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Tipping the Scales

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                Varric was not impressed.  He was not in the habit of being sent on fools’ errands, and he was going to give Anso a piece of his mind when they found the little nug-licker.  He glowered at the others standing around the empty chest.  Hawke was impassive as always.  Damn woman never reacted to anything.  Isabella seemed as annoyed as himself, but stayed quiet.  Carver had apparently decided this was all his sister’s fault, what a shock.  He was glaring daggers at her.

                “Well,” she said, coming back from where ever her mind had wandered to, “we had better go tell Anso.”  She turned on her heel and walked out of the stinking hovel, stepping over the bodies left behind from the fight.  Outside in the air of Kirkwall proper it was not exactly pleasant, but was an improvement over the smell of blood, filth and charred flesh from inside.  The relief was short lived.

                “Hey, that’s not the elf!”  The friends looked around at the rather large circle of armored people that blocked the way.

                “It doesn’t matter; we were told to kill anyone who entered the house.”  One of the other men replied, drawing his sword.

                “Oh you have got to be kidding me,” Varric groaned.  Hawke pulled the thin wooden staff capped at both ends with a small knob of iron off her back and twirled it, expertly deflecting the first sword that approached.

                “Feeling our age are we Varric?  Best keep in mind that Bianca prefers the young and spritely.  You keep complaining and I will sneak in and sweep her off her feet.”  There was a twang, and a thunk.

                “Very funny Hawke,” he groused as the closest soldier fell with a bolt in his throat.  “But you know as well as I that Bianca only lets one person near her trigger.”

                Isabella came out of stealth, stabbing both daggers down into the exposed back of a mage that accompanied their enemies.  “Less talk, more stab Duckies.  Besides it’s not nice to talk dirty about Bianca, you know how it makes me excited.”  They set to work, and the sounds of their fight were loud in the dark courtyard.

                “At least they weren’t very good,” Carver huffed when the last one fell.  His breathing was a little ragged.  It was the fourth, or maybe the fifth? Serious fight they had been in since agreeing to this fool mission.  Lowtown was crawling with Sharps Highwaymen lately, and they had to put down several groups of them before the bandits, and whoever these soldiers were.

                “Who do you think they are?”  Hawke asked, kicking one with her boot.

                “I recognize the armor style,” Isabella answered.  “They’re from Tevinter.  Strange to see them in the Free Marches in such numbers.”

                “Better question then, what are they doing here?” Varric mused.  He would start tapping contacts in the morning.  Someone would know what had brought them.  They stripped the coins from the corpses and started towards the stairs that would take them out of the Alienage.  There was unspoken agreement that it was far past time for a few drinks that would obliterate this particular night from their memories.  Armor clanked.  Hawke and her companions stopped just short of the bottom of the stairs.

                “I don’t know who you are friend, but you made a serious mistake coming here!”  Hawke imagined that this man intended his words to be intimidating.  She lifted a single brow in amusement, tilting her head to the side.  The newcomer puffed up with rage at her reaction and yelled, “Lieutenant, I was everyone in the clearing!  Now!”  The friends braced, grabbing at weapons.  Nothing happened for a couple of seconds.  Long enough that the man, who was obviously some sort of Captain, with, one assumed a battalion lurking about, started to lose the confident smirk on his face.  There was a shuffling noise and then a man, presumably the lieutenant in question, lurched a step or two toward them dripping copious amounts of blood before falling with a gurgle.

                A lithe, dark body appeared around the corner and walked down the stairs.  It was definitely an effective entrance, Varric thought.  As a writer he always gave points for style.  “Your men are dead, and your trap has failed.”  Hawke heard the trill of Isabella’s hungry appreciation and had to agree with the pirate.  The voice was delicious.  All gravel and smoky hard anger.  “I suggest running back to your Master while you can.”  The figure stepped into the light.  It was an elf.  A stunningly gorgeous male elf with green eyes and white hair and… tattoos?  There were silvery lines snaking across all the exposed skin on his body, even on his chin.  Hawke rubbed her temple, feeling her headache clench tighter.  Why did all the weird shit always happen to her?

                “You’re going nowhere slave,” hissed the Captain, reaching for a spiked shoulder guard on the elf’s right side.  Varric thought to himself that it was most unwise of the Captain to say that.  He felt that perhaps he should tell the Captain so before the man ended up on the wrong end of the huge sword the elf had strapped to his back.  Varric was ten feet away and could feel the lethality of this guy.

                The elf ignited in lines of blue-white fire all over his body.  It was blinding after the dimness of the Alienage night.  He spun, graceful, raising one hand while the other clamped on to the Captain’s arm.  His raised hand punched forward and into the Captain’s chest.  A split second later he pulled out his heart, slick and still beating weakly.  The Captain, divested of this important organ, slumped to the ground.  “I am not a slave.”  The elf said, with great precision.  He dropped the heart and turned back to look at Hawke, hand dripping.

                “I apologize.  When I asked Anso to provide a distraction for the hunters, I had no idea they would be so…. Numerous.”  Fenris tried to keep his tone light, it would help bring his anger back under control.  He inspected the little weary group in front of him.  A large human man with wide shoulders and bulky build holding a great sword much like his own.  A scantily clad, buxom woman with dual daggers and an inviting smirk.  A beardless dwarf with an oversized crossbow.  In front of these a woman of medium height watched him with her hands crossed over her chest.  She would be the leader then, he figured, so he addressed himself accordingly.  He was a little surprised to see no flicker of fear in her when she regarded him, no surprise, no wary calculation.  It was as if pulling the beating heart out of someone in front of her was a normal occurrence, unworthy of particular notice.

                “I take it these men were looking for you.”  The statement was flat, even, though a trace of amusement lifted her tone.

                “Correct.  My name is Fenris.”  He walked a few paces farther away without realizing it.  The aura the woman held around herself seemed to demand more space be surrendered to her.  Varric, with eyes that missed nothing, noted this.  He couldn’t decide if he should be comforted or not by the fact that Hawke seemed to intimidate the nut job who magically pulled hearts out of people through their armor.  “These men were Imperial bounty hunters, seeking to recover a Magister’s lost property, namely myself.”  Fenris’s mouth twisted with bitterness at his words.  “They were trying to lure me into the open.  Crude as their methods were, I could not face them alone.  Thankfully, Anso chose wisely.”

                “Everything Anso said was a lie then?”  Hawke looked back at Varric, and together they mourned the coin that would not be arriving for tonight’s effort.

                “Not everything.  Your employer was simply not who you believed.”  She returned her gaze to the elf, who paced back and forth in agitation.  Unconsciously she shifted, moving a pace or two herself, making sure she always stood between him and her companions.  It was something none of the other people in the clearing failed to notice.

                “Not that I’ve got a lot of experience with this sort of thing, but if you couldn’t fight them, why not just run?” she asked, genuinely curious.  It seemed a much more logical reaction to her.

                “There comes a time when you must stop running.  When you turn and face the tiger.”  He stopped pacing and glared at her with defiance.

                “All this,” she waved her arms to indicate the various piles of corpses around them, “seems like a lot of effort to find one slave.”

                “It is.”  There was a pause.  She looked at him, waiting for more.  He remained silent.  She sighed and gave in.

                “Does this have something to do with those markings?”

                “Mmm, yes.  I imagine I must look strange to you.”  He inspected his forearms, trying to see with their eyes.  “I did not receive these markings by choice.  Even so they have served me well.  Without them I would still be a slave.”

                “I don’t appreciate being lied to.  I would have helped if you just asked.”  There was a tiny frown line between her brows.  Varric and Carver shared a look.  They were familiar with Hawke’s proclivities toward anyone with a sob story.

                “Perhaps the deception was unnecessary, if so I’m sorry.  I’ve become too accustomed to hiding, and I have met few in my travels willing to act without a clear personal gain.”  Regret was sincere in his voice, and her frown line disappeared.  He seemed to remember something, “If I may ask, what was in the chest?  The one they kept in the house.” 

                “It was empty.”

                His chest collapsed inward with the strength of his disappointment.  “I suppose it was too much to hope for.  Even so, I had to know.”

                “You were expecting something else?”

                “I was, but I shouldn’t have.  It was bait, nothing more.”  They all stood quiet for a moment.  Varric was ready to get out of there but he would not move until Hawke gave the word. None of them would.

                Hawke straightened her shoulders and looked away from the elf.  “So, uh, nice…. meeting you.  We’ll just be leaving now if you’re all set.”  Varric was relieved.  He wanted to get away from the creepy glowing maniac and go get a pint.  They started up the stairs to Lowtown proper.

                “Wait, please, just a moment.”  Hawke halted.  Carver cursed and Varric had to catch himself from following suit.  The elf was kneeling by the Captain’s body, rifling through his belt pouches. “It’s as I thought, my former Master accompanied them to the city.  I know you have questions, but I must confront him before he flees.  I will… need your help.”  Hawke looked at him.  Fenris looked back without blinking.

                “It sounds like you intend to do more than just talk.”  Fenris couldn’t quite tell what she meant by that.  It seemed like a statement of disapproval, but her tone had said anything but.

                “Danarius wants to strip the flesh from my bones, and has sent so many hunters that I have lost count.  And before that, he kept me on a leash like a Qunari mage, a personal pet to mock Qunari custom.  So yes, I intend to do more than just talk.”  He was furious.  Furious with his former Master. Furious that he had to ask them for help.  Galled that his humiliations were on display for these strangers.   He wanted to smite this strange young woman who wasn’t scared of him in the least.

                Her smile was wicked and promised blood.  “Then let’s do this!”  There was a murderous sparkle in her eye and he felt an answering grin split his lips at the sight.  Isabella looked at the two of them, white teeth in moonlight, and shuddered.

                “I will find a way to repay you, I swear it.  The magister is staying at a mansion in Hightown.  Meet me there as soon as you can.  We must enter before morning.”  Then he was gone, bounding up the stairs with the fluid grace of a dancer.  Hawke was still smiling.  Varric swallowed his discomfort and rounded on her.

                “And what, pray tell, did you just sign us up for?”  He was a little angry.  It had been a long night with basically nothing to show for it and here she was signing them on for what seemed like a charity mission.  “You do remember the point of all this right?”

                Isabella chimed in, “I mean, I’m all for saving gorgeous men in distress darling, don’t get me wrong, but…”  Carver didn’t say anything.  She was his sister, and though they got along like cats and dogs he knew her far better than either of the others.

                “You needn’t come if you don’t want,” Hawke told them with what she felt was great patience.  Her mind was far away.  She began to hum softly to herself, bouncing on the balls of her feet.  “I’m going though, and I would rather you came with me than go alone.”  She looked at them, batted her eyelashes and sauntered off up the stairs.  Varric’s face took on a pink tinge and he opened his mouth to argue.

                “S’no good Dwarf,” Carver sighed.  “I know that look.  She’s going and no amount of reason will stop her.”

                “What is wrong with your bloody nug-humping sister?” Varric demanded.  Carver savored this unexpected moment of camaraderie with someone who usually always took her side over his.

                “Well, I’m pretty sure if I asked her she’d tell me that she ‘hears the wheel’.”  He looked uncomfortable.  Varric raised an eyebrow.

                “Excuse me?  The wheel?!

                “I wonder if it’s a family thing, this penchant for insanity,” Isabella mused.  She was becoming concerned that if they didn’t get moving Hawke was going to get away from them.

                “It’s something she says,” Carver rubbed his hand across his face.  “When she feels like something is important.  She said she could hear it when they called us to Ostagar.  It was how she justified choosing Athenriel over that mercenary captain when we were trying to get into the city.  And again when she met you Varric, and you Belle.”  They digested this information for a minute.

                “Huh,” Isabella finally offered.

                “Look,” Carver said, “I’m going after her, alright?  She’s crazy but she’s my sister.  I can’t just let her go traipsing about with weirdos like that elf.  I mean, did you see what he did to that guy?”  Carver waved a hand at the hollow-chested former captain.  Varric tilted his head back at the sky, as if he was praying for patience, or sanity, or both. 

                “Right then.  Shall we Rivaini?”  he asked, bowing and sweeping an arm to indicate the beautiful rogue should go first. 

The last words you could hear as they disappeared out of the Alienage was Isabella inquiring with a sweet tone, “Do you guys have some kind of complex about needing a woman in front?”

