Genres: hurt/comfort, romance, angst, tragedy
Word Count: ~47,000
FF.net link: Here, if you're interested.
Summary: Hawke is captured and branded in a failed Rite of Tranquility, but the longer she is forced to hide the truth the harder it is to find.
Dawn breaks grey and cool, less a sunrise than a paling sky that stretches from horizon to horizon with heavy and unbroken clouds. A thin, damp mist seeps through the trees, washing away the colors of the bark and the earth and the leaves until all the wood is left fog-wreathed and muffled, the distant trees vanishing into white, indistinct shapes, their skyward-reaching branches stretched, like hopeless penitents, towards the hidden sun.
Hawke wakes early, smoothly and in silence, as if a hand has brushed across her shoulder or a well-loved voice has softly called her name. Teeth's arm is draped over her waist; she lifts it away and sits up, brushing her dark hair out of her eyes, and then she stands and stretches and sees the ash-grey mist that surrounds the camp, as smooth and soft as smoke. It ought to be bleak; she finds it peaceful. A reflection of herself.
She is the first one awake. Even Delia is curled in sleep, her yellow hair tightly braided and draped over her shoulder, and Carn lies on his back with one arm thrown over his eyes; there is no guard set, but she has not needed one in days. She thinks, perhaps, she will go back to the lake. She would like to see it in this grey dawn-light, to watch the gentle mist rolling soft and slow over the still water's mirrored surface.
Maybe the thrush will sing again.
A quiet breeze tugs at the tips of her fingers, at the loose-falling ends of her hair, drawing her with soundless laughter towards the lake. She yields to it, treading lightly in the hushed white world she has found herself in, the worn leather toes of her boots pressing into the springy pine needles of the forest floor without a noise. She passes through the outer edge of the camp, wraithlike; the trees float by her like ship-masts on the white waters of the sea, effortless, and silent, and without number.
Then a hand reaches out over her mouth, and strong arms pull her into the lee side of a thick-boled grey oak.
She thinks at first that it is Teeth, come to finish what he began; then she sees the pale steel gauntlets, and the sweet-humming lyrium that traces the lines of tanned fingers curved gently over her mouth, and when she lifts her head it is not dark blue eyes that she sees but green, green as moss, as the sunlit haze that filters through the forest leaves at noon, and hair as white as bone.
She says, "Fenris."
His face is turned away from her, pressed back against the bark of the tree as he watches for pursuit from the silent camp—but she feels a tremor ripple through his fingers on her mouth, and on her arm where his other hand rests, and his breath catches against her back. A long moment passes, silently, and then like the slow rising of light over shadowed earth, he turns his eyes to hers.
"Hawke," he says, his voice low and glad and rougher than she remembers, and then he kisses her.
His mouth is gentle, and warm, and familiar like the murmur of a dream on waking. His callused fingers cup her cheek with care, slide up the arch of her spine to twist her body until she faces him, until he can bend his head and pull her fully against the armored curve of his chest. He draws back, feathers his thumb over her lips, then tugs her forward again into a desperate, aching embrace and buries his face in her neck. His lips move against the marked skin there in soundless litany, whispering words in a language she does not understand, and his heart drums hard and quick in her ears like hail on river rocks. Her own is slower, and more steady, telling her with each beat that she is empty, empty, empty.
Fenris is here, and she feels nothing.
Too late she realizes she should have embraced him. Her hands half-rise from her sides, her fingers brushing against the leather of his jerkin—but he is already drawing back, smiling, his eyes bright with some grave and inexpressible gladness. "You worried me," he murmurs, and kisses her again.
"Thank you," she says, and then, "I apologize."
For the first time his smile slips; for the first time the familiar furrow in his eyebrows appears. He says, "Hawke? Is something wrong? Are you hurt?"
Hawke pauses before she answers. Her own reactions disquiet her in the way that a disordered room would disquiet her: unsettling her mind with the sense that how things are is not how they should be. She does not wish to distress Fenris, but neither can she lie to him—and in the end his eyes flick up, suddenly, to her forehead, and her wishes do not matter at all.
Fenris lifts his hand and traces his fingers in a straight, gentle line across her brow, drawing her dark hair aside like a curtain to lay bare the scarred and branded sun.
Then he says, quietly, in a voice that is not a voice but a brittle gasp, "Hawke, no."
"I apologize," she says for a different reason, and the white mist curls around their feet like smoke. "It does not hurt."
