium that crawl up the wall to her left, that clutch at the ground beneath her feet, the way the Veil deforms around them, straining to stay whole…

She does not waver. Her focus narrows down, winnowing away the murmured conversation between Cassandra and Evelyn at the front, shunting aside the apostate’s vaguely grating presence behind her. Her Fade-sense is full to bursting with a viscous seethe of wrongness; normally she must open herself up to feel the Veil, but now she cannot block it out, cannot even begin to do so. A step—her boots, well-suited for rugged travel and hard fighting, not that one would know by looking at them—the sole gripping the damp stone, and the next step, her foot falling—

The Veil throbs as a fresh wound, the pulse around her like the issue of blood. But the force of it is not enough to impinge on her balance—

—until it is, the muscles in her thighs and calves and core tightening as she tries to hold herself to center. Vivienne wavers and, to her great abashment, falls to one knee. A lapse unworthy of a First Enchanter; but Cassandra and the Inquisitor have not noticed, and she begins to stand.

The apostate’s voice, calling forward. “Hold a moment.”

Damn him. “That will not be necessary,” she replies. “A simple misstep, no more. We can go on.”

But of course it must be too late. Even as she rises, Evelyn is already rushing back. “Vivienne, you look—er.” She hesitates, and Vivienne smiles to herself as Evelyn searches for a way to continue. “Slightly less immaculate than usual?”

“It’s nothing, darling.” Vivienne waves a dismissive hand. “I’m all right, there’s no need to stop for me.”

“It’s the lyrium,” Solas supplies. “Lyrium warps the Veil. This much of it, completely unrefined—the effects are substantial, to say the least.”

Cassandra nods. “Even I have felt it. I cannot imagine what it must be like for you.”

“Bizarre,” Solas says. “To be blunt. Were I not so familiar with the Veil and what lies beyond, I suspect I would be similarly affected.”

“I am not affected.” Vivienne stands straight, smoothing her skirts. “I feel it. It does not impede me. Now let us continue.”

“Really?” Solas replies, because he must have the last word in every exchange. “I would expect a mage of your considerable power to be practically doubled over in discomfort.”

Vivienne levels an icy smile at him. “Just as I would expect a man of your ostensible knowledge to have learned not to misjudge me after so many months, but it seems we were both mistaken, weren’t we?”

Solas gazes back for a brief second, and Vivienne catches the smallest tic of irritation at the corner of his mouth; then he turns to Evelyn. “Alas, I suddenly find myself stricken by the presence of all of this raw lyrium. I must insist that we rest.”

“All right! Excellent idea!” Evelyn claps her hands together. “Let’s have a bit to eat, shall we?”

Vivienne tightens her jaw but says nothing. It is plain that any further protest will be overruled. So she sits, quelling the relief that wells inside her at no longer having to maintain her balance against the mutinous ebb and flow of the tortured Veil.

“Thank you, Evelyn.” Solas sits, crossing his ankles. “The creatures we face here are are terrible indeed. It would be foolish for us to be overwhelmed simply because I refused myself a chance to rest.”

Vivienne does not acknowledge the jab, only accepts with grace the fare Evelyn offers her. The four of them eat in silence for a moment. Cassandra scans the narrow path as she works at her food, a fact for which Vivienne is grateful; focus is effortful under the stifling pulse of the lyrium, and she would not trust herself to keep watch right now. Solas frowns at the brilliant azure vein that splits the wall before him.

Then he stands and raises his hands, weaving them in the air.

Vivienne watches as best she can with her mind struggling not to be dragged under by the Veil’s grasping currents. Not so carefree as he normally is; his movements are infinitesimally deliberate, his face drawn in concentration. She is struck by the impression that if he fails in whatever he is doing, this whole business will immediately become much worse, and she sends a brief prayer to the Maker that his hedge magic holds here.

He brings his hands together and then flattens them down as if smoothing a wrinkled tablecloth.

The lyrium ebb releases Vivienne all at once and she presses a hand to her chest and does not gasp in relief, at the very least, only exhales, long and controlled.

“Is that better?” Solas asks.

“Yes,” she murmurs. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” He says it without smugness and sits again, taking a long drink from his waterskin. Then he gazes at the damp stone for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts, before he goes on. “I must admit I was surprised by your lack of reaction when we came into this place. I have seen how you draw on the Fade. For a woman raised in the Circle, not to mention one so doggedly wary of spirits and demons alike, I had not expected your connection to the Fade to be so strong—incredibly strong, in fact. After all, siphoning so much power from the Fade must attract demons in hordes.” He gives a small shrug. “Then I realized that no demon, no matter how clever or persuasive, could penetrate that outrageous confidence of yours. So why not open yourself up to the Fade? Why not take from it as much power as you can manage? You are impervious.”

Vivienne watches him, waiting for the turn, the inevitable insult.

“I suppose what I mean to say is that your confidence is not only a shield but a powerful weapon, even in the heat of battle,” he continues. “An impressive feat. As was your display of fortitude here, when I can only imagine your Fade-sense, potent as it is, must be under a great deal of strain.”

No insult, or at least not one she heard, and she is very good at picking them out. A truce (temporary, of course) would indeed be welcome in this place, so she takes what is offered. “Thank you, Solas. It is kind of you to say.”

He inclines his head at her in acknowledgement. “If you do wish to go on, I believe I can maintain this spell with some concentration.”

“That would be splendid.”

Vivienne rises, following Evelyn and Cassandra down the path. This time she does not waver.

 

Chapter Text

“There’s no one here,” Hawke murmurs.

Fenris gazes up at the broken stone edifice, the bronze tiles of forgotten mosaics gleaming dully under the tangled profusion of vivid green ivy. “Perhaps they are deeper inside?”

“The land isn’t disturbed. Not even a little. No one’s been here in years.” Hawke runs his fingers over the leather-wrapped hilt of his dagger. “Whoever told Aveline they saw elves headed this way…”

Fenris sighs. “…was likely trying to lure us into a trap. Shall we go back to the camp and gather reinforcements?”

Hawke doesn’t reply, rubbing his thumb over the steel pommel of his dagger.

Fenris exhales. “Hawke. We are not going to walk in there alone. You can’t hope to escape a trap set by the Dread Wolf by letting it snap shut around you.”

“Around us.” Hawke takes Fenris’s hand and squeezes it, grinning. “You’re coming with me, aren’t you?”

Fenris stares. “No. This is ridiculous.”

“Look, he wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble just to kill us, would he? But if we drag a bunch of Kirkwall guards in there—they’re used to cutpurses and thugs, not elven gods.”

Fenris nods sagely. “An excellent point. After all, you and I have a wealth of experience facing elven gods.”

Hawke gives him a pained look. “Well, no, but we’ve faced damn near everything else. Come on, Fenris, we’re the best people for the job.”

Fenris decides he will not be winning this argument. Best to get it over with. “Yes, yes, fine. I’ll come with you.”

“Perfect. We’ll leave at the first sign of danger.”

“I suspect by that point it will already be too late.”

“Your confidence is really inspiring.”

“And your recklessness continues to defy any and all reason, but I have long since resigned myself to it. Shall we?”

Hawke kisses him on the cheek. “Let’s.”

——

It is easy to forget they’re still in the Vimmarks. The ruins are nestled between two peaks just east of Sundermount, an area Fenris has visited plenty of times before; but these high stone walls, the shattered ceilings dripping with curling vines, the arched windows bordered with elaborate, inscrutable carvings, it all seems to belong to another place. The mosaics are better preserved here than those on the outside of the temple, and tarnished, pollen-smeared gods follow him and Hawke as they pass through the high corridors and vaunted halls.

There’s no one there. No prints in the dust, no disturbances in the strewn leaves. No sound echoing off the stone but for their own footsteps. There’s no one there.

But there is.

Fenris hasn’t any reason to think that, yet he feels it anyway, a shameful pool of fear welling in the pit of his stomach. “Hawke,” he murmurs.

“Hm?”

“We should go.”

Hawke stops a moment, next to a window through which a bundle of white blooms has wound its way. The good humor he displayed outside is gone, and he is solemn now, on edge. “Someone’s got to find out what’s here.”

And it must be Hawke, of course. He must be the one to risk himself against an unknowably powerful deity. “Hawke, please,” Fenris says weakly. Any courage he had coming in is lost.

“I have to. I’m sorry, that’s all there is to it.” He wraps an arm around Fenris’s waist, kisses his temple. “But I won’t make you do it.”

“I will not leave you alone here.” Fenris tries to steel himself. Hawke is right; someone has to do it. And the Kirkwall guard wouldn’t even know where to start.

“All right.” Hawke takes a long breath. “On your toes then.”

They advance.

They do not belong here. That much is obvious. The deeper they go the more Fenris feels a trespasser, as if each steps invokes further the ire of the silent pantheon that passes them by. This is a mistake. For a hundred reasons. Fenris traces absently the lyrium lines on his palm. They look like the patterns that weave over the tiles and climb up between the mosaics. They always have—elven ruins, vallaslin, his brands all could have been drawn by the same hand, although he usually tries not to think about it.

A small bird—brown and blunt-beaked, a sparrow—dives through a break in the ceiling and flutters to a stop on the floor. It hops out of their way as they draw near and gazes up at them with beady black eyes. Fenris has a sudden wild thought that it’s a spy for the Dread Wolf, and he shakes his head a little, grimacing. It’s only a bird. This place is only a ruin. The Dread Wolf is only a man.

Empty words, quickly subsumed in his burgeoning fear. The lyrium itches in his skin.

They turn a corner. Ahead there’s an enormous arch in one wall, framed by stylized trees in twisted bronze. Hawke’s steps stutter; but then he strides forward, and Fenris follows him, knowing there isn’t any use in waiting for the fear to settle. After all, it’s only going to get worse.

He passes through the arch.

Obviously the main hall, as it’s twice as big as any room they’ve visited so far. The ceiling is fifty feet high, supported by two long rows of blue glass pillars wreathed in bright bursts of ivy. The late morning sun streams in through the windows, the shafts of white light cut by fluttering leaf-shadows that chase each other across the stone floor. Sprays of wildflowers—marigold, cornflower, white lupine and scarlet flax—line the seams between the tiles. At the end of the hall, Mythal in sandstone towers broken before them; her head and half her upper body are gone, her one remaining wing reaching toward the fractured ceiling.

An elf stands in front of her.

Fenris grasps Hawke’s arm, fingers digging into the hard leather plates. The trap is closed, its iron jaws shut tight behind them—long before this moment, since the first step they took into this ruined place. Hawke’s breathing has quickened, unusually, an uncharacteristic display of fear. Not an elf. A god. Or both. Fenris has never seen the Dread Wolf but knows this is him—the Inquisition’s description wisping through his mind, bald, pale, neither short nor tall—all of that secondary to the instinct, the elf’s even gaze and regal posture setting off a frenzy of danger, danger, you must surrender at the back of Fenris’s mind.

“Ah, there you are,” the Dread Wolf says mildly. “I’m glad you came. I was hoping we could talk.”

Only a brief hitch of silence before Hawke, to his credit, manages, “Not all that interested in talking, to be honest.”

His voice is missing the hard edge of condescension he normally uses to such great effect. But still the words lend Fenris some fortitude, and he releases Hawke’s arm.

The Dread Wolf inclines his head a little. “And I am not interested in talking to you. Only Fenris.”

What?

He approaches, the hem of his cloak dragging through the wildflowers. “Fenris, I would like to ask for your help. In return…there is plenty about your markings that I’m sure you have yet to learn. I would be happy to teach you.”

Help. The Dread Wolf wants his help. Fenris snorts, the absurdity of the situation lending him a flare of bravado. “You think I would help you burn down the world? You’re as mad as they say.”

“It’s…not quite that simple.” The Dread Wolf stops a few yards away and smiles. “Will you walk with me?”

“No.”

A quiet sigh. “Please. It won’t take more than a few minutes. I’m perfectly willing to let you leave this place afterward.” He spares a glance for Hawke. “You and your…companion.”

“I’ve already told you no.” Fenris summons power into his brands—no controlled draw but a great, wild surge, his skin burning with it. “And while you may be willing to let us leave, I cannot say the reverse is true.”

Hawke is drawing his daggers.

Fenris has had a plan for this. He and Hawke talked about it when they first received the news—ancient elven god-mage bent on destroying the world, could use a bit of help—about what would happen if they ever came face-to-face with him. As they are now.

The markings are the key, their secret weapon. Danarius’s hypervigilance and self-importance have become a boon, so many years after his death; he was the only one who knew anything about the brands he laid into Fenris’s skin. Fenris himself is still discovering what they can do. He did allow (with reluctance) the Inquisition’s Tevinter mage to inspect them and learned little more but for the fact that they seem to be a source of incredible power.

Fenris saw some of it, when he became a lyrium ghost and then let the motes of light that made up his body scatter into the air. Eminently unpleasant, for him; but the Tevinter mage also crashed to his knees and retched into the snow. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen to the Veil, he’d said.

That’s the only idea Fenris could think of.

He and Hawke haven’t a chance of defeating a god-mage in a stand-up fight. But if Fenris can use the lyrium to cripple him first, then—then there might be a chance, the tiniest sliver of a chance. One worth taking.

The lyrium glow sweeps over Fenris’s body. As always, he feels suddenly like a flock of birds, or a school of fish, or a cloud of insects all trapped inside a net, struggling to escape. It’s going to hurt. He knows that. It’s going to hurt. Before him the Dread Wolf’s face opens in surprise.

He disperses.

He just manages to catch a glimpse of the Dread Wolf stumbling, of Hawke surging forward, before his vision scatters, breaking into a thousand slivers that strew across the floor.

It hurts.

Agony incomparable to anything else. He wants to end it, to resolve once more into his flesh-and-blood body; but he cannot, not yet, not while Hawke still fights the Dread Wolf. Fenris thinks he can see them in flashes—a grainy image of Hawke, a whirling shadow, and the Dread Wolf stumbling back, lashing out with empty hands. Then the two of them disappear and instead the temple is complete again, free of creeping ivy or wildflowers, the glass pillars glittering brilliant in the sun, Mythal towering imperious and whole at the end of the hall.

“Fenris! You’re going to hurt yourself!”

Whose voice is that? Not Hawke. Fenris turns, the empty hall spinning around him. Through the window the forested foothills drop off into the distance, and beyond them a city on the horizon—

—the temple broken again. Hawke down on one knee. The Dread Wolf turns to Fenris, agitated. His poised posture is gone, and his face shines with sweat. “Please, you don’t know what you’re doing!”

It’s working, but it’s not enough. Hawke staggers forward. Fenris struggles to relax, to let his body disintegrate further. Terror lances through him despite himself. No. No time for fear. He must help Hawke.

The Dread Wolf flinches; then he is fighting again. The strikes are invisible, and Hawke cannot defend himself against them. A reckless lunge, and his blade slices a thin cut along the Dread Wolf’s jaw. But he pays for it. The next strike folds him in half and throws him back against one of the pillars.

The Dread Wolf turns and raises his hands, and Fenris cries out.

Or would, if he had a body that could draw breath. The world itself crumples around him, crushing him down to nothing. He heaves himself against it, fighting for escape. The Dread Wolf falters, then steps forward again, his gauntleted hands closing into fists.

At the base of the pillar Hawke moves weakly.

It isn’t over. They might still be able to kill him. The agony is nothing compared to that. Fenris, half-delirious with pain, continues to throw himself against the cage that closes over him. The Dread Wolf hunches, his face set in a hard grimace. Hawke hauls himself to his feet. Just a little longer. Fenris gathers himself, accepting the pain, drawing on it, using it, and lashes out with all the strength he has left.

He just glimpses the Dread Wolf faltering before the hall explodes.

An enormous blast of force. Fenris’s concentration slips, and he crashes to the ground, his body whole again. The absence of pain makes him gasp. But he cannot afford simply to lie here, and he pushes himself to his hands and knees, scanning. The Dread Wolf further up the hall, thrown back by the blast, rousing sluggishly. Hawke collapsed at the base of a pillar to Fenris’s left, unmoving.

An ear-splitting crack to his right. Fenris turns, squinting. Fissures run up one of the glass pillars. More cracks, fractures splintering up the other pillars too, on both sides, all around him. A groan from above. No. Fenris looks up. The roof is sagging, the rafters slipping from their gussets. A chunk of stone plummets, smashing to the ground only a few yards away.

He’s on his feet.

Hawke, still crumpled. Above him the pillar buckles. Fenris staggers forward. If he can get Hawke closer to the wall, they might be safer there. His steps grow surer as he goes, until something makes him stumble to one side and crash to the floor. Another chunk of the collapsing roof lands with a thundering crash where he was just standing. Not important. He must reach Hawke, and he gets his feet under him again, goes forward—

The lyrium resists him.

The markings burn, bands digging into his limbs and holding him back. Fenris lets out a shout of frustration. He doesn’t have time for this. Hawke is in danger. I need to save Hawke. He fights, planting one foot in front of the other. I need to save Hawke!

The resistance vanishes all at once, and Fenris nearly loses his balance; but he manages not to fall and dashes forward instead, the lyrium now aiding him, driving him towards the broken pillar. Closer. The squeal of glass on glass, the high sound of shattering, a harsh scraping above him. Almost there. A shower of crystalline dust sparkles in the air. Hawke twitches, his eyes fluttering open. Finally. Fenris crashes to a knee next to him and grabs the front of his armor.

——

“Fenris?”

Darkness.

“Fenris?”

Weight. Heavy on his back.

“Can you hear me?”

Warmth on his cheek. Fenris blinks. His eyes prickle, scraped with dust. He lifts his head as best he can.

Hawke’s face, shadowed by the fallen rock that closes them in. He strokes Fenris’s cheek, giving him a shaky grin. “Just don’t move, all right? Just keep as still as you can.”

Pain.

Fenris’s throat tightens, a choked noise wrenching out of him. He presses his forehead into Hawke’s chest. Pain. A tearing in his gut. He reaches down, groping, but he and Hawke are pinned too tightly together and he can’t wedge a hand between them. All he can feel is the the wet warmth on his fingers, and how it soaks into his stomach—

“I think it went through your—“ Hawke’s voice shivers. “—your back, it only—it only got me in the side, that’s all, just don’t move, all right? Just stay still.“

Fenris’s sob of pain is muffled by Hawke’s chest. He’s never been hurt like this before. It’s a mortal wound, without any doubt. He can’t see it but can tell from the blood he feels pulsing out of him, the great occlusion in his gut—a rafter or a strut of metal, he doesn’t know, it’s doesn’t matter. He’ll be dead in minutes. Or less. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “I’m sorry.”

“I love you,” Hawke whispers. “I love you more than anything.”

“I—“ Fenris lifts his bloodied hand to grasp at Hawke’s, just manages to tangle their fingers together—

A rumbling from their left. The stone shifts and comes away, and sunlight spears into the cramped space. Fenris squints at it.

The Dread Wolf appears crouched in the gap, unscathed but for the thin line of red at his jaw.

“Please, you have to help him,” Hawke says urgently. “I’ll do anything, just please save him.”

Fenris grimaces. “Hawke!”

The Dread Wolf takes only a second to scan them, their bodies trapped, pinned together by whatever is speared through Fenris’s gut. “I can’t do it here.”

Hawke coughs out a laugh. “Some bloody god—“

“I am not a healer,” the Dread Wolf replies evenly. “Fenris, you need to take us both into the Fade. I can ask the aid of a spirit.”

Into the Fade? Fenris shakes his head. “I—I don’t know how.”

“You only need to do what you did before. I’ll guide you the rest of the way.” He extends a hand through the gap. 

“Fenris, please.” Hawke strokes his face. “Please.”

There isn’t any other choice. As long as he’s still alive, he can do something, he can keep trying. But all that goes away if he dies here.

Fenris reaches out with trembling fingers and takes the Dread Wolf’s hand.

——

It hurts again, but not quite as badly. He does not simply disperse into the cruel air; instead he is guided and shaped by gentle hands. The rockfall disappears from around him, ceding to shining pillars still whole and new, supporting a roof without any gaps or cracks. For the first time he does not feel the immediate need, bordering on panic, to flee, to resolve, to return to his body.

This way.”

Behind him. Fenris turns, and follows.

——

The unbroken temple.

Fenris looks down at himself. Here, and solid. But for the hole in his middle, anyway.

He collapses. Someone catches him and lowers him to the ground. Shouting. He can’t make out the words. Can, but doesn’t understand. Pressure on his gut. His destroyed gut. He clutches at it, finds not a bloodied ruin but a rough cloak staunching the hole. His back is lifted a little off the ground, and the cloak wraps around him and pulls tight. Still shouting. Elven syllables slide useless off the surface of his pain-scattered mind.

Then he sees…someone. Something. A ghost, a man with a young, smooth face. A hundred arrows pierce his body. Fenris watches through fading vision as the ghost reaches down and lays a hand on his chest.

His heart seizes so hard it hurts. He moans weakly. Then the pain abates all at once, and his vision resolves again. His muscles tighten, full to bursting with strength that begs to be exercised.

He pushes the Dread Wolf’s hands away from his middle and rises.

Easy now as ever, if not easier. The massive wound still throbs dully. Fenris goes to untie the cloak that he might see it—

“Ah, I would not advise that.”

He looks up. The Dread Wolf gazes back.

Bald, pale, neither short nor tall. Fenris finds his fear has also abated, perhaps because he is now fairly sure that the Dread Wolf, having just saved his life, does not plan to kill him. “Why?”

The Dread Wolf nods at the silent ghost. “A spirit of perseverance. It will allow you to go on, but it has not healed you.”

Fenris sighs, wincing slightly at the pull in his gut. “Of course. Foolish of me to expect passable healing from a mage who purports to be a god.”

The Dread Wolf narrows his eyes. “I have never purported that.”

“I can see why,” Fenris replies. “Do you have anything else to offer, or am I simply to wait until this strength runs its course and I begin dying again?”

“Spirits do not just appear when—“ The Dread Wolf waves an exasperated hand. “You have two choices. We can search for a spirit better suited to the task, or we can make our way to a healer outside of the Fade. An extremely talented one, if you are to have any chance of living.”

Fenris grunts. “I would prefer a healer’s help to a spirit’s.”

“Very well. Do you know where to find one?”

“Yes.” Anders’s brand new clinic in Tantervale. Fenris has visited it only once, but he remembers the spot.

“Excellent. Then take us there.”

Fenris stares. “Me? How am I supposed to do that?”

“That is, in fact, exactly what you do,” the Dread Wolf says. “Your markings, anyway. You make paths, Fenris. Harder now with the Veil in place, and more dangerous, but—if I am not mistaken—also far more potent.”

“Paths.”

“Yes.”

“What are you talking about?”

The Dread Wolf starts to speak, then stops, considering. Fenris waits. The air is warm here, and a breeze drifts in through the windows, carrying birdsong and the scent of earth. Around him the sunlight sets the blue glass of the pillars aglow.

“How much do you know of the Fade?” the Dread Wolf asks.

“Very little, which is more than I care to.”

A pained sigh. “Then how far is this healer from the temple?”

Fenris thinks. Tantervale, north from the Vimmarks… “A week’s travel, perhaps.”

“Good. A brief stroll, then.”

Fenris rubs his forehead. “Must you insist on speaking in riddles?”

“I apologize.” The Dread Wolf smiles. “Distance and time are…malleable in the Fade. Your markings can shape them better than most any magic could, even in the age of the elves. If you desire, they will turn a week’s travel into…I don’t know. An hour? Ten minutes?” His eyes linger on Fenris’s hands, the lyrium lines there. “Simply decide where you want to go, call on your markings, and the path will appear around you.”

Fenris tries to appear unruffled, although the truth is quite different. His brands can manipulate time itself? Something else he is eminently glad Danarius never discovered. “I…I still don’t know how.”

“They are a part of you, just like any other part of your body. Do you know how you close your eyes, or move your arms?”

Of course not. He thinks it and it happens. But it cannot be that simple, surely, to erase a week’s worth of distance with a mere thought?

“There’s no need to be afraid.” The Dread Wolf smiles again. “I can guide you, if you wish.”

“No. I will do it myself.” He would rather risk ruining the fabric of this world than accept the help of the Dread Wolf. So he inhales, breathing in the warm forest air. Tantervale. The clinic. Anders.

His skin—

—doesn’t burn.

It reminds him of Hawke’s touch, a pleasant, soothing sensation that spreads from the brands and covers him over completely. “Oh,” he mumbles, and raises his hands. The lyrium is glowing, giving off light.

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” the Dread Wolf says. “Although I fear the same will not be true for our passage back through the Veil.”

Yes. That will be another endeavor. Fenris turns and heads for the exit.

The metal-framed arch does not lead out into a hallway this time, instead directly to the forest outside—he had not noticed when they were standing beneath the pillar, for some reason—and the trees are enormous, the branches thick with bright, waxy leaves, the undergrowth far wilder than what he’s used to in the Marches. It reminds him of Seheron, and he shoulders the thought aside with annoyance.

“I knew the woman who created those markings.” The Dread Wolf walks beside him. “She was…a friend.”

Fenris knows the way to go, although he isn’t sure how he knows it. Do you know how you close your eyes, or move your arms? He follows his instincts and navigates through the waist-high ferns.

“She devised this ritual all on her own, and then inflicted it on herself. I was furious at first. Lyrium is dangerous, to say the very least. I sent her away and forbade her to return. Despite the exile she still fought for me, until the very end.”

“If you think that obliges me to fight for you—“

“No, not at all. You’re not obliged to do anything.”

“There’s one thing we agree on.”

“Fenris, I can help you. There is so much you don’t know about those markings. I could—“

“I don’t want your help,” he says flatly.

The Dread Wolf exhales. For a moment there is only quiet. A blessing. Then: “What have you heard about me?”

Fenris shrugs one shoulder. “That you want to destroy this world in order to bring back a different world that you also destroyed?”

“I would like to think I am wiser now,” the Dread Wolf mutters.

Fenris snorts. “Then I shudder to think what you were like before.”

“You must understand that everything wrong with this world stems from the Veil’s existence. That is not going to change.”

“So your world will be free of problems, then.”

“Obviously not. But they are not so innate.”

“That doesn’t make them better.”

“No. But I can fix them.”

“Can you? I should hope through more subtle methods than the ones you wish to employ here.”

“Oh, yes. The…other gods will be far weaker than I, and certainly in no position to oppose me.” A brief darkness crosses the Dread Wolf’s face. “For instance, the slave-keeping will be the first thing to go.”

Fenris stops at that and barks out a laugh. “Slavery? Your elves keep slaves?”

The Dread Wolf stops, shaded by a leafy bough. “Not after I free them.”

“And how long do you think that will last? Do you think your enemies won’t leap at the smallest chance to once again place an entire class of people completely under their control?”

“I can contain them.”

“You think you can contain eight other gods? You can’t even convince one elf to help you!”

The Dread Wolf’s eyes flash white-blue.

Startling enough, but Fenris feels it more than he sees it, as a wave crashing over him with enough force to make him stumble. His feet slip on the leaves, and he rests a hand on the tree beside him to steady himself. The lyrium glow surges from his skin and settles again.

“I can contain them,” the Dread Wolf says quietly.

Fenris curls his fingers into the rough bark of the tree and tries to swallow his anger. “I have seen that same confidence in every magister who challenged my master, up until the moment they realized they were going to die. I saw it in my master, too, the day I crushed his throat in my hand. You will forgive me if I do not believe you.”

The Dread Wolf presses his lips together, then offers a thin smile. “I must admit I do not enjoy being compared to Tevinter magisters.”

“Then stop acting like one.” Fenris turns and strides ahead, ferns swiping at his hip.

Rustling behind him as the Dread Wolf follows. “Magic was not always so exclusive. We all had it. It could not be used to separate one group of people from another.”

“No. You found other ways to do that.”

“Ways that can be changed with words, even with violence, if necessary. The Veil can’t be changed. This world was broken in its very making. It cannot be fixed.”

“I must disagree.” The slope cants down under Fenris’s feet, and he grasps at saplings on either side to keep his balance. “Such things can be fixed, can even thrive, with patience and care. It takes time.” He picks his way down a fall of stones. “But it is possible, however far away it might seem at the start.”

“Would that I could share your faith.”

“Would that you could.” He ducks under a low-hanging branch. Light spills through the trees, brighter now than it was at the top of the slope; a few more yards and he walks out into an open plain, with knee-high grass in pale green susurrating in the warm breeze. In the middle of the field there is a familiar wooden structure. Fenris heads toward it.

“I do not need your help,” the Dread Wolf says behind him.

Fenris makes no reply. He is thinking.

“I would appreciate it. It would certainly make things easier. But I do not need it, and I certainly will not force you to help me.” A brief pause. “However, if you decide to oppose me, I will not allow you to stand in the way of my purpose.”

“No, I would imagine not.” Fenris stops. “This is it.” He had not seen the vegetable garden on the approach, but there it is, off the back of the building.

“Very well, then.” The Dread Wolf sighs. “Shall we?”

“No,” Fenris replies. “I will go by myself. You will be staying here.”

It takes a moment for the confusion to tip over into incredulity. “You…plan to leave me here. In the Fade.”

“Yes.”

“You cannot return without my guidance.”

Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “Can’t I?”

“And how, exactly, will you stop me from following you?”

“By any means at my disposal. Although I can’t say what will happen to either of us should that become necessary. I understand crossing the Veil is a difficult business at the best of times.”

The Dread Wolf does not reply, only gazes at him.

Fenris remembers now why the Dalish invoke his name with such reverence and fear, understands why he is known by such a title. He watches Fenris with a predator’s eyes, and Fenris is afraid suddenly that if he stays any longer he may never get a chance to leave at all.

The lyrium flows over his body as dam breaking, a flood bursting forth. The Dread Wolf smiles coolly. “I will get out. I feel I should warn you.”

Fenris scatters.

No pain here. Only emptiness, the absence of any sensation. The fear mounts higher. Where is he supposed to go? How? He knows nothing, about any of this. He tries to remember what happened the last time—it can’t be that much different, can it? The voice, that was it. This way. Behind him. Fenris turns.

Pain. There it is. Immediately he wants to go back, to escape it, to resolve once more into his body of flesh and blood—but the Dread Wolf waits for him there in the Fade. There is no going back. He must go forward. He is strained, torn into a thousand thousand motes of nothingness that haven’t a chance of coming together again—how could they ever? How could he have been so foolish as to think he could cross the Veil all by himself? Surely staying in the Fade could not be worse than this.

The Dread Wolf’s predator gaze rises to the fore of his mind, the violent blue-white flash of his eyes. It could be worse. To submit himself to the mad god of legend, yes, it could be worse.

It’s only pain. (It might be more. Fenris puts the thought from his head.) It’s only pain. He knows pain, has defeated it more times than he cares to remember. He must go forward.

He goes forward.