 

 

 

Hightown, three hours before it was day

 

 

                They caught up to her before she had reached the gate for Hightown, and together they trudged into the wide, clean streets where the rich and powerful had their homes.  For once there were no groups of random bandits slinking around.  They made good time, passing quickly through the market, passed the Viscount’s Way, and through some side streets.  None of the neighborhoods they passed showed any signs of a lunatic elf, so they kept going.  The Chantry fell away on their right as they climbed the stairs into one of the oldest areas in Hightown.  It was a large quadrangle enclosed on every side with expensive marble and granite facades.  A shadow moved, not far away, and the four of them walked towards it.

                “No one has left the mansion, but I’ve heard nothing within.” Fenris told them when they got close enough.  “Danarius may know we’re here.  I wouldn’t put it past him.”

                “I could stand to know a little more about this Danarius,”

                “He is a magister of the Tevinter Imperium.  There, he is a wealthy mage with great influence.  Here, he is but a man who sweats like any other when death comes for him.”  Varric once again made a note of style points.  The elf had a way with words.  He wished he had time to write that one down for use in a story later.

                Hawke tilted her head, considering, “he may have prepared some magical defenses.”

                Fenris was already turning to enter the house as he replied, “they will not keep me from him.”  They walked to the door, and Varric had the lock undone in a trice.  He flourished his hands at the door in invitation.  Hawke smiled at him and inclined her head with a lady-like nod before pushing the heavy door open.  They piled into the front hallway.  Everyone was looking around, trying to get a sense of the dark room when Fenris started yelling at the top of his lungs.

                “I am coming for you Danarius!”  Isabella jumped two feet in the air with a squeak of surprise.  Varric put a hand to his chest against his pounding heart.  Hawke rounded on the elf with fury.

                “Seriously?  Seriously??” she hissed before darting toward the next door.  There wasn’t time for recriminations, any hope of surprise had just been thrown out the window.

                “Trap!” Varric said, just in time.  Hawke froze with one-foot hovering above the ground.  The dwarf ran forward, defusing the pressure plate with a practiced flick of his fingers.  Her face spoke volumes of gratitude as she passed him, reaching the door.  She flung it open and they sped through into another empty room.  At least, it started out empty.  There was a horrible sucking noise and purple-black shades appeared in numbers.  It gave them very little room to move.

                Varric and Belle dropped back towards the open door behind them, trying to give the fighters room.  Carver and Fenris ripped their swords out and started to hack away with abandon.  Hawke’s staff twirled, striking sparks every time the metal tip connected with demon-flesh.  The fight was quick and dirty.  Fenris was screaming that Danarius couldn’t stop them with his “pets”.  Hawke wanted to smack him in the head with her staff but heroically resisted the urge.  They travelled through room after room in the great rambling manse, fighting shades and rage demons at every turn. 

                Eventually in a back room somewhere they located an ornate key made of iron.  She handed it to Fenris and they made their way back out into the main hall.  There was a double staircase that led up to the second floor rooms.  She and Fenris took the left, while the other three climbed the right.  Nothing assailed them just yet though.  They tried the side rooms first.  Hawke was nothing if not methodical and she had no intention of leaving an enemy at her back.  She was pretty sure that if Danarius was here he was holed up in the master bedroom, and she was going to clear the rest of the floor before they went in there.

                The door to the master bedroom was locked, but the key they had found twisted smoothly in the lock.  It was too easy, she knew.  No one was surprised when instead of a magister they were presented with a horde of demons crawling out of all the walls behind them in the main hall, as well as some kind of spell-casting darkspawn horror.  They were tired, and everyone’s reactions had begun to slow.  Varric took a hit to his shoulder.  Isabella was bleeding pretty bad from a gash on her thigh.  Hawke resisted the urge to resort to her ultimate weapon until Carver was cornered by three foul creatures.  She would not let anything happen to him.  Not ever.

                She dropped the staff that she used to channel the small bolts of lightning she used with normal attacks.  Grabbing a blue lyrium potion from a fur lined pouch at her waist she downed the contents of the little bottle, feeling the magic singing through her veins as she brought her power to bear.  Lightning flowed over her skin like water.  She pointed her hand at one of the demons, and it fell with a smoking hole in its chest.  Another, and another.  The magic sang through her, glorious, free.  She was an apostate, and to avoid Templar notice she had learned how to use the staff to disguise what she really was.  In moments like this though she gave herself over to the power that always itched under her skin, and the demons fell before her.  It wasn’t long before they were all down.  She let go of the lightning and stumbled with exhaustion.  Carver rushed over and held her up.  Fenris looked at them, face unreadable.

                “It is as I feared.  Danarius is not here.  I assume he left valuables, take them if you wish.  I…. I need some air.”  He walked back towards the front door.

                “Set me down Carver, I’m alright,” Hawke insisted.

                “You’re a stubborn nuisance, and you’re NOT alright,” he replied primly.  He could strangle her when she was like this, really he could.  Acting like some great invincible hero when she was ready to pass out.  Varric and Isabella wandered around the master bedroom and came up with some very nice shiny items.  It went a long way towards mitigating their irritation with Hawke.  They were going to make a profit tonight after all.  Not a huge one but definitely worth the effort.  By the time the others returned Carver had transferred most of a healing potion into a protesting Hawke.  She was feeling much better.

                “Well, I think that was quite enough excitement for one evening, don’t you?”  Hawke inquired of her friends, brushing dust off her coat.

                “Indeed,” Varric answered with equal mock-politeness.

                “To the Hanged Man!” cheered Isabella.

                “To the Hanged Man!” Varric agreed, as the two Hawke siblings yelled their assent as well.

 

 

                Outside the mansion, the merry band did not see the elf until they almost passed him by.  He was leaning against a pillar of the colonnade, standing on one foot with the other pressed flat against the stone that propped up his back.  He made a soft noise to get their attention, and they all spun around as one.  I think we’re a little jumpy tonight, Hawke mused, considering their synchronized reflexes.  The elf looked like some kind of Adonis statue, beloved of the moon.  His silvery markings traced the muscles of his olive flesh lovingly, his delicate pointed ears twitched with emotion while he stared at them.

                “It never ends.  I escaped a land of dark magic, only to have it hunt me at every turn.  It is a plague burned into my flesh and my soul.  And now I find myself in the company of yet another mage.  I saw you casting spells inside.  I should have realized sooner what you really were.  Tell me then, what manner of mage are you?  What is it that you seek?” 

Hawke blinked at him, owl eyed.  She was tired, beyond tired, and had no idea what he was talking about.  She ran his question through her processors once again but found they still made no sense.  Well, she certainly knew how to make no sense right back.  “I’ll let you figure that out for yourself,” she told him with satisfaction.

                “You are skilled; I know that much.”  He was scowling at her, and voice dripped venom.

                Carver had had just about enough; he took a threatening step forward.  “Look Elf, if you have a problem with my sister,” he spat, with special emphasis on her relationship to him, “you have a problem with me.”

                That appeared to jar Fenris out of whatever it was he had been thinking.  He took a step back, eyes flashing with confusion and perhaps a touch of guilt.  “I imagine I appear ungrateful.  If so, I apologize, for nothing could be further from the truth.”  He looked down for a moment, and rocked his weight back and forth on his heels.  “I did not find Danarius, but I still owe you a debt.  Here is all the coin I have, as Anso promised.  Should you find yourself in need of assistance, I will gladly render it.”

                “You didn’t seem all that thrilled with me a moment ago,” Hawke rubbed at her temple, she was feeling petulant.  The chains of the Great Wheel were grinding in the back of her head.  For once she did not feel like playing along with its’ directives on her life.

                “You are not Danarius.  Whether you are anything like him remains to be seen.”  The woman was looking at him through one squinted eye, while the other was covered by the hand she had pressed to her temple.  He was still holding out the little bag of coins.

                “Thanks, really, appreciate all the warm fuzzy feelings and rainbows but I think I am going to pass,” she said.  He was not entirely sure she was talking to him.  The words seemed like they fit the situation, but her eyes were a thousand miles away.  She started to walk away.  Her companions appeared to be at a loss for words.  They looked at him, looked at each other, shrugged and started to follow.

                “You didn’t take your coin!” Fenris yelled at her.  He was angry, embarrassed.  She was making a fool out of him even though he wasn’t quite sure how.  Hawke doubled over in pain, clutching her head.  She let out a stream of curses while struggling against the inevitable. 

                “Um, everything alright Hawke?”  Varric ventured.  Her friends stood around her in a loose semi-circle.

                “No, sod it all.”  She sighed, pulled herself upright and stomped her way back to the elf.  “I am planning an expedition I might need help with.”  She blurted out, staring at him with one gimlet eye.

                “Fair enough.  Should you ever have need of me, I will be here.  If Danarius wishes his mansion back, he is free to return and claim it.  Beyond that, I am at your disposal.”  His words were courteous, manner diffident.  She glared at him in silence for another minute or two.  He began to feel distinctly uncomfortable, and looked at the dwarf who had come to her side.

                “Now now Hawke,” Varric said taking her hand, “you know how cranky you get when you’re tired.  Let’s go have a drink now hmm?”  Reluctantly, Hawke allowed herself to be pulled around and they once again stated for Lowtown.  They walked fifteen feet or so before Varric turned around, looking back at him with a puzzled expression.  “Hey Broody, aren’t you coming?”

                Fenris’ surprise could not have been more complete.  “Me?” he asked, incredulous.

                “See any other angsty porcupines around here?  Yes, you.  Get a move on.”  Almost against his will he found himself drawn after them down the stairs and toward Lowtown, where the Hanged Man waited.

Chapter Text

                She was dead.  He had crushed her heart with his own hand so he knew she was dead.  It had brought less relief from the twisting mass of hatred that burned in him then he would have expected.  That was a disappointment.  In the end though she was dead, and that was good.  He sat, elbows on his knees and regarded the flagstones of Hawke’s portico.  He should probably knock and announce himself, get this thing over with.  Reluctance held him still though and he prayed no one would come outside and notice him. 

                What does magic touch that is doesn’t spoil?  The words echoed, his mind an endless empty cavern to throw them back at him again and again.  He was not sorry for saying it.  It was only the truth.  He knew it was the truth.  Her face though, oh Maker her face and the way she had flinched.  Indomitable she always stood.  Untouched by word or deed she swept all before her with the ferocity of her mind and the devastation unleashed through her magic.  Her face, part of his mind whispered.  His chest ached to remember. 

Angry with himself he shook his head.  White hair ruffled.  He would not apologize for telling the truth, his pride insisted.  He would apologize for the harsh way he had thrown it in her face though.  She was, for better or worse, the leader of their little carnival and he could not afford her anger.  That’s what he told himself, again and again while he sat outside her door in the dark.  While in the back of his mind a voice was still whispering her face!  He heard a noise and looked up as the door opened.  It was Sandal, one of the dwarves that served her, and the dog.  Eloise, her mabari, whuffed in greeting and trotted over to poke his thigh with her nose.  Sandal just examined him with his strange eyes.  Then he turned and went back in, leaving the door open.  It might or might not have been an invitation, Sandal’s grasp of social behavior was even worse than his own.  He waited, scratching the dog’s ears gently when she whined for attention.

Hawke appeared at the door in a short robe.  Her hair was down; she wore no makeup.  She had soft soled slippers that left most of her feet bare, and he found himself staring at her toes with fascination regardless of his emotional state.  They were longer than most toes he’d seen, compliments to her dexterous long fingered hands.  He felt an urge to get closer so he could see them better, but she cleared her throat, drawing his attention back to her face and why he was here.  Her face was neutral but warm, giving away no hint of her emotion yet at the same time letting him know he was not unwanted.  He was appreciative of the control that allowed her to express herself without having to actually talk.

She was looking at him, leaning against the closed front door.  He stood up.  “I’ve been thinking about what happened with Hadriana.  I took out my anger on you, undeservedly so.  I was…. Not myself.  I’m sorry.”  He expected a reprimand and cautioned himself against anger, it would ruin his apology if he argued with her now.

She regarded him, eyes searching his face, “I had no idea where you went, I was concerned.”

Her response took him off guard.  “I needed to be alone.”  He turned away from her eyes, unable to look her in the face while the memories assailed him.  “When I was still a slave Hadriana was a torment.  She would ridicule me, deny my meals, hound my sleep.  Because of her status I was powerless to respond, and she knew it.  The thought of her slipping out of my grasp now…. I couldn’t let her go.  I wanted to, but I couldn’t.”

“What do you mean?”  She was confused.  She had felt no remorse at the death of his tormentor and didn’t understand why he would feel any.  He had given his word, yes, but promises extracted under extortion were not ones she felt people had a need to keep.