"No," he says again, his smile gone, his glad eyes gone, his voice a broken thing that does not carry through the fog. "No. Hawke. No." His hands grip her face, her arms, her hands, lost; his eyes dart from her eyes to the brand and back again like a ship without an anchor, as if his desperation alone might vanish the sunburst from her skin and make her whole again. "Hawke," he breathes, raggedly, and then his eyes fix themselves on the marks on her neck.
"Teeth," Hawke says in distant explanation, and Fenris sags against the grey bark behind him.
It is as if he has aged ten years in the space between one breath and the next. The lines grow deep around his mouth, between his eyebrows, across his forehead; his eyes go suddenly so flat they might have never smiled at all. His hands loosen around hers and his head drops forward—and then he stills like a hunted wolf and, very gently, touches one steel-tipped finger to the place on her thumb where the nail used to be.
"I resisted," Hawke tells him. His hair falls soft and white over his face; she cannot see his expression. "Delia tore them off with an arrowhead."
He takes both her hands in his, brushes his thumbs over her scarred knuckles, brings them to his forehead in mute and grieving apology. Lyrium-light races through his tattoos in wild, uneven bursts, rippling frissons of blue-silver light chasing over her skin and his. His fingers tremble so violently he nearly cannot keep his hold.
Hawke does not know how long they stand like that, quiet in the lee of the grey oak, or how long she waits for Fenris's shuddering sorrow to ease. She only knows that she is hollow, as pale in heart as the mist that ghosts around them, empty as the breeze and with just as little life.
She thinks perhaps the lake would have been better, after all.
"Lovers done already?" says Varric, behind her, his voice soft but amused. Fenris flinches back, his head turning away as if the words are too bright, and Hawke looks back in time to see Varric's smile die. Isabela emerges from a swirl of white fog behind him with a grin, a dagger spinning around one finger casually—and she, too, stops mid-step, arrested by the anguish in Fenris's face and the sun that burns without light.
"Hey, Hawke," says Isabela, almost steadily. Her knuckles go white around the dagger's hilt. "That's new, isn't it?"
"Yes," she says, and Fenris's fingers drop away from hers.
"Fenris—" starts Varric, one gloved hand half-lifted towards the two of them—and then, faintly, from the Black Hoods' camp behind them, Hawke hears Teeth's voice call her name: "Marian!"
Isabela and Varric look to her, their hands going for their weapons. Marian! drifts again through the mists, louder and more alarmed; Fenris sags lower against the tree, his fists clenched in steel fury until the tips dig white-wood scars into the oak.
A cloud breaks above them, caught in a sudden rising breath of cool wind, and for a single heartbeat a thin, dawn-watered shaft of light spills through the grey sheets of fog to shiver like a stream across her face. She stands without moving, stone-still, stone-silent, and waits.
Fenris straightens, then, lifts his head, meets her eyes square-on and steady. One hand pulls the sword free from his back, its long blade shining grey and cool, and he says, calmly, "I will kill every one of them."
"I understand," Hawke says, because she recognizes his rage even if she does not feel it herself. Fenris steps forward, his bare toes sifting through the pine needles and leaves that spread across the forest floor, and kisses her once, fierce and hard. Then he draws back, his eyes alight with green flame, his hair washed to quicksilver in the narrow golden light, and he turns and digs his feet into the earth, springing forward like an arrow into the mist.
It curls around him in a sudden breath, and then he is gone.
Hawke is certain Fenris does not mean for her to follow him; she does all the same, quietly, when Varric and Isabela share a harried glance and chase after his vanished figure. The morning mist is beginning to burn away, the fog thinning in places like a patchwork quilt, but Fenris is swift and the trees are thick, and by the time she catches a glimpse of him again he is already stepping across the perimeter of the camp, his straight-edged sword already lifted above his head, caught in the tremulous soaring moment that is the breath before pitched battle.
Fenris's blade swings down in a silverflame arc. A man whose name she never learned cries out in terror, his sword flashing away into the dirt, and dies.
A high, sharp whistle sounds the alarm, and the fight begins.
The Black Hoods are not callow youths, but it takes precious few seconds to see that they are no match for the strength of Fenris's furious grief. The ash-blonde woman dies quickly with her snapped bow still unstrung in her hand; two more fall in quick succession to a great cleaving stroke that drops, like the hand of the Maker, on their necks. An arrow flies from nowhere towards Fenris's unprotected back—but at the last second he wheels to one side, snarling, and the arrow punches harmlessly into the dirt.
Hawke's breath does not even falter.