——

“Oh, Maker, what is that—“

Fenris collapses to the floor.

Floor. Wooden. His hand in front of him, the lyrium sparkling white.

“Fenris?”

He can’t move. Can’t even open his mouth to reply.

“How did you—let’s just save that for later. Are you all right?”

Rolled on his back. A grunt from low in his throat. Pain. Still. Warm wetness at his middle.

“You’re bleeding!” Tugging as the cloak comes untied. A sharp inhalation. “Oh, no.”

Fenris reaches out in a convulsive motion and grasps Anders’s robes. “Just stay still, all right?” Anders says shakily, and lays one glowing hand on Fenris’s destroyed middle. “And stay with me, can you do that?”

Fenris blinks slowly. The room is getting further away.

“Fenris? Fenris!”

He closes his eyes.

——

——

——

As soon as Fenris disappears from above him the slab of rock begins to slide. Hawke darts a hand out and grabs the edge of it to yank himself away—only to gasp in pain as the metal strut stuck through his side pulls at the torn flesh around it. Shit. Hawke pulls his legs up, pressing his shins flat against the rock and drawing a throwing knife (his daggers were lost in the collapse). The slab shifts, weight gathering on his straining thighs as he saws at his leather armor, slicing into the flesh beneath and not caring so long as it gets him free and saves him from being crushed into jelly. A low groan from the wreckage above him. Shit. He saws faster, feels the edge of the knife scrape on stone—good enough, or it’ll have to be, because there’s no bloody time left. He grabs the edge of the slab and yanks with all his might, pumping his legs. His side tears open, and his armor pulls tight as a few remaining threads hold fast—until they snap, and he scrabbles out of the narrowing gap, dragging himself away and onto the surrounding debris just as the space closes completely. He crawls over the rubble and toward the wall in case there’s any more shifting that might threaten to trap him again.

The faint sound of birdsong. The rustling of wind in the trees. Nothing moves.

He’s alone.

Hawke moans, leaning back against the fallen rock and clutching his side. It’s gushing blood. That needs fixing, now. He loosens his armor and drags it off over his head, putting it on again backwards so the intact straps are on the wounded side. Then he removes one of his bracers and slices his shirtsleeve off, stuffing it between the armor and the ripped flesh and then tightening the straps as far as they’ll go. It’s so painful it makes him nauseous, and he leans down, his elbow braced against a hunk of stone, trying not to retch.

The nausea settles. Hawke struggles to his feet. Even with the patch-up, he’s losing a lot of blood, and he still has to get back to camp.

He goes as fast as he can manage, jogging down the halls (each step jarring the hole in his side) and out of the temple until the effort makes him dizzy and he can only walk. He stumbles through the forest, grabbing onto trees for support as his head pounds and the world tilts slowly around him. The pain throbs to the pulse of his heart. He knows the way—down the stream, taking the left fork, passing through the patch of wetlands. The mud sucks at his boots, and he wavers but does not fall.

One last slope. Of course they had to camp at the top of a slope, higher ground and all that. Hawke steels himself and starts climbing. The wound pulls tight every time he extends to grasp a root or a jut of rock, and more than once he must pause to press his forehead into his arm and grit his teeth and bring the agony back under control. Not much further now. The top of the hill approaches.

He drags himself over the lip and hauls himself to his feet again. The first tents, only thirty yards away. Almost there.

“Hawke? Is that you?”

A red-haired figure, sprinting toward him even in full armor. Hawke staggers toward her, clutching his side.

Another shout. “Fetch a healer! Now!”

Hawke collapses to his knees. Aveline crashes down in front of him, grabbing his shoulders. “Hawke? What happened?”

“He was there. The Dread Wolf.” Hawke shakes his head. “There was—the ceiling fell in, we were trapped, and Fenris was—he was hurt, he was going to die, but the Dread Wolf took him into the Fade and they were just—gone, I don’t know what happened to them after that—“

A sob wrenches out of him, and Aveline leans forward, holding him tight. “Fenris will be all right. He’s a tough bastard if nothing else.”

Hawke wraps an arm around Aveline, his back shuddering as he buries his face in her neck. “I don’t know where they are, I don’t even know if he’s still alive, I shouldn’t—I shouldn’t have let him go alone—“

“Don’t worry, Hawke,” Aveline murmurs, rubbing his back. “We’ll find him. I promise.”

Chapter Text

“Never been studied before? Really?” Aveline stabs at her plate. “Then Bioethics will probably want a full report.”

“I know.” Hawke sighs and reaches for the serving plate. “It’s just…the elvhen didn’t want to be studied.”

Aveline swallows her mouthful of stir fry. “It’s not like we’re taking one from their home or anything.”

Varric sets down his cup. “I checked for splicing records on the Minrathous ship. They wiped all of it. If we’re gonna submit anything, you’ll have to start from scratch, Hawke.”

“You know,” Isabela says, wiping her mouth. “If we bring them a load of data on a brand new species, they’ll probably give us a huge bonus.”

Hawke rests his chin in his hand and doesn’t reply.

Anders’s seat was unclaimed—he’s still at the scanners with Merrill—so Fenris took it. He sits with his head bowed, his black eyes fixed on his empty plate. Which hardly had anything on it to begin with.

“Fenris, d’you want any more?” Hawke holds out the serving plate.

A small shake of the head. “No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? What you ate wouldn’t fill me up for five minutes.”

“It was adequate. Er—the food was excellent. Thank you. And the amount was adequate.”

“That doesn’t mean you couldn’t do with some more.” He proffers the plate again. “Really, there’s plenty to go around.”

A long moment of hesitation. Hawke is trying to think of another plan of attack when Fenris reaches out. “Thank you, Hawke.” He serves himself a generous heap of the stir fry. It sets Hawke’s heart at ease.

“Would you mind, Fenris?” Aveline asks. “If Hawke did a few tests on you?”

Fenris’s fork freezes halfway to his plate. “I—n—no. I would not—I would not mind.”

Then a violent shiver runs through him, and he hugs himself. Hawke sits forward, mildly alarmed. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“Are you sure? We can get you—“

“Yes, it’s just—“ He cuts himself off, then lets out a breath and slowly returns to his meal. “I am only a little cold. It will pass.”

Hawke holds back a groan. It’s like pulling teeth. “If you say so.”

“Well, we’ve got another job on the way before we reach Starkhaven.” Aveline serves herself seconds. “So you have some time to put the data together.”

——

Hawke stares at the muted blue glow of the seam of light bordering his ceiling.

Bioethics. Right. More like “if we don’t like it it’s unethical but if it’s good for us it’s perfectly fine.” He flips on his side and heaves a long sigh. There’s no doubt they’ll demand a full report on elvhen biology, as well as whatever Fenris remembers of their culture and lifestyle. Not much use in refusing, either. If he does, they’ll just sever his contract, seize Fenris, and find another xenobiologist to do the work. They wouldn’t be wanting for takers—most xenobiologists out there would kill to get a look at a real elvhen.

But the elvhen don’t want to be studied. And neither, Hawke thinks, does Fenris. He’s been studied for the past ten years at the hands of humans who didn’t care a whit about him beyond what money he could bring in. He might have agreed at the dinner table, but he owes his life to Hawke and the rest of the crew, not to mention how he’s effectively at their mercy now. How could he have refused?

Hawke goes through options in his head. Tell the Agency up theirs and flee? Not like they’ve got several thousand subcontracted ships just like this one in every corner of the galaxy. Pretend there was nothing in the containment unit on that Minrathous ship? Tough to explain away the new crew member and his weird scary eyes.

Not to mention Aveline will have none of it. She’s a good person, but she’s a proud member of the Agency and believes in them far more than Hawke does. Far more than they deserves.

Hawke flips onto his other side, flips back, then throws the covers onto the floor and rolls out of bed.

He puts on some clothes and opens the door—with the soundproof seal broken, the low, grating thrum of the engine is loud in his ears, and he winces as he shuffles left down the hall, following the thin lines of blue light on the walls and floor. Not his first sleepless night, but he knows a cure that works sometimes, so he passes by the containment units and takes a right and opens the door into the garden.

The door slides shut behind him, and it’s quiet once again, his plants all limned in muted blue. He walks through the undergrowth first, the lush shrubs and high ferns that come up all the way to his stomach. After so long walking on hard metal surfaces, the soft soil under his boots is a blessing. The ferns sway gently as he disturbs them, but without reproach; he plucks a single pinna and rubs it between his fingers. It smells fresh.

Next he checks on the shelves of potted plants that fill the other half of the room. His favorites are the cacti, soft and fleshy to the touch. He loves the moonbells, too, that droop sleepily under the dark sunlamp, and as well the argent spires, their coiled cones of lace-like hyphae brushing the bottom of the shelf above.

Plants don’t care if they’re stolen away from their home world and kept for ten years as the intriguing pet of a nefarious splicing organization. He can’t hurt a plant by studying it. Even if he has to kill it to do so, it won’t mind, and anyway it has seeds, another will grow.

“Why did it have to be me?” Hawke mutters at the argent spire. The fungus does not reply.

He straightens with reluctance and goes to head back to his room. Left, past the containment units—they made one of those up for Fenris, Hawke hopes it’s all right—down the hall, where at the end the blue glow of the hallway lights reflects off the engine room door—

That’s not the door.

Hawke squints, then jogs toward it. He halts. “Fenris?”

Fenris starts, his black eyes opening. He’s leaned up against the engine room door, curled in a ball. “Oh—Hawke?”

“What on earth are you doing out here?” Hawke crouches next to him. Did he really fall asleep with the engine thrumming away right next to his ear? It’s so loud Hawke has to raise his voice to speak.

“I…was cold,” Fenris replies.

Even with the two sweaters. And the engine room…Hawke touches the door. It’s warm under his fingertips. Damn it all. “I’ll tell Aveline we need to start heating that containment unit, I’ll pay for the bloody fuel myself if I have to—“

“No, Hawke—“ Fenris uncurls a little. “Please. The clothes are enough, it’s just…” He hesitates.

“It’s just what?” Hawke asks gently.

“It happens in…tense situations. I begin to feel cold and shiver, even when I’m perfectly fine. It’s nothing more than a mild inconvenience, and I do not think it will last.”

Hawke absorbs the information and turns it over. If elvhen function better at higher body temperatures, then a stress response might activate a temperature set-point and induce body heat generation until it’s reached. Which it’ll never be with Fenris, because his heat-generating capacity was severely reduced by the splicing. “Bastards,” Hawke murmurs under his breath.

“What was that?”

He raises his voice again. “Nothing. Listen, how about you spend the rest of the night in my quarters?”

Fenris’s black eyes stare at him, glinting a little in the blue light.

Hawke is glad the corridor is so dim so Fenris can’t see the blush. Or maybe he can, elvhen could have excellent night vision for all Hawke knows. He winces. “Not for anything, er, indecent. But I’ve got body heat to spare. As…I suppose you know.”

For a moment there’s no sound but the harsh buzz of the engine. Then Fenris nods and rises.

Hawke leads the way back to his quarters. When he shuts the door it seals the sound out, and the silence is a blessing. “There, that’s better. Oh—“ The blanket is still on the floor. He picks it up, takes off his boots and shirt (best to leave the trousers), and lies on the bed, scooting back to make room.

Fenris still stands by the door. The sweaters are Aveline’s, and they’re too big; only his fingers peek out of the sleeves. Hawke starts to ask, “What’s—“

“I don’t want to be studied anymore,” he blurts out.

Hawke sits up again, the blanket pooling over his legs. “I know. I’m not going to study you.”

A pause. “You’re…you’re not?”

“No.” He heaves a sigh. “I haven’t any idea where that leaves me, or you, or the rest of the crew, but it isn’t right. So I’m not going to.”

Fenris’s fingers curl up into fists, disappearing inside his sleeves. “Thank you.”

“No need for that, I’d be an ass to do it.” He gestures. “Come on then. I know the bed’s sort of small, but, well, so are you. I think we’ll be all right.”

He lies down, and Fenris crawls in beside him, wasting no time in wriggling close and burying his face in Hawke’s chest. Hawke holds back a grin. “You might be more comfortable if you flip over.”

Fenris obeys, rolling onto his other side. Hawke wraps an arm around his middle and lets out a surprised chuckle. “Oh, Maker. I’d forgotten under all those layers.”

“What?”

“You’re so—hard. All these plates in your chest.” Not bone, he’s decided, definitely cartilaginous or something of the sort.

“Oh. Is it…uncomfortable?”

“No, no. Just unfamiliar, that’s all.” He pulls Fenris closer. The sweaters, at least, are soft against his skin.

“Thank you, Hawke,” Fenris whispers.

“Not a problem. If you ever start freezing again, let me know and I can…” Spoon you again? Hawke swallows. “Help. Somehow.”

“All right.”

There’s a faint blue glow in the dark. Not from the lights this time; it’s coming from Fenris’s markings. Hawke thinks of asking about that phenomenon.

In the morning, perhaps. For now, Fenris deserves some rest.

——

Hawke rouses a couple of times in the morning; he’s used to rising early. But each time he wakes to find white hair tickling his neck, a soft sweater pressed against his chest, Fenris still breathing quiet and slow. And Hawke refuses even to entertain the idea of disturbing him, so instead he shuts his eyes and drifts off to sleep again. Until—

“STAND DOWN!”

Hawke starts so hard his stomach turns, and  he props himself up on an elbow, squinting at the bright light streaming into his room. “Hm? Wha’s wrong? Something happen?”

Abruptly he discovers that the entire rest of the crew are standing in his room, gathered around his bed. In which Fenris still lies, although he has nearly disappeared beneath the blanket, his black eyes just peeking out. Aveline is closest, her stun gun  drawn. Her cheeks have started to redden. “Oh! You’re—you’re all right.”

“Of course I am.” Hawke rubs his eyes, trying to remain nonchalant about the situation. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well—you hadn’t woken up yet, which is strange for you, and then we found out the containment unit was empty—“

Isabela cuts in. “We thought it ate you!”

Hawke frowns, sitting up. The blanket falls from his bare shoulders. “It?”

“Oh—he. Sorry.”

“We hammered on your door,” Aveline continues. “But you couldn’t hear, of course, so I just…opened it up…”

She trails off. Silence in the small room. In the doorway Merrill’s eyes are wide, and Anders is hiding a smile behind his hand. Varric, meanwhile, is making no attempt to hide his smile.

Hawke sighs. “He was cold. He can’t regulate his own body temperature. I found him sleeping in the hall next to the engine room to scavenge heat. I wasn’t just going to let him freeze, but I don’t know how to work the bloody climate controls. So I brought him here.”

“Oh! I see.” Aveline holsters her stun gun. “Well—I’m sorry for waking you up, then.”

“Don’t worry about it, probably should have been up anyway.” Hawke waves a hand.

“Right. Then—we’ll leave you two alone.”

She spins and marches out of the room. The rest of the crew follows; only Varric lingers, lifting a knowing eyebrow. Hawke gropes for something to throw at him, finds a rolled-up sock, and chucks it. Varric bats it away with a wry grin. “Breakfast is ready whenever you want it.”

Then he leaves, the door sliding shut behind him.

“Sorry about that,” Hawke mumbles.

Fenris emerges cautiously. “I apologize. If I have made things awkward for you…”

“Oh, no, it’s nothing I can’t manage.” He lets out an enormous yawn. “Except for maybe Varric, anyway. How’d you sleep?”

Fenris smiles. “Well. Very well. I feel…warm.”

“D’you want another sweater?” Hawke gets to his feet and shuffles over to the closet. “It’ll be cold out there. I’ve got an extra.”

Fenris answers almost before Hawke is done talking. “Yes, I—thank you. I would like that.”

Hawke plucks one from its hanger, tugging the zipper undone and handing it over. Fenris puts it on, his hands disappearing entirely inside the sleeves. He wraps it around himself.

It’s several sizes too big, but Hawke supposes that helps it fit over the two other ones. He puts on a new shirt and his coat. “You hungry?”

“Yes.”

“All right, then let’s get some breakfast. Promise me you’ll eat more this time, all right?”

“I promise.”

Hawke leads the way through the corridors. As soon as he’s got some food in him, he’ll ask Aveline to raise the temperature in the containment unit. Turning the corner into the galley, he tries not to think of how much he’ll miss having someone else to sleep beside in this great bloody emptiness that surrounds them.

Chapter Text

Aveline slaps the box on the table. “Last one. For a while, anyway, the next pallet’s buried under several blocks of meal packs. So you’d better savor them.”

“The…the last one?” Hawke’s heart drops as he gazes at the yellow CHOCO-BISCUITS logo emblazoned over the cardboard. Meanwhile, Isabela’s hand darts out, and she pops the end open and comes away with four biscuits. Hawke makes a small, stricken noise. Four? That’s a third of the package!

Aveline narrows her eyes but makes no protest and takes only two. Hawke picks out three and holds the box out to Fenris.

Fenris shrinks back a little. “I…it is all right. I have had enough to eat.”

Isabela chuckles, wiping crumbs from her lips. “That is so not the point of dessert.”

Hawke remains unmoving. At last Fenris yields. “Then—thank you.”

Hawke’s chest warms with pride, and he plops the whole box down. “Rest is yours.”

Fenris flushes blue. “Thank you,” he mumbles again, and takes one.

Hawke nibbles, mourning. To go weeks without any Choco-Biscuits? How is he supposed to survive without that sickly sweet taste, that artificial flavoring and thick coat of preservatives that practically singe the tongue? It’s not the first time they’ve run out of Choco-Biscuits, true; but Hawke can’t remember how he survived in the past. What dread torment, to go so long without—a mortal wound, to be sure…. He finishes the first biscuit with reverence. Thirty-three percent gone. The loss is profound.

When he looks up Fenris is cramming his third biscuit into his mouth.

Isabela snorts. “You really like these things that much? They’re vile.”

Fenris stares at the empty box in front of him. “I—I apologize. It was unseemly.”

Isabela cackles at that. “You think that’s unseemly, you should see me after a few shots of wyvern musk liqueur.”

Fenris tips the box toward him to see if there’s anything left inside; but of course there isn’t.

Hawke knows what he has to do. He knows. Yet still his hand is leaden as he slides his last two biscuits across the table. “Here, Fenris, you can have mine. I’m completely stuffed. Couldn’t eat another bite.”

Fenris looks up with wide black eyes. “Hawke…I can’t take those from you—“

“It’s fine, really. It isn’t a big deal, I don’t like them that much.”

A bald-faced lie. Isabela starts to say something, but Aveline’s hand claps down on her forearm and she falls silent. Hawke maintains his glassy smile.

Fenris reaches out and takes the biscuits.

Hawke sits back and tries not to feel too crushed. It was for a good cause. Fenris consumes them like a man starved, and afterwards carefully plucks the scattering of crumbs from the front of his sweater.

“Is that an alien thing? The sweet tooth?” Isabela asks.

“I don’t know,” Fenris says, and licks the crumbs from his fingers.

But is it sweet things in general, or only chocolate? Hawke taps his chin. He can think of a way to test that.

——

Isabela slips into the kitchen. “All right,” she whispers. “He’s waiting for us.”

Hawke scoops up his platter. “Good. Let’s go.”

Baking isn’t something he indulges in often—mostly it’s Merrill and Isabela who like to try out recipes—but he thought this attempt turned out fairly well. At least he hopes so, or else his enormous pyramid of fudge brownies is going to go to waste. Aveline’s carrying a tin that contains a plain, golden-brown pie with bee-apple juice oozing from the slits in the top, and Isabela holds a dish on top of which wobbles a white-frosted cake that smells strongly of rum.

Aveline leads the charge, marching out into the small dining room and planting her tin on the table. Hawke follows suit, and Isabela sways in after; they place their offerings to either side. Fenris’s eyes flick up, scanning uncertainly between the three of them, before his gaze is drawn inexorably to the concoctions before him.

Hawke claps his hands together. “So! Last night, when you devoured those Choco-Biscuits, I couldn’t help wondering if it was the chocolate flavor that got your attention or the sweetness in general. Now, as you know, I take my research very seriously, so I created a scientific experiment to help us answer this question.” He gestures. “You try each of these, I’ll record my observations, analyze the data, and draw my conclusions.”

Aveline appears with a stack of plates, a bundle of forks, and two serving utensils; she starts cutting a portion of the pie. For a moment Fenris only sits there in silence, looking half-stunned. Then he folds his arms suddenly and shivers. “You made these…for me?”

“Well, and for science. But yes.” Hawke grins.

“But—you shouldn’t have. You shouldn’t have done all this.”

Shit. Hawke treads with care. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t done anything!” He looks up, agitated. “I don’t do anything on this ship, I just—wander, and watch, and waste your food, I haven’t done a thing to earn any of this—“

Hawke comes over and sits on the end of the bench. “Fenris, you don’t need to earn it, you’re a passenger! We don’t expect you to do any work, we’re just happy to have gotten you away from those splicers.”

Fenris’s hands ball up and disappear inside his sleeves. Hawke thinks a moment and then scoots a little closer. “Would you…like to? To help out around the ship? I mean—I could teach you how to take care of the garden, and Isabela could show you how to maintain the ship—“

“Yes! Yes. I would like that.”

“Right, then it’s settled. You work for Aveline now.” Hawke nods at the table. “And there’s your first paycheck. In advance.”

Aveline holds out the pie plate expectantly. Fenris accepts it and takes a bite.

Then another bite, and another. Hawke has wondered if all elvhen are that bloody skinny or if Fenris is just undernourished; the display is making him think the latter. Isabela is already working on one of Hawke’s brownies. “Mm.” She nods in approval. “You know, that’s not bad.”

Fenris, having inhaled the pie, is reaching out to cut himself a piece of the rum cake. Hawke lunges forward and grasps his arm. “Er—might want to watch that one, Isabela went a bit heavy on the rum—“

“Nonsense! The rum’s what makes it good, so more rum makes it better!”

Hawke winces as he takes the slice of pie Aveline’s handing him. “I don’t know how he metabolizes alcohol yet, I don’t want him to keel backwards off the bench—“

“I’ve consumed alcohol in the past,” Fenris interrupts. “I had a small cup of whiteflower liqueur. It made me…sleepy.”

“Oh. Not sick or anything?”

“No.”

Hawke sighs. “Just…be careful, would you? For me.”

Two slices of cake and twenty minutes later, Fenris’s face is flushed blue, and he sways in his seat. Hawke slides closer, abandoning his third slice of pie, and rests a hand on Fenris’s back. “All right, let’s leave the rest of that cake for another evening, shall we?”

Fenris leans into Hawke’s side and shuts his eyes.

Hawke hopes he isn’t blushing, knows for a fact he is because he blushes terribly at the smallest provocation, and instead prays whatever story Isabela’s telling is enough to hold Aveline’s attention. He’s already gotten enough sly looks since they discovered him and Fenris asleep in the same damned bed a few nights ago. “Er…how are you doing?” Hawke ventures.

“I’m very happy.” Fenris smiles, his eyes still closed. “Thank you for this.”

That was mostly the point of the evening, so Hawke just murmurs, “Good,” and rubs Fenris’s back through the two sweaters. A good experiment; but of course results must be repeatable to be valid. Hawke plucks another brownie from the platter and starts planning the next iteration.

Chapter Text

“They asked me where your report was. It’s been over a week.”

Hawke rubs his face. “Yes, I know, I just…”

He’s expecting Aveline to arch an eyebrow at him and force him to explain himself, but instead she picks up again after he trails off, her brow furrowed. “They asked me to summarize what we found. I told them we had one spliced elvhen living in our containment unit. And that he’d informed us he didn’t consent to being studied.”

Hawke holds his breath. When Aveline doesn’t continue, he prompts her. “And?”

She sighs. “They said they wanted to bring him in to evaluate his competency.”

Hawke’s jaw drops. “His—his competency? He’s perfectly competent, you’ve spoken to him!”

“Yes, Hawke, I know. I told them that, and they said they wanted one of their trained psychiatrists to do the evaluation.”

“Aveline, if he goes into that building he’s never walking out again. You have to know that.”

She levels a glare at him, but it’s halfhearted. A good sign. She’s loyal as they come—wouldn’t have been assigned to Admiral Isabela’s ship otherwise—but even she can tell something’s wrong. “I invited them to send a psychiatrist out to meet us.”

Shit. A bad report will be enough to condemn Fenris, but Hawke could probably leverage his way into the assessment, maybe ameliorate that somehow…

“They refused,” Aveline continues. “Cited safety reasons. Since splices are supposed to be dangerous. Said they’d only use their own facilities.”

Hawke gapes. “Aveline…that’s ridiculous. They vetted our containment unit. They built it.”

“Yes, I know, Hawke.”

“So? What did you do?”

She shrugs. “Told them it was an irregular and unreasonable request and I was lodging a complaint. Which I did.”

She…lodged a complaint. Of course she did. Well, it’ll buy them time, at least. Hawke lets out a long breath. “Thanks, Aveline.”

“Well, it was the right thing to do.”

“Still, thank you. He…he’s never defended himself. He needs us.”

Aveline groans. “It’s fine, I’ve survived this long babysitting all you lot. What’s one more?”

Hawke hugs her.

——

Two weeks later…

 

“Hawke. He looks ridiculous.”

Hawke winces. “It’s not that bad.”

“Where did you get these things?” Anders flings a hand at Fenris.

“A secondhand store?”

“Did it stop taking donations twenty years ago?”

“I don’t know, maybe someone cleaned out their mother’s closet or something—“

Anders snorts. “Can’t imagine why they gave away these gems.”

Hawke lets out a sigh. “Listen, it does the job, all right?”

It’s true. The dark, blocky translucent plastic covers Fenris’s black eyes, and the high, stiff collar conceals the markings on his neck and chin. Shimmering fabric in deep blue stretches over his arms down to the wrist, and he kneads his gloved hands together.

“Well, I’ll be embarrassed to be seen in public with him, but you’re right, no one will be able to tell he’s an elvhen,” Anders admits.

“Exactly! Hmm…” Hawke considers Fenris’s hair, long and white spilling down his back. Easily passed off as a dye job, but it might still draw attention. And the ears could be a body mod, but it’s best not to take the risk. “Fenris, could you tie your hair up? I’ll dig up a hat for you.”

Fenris stares at the floor and says something very quiet.

Hawke leans in. “Er—what was that?”

“I lost the hair tie you gave me, Anders,” he mumbles, flushing blue. “I’m very sorry.”

Anders guffaws. “The fact that you managed to hold onto the same one for three weeks is a bloody miracle. Here, have another.” He strips one from his wrist and holds it out. “I never use them anyway.”

It’s true; Hawke’s never seen him use anything but the cables that lead out of the base of his skull. He always keeps the ties around his wrists though, mainly for chewing on while he analyzes scans. Fenris puts his hair up in a bun, tucking a wayward strand behind his ear. “Thank you.”

“All right!” Hawke claps his hands together. “Shall we?”

——

He sticks out.

Hawke knew it would happen, but it still makes his heart race. Not that anyone here would recognize an elvhen—what little data exists on them is buried at the bottom of the stuffiest xenobiology databases. Still, he wouldn’t be surprised if the splicers are still looking for their lost prize, and ever since Aveline told him about her conversation with Bioethics a couple of weeks ago, he’s half-afraid they’re being surveilled.

The narrow street is packed. Anders, in the front, navigates the dense crowd with confidence. Hawke goes behind Fenris, resting a hand on his back, afraid of losing him. The cries of street vendors, the sharp, barking sounds of haggling, the babble of conversation all rise to a brassy swell in his ears. Awnings in red, green or purple, some fringed with gaudy yellow or gold, pass by above them, providing some shade from the punishing sun. The heat is oppressive, and the smell nearly as bad, the odor of ten thousand stinking humans mixing with the scent of spice and smoked meat in a decidedly unpleasant manner. Hawke doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to the jarring transition between the Drakon’s controlled environment and a packed urban center. People half-dressed smack into him or elbow past. Fenris, wrapped up from head to toe, looks decidedly out of place.

But no one seems to be looking. Too much else going on for them to care about one weirdo who dresses out of fashion zines from twenty years ago. That’s a good sign. If anyone did notice—in this city, they’d give Fenris up to the splicers for half a sovereign. At least Bioethics would have a harder time of it. The government isn’t very welcome down here.

Anders tacks left, and Fenris follows, Hawke right behind. Almost there. On the side street there’s a little room to breathe, and Hawke comes up beside Fenris. “How are you doing?”

“I am fine. I…I like this place. It is warm, and there is plenty to see.”

“Good. Hopefully this won’t take long and we’ll have time to explore a bit.”

“Here we are!” Anders gestures.

The place is hard to miss. The entrance is attended by a dozen caged birds, their various trills and warbles meshing into an atonal but texturally pleasant composition. Anders slips inside, with Hawke and Fenris behind.

“Hawke!” A squat, bearded man comes out from behind the sales counter. “So glad you’re here!”

Fewer birds inside, but there are stacks of cages and tanks in the cramped room, homes to whatever new fish, amphibians, reptiles, or other non-mammalian creatures have made their way to the store recently. The walls, meanwhile, are lined with potted plants and fungi, all flourishing under sunlamps or shades. Hawke nods in greeting. “Good to see you too, Gorim.”

A rasping yowl, and a violaceous creature comes trotting out of the back.

“Raisin!” Anders kneels and sticks his arms out. “How are you?”

As ugly as ever. Every time Hawke visits he finds himself amazed she’s still alive, but her wrinkled face, patchy fur, and frankly embarrassing nose haven’t changed a bit. She goes straight up to Anders and starts licking his hand with her tri-pronged tongue.

Fenris draws back with haste. Hawke chuckles. “It’s all right, she’s harmless.”

“Ah. I…I was unsure.”

“Got her from a splicer about twenty years ago,” Gorim puts in. “A domestic cat they worked up into a sniffer. Pretty common operation, she sniffs out hazardous organic material. But apparently she wouldn’t stop biting her handlers so they gave up on her and sold her to me.” He shrugs. “Don’t know what was wrong with them, she’s perfectly polite if you feed her enough and pet her a few times a day.”

“She’s wonderful,” Anders adds, holding her in his arms.

Then he squawks as she begins to struggle. She squirms away from him, trotting over to Fenris and winding between his legs. Letting out a high mewl, she gazes up at him with earwax-yellow eyes. Hawke grins. “I think she likes you.”

Fenris shrinks back; Raisin follows, rubbing against his calf. “It’s all right,” Hawke says, and picks her up, extending his arms. “You can take her.”

Fenris hesitates, then unfolds his arms.

Hawke places her inside them, and Raisin squeaks and wriggles, planting her paws on Fenris’s shoulder and licking his cheek where it’s exposed between the collar and the dark plastic over his eyes.

Gorim chuckles. “I’ll be darned. Maybe you smell good.”

The memory of the splicers’ ship and the floral scent of the goo comes back to Hawke all in a rush, followed by the memory of how it tasted filling his mouth. He swallows and takes a deep breath.