He looked at her, earnest.  “This hate, I thought I’d gotten away from it, but it dogs me no matter where I go.  To feel it again, to know it was they who planted it inside me, it was too much to bear.  Ah, but I didn’t come here to burden you further.”  He felt uncomfortable, exposed by her analytic eyes.  Everything inside him was simply to raw to keep this conversation going.  He turned to go.

He’s leaving! She realized, and before she could stop herself she reached out and touched the bare part of his forearm, where the armor left his skin exposed.  “You don’t have to…” but she didn’t get the chance to finish.  His markings burst to furious life as he turned and grabbed her shoulders.  He slammed her backwards into the stone wall and her vision went black around the edges.  His hand was glowing and the tips of his gauntlets were already in her chest when he seemed to realize who he was attacking.  She saw the anger fade, the confusion, the guilt as he looked at her face, so close to his own. 

She made no move to resist, though her breathing had become fast and her pulse was racing.  Horror was dawning in the moss green depths and she couldn’t stop herself, she had to make it stop.  So she did the first thing that occurred to her, took hold of his shoulders and pressed her mouth to his.  Soft, she thought, trying to convey with her lips that everything was going to be alright.  To her shock then, he began to kiss her back and all intelligence fled for a while.  She spun him around, so he was the one pressed to the stone wall. She slanted her mouth and licked his bottom lip in an invitation.  His mouth opened and the kiss grew deeper.  She was moaning softly and his arms were crushing her against his armor. 

After a minute she managed to get a grip on herself and draw back.  She had meant to step away from him entirely but his arms held her with desperate force.  His eyes were wild, full of hunger that made her weak.  In their depths though she could see flickers of panic, and alarm bells were ringing through her mind, loud enough to damp down her desire to manageable levels.  She took both hands and moved them slowly till they cradled his face.  She tilted it downwards until she could press a chaste kiss to his forehead.  “I’m sorry Fenris, this is not the time to be announcing that I…” she choked a little on her embarrassment, “desire you.”

“You… desire… me?”  His voice was sluggish.  There was surprise in there, wonder even.  Inside she laughed, amused that he could not see what she was sure was pathetically obvious to everyone around them.  She did not let the amusement touch her eyes, or her voice though.  He would not react well to that.  “Will you come in Fenris?” she asked him, keeping her eyes locked on his.  He suddenly seemed to become aware of their surroundings, their positon, what they had been doing.  He pushed on her shoulders reflexively and she stepped back, giving him space but not moving so much that it would be easy to get around her and escape.

“I…” he trailed off.  His emotions wracked him.  He wanted, oh Maker he wanted, he wanted kiss her again.  He wanted to pull that robe off her body.  He wanted….  The anger and hate were still coiling in his belly and they wrapped tendrils though his desire, whispering.  He wanted to strike her, he wanted to pull her hair and crush her with his mouth, with his body.  His mind recoiled from that darkness, and the panic in his eyes only grew.

She could sense his demons stirring, and she cleared her throat to bring his attention back to her.  “I don’t mean for….. well….. hmmm.  I mean, I promise I will not touch you again.  It was incredibly selfish and I apologize.”  He looked at her, confusion closing in again, he didn’t understand this woman at all.

                “Fenris,” she sighed, looking down and rubbing her hands self-consciously on her thighs.  “You are not the only one who lives with a darkness inside you.”  This was difficult for her to talk about.  “I have…. Some experience with those times when the beast within is clawing at your organs.  I can help you, if you let me.  Come inside, and let me your friend for tonight.  I will not touch you.”  She reiterated, looking back at his face.

                He regarded her in silence, feeling the savage thing that lived in his soul pounding against the bars of its cage.   He had never thought to seek solace from it with anyone before.  It was a private torment, one that was no one else’s business.  Her eyes looked silver in the moonlight, and her skin was too pale.  His instinct was to reject her offer, to walk off into the night.  But his lips burned where she had kissed him, and he could still feel the imprint of her hands on his cheeks.  He swallowed, nodded.  Her smile was brilliant, the sun breaking through clouds in a ray so bright and sharp her pleasure might cut him.

                She turned to go inside and he followed her.  He was surprised to find the dog was still there, and it fell into step behind them.  She led him up to her room without pause, and bade him sit in a chair next to the fire.  Eloise wandered around the room as if checking to make sure all was secure before settling with a whuff in front of the fire near his feet.  He tried very hard not to think.

                “Have you eaten anything since this afternoon?” she asked softly, standing by the door.  He shook his head, eating when he was experiencing the fullness of his hatred was impossible.  Surely she should have known that.  He made as if to get up, full of regret that he had allowed himself to be brought inside.  She didn’t really understand, couldn’t.

                “Please,” her voice was still quiet.  “Please don’t go.  Trust in me just this once.”

                He was brought up short by her tone.  It was not like her to be so, well, soft.  To ask for something.  She was forceful by nature, trusting that others would follow in her wake with little coddling.  He shifted in the chair, committed, held captive by the gentleness in her.  She disappeared out the door, and he looked to the flames dancing in her hearth.  A minute or two later he heard her returning up the stairs toward the room, footsteps heavy.  A soft voice, not Hawke’s, called out.  He could not hear what this new voice was saying.

                “No, no, Orana.” Hawke replied to the voice, “it’s not your responsibility to deal with my wayward self.  If I want to take a bath in the middle of the night I should damn well fetch my own water.  You’re not to worry about things like that.  I’m sorry I woke you.  I’ll try to be quieter.”

The voice was saying something else that he couldn’t hear.  Fenris couldn’t place who the hell this Orana could be, until with a shock his mind presented him with a picture of the diminutive elf girl they had rescued in the slaving caves.

“There’s nothing to fear Orana, I promise.   Hang on just a minute ok?”  Hawke’s voice was getting more clear as she crested the stairs and headed for her room.  She stepped in, set down the two buckets of water she had been holding, and snapped her fingers at Eloise.  The dog, who had been snoring, was awake and at her right hand with one fluid motion.  They walked out together and Fenris didn’t hear what happened next.  He stared at the flames until she returned, stomach roiling as the memories of the slaver caves beat against his brain.  When Hawke came back she was alone.  She didn’t say a word to him but picked up the buckets and carried them into the adjoining bathing room.  He heard the water being poured.  She came back out with empty buckets and left. 

This repeated several more times without a word.  Eventually she was satisfied with the water level and gathered up some soap and towels, laying them out within easy reach of the tub.  She sent a small prayer heaven-ward and used a fire spell on the cold water.  Fire was not her element.  The second time she had burned down the cottage and caused them all to flee into the night to avoid discovery her father had forbidden her to use fire spells.  It was only recently she had been trying to work with it again.  Heating bath water was pretty safe though, as creating fire inside a full tub was difficult to let get out of control.  When the water steamed she nodded to herself and went back into her room.

“Will you come?” she asked.

He stood.  He followed her into her bathing room.  It was beyond strange for him, to be in a space that was so obviously private to her.  She indicated the towels and soap, and told him to take as much time as he liked.  She stepped out and closed the door behind her.  It was warm.  The steam was thick and he felt his armor as an unpleasant heaviness against his skin.  He stripped down methodically, and wrapped a large towel around himself.  He took the armor and carried it into the bedroom, expecting to see her there, but the room was empty.  He set his things on a table and went back to the tub.  It was a magnificent piece, he had to admit.  Huge, ridiculously so.  He thought one of the qunari at the docks would have been able to fit his bulk inside.  There were little steps on the side that let him get high enough to climb in.

The water was hot, but not burning.  He sank into bliss.  The water closed around him until only his neck and head stuck out.  He sat and just let the heat sink into him.  Eventually he would reach for the soap.  Not yet though.  Not yet.  This was luxurious to the point of sinful, and he was going to enjoy it.  Heat and steam wrapped around all his senses, and he felt the tensions and anger floating away.  He closed his eyes and let the water close over his head.

She placed clothes for him just inside the door, not opening it far enough to see inside.  They had been Carver’s and would be far too large for him, but the only other men’s clothes she had in the house had belonged to her father, and she couldn’t bear to take them out of the chest.  While waiting she had gone to the kitchen and made a large tray of food, added two desert size plates and wine glasses.  She carried that up before going back for the wine.  She only had white, and hoped it would suffice.  The reds he favored were not something her tongue appreciated, no matter how hard she tried to learn.  She chose several bottles and took them upstairs.  His resistance to alcohol was significant she knew.  If he wanted to dull the edges he would need far more than she did.

She tried very hard not to think about what it had felt like to kiss him.  Let alone to consider the implications of the fact that he had not pushed her away.  Had in fact kissed her back.  She set the wine down and poured glasses for them both, concentrating hard.  She picked over the food, choosing small amounts of things she was sure he liked and arranging them.  He would be overwhelmed if she handed him a large plateful.  She wondered idly if it was a holdover from his life as a slave, that he had not been given enough to eat.  That was likely so, and she closed her eyes against the twist of pain and anger the idea called up in her.  She carried the plates to the small side table by the fire and pulled up a second chair.  The wine glasses followed.  Then she went to the balcony and stood in the moonlight.  The cool air helped center her.  By the time she heard the door to the bath open she had regained her normal unassailable calm.

He had stepped out of the bathtub and wrapped himself in towels.  His skin felt sensitive from the heat but most of the ache in his markings had bled out into the water.  The towels were forest green and thick.  He was dry in moments.  At the door he found a little pile of clothing.  He picked up the linen shirt and black trousers.  After inspection he pulled them on, more amused than irritated at how they dwarfed his frame.  They were soft, and clean, and smelled lightly of cedar.  He opened the door, looking to the fireplace, expecting her to be there.  She was not.  There were glasses and plates.  He walked over.  The plate near the chair he had been sitting in was small and white.  There were five plump grapes, two small round slices of bread topped with smoked ham and white cheese, as well as a broken off piece of some kind of iced pastry.  To his surprise his mouth was watering just looking at it. 

“Do you think you could eat something?” she asked, coming in from the balcony.  He turned, confirming it was only her.

“Yes, I…” his stomach made an impatient noise, “seem to be hungry now.”  He finished, ducking his head in embarrassment.

“Excellent,” she said, coming to rest in the chair opposite him.  He noticed her plate was significantly more full than his own.  She smiled, tossed her hair and grabbed a strawberry.  He sat and popped a grape into his mouth.  It burst with a sweetness that made him want to roll his eyes back into his head.

“There’s plenty more,” she assured him, waving a hand towards the heaping tray on another table.  “So don’t be shy if you like something.  I just know you prefer to start small.”  He watched her eat, surprised that she knew this about him.  How strange that she would notice that he thought.  It was something he never mentioned to anyone.  Her perceptivity was disconcerting.  She saw too much, this woman, and he should keep it in mind. 

He thought she would want to talk, and had braced for it before leaving the bath, but she didn’t.  The silence was surprisingly comfortable.  When he finished everything on the plate she asked if he would like more, and he said yes.  She gave him larger helpings this time.  He ate it all and the third time got up himself to choose things.  Eventually they were full, and sipped their wine while the fire crackled.  His eyelids were heavy.  His body felt lax draped in the chair.  His stomach was very full and the wine was making him drift a bit.  He should go home now.  He would go home in just a minute.  He would.

“If you are ready to lay down then I am as well,” she said aloud, eyes on his face.  He stiffened, and looked at her.  He glanced at the bed.  Her bed.  “It’s plenty big enough for two to lay down without touching I promise.”  Her smile was encouraging.  She got up and took the blanket folded at the foot, shaking it out and laying it over one side.  “I’ll get under the covers, and you sleep under this.  That way even if I touch you by accident while I’m sleeping it won’t reach your skin.”  He was touched by her thoughtfulness, and felt himself relax a bit.  He did not move though.

She went back to her side of the bed and turned her back.  Her robe slid off her shoulders and revealed a thin chemise and her small clothes, both white.  He looked away, flush rising in his cheeks.  He heard the rustle of blankets.  She was in bed now, body covered, hair loose on her shoulders.  She reclined against the pillows and looked back at him, questioning.  He struggled.  He didn’t know how much time passed.  He looked to her again, feeling perhaps she would lose patience with his indecision.  Her face remained impassive but kind and open.  He knew there would be no judgement whether he stayed or left, and that decided him.  He got up and went to the other side of the bed.