Isabela lets out a sudden laugh that is edged with something strong and wild, and when the silver-haired figure of Silas bursts into the camp from the trees, his greatsword already hefted at the ready, she dances forward with both daggers flaring in graceful circles around her fingers. Varric stays closer, Bianca springing hot and quick, bolt after bolt exploding into streaks of silver light that find, unerringly, eyes and throats and hearts. Another raider drops mid-step when Bianca discovers him; half the raiders dead in as many minutes and Hawke feels nothing, not pride or relief or worry. Not even shame at her own weakness.
Then, from the same hidden place as before, an arrow drives into Fenris's shoulder with a wet thud.
Fenris staggers backward, stunned, but keeps enough presence of mind to tear the heart from the swordsman at his heels. Varric spots the archer before Hawke does and lets a bolt fly; a moment later, the redheaded woman drops from the low branch of a birch tree, her bow in one loose hand and her eyes glazed over in death. A ray of sudden sunlight catches like fire in her hair, and Hawke realizes that the clouds above them are clearing at last.
"You okay, elf?" Varric shouts, but Fenris does not answer—
—because at last, in a shadow lifting free of the trees, the oak-thick shape of Carn himself emerges from the forest. He smiles faintly, patiently, like a father with errant children, but his sword is sharp and shining in the light as he makes his way towards Fenris. He carries no shield.
A man's bubbling gasp blisters the air, and across the camp Hawke sees Silas drop to his knees at Isabela's feet, his throat slit from ear to ear. She is breathing hard, one hand pressed against a bleeding slice in her thigh, but she does not falter as she kicks the greatsword away from Silas's fumbling fingers; he stares up at her in blank surprise, his white shirt soaking red, and then he slumps forward and does not move again. Isabela curls her lip and turns away.
Carn's smile disappears. "Rescue at last," he says directly to Hawke. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," she says as Fenris takes two steps sideways to place himself in Carn's line of sight.
"Ah," breathes Carn, then, his falcon eyes glittering, his bearded mouth pulling into a facsimile of a grin. "Fenris. We meet at last."
All of the muscles of Fenris's back tense at once like the rising hackles of a cat. "I do not know you."
"But I know you. A great deal about you, as it turns out. We had an…informative night, once, before you arrived." He inclines his head. "And if half the things she said are true, well. I'm impressed."
Fenris lets out a snarl of wordless fury, his hands clenching on his sword; then he reaches up and snaps off the haft of the embedded arrow a handspan from his shoulder. An inch lower and it would have glanced harmlessly off his breastplate; an inch higher and it would have flown wide. The redheaded woman had been a superb shot. His jaw clenched, tightly, Fenris says, "Let us see."
"At your leisure," says Carn, and Fenris attacks.
They meet like the crashing two mountains against each other, impossibly strong and just as impossible to evade. Carn scores first blood, and quickly; Fenris is tired and not unwounded, and the sword tears a thin red line from nose to pointed ear before he manages to jerk away. He lifts a hand to touch it, breathing hard, and leaves a scarlet smear down his cheek before refirming his grip on his sword. It reminds Hawke of Aleron's scar.
The clearing fills with the soft thuds of footfalls on earth and the bright, clear ringing of steel on steel. Carn is thicker and more broad in shoulder—but Fenris is the stronger, and the more agile, and though Carn's sword finds its mark more than once on his stomach, his calf, his throat, it soon becomes clear to all of them that Fenris will take the fight. He catches Carn in the shoulder with his sword-tip twice before Carn darts forward, slamming his head into Fenris's with bruising force and the sound of bone on bone. They trade blows like a storm-rough sea tears at a cliff, quick and fierce and without gaining or giving ground; Fenris bares his teeth and Carn grins without mirth, his lips stained red with his own blood.
Isabela stands behind them in silence, her daggers loose in her hands, and beside Hawke Varric lowers Bianca point-first to the pine needles under their feet. Fenris shifts his sword to one side and lunges—
—and when Carn tries to duck under its reach Fenris smashes his metaled fist squarely into Carn's hooked nose. His head goes back on his neck like a whipcrack—and then his boot falls wrong on a stone hidden under leaves, and—
—it is finished.
Fenris muscles forward, pressing his advantage. It takes only a shove to topple the already unbalanced raider, and in a sudden flurry of steel and grey, padded armor, Carn is flat on his back on the forest floor. Fenris drops to one knee on his chest, leaning his full weight forward until even Hawke can hear the raider's ribs creaking, and slowly, deliberately, the glow of lyrium crawls flamelike from his shoulder to his fingertips. He places the very tips of the metal claws on Carn's heaving chest, all four fingers and his thumb resting just above his heart. Carn's hands scrabble for his sword, find nothing, relax again in resignation.