Anders stands, slumped. Hawke winces. “Sorry, Anders.”

“No, it’s fine,” he says airily. “Not hurtful at all. Not like she’s never met him before and I spend twenty minutes petting her every time we visit.”

“Here.” Gorim goes to the counter and lifts a small, spiny dust-brown lizard from the tank next to the service bell. It crawls slowly up his arm. “You can hold Cardelia, if you like.”

“Er—no, thank you, that’s all right.”

Hawke wants to hold Cardelia, but he has business here. “So what’ve you got for me today?”

Twenty minutes later, he emerges from the back with three toads, a reflective turtle, and a pair of venomous cacti. The work is quite good, which Hawke isn’t especially happy about; they’ve got enough trouble chasing down professional splicers without worrying about the amateurs. “Thanks, Gorim.”

“Pleasure doing business with you, Doctor.”

“All right, are you two—oh.”

Raisin appears to be asleep on Fenris’s shoulder; he pets her, swaying back and forth as if soothing her. Meanwhile, Anders has made friends with Cardelia. He holds her under the sun lamp above her cage, stroking her back. At Hawke’s entrance he glances up. “Are we ready?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Fenris isn’t happy to leave Raisin, and she isn’t happy to be left, but they manage to extract her from Fenris’s arms. Hawke carries the black box of repossessed splices in front of him as they go back up the side street.

“Do you…come here often?” Fenris ventures.

“Not often enough,” Anders mumbles.

Hawke grins. “I think we could stand to make our trips a little more frequent.”

Chapter Text

Fenris sits down on the slippery tile, extends one of his legs, and reaches for his toes.

He easily grasps his ankle, his fingers wrapping around the black fabric of his swimsuit. The rest of the team is stretching a few yards to his right. A few of them erupt into laughter about…something. It isn’t that they don’t like him; he gets along perfectly well with all of his teammates. It’s just that…he hasn’t gotten very close with any of them. He only transferred six months ago, after all.

“Mind if I join you?”

Fenris glances up. Oh. Aveline. The women’s team is stretching a few yards to his left, but it seems Aveline has chosen to come over here instead.

“Of course.” Fenris nods to the empty tile next to him. Aveline sits, presses the soles of her feet together, clasps her toes, and leans down. Fenris switches legs, reaching again for his toes. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, the two of them stretching together; they’re often the only two in the pool in the early hours of the morning before class. As now, they rarely speak. But still, Fenris values the companionship.

He folds an arm up behind his head and pulls on the elbow, gazing absently at the other teams across the pool—one in green swimsuits, with whom his school has had a meet before; and the other in red. From further away, and this is the first time they’ll be competing. Fenris scans the swimmers. A pair of them break away and head for the diving blocks to warm up.

Oh.

The first is skinny, of medium height, as one might expect from a swimmer. The second is enormous. Well over six feet, with broad, powerful shoulders. He isn’t wearing a full-length suit, or even half-length; it only goes partway down his thighs. Not altogether surprising, since Fenris can’t imagine any mortal swimsuit could contain thighs like those, not to mention those calves, which could surely split fabric with a single flexing—

“He’s fast. Supposed to be best in the region.”

Fenris looks up at Aveline. “What?”

She nods at the giant young man climbing up on the diving block. “Set a conference record for the hundred-meter fly last year. Strange he picked fly—with shoulders like those, I’d’ve thought he’d go for the breaststroke.”

Fenris smiles a little. “Like you?”

She shrugs and returns the smile. “Well, it is the best stroke, after all.”

The skinnier swimmer slips into the water and grasps the block, then arches back, gliding under and surfacing again in a backstroke. The flyer climbs up onto his block and readies himself; then he dives.

Fenris only just manages to keep his jaw from falling open. How strong that launch was, although he can’t stay under for long with his size—he bursts to the surface, rakes his arms back, swings them forward again. Fenris stares, his stretches forgotten. That stroke, the flyer’s torso heaving up so far above the surface with each rotation of his arms—so that’s how he can set records even with such an enormous body to drag through the water. His kick is incredibly powerful, sending up great splashes of spray behind him.

“Fast, isn’t he?” Aveline muses.

The turn is no less breathtaking. Fenris can’t imagine how strong the flyer’s legs must be to carry so much bulk that far beneath the water. “He’s amazing,” he mutters.

At the other end of the pool the flyer climbs out, pushing his goggles up again. He reaches his arms above his head, stretching, and his back muscles tighten.

Fenris swallows.

“I’m pretty sure he’s swimming the two hundred today as well as the one hundred,” Aveline says. “He came in second with that one at the tournament, but he’s a sprinter at heart, he’ll be worse with longer events. You might have a chance, you’re quite good yourself.”

“Thank you,” Fenris mumbles. It’s true that since transferring from his old school—he recoils even from thinking about it—he’s improved even more than he could have hoped. He won the two hundred fly at the last meet, but even so, he can’t imagine he’ll win against—that.

The flyer’s friend climbs out of the water and pulls off his swim cap, wet blonde hair hanging down to his shoulders. The two of them grin at each other and head back to the bench. Fenris takes a deep breath and rises, going to the pool to warm up. It’ll be all right. His times are better than they’ve ever been. He won’t embarrass himself.

At least, not with his swimming.

——

They’re in adjacent lanes.

Of course they are. Fenris lines up with the rest of the two-hundred fly swimmers at the back wall, waiting for the referee to set up. Curling his toes against the wet tile, he tries not to let his eyes stray to the left. He fails, of course.

And finds the rival flyer gazing right back.

“Oh!” The young man starts. “Sorry. Er, hi, my name is Hawke.” He sticks a hand out. “Nice to meet you.”

Fenris shakes, hesitant. “Fenris.”

“I didn’t see you in any of the meets last year. Did you just join the team?”

“No, I changed schools.”

“Ah, that makes more sense.” Hawke nods. “I watched you warming up earlier. You looked amazing.”

Fenris opens his mouth but can’t find anything to say.

“Your stroke! Your stroke looked amazing. Really great, er. Form.” Hawke cringes a bit, his cheeks reddening.

Fenris smiles. “And I saw you in the hundred fly. None of the others stood a chance.”

It’s true. Hawke finished several seconds ahead of everyone else. He laughs a little. “Well, I just—spend a lot of time training and try to do my team proud, you know.”

“I understand.”

The shrill of a whistle. Hawke glances up. “Time to get ready.”

“Indeed. Hawke?”

“Hm?”

“Good luck.” He tucks his ears under his cap. “Just because you complimented me doesn’t mean I’m going to go easy on you.”

Then he walks forward without waiting for a reply.

The other swimmers get in place. Fenris pulls his goggles down and climbs onto his block. A whistle-blow, and he grasps the edge of the block, setting.

Another whistle-blow, and he launches forward.

At the edge of his vision he can tell that Hawke’s dive is longer, as expected; but Fenris is slim, and once he slips underwater his momentum stays with him, carrying him forward as he kicks. When he breaks the surface he spots Hawke right beside him, already stroking.

He wants to win.

He levers his hips, his arms scooping the water back behind him. Hawke is taller, and his stroke longer; as Fenris comes up for a breath, he finds he has begun to drop behind. So much power. The gap opens further. Fenris is tempted to try and make it up right now; it’s still small, after all. But no. He will swim as he has trained to swim—for endurance. Butterfly is an exhausting stroke at baseline; he must mete out his energy with care.

The turn. Hawke makes it first, slipping under as Fenris approaches the wall. That’s fine. Fenris swivels, tucking his knees up, pressing his feet against the wall. Then he launches, keeping his body as sharp and streamlined as he can, as he ever has. When he comes up again the lead has narrowed, he thinks.

Fenris allows himself a smile as he draws in a breath.

The gap continues to widen. Fenris’s chest aches a bit, as expected; the rest of his muscles are holding up. Hawke plunges ahead, the water splashing up in great plumes around him. He’s going too fast. That’s not just the long stroke—he’s trying to build up a lead so that he has something to lean on going into the last half of the race. Not the worst strategy for a sprinter like him. But it’s not going to be enough. He simply doesn’t know how to swim for endurance, how to allot his energy, how to use his muscles to preserve speed for the last legs.

That, of course, being entirely what Fenris does. As the wall draws closer, he ups his pace, eating at the edge of Hawke’s lead. It’s almost time. Hawke is already underwater, shooting past in the other direction.

Fenris slips under, tucks his knees, and pushes off.

A burst of strength to his legs, kicking hard to propel himself through the water. When he comes up he eases off the kick and shunts effort to his upper body instead, increasing the speed of his strokes. Now he starts lifting his torso out of the water just a bit more, so there’s less resistance to drag him back. His arms scoop, his hands rotating and pushing.

The lead drops almost comically fast. It isn’t just Fenris’s extra effort, it’s that Hawke has relaxed, saving himself for the final sprint. He exerted himself plenty building that lead, but he must be aware of how grueling this event is; even if he does lose the lead, he might still have reserved enough energy to out-sprint Fenris in the final fifty.

Fenris decides to take a risk.

He normally saves his kick until just before the final turn, but he uses it now, his thighs tensing, his feet stroking powerfully through the water. The speed boost is almost immediate. The gap closes and closes. As his head rises above the water he hears something—

“Fenris!”

That’s Aveline’s voice.

Fenris draws even with Hawke. Ten meters to the wall. A great splashing from his left, and Hawke jumps ahead again, his great torso heaving from the water, his long arms reaching forward.

Perfect. He took the bait. Fenris only hopes the trap won’t end up catching the both of them.

The final turn. Fenris pushes off. When he comes up Hawke appears just in front of him.

Fenris pours in everything he has.

He goes forward as if borne on the crest of a wave. His arms are tired already, and the burn rises high in his legs—it shouldn’t be there yet, he should have saved the kick. But he can still finish this. He must. Hawke draws ahead, but something is different in his stroke, the angle of his body—his kick, that’s it, his feet not sending up nearly as much spray. His legs are tiring, his hips dropping. He can’t maintain a kick like that.

Fenris’s body remains perfectly flat. The water has no purchase on him. He slices through it. There’s a deep ache in his chest. It doesn’t matter. He forgoes his breaths every other stroke, holding his body to a horizontal. His whole body flows, his kicks timed with his arms at a perfect two-to-one. Thirty meters. Twenty-five. Hawke hangs on to the lead—even with his legs dragging down, he still hauls himself relentlessly forward. Fenris speeds up his strokes, his legs searing with pain. Still he kicks yet harder, his legs undulating in a ferocious rhythm. He can win this. Twenty meters. Fifteen. He draws even. His body is telling him he has no energy left, but he demands it anyway. Only a little more. Ten yards. Ten yards left with a sprinter on his heels. No energy left.

Fenris surges forward. His legs are on fire, his arms aching. The burst of speed carries him half the distance. The last five yards are a series of choices, each one harder to make than the last. Kick. Over. Cut. Kick. Pull. Kick. Over. Cut. Kick—

His hand flattens against the wall.

A great cheer goes up in the stands.

Fenris pushes his goggles up and blinks at the scoreboard. His time glows next to his name—a personal best, he thinks—and beside it, a tall orange “1.”

Someone is laughing.

Fenris looks over. Hawke is slumped over the edge of the pool, guffawing. “That was incredible! When you pulled ahead of me on the third leg out of nowhere—I thought I had a safe lead, and then you—and I thought I could still get you on the last leg, but I couldn’t hold out, and you just sailed ahead—that was amazing. You were amazing.”

“Oh. Thank you,” Fenris mumbles, and squints up at the scoreboard. Next to “GARRETT HAWKE,” there’s an orange number “2.”

Then Aveline appears in front of him, holding out her hand. She’s beaming brighter than he’s ever seen. “You just set a school record. Only a second and a half below the conference record.”

Fenris doesn’t know what to say. He grasps her hand and climbs out of the pool. To his right Hawke’s blond friend has appeared and is trying to help Hawke out as well; but after a few seconds of strenuous pulling he yelps and stumbles forward, splashing into the water.

Hawke chuckles. “Sorry, Anders. I’m sort of exhausted. Really exhausted.”

“I don’t know why I still try,” Anders sighs. “You’re twice as big as I am.”

“Here.” Aveline offers her hand. Fenris comes up to help as well. With their combined efforts, they manage to haul Hawke out onto dry land. Aveline leans down again to help Anders.

Hawke groans, shaking out his legs. “Thanks. Listen, do either of you know where the vending machines are? I could go for something delicious and really unhealthy right now.”

“Yes, they’re through this door—“ Fenris points— “then you take the first left—second, not first, and there’s a sign that says ‘Library,’ and you turn…”

Hawke gazes on with trepidation.

Fenris sighs. “I’ll show you.”

“Excellent!” He claps his hands. “I’ll buy you something too. As a congratulations for winning.”

“Oh—it isn’t necessary, you don’t have to—“

“Nonsense, I want to.” Hawke flaps a hand. “Let me go get some quarters.”

He heads for his team’s bench. Fenris watches him go. His muscles are standing out from their recent exertion, and water glimmers on his broad back.

Aveline’s hand claps down on his shoulder, making him jump. “You were really something today. I know how much you’ve trained, and it certainly paid off.”

“I—thank you. It is…kind of you to say.”

He follows her back toward their bench, walking stiffly on burned-out legs, and goes to find a shirt.

Chapter Text

Fenris stares at the stack of cash on the counter.

It’s…not dwindling, exactly, but it’s smaller. How much is left? Fifteen thousand? Fourteen? He glances over at the lined paper detailing his budget through the end of the school year. If only he’d been able to find a job earlier…perhaps he can find some more room in his grocery budget.

Fenris sighs, standing on tiptoes and replacing the cash behind the mixing bowl. If he cuts any more out of his grocery budget, he’ll have to start skipping meals. And he can’t do that. He needs to stay healthy. That’s his only hope.

He tucks his shirt into his trousers and heads for the door. It’s time for work.

——

“Fenris, you’ve got a party of three at table six!”

He glances up. “All right!”

He scoops up the last plate and heads back out into the main room. Table nine is currently home to a half-dozen students from the local university who seem veryhungry this evening for reasons Fenris is fairly sure of; but while they’ve been ordering plenty of food, he doesn’t think it’ll translate into a good tip. Still, he puts on his best smile as he sets down their plates. “Enjoy.”

“Oh, mate. You are a gift from the Maker.” The young man shovels an entire fried egg into his mouth. Runny yolk drips down his beard.

Fenris maintains his smile. “If you need anything else, please let me know.”

He strides off before they can decide to expand their breakfast-for-dinner feast any further. There are more tables to take care of. Table—six, that was it, with the party of three. He navigates deftly through the dining room, perhaps half-full at this hour. His shift will be over soon, and then he can go home and sleep.

He stops at the table. “Hello, my name is—Hawke?”

“Really? What an amazing coincidence,” muses the girl in the window seat.

“Fenris! How are you?” Hawke’s face splits into a wide grin. He sits on one side of the booth, taking up most of it; his two friends sit across the booth, the girl and the boy Fenris recognizes as the backstroker from the meet last weekend.

“Er, I’m—I’m all right, thank you.” Fenris curses in his head. He hates being seen in this damned uniform—no one should be forced to wear this shade of yellow, especially not on a buttoned-up polo shirt. “How are you?”

“Oh, you know.” Hawke shrugs, slinging an arm over the back of the bench. “Can’t complain.”

He’s wearing a red tank top—why would anyone wear one of those in the winter? His thick arms are completely bare, and his powerful chest is half-exposed with the scoop neck, barely contained inside the stretched fabric…

“Would you like something to drink?” Fenris asks distantly.

The girl leans forward. “I’d like a mango smoothie, please.”

The blond boy waves a hand. “Nothing for me, thanks.”

“Could I have a chocolate milk?” Hawke asks. “Er—three? Chocolate milks?”

Fenris jumps slightly, pulling out his pad and writing it all down. “Yes. Of course. I’ll be back in just a moment.”

He heads for the kitchens with his heart thudding. It’s all right, he reminds himself. It’s normal for secondary school students to have jobs, even if it’s less common during the school year. As long as they don’t ask about his parents or where he lives, he should be fine.

He picks up a check—decent tip, better than most of what he gets here—and then gathers the drinks, ferrying them over on a small tray. “Here you are…” For some reason he’s suddenly nervous about spilling the drinks all over Hawke and the other two, even though he’s never done that once in his three months working here.

“Hey, Fenris.”

Fenris freezes, the smoothie hovering over the table. He sets it down. “Yes?”

Hawke’s eyes skate down to the menu in front of him. “So…what time do you get off work?”

Then he looks up again, waiting for an answer. Fenris stares. Is he— “Er—nine o’clock.”

“Mm, that’s only in forty-five minutes.” The girl dips her straw into her smoothie and sips.

“Excellent! Would you—“ Hawke hesitates. “I mean, Isabela and Anders—“ the other two at the table, presumably— “are coming over to my house after this, and I was wondering if maybe you wanted to join us?”

Fenris stares.

Is it all right? Can I do this? He hasn’t been over to anyone’s house since—since he left. Would it be dangerous? It’s not like he needs to answer their questions, and he can always lie, he certainly knows how to do that.

And he wants to go. He’s tired of going back to his shoddy apartment and listening to the radiator whistle and clank and trying to do his homework—trying—and being alone all of the time—

He realizes he hasn’t said anything for a few seconds, so he blurts out “Yes, I would like that,” at the same time Hawke starts apologizing.

But the apologies fall off quickly in favor of a hopeful smile. “Really? Then—that’s great! I’ll let my mum know.”

Fenris is so disoriented by the entire exchange that he almost walks away with the three chocolate milks still on the tray.

The rest of the shift is uneventful, although his tips come out below where he was hoping (once more the budget sheet, long since memorized, rises to his mind). He wants to ask for more hours, but his grades are already little more than passable. And he must pass.

Hawke and his friends are waiting for him when he emerges from the kitchen with his coat on. “Right.” Hawke gestures. “My truck’s out back.”

“Er—I rode my bicycle here…”

“No worries, we’ll put it in the bed.”

The truck is an old model, but it’s plainly well cared for, and the interior is spotless. The dark leather is free of stains or dust, the only irregularities the rough patches where tears have been repaired. Fenris opens one of the back doors only to find Isabela sliding over from the opposite side and taking the seat. “Oh, sorry,” she says. “Looks like you’re in the front.”

Fenris hesitates, then goes forward and climbs into the front seat. Hawke turns the keys and the engine rumbles to life, followed a second later by the radio. Country music blares out, a low drawl accompanied by the twang of guitars and a vibrant fiddle.

“Oh! Sorry—d’you mind country, Fenris?” Hawke asks.

Fenris can’t remember the last time he listened to music, although the impression he has thus far of this song is…not favorable. “I—I don’t mind,” he says.

Isabela leans forward between the seats. “He hates it, Hawke. And so does everyone else in this truck. Turn it off.”

Hawke flips the cab light on and jabs the radio. The music dies. “It’s soulful,” he mumbles.

“Hang on—“ Isabela squeezes her entire body into the front and pokes the radio back on, fiddling with the dial. Hawke turns out of the parking lot and onto the road. Fenris has a gut-clenching moment of terror—what is he doing? He doesn’t know these people. What if he accidentally lets something slip?

“Oh, perfect.” Isabela cranks up the volume and settles back in her seat. A brassy female voice with a thudding beat beneath it comes through the speakers, and she sings along effortlessly.

“My house isn’t far,” Hawke says over the music. “Hey, where d’you live? I can drive you back after.”

Fenris’s fingers dig into his thighs. Venhedis. He hadn’t thought about it—can’t let Hawke see where he actually lives. Perhaps he can pretend he has an apartment in one of the nicer buildings a few blocks over and ask to be dropped off there. “Near the mall,” he says.

“Oh, right. Got it.”

Isabela leans forward again. “So I heard you kicked Hawke’s ass in that swimming thing last weekend.”

“If you’d gone, you would have seen it,” Anders puts in.

She groans. “But they’re so boring. I mean, I support you two completely, just don’t make me spend my Saturday at bloody school.”

Fenris smiles to himself. “I do not think my victory was quite so impressive as you make it sound.”

“He kicked my ass,” Hawke tells Isabela. “It was amazing.”

Fenris looks up. “Hawke, you were ahead with fifteen meters left.”

“Yes, but you still wore me out.”

In the backseat Isabela snorts.

“It really was amazing, Fenris,” Anders says. “I’ve seen how much Hawke’s times have gone down since he started swimming that event last year. I thought he was unbeatable.”

Fenris shrugs and looks over. “You might’ve been, if you’d paced yourself differently.”

“You’re the one who goaded me into sprinting early,” Hawke points out.

Fenris chuckles. “You’re the one who fell for it.”

Then he realizes he’s being rude to the boy who’s just invited him over and jams his hands between his knees. “I’m sorry,” he mutters.

Hawke laughs. “Oh, no, I deserved that one. But really, you’re an incredible swimmer. I bet you could go all the way to the state with times like yours.”

That, of course, being entirely the point of waking up at five thirty every morning to fit in an hour’s practice at the pool before classes begin. “I…I hope to.”

“Are you looking to do it at university? Swimming?”

Fenris clasps his fingers together. “Yes.” I want a scholarship. I need a scholarship.

“Well, you swim the two hundred fly.” That’s Anders, from the backseat. “That should help your chances. Every swimmer hates that event except the ones who swim it. And most of them hate it too.”

I know. That’s why I chose it. Fenris shrugs. “I sort of like it, to be honest.”

Hawke glances over. “Really? You enjoy turning into a sack of jelly after every race? A sack of jelly that feels pain?”

Fenris thinks a moment. “I suppose…I like being able to survive something that’s very hard and strenuous. And even to defeat it. It makes me feel…” Like everything isn’t hopeless. Like I can still do something.

“…good,” he mumbles.

Hawke nods. “I understand,” he says thoughtfully.

“Hawke only started doing it because no one else would and the captain begged him,” Anders interjects.

“Well, now I’m motivated,” Hawke replies.

Fenris arches an eyebrow. “Because I beat you?”

“Exactly. I can’t just let that stand. I have to defend my honor.”

Isabela chuckles. “Oh, Fenris stole your honor, did he?”

Hawke aims a pained look at the rearview mirror. “Isabela, please, he’s going to ask me to turn this truck around and drive him straight home.”

Fenris has only just now understood what she meant, and he flushes, staring out the window.

“Sorry, Fenris,” Hawke ventures. “Isabela’s, er…what’s the opposite of modest?”

But when Fenris turns back he can’t hide his smile anymore. “No, it’s all right.”

“Oh, look!” Isabela coos. “It’s snowing!”

It is, in fact, more flakes drifting down and adding to the handful of inches already on the ground. “Excellent!” Hawke says. “Hopefully I can get some more shoveling jobs.”

Snow shoveling. Of course he does. With muscles like those, Fenris expects it takes him only half as long as it would anyone else. Hawke navigates the truck through a suburban area with spiny, bare trees along the streets; he pulls up in front of a small brick house. There’s a light on in the window. Hawke turns off the ignition.

Fenris follows him across the yard and inside, where he stomps the snow off his shoes and—since everyone else is—discards them. Then he goes through the threshold on the left, where Hawke is talking to a middle-aged woman.

She stands up on his entrance. “Oh, hello. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Garrett’s mother, you can call me Leandra.” She sticks a hand out.

Fenris shakes. “My name is Fenris.”

“Oh, from the swim meet! Garrett hasn’t been able to stop talking about you.”

“Mum,” Hawke moans.

“Well, if you need anything, I’ll be in the office. Don’t worry about bothering me, I work night shifts so I’ll be up ’til morning anyway. Oh, and try not to be too loud, all of you, the twins are sleeping.”

She leaves the four of them alone. Hawke jumps in. “So, does anyone want something to eat or drink?”

“I’ll have a seltzer,” Isabela says. “And hey, d’you know what we should do? We should play Truth or Dare.”

Hawke cringes. “Oh, Maker. After what happened last time?”

“Look, I promise I won’t make anyone chug an entire bottle of soda this time, all right?”

“You’d better not,” Anders mumbles, resting a hand on his stomach.

Hawke hesitates. “Fenris, are you all right with that? We could do something else.”

Fenris wraps the hem of his bright yellow shirt around his fingers. What is he supposed to say? Surely a ‘no’ would be suspect, not to mention rude. But it isn’t as if they’ll be asking about his living situation, or his parents. And he can always lie. “I don’t mind.”

A few minutes later they’re gathered around the coffee table with an enormous bowl of corn chips in the middle. Fenris sits with Hawke to his left and Anders to his right. Across from him, Isabela raises a hand. “I’ll go first! All right, Anders, truth or dare?”

He eyes her a moment, then says, “Truth.”

“How much would someone have to pay you to sleep with Principal Stannard?”

Anders lets out a groan. “A million sovereigns?”

“Really? That much? I mean, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand sovereigns is a lot of money…”

Isabela bargains him down to a mere twenty-five thousand sovereigns while Fenris eats corn chips. He ate during his break at work, but that was several hours ago, and he’s starving again—something he only realizes when he finds half the bowl’s gone and it’s mostly his fault, at which point he sits on his hands so as not to be tempted any further.

“Fenris! Truth or dare?” Anders asks.

Fenris isn’t sure what the dares are like yet, so—his heart thumping in his chest—he answers, “Truth.”

“Right.” A sly smile. “Have you ever been kissed? And not by your mother or anything, that doesn’t count.”

Harmless enough. “No.”

Isabela gasps. “But you’re so cute! That is a crying shame.”

Anders nods. “Well, your turn. You can ask anyone.”

But there’s only one person who hasn’t been asked yet, so… “Hawke.”

He slaps the table. “Dare.”

Fenris pauses. “I…haven’t played this game before,” he admits. “I’m afraid I’m not sure what to ask.”

“I’ll help!” Isabela offers. “Hawke, pat your head and rub your belly for the next round.”

“On it.” It takes him a moment to coordinate, but he gets the motions going, his hair mussed by the patting, his tank top rising up with each circle of his hand to reveal a glimpse of hairy stomach above his sweats…

“Anders!” he says. “Truth or dare?”

“Dare.”

“Touch your nose with your tongue.”

Anders tries valiantly, his eyes crossed, his brow furrowed with effort; but in vain. “I can’t.”

“All right then,” Hawke says, his hands still in motion. “Touch Isabela’s nose with your tongue.”

Anders lunges to his right. Isabela squawks but is unable to escape, and they both surface a second later, Isabela rubbing her nose and giggling. Then she nods at Fenris. “Truth or dare?”

He takes a deep breath. “Dare.”

“Good. Change out of that terrible shirt and put on one of Hawke’s instead. Yellow is really not your color.”

Hawke rises. “I’ll go get something from my room.”

Fenris hesitates a moment, realizes that Hawke and Anders have already seen him in nothing but a swimsuit, and strips his shirt off over his head, folding it carefully. Hawke returns with a vast flannel garment in purple and gray; Fenris slips it on and finds the buttons after some searching, doing them up. It’s quite warm.

The game goes on. Fenris learns yet more about the small group (while Anders would require twenty-five thousand sovereigns to sleep with Principal Stannard, only five would be required for Chairman Orsino—not five thousand but five total) and has witnessed the consequences of keeping one’s cards held to one’s chest instead (Isabela purring and rubbing her face against Anders’s shoulder, while Hawke’s tank top is now lying on the loveseat, his muscular torso freed from its constraints). Meanwhile, his own belly-dancing received respectable applause from the gathered company.

“Fenris!” Isabela sits up, abandoning her purring. “Truth or dare?”

Still a bit mortified by the belly-dancing, he says, “Truth.”

“Would you mind terribly if Hawke kissed you?”

Fenris decides that he should have picked dare.

“Not on the lips or anything. Necessarily.” She flaps a hand. “A peck on the cheek would do it. Just wanted to make sure.”

“Oh. I…no. I would not mind that.” He exhales, glad for the provision she added.

“Hawke.” Anders nods across the table. “Truth or dare?”

Fenris thinks nothing of it when Hawke says ‘dare,’ and perhaps Hawke doesn’t either, as Isabela isn’t the one asking; so when Anders says, “You have to kiss Fenris,” they both jolt and stare at each other.

Hawke’s cheeks are bright red. Fenris knows his own are as well. But he looks down and smiles, and Hawke scoots closer, leaning in.

Shyly he kisses Fenris’s cheek.

His lips are soft and dry. Only when he’s this close is Fenris truly aware of just howbig he is—this bedsheet of a flannel shirt doesn’t seem so absurd anymore. Then he goes back to his side of the table. Fenris pulls his knees up to his chest and tries to stop blushing.

The second bowl of tortilla chips goes only a little more slowly than the first. Isabela, having been challenged to apply eyeliner without a mirror, looks only slightly more made-up than she did before; her skills are formidable. Meanwhile, her bra is on Anders’s head. (A dare of her own making, and it took her only seconds to remove the garment and slip it out from beneath the hem of her shirt. Formidable indeed.) Fenris rubs his feet, still freezing from his barefoot jog in the snow.

“Dare!” Hawke declares.

“Perfect!” Isabela claps her hands together. “Bench-press Fenris. Five reps.”

Hawke grins. “Too easy. All right, let’s see—“

He pushes the coffee table back some so he can lie down on the floor. Fenris comes over, mildly afraid of being dropped. Hawke’s hands are up, and he gestures. “All right, how about you lie down frontwise so you can catch yourself if you fall?”

That sounds like a good idea. Fenris arranges himself, Hawke’s broad hands at his thigh and sternum. He sticks his legs out straight and keeps them together to preserve his balance.

Hawke takes a deep breath, lets it out, and lifts.

Fenris finds himself rising into the air, and he puts an arm out reflexively, although he’s still quite stable. Then he descends once more. Hawke’s face is set in concentration, but there isn’t even a grimace of struggle. Instead he pumps Fenris into the air again. The muscles in his chest are tight with the exertion, and he huffs out a breath with each press, lifting Fenris once, twice, three more times. It’s effortless.

“Ooh, very impressive!” Isabela applauds.

Fenris crawls off, kneeling. “You’re very strong,” he says, and curses himself. Was that not obvious?

“Thanks.” Hawke sits up with a grin.

“Hey, how about we go downstairs and watch a movie?” Isabela says. “I could go for some cuddling.”

Cuddling?

“Sounds good to me.” Anders takes her bra off his head and holds it out. “D’you want this back?”

“Why would I want it back? I hate those things.”

Hawke puts his shirt on again and leads them into the basement. It’s freezing. “Sorry.” He flicks the lights on, revealing a television with a video game console in front of it, and a burgundy couch. “Heat really doesn’t get down here. But there’s blankets. What should we watch? Fenris, d’you have any preferences?”

Movies. He hasn’t watched one of those in years. “Not really.”

“Well, I do, so I’ll pick.” Anders goes to the plastic basket with the stack of DVD cases.