He would not be able to sleep with the huge shirt hanging off him.  It would tangle in his arms and guarantee the nightmares found him.  He crossed his arms and grabbed the hem on both sides.  He glanced at her, unsure.  Hawke had anticipated his action, and turned her head away to allow him a small amount of privacy.  He pulled the shirt off and slipped under the blanket.  His heart was beating hard.  He had spent nights in close proximity to her hundreds of times by now, but that was always in a camp with other companions.  Even sharing the same tent had not provided a sense of intimacy that held a candle to this.  She turned back to him, rolling over to her side.  They stared at each other, fourteen inches of blanket and sheets between their mostly naked bodies.

She yawned, putting a hand over her mouth, and smiled at him with sleep in her eyes.  “Wake me up if you need anything alright?” she murmured.  She waited for his nod before her eyes drifted closed.  He watched her breathe in the dim light.  The soft rise and fall of her ribcage under the blanket.  He would wait for a little while, until she slept deeply, and then he would go.  He had come lay down because she had been so kind, and he couldn’t bring himself to refuse her after that.  It had seemed rude beyond measure to even consider it.  He was calm now, and full, demons sleeping their restless sleep once again.  He couldn’t repay her for that by storming out when she invited him to lay down next to her.  So he watched her sleep while the fire died.

In his dreams he was back in Minrathos, and Hadriana’s laughter hunted him through the halls of his Master’s house.  He woke gasping, sweat cold on his body.  He looked around with wild eyes, not recognizing where he was.

“Shhh now, it was only a dream Fenris, shhh, shhh” the voice was hypnotic, and he felt his heartbeat slowing.  He remembered where he was, Hawke’s room, Hawke’s bed.  He had fallen asleep instead of leaving. 

Hawke regarded him, sitting up in bed.  She wanted to touch him, wanted to hold and stroke and pet him but knew that would never be allowed.  It sparked a memory from when she was younger and in Lothering.  Carver had decided when he was about six that he was too old for snuggles from his sisters anymore, that it wasn’t manly.  It had hurt her, that rejection, but she had found ways around it.  Her mouth curled into a small smile.  It had been awhile since she had tried her hand at a lullaby.  She had misgivings about singing in front of someone who was not her family and therefore programmed for unconditional love, but pushed that aside.  She was a Hawke, and had never let fear of embarrassment stop her from trying to help someone.  

He lay back down, intending to catch his breath and then leave.  It was humiliating for her to see him like this.  He felt anger bubbling up and prepared to toss the blanket away, trying to remember where his armor was in the room.  He felt Hawke move and cringed away, convinced she was going to touch him in a misguided attempt at comfort.  He heard her draw in a breath, like she was steeling herself for something, and then she began to sing.

“I sat within the barley green, I sat me with my true love

My sad heart drove the two between,

The old love and the new love”

He had gone rigidly still as she started, and she almost panicked and stopped.  But then he sighed and a shudder ran through his whole frame before he went limp in the blankets.  Reassured, her voice strengthened.  She sang the story of the boy and his love.  It was a sad song, one for mourning.  Her mother had scolded her once and told her that dirges were not proper lullaby material, but Hawke was who she was.  The songs of her heart were songs of death, and if anyone on this earth would understand that she thought he would.  So she sang to him in the darkness and hoped it would be enough.

He thought vaguely if he died at that moment, it would be with a smile and profound sense of thankfulness towards a capricious universe.  Her voice curled around his sensitive ears, making them twitch.  It raced down his spine, expanding in warmth across his chest.  His eyes slipped closed against his will and his toes wiggled with pleasure.  She sounded like some heavenly being come down to bless him and be at his side in his moment of distress.  He had no idea she could sing.  Who would have thought that the only person he considered more dangerous than himself was hiding such a talent?  He would tell her when she stopped, find a way to put it into words.  Until then he just let go of the last remnants of his nightmares and just drifted.

She sang, and when the first song finished she immediately began another.  Then another, and on and on for an hour or more, til her voice began to fail her from the dryness in her throat.  He was sleeping again.  She had been watching his chest, had seen when the rise and fall became deep and regular.  The silence felt loud in her ears.  She looked out of the glass door to the balcony.  The sun would be up soon.  She could afford a little more sleep though.  She slid back down in her covers, careful to make sure he was not disturbed by her movements.  She felt a soft glow of satisfaction at her lullaby success, and it stayed with her until the Fade gently pulled her away.

Chapter Text

At the doors to the Viscount’s throne room they paused, breathing hard.  Hawke looked them over one at a time, noting the fatigue and the dwindling supply of potions on their belts.  Varric had blood in his blond hair though it seemed to have stopped dripping.  Anders was pale with mana drain.  Fenris looked back at her, impassive.  If he was in distress, he would never let her see it.  “Here we go then,” she said and pushed on the ornate wood.

“But we have guests.  Shanadon, Hawke, I expected you.”  The Arishok’s voice in the high ceilinged room was booming.  Even more impressive than it had been when he sat on the makeshift throne at the docks.  Hawke stepped over the severed head of the viscount with a grimace, though she made no effort to go around.  That was the kind of weakness it would not do to show here.  The Arishok respected only strength.  “Marass toh ebra-shok.  You alone are basalit-an.”  His voice continued, and he descended the Petitioner’s Staircase down toward the floor from the dais.  He raised his arms to encompass the nobles packed in together at the edges of the room.  “This is what respect looks like bas.  Some of you will never earn it!”

The Arishok fixed her with his burning gaze.  Hawke found that for once she felt a tremor of fear as the huge Qunari loomed in her space.  She was not accustomed to being intimidated by anyone.  She hardened her stance and her grip on the thin staff she used as a weapon to forestall any telltale tremor that might betray her feelings.  “So tell me Hawke, you know I am denied Par-Vollen until the Tome of Koslun is found.  How would you see this conflict resolved without it?” 

To her surprise he seemed genuinely interested in the question and how she would answer.  She felt a faint breath of hope that they might resolve this without the city in ruins.  She opened her mouth but was surprised again when the door banged open behind her.  She spun to see Isabella appear behind a dying Qunari warrior, striding into the hall with bravado.

“I believe I can answer that.  I’m sure you’ll find it mostly undamaged.”  Isabella held out a huge book.  It was easily almost a foot thick, and took both of her arms to bear its’ weight.  Hawke’s relief on the heels of her fear were swirling in her brain and produced a certain giddiness.  Maybe they were going to live through this after all.

“The Tome of Koslun.”  His voice was hushed, reverent.  The Arishok accepted the offering and cradled it in his hands like it would burst into infinitesimal shards if he was not careful.

Isabella took this opportunity to glace at Hawke.  She offered a cocky, apologetic smile. “It took me awhile to get back, what with all the fighting.”

“I thought you would be long gone by now,” Hawke stammered.

“Me too.  This is your damned influence Hawke. I was halfway to Ostwick before I knew I had to turn around.  It’s pathetic.”  Her disgust in herself was as deep as the pleasure that Hawke felt knowing her friend had been unable to betray her at the last.  They did not have long to appreciate the moment.

“The relic is reclaimed.  I am now free to return to Par-Vollen…”  the Arishok was looking at Isabella with a singularly frightening gaze.  “With the thief.”

“What?” Isabella yelled and Hawke demanded at the same time.

Fenris was furious.  He was not of a mind that Isabella turning up was going to help matters at all.  In fact, he had a sinking feeling that it might make things worse.  “You thought you could strand them here for four years without consequence?”

“Oh no, no, no, no, if anyone is going to be kicking her ass, it’s me.” Hawke whirled, it was Averline who had arrived moments ago with a contingent that had managed to escape the barracks and reach them.  Hawke gave her a quick smile, grateful she was alive, grateful that she too didn’t want to hand over their friend.

The Arishok tilted his head and regarded Hawke.  He used a very patient tone when he told her, “She stole the Tome of Koslun, she must return with us.”

Hawke considered if there was a diplomatic way to handle this.  There was a silence.  She decided not, and spoke with force, “You have your relic.  She stays with us.”

The Arishok held up his hands, as if to show the impossibility of his situation.  “And what other choice do you leave me Hawke?”  When he spoke next his voice had a tinge of regret, and maybe pity.  She bristled at it.  “Were you a man I would challenge you to a duel to the death with this thief as the prize.  But you are not.”  She blanched, but did not back down.  Her mind was racing.  A duel with someone of his monstrous strength and ability was not something she would escape from unscathed.  Fenris was talking and she struggled to bring the situation back into focus.

“You have granted this woman Basalit-An, she has the right to challenge you.”  His voice was reasonable, conciliatory.  His knowledge of the Qun would allow him to create an opportunity for Hawke to save the city, and he knew that was what she would want.  He had absolute faith in that moment that she would be able to beat the Qunari.  She was the deadliest person he’d ever met.

The Arishok was staring at him, temptation plain on his face.  He too could sense the threat this woman exuded, and it was not often he found the chance for a challenge.  Proving his worth, his right to rule, on the field of battle was the only way he felt alive.  “If you truly knew the Qun Elf, you would not suggest that I battle a female.”

Fenris tilted his head in apology for the contradiction, “but she is no female.  She is a Respected Outsider… by your own words.”  Hawke felt the floor slipping away, like she was falling from a great height.  It was the right thing to do.  Of course it was.  She knew Fenris was doing it as a favor to her, trying to find a way out of this that would preclude rivers of blood, but she felt cold all the way down.

It was neatly done, the Arishok thought.  It offered him exactly what he wanted with no loss of face.  He smiled, cruel joy beginning to hum in his chest.  “What say you Hawke, do you agree to a duel? We will fight to the death.  You and I alone.  Kill me and the duty that binds me is ended.  The others will return to Par Vollen.”

There was a choking noise behind her, she spun and fixed her eyes on Anders, mind full of a terror and fury the likes of which she had never known.  “Hawke, you can’t!” he yelled, “Y…” but he never got the chance to finish.  She had closed the distance between them and backhanded his cheek so hard he rocked and nearly went down with the impact. 

“You will be silent.”  She hissed at him, teeth bared in a snarl that made Varric and Isabella back away from them both.  He put a hand to his cheek, eyes shocked, wide.  He opened his mouth like he would speak, and then his expression seemed to crumble and he fell to the floor.  She stared at him a moment longer, then turned and went back to the Arishok.

“I apologize for the interruption,” she said courteously.  He waved a benevolent hand as if he too understood the need to keep order among his followers.  She cleared her throat, once again in control, “And if you kill me?”

“Then you are dead.”  His smile was smug and confident.  She closed her eyes for the briefest moment, and then did what had to be done.

“To the death, Arishok.”

His roar was full of anticipation, and he held up his huge sword as he turned to his followers.  “So shall it be!”  He began to walk up to what was left of his elite guards, “Prepare yourself.”

 

 

                Averline and Isabella came to her side at once, babbling advice and grabbing at her sleeves.  Varric looked at them, then at Fenris, who stood still and cold to one side.  It was a lie though.  Over the years Varric had learned a great many things about the Elf, and he could see the tension in him.  What concerned him most though was Anders, and what the hell had just happened.  Hawke was always, always, gentle and supportive with her chosen Companions.  She did not do things like she had just done.  Something was very, very wrong here.

“What do you know that none of the rest of us do Blondie?”  His voice was soft, so only the mage would hear him, but the tone brooked no refusal.  Anders remained on his knees.  He stared at the mage and saw that his throat was working.  He bent down so his mouth was next to Ander’s ear.  “Tell. Me.”  Anders’ lips parted the tiniest amount, and Varric moved so his ear was next to the mage’s lips.  But Anders didn’t speak.  Instead a high, barely audible keening sound was coming from him.  Varric felt terror grip his chest.  He turned, intending to stop the duel and the city be damned, but it was too late. 

                She stood away from them now, and the Arishok’s bodyguards were hustling everyone into the gallery on the second floor.  He tried to yell, tried to break through, but the guards shoved him back.  Averline was at his side now, looking at him with curiosity while she asked him to help with the unresponsive Anders.  Eventually they were all settled on the second floor gallery with a clear view of the area below the dais where they would be fighting.  Averline clapped a hand on Ander’s shoulder as he leaned on the railing, face gray.

                “You have to have more faith in her Anders.  You know Hawke’s impossible to kill.  Why even if he hits her with that huge sword she’d just get right back up and blow him to pieces.”  Her voice was full of forced cheer.  Anders’ face went through an unidentifiable series of emotions; all the color he had left draining away.  The next time he tried to draw a breath he fell on all fours and retched until he thought he would pass out.  Later he wished he had, because it would have saved him from seeing what was about to happen.  His behavior was sending waves of fear and discomfort through the group of companions.  They wanted very much to apply persuasive measures that would grant them whatever it was that he knew.  By any means necessary.  Because it was obvious now to each of them there was something else in play here.  There was no time though, and the roar from the Arishok as the battle began drew all of their attention back to the floor.