"She mentioned this, too," he says, smiling through a bleeding mouth, tipping his head back to stare at the sky. "Make it quick."
Lip curling, Fenris pushes the first joints of his fingers into the man's chest. He says, "Why should I show you such mercy?"
"Because I say so," Delia says, the slender silver point of her throwing dagger resting lightly on Hawke's cheek.
Isabela curses; Varric takes one step forward and lifts his crossbow; Fenris does not move. His face is blank and unreadable, eyes dark, hand still partly phased through Carn's chest. Then, slowly, he pulls his hand free with the effort of uprooting a thorned vine from the earth, though he does not lift his knee from Carn's ribs.
"Get up," says Delia, shifting sideways so that Hawke fully covers her taller figure. A bit of yellow hair is caught in Hawke's mouth and her arm is crooked back hard against her spine; it is an unpleasant sensation, but there is little room to move without losing her left eye to Delia's dagger and that would be more unpleasant, so Hawke does not struggle when Delia's fingers squeeze her wrist in warning. They circle away from the others for safety, Hawke's uncertain feet an awkward counterpart to Delia's smooth, sure steps, and then the dagger scores a line of thin white pain down Hawke's cheek.
Fenris bares his teeth, his half-forgotten sword lifting away from the earth as he scrambles to his feet—and Delia replaces the tip of the dagger at the base of Hawke's eye, stopping him in his tracks. "I said get up," Delia tells him. "I don't like repeating myself."
A sudden burst of coughing fills the air as Carn rolls to one side, his hand pressed to his chest, but before he can make his way upright Isabela shoves one booted foot against his throat. "Don't get too excited, pet."
"Delia," chokes Carn, wrapping one hand uselessly around Isabela's ankle, and Fenris's eyes narrow to needle-thin flecks of green.
He says, "You did that to Hawke's hands."
Delia's fingers shift as if she has forgotten; then she wrenches Hawke's hand higher up her back until her face draws tight with pain. "It wasn't the first thing I did to her, and if you don't back off it won't be the—" She stops herself mid-word, her breath dancing through Hawke's hair—and then her weight leans forward, into Hawke's back, as if she has realized at last who she faces. "You're the elf," Delia breathes, and then she lets out a hard crack of laughter. "Oh, that is funny. That is really hilarious. He came for you, precious," she tells Hawke, her mouth tipped so that her lips caress Hawke's ear. "Isn't he just the bravest?"
"Fenris is—" Hawke starts, but her voice is cut off in a fluting gasp of anguish as Delia drags the knife deeper down the slice she has already made in Hawke's cheek. Varric looks like he might be ill.
"She sings really well, doesn't she?" Delia says, light and lilting. "Oh, she looks strong, but get one bit of a blade under her skin and suddenly she'll go belly-up for anybody who asks. The things she told me…"
Fenris is pale with fury. "Stop."
"Oh, come on. You can't pretend to be squeamish now. I've heard what you can do with those hands—" she pauses, and her fingers tighten on Hawke's wrist as she lets out a low, vicious snort, "and—with your tongue—and your cock—"
"Delia," groans Carn, his cropped beard thick with his blood, but Isabela grinds her heel into his neck until spittle sprays between his lips.
"Stop it," Delia snaps, her amusement gone. "Stop it—stop it—"
The knife strafes down Hawke's cheek in her distress, bumping over her jawbone and slipping into the flesh of her throat. It hurts and blood begins to course hot down over her collarbone—Fenris makes a sharp, panicked noise and lunges forward but Delia's muscled arms are tense with fear, hard as granite when Hawke reaches up in fruitless effort to stop the knife, to stop the bleeding—
—and suddenly the hands are torn away from her throat, from her wrenched arm behind her, from the leather-wrapped grip of the knife which falls to the earth with a quiet thump. Hawke goes to her knees, breathless, one hand pressed hard against her neck—and behind her Delia shrieks in surprise and rage over the sounds of an unexpected scuffle. Fenris is on his knees at her side before she can even blink, his hands already bare and reaching towards her. She lifts her chin and his fingertips slide quick and light over her blood-slick skin, cool where the wound burns hot—and then he presses one palm flat against her throat and slides the other behind her head, drawing her face down again until he can rest his forehead against hers.
"Not deep," he says, his voice rough with emotion and thick with Tevinter's heavy vowels. "Not deep."