Isabela’s already on the couch with two fleece throws, one each in red and blue, pulled over her. She pats the cushion next to her, so Fenris comes and sits. Hawke squishes in between him and the arm, unfolding another blanket.

Anders puts the disc into the console. A dragon flies across the screen breathing fire, and the movie menu rises out of the smoke.

“Here you go.”

Fenris looks up. Hawke is offering half of the blanket. Oh. Sharing. Of course—there are four of them, after all. Fenris takes it, pulling it over himself. Much better. It really is quite cold down here. Then Isabela pushes toward him to make room for Anders at the other end of the couch and Fenris finds himself pressed up against Hawke’s side.

Much warmer than the surrounding air. Hawke’s body is hard with muscle, and with his arm slung over the back of the couch Fenris fits against him perfectly.

“A thousand years ago, the world was plunged into a bitter darkness…”

Oh. The movie. An army of grotesque demons marches across the screen, carrying pikes and shields. Fenris is stiff, folded-up, not knowing what to do or say—is this impolite, to be pressed so closely to Hawke? But there isn’t any other way, on a couch this small…he notices Anders leaned up against Isabela, the two of them huddled inside their fleece throws.

A terrible, shrieking roar. Fenris jumps hard, but it’s only the movie. Hawke squeezes his arm under the blanket. “Sorry. Anders, could you turn it down a bit?”

“On it.”

Ten minutes later Fenris is caught up in the thrilling battle, and it’s only when Hawke shifts that he discovers he’s relaxed, curled up against Hawke’s side. Hawke’s chest expands gently with each breath, and heat radiates from him, warming the space inside the blanket. It feels…nice. To be so close to someone. Fenris stays perfectly still, lest he disturb this arrangement.

As soon as the fighting ends he finds his eyelids growing heavy. Well, that’s only to be expected; he did work all day. He’ll just close his eyes until the next battle begins.

“Fenris?”

He squints.

Isabela’s crouching on the floor in front of him, grinning. “Wakey wakey.”

“Hm?” He wipes his mouth. On the screen the credits are rolling. “Did I…”

A rumble. “You fell asleep about ten minutes in.” That’s Hawke…

…over whom he is rather draped. He sits straight up. “I’m sorry!”

Hawke chuckles. “It’s fine, really, I didn’t mind a bit. How long was your shift?”

“Ten hours,” he mumbles.

“Well, no wonder. Here, let me take you home.”

Fenris extracts himself from Hawke and the blanket—hugs himself and shivers when the cold air seeps through the flannel shirt he’s still wearing. Upstairs he changes out of it into his yellow polo once more, then dons his coat and shoes and follows the others outside.

It’s still snowing, white flakes drifting down in the pyramids of light the streetlamps carve out of the dark. Then Fenris nearly bumps into Isabela, who’s stopped in the middle of the yard. “Er, Hawke.”

“Hm?”

“Your lights.” She points.

The cab light in the truck is still on. Hawke gasps and dashes forward, sliding into the driver’s seat and turning the ignition. A faint whine, nothing more. “Nooo,” he moans. “I can’t believe I did that.”

Oh. The battery is dead. And it’s past midnight—no neighbors will be awake to give him a jump. “It’s all right,” Isabela says. “I don’t mind walking, it’s only a few blocks.”

Anders raises a gloved hand. “Same here.”

“I can ride my bicycle back home,” Fenris tries.

All three of them turn on him instantly, Fenris managing to pick out the threads ofit’s snowing—it’s one in the morning—don’t you live near the mall?

“You can stay here tonight,” Hawke says, hopping out of the truck. “I’ll get a jump in the morning and drive you back then, is that all right?”

Is it? Can he do that? Can he sleep under someone else’s roof? (He supposes he already has, with what happened during the movie.) Does this mean—he’ll owe something? The truth? Will he have to tell Hawke all the things he’s been hiding, the things he so carefully evaded during Truth or Dare?

But they’re right. It would take at least two hours to ride all the way back to his apartment, and the roads are treacherous with all this snow. “I…that is fine,” he mumbles. “Thank you.”

“All right. Good. I’ll tell my mum.” Hawke jogs back inside.

Isabela sighs. “Well, it was nice meeting you.”

Then she hugs him. Fenris freezes. The hug is very nice. He returns it, his arms sinking a little into her puffy coat.

Then she steps back. Anders waves. “See you around, Fenris.”

They head off down the sidewalk, the snow falling around them. Fenris turns around and goes back inside the house.

Hawke’s voice comes from further down the hall. “—know it was stupid—“

Then his mother’s voice. “Oh, please, everyone does it at some point or another. Let’s see…there’s the couch in the basement—“

Fenris approaches as Hawke replies, “Mum, we can’t put him in the basement, it’s freezing down there.”

“All right, then, how about the one in the den?”

“That’s not a couch. Bethany wouldn’t fit on it and she’s four feet tall.”

“Well, you’ve got a queen-size bed, don’t you? You can share.”

Fenris stops in the doorway.

Hawke spins. “Hello! We’re trying to figure out where you can sleep.”

“Anywhere is fine,” Fenris hastens to say. “I’m happy to take the floor—“

Leandra scoffs. “Not while I’ve got anything to say about it. Garrett wouldn’t mind giving up half his bed, it’s plenty big enough for two.”

“Would that be all right?” Hawke asks apprehensively.

Fenris looks between the two of them. It’s a generous offer—it would be rude to turn them down. “Y—yes. Of course.”

“Good. I’ll dig up an extra toothbrush—oh, and you can borrow some of my pyjamas, although they might be a bit, er, big.”

They are big. The t-shirt, emblazoned on the front with “KIRKWALL 5K 9:29,” hangs off his thin shoulders, and by the time he rolls the trousers up to his ankles they’re only three-quarters as long as they were before. He waits in Hawke’s room, which is small and a bit of a mess, but it’s clean and warm—band posters on the wall, a beat-up acoustic guitar in the corner, above the desk a shelf stuffed with mass-market novels with titles like The Bloodwrought Queen or The Shield of Rialto or Dragon’s Gambit.

Hawke knocks and enters, making the room feel even smaller. He nods at the bed. “You can pick which side you want.”

Fenris hovers for a moment, unsure what to do—he’s never slept over at anyone’s house before. But he doesn’t want Hawke to know that. So he crawls in on the near side and pulls the blue-striped comforter over himself.

Hawke goes around and climbs in next to him. “Good night, Fenris. If I roll over on you in my sleep I’m really sorry.”

Fenris smiles at the floor. “Good night, Hawke.”

He shuts his eyes. Even after his nap he’s still exhausted; but the strangeness of it all keeps him from sleep. Hawke doesn’t know anything about him but for how well he swims the two hundred meter butterfly (and how well he belly-dances when put on the spot, Fenris supposes). Yet still he invited Fenris to his home and offered his own bed.

Fenris flips over. Hawke is turned toward the wall, his broad back rising and falling with slow, steady breaths.

Thank you. Fenris wants to say it again, and again.

Perhaps in the morning. He closes his eyes.

——

Fenris wakes to the mattress shifting under him.

He blinks. This isn’t…oh. That’s right. He spent the night—

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”

Hawke’s shuffling toward the door. “Think I hear my mum making breakfast. I’m going to go help out, but you can keep on sleeping if you like.” He lets out an enormous yawn, stretching his arms above his head. The hem of his shirt rides up, exposing an inch of stomach above his pyjamas.

Fenris forces his eyes upwards. “No, I’d like to help as well.”

Leandra is presiding over two pans when they enter the kitchen, one filled with sizzling sausages and the other containing a handful of pancakes. She’s sprinkling them with blueberries. “Good morning, you two.”

A pair of small children sit at the end of the island, shoveling syrup-covered pancakes into their mouths. “Oh, that’s Bethany and Carver,” Hawke says. “Hey, you two, this is Fenris. Say hello.”

The boy attempts a greeting with a mouth full of pancake. The girl simply waves; Fenris waves back.

“Here you go.” Leandra guides two plates across the island. “If either of you want any more, there’s plenty.”

“Thanks, mum.” Hawke pulls a stool out for Fenris and takes one of his own, pushing the second plate over.

For a moment Fenris only stares. Four sausages still steaming, and five pancakes, stained purple with blueberry juice.

“Here.” Hawke plants a jug of maple syrup and a plate of butter in front of him.

It’s so much food. Leandra’s made him so much food. And she’s pouring more batter into the pan. Fenris grasps the edge of the island absently. If he were home right now he’d be taking his two pieces of toast out of the toaster and spreading peanut butter on them and pouring himself a glass of water—has to save the milk for the protein shakes he normally has for dinner—and sitting down to eat alone, gazing at the snowman-shaped mold stain that won’t come out of the wall, trying vainly to figure what can he do, what can he do to make up the holes in his budget…

“Don’t forget your fruit.” Leandra leans over and plants a bunch of bananas between him and Hawke. “You’re a growing boy, you need your vitamins.”

Fenris feels his eyes pricking and his nose burning. He claps a hand over his mouth and whispers “I’ll be right back,” before fleeing the room.

The sound of a stool scraping across the floor behind him. Venhedis. Fenris goes to the end of the hall and stops just before the doorto Hawke’s room. Hawke, as expected, is in pursuit, his face drawn in—damn him—heartfelt concern. “Fenris, what’s wrong?”

Fenris shakes his head. “Nothing. Nothing is wrong. I apologize for the disruption.”

“Are you sure? You don’t—“ Hawke lurches to a halt. “I mean—I don’t want to pry, but—I just want to help.”

He stands there, looking lost. And concerned. Still. Something in Fenris panics, seethes and flips over— “I don’t want to talk about it!” he snarls.

Hawke flinches back. “You—of course. I understand. I’m sorry, I’ll just—I’ll stop bothering you.”

He backs away and retreats down the hallway. No. No. “Wait! Hawke—“

He turns.

Fenris takes a deep breath and scrubs at his eyes. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. It’s just—there’s a lot of things that I…that I haven’t told you. Anyone. Haven’t told anyone.”

Hawke pauses, cautious. “If…if you want to tell me, then I’ll be happy to listen. But you don’t have to. It’s all right.”

Fenris nods and sniffles.

“D’you still want breakfast? I think my mum went a bit overboard on the food.”

He nods again and follows Hawke back to the kitchen.

Fenris eats until he feels sick. Leandra starts making small talk with him that strays dangerously close to forcing him to lie; but Hawke jumps in and sweeps the conversation off in another direction. Fenris glances up. Did he do that on purpose?

“Fenris, I washed your clothes, they’re by the door. And Garrett, the Hendyrs jumped the truck this morning,” Leandra says. “It’s ready to drive.”

“Oh, thanks, mum.”

Yes. Fenris gazes down at his empty plate. He has to leave.

When Hawke turns the truck on the same pop station is still playing. As they get on their way Fenris fiddles with the radio a bit. Perhaps the channels? He pokes them one at a time. More pop, a fuzzy crackle, a classical station…

Ah. There. Fenris sits back as a country drawl and the sound of twanging guitars pours out of the speakers. Hawke glances up in delight. “You really don’t mind?”

Fenris shrugs. “No, I don’t.”

He points Hawke south of the mall, to the more well-kept area several blocks away from his true home. Where would be a good place…he points. Elm Hills Apartment Community. “There.”

Hawke pulls up to the sidewalk and puts the truck in park. He hops out and takes the gate down, lifting Fenris’s bicycle from the bed and setting it on the sidewalk. Fenris steadies it. He doesn’t want to leave.

Hawke gazes at him for a moment as if lost in thought. Then he starts. “Wait a minute—why don’t you give me your number?”

“Oh! Of course.”

He rattles it off, and Hawke punches it into his phone. “I’ll text you right now so you’ll have mine.”

Fenris lets out a breath, white mist rising from his lips. He swings his leg over the bicycle seat.

“Bye!” Hawke shoves his phone back in his pocket and waves. “I’ll see you soon, all right?”

Yes. Please. Fenris waves back. “I look forward to it.”

Hawke climbs back into his truck. It rumbles away down the street. Fenris’s phone chirps, and he pulls it from his pocket. There’s one new message. It’s Hawke! :D

He curls his fingers over the screen. The only other contacts in his phone are numbers from work, and Aveline, although they’ve never messaged each other.

Fenris rides across the street and heads for the river.

The homes grow shabbier as he goes. Paint peels from the siding; porch steps are sagging or canted; snowy yards are full of discarded, broken furniture. Fenris keeps his eyes trained ahead.

There. He crosses one more street. Beyond a long green chain-link fence the river runs dark and swollen, high on its concrete banks. Fenris turns right.

There aren’t any contractors at the house. It’s Sunday, true; but there wouldn’t be any anyways. The landlord keeps saying they’re coming, they’re coming. But they aren’t. At least it keeps the other half of the split unoccupied.

He unlocks the door and tries to push it open—tries again, shoves it, rams his shoulder into it until finally it gives and he stumbles inside. Then he turns and hauls his bicycle up the steps, leaning it up against the wall. Cold in here. The radiator must have decided not to work again. What time is it? The microwave clock blinks9:53.

Twenty minutes until he has to leave for work.

Time enough to start on his homework. He’ll have to do the rest after his shift—not much sleep for him tonight. Fenris pulls his precalculus textbook and a notebook from his backpack and sets them on the table. The snowman-shaped mold stain stares him in the face. He wonders if he could cover it with a band poster like the ones he saw in Hawke’s room. He doesn’t listen to any bands, but it might make the apartment look better. Right now there’s nothing on the walls except for mold stains and water stains and a few holes with the insulation leaking through (the bigger ones are taped over with plastic).

Then he shakes himself and opens the textbook. He needs to do his homework. He needs to pass. He needs to keep going forward.

Because he can’t go back. He can’t. He can’t.

Chapter Text

Fenris has just climbed into bed when his phone chirps.

He rolls over on the inflatable mattress, plucks the phone from the floor, and swipes at the screen. One message. From Hawke. Want to go to First Day carnival with us? Fri evening I can pick u up from school

Fenris stares. Friday evening—he isn’t working then. He could go. Can’t move his fingers fast enough to say—Yes. Thank you Hawke

A few seconds later, the reply: See u then!! :D

Fenris stares at the message for a moment more, then puts the phone back on the floor and pulls the blanket up under his chin. The carnival. He would never have thought of going. It will—he curls up a little. It will cost money. But he will have fun,and he will get to see them all again. He will get to see Hawke.

Hawke.

Fenris thinks first of his smile—bright and honest and never far from his face. A little lopsided, framed by his close-shaven beard, and his eyes full of kindness. And he was warm, too, literally, when Fenris fell asleep against his broad, muscular chest while they were sharing a blanket during that movie…

He is very muscular. Fenris has seen it, watched him swim the two hundred fly, his dominant stroke, the power with which he surged through the water and left all the other swimmers behind—his back tightening as he stretched, his thighs flexing as he did his squats during the warm-up…

Fenris lets out a breath, squeezing his legs together at the warmth gathering in his groin. Should he…it couldn’t hurt, could it? Wouldn’t take very long, he’ll still get nearly six hours of sleep…

He slips a hand down beneath the waistband of his pyjamas.

Normally he isn’t involved at all in his own fantasies, but—but he thinks of Hawke’s smile again, leaning in, a little closer, a lingering kiss on his cheek. Fingers stroking his face, then moving lower, slipping up beneath the hem of his shirt and tracing his stomach—

Fenris flips onto his back and pulls his shirt up, then tugs his waistband down, freeing his growing erection.

“Fenris.” Hawke says his name with the sort of fondness Fenris has hoped for so dearly, and then rests one enormous hand against his stomach. He rubs the smooth skin before cupping his waist, leaning down to kiss him just above the navel.

Fenris grasps himself, squeezing, slipping his foreskin down just below his crown.

Hawke’s kisses descend, straying sideways to trace the joint of his hip—then Hawke nuzzles at the root of his cock, kissing it too. He runs his tongue up the stiffening shaft, lingering at the head—

Fenris thumbs the head of his cock, taking in a deep breath, feeling his ribs expand in the cool air.

—taking it into his mouth and sucking gently. Hawke looks up, eyes meeting Fenris’s over the plane of his body, and he reaches for Fenris’s hand to twine their fingers together.

He’s hard now, his thin fingers wrapped around his shaft. He jerks himself slowly and steadily, savoring the feeling of his foreskin enveloping his glans and then retreating, stretching around it—

Hawke’s lips lock just beneath his crown, his mouth warm and wet, his tongue laving the underside; then he sinks down.

Fenris squeezes himself and balls his free hand in his worn shirt. He braces his feet on the inflatable mattress, the hems of his pyjama legs catching under his heels.

Hawke takes him in and bobs gently, his lips sealed tight around Fenris’s shaft—yes, that’s good, but—their fingers still twined—the thin fabric of his shirt balled up in his fist—

Hawke rises and grasps Fenris, jerking him with quick little motions. “You look amazing.”

Fenris lets out a small gasp, his hips rising into the air.

“Really. I’ve been wanting to see you like this ever since I first watched you warming up at the meet.” That smile again. “Might have been ogling a bit. Sorry.”

“H—Hawke—“ Whispered out into the dark room. Fenris arches off the mattress, slipping his hand—

Hawke’s hand under his shirt, tracing his ribs, a palm sliding under his back and running lightly down his spine. Kisses drifting up his stomach, Hawke’s beard a little scratchy on his bare skin—Fenris lets out a quiet whimper, pulls his shirt higher—Hawke’s big hands squeezing his chest, lips trailing up his breastbone and dipping back down to press against his nipple—Fenris tugs his shirt up, takes the hem between his teeth—

“How does this feel?” Hawke murmurs into his shoulder.

“Mm—“ Fenris flips onto his stomach, circling his nipple, his knees spreading open. Slick friction builds hot beneath his foreskin.

“Is that good?” Hawke at his neck, the barest hint of teeth scraping down the sensitive skin, jerking him—

—hard and fast now, Fenris rolling his hips in the air, making little noises of need into the pillow. “Yes,” he breathes. “Hawke, please—“

“You’re perfect, Fenris, you’re so beautiful—“ Hawke warm and close, pumping Fenris with a firm grip, his lips at the point of Fenris’s jaw, on his cheek—kissing him on the mouth—

Fenris moans, thrusting helplessly, liquid coating his hand. With one thumb he traces his lower lip.

For a moment he just lies there, curled on the mattress, his pyjamas twisted around his legs. It feels…strange, to have—gotten pleasure from something that wasn’t entirely fabricated, something that could be real—

Can’t be real, not while he’s still lying to everyone, including Hawke, and it wouldn’t work anyway, Hawke is far too bright and kind and wouldn’t like him that way. He sighs, rising and going to clean himself up. At least there’s the carnival to look forward to. That will be fun, it will be. Even if he can’t have—something more.

He emerges from the bathroom and crawls back underneath the sheets, closing his eyes.

Chapter Text

Bull’s already pissed at himself when the rocks fall, but that definitely makes it worse.

He really didn’t think there was anyone in this damn cave—a clang as the big guy’s axe-blade slams into the haft of his own weapon, Bull shoving it off to one side—but there was, there were a lot of them, actually, are a lot of them—another guy coming up low to the right, Bull flips his axe and jams the spike-tip into the fucker’s face, that’s one less, at least.

Still a lot. Bull blocks again and hopes the haft holds, yanks the spike out, and spares a glance past the rocks.

The fall’s not that bad—some wayward spell from Solas, didn’t bring the whole ceiling down or anything, but with these guys on his ass he’s not gonna be able to clamber through the gap anytime soon. Checks his blind side reflexively with a flick of his head—there’s another one, and Bull jabs out with his pommel, smashes the asshole’s nose in, pivots so the big one’s weapon sails past him. Well, Solas can handle himself. Probably. Weird, though, he doesn’t hear any more crackle of magic or feel the odd, subtle tautness in the air…. Bull grimaces. The Fade-walker better not be dead. He barks out a battle shout in the big guy’s face—enough to make him stutter, enough for Bull to edge to his right and peer through the broad gap in the rocks.

Okay. Fade-walker’s not dead. But his staff’s lost somewhere and he’s using a sword instead.

It’s not his (haft thumping into his own weapon, Bull plants and rotates, sending the guy stumbling into his companion). Solas doesn’t carry a sword. Has never touched one, as far as Bull’s seen. But he’s got one now. And it sure doesn’t look like it’s his first time.

Bull darts a foot out, kicks the flanker off-balance, puts him down with a quick chop. Spares another moment to check on Solas. Where did he say he was from? Those aren’t Fereldan forms, nor Marches, nor Orlesian nor Nevarran nor Dalish…

Tevinter? Can’t be. But there’s hints of it.

The big guy, fucker, swings again, and Bull makes a clumsy dodge, throws an off-target counter. Only a couple more now. A mace-wielder comes up, falls for the feint, and gets an elbow in the face for it.

The weird thing is he’s holding the sword in one hand, not two. And the other hand makes…gestures. That aren’t serving any purpose Bull can tell, although they kind of look like casting gestures. Only there’s no magic coming out of him.

Ah, shit. Magebane. Wouldn’t be the first time the Venatori have employed it. Bull grabs the dazed soldier and uses him as a shield from the big guy. There are three on Solas right now, and he’s holding his own but he’s slow—not really, more halting, stilted, a hallmark of new trainees who aren’t used to fighting yet and have to consciously recall the right technique to use rather than leaning on experience or instinct. But when he does move—

Bull watches it, the fluid unfolding, quick and explosive as a spring-trap. One of the Venatori falls and Solas is slipping into his stance again like a venomous snake coiling back up after delivering its bite. Now there’s some hard-won muscle memory. Beautiful. The thought appears in Bull’s head, a word carried past on the wind.

And where did it fucking come from?

He’s pissed at himself. He’s pissed.

The big guy, evidently tired of Bull’s makeshift shield, chops him in the neck, leaving Bull holding a heavy corpse. Well, it was worth a shot. The corpse discarded, Bull throws a punch at the one who’s trying to come up on his blind side. This time when he staggers Bull puts him down for good—doesn’t have time to clear his axe-head before the big guy’s swinging again, so he heaves his body out of the way, takes the blade on his pauldron. Ow. That’ll bruise. But the axe skates off to one side.

A shout of pain from past the rocks. Solas. Crap.

Only one left. Bull doesn’t have time for this. An overhead chop—he catches the haft on his own, slides it down and twists. The axe-heads lock together. The guy tries to free his weapon, which is a mistake, because Bull’s already plucked a knife from his belt.

Cutting throats is never very neat, but he turns his face from the spray of blood and figures he’ll clean the rest off his armor later. Okay. Not done. The knife’s stuck so he leaves it, drops his entangled axe, and heads for the gap.

Solas has killed the second, leaving just one. That’s pretty good. The last has him on his heels until Bull wraps the guy up from behind and Solas slides the sword under the ribs and upward. Looks like he knows killing blows too. That’s interesting.

He’s bleeding from the arm and side, and his weapon clatters to the cave floor as he goes to his knees. “Thank you. That was—close.”

Bull gazes at his bowed head for a moment, then leans down and picks up the sword, still dripping with gore.

“Didn’t know you could use one of these,” he says conversationally.

Solas pauses. “I suppose I had not mentioned it.”

“No, you didn’t.” Bull examines the blade, giving it a couple of experimental swings. Light thing. Humans. “Hey, what were those forms, anyway? They looked kinda Tevinter.”

Solas barks out a laugh. “I cannot say I am surprised.”

Bull gives the blade a lazy twirl. “But they weren’t.”

Solas grips the wound in his arm. “No.”

“So. You wanna tell me what all that crap was? And why it never seemed to come up in conversation?”

A tight, pained breath. “They were the martial forms of the ancient elvhen.”

Huh. “Picked ‘em up in the Fade, that right?”

His eyes flick up, just for a second. “Yes.”

Bull nods. “Okay, yeah. I can see that.” He lets his hand drift down to his side, the blade hovering in the air, readied. “But that doesn’t explain why you never told anyone.”

Solas is quiet for a moment. “I did not enjoy using those forms. It was…bloody.”

Bull bares his teeth in a grin. “You kill people all the time, Fade-walker. You kill as many as I do. Only difference with a blade is they see you killing them. And you see them dying.” He narrows his eye. “If you can’t handle that, maybe you shouldn’t be in the killing business.”

“Alas—ah.” Little more than an exhalation, but he grasps his wounded side, his fingers digging into his tunic. “It seems I have little choice.”

“Oh, no,” Bull cuts in. “Don’t give me that crap. Everyone has a choice. And that choice is on you.”

Solas swallows. “I am sorry for lying to you. It was wrong of me, and realize it is presumptuous to ask this of you now, but the Venatori seem to have suppressed my magic somehow and I need help. My wounds are—very painful.”

Bull gazes down at him a moment more, bent and bleeding. Yeah, he lied. But Bull is exquisitely aware of all the things he himself has failed to mention, to Solas and everyone else in that damn castle (none of them want to hear about Seheron, he tells himself, but if they knew what he did there they’d want to hear it). And how many times now has Solas saved his ass? It’s got to be a lot.

Bull tosses the sword down and kneels. “Yeah, I got you.”

He wraps an arm around Solas’s waist, careful of his injured side, and hauls him to his feet. Together they navigate the rockfall and head for the open air.

Chapter Text

"Hey, look who finally decided to show up!”

Fenris winces, ducking out of the raucous clamor of the Hanged Man and into the back room. “I apologize. I was meeting with a contact who—“

“You’re working on Wintersend?” Varric lifts an incredulous eyebrow. “Don’t you ever take a day off?”

“Not really,” he mutters, scanning the gathered company. Isabela and Merrill wave—Anders doesn’t—and Hawke scoots over on the bench, squashing his enormous bulk up against the wall to make a space on his side of the table for Fenris to sit. But that means—“Aveline is also missing,” Fenris puts in. “You see, I’m not the only one—“

Varric groans. “I think she views going in to work on the holiday as a Wintersend present to herself. I tried to convince her to show up, we’ll see if she bites.”

Fenris inserts himself in the narrow space between Hawke’s giant body and Isabela’s hips. “So who’s winning?”

As Varric starts dealing out another hand Hawke claps his hands together. “Wait a minute! We need to get you some eggnog.”

“Ooh, I could go for some too!” Isabela rises, heading for the table at the far wall. Eggnog? Fenris hasn’t heard of such a thing—spots on the table a few bottles of wine and a small cask next to them—

“Looks like it’s time for another kiss,” Merrill giggles.

What? Hawke and Isabela are both looking up at a sprig of some leafy green plant hanging from the ceiling over the drinks table. Hawke grins, a blush rising to his cheeks, while Isabela grabs his shirt and yanks him down with a “come here, big boy—“

Then they’re kissing.

Fenris shrinks a little in his seat. Oh. He had thought perhaps—no, it doesn’t matter. Hawke is kind to everyone, plainly he’s just misread some things over the months. Isabela’s body presses up against Hawke’s, her fingers grasping his hair—

Then he breaks away. “So, did you want eggnog or wine? I’ll pour for you.”

“It’s a tradition.”

Fenris looks up.

Varric is dealing out cards, but he jerks his head up at the sprig. “That’s mistletoe. In Ferelden they hang it at holiday celebrations, and if two people find themselves standing under it, then they have to kiss.”

“Well,” Hawke adds, “they don’t have to—“

“Of course they do!” Isabela interjects. “It’s a tradition!”

Anders snorts from the end of the table. “Since when are you an expert on Fereldan customs?”

Varric chuckles. “He’s got a point, Rivani.”

“Do you all have to be so boring? Maker’s tits, it’s Wintersend.” She huffs out a sigh and returns to the bench—without a drink, Fenris notes.

Hawke squeezes himself back into his seat and holds out a cup with some viscous yellow-white liquid in it. “Here, give it a try.”

“So you—“ Fenris lurches to a halt. Best not to make a complete fool of himself. “Er. Thank you.” He takes the cup and drinks.

It’s incredibly sweet, that’s the first thing he notices—and the second, the whiskey burn pooling over his tongue and sliding down his throat. He puts the cup down, blinking. “That is…very good.”

“Isn’t it?” Hawke lets out a wistful sigh. “I haven’t had eggnog in years. Didn’t even know they made it outside Ferelden.”

“Hey, Hawke.” Varric gestures. “Your bet.”

They play. The next pair caught under the mistletoe are Isabela and Merrill; Merrill seems a bit breathless after their kiss, and weaves back to her seat in something like shock while Isabela sends her off with an innocent little wave. Then Hawke and Varric find themselves caught, and Hawke bends down to wrap Varric up in a bear hug and plant a kiss on his cheek. Fenris rests his chin on his hand and smiles.

“Hello everyone, I’m sorry I’m so late.”

“Guard-Captain!” Varric claps his hands together. “Happy Wintersend. Have some eggnog.”

Aveline smooths her hair, nose red from the cold outside. “Yes, happy—some what?”

“Eggnog.” He squeezes past Hawke, clutching the glass he just filled. “It’s good stuff. Didn’t skimp on the whiskey.”

She stares, open-mouthed. “But…they don’t make eggnog in Kirkwall! I’ve looked every year, there’s only one place that does it and—“

“—and they’re disgustingly expensive, I know.” He holds up the glass. “But hey, what’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it?”

“Oh, Maker. Thank you, Varric.” She takes the glass and tips it back, closing her eyes, then coughs a little. “Goodness. You weren’t lying about the whiskey.”

Varric chuckles. “Come on, have a seat.”

Aveline drags over the rickety chair from the corner and settles herself. “Oh—are we doing gifts tonight? I’m afraid I’ve left everything at home.”

“I thought we might, but Blondie and Daisy here both forgot, and I didn’t see Fenris come in with anything, so don’t get too worked up about it.”

Fenris winces. That’s right—and he’s only bought one gift so far, a silver pendant for Aveline. “I…am sorry. I had also forgotten.”

Varric waves a hand. “Ah, it’s okay. Just lose a few rounds to me and we’ll call it even.”

Fenris does in fact lose the next round, and the next, and the next. But he doesn’t mind very much. The eggnog has put a nice, warm buzz in the back of his head. Hawke is also warm, squeezed up next to him; Fenris relaxes, leaning against his side. Hawke giggles, a tiny bit drunk himself. “You’re going to fall off the bench.”

“Nonsense,” Fenris replies. “I am exceptionally trained in ancient Tevinter martial arts. I have perfect balance.”

His toes are in fact curled around the crossbar beneath the table to hold himself up; but he feels Hawke’s arm circling around his back anyway. Well, he’s all right with that. Anders and Isabela are the next to be caught in the mistletoe trap—she never seems to remember to fill her glass at the table, Fenris notices; indeed, it isn’t even empty. Anders makes a noise of surprise into Isabela’s lips as her fingers stroke his cheek and curl around the back of his neck.