                As her companions had been escorted up the stairs by the guards Hawke went down on one knee.  It was a pose that Templers often took when praying, she knew.  We who are about to die… Her brain mused, but she dismissed the thought.  It was a cover-up and she knew it.  She put her forehead against the wood of her staff and closed her eyes, seeking out the gentle beat within her body.  It was unaware, just the barest wisp of a something, but she could feel it.  For a second she let her mind run over all the scenes it had created since she had felt the first tremor of a heartbeat fluttering within some three weeks ago.  She had suspected before that of course, and Anders had confirmed it, but it had still been a wonder to encounter this otherness within her own body. 

I am sorry.  She said.  I am so, so sorry.  Grief welled in her, like it would catch her up and she would howl until her mind broke.  She forced it back, forced it down, locked it away in the darkest part of her as she always did.  There would be time later to experience the fullness of her damnnation, when she stood before the Maker.  Such things were a luxury now.  She did not try and comfort herself with hope.  This was going to be a fight unlike anything she had ever tried, and she held no expectation of survival.  The blooming life in her was sapping her magic, and she would never be able to beat him in a physical confrontation.  She thought only to make sure that she took the Qunari leader down with her when she fell.  She wanted to glance at Fenris but did not.  He had believed in her, that she would be able to do this, and she was sad to think that he might blame himself later.  She would have to trust that Varric would take care of him.  Have to hope that Anders never told anyone what he knew.

She could hear the heavy footsteps of the warrior returning.  She opened her eyes and stood.  Her gaze was clear, steady, and without fear, the Arishok saw and he grunted with pleasure.  He unsheathed his sword.  It was taller than his opponent; wider across than her waist.  With a great roar he charged.

Varric gripped the railing hard.  His body was slick with sweat all over.  He heard Anders stop retching but did not look at him.  On the floor below them the Arishok swung at her, and Hawke slipped to the side.  She did not try to parry with her staff.  It looked like a toothpick next to that sword and he was sure it would only slow the blade, not block it if she tried.  She cast a few spells at him, ice that coated his legs, gravity that dragged at his body, but he barely slowed.  She ducked around the pillars and weaved around his flashing cuts, moving, always moving.  She had raised her left hand to the sky, and held it there as she went.  Varric didn’t understand why she didn’t start using her lightening.  It was normally the only thing she bothered with.  Why would she abandon it now when her need was so dire?

The Arishok roared his irritation at her avoidance, screaming at her to stand and fight.  She ignored him, not speaking a word, face drawn in concentration and sweat sticking her hair to her face.  She could not keep it up forever.  Within minutes she slowed.  The Arishok managed to connect with the edge of his blade half a dozen times, and blood was dripping off her elbow.  Her legs too were a mess of spreading crimson stains.  Fenris was standing at his right, watching as Varric did.  His body was so full of tension Varric was half sure he was going to leap downwards at any moment.  Qunari guards closed in to react in case he did so, but Varric knew it wasn’t needed.  Fenris would abide by Hawke’s choice, more than any of them he was her man to his core.

She stopped running.  Now she stood in the middle of the room, before the staircase.  Left hand still raised to the sky, and her right making a complicated gesture.  The Arishok waited, thinking it might be a trap, then dismissed his concern and charged in.  The battle had not been the glorious match he was hoping for.  His warriors must have been exaggerating, her defeat of his guards merely luck instead of real power.  His sword smashed against thin air as he swung at her.  It was a barrier spell of some kind.  It wouldn’t matter though, now that she had stopped running he had her.  It was only a matter of time.

Varric was yelling, screaming at her to move, that if she didn’t move she would die.  He watched the great sword swing and bounce off, time and time again.  Part of him marveled that she could hold the barrier so long against him, but even Hawke would have limits.  Hawke’s left hand finally dropped down to her side.  She seemed exhausted.  Her right held the barrier while she tried to drink a lyrium potion.  The Arishok shifted his weight and abruptly changed tactics.  He dove forward, all his weight behind the wicked point at the tip of the wedge like blade.  The barrier crumbled.  He roared as his blade finally hit flesh, spearing her through the abdomen.

Her friends watched, paralyzed, as the Arishok’s shoulders bunched, and he held her aloft with the sword still stuck through her for all to see his victory.  When she coughed, blood flew from her mouth and landed on his shoulder.  He waited to see if she would beg for mercy.  That would not surprise him considering how little fight she had offered.  Then he looked closer at her face.  His brows knit together.  She was laughing!  There was no sound that he could hear, but the expression was unmistakable.

“Why are you LAUGHING!?” he screamed at her, shaking the hilt and causing her face to change to one of pain.  The room was so silent, and his whole existence was defined by the strange woman on the end of his sword.  When he stopped shaking her, her eyes blinked.  Her throat worked, and a ghost of the amusement that had gripped her came back to her face. 

She breathed in, a wet sucking noise, and spoke “do you know what swords are made of?” She was gasping by the end of her pronouncement.  He did not understand, thought perhaps some madness had taken hold due to fear of death.  But she just looked at him, with one brow raised.  She forced her hands and arms to move, ignoring the pain and the darkness that was trying to claim her.  She lay one palm on either side of the huge blade just in front of where it entered her body.  Something was tickling at the back of the Arishok’s mind, but he was distracted by the oddity of what was happening and couldn’t bring it forward.

                His hair was doing something odd, starting to prickle and stand up away from his body.  A weird light was growing around the two of them as well.  Too late, the alarm bells in his head were ringing.  Too late, he remembered what element it was that this mage worked with.  She stared into his eyes, and drew a breath.

                “Bolt of Glory!”  She shouted in defiance, blood coating each word as it left her mouth.  Bitter satisfaction was a balm to all her wounds as the window behind the throne shattered to a thousand pieces.  The bolt of lightning that slammed into her back was huge, and it just kept coming down.  She could see nothing through the light, through the blue-white screaming agony all through her, but she didn’t have to see to know she had won.  Swords were made of metal.  Metal conducted.  The pain went on and on.  She was immobile in a rictus of clenched muscles for an age.  Then the sword was gone, the lightning spent.  She fell to her knees on the ground.

When the window had exploded with light it blinded everyone watching.  Varric squeezed his eyes shut, his hands flying to his face to try and block out the radiance.  When the red light that still leaked through suddenly disappeared he tried to look, but spots were dancing through his field of vision.  He blinked hard, desperate to locate Hawke.  There, there she was.  She was kneeling, head down, but back still upright.  The sword was gone.  His eye finally located the smoking ruin that had been the Arishok, and the remnants of the sword now melted and misshapen.  The spell had thrown him ten feet away from her.  The hall was silent.  A minute passed, and then another. 

Hawke knew she had to get up.  It was not quite over.  Sightless, eyes still closed she extended her hand and patted the ground until she located her discarded staff at her side.  She closed her hand around it, jammed it against the floor and used it to lever herself into a standing position.  It took everything she had to open her eyes, to lift her head.  She looked at the nearest Qunari guard, barely able to see him through dazzled eyes.  She did not have much time before darkness took her, and she would see this through.  She coughed when she tried to speak, fresh blood flecking her lips.

“It is done,” she managed, voice hoarse.  The impassive guard stared at her for a moment.  If he was surprised at the outcome, or angry, he did not show it.  Instead he inclined his head the barest amount.  Then he turned to make eye contact with his fellows.  They put up their weapons and began to file out of the room.  It was over.  Far away she could hear the rushing joy consuming the room but it no longer mattered.  She had done what must be done, and now she could rest.  Her eyes closed.  Her body fell.  She didn’t hear her companions as they raced toward her calling her name.  Darkness fell.

 

Chapter Text

She hadn’t really expected it would come to this. Hawke gripped edge of the roof and stared across the darkness in the general direction of Fenris’ mansion. She’d thought that time and patience were the key in this instance, so she had waited, and waited, and waited. The nights had become a torment of needs ignored and aching emptiness, and she would not be able to bear it much longer. There were plenty of men, and not a few women, who would have been happy to be bed warmers to the Champion. There were some few whom she thought she might someday come to love, after a fashion, if she sent him away. Yet she did not send him from her side. Varric had asked her about it once, why she allowed him to stay when it tormented her, kept her from moving on. She had said that it was out of concern for him, but that was more than half a lie and Varric knew it, though he didn’t press. The real answer was that she wasn’t sure she could bear to send him away, not and really be alive anymore after he was gone. She smiled a little at the thought of Varric. Of all her companions he was her closest friend, he was the one who looked at her and saw.
She didn’t really want to take this particular step, it was a risky move, too many variables to set up proper odds. It would be almost guaranteed to work in the short term, but the shockwaves could be a problem down the road. Risks, rewards, she thought with a hollow smile, remembering Bartrand in the Hightown market before they set out for the deep roads. Look at how well that had turned out. She sighed, planting her hands on her thighs to push herself up and out of the crouch she had been perched in. It was moments to slip and jump across adjoining roofs to reach a trellis that would allow her easy access to the street. What must be done would be done, and let the fires burn themselves out later. She headed for the Hanged Man. Isabella would be the place to start. When one needed a partner in crime a Pirate Queen was an excellent choice.

 

Inside the Hanged Man, half an hour later

Isabella was bored. Everyone had been busy this evening, so she was left to drink alone. She was considering taking that annoying effete man who fancied himself a poet upstairs to pass the time when Hawke walked through the door. She was alone, so it probably wasn’t about a job. It was two days til the weekly Wicked Grace game so it wasn’t that either. Hawke’s eyes took in the room quickly, and then made way toward her through the crush.
“Brandy for my friend and I,” Isabella said as Norah walked by, and nodded in the direction of Hawke. The barmaid bobbed her head and promised she’d be back, skirts swishing as she side stepped a handsy dock worker, loaded down with mugs.
“Evening Belle,” Hawke murmured, and slipped into the seat next to her, backs to the wall.
“Ah, Hawke. And to what do I owe the pleasure?” Isabella replied, sliding a bit further down in her chair and crossing one long, lean thigh over the other. Hawke looked at her, and then down again, opened her mouth and then shut it without answering. Their drinks arrived and Isabella thanked the barmaid absently, her eyes on their “illustrious” leader.
Some minutes passed, and Hawke said nothing. It looked like there was some heated internal argument going on in there. Belle was intrigued. She hadn’t ever seen Hawke indecisive. Hadn’t even been sure she was capable of such a thing. “Hawke?” she asked again, unable to stand it. Curiosity killed the cat….
Hawke sighed, one of the voices in her head apparently having delivered the coup de grace to its’ rivals. “I have a favor to ask you Belle.” She sipped her brandy, fixing her clear gray eyes on the pirate.
“I take it this isn’t some kind of job, or you just would have presented it to me without all the…” she waved her hands, “dramatics.”
“No, not a job.” Hawke took a deep gulp of the brandy. “This one is a personal matter.” There was a pause. “It’s to do with Fenris.” Isabella’s eyes widened and she choked on the brandy she was sipping. It burned her throat and she coughed.
“What?” she gasped out between spasms. Hawke never spoke of her love interests. To anyone. Ever.
“Here’s the thing.” Hawke said, and leaned a bit closer, but Norah appeared to refresh her glass. She allowed this, and it gave Isabella time to get her lungs back under control. Hawke didn’t normally drink so fast, and Isabella was a bit wary of the pink flush that was highlighting those superb cheekbones. An intoxicated Hawke could sometimes be a very, very dangerous one.
“Here’s the thing,” Hawke repeated. “As you all somehow miraculously know, we had that one night together years ago.” Isabella murmured an assent, still somewhat in shock that Hawke was apparently going to volunteer information. She desperately wanted to go find Varric and drag him down here. He was not going to believe her in the morning. “And then he walked out. He didn’t leave but he walked out and ever since we just dance around it. And I wait and I pine for that damned fucked up Elf to decide if he’s ever going to come back and I just can’t fucking take it anymore.” The last words were harsh, and there was bitterness in them.
Her mouth was open. Isabella shut it immediately and considered her friend, trying to decide what the hell she should say. “Um, good for you?” she ventured. She didn’t really believe in the whole idea of pining on general principle, but she wasn’t sure what the hell Hawke was intending here.
Hawke’s smile was wry, and she glanced sidelong at the pirate. “I intend to do something rash.”
“Is it me?” Isabella asked hopefully.
Hawke had finished half her drink again and she laughed softly at the teasing. “I should have run off with you after mother died you know. When you offered to steal that ship and sail away.” She reached over and tucked a stray hair behind Isabella’s ear. Non-plussed Isabella just looked at her friend, and the tenderness in her eyes that faded until she was once again nothing but a blank wall, a mirror for Isabella’s own eyes to reflect from. “I mean to break him.” Hawke downed the rest of the cup. “If not all of us. I have a plan.”
Isabella’s eyebrow arched. I mean to break him. The words played in her ears over and over. Or all of us. “Hawke…” she started.
But Hawke shook her head, cutting her off. “I need you Isabella. I will need everyone to some extent but you I need the most. Without you this isn’t going to work.” She fixed her gaze on the pirate and Isabella could see the madness that simmered in her, part of what made her burn so bright. Still she hesitated. Hawke frightened her a little sometimes, and the rapid beating of her heart told her this was going to be risky. She wanted to deflect, to say something amusing and try to sideline Hawke until she could get some backup here, but Hawke reached out one hand and grabbed Belle’s, whispered, “Please.”
“Phh, now that’s just not fair,” Isabella complained, tossing her head, golden jewelry flashing in the light. She was smiling despite her foreboding. It was too sweet to have the Champion coming to her with deference, with affection not to say yes. She would burn down all of Kirkwall without a thought, and figure out how to get out of it in the morning if that’s what Hawke needed. It had been a long time since she had had someone stand by her, and Hawke had never before asked for the favor to be returned. “Of course I’m going to help you Ducky. Thought it would help if you wouldn’t make me feel like we’re about to do something terrifying.”
Hawke’s grin was feral, and there was no mirth in her eyes. Isabella’s stomach flipped, and she couldn’t decide whether the terror or the incessant undercurrent of desire to get Hawke into bed that was the cause. “We had better order about three bottles of this brandy and go up to your room. This is going to take awhile.” A voice in the back of Isabella’s head moaned. Apparently it was the desire, she thought, unsurprised. It wasn’t an invitation for more than conversation she was sure, but the words had been delicious.
“I, and my private room, are at your disposal Hawke.”