Hawke does not wish to speak with her throat opened, so instead she nods and pushes Fenris's hand out of the way to cover the gash herself. He frowns and starts to speak—and Delia drops hard to the ground behind him with a gasp. She shoves back up to her knees, panting, one arm hanging limply at her side, the other drawn back with an already-bloodied dagger held tight and poised to throw. Her yellow hair lifts in a golden, tangled cloud around her face.
Her wild eyes land on Hawke. She shrieks, "Tranquil—!"
And even as Varric's bolt pierces her throat through her open mouth, the giant brings down in a swinging arc the black-iron rod of the Tranquil brand.
The rounded edge of the unlit sun slams into Delia's skull and lodges there. She goes over like a toppled tree, the limp arm bent awkwardly beneath her and her eyebrows raised in faint surprise; her mouth closes, hollowly, around the shaft of the bolt, and one hand lifts to touch the unbleeding place where the end of the brand rests, half-hidden, in her hair. Then she closes her eyes, and Delia dies.
"Void take you, Arden," Carn says tiredly, his voice stretched thin by Isabela's boot. "Son of a whore."
The giant—Arden—says nothing. Hawke rises to her feet and looks up at him, one hand still pressed to her neck, ignoring Fenris when he steps protectively between them. A gash as long as her forearm stretches across Arden's belly like a red smile, a fatal wound on any other man—but he is not any other man, and she thinks he might have something left to live for. He bends forward slightly, holding together the seeping edges of the wound, and says to Hawke, "I should have acted sooner."
"You have saved me twice now," she tells him. "Thank you."
He glances at the mark on her forehead and down to the scarring mess of her fingernails, and then he meets her eyes and deliberately touches one hand to his throat, to the deep place where his rough voice is broken. "I should have acted sooner," he repeats, and this time Hawke understands his meaning. "You should not be silent," he adds—then, without looking once at the others, he turns on his heel and heads for the trees. None of them lifts weapon or hand to stop him, and within moments, he is gone.
"Well. That was fascinating," says Isabela after a second, and taps Carn's chin with her toe. "And what about this one?"
"Aveline wanted survivors," Varric says.
"Aveline will manage," Fenris says flatly. The clasps on his left gauntlet snap closed around his forearm like breaking branches. "Kill him."
Carn laughs until it is choked off by Isabela's boot. "I should have known," he says, and stares up at the last vanishing wisps of clouds without seeing them. "Mages."
Two steps and Fenris looms over him, his eyes hard and dangerous. "Tulisti a me aliquid preciosum," he snarls in Arcanum, and then, "Give me one reason to spare your life."
"Are you always this generous with your captives?"
"No," Fenris snaps, and nods his head towards Hawke. "But she was. Once."
Carn looks at her, then, turning his head in the pine needles of the forest floor until he can see her face clearly. His falcon eyes glitter, bright and impenetrable above his broken hooked nose, and she meets them levelly and without blinking. She knows, distantly, that she once feared him; now he is only a middle-aged man with no sword. The hand nearest her opens, his palm bared as if yielding something to her in this last moment; then he says without looking away, "The last thing she said was your name."
Fenris jerks back as if struck, then, with a rush of breath and wind, drives his lyrium-lit hand into Carn's chest. He jerks, once, when the muscles of Fenris's arm flex like corded steel, and then his eyes close and his face goes wholly slack. Isabela pulls her boot away, showing neither censure nor satisfaction, and Fenris wipes his hand clean on Carn's unbreathing chest before rising to his feet and yanking the rest of the arrow from his shoulder. He does not look at Hawke.
Hawke wonders if what Carn says is true. She does not remember those last moments well in the blurred brilliant light of the Tranquil sun. Her last thoughts had been of Fenris, she knows, although whether she'd spoken his name aloud is lost with her memories of that night—although, with only emptiness left to her now, she supposes it makes little difference.
"Come on, then," Varric says quietly. Bianca already rests at home on his back.
Isabela comes first, wrapping one arm around Hawke's waist and leaning her head, briefly, on her shoulder. Her dark hair tickles Hawke's neck and she smells of salt and clean sails and the sea, but Hawke's stone heart does not lift and she does not remember to return the embrace until Isabela is already pulling away, and by then the pirate's face is composed again. Her fingers link through Hawke's without resistance, and when she pulls Hawke allows herself to be pulled. Varric follows after, calm and unsmiling; Fenris is the last to leave, after a long and stretching second, and his bare feet make little noise as he catches up to them.