Aveline rubs her forehead. “I can’t believe you brought mistletoe. That’s one Fereldan tradition I’d be happy to forget.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hawke puts in. “It was all in good fun—“

“Maybe for you, I bet lots of people wanted to kiss you. And then there was me, fifteen years old with—with hair the color of a squashed yam and so many freckles it looked like I’d just forgotten to wash my face—“

“I would have kissed you,” Hawke declares. “I bet you looked lovely.”

Aveline blinks. Her cheeks are bright red—has she had that much to drink already? “I—well. Thank you, Hawke. That’s very kind of you to say.”

“Me too,” Fenris puts in. “I would have kissed you as well.”

She covers her face. “Thank you, Fenris,” she mumbles.

“And me!” Isabela raises her hand, echoed a moment later by Merrill. Aveline’s face is buried in her arms, her expressions of gratitude unintelligible.

Hawke extracts himself, picking up his empty wine glass. Fenris stares at his cards, calls, resigns himself to losing again, and goes to get some more eggnog, because it tastes very good and apparently he won’t be able to have it again for another entire year and perhaps not even then considering the expense.

“Oh, finally! I’ve been waiting all night!”

Fenris looks over his shoulder.

Isabela is gazing at him expectantly, pointing at the ceiling. He glances up—oh, yes, the mistletoe. And—

Hawke frozen beside him, cup of wine clutched in his hand.

Everyone is staring. Fenris stares back. The mistletoe—they have to kiss now. Have to, according to Isabela, although—

“It’s all right,” Hawke is saying. “If you don’t want to, no one’s forcing you, it’s just a silly tradition.”

Fenris’s eyes lock on Hawke’s. No one’s forcing him. But he wants to. Has wanted to for months, and is nearly certain Hawke wants the same.

Hawke is still talking when Fenris sets the empty glass down, grabs his face, and kisses him on the mouth.

Hawke starts—and then grabs Fenris, hands running up his back, pulling him in. His chest is broad and firm and Fenris presses against him, kissing him harder, fingers running through his hair. There’s a fire there, hot as the whiskey burn in the pit of his stomach, in the places where they touch—their lips, their bodies when Hawke’s powerful arm pulls him close. Fenris breaks away for breath and then dives back in, Hawke meeting him eagerly—

The crystalline sound of shattering glass. Fenris jumps, looking toward the source of it; Hawke’s arm is still around his waist.

“Oh, shit,” Aveline mutters, pushing her chair back and leaning down to pick up the broken shards of her dropped glass. “Sorry, no one walk over here until I’ve cleaned this up.”

“I’ve got—“ Anders’s voice cracks a little, and he clears his throat. “I’ve got it, don’t worry.” He comes over, waving his hand; the shards glitter as they sweep together.

“Er—“ Hawke steps away, withdrawing his arm. “Right. That was—whose turn is it?”

Varric gives him a knowing grin. “Think it’s yours, Hawke.”

“Mine! Yes. Let’s see.”

He makes his way back to his seat. Fenris starts to follow, then realizes he never refilled his eggnog, so he does that and then inserts himself once more between Isabela and Hawke.

The conversation picks up right where it left off, and Fenris loses the round. He’d like to think it’s because the kiss is distracting him, because it is, taking up the whole of his thoughts such that Varric must get his attention whenever it’s his turn to play. But really it’s because he’s just very bad at Wicked Grace. Hawke puts in an uncharacteristically terrible performance, and Varric wins with more ease than he normally does.

The highlight of the night is Varric and Aveline’s meeting beneath the mistletoe; he demurely turns his cheek that she might kiss it, only for her to grab his face, straighten it out, and kiss him on the lips. Her cheeks are red to start with from the eggnog (she must have drunk at least half the cask herself) and even redder when she rises again. Varric, for once in his life, is struck dumb. Fenris guffaws so hard he nearly falls off the bench, but Hawke catches him. The most unfortunate moment comes when he, fool that he is, goes for a cup of water when Anders is up doing the same. The entire table hoots and crows as he and Anders glare balefully at each other; but Anders doesn’t leave, and Fenris decides through some convoluted process that to back down would be to display weakness, so he chooses instead a show of strength and grasps the front of Anders’s robes, dragging him forward to kiss him on the mouth. It isn’t unpleasant, Anders’s hands settling gently at his sides. When they break away the glare is still in place, as is, Fenris hopes, his dignity.

Not much later he falls asleep. Liquor is the best medicine for that. Hawke wakes him as the celebration draws to a close, and they make their way out of the tavern and up towards Hightown. It’s snowing outside, light little flakes drifting down in the cold, crisp air. Fenris’s breath mists in front of him as he grasps Hawke’s arm, a little unsteady on his feet, his eyes drifting closed now and then. At one point when they open he discovers that he is being carried—on Hawke’s back now, and there’s something soft wrapped loosely around his neck, warming his mouth and nose. “Hm,” he says. Yes, very articulate. “Hawke.”

“Good evening.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What? Why?”

“You’re carrying me.”

Hawke snorts. “Fenris, I’m twice your size. Really, it’s fine.”

He reaches up and pats the thing around his neck. “Is this a scarf?”

“No, it’s a stray cat I picked up on the way.”

Fenris frowns. “No it isn’t. It’s a scarf.”

“Damn. You caught me.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Jean Luc’s shop in Hightown. I was going to give it to you at the gift exchange, but, well, you looked cold.”

There’s some hidden meaning there. Fenris concentrates, thinking—oh. “You got it for me as a gift.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” His arms tighten a little around Hawke’s shoulders. “I…I’m afraid I haven’t gotten you anything. Yet.”

Hawke chuckles. “It’s all right. Giving gifts is the part I like best.”

“Hawke, I love you.”

No reply but for a small hitch of breath—

“You are the closest friend I have ever had. I never expected anything like this. To have someone who would care about me. Who would…who would carry me home from the tavern when I drank too much.” He smiles and settles his cheek against Hawke’s shoulder, closing his eyes. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”

A quiet laugh. “I love you too, Fenris.”

When he opens his eyes again it’s to Hawke telling him they’ve arrived, and he blinks to find his front door before him with the spray of fine-needled pine twigs he hung for the season. Hawke sets him down and he fumbles with the lock, manages at last to fit the key inside and open up the door. The atrium is dark; he lights the candle on the side table and stifles a yawn.

Hawke is lingering on the front step and turns to go. “Good night, Fenris.”

The air is cold but Fenris still remembers the fire between them, bright and alive. I should invite him in, he thinks.

But it’s late and he’s drunk and it’s too hard to say the words, too hard to expose himself that much when he’s in no position right now to deal with what comes after. Because things would change then, and what he has now is good, it’s safe and it’s good. He curls the scarf in his fingers absentmindedly. It’s red, he notices. Bright red.

“Good night, Hawke,” he replies.

And then Hawke is leaving, the snow drifting down in the warm orange glow of the streetlamps and collecting on his shoulders and his soft brown hair. Fenris lurches out of the doorway. “Wait—“

Hawke turns.

“I enjoyed spending time with you at the party tonight,” Fenris calls.

Hawke grins. “Same here.”

There. Was that the right thing to say? Was that enough? “I—good night Hawke.”

He waves. “See you tomorrow.”

Yes. Tomorrow. Fenris’s heart leaps a little in his chest—it’s only a routine job, but he very much wants to see Hawke again.

Then Hawke is fading into the dark, leaving only a triangle of golden light under the streetlamp with a fine layer of powdery snow collecting beneath it. Fenris closes the door and leans up against it, shutting his eyes; but he pushes himself upright once more and heads out into the hall so he can fall asleep in his bed instead of on the floor.

Chapter Text

Fenris doesn’t see it happen, not the infliction of the wound itself, only Hawke in one moment whole with teeth gritted and the next, the terror demon’s claw bloodied and a wet, red gouge in Hawke’s middle, canting down to his hip.

We shouldn’t have come here, Fenris thinks, before the panic sets in.

Another shade crosses his path, and he cuts it down, the lyrium snapping out to disrupt its pearly black body before the sword cleaves it in half. When it slithers down to pool on the ground, beside the crumpled corpses in Marches uniform, Hawke has fallen already. Bad, then. It must be bad. Fenris sprints forward, hacking into the terror demon’s leg as it raises its claws to finish the job.

The creature screams in pain, a piercing noise that makes Fenris buckle, his jaw clenching and his limbs threatening to twitch and seize; but he waits a second for it to pass and then readies the sword, his brands hugging his arms to move the heavy blade when his muscles cannot do it quickly enough. As the demon’s scythe-like claws descend to reap him, Fenris’s weapon is faster, leaping forward into the demon’s middle. A ghostly sheen of white-blue shrouds the blade, and the demon freezes in midair, begins to disintegrate.

Fenris clears the blade and runs forward. “Hawke, Hawke—“

The fringes here, but it will not stay clear for long. He has little thought to spare for that, his mind scattered by the sight of it—

Hawke’s eyes are slitted open and he moves weakly, groping at the place where the demon gutted him, his fingers sliding over exposed viscera. His brow knits, and he coughs. Thick blood oozes from the corner of his mouth.

Fenris crashes to his knees, planting both hands over the wound, but even that isn’t enough to cover it. “Hawke, you’ll be all right, I’ll bring you to safety.”

A grimace of agony. “Maker—fuck me—too damned slow—“

Fenris scans desperately for anything he might use to staunch the bleeding. There, a fallen battle standard. He snatches it up and jams it over the gash. Starkhaven’s blue and green darken quickly with blood.

“Fenris. Fenris.” Hawke grasps his hand and squeezes weakly. "Don't—don't bother. I can—I can feel it."

"No." Fenris’s voice breaks. He can see it. Blood gushes from the messy wound, soaking into the dirt and turning it to mud. There's too much, and this cursed flag won't stop it. Not to mention beneath the flag—what he saw, red and torn and pulsing before he covered it up— "Hawke, please, I need you."

Hawke smiles at him, reaches up to stroke his face. "You've never needed me. Always—the other way 'round." He blinks slowly, gulping down a choked breath. "I was—lucky to last this long. With you."

Fenris finds his eyes pricking and hates it. How is that going to help him save Hawke? "It isn't enough time. There's still more for us. Don't give up.”

Hawke's eyes meet his, solemn and dark like they haven't been for so many years. "There are some things—we can't control, Fenris. Like—when we pass on—from this world."

It isn't fair. They were helping, they were doing good. Protecting the Marches from being overrun by demons. What justice is here? Why should it lead to this? They've suffered enough, surely. And they haven't made it all up yet. They could have had so much more time if it weren't for that one wayward blow.

Too much pain. Too many years with peace denied them. It isn't fair.

Fenris has long grown tired of those things most vital to him being ripped away. His freedom, his memories. A great hole in his center, but he built around it anyway, filled it in with friends. And with Hawke. And now that hole is threatening to open up again.

"I will not allow it," he growls, and his markings sear to life.

The air changes, quick as a plunge underwater. And the sky above him. Fenris sees it only out of the corner of his eye. He is afraid to look up. Instead he keeps his gaze locked on Hawke's face—fear there, too, and he gazes straight back. Fenris steels himself. He cannot be afraid. Hawke is going to die if he doesn't do something.

So he looks up.

The battlefield is still there, far away; but instead of demons fighting people, it's only people fighting each other, weaponless, grappling and heaving and tangled up in the mud. A forest surrounds them, watchful and waiting. The air is still, the silver sky leaning down, holding its bated breath. The sound across the wounded field just barely skims its echoed fingers over Fenris's ears.

Someone approaches at his back.

He turns, still pressing down on the gash in Hawke's stomach. It's a thin, ghostly figure of a man, his body made up of countless pinpoints of white-blue light. A hundred arrows pierce his body. Familiar somehow, although Fenris cannot remember where they've ever met before. One hand reaches down, offered.

Fenris takes it.

His markings burn deep and scorching-hot. It’s painful as they haven't been for years and years, the sensation that there is too much inside him to be contained in his thin body—that he might burst apart, scatter into the waiting air. But he sets his teeth against the heat rising in his throat and cups Hawke's face. "Hawke."

Confusion mixes with the fear now, and he grasps Fenris's wrist. "Fenris?"

The need to speak, to act, to save the man he loves threatens to consume him as fire consumes a handful of kindling. "Do you want to live?"

"Fenris—"

"Answer me, Hawke!" he barks. "Do you want to live?"

Hawke watches him, eyes shining, and Fenris can hear the crackle of flames in his ears, feel them licking at his ribs from the inside. He could tear apart the whole battlefield with all this power, but he can't. He needs to save Hawke.

But Hawke is hesitating. Fenris recognizes it and pounds his fist into the ground in frustration; the dirt splits at the spot of impact, a thundercrack sounding, a fissure opening in the earth. He asks again, his voice carrying out over the mangled grass like a horn of battle. "Hawke, do you want to live?!"

"Yes," Hawke chokes out, his eyes welling with tears.

Fenris lets go of the great gushing wound and presses his hand to Hawke's heart, fire gathering in his palm. Hawke jerks, then cries out in pain, curling up.

Fenris gasps with relief. The flames still burn but will not destroy him. Hawke lets out a low moan, then falls silent, unmoving.

The ground lurches beneath Fenris's knees and he nearly falls over; but then a breeze hits his nose carrying the scent of char and death, and a high scream arrives a moment later. He squints up at the sky—still silver-white, bending down inquisitively. What's happening? Where is he? A look over his shoulder—the battle, the real battle, demons wading through scores of men and women.

Not much time, Fenris thinks. He leans down, drags Hawke's body over his shoulders, and rises.

It should be much harder. Hawke weighs a good seventeen stone, Fenris only ten or eleven at best. But he rises, his back bent, legs straining, and marches forward. What grass there is left in the blood-thick mud blackens to ash under his feet. It's an instinct, the feeling that he must move quickly; Hawke won't die, not yet, but might still. Fenris isn't a healer, but he's strong enough (right now) to get Hawke to someone who is. Not the tents at the rear line, those are too far. He has another idea.

Also at the fringes, somewhere; that was their job, of course, like Fenris and Hawke, to contain the spill of demons so they wouldn't go marauding in the surrounding towns where there isn't anyone left to fight them off. But Fenris isn't sure how far they've strayed. He peers into the distance, hoping to see—

A bright explosion of flame, followed by another and another. A half-mile off, and Fenris grits his teeth and sets one foot down in front of the other. If only they weren't so far...

His markings prick. He knows the way now, and it isn't all that far, although the ground tilts beneath him and he wavers, struggling to keep his balance. But the explosions are closer, much closer. Only a few yards ahead of him, in fact.

"Fuck." The Iron Bull yanks his enormous blade from where it's stuck in the mud. "Damn things just don't stop coming."

"I need help," Fenris calls, and Bull whirls.

But it isn't Bull's help he needs. The Tevinter is already staring at him with something halfway between disbelief and horror; he buckles suddenly and crashes to his knees, clutching his chest. His fine robes will be ruined with that. But Fenris supposes they already are. The battle has been going for some hours.

"What are you—" Dorian gasps, then shakes his head. "Never mind. What's the problem?"

"Hawke was injured." Fenris comes over and lays him down. The wound still oozes. Hawke's face is pale, drawn slightly. "He needs help."

Bull is there and blinks in surprise. "Uh—his guts are—"

"Yes. As I said, he needs help."

"But how is he..."

"I'm also very interested in the answer to that, but there is a more pressing matter to attend to." Dorian's hands glow in muted white, and he traces the wound.

"Make that two more pressing matters," Bull mutters, looking back in the direction of the battle. Fenris follows his gaze.

More demons. Just what they need right now. Fenris finds the sky is fading to a pale, ghostly blue.

"You two will have to deal with those yourselves!" Dorian calls. "If I don't do something now, Hawke's going to die!"

Fenris's weapon was lost in the battle. No matter. His markings warm in a more familiar way this time, and his arms lose substance, glowing wraithlike with light.

He kills demons. Not like he used to do in Kirkwall all those years ago or even after, when the rifts opened up and evil poured out into all of Thedas; now he kills demons like he was made for it. And perhaps he was. He never knew exactly what Danarius intended in creating these markings (not creating—stealing, he remembers, from the ancient elves, as Fen'harel told him once). Perhaps he was meant to do just this, his very touch making the demons shriek in agony, the weaker ones simply dissolving with mere contact. He can't be everywhere at once, of course, but the Iron Bull is very large and picks up his share, cleaving through them with that great bloodstone blade. Fenris kills and kills, the battle calm pulling his mind away from Hawke dying behind him. It's a blessing and he takes it with gratitude. He can't save Hawke's life, but he can protect the man who will.

There aren't too many this time. Fenris thinks their ranks are thinning and hopes the Marches forces will soon have a reprieve. They desperately need it. He kills the last—a despair demon screaming as it flees him, but he hooks an arm inside it and drags it back. It dies at his feet, its primordial face contorted in impenetrable agony. He straightens, scanning; but no more come.

So he turns, breath tight in his throat. Hawke.

Dorian is sitting back on his heels. With a bloodied hand he pushes a long strand of silver hair out of his face. "Fenris...I did what I could."

Fenris's body goes numb. He stumbles forward on insensate legs, crashes to his knees, reaches out with clumsy fingers. Hawke is quiet and still and pale. His chest does not rise. It can't be. He was going to live. Fenris poured fire into him and carried him here, he was going to live. "He—he's—"

"It's not over yet," Dorian says.

Fenris stares down, his head crowded out with silence.

"Listen...everything had to happen very fast. That wound—he shouldn't have made it thirty seconds after getting cut open like that. I don't know how you—well, that's beside the point." Dorian sighs and rubs at his eyes. Blood smears over his eyelids. "He's...suspended, sort of. Not dead but not really alive, either. I'm hoping that will give the healing magic time to work. I think in—"

"You're hoping?" Fenris interrupts.

Dorian exhales. "He...the wound was very bad. He may yet live, but...he may not."

"You're going to let him die?"

"I'm a necromancer, Fenris, not a healer!" Dorian flings a hand out. "To be quite honest, I highly doubt anything short of a spirit healer could save him, and Thedas hasn't had any of those since all this business with the Veil started!"

A spirit healer. Fenris murmurs the name to himself—Anders, but Anders is seven years gone, the Blight sickness having taken him at last.

It was foolish to think he could save Hawke. He saw the wound, the mess it made of Hawke's gut. A fatal blow. He knows that, he knows.

And yet he was so sure. Something made him sure he could do it, if he just set one foot down in front of the other...

"There's still a chance," Dorian says, calmer now. "It's just...we won't know for some time. A week, at my guess."

"What happens then?" Fenris asks distantly.

Dorian shrugs one shoulder. "Either he wakes, or...he doesn't."

Fenris cups Hawke's face, leans down and kisses him. His lips are stained with dried blood but still warm and soft.

Dorian composes himself in seconds, is back to the sure and steady man he must be to deal with the Senate up north. "We'll have to take him somewhere safe. This battle isn't over yet."

"I will do it." Fenris grasps Hawke's arm—

"Uh-uh." Bull's three-fingered hand lands on his shoulder. "You're staying here. I'll take him."

Fenris stares. "You? He's my partner."

"Yeah, and you kill demons faster and better than anyone I've ever seen," Bull replies, cool as stone. "Including me, by a long damn shot. So you're going to stay here and kill demons, and I'm going to run Hawke back to the healers' tents. Got it?"

Fenris hesitates. He can't leave Hawke's side—what if the magic falls apart, what if Hawke wakes in pain and dying and Fenris isn't there...

"The Marches need you, Fenris," Dorian says quietly. "The soldiers here need you."

The sounds of fighting carry still over the mud, unabated. Fenris bends, pressing his hands to his face. They're right, both of them, of course they are. It's selfish to leave. "All right." He nods, then has a thought. "Wait—could you send him on to Northsend? There's someone there whom I trust to care for him."

"Northsend. Sure." Bull kneels with a grimace and heaves Hawke's enormous body over his shoulders, rising again. "Be careful."

"Always," Fenris murmurs. Then Bull is off, striding over the torn-up grass, Hawke's limp arm swinging behind his back.

"All right," Dorian says, breathless. "Now let's get those arrows out of you."

Fenris looks up, confused. "Arrows?"

Dorian returns the look, equally confused. "Yes. I thought you had..." He grasps Fenris's shoulder, turning it, peering at his back. "Perhaps not. I don't know...well. Never mind."

Fenris braces his hands on his knees and gathers himself. There's nothing more he can do for Hawke, and there are demons coming. "Let me find a weapon." He stands smoothly. "More will be coming."

——

The demons seem endless until they aren't.

It may be only a brief reprieve. Still, Fenris cannot stay any longer and asks the Tevinter to send him word should the battle rejoin; he will be in Northsend. He commandeers a fast horse and rides.

It's some distance—a full night even when he pushes the horse. His head has been full of useless worries, despite how he tries to stave them off. What if it's over? What if he passed already and I wasn't there, and the rider will come this evening to deliver the news? Distracting him on the field, and more than once his brands have flared to life, wrapping around his body to heave him out of the path of a terror's scything claws or the acrid, searing breath of a rage demon.

The Iron Bull was right. He kills demons faster and better than any on this field, including the most powerful mages—Aveline's daughter, the Grand Enchanter de Fer, the blood witch with whom he has rekindled a grudging friendship. He is needed while their forces are pressed. But when the demons retreat—

He needs to go. So he does.

Northsend is blessedly peaceful; the attacks have not reached this far south. By the side of the road wildflowers wave in the brisk spring breeze: ox-eye daisies, the little violets, bright buttercups, the tall lupine. He hunches in the saddle. The sun is warm, but the breeze cuts through his jacket.

Down the muddy lane, the horse at a walk now, squat houses passing by on either side. Further along the apple tree is in full blossom, and it sheds white-pink petals as he approaches, little travelers flung into the air and tossed on the wind. He dismounts at the gate and ties the horse, stretching his legs and rubbing his eyes. Not much sleep recently, what with the camp still on alert and the image of Hawke's pale, still face not leaving his head...

Fenris knocks on the door and hears an answering, "Come in, it's open!"

So he enters.

The room is not so sparse as he remembers. Still paintings with polished frames line the walls, but there are more chairs now, and a second table with a collection of figurines—Maferath and the Archon Hessarian, he thinks, and someone that might be Shartan. And Andraste herself, of course, the unfortunate—he winces—familiar sly smile still clumsily swiped in pink on her face.

"Fenris!” Catherine comes out of the bedroom and reaches out, clasping his hand in both of her own. "It's so good to see you again. I only wish it were in better circumstances."

She's older now, of course, her face wrinkled, hair gone thin and white. But she walks nearly as well as she used to, and her eyes are sharp and bright as ever. "How is he?" Fenris asks.

Her lips press together. "There's...there's been no change so far. But that's to be expected, isn't it? That's what I was told."

Yes. A week, the Tevinter said. And it's only five days this morning. "Yes," Fenris murmurs. "Thank you for taking care of him."

"Oh, there's no need for that." She waves a hand. "Would you like to see him?"

"I...yes, please."

"He's in here." She gestures and goes to the bedroom. Fenris follows, afraid of what he'll see.

Hawke lies there as pale and unmoving as he was on the battlefield five days ago.

His clothes have been changed; his battle-torn armor is piled in the corner, the bloodstains washed off with a careful hand. The clothes he wears now are a bit small, but only a bit. Fenris remembers when Catherine first sheltered him all those years ago and she lent him her deceased husband's clothing, and he had to roll up the sleeves and trousers a half-dozen times before he was satisfied he wouldn't knock things over with the trailing flaps of fabric or trip and fall on his face.

Hawke looks...dead. Not unconscious, not sleeping.

Catherine must register the horror on his face because she jumps in, grasping his elbow. "His heart's still beating. Very slowly, but if you rest your hand on his chest long enough you'll feel it."

"And the wound?" Fenris ventures.

She squeezes his arm gently. "It is...a bad wound. But he has two days yet to heal, isn't that right?"

Yes. If what the Tevinter said was true. There's a chair beside the bed and Fenris goes to it and sits, reaching out to clasp Hawke's hand. His skin is cool beneath the familiar callouses. Fenris kisses his fingers. "May I—" His mouth is dry, his voice cracking. He clears his throat and tries again. "May I stay here?"

"Of course you can. Here, I'll make us some supper."

Hawke's lips are parted. Fenris runs his thumb over them, waiting to feel breath on his fingers; but there's nothing. "Hawke," he whispers, and leans down to place a lingering kiss on his cheek. There isn't even a hint of a response. Panicked suddenly, he lifts the hem of Hawke's shirt and runs his hand up beneath it, resting it on Hawke's firm chest. No rise and fall of breath, nor any heartbeat—so Fenris waits, biting his lip, his body tense, bare toes curled in. His heart's not beating. It didn't work. It's over, he's—

Thump.

Fenris exhales, leaning over and resting his forehead on Hawke's shoulder. "You gave me quite a fright," he mutters.

No reply.

He touches absently the shimmering crystal hanging around his neck and knows then that even if he does hear the Tevinter’s voice coming through it, telling him the demons are here again, we need your help, that he may not be able to bring himself to go. How could he leave Hawke's side? Not when he's so—weak, so fragile, so...

Dead.

Not yet. Only suspended. They won't know anything for another two days. A sizzle from outside the door, and the smells of garlic and basil drift into the room. Catherine pokes her head in. "Do you prefer beef or pork?"

Fenris smiles at the floor. "I prefer whichever you like best."

"Well, you're just no help at all, are you?" She withdraws back to the kitchen.

Fenris sits there, feeling a bit useless. There's nothing he can do for Hawke, that much is sure. He could cook and clean for Catherine but suspects she'd be aghast at the suggestion.

He can wait. That's about all that comes to mind.

So he takes Hawke's hand in his own and waits.

——

Catherine is in and out. She has other duties, as Northsend's most senior Chantry sister. And anyway, she's already done more than enough. Fenris makes himself leave the house a couple of times a day. Hawke would want him to do that. He goes for walks through the quiet town. The people here know of the fighting, of course, and there is some fear in the air; but life goes on and so do they. Word seems to have spread of Catherine's guest, and people come up to him in the street to offer him home-baked pies or knitted scarves or bunches of carrots fresh from the ground. Fenris, somewhat bewildered, tries to decline but is made to accept them anyway. It isn't like what he's used to. Going about in Kirkwall distracted and weaponless as he is now would get him a knife in the back, not a pastry.

In the evenings Catherine sits on the bed and holds his hand and Hawke's and recites verses of the Chant in a low, reverent voice. "Though stung with a hundred arrows, though suffering from ailments both great and small, his heart was strong, and he moved on," she murmurs. "The deep dark before dawn's first light seems eternal, but know that the sun always rises."

Fenris is more familiar with the Chant now than he was when he first met her, and he joins in when he remembers the words. Not so much for his own sake but as a way of thanking her.

Hawke lies still and pale. As he sits for hours by the bedside, Fenris is struck at times with that same panic he felt the first day, and he slips a hand under Hawke's shirt to feel for his heartbeat. Always the stillness stretches until Fenris is sure it's stopped, that Hawke is well and truly gone; but then he feels the single beat under his palm and relaxes minutely, settling back to wait again.

The seventh day is the worst.

Fenris has held and squeezed Hawke's hand so much that he's sure he's added a few new callouses to the lot. Still no movement, no intake of breath, no opening of his eyes to meet Fenris's. But his heartbeat does not stop. Fenris picks at the last of the apple pie but the worry makes him sick, and he can’t bring himself to take even a bite of the roast hare Catherine prepares for supper. The sun slumps below the horizon, the light through the window turning dim and orange. And still nothing. Catherine comes in to wait with him, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"What if he doesn't wake up?" Fenris whispers.

Catherine covers his hand with her own. "Then you will go on,” she says. “You may feel as if you can't, or as if there isn't any point. But you will find a reason and find a way, and the people around you will be so grateful to have you by their sides."

Will they? He thinks about it. Varric would have one person less to swindle at cards, of course. But also one person less to confide in. Aveline would be perfectly fine—her calling is to protect, and nothing will sway her from that. But she might miss drinking wine with him and expounding about what new horrors Kirkwall has vomited up for her that day. Saravh is smart as a whip and one of the best of the city guard, and she's inherited some of Hawke's clarity; she would recover before long. But she would have one less person with whom to talk about the ways in which her magic frightens even her sometimes.

"I understand," Fenris murmurs.

She waits with him a little longer and recites Transfigurations One—even Fenris knows that one by heart, though he hasn't the strength to say the words with her now. Then she bids him a good night and goes out to the sitting room where her bedroll is lain out in front of the fire.

Seven days. That's what the Tevinter said. And Hawke isn't better.

Fenris will go on by himself, if he must. But he doesn't want to. Hawke has only just turned fifty years old; Fenris had wanted to see his hair go white, his face wrinkle, to see who he is when he can't fight anymore—when he sheds that burden at last. Fenris wants to see all of that still. But there isn't anything he can do about it. So he waits and watches the world grow dark out the window, the apple tree turning a deep blue-purple in the evening gloom. The night hours slide in on each other, encircling him as if reassuring him that time doesn't matter. That what happens will happen, but as long as Hawke's heart thumps liminally against his palm, there's still the smallest chance.

Fenris isn't sure what hour it is, the blossoms falling, the crickets chirping outside. But in the deepest dark, the half-moon casting a breath of silver light into the small bedroom, he feels Hawke's hand twitch beneath his own.

At first he's sure he imagined it. But then it happens again, and Fenris gasps and lurches forward, stroking Hawke's face, running fingers through his hair. "Hawke?"

A choked sound and a cough. Damn this dark—Fenris nearly vaults out of the chair, out to the sitting room where Catherine keeps a candle burning on the table. He snatches it up and returns and the first thing he sees is the shine of Hawke's cracked-open eyes.

"Hawke," Fenris says, holding back a sob, and sets the candle down before he leans over to kiss Hawke on the mouth.

A groan, a clumsy hand pawing weakly at his hair. Fenris kisses him again and again, holding his face. He's alive. He's alive.

"Fen—" Interrupted by another kiss. "Fenris—Fenris—"

He stops and sits back, realizing this all might be a bit confusing. "Yes. I'm sorry, I'm just—glad to see you awake."

Hawke breathes shallowly, grimacing in pain. "Maker. Feels like—I've got a pickaxe—stuck in my gut."

Fenris lifts his shirt to get a look at the wound. It's closed, at least, the flesh red, new and delicate. But there's no blood. "Don't strain yourself. I'm afraid this will open up again."

"Suppose that means—no jumping for joy." He grins weakly.

Fenris finds his eyes filling with tears and bends down to bury his face in Hawke's chest so that they may go unwitnessed. "You almost died," he mumbles.

"Yes." Hawke's chest rumbles with the reply. "Sorry about that."

A large hand starts rubbing his back, which only makes the tears more insistent. Fenris grips Hawke's shirt and wraps an arm around him, careful to avoid the wound. Hawke lets him stay there for a few minutes while he stifles his sobs and gets tears and snot all over Hawke's shirt.