 

Once Isabella was on board, things fell into place without too much effort. Merrill had agreed to help without even a pause to find out what she was agreeing too. When she found out she had blushed so hard she had looked sunburned. Merrill was unfazed in her willingness to participate though. If anything the idea of something “dirty” to take part in only made her more eager. Hawke had been rather more careful with the men. Anders had feelings for her she knew, and of course Sebastian was not usually inclined to their antics. She left out some details with each of them. It was as good as a lie in her opinion, and she would have to pay for it later, but she was not unaccustomed to making choices and then enduring the fall out. She would sacrifice them all for this chance, and not lose a minutes’ sleep.
She did send a silent thanks to the Maker that Varric had always remained aloof and uninterested in her, romantically speaking, because she wasn’t sure she would have carried out her plans if it had been otherwise. Varric wouldn’t be a player in this game, but she would have to discuss it with him, because he had the venue. So about a week after she first brought it up to Isabella, she once again found herself in the Hanged Man, in search of one Trusty Dwarf. The Merchant Prince was holding court in the back right hand corner of the room, a rapt audience staring as he declaimed.
“And then she said…..” he trailed off as he saw Hawke moving through the crowd towards him, “we’ll just finish this later hmm?” he said waving his arms to dismiss his admiring throng. There might have been a protest, but most of the rest of the table had followed his eyes and seen her as well. They drifted off to other parts of the room with good humor.
“Hello Varric,” she said, sliding into the seat next to him. Varric eyed her. “Shall a buy you a pint?” she asked, hoping to win some early points.
“I’ve been hearing things,” he said, “secret meetings, whispering between Rivaini and Daisy.” He signaled Norah for drinks. “You are making plans without me. I am wounded!” he placed a hand against his heart in illustration.
“I expect your luscious chest hair will mitigate the damage,” she answered, taking her drink from Norah’s tray. He laughed and took his own.
“In all seriousness Hawke, it’s simply killing me not to know. What the hell are you planning?” She glanced around the room then gave a meaningful jerk of her head towards the stairs.
“After you,” he said, gracious. He followed her upstairs to his suite, and set Bianca in her accustomed place next to his high-backed chair.
“I need to borrow your tavern.” She was looking at him, eyes wheedling.
“Excuse me? My tavern? What on the Maker’s earth could you mean to do with my tavern?” he was a bit alarmed. Hawke was a mage who was not always kind to buildings.
“Perform a miracle. Or if it goes less well than planned, at least a spectacle….” Her eyes slide sideways. “I am reasonably sure no harm will come to your precious building.” His incredulous eyebrows were not giving her confidence. She sighed and threw the bait, “at the very least, I think I have something in mind that will make a story of legendary proportions for those that attend this little soiree.”
That had his attention. Hawke was not one to draw the spotlight on herself on purpose. Accidental fame was much more her style. “Can I get any details before I sign over my second most prized possession for the evening?” he inquired sweetly, not noticing that he reached out his hand to stroke Bianca with one fingertip.
“Music, dancing, skimpy outfits, implied sex, a light show….” She waved her hands, negligent. He was floored. She sighed again and confessed, “it’s for Fenris.” He had figured that out of course, but now that she’d said it aloud he was trapped. He drained his drink.
“I’m going to regret this aren’t I?”
“Famous last words,” she agreed, and downed her own.

 

Varric was delighted, and he used that term loosely, to discover that no only did he have the honor of hosting whatever crazy thing Hawke was planning but that he was also to be in charge of ensuring a certain tattooed Elf was in attendance. He grumped a little, on principle, then marched his way to Hightown just after noon on the day in question. He had been passing out fliers for a week after they finally nailed down a night that everyone could agree on, and he wondered that the elf hadn’t heard something and brought it up already. Averline and Donnic had agreed to arrive early in the night, before the sun went down with a small group of off duty guards and that gave him a small amount of peace. Hawke had been less than forthcoming with the details about just what this “show” was supposed to be about and his nerves were rather frayed. Even Isabella was tight lipped, and that scared the pants off him.
He banged on the Elf’s door. As per usual there was no response. He opened it and walked in. As he proceeded up the staircase toward the room the elf lived in he stomped his feet against the marble, trying to make as much noise as he could. It was never wise to arrive unnoticed. Fenris tended to kill first and ask questions perhaps eventually one day if someone made him. “Broody?” he called out from the landing. “It’s Varric, I’m coming in.”
Fenris was sitting on a mat to the side of the fire, great sword in hand. He ran a whetstone along the edge and nodded his head at one of the chairs near him. Varric took the indicated chair. Fenris seemed calm, that gave Varric some hope that this wasn’t going to be a bitch to make work.
“Have you been out much lately?” Varric asked, hoping he could get the elf to bring up the subject himself.
“No,” he shook his head, hair falling over one eye. “Hawke has been… busy of late. I assumed it was a job that she didn’t think I was good fit for.”
“You didn’t come to Wicked Grace last week,” Varric admonished.
“I need to eat occasionally Dwarf, and between you and the pirate I would be fleeced of everything if I came for every game.” It was a joke, an obvious deflection. Both of them were well aware that he won more than he lost against both rogues.
“Well. Be that as it may, I need you to come down to Lowtown tonight. There’s a thing.” He was reluctant to use the descriptors that Hawke had used when trying to convince him to lend her the tavern. He didn’t think that things like skimpy clothes and implied sex were going to win him any points with the elf, particularly because Hawke was involved.
“A thing?” Fenris did not seem in the least convinced.
Varric bit the inside of his cheek. Hmm. “Hawke is going to dance,” is what he finally came out with.
“What?” his shock was understandable. Hawke wasn’t really what one would think of as the dancing type. Not so much that she lacked the grace for it, but that it didn’t have enough dead bodies to hold her attention.
“She and Rivaini cooked up some dance routine and she’s performing at the Hanged Man tonight and we’re all going to be there to support her insanity.” He said, nodding. It was not far from the truth. It seemed like 90% of the time supporting Hawke’s insanity was the thread that bound all their strange little family together. Fenris was quiet. The silence stretched.
“I need you to tell me you are coming Fenris,” Varric pushed.
His lip curled upwards into a snarl. “Fine,” he replied, without warmth. Thinking of her dancing with the pirate did not seem like a good way to spend the evening. And if they had been dancing, just what else exactly were they doing?
“I’ll be back to get you at seven bells.” Varric got up and ambled out of the decaying mansion. Fenris did not move. Dice are cast he thought, closing the front door behind him, Maker keep an eye on us tonight.

 

The room was crowded to bursting. Near the stairs, in the back corner the tables had been cleared away to make a dancing area, and couples skipped and kicked and swayed together to the music from the live band. The noise was painful to his sensitive elven ears. He glowered. He would have left time and again but Averline and Varric just kept pressing him back into his seat and handing him another mug. It was almost midnight. Varric had been making periodic reminders to the crowd that the Champion of Kirkwall had planned a special surprise for them all at the stroke of twelve, and excited speculation was rampant. Most of the others were missing, and at first he had been irritated that they had somehow escaped having to attend, until Averline had informed him that they had been drafted as backup dancers. He sent a small prayer of thanks for small favors to the Maker, and took a sip of his drink. If he his feelings were hurt at being left out he ignored it, and instead concentrated on how grateful he was that she wasn’t about to drag him on stage in front of all these people.
The bell struck. The musicians wound down quickly, and the dancers melted back into the press. Some of the band were picking up different instruments, and a rather large, stubbled man joined them, holding a page of sheet music. Four chairs were drawn up around the edges of the dance floor, where the Champion’s companions, plus Donnic, were seated by beefy dock workers that Varric had hired as bouncers. Fenris raised an eyebrow in question at Averline as they changed to their new seats. “Apparently Rivaini’s costume is a bit…. Revealing.” She shrugged, “Varric thought if we were up front it would keep the riff raff from getting any ideas.”
Fenris had the beginnings of a colossal headache. He grabbed an unguarded mug from a nearby table and drained it, hoping like hell this would be over soon. As soon as all four were settled in their seats a prancing male elf minced his way down the stairs. “Are we ready?” he called to the crowd. There were cries of assent. He tilted his head, placing one hand behind a delicate pointed ear, “I’m sorry I didn’t hear you…. I said, are we ready?” the crowd roared back at him. His grin was huge. “Then without further ado, ladies and gentlemen of Lowtown! For your delight and pleasure, I give you your Champion…. and her companions!”
The lights went out, and the music started.

 

Five minutes before, in the upstairs of the Hanged Man
“Five minutes to curtain!!” Jethan bounced with excitement, and he gave each of them a critical once over. Isabella was preening. Merrill was terrified. Sebastian was embarrassed and terrified. Anders was furious and choking on desire as he watched Hawke inspect herself in the mirror. She smiled a brilliant flash of wicked joy as she finished adjusting her costume. She turned to them, and the force of her excitement, the wildness flashing in her eyes caught them up and pulled them along down the dark road she was following. They would follow, regardless of their reservations. The time was here and they would follow. She was breath-taking, and they were powerless to resist her molten joy.
“Does everyone remember where to stand?” she asked, more to fill the time than out of concern. They knew their parts; she had made sure of it. They nodded, the tension in the room stretching tight enough to scrape at Merrill’s nerves. Then they could hear Jethan’s voice calling to the crowd. They hustled into place just around the corner.
The lights went down. Jethan bolted up the stairs next to them, and then the friends were in turn rushing down to the floor. They ran in the darkness, under the cover of the music, to the places she had carefully assigned. Isabella struck her pose and turned her head back towards the stairs, feeling the pulse of the music beating into her. There were lights coming up in the room now. Not as many as normal but enough to turn the companions into dim statues on the stage. A single, searing spotlight lit her up, she held her breath as she counted the beats until the words started. Then Hawke’s appeared on the top step. She felt her heart stutter painfully against her ribs as Hawke’s eyes locked on to her as she stalked down the stairs.