The clearing behind them is silent in death, bodies scattered across the forest floor in blood and sweat and tears, broken and unmourned. There is no flame to burn them, no pyre that can lift them to the Maker's side; instead they are left for the carrion birds and the wolves, with the dead and blackened coals of the firepit the only evidence that Black Hoods ever ate and breathed and lived in this place. The swords they leave to the mercy of the woods, surrendered to rust with the armor and the packs; the Tranquil brand they leave entangled in Delia's yellow hair. Isabela guides her east, away from the lake, and Hawke does not look back.
They pass into the trees, quietly.
Later, Hawke is the first to hear the voice.
Fenris stops when she stops, her head turned back over her shoulder to look behind them, though he is as quiet as he has been for the last half-hour. Hawke says, "Someone is calling my name."
All three of them reach for their weapons, alert and alarmed—
—and Teeth crashes through the brush with a ragged gasp. "Marian!"
Fenris moves forward like lightning, lyrium-light spilling down his arms—but Teeth reaches Hawke first, his smile too bright and too relieved, and throws his arms around her. She hears Fenris stumble to a halt in the dead leaves beneath a spreading aspen. "I thought you were dead," Hawke says when Teeth draws back, the sun flashing on his blonde hair.
"No," he says, his gaze still fixed on her face. "Thank the Maker you're all right," he adds with that white smile, too warm to be a lie, and then he leans forward and moves his hands to cup her cheeks—Isabela steps towards them, her eyes furious and her mouth open in warning—and then Teeth is yanked away and pinned against the aspen in one swift motion.
"Don't touch her," Fenris snarls, the hard edge of his gauntlet digging into the base of Teeth's throat. The raider scrabbles for purchase on smooth steel, on grey bark, and finds nothing; his feet are stretched to tiptoes, his boots barely brushing the top edge of a surfacing root. "Who are you?"
"His name is Thom," Hawke offers, still standing where Fenris left her.
Varric glances her way. "Was he one of the ones who put you under that brand?"
"No. He took me from Lowtown," Hawke says. Fenris growls and drives his gauntlet harder up under Teeth's chin. "And he gave me bandages and healing poultices when I was hurt. He kissed me," she adds as an afterthought, and Fenris's face goes black—but before he can pierce Teeth's chest with his other hand Varric has crossed to the aspen and caught Fenris's arm mid-blow.
"We need a survivor," he says, his voice level. "If you want justice for Hawke, let him live."
"Death would be justice," Fenris snarls, yanking his arm from Varric's hand. "She said it herself—he took her—and when they tortured her he did nothing—"
"I wanted to help!" Teeth manages. Thin lines of tears trace down his cheeks on either side. "I wanted to help, Maker knows—but there were too many and they'd kill me before I could do anything. I was going to run away with her tonight before we left for Cumberland in the morning—I knew they'd chase us, but I thought if I could get her to safety we might—urkk—"
"Be silent," Fenris snaps. He looks at Teeth for a long moment, his eyebrows dark angry slashes down his face; then he turns to Hawke and asks, his voice tight, "Should he live?"
Hawke understands that this is not the question he means to ask. "He was kind to me," she says in answer.
It is enough. Fenris pulls back his arm and turns away, and Teeth drops to his knees with a gasp, eyes tearing, both hands wrapped around his neck. Hawke knows his pain, thinks of the makeshift bandage wrapped around her own throat—and then Isabela is at her side, her dark hands sliding around her waist and pulling her away from the others.
"Come talk to me a second, sweet thing," she says, waving a hand over her shoulder at Varric.
"Of course," Hawke says, and follows her into the trees.
They do not go far, only enough away that they cannot be seen or overheard, deep enough that the trees press closer around them as if bearing witness to the coming secrets. Isabela crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one foot, her bright eyes grave, and she says, "Now. Hawke. Tell me everything they did to you."
"Do you mean from the beginning?"
"If that's where they started hurting you, then yes."
Hawke opens her mouth, then pauses, perplexed. "If you brought me here to spare my feelings," she says instead, "it was unnecessary."
"I didn't bring you here to spare your feelings," Isabela says, her eyes hard. "I brought you here to spare theirs, because Varric is too good and Fenris is too in love with you, and because I'm a big girl who can handle hearing the hard things when they happen to someone I care about. I know what it means to be trapped with no shore in sight, Hawke—and I am the only person here who can guarantee she won't lose it when you tell me the unadulterated truth."