But finally Fenris sits up and scrubs at his eyes. "I expect you're wondering what happened."

"A bit, yes."

"I carried you over to where the Tevinter and the Iron Bull were fighting," Fenris tells him. "The Tevinter put you in...a suspended state, he called it. Not dead, but not quite alive, either. He said it would give you time for the healing magic to work. He wasn't certain whether it would work at all, but it seems to have done the trick. I had you brought to Sister Catherine, she's been taking care of you. It's been a week, by the way. Since you were injured."

"Hm." Hawke absorbs the information, turning it over. "What about before that?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean right after the thing got me. How did you carry me a quarter mile across the battlefield without my guts falling out all over the grass?"

Fenris thinks about it. He remembers the fire—not the feeling itself, too alien and intense for his memory to capture. But he remembers its presence inside his body. Remembers the one who bore it, who bestowed it upon him.

He remembers all that and still doesn't know what exactly happened on that field. "I'm not entirely sure," he mutters.

Hawke squeezes his hand. "Are you all right?"

Fenris stares. "Am I—Hawke, your insides were coming out of you seven days ago."

"I know, I know. But are you all right?"

Fenris is quiet for a moment. Then he goes around the bed and crawls into it, pulling himself onto Hawke's chest on the uninjured side. "I don't want to lose you," he murmurs. "It's too soon."

"I'm sorry. I was...I thought I was faster. I suppose I need to be more careful."

Fenris sighs. "Why is that I can tell you that a hundred times, yet it takes your disembowelment for the message to penetrate?"

Hawke chuckles. "Part of my charm, isn't it?"

"No, Hawke."

"I'll make it up to you, how's that?"

"You don't need to make it up to me." Fenris turns his face into Hawke's shoulder. "You just...need to take care of yourself."

Hawke is quiet for a minute. "I know. You're right. You've told me that."

His body is warming under the too-small shirt. It's going to be all right. Their little house won't be empty, and Varric will not curse while his face breaks open as it did when Hawke went into the Fade so long ago; Aveline will not sit down and sigh and grip the arm of her chair as if she could crush the awful truth with her own strength. Saravh will not put it away to fester, to be dealt with later when she finally cannot hold it back anymore.

And Fenris will not go through the rest of the years alone, as he feared for so long after they fled Kirkwall and Hawke hurled himself into danger with insouciance and even a bit of relief. Fenris had thought all that was finished—has thought that a handful of times. But it was never finished, not while Hawke could still hold a pair of knives, while he still bore the weight of his failures like a shackle he could shed only by cutting down those who walked the Marches with harmful intent. And it was never enough.

Fenris has treasured his company for every day of their more than twenty years together, even when Hawke was being a stubborn ass (as is his wont). He had plenty enough of being alone as a child and a young man, and he does not desire it again.

"I love you, Hawke," he murmurs.

Hawke kisses his hair. "And I love you."

Fenris closes his eyes. Beneath his palm Hawke's heart beats steady and sure.

——

He is called away the next afternoon.

Leaving is the hardest thing he's ever done, or nearly. Hawke pleads with him to go, which makes it worse in some ways. Catherine promises to make sure he doesn't overtax himself, as is also his wont. So Fenris goes, a weight lifted from his chest. Hawke is going to be all right, in time.

They push the demons back. The Tevinter and Grand Enchanter de Fer come up with some confusing and wildly complicated magical scheme that centers around him. They don't consult him first, which is impolite. During the briefing the Tevinter has the decency to look guilty, while Madame de Fer offers an apology of only moderate sincerity. Fenris understands. Weighed against thousands of lives, his feelings matter very little.

It is risky and arduous and harrowing but he emerges alive, somewhat less affected by the whole thing than perhaps he should be. It's difficult for him to focus on the demons and the Veil and the Blight-stricken gods and all that. He would much rather be with Hawke.

When he returns, Hawke is on his feet, although he hobbles and must lean on the handcarved cane thoughtfully donated by Willetta Smalley down the road. Like an old man, Fenris thinks, watching him grit his teeth as he shuffles across the sitting room to help Catherine in the kitchen. But he's alive, still. Somehow. He asks Fenris what happened in the north, and Fenris promises to explain on the road, as they've imposed on Catherine enough.

He thanks her profusely. Wants to give her something to show his gratitude, but he hasn't got anything decent to offer. When he returns home, then. He can send something on.

They hire a carriage. Sitting is painful for Hawke—bothers his hip and back, he says, on the injured side. So he lies across the bench and Fenris sits on the floor and kisses him whenever the whim strikes. By the end of the three-day journey he thinks he's almost made up for the time lost.

That evening they sit on the grass by the river, Hawke lying with his head in Fenris's lap. The water rushes with the spring-melt from the Vimmarks, the sunset light dancing gaily over the tumultuous obsidian surface. As the evening chill begins to set in Hawke says, "I don't think I'm going to get better."

Fenris gazes down at him, questioning.

"The walking," he explains. "I can feel it, like a...a tightness in my hip and back. Even my stomach. I can barely lift my leg up. It takes me a good ten seconds to bend over. I don't think that's going to change much."

"Does it hurt you?" Fenris asks, brushing his cheek.

"Sort of aches, but that's going away some. I just...can't move anymore."

Fenris thinks about it. "Good."

Hawke looks up, the hurt showing through on his face. He knows the answer but asks anyway. "Good?"

"Yes," Fenris replies. "If you can't move, you can't fight. And if you don't fight, you don't get your guts torn out by demons."

Hawke rubs his eyes. "I did good. I was protecting people."

"The war does not hinge on you, Hawke."

He flashes half a grin. "Heard it depended on you, though."

"Yes," Fenris mutters. "Unfortunately. I did not greatly enjoy the journey."

"No, I imagine an ancient Blighted god wasn’t much fun to kill.”

"Indeed. Glorious, perhaps, but not fun.” Fenris runs his fingers through Hawke's dark hair. "I can't tell you how happy I am you won't be in danger anymore. You've risked your life far too many times already."

"I had to," Hawke responds.

"Why?" Fenris asks sharply. "What debt did you owe? What pact did you swear? Why did it have to be you?"

"I did owe a debt," Hawke murmurs.

Fenris sighs, exasperated. "You owed nothing. You have never owed anything. You never failed, Hawke. You did the best anybody could do in impossible circumstances."

They've had the argument a thousand times, but not in years, and Fenris is hoping it might penetrate this time. "You've done so much good, Hawke. We have. If there was a debt, it's long paid." He shrugs. "And now you can't fight anymore so it doesn't even matter."

Hawke flips on his side and hugs Fenris's middle, face buried in his stomach. "It feels wrong," he mumbles.

"I expect it will for some time." Fenris rubs his back over the mess of scars, plays with the soft hair at the base of his neck. "But you'll adjust, I'm sure."

——

Hawke is right. He doesn't get better.

The pain goes away, mostly, unless he exerts himself or sits for too long. But he doesn't complain of it day to day. It's only the stiffness. He can get around without a cane but is faster with one. That's how things are generally; he can do anything on his own but it's faster with help. Fenris takes to getting his socks and boots on in the morning. He can still hunt—his hands are good for making traps, and his eye for the bow and arrow. Not so much for his other profession, teaching the guard how to fight. He's rather unhappy about that.

Fucking is more difficult, but Hawke is clever and they make it work with no small success. Fenris is satisfied in that area.

Aveline is nearly as relieved as he is at Hawke's new limitations. Only Saravh shows any sympathy. She's grown into an excellent assassin with his guidance (and her own magic); Fenris hopes she has not also inherited Hawke's breed of pragmatism, and thinks he sees her mother's instead. Still, she commiserates at length with how Hawke won't be able to stab anyone interesting in the foreseeable future.

The war rages on beyond the walls. Madame de Fer is leading Thedas's forces to a number of victories against the screaming horrors the Fade keeps spouting out, from what Fenris hears. Hawke sighs and grumbles and wrings his hands but doesn't do anything ridiculous like leave in the middle of the night to go fight. Fenris offers his own aid, being uniquely (in the truest sense) qualified to handle the situation; but the Grand Enchanter declines, telling him the less the other side sees of him, the better.

So he stays at home with Hawke and goes about his days without much thought to the demons in the north.

Hawke learns to use the cane. In fact, he gets quite good with it, and sooner than Fenris expected the forlorn looks are gone, the moping forgotten. He still waxes wistful at times, especially after spending too much time with Varric. Fenris can never decide whether to stem the flow of ale in those moments or to call for another cask.

One night in the late summer while the frogs are peeping on the riverbank and the cicadas are buzzing in the trees, and Fenris is lying with his arms wrapped around Hawke's middle, he shifts and murmurs into Hawke's back, "Are you happy?"

A sleepy, "What was that?"

Fenris asks it again, more clearly this time. "Are you happy?"

Hawke takes Fenris's hand and kisses it. "Yes. I am."

Chapter Text

"What is the meaning of this?!" Aveline demands. Her voice doesn't shake even a little, which is very impressive. Hawke's hands are trembling but he keeps them raised.

"You disobeyed a direct order, Agent Vallen." The woman in the front of the pack motions with her shiny, Bioethics-issued rifle. "Hands in the air."

"I did that because it was inappropriate and against regulations, and I filed a complaint!" Aveline retorts, not raising her hands. "Six weeks ago, might I add!" Behind her Hawke edges toward Anders slightly, trying to shield Fenris from the half-dozen guns pointed at them. 

"I'm not paid to listen to criminals," the woman snaps. "I'm paid to bring them in. Now, hands up."

With reluctance Aveline finally obeys. Anders isn't there anymore, Hawke notices. Or, his body is, but Justice is in charge. Below his skin a blue pulse flows through the neural wires, signaling that the AI has taken over while Anders is otherwise occupied. Subtle and hard to see, especially in this brightly lit Bioethics outpost. 

Got to mean Anders is busy using their pod out back to send a message to the Drakon. Good. With luck, the other three will escape. 

"All right." The woman motions with her rifle. "Into the shuttle with all of you. We're taking you back to HQ in Kirkwall."

Shit. All the way back to HQ? Well, of course, they've just got their hands on a spliced elvhen. Aveline positions herself just off Fenris's shoulder, glaring daggers at any of the soldiers who might try to harass him. Hawke tries to do the same but suspects his glare isn't quite as intimidating.

The soldiers herd them into a dust-streaked white shuttle. Fenris is made to sit opposite the rest of them. His black eyes meet Hawke's, wide with fear. Hawke has no answer for him.

The engine thrums to life, and the shuttle rises into the air. 

——

Fenris shivers. 

He shivers during the flight to the flagship. He shivers as they marched him through the maze of corridors. They won't let Hawke go to him; the attempt is met with a violent shove that would send him to the ground if Aveline didn't catch him. 

When they separate Fenris from the group he hesitates, looking over his shoulder; then someone drags him forward and he stumbles. Hawke calls out desperately, "Don't hurt him!" But he expects the plea falls on deaf ears.

They take him, Anders (really Anders—no more pulses of blue), and Aveline to a containment unit and seal the door. Hawke watches them walk away through the clear plastic wall, then looks around for anything they might use to escape—a Corfoam bench, a beady little camera peering at them from the corner. Bloody thing.

"Those bastards," Aveline mutters.

Anders lifts one finger. Wait.

His eyes are glassy. He's hacking. Hawke folds his arms and tries to look nonchalant. Anders is still sitting up straight, so the the hack must not be taking up too much of his attention.

After a minute he blinks and lets out a long breath. "All right. I've looped the audio, if you turn your back to the camera we can talk."

Aveline shifts, leaning up sideways against the wall. Hawke paces and turns. "We can't let them take him into HQ. We'll never get him out."

"I agree," Anders says. "We'll need to pull off the escape during transit."

"Escape?" Aveline hisses. "You'll make fugitives of yourselves! If we weren't hunted before, we certainly will be then!"

"Come on, Aveline," Anders snaps. "You yourself said this was against regulations. What they're doing is illegal. You think filing a complaint is going to fix this?"

Aveline is silent for a long moment; then she rubs her face. "No."

"So will you help us?"

Hawke notes how Anders automatically includes him. Not that he'd refuse, but Anders is a genius hacker and Aveline's skill at martial arts is unparalleled, whereas Hawke is very good at identifying species of plants, especially from certain galaxies in the Ferelden quadrant. He doesn't think Fenris's guards will be too impressed with that.

"Oh, Maker. How am I supposed to explain this to my unit captain?" Aveline mutters.

"Jeven?" Anders says, incredulous. "If he wasn't in on this I'll eat my hat."

"I've never seen you wear a hat," Hawke says absently. Strange how calm he is about the whole thing. He supposes it might be shock. After all, a man should be a little frightened about making an enemy of one of the most powerful agencies in the known universe, shouldn't he?

Anders reaches up and squeezes his elbow. "Stay strong, Hawke. They may have the advantage, true—but we can outsmart them."

Hawke has a brief flashback to the time he sat on a sleeping quillboar on the Approach because he mistook it for a funny-looking rock. "Y...yes." 

"I can hack what we need. Security's good, so Justice will have to take over or else Aveline will be carrying me out over her shoulder," Anders says. "Hawke, how's your shooting?"

"I'm a biologist," he pleads. 

"So you're going to abdicate your freedoms?! It doesn't matter what your profession is—"

"I'm not saying that!" He jams his hands under his armpits so he won't react and tip off the cameras. "I'm just saying I'm going to be an atrocious shot."

"Oh." Anders looks somewhat mollified. "Well, Aveline will make up for that."

"I'm not going to kill anyone, mind you," Aveline says. "Just keep on your toes. The non-lethal setting on those things doesn't always work right away."

"Oh, shit," Anders mutters, blinking slowly. "I'm be—I'm being—"

Hacked. Hawke kneels quickly in front of him, gripping his shoulders—

But then he shakes his head. "No, no, it's Merrill, it's a message. But it's coming from the Ayesleigh satellite network...oh, shit."

Aveline swears as well. Hawke's jaw clenches. She's jacked into the Drakon's computer again. A thousand times more processing power at her beck and call, but also a thousand more avenues to defend from hacking. And from what Varric's told him, the Drakon's firewalls don't play well with the ones in neural webs. 

"She's going to launch an attack on the flagship through the satellite network before it leaves orbit," Anders relays. "They must be bloody stealthed. Shit. We'll have to escape to the surface."

Damn it all. Stealth tech takes up a lot of energy—they'll never outrun the flagship in open space. But Hawke had thought—

"I thought we made them get rid of the cloak!" Aveline interjects. 

Anders shrugs. "Guess Isabela and Varric installed another one while you weren't looking."

Aveline groans in frustration. "It's like herding cats."

The alarm blares.

The door to the containment unit slams open and Anders is on his feet. "All right. I'll get on the cameras and look for Fenris. See you when we're safe and sound."

Then it's Justice there, a pulse of blue rushing under Anders's skin as it gazes at them with no expression. Aveline is already out the door so Hawke follows. 

"We can see them," Justice says. It hasn't quite got the hang of vocal cords so its voice comes out distorted. It points. "Four of them will come around that corner in approximately ten seconds. I will help you fight them."

Hawke decides to stand back.

Aveline and Justice ready themselves. Bootsteps in the hall, and then four Bioethics uniforms turn the corner. The surprise helps, Hawke thinks. Aveline and Justice each grab one before the shooting can start. Justice's movements are mechanical, and it compensates instantaneously for Anders's body—the awkward height, the lack of strength. Aveline is methodical but Hawke can tell from here she's angry. Understandable. To be betrayed by the organization she dedicated her career to, the one that champions the most noble cause in the universe...

Hawke is angry too, of course. But he's always sort of known that the "ethics" part of Bioethics was relative, subject to change without warning.

Justice gets its hands on a rifle and peppers the remaining soldiers with shots. They jerk and twist, sinking slowly to the ground. Nonlethal. Good. Hawke had been a little afraid. He's rarely seen Justice in combat, but that cold, calculating—literally—machine intelligence...

"Let's move!" Aveline barks, shoving a rifle against his chest. He follows her, running down the hall. The panels above them glow in a muted blue, although the dark grey of the walls still makes Hawke feel like he's plunging down a long, dark tunnel without any light at the end. 

"Merrill is opening all of the containment units," Justice says mildly.

Hawke loses his pace for a moment, then keeps running. Who knows what species are being held on this ship? The more polite ones are usually put on a smaller craft to shorten their journeys—Hawke doesn't know how long the flagship's been out, but he hardly dares to think how many dangerous specimens could be kept here—

"Rifles ready," Justice tells them. Hawke lifts his rifle, and by the time he realizes it's upside down Aveline and Justice are already firing.

The pair of soldiers fall. There's muffled shouting from somewhere nearby. Justice's face creases in something that approximates worry. "There are approximately one hundred and sixty escaped specimens. Most appear to be dangerous. Anders still has the cameras. Please follow me closely."

"They'll be locking the blocs down as soon as their personnel are evacuated," Aveline warns. "We still have to move fast."

Hawke follows them, the rifle heavy in his hands. He thinks he's found the trigger. Did Aveline switch it to the nonlethal setting before she handed it over? He hopes so. Justice guides them with precision and a little bit of twitchiness. When they run into trouble it's always Bioethics agents rather than some unknown species. (Hawke likes to think he could identify most of the creatures they'd come across, but knowing an alien is about to spit a deluge of corrosive acid at them won't save them from being turned into piles of organic goop.) 

But Justice keeps doubling them back to take different paths, its speech growing more and more pressured until finally it stops them in the middle of a corridor. "There is no safe path. There are...escaped specimens all around us."

"Well, we've got to pick," Aveline says. "Which one looks least dangerous?"

"Closest database matches show a Minanter conglomerate to port and a family of varghests to starboard. Toward the stern the cameras are out. Anders does not have access to archived footage. We...do not know what is there."

Hawke shrugs. "I don't know, would you all prefer to be suffocated or shredded to death? I'm not picky."

"We'll have to head to the stern, then," Aveline says. "Hawke?"

"Yes, yes. Can't be any worse than our other options."

"Very well." Justice turns and jogs down the corridor. 

Hawke follows, expecting trepidation but finding none. After all, why should a strong possibility of death bother him? A trifling matter, really.

The lights flicker in the ceiling.

Justice proceeds without pause so Hawke does as well. His breathing's fast and tight in his chest. They have to keep going. They have to find Fenris. He shouldn't be taken and studied again. He said he didn't want to be, his blurted-out admission early that morning as if he were ashamed to say it aloud...Hawke can't let that happen again. It isn't right.

Some of the panels are black and dead but some still glow dimly, fewer as they go on; they pass through islets of struggling light. The flickering makes him flinch more than once. But there isn't anything there. There's a...smell, too, sort of like human waste. In his profession, he's long past wrinkling his nose at things like that. Then Justice takes them around a corner and Hawke discovers the source of it. 

A single lit panel behind them sheds a weak white light on the scene. The walls and ceiling are pierced with hundreds of bullet holes, the atrium to a long corridor of darkness. Some panels hang canted from above, disemboweled wires dangling and sparking into the murk. Aveline does something to her rifle and a flashlight blazes from the muzzle. The reflection bounces off the cracked surface of a containment unit on the right, interrupted in places by splatters of...Hawke swallows, his throat suddenly dry. 

Blood. 

No great surprise. There are a half-dozen bodies strewn across the floor or slumped against the clear plastic, twisted and broken and torn. Aveline scans down the pitch-black hallway with her light. Two more bodies in the same condition. The smell is worse, and Hawke coughs into his elbow, choking on it.

"All right." Aveline scans left. Another corpse draped over the control panel. "On me. If anything—happens, you two need to keep going, got that?"

Hawke finds his eyes welling with tears. He's frightened. He's so frightened. Has he ever seen this many bodies in one place? "I—I don't want to—"

"Hawke." Aveline turns and grasps his shoulder. "Just—be brave a little longer, all right? Fenris is depending on us." 

Hawke nods jerkily. That's right. No one else is looking for Fenris—except maybe Danarius, and he might be even worse than Bioethics. They have to get him back to the Drakon. They have to. So he just needs to go on a little longer. 

Aveline turns, lifting her rifle light. A great black figure blocks their path. 

Hawke is too afraid to scream and only lets out a sort of strangled whine. Aveline jumps but immediately starts firing, Justice following suit. But Hawke's seen the videos—a humanoid shape with skin in earthen colors ranging up to purple and blue, tall and broad of stature with a blunt face, bovine nose, and ribbed horns—"Stop!" he shouts, grabbing Aveline and Justice by their arms and pulling the rifles down. 

They obey, which is a bloody relief, the buzz of the rifles fading. The creature looks down at itself, the nonlethal shots dispersing over its skin. Some bullet holes there, stuffed with—Hawke swallows, suppressing a gag. That's...meat, human meat, tamped into the holes in its own flesh. Hawke recalls the lectures from school. They don't have the universal issue with unfamiliar microbes or foreign substances that should either poison them or trigger their immune systems. Their bodies just...subsume it. All of it. 

Glittering black eyes lock on him, full of life—almost pensive, Hawke starts to think, but it's never a good idea to try and fit other species into human conventions. His grip tightens on Justice and Aveline, holding their arms down.

The seconds stretch on. The corridor is silent but full of sound—the electric snapping of the eviscerated wires, the steady drip, drip, drip of blood or some other fluid, his own rapid breathing. Justice and Aveline are a little more controlled. And the ever-present thrum of the engine. No one moves. Instead the three of them gaze up at the creature and it gazes straight back, unblinking. Behind them the ceiling panel flickers. 

Finally Hawke sees—something like, again with the human conventions, bad idea—something like a smile beneath those lively black eyes, and the Qunari turns aside, its great body no longer barring their path. Hawke steps forward, dragging the other two along behind him.

"They are trying to close this bloc," Justice says under its breath. "Anders is holding them off for now, but—"

"We should run." Aveline starts down the hall at a fast clip, her light bobbing in front of her. She leaps ably over the corpse in their way. Hawke starts running too and prays it won't be for too long. The agency mandates an exercise program to compensate for gravity changes between planets, but Hawke can't remember the last session when he put in anything more than the bare minimum.

"What in the Void was that thing?" Aveline whispers.

"A Qunari," Hawke tells her. "Not much is known about them, except that it's best not to meddle in their affairs without a really good reason."

"Would it have killed us if we kept shooting?"

"Who bloody knows?" he mutters.

They turn a couple of corners and the ceiling is lit again, and Justice motions. "Almost there. I will turn the lights out to give us cover. Be ready to fight."

Hawke takes a deep breath, trying to find the trigger on his rifle again—there it is. Aveline slows them so their footsteps don't ring off the walls and give away their presence. Instead they creep forward, approaching an opening in the left wall. There's tense conversation from around the corner. Justice raises five fingers, then three more. Eight of them. Great. Then Justice starts a silent countdown, its narrow fingers ticking down. Three, two, one. 

The corridor is plunged into blackness. Hawke is late to join the others, but he does indeed whip around the corner and fire off a spray of fizzing nonlethal shots from the rifle. It buzzes unpleasantly in his hands. A scattering of surprised shouts, then the soldiers start shooting back so he heaves himself behind the wall again. Someone's shoulder bumps into his—Aveline, by the grunt. "Did I hit anyone?" Hawke whispers.

"I don't know!" Aveline hisses back. "But there's still more of them! So keep shooting!"

Fuck. Hawke had sort of hoped they'd get everyone on the first try and he wouldn't have to shoot at anyone anymore, but it seems that is not to be. So when Aveline's weapon lights up again Hawke follows her. He hates the way the damned rifle vibrates in his palms, much prefers the grit and grain of alien soil or the wildly varied textures of the many species he's had the pleasure to make contact with, even the ones that tried to eat him mere seconds after their meeting—

Fenris is there.

Hawke hadn't seen him before in the dark, but there's a familiar blue glow off to the right, inching toward the muzzle-flashes of the guards' rifles. That's right. The containment units are all open. But he can't be meaning to help, it's far too dangerous. Hawke tries to shout his name but the second syllable dies in his chest when the shot smacks him in the breastbone.

It doesn't hurt, so it must be nonlethal. The shock of weakness travels all the way down to his toes. So that's what it's like. He buckles, his head going fuzzy. Another half-dozen shots thud into him. That'll do it. He thinks someone calls his name as he blacks out.

When he wakes the first thing he sees is Aveline on the ground beside him, wide-eyed and terrified. Her face is dimly illuminated in glowing white-blue. Her gaze locks with his. 

Someone is shaking him, squeezing his hand. "Hawke!"

He blinks and rolls over. That's—Fenris, gazing down at him. "Hawke, please, are you all right?"

He nods, struggling to sit up. His limbs feel like jelly, lips and tongue clumsy when he tries to speak. "Aveline's—she needs help."

"I—yes. I apologize. One moment." Fenris releases him and goes over, grasping her hand. 

There's no more sounds of shooting. The corridor is still dark, but there's—something in the air, dust, maybe—no, he should make sure they're all down—Hawke peers around the corner. 

The darkness is full of stars.

Tiny pinpoints of white-blue light fill the space, glowing against the black, swirling and eddying in the air currents from the climate system. They drift gently down, coating the fallen forms of the Bioethics soldiers like luminescent snow. Hawke can see their backs moving. Still breathing.

He withdraws hastily.

"Oh, Maker." Aveline is sitting up, clenching and unclenching her fists. "What in Oblivion was that?"

"That was me." Fenris is glowing as well, his markings alight. He rises and goes to Justice where it lies on the floor across the corridor. "I...should have mentioned it before. I'm sorry. But I can also reverse it." He grasps Justice's hand.

Hawke looks down at his own fingers. Hard to tell in the dim light, but he thinks there's a dark, dusty smear there, as if he's just rubbed a moth's wings. The tiny blue-white dots coat his sleeves. He lifts his arm and squints, gently separating the folds of fabric. It's—well, he can't be certain, but from the gross characteristics, the spherical shape, the miniature spikes poking up off the surface—

It's a spore.

Hawke's head snaps up. Are the elvhen...an intelligent, complex species of plant or fungus? Then he groans at himself internally, embarrassed that that's the first thought that crossed his mind. Professor Guerrin would be most displeased. Far more likely that the elvhen are animals, like humans, colonized by a symbiotic plant or fungus species. That would provide a firmer explanation for the natural bioluminescence than any he's got so far.

Justice sits up. "Please warn me the next time you do that."

"Don't expect it again anytime soon," Fenris says. "I don't have much left."

"Then we should go quickly." Justice rises, leaning up against the wall. "They are coming."

"Shit," Aveline mutters. "All right. Lead the way."

They run past the fallen soldiers. Hawke drags his feet—just a bit, just to take a look at Fenris's victims. Still awake, but not even twitching apart from their blinking eyes. Damn, that's powerful. He would love to study those spores—but of course he needs permission first. He can discuss that with Fenris when they're home free.

The lights come back on overhead, making him squint a little. He jogs to catch up. "Hey, Fenris. Are you all right?"

Fenris glances over. "Yes. They only had time to imprison me. I am fine."

"Good. We're going to get you out of here and far away from any more of these bloody Bioethics thugs." He offers Fenris a smile. "They'll never get their hands on you again. I promise."

"I...thank you, Hawke.";

"The pod bay is close," Justice tells them. "I should be able to control a pod while Anders runs interference. I fear we will not be able to depend on help from Merrill."

"What?" Aveline asks. "Why?"

"They are tearing down her defenses. She has warned that will not be able to stay much longer," Justice says. "We should hurry. I think our escape will be close."

Great. Hawke tries to run faster. He's already breathing hard.

"I'll be out of charge soon." Aveline beckons. "Hawke, switch with me."

He hands over his rifle and takes Aveline's. How does he know how much charge is left? He rotates the rifle. Maybe those little lights over there—

Fenris grabs his elbow and yanks him back just as a volley of shots whizzes in front of him. An intersection of hallways. Aveline shouts, "I'll cover, let's go!"

She comes out firing at their left flank, and Hawke hurls himself across the hall, Fenris and Justice just behind. Aveline brings up the rear, still shooting. Beyond her Hawke spots a group of Bioethics soldiers firing from around the corners. 

"We're here!" Justice barks.

A round white door in front of them—it slams open, and Hawke barrels through to find himself in the pod bay. 

The door slides shut again. Justice's forehead shines with sweat. "Merrill has disconnected."

Six pods along each wall, squat white ellipses sitting with their noses in the deployment hatches. The first few are streaked with dirt, the further ones somewhat cleaner. The control hubs beside each one glow green. As Hawke watches the first hub depowers, the green orb falling to black. 

"They are trying to stop us." Justice jerks its head. "The last pod. Anders will delay them at the door while I take control of it. Be aware they will open the door soon despite his efforts. When that occurs, please provide covering fire."

Aveline nods and slips down the aisle. But Fenris shakes his head. "I might be able to slow them down."

Hawke grasps his arm—not pulling but pleading. "Fenris, no, It's too dangerous."

"Please, Hawke. It's the least I can do."

"You said you did not have much left," Justice points out. 

"I...it is not much. But we are outnumbered. If I can help, I must. Please."

"If that is what you wish." Justice jerks its head. "Hawke?"

Banging on the door. Hawke hesitates. It's plain Fenris isn't moving, and Hawke's not about to fight him and Justice, not when there are people with guns about to break into the bay. So he follows Justice down the aisle, leaving Fenris to hide behind the first pod. 

Aveline crouches in front of pod number twelve, rifle in hand. When he approaches she grabs him and stuffs him into the gap behind her. "What's going on?" she hisses.

"Fenris thinks he can slow them down." Hawke can see him through the struts that hold up the pods, head bowed, waiting. 

Justice squeezes past them and curls its hand around the green control hub, closing its eyes. "Anders is losing the door," it murmurs.

Shit. Hawke's breath catches in his throat like a garrote. He shouldn't have left Fenris there alone—

The door slides open and shots fly down the aisle. Aveline shoots from cover, teeth gritted. 

A faint thud. Through the struts Hawke sees one soldier collapse, then another, then another. Their bodies simply go limp, their eyes blinking slowly. That's Fenris's work. But behind them more fire through the doorway. Too bloody many of them—

The pod pops open. "Hawke, please prepare us for deployment," Justice says, lifting its rifle.

Hawke crams himself inside. Meant to be a three-person pod but Fenris is scrawny and so is Anders, for that matter. Hawke stabs the screen and the holodisplay flares to life. The dynamic glass ripples under his fingers as he fires up the engine. From outside there's still the harsh buzz of gunfire, like a cloud of insects. Hawke curses. How many bloody soldiers do they have on this damned ship? Hawke scans the checks, everything flipping green, the grav mag thrumming under his feet, the stabilizers whirring to either side. At last the ready signal blooms on the screen. Hawke sticks his head out the door. "We're all set!"

"Fenris is still pinned! There's too many of them!" Aveline glances at her rifle. "And I'm almost out of charge!"

Justice is still firing. "Please get inside the pod now!"