 

When the music started Varric knew that there were not going to be enough prayers to save him from this particular mess. It pulsed. It throbbed. It was dissonant and compelling and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. As the lights came up he saw the shadowed outlines of his friends, minus Hawke. He glanced meaningfully at Averline. She gave him a weak smile but her eyes were wide and alarmed. Fenris was watching the stairs, as if he could sense Hawke up there. A spotlight bloomed and Rivaini was bathed in light. Her hair was fantastically done in little coiling braids piled on her head and held up by delicate gold chains woven everywhere through the midnight tresses. Her costume was tight and midnight blue and left little to the imagination. There was a golden belt, a cuff around her bare arm near her shoulder. She looked like the sexiest thing that had ever walked the face of the earth, Varric thought, proud and lush and hungry. And then Hawke stepped into the doorway at the top of he stairs, and he forgot to breathe.

 

The music gnashed at his control like it had actual teeth. It was painful against his ears and at the same time woke a disturbing tension low in his belly. His elven eyes could see better then the others, and he saw the dark shapes that ghosted down the stairs into spots on the dance floor. Even though some of the light was coming back and his eyes had returned to the stairs, the spotlight that hit Isabella still dazzled him. He blinked away tears of discomfort when a low, graveled voice began to sing and Hawke appeared at the top of the stairs.
She glowed with eerie light, the way things do before a lightning strike, and it backlit her silhouette while making her face perfectly visible. Her wide gray eyes were locked on Isabella and the expression on her face defied his expansive vocabulary.

 

Showtime (the words of the singer’s song in separate lines)
She swung into view at the top of the stairs. Hawke, long since the point of no return, reached deep inside and threw wide the doors to the dark thing inside she never let out. The part of her that her friends pretended wasn’t there, and that only Varric and Fenris had ever really seen let out to play. Her hair pulled away from her body a little, standing up with the light electric current that shimmered out across her skin. Her eyes locked on Isabella, and she licked her lower lip. She saw Belle’s eyes widen, darken, and the world narrowed down till she saw only the pirate Queen looking like a siren in a sea of black. She had been starving for so long, and now, now she would feast. Silent, a predator in every sense of the word, she stalked down the stairs.

Don’t be aroused, by my confession,
Unless you don’t give a good goddamn about redemption, I know

She reached Isabella’s side, could see the pulse beating wildly in her neck. She licked it, tasting her sweat and spun her into their section of the routine.

Christ is comin, and so am I
You would too if this sexy devil caught your eye

She slid her hands over Isabella’s body, controlling them both, moving them through the pattern in her mind. It had been nothing like this in the practice sessions Isabella thought. Nor had there been any music. The Pirate’s eyes had gone dazed with need and were mostly closed as she was stroked, petted, played and displayed in a seduction where nothing untoward was actually touched yet she felt pinioned with the force of Hawke’s lust.

She’ll suck you dry
And still you’ll cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again
She’ll make you weep
And moan and cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again

And then Hawke was moving alone, twirling away, locking eyes with Sebastian. The spotlight followed her, leaving Belle in shadow and blazing off his white finery, his copper hair. His mouth was a little slack, his eyes empty. She raised her arms to him, and his raised toward her, without thought. His fingers hooked like claws against her pale skin as she got close enough. Her skintight black leather cat suit was now cut in the center down to the edge of her cleavage. They had practiced, and muscle memory took over. He cut the second little thong holding her shirt together and it parted willingly to display the slopes of her breasts all the way down to the underside, but stayed in a place and didn’t flash her nipples.

(Pray)
Til I go blind
(Pray)
Cause nobody ever survives

She danced around him, writhing, sliding against him. She felt the proof of her effect on him, leather clad bottom brushing a heartbeat closer than she had intended, or attempted in practice. Her laughter was too soft to hear over the music, but he could see it on her face. He was furious suddenly, and wanted to throw her down and tear the leather from her skin, to take by force what she taunted.

Prayin to stay in her arms just until I can die a little longer
Sinners and saints, devils and heathens alike
She’ll eat you alive

Her skin was hot against his hands, and he knew he bruised her as he recognized their routine was ending, he lifted her upwards, his upper body strength making him the only one of her partners with move like this one. She lay in his hands, legs extended; exultant Queen of all she surveyed. Every eye was on them, he knew. Anger gone he bathed in the heat of her, the animal need coming off her body in waves. He felt something very much like the kind of ecstasy he got from communing with the Blessed, and his face was full of worship, adoration.

Jesus is risen, it’s no surprise
Even he would martyr his mama to ride to hell between those thighs

He brought her down, sliding against his front, dipped her backwards. His fingers were slippery with sweat. Down she went, back arched impossibly far till her hand reached the ground behind her. He let her go and backed away, shaking.

The pressure is building at the base of my spine
If I gotta sin to see her again then I’m gonna lie, lie lie

It was her own strength on display now. She kicked her legs upwards, swinging them one after another up and above her head, in a sensuous arc, then back to the floor. Now she was face down and it was easy to push off the floor with her hands and regain her feet. Sebastian was long forgotten in her mind as the spotlight widened enough to highlight Merrill. The thin, elegant body gowned in green and highlighted with silver.

She’ll make you cry
I’ll sell my soul to be back in her bosom
Gladly now please suck me dry

Merrill was the least experienced of them in this game by far, and somewhere in the back of her mind she regretted this a little bit. Some marks are hard to erase. There was nothing to be done now though, when it’s time to face the tiger not everyone will escape unscathed. Frightened, gazelle like Merrill watched as Hawke bore down on her, almost ready to flee but trapped by those memorizing gray eyes. Her heart pounded, then Hawke was behind her, hands pulling her hips back against the black leather of her body, swaying and then sliding her hands up, and up.

And still you’ll cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again

Merrill felt her little silver dagger pressed into her hand, Hawke moving and turning her til they were face to face. Merrill followed the line of pale, pale skin with the edge of the blade, past the underside of her breasts to the next little leather strap. Her hand was shaking and she slipped a little, the knife making a shallow cut in Hawke’s perfect white skin.

Pray
Til I go blind
Pray
Cause nobody ever survives

The leather was parted down to her navel, but still held miraculously closed over the tips of her breasts. Blood welled, thick and jewel bright in the spotlight, a line of it began dripping down the flat, muscled expanse of her stomach. Merrill was faint, watching her dance and the blood flow across her shimmering skin. Hawke moved her arm, touched two fingers from her long fingered and elegant hands into the line of blood, she smeared the tiniest amount across Merrill’s cheek, leaned in and licked it off with a fluid movement of her tongue.

Prayin to stay in her arms just until I can die a little longer
Sinners and saints, devils and heathens alike

Merrill was keening, trembling with a need so overwhelming her mind was beginning to shut down. Hawke pulled her into a spin and deposited her into Sebastian’s arms without a glance at either of them. She spun away, alone, towards her final partner.

She’ll eat you alive

Anders was resplendent in gold, wavy blond locks tumbling about his face. His features were harsh with self control, but his eyes burned. She stalked towards him, flesh exposed to her navel, hips rocking from side to side, fierce, proud, unbending. The urgency in the music was intensifying.

My pulse has been rising,

She threw out one arm, hand open toward him, imperious, demanding.

My temples are pounding

His hand met hers and with a jerk pulled her against him, her back against his chest. She swayed, hips rocking side to side as she shifted her weight, moving down.

The pressure is so overwhelming and building

She was coming back up now, and the need on his face was like a sickness.

So steady now, Freddy, I’m ready to blow

His hand fisted in her hair, her face was full of hunger, but her lips and eyes mocked him.

What is she, what is she

He yanked her head back against his shoulder, and looked like he would crush her mouth with his, every muscle taut. His other hand had a dagger though, like the rest, and he cut the last thong at her navel. The cat suit split further as he arched her back against him, down until it would have shown the top of her smalls, if she had been wearing any.

What is she waiting for!?!

The voice of the singer had become a hoarse roar of anger, and Anders moved his head to complete the kiss. She was torment, she was glory. With an effortless twist she was gone before his mouth could touch her, spinning away from him. His anguish bubbling through her veins like wine.

Pray
Til I go blind

She was in the center of the stage, alone, and blue white crackles of lightning ran over her body like water. She stalked forward, ignoring all her conquests, and the crowd parted before her like a living wave.
Pray
Cause nobody ever survives

Behind her the lightning formed a whipping tail. It lashed from side to side as she walked. It accentuated the movement of her hips, the roundness of her derriere.

Pray, Prayin to stay in her arms until I can die a little longer

In moments she was at the front door. She turned and pointed to the stage.

Sinners and saints, devils and heathens alike

At each descriptor a separate spotlight highlighted each of her partners. They looked ravished, faces flushed, bodies still full of tension that made you ache to see them, and eyes flecked with despair.

She’ll eat you alive

The eyes of the audience swiveled back toward the front door, but the Champion was gone. Only the slow movement of the door falling closed, and then nothing. The music faded away. The quiet was complete, everyone in the room was utterly, utterly still. Ten seconds, fifteen, then a single brave soul in the back started clapping slowly, like he was drugged. Then another, and another, and the room full of drunken over-wrought lust exploded. Screaming, cheering, clapping, they pounded on tables, gesticulating wildly and calling for more ale.
Varric sat very still and simply breathed. Finally, he turned his head when Averline yelled in his ear. Dazed he looked around where her finger was pointing. The chair at the edge of the floor which Fenris had occupied was empty. He looked more closely, empty and splintered was more like it. The heavy wooden arms of the chair were gouged and broken wreckage now. Well shit, he thought. Not knowing what else to do he poured a tankard of whiskey and downed half.
“Should I go after them?” Averline was asking, a frown of worry on her face. She could imagine the jealous rage mixed with lust riding that homicidal maniac of an elf right about now.
“Are you insane?” her husband demanded at the same time as Varric said “Not if you want to see tomorrow.” He glanced at the four on the dance floor in time to see Isabella grab Merrill and Anders by the arm and drag them toward the stairs. Sebastian watched them go until they rounded the corner, expression pained. Then he turned resolutely and walked over to Varric, the Captain and her husband. “Looks like Isabella has figured out how to handle their tension,” he mused, wondering how long it would be before those three came back. Days, if he was any judge of Isabella’s habits. Sebastian arrived at his elbow and sank into a chair.
“Choir boy,” Varric said, handing over the bottle he was still holding, “you need a drink.” Sebastian looked at the bottle for a minute, then closed his hand around the neck. He hadn’t had alcohol in years, had thought never to have it again.
“Yes Varric, I do believe you’re right.” He tilted his head back, gulped and came up coughing hard, liquor burning all the way down. He prayed, and his lips twisted with a hint of bitterness, because it was indeed a prayer, that if he drank enough, and fast enough, he would forget. Her eyes, her scent, the feel of her body brushing against his erection were searing him from the inside out. “We are going to need a lot more of this,” he told Varric solemnly, his accent caressing the words.
“Can do Choir Boy, let’s all retire up to my suite and we’ll make it happen.” He sent a silent prayer toward Heaven in hope that they would all still be alive come morning. He had never met anyone as lethal as Hawke or the Elf, and now they were loose in the city in what he was sure would be the most terrifying courting game in the history of Thedas. He shuddered a little at the thought of them, death wraiths in the dark. At which point he decided to get very drunk. Very drunk indeed.

 

The night was dark, but not for him. His brands were glowing with a wash of blue-white radiance that he didn’t intend but couldn’t stop. He had been angry, and jealous, felt it building and building and burning in his chest, spreading under his skin like a snaking green fire that would consume his flesh as his hands gripped the arms of the wooden chair while she danced. His control had reminded intact, if frayed, right up until she had dropped Merrill like a rag doll which no longer pleased. Until the Abomination had touched her.
A curious paralysis had held him, watching as the mage touched her. Touched what should have been his and only his, now and forever, Amen. He had seen the dagger, the leather splitting open far enough where the Abomination’s fingertips must have been brushing the little nest of curls at the apex of her thighs. Saw the need in Its’ face, felt all the heat in the universe leave his soul when he yanked her hair back like he would take her mouth. She had evaded Its’ lips of course, the clever, lying little succubus, and her delight in Its’ anguish made his lips pull back from his teeth in a smile that would have probably caused Varric to wet his small clothes. But they were all too busy watching her saunter away. She didn’t even look at him, but he knew she felt his eye. Each step, each languid swing of her hips was a call, a challenge, a gauntlet thrown in his teeth.

Chapter Text

               She was watching for him, of course.  From the second story of one of the nearby buildings.  She had exited the Hanged Man and immediately scrambled up the crumbling façade to the perch she held.  It was a narrow ledge and the building was not sound so she had one hand above her, fingernails dug into the rotting wood of a handy window sill.  She had been watching the door she came out of, but was not overly surprised that he had spurned that choice and instead slipped out through Varric’s window.  He was not as good at climbing as she.  Going down didn’t matter as much though as his flexible body allowed him to absorb a great deal of impact.  He dropped to the ground with a soft thud, no louder than a sharp breath.  It would have been a stealthier maneuver if he hadn’t been glowing, she mused.