Hawke says nothing. Isabela's face softens, her hands coming up to curl around Hawke's. "Sorry. I don't mean to sell them short. Their lives haven't been easy either, and I know Fenris has seen his share of suffering—but this is different, sweet girl, and as much as I like a little pain with my pleasure, you're going to be too brutal for him to bear."
"I see," says Hawke, because she does.
Isabela's thumb brushes over the place where her fingernail used to be. "Start here," she says, and Hawke begins to speak.
It takes surprisingly little time to chronicle her kidnapping and subsequent venture into the woods, even less to detail the injuries she has suffered since she vanished. It sounds almost ludicrous when she lists them out one after the other: bruised shoulder, bruised ribs, the fingernails, her tooth, her beaten knee. She tells her of the branding, too, and the white-hot sun shaped out of iron, and the pain that came with it—even the still-bleeding gash running from her cheek to her throat she includes for completeness's sake, though Isabela obviously knows of its existence.
"And that man," Isabela says when she is finished, calmly and without anger. "You said he kissed you."
"He did. The last evening I was with the Black Hoods."
"Did he do anything else?"
"He held me against a tree. He bit me and grabbed me," she touches her marked throat and her breast, though not nearly as hard as he had, "and put his hand down my trousers."
"Did he have sex with you?" The question comes more quietly than the others, though Isabela's face does not change.
"No," says Hawke, and now it does, naked relief chasing anger across her face so quickly Hawke almost cannot track it. She adds, "I think he would have if Arden had not come."
"Small favors come in big packages. Or is it the other way around?" Isabela lets out a mirthless laugh, leans back against a tree with the heel of her hand pressed to her forehead. "Shit, I don't know."
"I am not sure."
"You and me both. Shit," she says again, and then she straightens with a toss of her head. "Anything else you can think of?"
"Then let's head back, and if they ask, you leave the descriptions to me."
"All right," Hawke says.
They are in sight of the others before she realizes Isabela's hands are shaking. It lasts only a moment—and then her hands ball into fists, and before Hawke realizes her intent Isabela has crossed their tiny clearing and punched Teeth square in the jaw. He goes down hard and yelping, both hands clapped to his face.
"Okay," says Isabela, shaking the sting from her hand. "I feel better."
"Glad to hear it," Varric says, but his smile does not reach his eyes.
Fenris says nothing.
They come across a small stream at dusk. Hawke remembers it from her journey westward as clear and sweet, and they set up camp with little ceremony and less chatter. The sun falls swiftly, long-shadowed trees dipping into twilight with the silence of many years behind them, and when Varric at last coaxes a tiny fire into existence Isabela breaks out the rations, handing out dried fruit and smoked meat until their bellies are, if not full, at least eased of the gnawing press of hunger.
Teeth sits by the fire, his hands bound, his eyes lowered. He will not lift his head even to Hawke when she passes, as if he cannot bear the sight of her; Fenris sits away from the others, and away from Hawke, back propped against a tree set away from the stream until he is little more than green-sparking eyes and a smear of pale hair in the dark. He does not move when Varric digs out the bedrolls, nor when Isabela banks the fire for the night; it is not until Teeth tries to settle too close to Hawke that he rises, lean and inexorable like fire-brushed iron, to drag Teeth by his bound hands to the other side of the fire.
"Stay there," he says, his voice flat, and Teeth does not move again. His cheek is dark and bruised where Isabela struck him.
Hawke watches as Fenris moves back to the tree and sinks against it, his arms crossed over his stomach and both legs stretched out in front of him. His head dips towards his chest until his white hair falls over his eyes; when he says nothing, and when Isabela and Varric say nothing, Hawke lies down and closes her eyes. She sleeps quickly, and as she has come to do, she does not dream.
She wakes shortly after midnight.
A twig had snapped, somewhere—she supposes, at least, since there is little stirring save the crickets and a lacewing-breath of wind—and then she sees Fenris, standing with his back to her at the edge of the whispering stream. His head is bent in the darkness, his shoulders bowed as if under some unbearable weight, and even as she watches he lifts one hand to his face, the hand with a scrap of scarlet fabric tied around the wrist, and covers his eyes in a despair so potent that she can almost feel the echo of it in the stone inside her chest. He does not move after that.
She thinks, suddenly, that she ought to tell him that the brand has not worked. Or had not, at least, in the beginning—she checks herself, searches the corners of her heart for anything left but the dull, hard surface of rock—but she is as dry as scorched bone, blackened into the soft nothingness of soot, and there is no voice left inside her to sing now that she does not care to be silent. The lake is only a memory; the first exultant rush after the branding is less than a dream. There is no magic in her now, no joy—and no fear, and no sorrow, and no love; so many days she has spent fighting them back that now they cannot come when she calls.