Hawke ducks inside, squashing his bulk into the driver's seat. Aveline is right behind him. What's Justice's plan? Maybe now that the door's open, Anders is going direct his attention to helping Fenris instead—

Justice dives into the pod, the door sealing shut behind it. The clamps lock onto the hull and Hawke's stomach shoots into his throat as they hurtle down the deployment shaft. 

"Hawke, what happened?" Aveline gasps.

"I don't know!" He swipes at the screen, but the glass is flat and hard under his fingers, unresponsive to his touch. "I didn't do anything!"

"Anders was in danger," Justice says. "They were breaching our defenses. We could not have extricated Fenris safely. I deployed the pod. We should land on Ayesleigh's surface in several minutes."

Hawke is frozen in shock—thinks he is but feels his body launching out of the pilot's seat, swinging around to confront Justice in the back. "You just left him there?! He can't fight them off on his own! How could you do that?!"

"The risk was outside of acceptable parameters," Justice says evenly. 

"The risk?" Hawke flings a hand out. "What about the risk to him?!"

Justice's face tightens—maybe, or maybe Hawke is fooling himself. "My duty is to protect the Drakon and its crew. Not Fenris."

"Fucking Maker." Hawke rubs his forehead. "I'm going to have a talk with Anders after this." 

"He is still fending off their hacks," Justice says. "I will alert you when he becomes available."

Hawke can't think of anything else to do so he sinks back down into the pilot's seat, resting his head in his hands. For Fenris to have stayed at the fore to try and defend them—and then to have seen the pod deploying, flying off into space and leaving him behind with who knows how many armed humans who want to take him captive again—

Justice's voice interrupts his thoughts. "I have received a message from Varric."

"What is it?" Aveline asks. 

"Through Merrill's connection he was able to inject a worm into the ship's system," Justice replies. "We can track them." 

Chapter Text

"Oh, thank the Maker," Isabela moans, undoing the clasps on her shirt and dropping it in the dry grass.

"You know what, that's a perfect idea." Hawke sheds his pack, grasping the hem of his own shirt and stripping it off over his head.

"What are you doing?!" Aveline squawks.

Fenris is inclined to ask the same thing. Isabela's brassiere is next, and she flings it gaily behind her. It lands on top of Aveline's head. She has excellent aim, Fenris muses.

"Going for a swim," Hawke answers, opening up the tie on his trousers. "I'm bloody melting."

Evident by how his tan, freckled back shines with sweat, droplets running down his spine, winding in rivulets between his taut, powerful muscles...Fenris fixes his gaze instead on the wide, blue-black lake opening up from the stream they've been following. It is impolite to stare. He is also quite hot, but after the chokingly humid, mosquito-clouded jungles of Seheron, heat like this hardly merits notice.

Isabela kicks her smallclothes off and runs, bare feet dashing through the grass, letting out a whoop as she flings herself off a rock and splashes into the water below.

It…does look like fun. Hawke is struggling out of his trousers, hopping on one foot before he manages to yank them off. And then he wriggles out of his smallclothes—

Fenris is staring. Hawke’s back is still to him, but the sight is breathtaking nonetheless. He’s seen Hawke without a shirt before, but this…is new.

“Come on, you two!” Hawke turns (Fenris claps a hand over his mouth) and waves an arm. “I know you’re both boiling. It’ll be fun!”

Then he’s sprinting toward the rock, and he heaves his great body into the pond with an enormous splash.

Aveline makes an exasperated noise. “They can horse around all they like, I am not taking my clothes off.”

“Come on, Aveline, you’ve got to be drenched in sweat under that armor! And anyway, I want to see if your tits float too!” Isabela calls. Fenris looks over and cannot fail to notice that her breasts are indeed bobbing at the surface of the water as she lazily swims backwards.

Aveline flushes (or perhaps it’s just the sunburn), with a mutter of, “She wishes she were so lucky.”

“Well, what about you, Fenris?” Isabela draws thick curls of wet hair from her forehead. “Aren’t you going to join us? The water’s so nice.”

He does want to swim with them, very much. But—well, they know, of course, in theory, what his body looks like. He’s just never shown any of them.

“Are you afraid we’re going to look at you funny?” she calls out, drifting across the lake. “Come on, we’ve known you for years. And it feels so wonderful to wash all that sweat off your skin.” She dips beneath the water, coming up again and throwing her hair back.

She’s correct, of course. He’s afraid they’re going to stare at him, at the small swells of his chest and what he’s got (or hasn’t got) between his legs. Because men don’t look like that. Only he does.

Hawke is spinning in slow circles but he comes to a stop. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, Fenris. We understand. Well, maybe not Isabela.”

“Of course I don’t! We’re you’re friends! And it’s bloody hot outside!”

She’s correct again, on both counts. Fenris very much wants to jump in the lake. And he wants to—he wants—

His gauntlets go first, unbuckled and hastily yanked off, and his breastplate undone, crashing to the ground. Then his shirt—he rushes through the fastenings before his mind can catch up with him, shrugging it off his shoulders, jamming his thumbs in his trousers and peeling them down.

He wants not to hide it all the time. And he certainly isn’t now, naked in the glaring afternoon sun, Aveline gazing at him in utter betrayal. He grins at her, then turns and sprints, hurling himself through the air to the tune of Isabela’s whoop—

The water envelops him, and he nearly forgets to hold his breath before it closes over his head. It’s just as refreshing as Isabela told him it would be. He comes up and tosses his hair out of his eyes, unable to keep the grin from his face.

“That’s the spirit!” Isabela swims over, doing a somersault on her way. “Here, I’ll race you to the other side.”

Fenris hasn’t been swimming in a long time but was quite good once, and he finds the stroke returning to him as he pursues Isabela, never quite managing to catch her. When they meet at the far edge he pauses to heave in breaths. “That was—more difficult—than I remember.”

“That’s because you’re out of practice.” She disappears beneath the water, and a second later he feels a yank on his ankle, dragging him briefly under. He surfaces spluttering. Isabela is there already, laughing. “Let’s see if you can redeem yourself on the way back.”

He does no such thing, although he doesn’t embarrass himself, either. By the time he arrives a naked Aveline is making her way stiffly toward the edge of the lake, arms folded around her chest. Her smallclothes are still on.

“Oh, come on!” Isabela approaches, walking up on the bank, and puts her hands on her hips. “Do you really want to walk back to Kirkwall with wet smallclothes?”

Fenris can hardly believe his eyes. For Aveline to have stripped down—Isabela is quite persuasive. Or maybe the heat is. Aveline stares at Isabela, desperate for a way out. But she’s gone too far already, and with Isabela in front of her, naked without shame, there’s no going back. Aveline groans and drags her smallclothes down her legs.

Hawke cheers. Isabela jumps and claps her hands together. “Captain, you have no idea how happy I am right now.”

Aveline tries to conceal herself under the water, although in the wrong position her breasts exhibit the same behavior as Isabela’s and she must recapture them. Fenris’s do no such thing; too small, he thinks. Hawke starts trying to do somersaults and isn’t very good, but Fenris doesn’t mind watching him practice—his broad shoulders breaking the water, the bend of his back, all the way down to his muscular ass before he twists himself up somehow and has to try again. Then Isabela starts splashing water at Aveline, who has to defend herself, but Hawke gangs up on her too so Fenris goes after Hawke to even the odds, and then Isabela is underwater grabbing people’s toes and Aveline lets out the most unexpected scream and Hawke laughs so hard he swallows water and Fenris attends to him, alarmed. But he reassures Fenris, between coughs, that he is perfectly fine.

After some time they manage to tire themselves out and crawl up the bank, flopping down on the grass. Fenris lies on his back, one hand over his eyes, letting the sun soak into his wet skin.

Isabela’s voice from beside him. “Aren’t you glad you jumped in?”

Fenris grins again. “Yes. I am.”

 

Chapter Text

The rooftop garden is closed for the winter so they have to sneak in, Fenris ghosting through a tucked-away door at the far end of the eastern wing and unlocking it for Hawke to come through. The stairs are dusted with snow and a little slippery; Hawke’s cane suddenly loses traction once and Fenris has to catch him as he flails, straining to heave his great weight upright again. The two of them collapse into each other, giggling madly.

“Thank the Maker.” Hawke kisses Fenris’s hair. “I thought we’d never get out of there.”

Fenris groans. “If I had to deflect one more question about Dumat’s death…”

“Hm.” Hawke nods thoughtfully as they ascend. “I do feel a bit badly for Aveline. Now she’s covering for us as well as Varric.”

Varric, of course, recoiled in horror the moment the word “Halamshiral” was uttered in his office; only with much stricken clutching of the chest and earnest desperation was he able to convince Aveline to represent him here instead. He is not fond of nobles, Fenris knows, and certainly not fond of five hundred of them gathered in one place, every one of whom wants something from him. Fenris has witnessed Aveline stoically absorbing numberless queries of Orlesian-accented “but where is the dear Viscount?” already this evening. And now as well “have you seen the Champion of Kirkwall, or his dashing consort?”

He will apologize after this. For now he and Hawke ascend into the night and cross the stone patio, a thick layer of powder breaking over their boots. The garden is dead—dormant, he supposes, the dense white-capped shrubs shorn of leaves, the spindly rosebushes twisting their questioning limbs into the air. To receive snow as answer, fine ridges building on each dark stem as if lain by some meticulous architect’s careful hand.

Hawk finds a stone bench at the rooftop’s edge, dusts it off, and sits. Fenris sits as well and leans on him.

“How long did Vivienne say we could stay?” Hawke asks.

Fenris shrugs. “As long as we like, I suppose. She owes me a favor.”

All of Thedas does, really, as it was he who tore out Dumat’s heart in the Fade early last summer; but Fenris does not plan on demanding recompense. Still. “This place is amazing,” Hawke says. “The food is incredible.”

Fenris grins. “I expect the accommodations are as well. A pity we did not come when the flowers were in bloom.”

Hawke’s shoulder shrugs beneath Fenris’s cheek. “I don’t know. I thought the ice sculptures were quite nice.”

“If one is willing to weather the cold,” Fenris mutters. He is dressed in a sturdy, warm wool coat with a scarf and thick gloves. Meanwhile, Hawke has only a cloak with a white-grey foxfur ruff that almost matches Fenris’s hair. From beneath the cloak he draws a flask from which he has been sampling all night; indeed, when he shakes it, it sloshes nearly empty. He heaves a piteous sigh. “Damn it all.”

Still, he offers it first and Fenris takes a swig of the fiery Fereldan whiskey. That will warm him up. Then he hands it back for Hawke to finish off.

For a little while they sit quietly, breath misting in the air—in tandem, and then one after the other. Fenris leans into Hawke’s shoulder. The foxfur collar tickles his forehead. It’s begun to snow again—not terribly hard, but tiny snowflakes drift down all around them, glowing in the light of a moon that peeks, timid, from behind her curtain of clouds. Lain out below are the palace grounds, a glittering sea of white broken by crests of topiary or gilded statues that reach their hands undaunted towards the sky.

“Hey, Fenris.”

Fenris looks up. “Hm?”

“I don’t mean to impose.” Hawke lifts the empty flask. “But, er, would you mind…I mean, it’ll be a lot faster if you do it.”

Fenris chuckles and takes it. “I will return in a moment.”

He rises and retreats across the patio, turning once just to see Hawke sitting there in the moonlight with shoulders sloped, gazing up at the falling snow.

Then he sighs and makes for the party again.

It’s still going in full force—he had faintly hoped that in the ten minutes he was gone everyone would have finished things up and dispersed. Unfortunately it was not to be. He slips and elbows his way through the throng, carefully avoiding trailing skirts and unwanted greetings. Where are the blasted kitchens? Ducking and weaving, he searches, but these damned masks are too elaborate and he can’t see over anyone’s heads—

A firm grip on his arm. He knows that grip. “Aveline.” He turns, caught in the act.

She glares at him, dressed smartly in a black velvet suit with gold trim. “Where in Oblivion have you been?! And where is Hawke?”

“Ah. Well—we slipped out. For a bit of—fresh air.”

“Slipped out where? The courtyard? I didn’t see you.”

“Er…the rooftop garden.”

“I thought it was closed to—“ Aveline breaks off, staring at Fenris while he waits breathlessly; then she exhales, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Fine. But you two will owe me after this.”

“Yes. Anything you desire.”

“I want you both on reports for two weeks.”

“Of course.”

“A month.”

“You have my word.”

“Go.” She releases him, flapping her hand. “And I will hold you to that.”

“You have my gratitude. Ah—do you know where the kitchens are?”

She sighs and gives him directions.

In the entryway there are racks of bottles waiting to be uncorked. Fenris crouches over them, searching, and eventually finds a squat brown bottle of whiskey. He thinks of taking the whole thing but his clothes are too fitted to hide it in. Instead, after a brief struggle, he uncorks it, refills the flask, searches for where the cork landed among the racks in the next room over, plugs up the bottle again, and makes his escape.

Once more into the fray. Fenris squeezes and evades, not quite knowing the way back to the eastern wing but pointing himself in that general direction, and before long the dark corridor appears before him. Letting out a sigh of relief, he makes his way to the door, still unlocked, and out into the wintry air again. As he climbs the stairs a breeze gusts a spray of powdery snow into his face, and he wrinkles his nose and rubs his eyes, making the top stair.

At the far edge of the roof Hawke is flat on his back, struggling with a woman who sits on top of him with a knife in hand. He blocks as she swings it, then tries to lift his hips and throw her off, but with only one of his legs working she easily keeps him pinned.

Fenris’s heart stops in his chest.

He lunges forward and the Veil breaks over his face like a crashing wave. When he comes out the other side, Hawke and the woman are right next to him. There’s a light in the air—his markings, a brilliant white-blue making the snowflakes glow like frozen fireflies. He grabs the woman and throws her bodily, lyrium strength charging down his limbs. She lands hard on her back with a startled “uh” and Fenris is on top of her, pinning her wrists and legs. “Who sent you?!” he shouts.

She’s Tevinter. Her skin, her features. “Murderer!” she spits. “You stole the silence from this world! The Void is too good for you!”

She tries to heave him off but his grip is iron, the lyrium a fixed point in space which she cannot hope to move. “A name,” Fenris snarls. “The name of the one who sent you, or I swear I will—“

“Fenris!” Hawke is on his feet now, limping over through the disturbed snow. “It’s all right! I’m all right. Let the guards handle this.”

Fenris looks up and discovers his heart is pounding in his chest. Hawke does look…mostly all right, but for a bloodied lip and a shallow cut above his eye. “I…I just…”

Hawke gets down on one knee, teetering a little, and kisses his temple. “I’m not completely defenseless, you know. Here, I’ll go find the guard.”

He retrieves his cane and heads for the stairs. Fenris remains where he is and tries to get some answers. All he manages to glean is the woman is part of a cult worshipping Dumat and she is irked at Fenris for killing him. She decided to target Hawked avowedly because Fenris deserves suffering over a quick death, but Fenris suspects it’s because they know he would be more difficult to kill. Before long six guards in gilded regalia appear to escort her away, Aveline at the head. She grasps Hawke’s shoulder as Fenris approaches. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Hawke tells her. “Most of me’s still good for fighting.”

“Good. We’ll get to the bottom of this, don’t you worry. I’ll have security doubled around your rooms while you’re here.”

“Thank you. Although…” Hawke swipes at his lip, coming up with a tiny spot of blood. “Perhaps I was rather more seriously injured in the attack than I first thought. Maybe it’s best if I retire for the evening.”

Aveline glares at him. “You told me three seconds ago you were fine.”

“Yes, but that was three seconds ago.”

“Mm.” Fenris nods sagely. “I should also retire that I might care for him in his wounded state.”

Aveline’s glare gives way suddenly to a nasty smile. “Well, that’s just too bad, because I need to sweep your rooms and make sure nobody’s left you any deadly gifts.”

Hawke groans. “Aveline, please don’t make me go back out there.”

She shrugs. “Sorry, it’s for your own safety. Oh—and if anyone asks after Varric, just let them know he’s indisposed, would you?”

She gives Hawke a handkerchief, at least, to wipe the blood from his forehead. Some of it is dried on so Fenris licks his thumb and rubs at it.

Somehow the entire party appears to already know that Hawke’s just been the victim of an assassination attempt. They are accosted at the entrance to the courtyard by a mob of terribly concerned nobles asking after his well-being. “I’m fine—“ Hawke struggles forward, making little headway. “Really, it’s just a scratch—“

Then there’s movement in the crowd and the nobles part as the Grand Enchanter appears, regal as ever in a gown of white trimmed in red and gold. “Hawke, my dear!” she calls, and the clamoring drops to little more than an excited whisper. “I’ve just heard what happened.”

“Yes. Why don’t we talk about it while we return to the hall?”

The main hall? Fenris can’t imagine why he wants to descend into the varghest’s den again but follows anyway. “You have my deepest apologies,” Vivienne says. “Let me reassure you that I will find out exactly what happened tonight. And you have my personal promise that you need not fear for your safety during your stay here.”

“Your personal promise?” Hawke grins. “Are you going to come kill the assassins yourself?”

Vivienne gives him a radiant smile. “I have fought by your side many times over the years, Ser Hawke. I do love the Game, but the direct approach can be…refreshing.”

They talk as the crowd makes way. Hawke had assumed the footsteps behind him were Fenris until he saw the woman’s shadow and noticed something odd about the silhouette. Fenris relays what the woman said, and Vivienne nods thoughtfully. In the main hall the music is still going, a lively air that sounds like a rearranged folk tune.

“I’ll begin investigating immediately,” Vivienne tells him. “If there’s anything you need, you have only to ask.”

Then she leaves them, and Hawke turns to Fenris and sticks out his hand. “Fenris, would you dance with me?”

Fenris stares. “Would I what with you?”

Hawke falters a little. “Please. If we’re dancing no one can bother us.”

That…is an excellent point. “Ah. Then yes, I will.”

“Thank the Maker.” Hawke lifts his cane and freezes, staring at it for a second. Fenris thinks of asking Aveline to hold it but of course she’s busy securing their quarters.

Hawke solves the problem by sliding it into his belt at the hip. “There. Shall we?”

Fenris snorts, following him. “You look ridiculous.”

“Everyone’s got those ceremonial bloody swords hanging off of them. Only difference with this is I could actually use it to hurt someone.”

There are couples gliding and whirling across the floor so they pick a corner that’s out of the way. Fenris uses one hand to clasp Hawke’s and rests the other at Hawke’s waist. Around them the Orlesians perform elaborate sequences of steps, bowing and twirling and curtsying to various musical cues Fenris doesn’t hear. Instead he leans into Hawke’s chest and they rock slowly, the last bars of the air giving way to a sumptuous waltz.

“I wish people would stop trying to kill you,” Fenris says.

Beneath his cheek Hawke’s chest rises and falls with a great sigh. “Yes, well, you know what they say. No good deed goes unpunished.”

“It wasn’t even your good deed. I’m the one who killed Dumat. You were busy sleeping and eating Sister Catherine’s food.”

Hawke guffaws. “Well, now you know how I felt dragging you with me around Thedas for four years while the Chantry was hunting me down.”

Fenris grunts. It’s a fair point.

“I wouldn’t worry. I trust Vivienne to keep us safe while we’re here. She seemed to take the whole thing rather personally. And anyway…” Fenris hears the grin in his voice. “I’ve got a dashing partner who can teleport across rooftops to save my sorry arse.”

Fenris looks up, cups Hawke’s face, and kisses him.

No longer rocking back and forth, simply standing all to themselves in a secluded corner of the dance floor. The kiss breaks briefly and by a hair’s breadth at best, their lips meeting again almost at once. They must have kissed thousands of times over the years, yet now the warm flush of safety swells so strongly it threatens to bear Fenris away. Not his own safety now—not anymore. He can kill an Old God and walk away none the worse for wear. Hawke, on the other hand, struggles to defend himself from aspiring assassins.

But Hawke is here and alive, his lips warm and dry on Fenris’s own. When Fenris breaks away and leans into Hawke’s chest, the rhythmic thudding under his ear is strong and steady as ever.

Some things have changed but the way their bodies meet hasn’t—maybe the pure sensation of it, Hawke a little softer and Fenris not quite so thin. Still Fenris knows exactly the way Hawke’s shoulderblade rotates under his palm, the way Hawke’s chest presses against his own and his stomach when he breathes in expands just there. Feels it as they make their winding way upstairs, excused at last from the party by Aveline’s return, stopping now and then at corners or stone landings to hold each other and lazily kiss a few more times. It takes a good ten minutes for them to reach the bedroom at last, containing themselves for the sake of the five guards posted at strategic points on the approach.

But Fenris toes the door shut behind him and kisses Hawke again, the two of them drifting toward the bed and colliding with it gently. Hawke flops down on his back and pulls Fenris on top of him, and Fenris kisses Hawke’s neck, legs splaying loosely over his hips, trails down to the base of his throat. Hawke’s enormous hands slide down his back, coming to rest on his ass and cupping it. Fenris lets out a satisfied “mm,” and squeezes the thick muscle at Hawke’s chest—

“Er. Fenris?”

“Yes?” Fenris murmurs, kneading the muscle under his fingers.

“It appears I’m—er—a bit tired.”

Fenris blinks, propping himself up on one elbow.

“And this bed is…really comfortable.” Hawke winces a little, apologetic.

Fenris can’t help but laugh. “Then this will have to wait for another time, I suppose.”

“Sorry. Shouldn’t have had all that whiskey. Makes me sleepy.”

As they undress Fenris gets a look at the room he hardly had a chance to notice earlier when they were jamming themselves into their formal outfits for the ball. Delicate, lacy sconces line the walls, illuminating overstuffed chairs in deep red crushed velvet and daubed paintings of ladies in enormous dresses giggling to themselves in sunny pastures. Not entirely to Fenris’s taste, but as he climbs into the bed he discovers it is indeed incredibly soft. “Ah.”

“See? I told you,” Hawke says as he crawls in as well.

Fenris flips on his side and Hawke curls up behind them, the two of them skin on skin beneath the vast duvet. After a moment Fenris picks up the hand that’s on his stomach and places it over his breast instead. If they’re not going to have sex he can at least have that.

“Thanks for protecting me,” Hawke murmurs.

Fenris lets out a sigh. “With luck I won’t have to do it again.”

“Mm. I suppose we’ll just…have to stay here while Vivienne figures out what’s going on.”

Fenris snorts. “Don’t you think you’re rather taking advantage of her generosity?”

“Are you saying you don’t want to?”

“By no means. This bed is extremely comfortable.”

“I knew it.” Hawke kisses the back of his neck. “Tomorrow we’ll break our fast with roasted pheasant and quails’ eggs.”

Fenris smiles to himself. “Go to sleep, Hawke. We’ve had a long day.”

“Mm. I love you, Fenris.”

“And I love you.”

Chapter Text

Isabela splays her legs on the sand and tips her head back, knocking it against the spindly trunk of the small tree under which they have all taken shelter. “If we’re going to be here for hours, the sea could at least cough up a bloody breeze.”

Fenris grunts in agreement. The tree is sparse and barely higher than Hawke’s head, and it provides minimal relief from the blazing sun. He’s beginning to wish the pirates would show up and steal Lord Ronfort’s shipment just so he could kill them and then go back to Kirkwall and lie unclothed on the stone floor of his shuttered house, which is at least slightly cooler than the surrounding air. But the sea stretching out in front of them is empty of ships.

Aveline dips her canteen back in the water barrel and chugs from it. “It’s only a couple of more hours until sunset, I think,” she says, wiping her mouth.

Fenris doesn’t know how she’s surviving in full plate armor. He’s in a breastplate, gauntlets, and leather and even that is extraordinarily uncomfortable. Hawke takes a drink as well. “Maybe we can just leave and hope no one shows up,” he mumbles.

“Oh, no. I am getting the other half of my fee,” Isabela says. “Ugh, Maker’s balls.” She shoves a hand up her shirt.

“Oh, for—do you have any decency?” Aveline grumbles.

“Give me a break, would you? There’s so much sweat under my tits I could swim in it.”

Fenris shifts slightly. His own problems are not quite so bountiful as hers, but they remain.

Another moment passes. Fenris squints up at the scrawny tree with its dozen green leaves, utterly still in the windless air. Then Isabela declares, “That’s it,” and rises, undoing the clasps on her shirt.

Aveline sighs. “And Isabela’s getting naked in front of everyone again. Must be Tuesday.”

“Excuse you, I work very hard to get naked around other people at least twice a week. Usually it’s in a different setting, though.” The shirt is off with the brassiere on its heels. “Ugh. All this thing was doing was getting sweaty, anyway.”

“Are you going swimming?” Fenris asks.

She shrugs. “It’s shallow here. Think I’ll just wade.”

“Hm.” Fenris starts unbuckling his gauntlets.

Hawke glances up the shore, uncertain. “But what if the pirates come?”

Isabela shrugs. “Stabbing someone while naked really isn’t any different from stabbing them when you’ve got clothes on.”

Fenris isn’t too worried. The greatsword tends to make enemies leery of getting anywhere near him. He places his gauntlets on a rock, followed by his breastplate. His shirt he hangs from the frail tree, beside Isabela’s boots and underclothes.

“Hey, Hawke, hand me the sun oil, would you?” Isabela asks.

Hawke digs it out from his pack and hands it over. That’s right. The sun is blazing, and Fenris would rather not burn. But Isabela’s using it first, and she pours a small pool of the clear liquid onto her hand and starts rubbing it into her neck and chest…

She’s doing it on purpose. It’s obvious from the first. Her motions are languid and casual in appearance but her sideways glances are not. Hawke is at least trying not to stare; Fenris tries as well, sort of, but Isabela has already offered to bed him at least a half-dozen times so she won’t mind, surely. He stands there, half-aware that one of his trouser legs is still on.

Aveline’s mouth is slightly open, her attention utterly captured. Isabela moves on to her stomach and hips, then picks up the bottle and shakes it a little. “Aveline, would you get my back?”

Aveline takes a stuttered step forward, then lifts her hands. “I’m wearing gauntlets,” she says, and while she attempts exasperation Fenris knows he hears a little bit of disappointment in there. He quashes a grin as he hangs his trousers and underclothes.

“Pity,” Isabela sighs. “Hawke, could you do it?”

“Right!”

She pours some onto Fenris’s cupped hands first. He applies it to his front with much less ceremony than she did. From his left he hears, “Ooh, your hands are so big.”

“D’you need help, Fenris?”

Fenris glances over. “Yes, please.”

The next thing he feels is Hawke’s hands on his back. They are big, and calloused with his years of farm work and training with daggers. Fenris ducks his head, certain he’s blushing. But there’s a smile on his face that just won’t go away. Hawke rubs the oil into him slowly but firmly, and Fenris finds himself squeezing his thighs together, bare toes digging into the sand. He blinks, a little alarmed. Now is certainly not the time to be thinking about such things.

“All done,” Hawke announces at last.

Fenris relaxes a little and glances over his shoulder. “Er—thank you.”

“Anytime.” Hawke gives him a soft smile.

Fenris decides he should probably be going to join Isabela, who’s already ankle-deep in the surf.

He jogs over the sand not because he’s in a hurry but because it’s hot and burns him. When the sand darkens with the wash of water he slows, picking his way over pebbles and pale grey snail-shells, strands of mop-like seaweed mushy under his feet. Isabela waves at him. “Watch where you’re stepping!”

Fenris sloshes into the water. It’s crystal-clear, shimmering over the sandy bottom. “What should I be looking for?”

Isabela crouches, frowning, and then plucks something out of the water to show him. “These little buggers. They’re sharp.”

It’s a shell, probably, long and rectangular and slightly curved. “A razor clam,” Isabela tells him. That makes sense—the shape reminds him of a straight razor. She heaves a sigh, flinging it behind her. “My first mate lost three of his toes to one of those once.”

Fenris lifts an eyebrow. “He did?”

“Maybe.” She gestures. “Come on, let’s go.”

Together they wade out. The water is cool but not cold, and Fenris welcomes it as it rises up his legs—tickling just a little, that and the floating bits of seaweed brushing by. The relief from the choking heat is not immediate but comes over him as slowly as the rising sea.

It is indeed shallow here, and by the time the water’s up to their thighs they’re already thirty yards from shore. Isabela stops, shading her eyes as she gazes out over the glittering water; she takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Would you smell that fresh salt air?”

It certainly smells better than Kirkwall—better even than the beach, with the rotting seaweed sitting in the sun. Isabela takes a few more steps out, the water just barely reaching her lower back. “Oh, I miss the sea.”

“You’re standing in it,” Fenris remarks.

She shoots him a look over her shoulder. “You know what I mean. Being on the ocean in a ship of my own, nothing but water for miles and miles, and you with only your wits and a sturdy vessel and a crew who prefer drinking to following orders…”

Fenris comes forward as well, a wave gliding past him and brushing his navel. “It sounds dangerous.”

“Well, of course. What’s life without a little danger?”

“A little danger, perhaps. But I think I prefer solid ground.”

“Oh, you’re no fun.” She fixes him with a thoughtful gaze. “Say, Fenris, when I get my own ship.”

“Yes?”

“How would you like to go raiding with me? Just for a month or two.”

Fenris snorts. “I do not think I would be able to contribute much. My sea-legs are poor.”

“All right, how about just a trip? I’ll take you to Antiva.”

Fenris cocks his head, considering. He has been to Antiva before, but he was hunted then. “I…maybe.”

“Excellent! I’ll hold you to that.”

“To what? I said—“

“Too late! We’re going.” She grins, smacking him in the arm. He cannot help but grin back.

They stand there quietly for a few moments. This far out there is a slight breeze, and Isabela opens her arms wide to accept it, closing her eyes. Fenris can’t think of another time when he’s seen her so relaxed—no arched eyebrow, no coy smile. “If I may,” he says.

She glances over. “Hm?”

“Why do you…do that?”

“Do what?”

“You…what you did on the beach. As an example.”

“Oh! Show off my tits?”

Fenris chuckles. “Yes, I suppose.”

“Everybody’s so repressed about all this sex business. It’s just more fun to be open about something you enjoy instead of stuffing it down all the time. And, well. Everybody loves making people’s jaws drop.”

“Not everybody,” Fenris mutters.

“Right.” Isabela nods, giving him a knowing look. “But I bet I can name one person whom you wouldn’t mind getting some stares from.”

Fenris flushes. “I—it’s complicated.”

“Be that as it may, you should have seen his face while he was massaging that oil into your back.”

“He was not massaging—“

“Totally smitten. Plain as day. There’s nothing to worry about on that end. Mind you, I was staring a bit as well. You are a very good-looking man.”

Fenris looks down at himself. He’s never connected the word good-looking with his own body.

“Listen, I know you’re moony over Hawke too, but—“

“I am not moony over—“

“—if you want to let loose a little in the meantime, my door is always open. It doesn’t have to be anything deep and meaningful. Just, you know.” She shrugs and smiles a little. “Fun.”