                She watched him as he stood motionless.  A battle for control inside her between her thinking mind and the darker animal that had owned the dance floor holding her in place.  She saw his eyes moving over the area but she had extinguished the lightening.  Her black clothes hid her well enough in the murk, plus he didn’t look up.  His hands were opening and closing deliberately, and she heard the creaks in the joints of those cruel talons.  Her battle was interrupted when his nostrils flared and he walked two or three steps forward, eyes still not settling on her yet.

                “I can smell your lightening Hawke, you will not be able to hide from me.”  His voice was low, thick and full of strangled rage.

                “And why should a Hawke hide from a mere Wolf?” she taunted, the animal in her responding to his unspoken threat.

                His eyes snapped upwards, instantly finding her in the shadows.  The moon glinted off his white hair, burnishing it to silver.  His throat worked but no words came.  His eyes burned with the green fire that had consumed his sense.  She dropped her hold from the window and dove at him before he could react.  Her hands connected with his shoulders and she used them to flip herself up and over, landing on her feet behind him.

                “Too slow,” she murmured near his ear before skipping backwards.  He turned with a roar but she was already moving away at a run.  She headed toward the stairway that led to the docks, ducking around corners.  The wind as she passed felt amazing as it dried the sweat falling between her breasts and down her body.  He followed.  It was hard to hear him over the sound of her heart and her breathing, he was so very quiet, but she didn’t need the sound or light to know he was there.  She felt his presence, his attention.  It was similar to the sensation of the bright summer sun when laying on a beach, he soaked into her skin and created heat everywhere.

                She bypassed the staircase at the last moment.  He had slowed a little, getting ready to turn and she gained three or four feet from the ruse.  It was important now, at the beginning of the chase, that she fight for every little advantage.  His legs were longer, his stamina greater.  To win this would take cunning, and that she had in spades.  Round the corner away from the Alienage where she had met him.  Then past the hovel where she and her family had been living when they reached this wretched city.  She saw the Hanged Man go by in a blur and hooked a turn into the back part of the Lowtown Market.  He almost caught her then, she felt the tip of one gauntlet touch her hair as it streamed behind her.  She leapt over the half flight of stairs, throwing one hand downward.  A cascade of ice covered the steps as she passed, and she hit the ground of the Market running.

 

                His hands were clenched in self-directed fury from missing when he had lunged for her hair.  He was as aware as she that the longer this chase went on the more things would swing to her favor.  He cursed when his foot slipped.  Running at full tilt with his attention straight ahead he had not seen her cast the spell.  He felt his foot go out from under him and used his momentum to curl into a ball and roll forward so that he wouldn’t land flat on his back.  It would take too long to recover from that, and she would be long gone.  His mind didn’t register his body’s complaint of pain from his right shoulder and left thigh.  It was a split second before his eyes found her again, the flowing streamers of her hair passing around the corner into the elevated section of the market.  Three strides and he was back up to full speed, careening after her.  He did not consider what he would do when he got hold of her, only that he would do so or die in the attempt.

               

Later neither of them would have a great deal of memory about how the chase went in those cold hours before dawn.  They stormed Hightown and proceeded to have a complicated steeple chase until reaching the Chantry.  Occasionally they yelled things at one another, or threw them, but mostly the only sound of their passing were the quick thrum of their feet on the stones.  After playing hide and seek in various Chantry rooms until half the Holy population of the city was running around in a dazed confusion of night robes, they tumbled back out onto the streets.  At one point after that they were close to his mansion, and but she didn’t turn to enter it much to his relief. 

A couple times they ran into bandits, because after all it WAS Kirkwall.  The first time it was Hawke they meant to take on, and she sheathed her body in lightening without stopping her run.  Bolts flicked outwards from her hands and hit the swords and daggers they drew, and they screamed as their hands were burnt.  Later it was Fenris thieves tried to waylay.  He never moved his eyes from the fading shadows Hawke left in her wake as he punched the chest of the leader.  He tossed the dripping organ he removed into the face of the next closest bandit and then resumed his chase.  They did not follow.

Hawke eventually grew bored with the same scenery and hiding spots and turned her attention to reaching the gates.  It was tricky, because the guards would have stopped her to ask where she was bound at this hour if she let them, and then the game would be over.  At the same time she had no desire to hurt them, Averline would be most put out if her precious guard came to harm.  She found a convenient set of hand holds in a large wooden cart that was parked by the wall, part of a merchant group that would be leaving at first light.  In moments she was on the battlements, looking behind her.  Fenris came down the street looking first left then right, searching.  She stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled, high and shrill.  His eyes found her and she laughed in triumph before dropping down the other side of the wall.  She kept limp as she fell, but the landing was still painful.  She ignored her body’s protests and was up and moving before the guards, or her Wolf could react.  Gone into the night, towards the Wounded Coast.

It was more complicated for him to get through the gate after her flaunting of the guard.  He cursed in Trevene in a constant low stream at the back of his mind even as he tried to pull himself together enough to talk to the patrol.  It was a minute, maybe less, before they recognized him as “that Elf that hangs out with the Champion,” and he was allowed to pass.  His lip was bleeding from where he’d bit it to keep from killing them for being in his way, for recognizing him only as an extension of the insane woman he was chasing into the night.  But soon he was running again, patrol forgotten as his eyes strained and searched for signs of her.  The moon lit up more here away from the high walls of the city, there was no doubt he would find her.

 

Eventually Hawke realized that soon she would be unable to run anymore.  It was almost dawn, her body ached everywhere, and her breath was a rasping saw against her throat.  She had reached a little glen with a pool fed by a spring which tumbled off a cliff face twenty feet or so high.  It was sheer, but she was very, very good at climbing.  Near the top, where the water was falling there was a small jut of stone, like a part of the cliff above had broken off and fallen into the waters below.  She perched here, gasping.  As locations went for final stands, it was not the worst she’d seen.  At least she had the high ground.  She reached out one hand into the falling water and used it to drink.  The taste was blissful on her raw throat.  She waited, breath slowly returning to normal. 

It took longer than she thought it would for him to find her there.  She had begun to doze, the rushing water singing her toward the Fade when something made her snap to attention.  Nothing in the clearing had changed.  She couldn’t hear if there was a sudden hush from the insects because of the water near her ear, but she was convinced he had found her at last.  Tired, unwilling to wait anymore she sent a bolt of energy into the grass, signaling her awareness.  He stepped out of the shadows of the trees.  He had to be tired, because his movements had slowed.  Most of the raw fury that had stamped his face seem to have seeped away in the long hunt, leaving him with his usual inscrutable mien.  He looked up at her on the perch for a minute, then at the sheer cliff face.  Then he turned and wandered over to kneel at the edge of the pool, sipping the cold water from his hand as she had done.

He turned and sat, leaving one knee up, stretching the other leg out before him.  They regarded each other in the dark that was bleeding into the pale light that comes before the sun.  She was too far away to tell what he was thinking, but that meant it was likely the same for him.  Her mind had asserted itself at some point during the last two hours and she was not sure how she wanted this to go now.  Originally there was supposed to be some serious fighting when he caught her, but she had not expected it would take so long.  They were both tired now and she was unsure if she had the energy to move, let alone fight.  The silence stretched.

He could see her on the high spar of rock, more as a silhouette than anything.  The fading moon lit up the water next to her and made her seem cast of shadow.  Little drops of spray glittered like diamonds around her head and caught in the dark froth of her hair and the black of her clothes.  He had considered going up after her.  In the end though he was too tired, or too proud, or just too confused at the relief he felt in just seeing her there instead of searching for her in the dark.  Body aching, mind returned but full of roiling emotion he didn’t understand he sat and looked at her shape and waited.  She was basically cornered, and he was a patient man.

She broke first.  Of course.  Patience did not come naturally to her the way it did to him.  She leaned forward, and then pushed off the wall with her hands.  She landed feet first in the pool, because she had not checked the depth before climbing.  It was deep though, her feet did not reach the bottom before she was kicking for the surface.  It was cold, shocking on the skin, and she wasted no time knifing her way through the water to the bank.  He was watching her, but still did not move.  She came out dripping, stumbling on legs that had gone pleasantly numb from the water.

                It was not what he had expected to happen, her jumping into the water.  He watched her swim towards him sleek as a seal in her leather.  He had stuck his hand in for a drink, he knew how cold it was.  He considered allowing the silly moppet to simply freeze to death as punishment for tonight but knew he wouldn’t.  “I will get some wood; you make a place for the fire.”  He stood up and forced himself back into the trees, body protesting with every move.  She said nothing but did as he instructed, teeth clicking a bit when she didn’t have them clenched.  He returned in a few minutes and laid a good sized stack of wood in the bare earth she had uncovered with some spell, then went back for a second load while she set to work lighting it.

                Soon the fire was burning and he watched her scoot as close as she dared.  He had nothing but his armor and clothes, and her nothing but the costume she had worn.  He cursed her in his mind even as he watched the water dripping from her hair and down her chest.  Down, and down and…. He snapped his eyes back upwards, looking at the stars.  They still did not speak, did not move, did not really acknowledge the other.  But both were acutely aware of how close they sat, and how alone and exposed they were.  Her breathing was choppy and he looked at her again.  Her lips were blue and the shaking had only gotten worse.

                “Festis bei umo canavarum woman,” he snarled.  Or he meant to snarl.  It came out sounding significantly weaker and more beaten then he intended.  She startled, looking at him with those wide gray eyes.  “Take that off and get over here.”

                She raised one perfect dark eyebrow, face unsure.  He ignored her and started shedding armor.  Gauntlets first, then breast plate and vest.  By the time he was down to his leggings she had begun to follow suit.  The wet leather was sticking to her though, and she was shaking hard.  He sighed and reached over to help her.  They fought her out of the remains of the soaked and clinging garment, and then she was naked before him.  She seemed like she would try to cover herself with her hands, but then she forced them down to her sides and stared at him with the haughty defiance of a queen.

                “The monarch look would be more convincing if you were not blue with cold everywhere,” he informed her shortly before grabbing her arm and gathering her in against his chest.  He hissed with displeasure as her skin touched him, she was like ice.  He was from a land where winter basically didn’t exist, and cold was not something he appreciated.  She laughed softly in his ear, breath hitching.  He maneuvered them toward the fire before sitting down cross legged.  He pulled her down after him and tucked her into his lap, her back against his chest.  She stretched her bare legs toward the flames while he rubbed his hands over her arms, chafing them to get the feeling back.

                Ten minutes ago he had meant to tell her he was leaving.  An hour before that, chasing her through the trees he had meant to give her a beating she would not forget.  Outside the Hanged Man he thought he might have wanted to kill her.  Now she was naked and shaking and in his arms.  Now he just wanted to feel the warmth come back into her skin while he held her.  His mind was still, as quiet and calm as the deep pool behind them.  She leaned her head back, the cold fall of hair on his shoulder somehow even more shocking than her skin had been.  He hissed a little between his teeth but did not pull away.  They sat in the stillness while the fire crackled and the sun peaked over the edge of the forest, washing the world in the pale pastels of dawn.  He felt her head turn towards him, the crown of her hair tickling his jaw.

                “Fenris…” she started, voice soft.

                “No,” he answered firmly and placed one finger to her lips.  “Not now Hawke.”  He looked back to the fire.  Everything had been too much, and now that he had found this brief respite from the turmoil inside him he was not prepared to give it up just yet.  His hands stopped their rubbing as her skin warmed.  Instead he merely held her.  After a time, he felt her growing heavy in his arms and glanced down to see she was asleep.  Her hair had dried into a wild mass of curls the color of the bitterest chocolate spilling around her face and draping his shoulder.  Her dark lashes rested on the tops of her cheeks, perfect crescents of dark against the fragile skin of her eyelids.  His eyes lowered to the pale blush of her lips, which had relaxed and turned up slightly at the corners, as if her dreams were pleasant.

                Damn the woman.  It was not very wise to sit here with no armor between them and his sword resting several feet away.  The campfire was large and the pool had to be a location other people would know of.  He could not for the life of him seem to care about it very much just then though.  He sat perfectly still, a trick he had learned with hard experience, and held her as she slept.