He sighs. “I am flattered, Isabela. But…I do not think I will take you up on your offer.”

“Ah, well, it was worth a try. Especially after seeing you take your clothes off again.”

Then Fenris starts as Aveline appears to Isabela’s other side, stark naked, arms tucked around her chest. Her skin is still flushed with the heat. “Good afternoon, you two.”

Isabela gasps. “Aveline! I knew you’d do it! I could hug you right now!” And indeed she opens up her arms, and Aveline puts on a disgruntled frown but accepts the hug without complaint.

“Hawke’s staying.” Aveline jerks her head at the shore.

“Ooh, did he do your back too? Did those big, manly hands rub that oil all over—“

“For Andraste’s—Hawke is my friend! I don’t think of him like that!”

Isabela shrugs. “He’s my friend too and I think of him like that all the time.”

They don’t talk much, simply enjoying the cool water and the light sea breeze. Aveline remarks that she didn’t grow up on the sea and finds it a little frightening still, and that sets Isabela off on a string of stories that Fenris thinks are meant to reassure her but often end up affirming her fears instead. A flock of seagulls wings past, crying out cacophonously, and he smiles up at them, shading his eyes.

“—and then the boat tipped over sideways, so we had to climb up on it and I stood on the keel until it flipped back while the wind was trying to push me off—“

“You told me sailboats were safe!”

“They are, that’s what I’m telling you! We flipped it right back over and went on our way! We even found Norman, he lost his grip and floated off while I was standing on the keel.”

“You found—was he still alive?”

“Of course he was! After we got the water out of his lungs.”

“I am never going on a boat with you. Ever.”

“Oh, please, you’ll love it. Fenris said he would come. Didn’t you, Fenris?”

“I believe I said ‘maybe.’”

“Ugh, don’t either of you ever have any fun?”

“Yes, but I prefer to do so without risking life or limb, thank you very much.”

“That’s the exciting part, though.” Isabela sighs. “Oh, the pirates will probably be here in a few minutes, by the way.”

Fenris whips around and finds Aveline has done the same. She squawks out, “What?! There’s no ships!”

“The seagulls.” Isabela waves a hand. “They all took off from the north. There’s a nice little cove that way, good for landing. The pirates might have snuck around so we wouldn’t see them coming.”

“Oh, blast it,” Aveline mutters, and start making her way toward shore as fast as she can.

Fenris follows, struggling through the hip-deep water. Isabela huffs out a sigh and comes along behind them. “I told you, stabbing people naked really isn’t that hard.”

Fenris has enough time to clothe himself and get his breastplate on before Hawke’s whistle sounds. Aveline is clothed but no more; her armor is somewhat more complicated than his own. Isabela puts on her underclothes but only does up one of the clasps on her shirt in what Fenris suspects is a statement of sorts.

They fight off the pirates. Nobody gets hurt (except the pirates). As soon as everyone’s who’s supposed to be dead is dead, Isabela’s clothes start coming off. “Now I’m all sweaty again! Ugh.”

Aveline’s qualms seem to have disappeared completely, because Fenris turns to find her following suit. An excellent idea. He unbuckles his breastplate and places it on the rock again, then glances over his shoulder. “Hawke?”

Hawke is cleaning off his daggers but looks up. “Hm?”

“Would you care to join us?” he asks, and undoes the first button on his shirt.

He feels a bit of Isabela’s influence in the smile he gives Hawke, who only stares at him for a moment. Then—“Oh!” The daggers are quickly discarded. “Well. Why not?”

Fenris grins. Maybe there is something to what Isabela says about fun.

Chapter Text

The needle jabs into him again and Hawke tries not to flinch.

Stupid, really. To have just fought a champion bout against Cutter Sel and now it’s the bloody needle that’s making him wince and squirm. He grasps his shoulder, careful to keep his fingers off his shoulderblade and out of the tattooist’s way.

He can’t leave until they’ve put the tattoo on him. That’s the tradition, their way of digging their claws into him, a permanent reminder. If you need money you can always come back. Jobelle stands in the corner of the shabby room, watching the progress with a satisfied smile on her face. Of course she’s satisfied. Whatever money he made, she’s just made a hundred times that. “So how does it feel, Rowan?” she asks.

He shrugs with his free shoulder and then winces as the needle pierces his skin again. Doesn’t want to ruin her mood with the truth. She likes him and it’s good to have powerful people who like you, especially in this city. “Felt good putting Cutter on the mat. He’s insufferable.”

She sighs, pushing back her greasy blonde hair. “You’re absolutely right. Honestly, though, the way he hits, I thought we were never gonna get rid of him.”

Hawke smiles slightly. “Lucky you.”

“After he knocked you out back in Firstfall, I was afraid you wouldn’t come back. But I knew you could do it. With time.”

The needle again. Hawke grits his teeth. “It’s good money.”

Jobelle chuckles. “And you like it. I can always tell when my fighters enjoy their work.”

Hawke makes no remark on that. Behind him the tattooist announces, “Done,” and dabs Hawke’s back with a cloth.

He rises and it all hits him then, every hit he blocked or took during the bout, and he spends the strength not to buckle but still bends and wraps an arm around his middle. “Fuck,” he whispers.

“Take a break for a couple of weeks. You’ve earned it.” Jobelle claps a hand on his arm. “I’m excited to watch you fight again, though. Love seeing how much you’ve improved in such a short time.”

“Right." He limps for the door. No bout has ever left him with this much pain. At least it was worth it. Or something. Hawke rubs his forehead—until he finds the enormous cut in his brow and stops, wiping the blood off on his trousers. There’s a near-full bottle of liquor sitting at home with his name on it, which should solve the problem with the pain. Now where’s his shirt again?

He hopes Bethany hasn’t stayed up for him. She’ll be furious when she sees him like this.

“Well, look who it is.”

Oh. There’s his shirt.

Athenril leans up against the door to the antechamber, Hawke’s shirt dangling from her fingers. “When I told you about this place I always knew you’d do well for yourself, but taking the title in six months flat? That’s impressive.”

He holds his hand out and she gives him the shirt. “Got a bit of an unfair advantage."

“Hey, I’ve seen guys your size fall to fighters my size plenty of times,” Athenril replies. “It’s all about skill. Wow, you really look like shit, don’t you?”

Hawke rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”

“No, it’s not an insult. Kinda hot, actually.” She shrugs. “How do you feel?”

“In pain.”

“Obviously. I mean about winning. Your new title.”

Hawke stands there staring at a spot just to the left of her. How does he feel. Is there any harm in telling her the truth? And she’ll know if he’s lying.

“That good, huh?”

His eyes flick up.

Her coy smile has faded. “I get it. You and your sister never…fit in, really. With the rest of my crew.”

Hawke shrugs dully.

“This might not be what you want to hear.” Athenril leans up against the door. “But whether you like it or not you’ve adapted well. Reallywell. Ah…scary well, if we’re being honest.”

Hawke lets out a low chuckle. “Well, that’s comforting.”

“You gotta stop putting yourself down like that. Adaptability is a good quality. Kept you and your family safe, hasn’t it?”

That sounds well and good but Hawke thinks of the terrible sadness in Bethany’s eyes whenever she sees him come home with his face bruised and swollen, regardless of the outcome, and it’s hard to make himself believe what Athenril’s telling him.

“Hey, do you want to come back to my place? I’ve got some good booze. Better than that piss I see you buying from Tomwise.”

Hawke blinks. Back to her place. He may be a country boy but he’s not dense enough to be ignorant of what that means.

“Oh—not part of the contract. Obviously. You can turn me down, I don’t care.”

Hawke starts to laugh but winces and holds his ribs. “You know I’ve just got the shite beat out of me. I’m not good for much of anything.”

“I’d venture there’s a few things you’re good for.” She grins. “And anyway, like I said, it’s pretty hot. Kinda why I asked in the first place, to be honest.”

Well. Her liquor probably does taste better than his. And if he goes back to her place he can put off facing Bethany for another few hours.

He shrugs the shirt on, feeling it stick a little to his new tattoo. “All right.”

Her booze is Tevene and sour, but together they finish the bottle fast and by the time the dregs are swilling at the bottom they've already got their clothes off. The fucking dulls the pain in his flesh and bones in the same way fighting does—the rush of excitement, of action, a distant soreness in his chest with each harsh breath but he moves without wincing or groaning. Beneath him Athenril grabs his ass and hisses, “Harder, harder, come on,” so he fucks her harder, sweat running down his spine, the taste of blood still on his split lips when he licks them.

“Fuck.” Athenril squeezes herself, then slaps his ass. “Lie down, I wanna ride you.”

Hawke pulls out of her and lies on his back. She straddles his hips and guides him into her again, sinking down with a snarled curse. Hawke’s fingers sink into her thighs, his jaw clenching. She’s hot and tight.

When she fucks him each impact shakes up a shock of dull pain. Cutter was wearing gloves (they both were) but Hawke still thinks he’s got a couple of broken ribs, and his fist balls in the sheets. Athenril leans over him, planting a hand on his chest. There's a bruise there, deep red and purple in the candlelight. Hawke moans, pain pulsing under her palm.

"Hurts?" she breathes, her hair stringy with sweat.

Hawke nods, squeezing her thigh.

"You want me to stop?" she asks.

He shakes his head.

She flashes a grin at him, a glint off her teeth, and fucks him harder. Hawke grunts, his hand finding hers on his chest, pressing down. Fuck, that hurts. "Oh, yeah," she whispers, jerking herself faster now. "Oh yeah, I'm close. You gonna come?"

Hawke nods again, and when she throws her head back and tightens around him he comes in her, her ass squeezing him so hard it's almost painful. She lets out a string of curses, her climax splattering onto his stomach.

They fall asleep with the sheets piled up between them, Hawke on his back, Athenril on her stomach with one leg trailing off the bed. Hawke means to leave but he's too exhausted to stand, let alone walk home through Lowtown in the middle of the night.

Is it really so bad, anyway? If he doesn't go back?

He shuts his eyes.

——

The sweet scent of Rivaini pipeweed hangs in the air.

Hawke takes a deep breath, lets it pour into his lungs. Doesn't mind a little buzz at the back of his mind. He rubs his eyes, squinting. Morning, barely. Wan, bone-yellow light filters through the lacy curtains.

"Hey." Athenril taps her pipe. "Wanna suck me off?"

With barely a thought Hawke crawls sluggishly down the bed. Athenril uncrosses her legs for him; she's half-hard, and he takes her into his mouth.

"You ever thought about sticking around?"

Hawke sucks her, feels her growing firmer against his lips.

"After your contract's up. I'd be happy to keep you on. You're good for business."

He comes off, glancing up at her, over the gentle rolls of her stomach. "Haven't really made a decision one way or the other."

"Think about it." She grins at him. "Guy like you? You'll go far."

Hawke doesn't want to think about it. He returns to what he was doing, capturing her in his mouth, tonguing her tip.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Athenril says. "It feels good to come out on top. Same goes for anyone."

He thinks of the bout with Cutter for the first time since he left the ring, the knife's-edge rhythm of the fight, the balls of his feet pivoting on the canvas, his eyes catching each dip of Cutter's shoulders and his legs bend minutely when he shifts his weight. The knuckles scraping past his cheek, the punch landing in his stomach and how he bent and launched himself forward to put Cutter on the mat. The grin that rose to his face when he straddled Cutter's hips and belted him across the jaw...

"Ah—yeah, that's good."

Hawke realizes he'd been taking her deeper, pushing her into his throat. He backs off and coughs. Athenril runs her fingers through his hair. "Looks like your talents include more than fighting, huh?"

Hadn't meant to do that. He sucks her, laving the underside of her shaft with his tongue.

"Yeah, yeah," she murmurs. Her fingers ball in his hair. "I'm close."

He thinks of coming off but she's holding him where he is and he doesn't really care anyway so instead he sucks her harder and she groans and tips her head back and finally comes. The taste of salt spills over Hawke's tongue as she pumps into his mouth.

Athenril finishes her pipe while he dresses, smoke hanging thick and white-purple in the air. He feels her eyes on him but makes no remark. His shirt is spotted with red where his nose dripped on it last night.

"Hey," Athenril says. "You ever want to do this again, you just let me know."

"Right," he murmurs. When he leaves he catches his face in the mirror. One half still painted in dried blood from the crusted cut in his brow, dark red and cracked.

Nobody bothers him on his way back to Gamlen's house. The soreness is worse this morning, and he sort of staggers through the streets, upright but weaving, holding his ribs. Some people grin at him as he walks by. They must have been there last night.

The steps to Gamlen's house. His thighs ache from all those kicks Cutter put in them, but he makes the top, gasping; then takes a minute to collect himself. Bethany is on the other side of that door.

He traces the cut on his brow. The scab is finger-thick. She won't care that he won.

Hawke takes a deep breath, wincing at the twinge in his ribs, and turns the knob.

Chapter Text

“Isabela!” Hawke grins at her. “You’ve…gone grey!”

“I know! Don’t I look dignified?” Isabela tosses her hair and grins back. She hasn’t gone grey, exactly, but there are thin silver strands weaving through those familiar waves of black.

“And you must be Saravh.” Isabela sidesteps Hawke. “I’m so glad to meet you. Can I give you a hug?”

Saravh nods shyly and they embrace.

"Lovely day, isn't it?" Hawke shades his eyes, squinting. The sun is brilliant, throwing its shattered-glass reflection over the choppy seas.

"It is lovely. And windy, too. I think we'll have fun out there." Isabela gestures. "Come on, I tied up over here."

Hawke follows her down the dinghy pier. To one side there's a small single-sail boat, half-rigged; the end of the boom rests on the floor of the boat next to the keel and rudder. He climbs in first, doing his best to stay low. Would be embarrassing if he managed to tip the thing over while they were still docked.

Isabela is next and helps Saravh board. "So, have you ever sailed before?"

"When I was really young. But not since—not since I came here."

"Then we'll just have to teach you."

"Hey, what about me?" Hawke says, mildly put out.

Isabela shrugs. "You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks."

"I'm not old—

"Oh really? Because I'm not the only one going grey."

Hawke touches his beard self-consciously. It's not very apparent yet but she...isn't wrong.

“I don’t think you’re old, Uncle Hawke!” Saravh pipes up.

“Oh, please.” Isabela rolls her eyes. “There’s no need to flatter him, his ego’s big enough already. Now first we put in the rudder, then the keel..."

When they've done that Saravh hoists the mainsail, grasping the rope and yanking, the metal block squeaking as the sail and boom rise. "Perfect!" Isabela claps. "Hawke, untie us, would you?"

Hawke undoes the line from the pier and shoves them off, he and Saravh taking their seats with Isabela on the windward side of the boat. Isabela angles the tiller to point them out toward the open sea. "Oh—one very important thing," she says, pulling in the mainsheet. "When we turn through the wind, the boom's going to swing across the boat and you'll need to switch sides. And also duck."

Hawke eyes the boom. It might go over Saravh’s head, but it’ll never go over his. Well, it’s a good thing he’s still flexible.

Isabela takes them at a moderate speed, the boat bouncing a little on the chop. Her fingers are light on the rudder as she holds them on a line out of the harbor. She and Hawke have been exchanging letters but he’s sure there’s a few things she’s kept for today to be exercised through her own special brand of storytelling. “So,” Hawke says casually. “Anything interesting happen since your last letter?”

A devilish grin appears on her face. “Do you remember that woman I told you about? The one who goes by ‘the Bronto?’”

Hawke straightens quickly. “Er, let’s remember to try and keep things clean, Saravh’s only fourteen, after all.”

“Mm.” Isabela nods in thought. “Well, just a couple of days after I sent you that letter I persuaded her to join my crew and that very night she boarded my ship. Ever since then she’s been swabbing my decks—excellently, I might add, she’s got very strong arms—“

Hawke rests his head in his hands. He did try; if this gets back to Aveline he’ll at least be able to enter a plea of innocence with honesty. Isabela is still going. “—cleaning my cannons, plugging my breaches, scrubbing my keel…pumping my bilge…hm, that one’s not very good, is it—“

Hawke seizes the chance to interrupt. “Good! I’m glad she’s a—hard worker.” It’s too late, of course. Saravh is giggling madly.

But Isabela desists, having had her fun, and Saravh is wide-eyed at her stories of adventure on the high seas. Even Hawke is impressed; he’d heard Estwatch was nearly destroyed in a terrible storm last month but Isabela describes how she sailed through it to escape an Antivan nobleman’s fleet. Hawke sort of wishes he’d seen it. He’s not especially fond of the open sea but he is fond of Isabela, and it surely would have been something to watch her iron command bear her crew through a storm like that one.

"But how about you?" Isabela asks. They're out on the sound now, and the wind is good; she points them toward the Wounded Coast. "They teach you anything good at the...what do they call it now?"

"The College of Enchanters," Saravh says, and shrugs. "Some of it's good. They've hired a seer, I like her magic. The rest...I don't know. Everyone seems to be doing better than I am. I can't put together a decent fireball for the life of me."

Isabela waves a hand, the tail of the mainsheet flopping off it. "Fireballs are terribly obvious. Much better to stab your enemies in the dark and then slip away unnoticed."

Hawke nods, gazing off the stern. "Have no fear, I completely agree."

"Oh! Have you been teaching her to stab people!"

"Isabela, please. What sort of uncle would I be if I didn't?"

A guffaw. "Bet Aveline's thrilled about that one."

"She doesn't mind," Saravh says. "Well, the part about stabbing. Some of the other things..."

"Listen, pickpocketing has perfectly legitimate applications," Hawke asserts.

Isabela lets out a wistful sigh. "A cutpurse who can cast spells...say, Saravh, have you ever dreamt of sailing the high seas?"

Hawke feels he should say something but is too busy squinting past the stern. The presence of the boat isn't the problem, it's been gaining on them and is quite visible now; it's the colors he strains to see, if there are any. "Er—Isabela?"

She looks up. "Hm?"

"Are we expecting company?"

She swivels, a frown replacing the good humor on her face. “Hawke, hold this.”

She hands him the mainsheet, and he pulls it just a little tighter, their wind blowing past them just a little quicker. With one hand Isabela plucks the telescope from her belt and shunts it open, holding it up to her eye. Saravh sits gripping the gunwale, apprehensive.

“Shit,” Isabela mutters. “That evil little bastard.”

“What?” Hawke asks. “What’s happened?”

“D’you remember that Antivan noble I mentioned? The one I had to sail through a storm to escape from?”

“Yes?”

“Well, it seems I didn’t shake him after all. The skipper on that boat’s one of his officers. I’d recognize that mustache anywhere.”

Hawke heaves a sigh. “And now they’re after you. Us.”

“That they are. And we’re not going to outrun them, this thing’s a bit of a bathtub and anyways, they’ve got a jib.”

“Hm. Don’t suppose you’ve got a bow and arrow on board?”

Isabela snorts. “In this wind? Really?”

“Right,” he mumbles. Stupid idea. Already a stiff breeze over the water, and with the headwind…

“They’re catching up,” Saravh says quietly.

Isabela takes the mainsheet back, still holding it loosely, and pushes the tiller away, the boat swiveling until they’re almost perpendicular to the wind. “All right, you two. See that rope?” She points at the rope running along the floor of the boat. “Stick your feet under it and get ready to lean back as hard as you can.”

Hawke shoves his boots beneath the thick, woven braid, Saravh doing the same; then Isabela yanks the mainsheet in hard, dragging the boom to the center of the boat. The sail tautens, straining full of wind.

The boat rolls fast leeward, Hawke finding himself rising into the air. Reflexively he hurls his weight back, feet still anchored by the rope, body leaning out over the spray. Saravh is right beside him, and Isabela as well. The boat shoots forward, racing over the water, the three of them counterbalancing wind-taut sails.

“All right!” Isabela shouts. “I think I’ve got an idea!”

Peering back, Hawke sees their pursuers' boat also up nearly on its side, the crew hiking out just as they are. And still gaining. "Talk fast!"

"Well, we've got a mage on board, haven't we?"

Oh no. "She's fourteen!"

“Exactly! I’m not a kid anymore!“ Saravh shouts over the wind. "But—I don't know anything of use! Just hedge magic!"

Isabela is quiet for a moment, thinking. Then: "Hedge magic? Can you do illusions?"

"Er—yes?"

"Good. From how far?"

"Not far. Forty feet? Fifty?”

"Right. When they catch up to us, I want you to create an illusion that'll make their skipper drop his line and tiller. Can you do that?"

"I—the boat's moving, I—" She breaks off, frustrated, then nods. "Yes. I'll do it."

"That's my girl. Keep holding on, you two, we have to do this at speed."

The other boat is catching up. Hawke sees them, their dirty white sails tight with wind, slicing over the glittering water. He can feel it when Isabela lets up on the mainsheet to allow them to close, how he mustn't lean out quite so hard anymore over the spray. His shirt's going to be crusty with salt after this.

"I think they're close enough!" Saravh shouts. "I'm going to try!"

She reaches out.

Maybe a spot of turbulence in the headwind, maybe nothing; Hawke can't sense magic the way Fenris can. But her arms weave as if sifting sand. "Oh, bugger me," she mumbles. Whoops. Aveline wouldn't like hearing that. Their pursuers are closing fast. The skipper and two crewmen. One of them brandishes a spear.

"Anytime now, kitten!" Isabela calls.

"I'm sorry, I'm trying! Everything’s moving, it's hard—"

"Saravh." Hawke leans in. "Remember what we've talked about. Prepare, then attack."

"Yes. Right." She steels herself, dark eyes fixed on the second boat. The advice was really supposed to be about traps and assassinations and that sort of thing, but he hopes it's applicable here too. Hawke watches their pursuers and wishes there were literally anything he could do, but somehow his wide array of skills is useless here. Bloody infuriating. The distance is disappearing fast. Fifteen yards. Ten. The spearman, still hiking over the side of the boat, raises his weapon. Hawke gets ready to throw his body over Isabela’s.

Saravh appears on the enemy craft, wielding the black steel dagger Hawke gave her for her birthday. Swiftly she stabs it into the skipper’s chest. The man lets out a surprised squeal and releases the tiller and mainsheet, grabbing the wound—

With no tension on it the boom snaps out, the boat instantly crashing down and rolling hard windward. The gunwale plunges down below the surface, dumping the crew into the water. They come up a second later, gasping for air, but—Hawke grins—the boat is well and truly capsized, the sail laying flat on the choppy surface.

But something is wrong. He counts the heads vanishing fast behind them—one, two, three, four—

“Hawke, duck!” Isabela shouts as the boat swivels.

Hawke looks up just in time for the boom to clock him in the forehead. He flails back but manages to grab onto the gunwale and throw himself forward, scrambling to the other side of the boat.

Aveline’s really going to kill him.

She must have fallen while she was casting the illusion, her focus elsewhere. Hawke peers ahead of them, Isabela pointing them back in the direction they came. Saravh is there, trying to swim away from the Antivan crew; but they’re bigger than her, plain and simple, and she screams as the skipper grabs her ankle. Almost there. Hawke leans over the side, reaching.

He gets Saravh by the arm and grabs her so hard he’s sure it’ll bruise, heaving her with all his might back into the boat. But she only makes it halfway, her lower body still hanging off with the furious skipper still latched onto her ankle. Saravh shouts, “Get off me!” and kicks him in the face, but he holds on, cursing her in Antivan.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Hawke growls, and wraps one arm firmly around Saravh’s ribs, hugging her to him. Then, bracing himself against the gunwale, he lifts his heel and slams it down on the skipper’s nose.

A satisfying crunch under his boot. The skipper lets go and floats away behind them. Hawke drags Saravh all the way into the boat. She’s soaked and panting for breath.

Nobody says anything for a few moments, the only sound the hiss of sea-spray, the thudding of the boat over the chop. Hawke realizes he’s still squeezing Saravh’s ribs and lets her go. She slumps back against him. Cold water starts to bleed through his shirt.

“Well!” Isabela says brightly. “That was exciting!”

An unexpected giggle from the region of his chest. He looks down. Saravh is grinning. “Yeah, it was.”

Hawke groans. “You almost got taken hostage. Or drowned.”

“But I didn’t!”

Isabela guffaws. “Oh, I know who she got that from. And it’s not Aveline.”

“That reminds me,” Hawke says. “Saravh, please don’t tell your mother about this. I’m supposed to be responsible for your safety.”

She shrugs. “Well, you’ve done a shit job, ain’t you?”

Hawke sighs airily. That’s what he gets for teaching her swears.

They return along the coast, going at a more leisurely speed. Saravh is still soaked to the bone, and Hawke hugs her so the wind doesn’t chill her. There’s a goose-egg growing on his forehead where the boom got him.

“I’m sorry,” Isabela says finally. “That was supposed to be just my problem. But it turned into our problem.”

“It’s all right,” Saravh answers. “What am I learning magic for if I’m not going to use it to help people?”

Isabela grins. “Now that sounds like Aveline.”

“Not just her! Uncle Hawke and Uncle Fenris have helped a lot of people too. And so did you, they’ve told me stories.”

Isabela blinks, silent for a moment; then she smiles, stretching her legs out. “Well, I’m not robbing people all the time, it’s true.”

“Maybe I’ll be a pirate when I grow up—“

“No,” Hawke says.

Saravh pouts. “What about a good pirate?”

“No.”

“You’re no fun. You’re just like Mum.”

Isabela leans in and whispers, “If you ever want to sail the high seas, my ship always has space for stowaways.”

“Isabela.”

“It builds character!”

Hawke heaves a long sigh. “Fine. As long as you tell your mother I had nothing to do with it.”

“Thanks, Uncle Hawke!” Saravh wraps her arms around him and squeezes as they approach the port.

Chapter Text

“Save him.”

“He’s a blood mage, Fenris. He’s a blood mage! You saw what he did to Meredith!”

“Save him. Now.”

“He didn’t even hesitate! He’s been a maleficar the whole bloody time!”

“Save his life. I will deal with the consequences.”

“I won’t do it. He’s a blood mage.”

“Do not make me—“ A pause. “I am asking you. Please. He’s…he’s still Hawke.”

A moment’s silence, then: “Fine. Fine.”

Hawke blinks at the darkening sky.

Clouds are rolling in, black like the bottom of a crack in the earth. Hawke is dying but he thinks they’ve won. Hopes. Did he kill Meredith? Is she still there in the courtyard?

Anders’s face and a moon-white glow from below, from where he tore open his arms for fuel. They know now. Hawke shunts his eyes past Anders and gazes instead at the abyssal sky.

“What are you doing?!”

Aveline. Anders looks up. “He’ll die if I do nothing.”

Metal sabatons on stone. “Then do nothing!”

“I asked him to help,” Fenris interrupts.

“Fenris—“ Aveline begins.

“I will deal with it,” Fenris tells her. “There is no need to intervene.”

“He’s lost so much blood,” Anders mutters.

That sounds about right. Hawke can’t really feel his arms or legs. Above him the stormclouds roil and seethe, devouring the twilight. He wishes it would be over. He wishes the sky would swallow him up too.

“Guard-Captain.” That’s Cullen. “We need to take Ser Hawke into custody. We need to imprison him.”

“You need to stay out of this,” Fenris snarls. “All of you. I will handle it.”

“He’s a blood mage,” Cullen breathes.

“Who just saved your life! All our lives! From that—thing!” Motion in the corner of Hawke’s eye as Fenris rises. “Will you throw him in your dungeons for that?”

“He’s dangerous.”

“He has just saved Kirkwall. Again. Leave him for tonight, at the very least.”

“Fine,” Cullen growls. “For tonight.”

“All right. I’ve closed his wounds.” Anders glances up. “Let’s get him back to the manor.”

Hawke finds himself being lifted. Fenris. “I’m sorry,” Hawke rasps.

There’s no reply. He closes his eyes.

——

Bright and warm.

Hawke takes a minute to think and decides he’s in his own bed. Still alive, then. Probably. He could use a drink of water, though. There should be a pitcher on the night table—

Oh. Fenris is sitting there beside the bed, curled over a book. On Hawke’s waking he closes the book and sets it down.

“Fenris.” Hawke pushes himself up on an elbow. “What happened? Is Meredith dead?”

“Nobody knows.” Fenris shrugs one shoulder. “She appears to have transformed into a statue made of red lyrium. It hasn’t hurt anybody else, at least.”

“Oh,” Hawke says faintly. “That’s good.”

“Did you do that?”

He shakes his head. “No. No, it wasn’t me.”

“Hm. Well, you certainly did something.”

Hawke had expected Fenris to shout at him. Maybe not—had hoped for it, but instead Fenris just looks weary. “I had to,” Hawke tries. “She was too powerful. It was the only way—“

“You don’t know that, Hawke. You don’t know that. We weren’t done fighting.” Fenris leans forward in his chair. “You keep thinking it all rests on your shoulders, but it doesn’t. I can fight. Aveline, Isabela, Varric, Anders. Cullen’s templars.”

“Fenris, you saw her.” Hawke struggles to sit up. “You saw what she was doing! We couldn’t defeat her!”

“You decided that, Hawke. You didn’t trust us,” Fenris says.

“I didn’t have a choice!”

“Everyone has a choice. You chose to use blood magic.” Fenris stares down at his folded hands. “I asked you to stop…what was it? Almost three years ago now, when you first used it in front of us.”

Hawke had thought then, as well, that there was no other way; Aveline was besieged, Fenris surrounded, and Anders badly hurt. It was demons that time. What choice did he have? So he called on his blood, as he had before in secret, practicing.

“Did you ever stop?” Fenris asks.

“No.”

“Did you even try?”

“No,” Hawke whispers. Such terrible things crawling out of Kirkwall’s foundations. And who was stopping them?

Fenris lets out a long breath. “I see.” He rises slowly. “The sun will soon set. I expect the knight-captain will come knocking at your door before long.”

Cullen. Fuck. “Fenris, please. I can’t run from him. I can barely sit up straight!”

“Then he will imprison you.” Fenris heads for the door.

“Fenris—“ Hawke gets his legs over the side of the bed, wobbles to his feet, and then collapses into the chair. Weak. “Please. I need your help. I don’t know what he’ll do to me.”

Fenris stops, his back to Hawke; then he turns, and he looks tired. Tired like he hasn’t slept in weeks. “I asked you to stop using blood magic. You didn’t. And you lied to me about it. To all of us,” he says. “I loved you and I still love you, which is the only reason I haven’t turned you into the templars. I wish I could.” He turns to go. “I pray we never see each other again.”

Then he’s gone, and Hawke is alone in his room. Nearly sunset. How long will Cullen wait?

Not long. Hawke struggles to his feet. No goodbyes. No friends. They’ve been through enough.

Pride shifts in the edges of his Fade-sense, smiling with rows of teeth. There’s me.

Hawke ignores it and heads for the door. It’s time to put Kirkwall behind him.