Hawke had been Tranquil since the moment the brand touched her skin, she realizes. It simply took a week to sink in.
Hawke pushes her thin blanket aside, rises to her feet. She cared for Fenris, once, she knows she did, and he went through a great deal to save her—surely she can at least thank him for that kindness. But somehow, in the dozen steps between her bedroll and the edge of the stream the words slip away from her mind, and when Fenris's head comes up sharply at her approach she does little more than meet his eyes and join him at the stream's side.
"Hawke," he says, and for only a moment his lips try to curve into a smile. "Are you having trouble sleeping?"
"No," she says honestly. "I sleep well now."
What lingers of his smile vanishes. "Of course."
He falls silent and so does Hawke, both of them looking out over the clear-shivering water of the stream, at the spatter of stars that flicker fire-like across the ripples. Her mind is empty for several minutes, peaceful and black, and then Fenris casts an oblique glance at her out of the corner of his eye. Hawke catches it, turns to look at him. "Yes?"
"All right," says Hawke.
Fenris hesitates, clearly unsettled by her easy yielding, and then he says, "What did Isabela say to you this afternoon?"
"She asked me to tell her everything that happened to me since I was taken from Lowtown. She said I would be too brutal for you."
His eyes open wide and wounded, and then they narrow as he flicks a glare back towards the shape curled by the dead fire. "She seems to have taken it well enough."
"Isabela is not asleep," Hawke tells him, because she isn't.
"I know," Fenris says, and turns back to the stream. "Neither is the dwarf."
"She said I should not tell you because we were lovers."
Fenris's breath half-catches in his throat, his chest hollowed out as if some terrible blow has crushed it. His head turns away, and then he says, so quietly she almost does not hear it, "Were."
"Oh," says Hawke. She pauses for a moment, considering, and then offers, "If you would prefer it, we may continue to be lovers when we have returned to Kirkwall."
He jerks back towards her, his face made pale by starlight. "What?"
"It would not be difficult to find evenings convenient for the both of us. I remember that your touch is not unpleasant; if you are amenable to the idea, I will have Orana arrange a time—"
"Stop," Fenris says, sharp and anguished. "Hawke. Stop." He catches her face in his hands, his callused thumbs pressed to her cheekbones. From here she can see the thin line of scab-dark blood that stretches from his nose to the base of his pointed ear.
She says, "You are not amenable."
"No, Hawke," he murmurs, and drops his forehead against her own. "I am not."
This makes sense, she decides. He does not wish to bed a Tranquil. A rustling breaks the silence as Teeth rolls over by the fire and draws his knees to his chest, the only one of their party truly asleep; then a branch rustles overhead as an owl lifts away, silent and spread-winged, into the dark.
Fenris's hands slide lower, to her throat and the makeshift bandage over it. "Does it hurt?"
"It aches. It feels hot."
He peels away the edge of the cloth until he can touch the slice left by Delia's knife. "It is not infected."
His eyes close briefly, as if she has hurt him, and then he opens them again as he smoothes the bandage back into place. His fingers drift over the marks left by teeth and tongue, the bruises from Delia's displeasure, the tips of her fingers. The nails are growing back, she notices, thin and uneven crescents of white peeping out from the inflamed skin as if afraid of the world that waits. The flesh left behind has grown harder than she expects, as if trying to become fingernails of its own; instead it is only red and bumpy, thick like a scar is thick, and unpleasant both to look at and to touch.
Fenris touches them anyway. Then he says, quietly, "It is my fault you were taken."
Hawke shakes her head. "You are mistaken."
"I refused to come with you to the mage's clinic. This would not have happened if I had not let you go alone."
"If the Black Hoods had not found me, it would not have happened either. You take too much responsibility for something you could not control."
"It was my lack of control that led to this. Hawke—" he moves his hands to her arms, his eyes searching hers for something she does not have to give, and his voice drops to something low and desperate. "Do you feel nothing?"
She does not wish to give him the answer because it will hurt him, and she would prefer not to be brutal; all the same, she cannot lie to him. "I am empty," she says. "I apologize."
His mouth quirks, then, in the way of someone smiling to keep the grief at bay. "There is no need."
"I have made you unhappy."
"Not you, Hawke," he says, and when she looks up without understanding he gathers her into his arms, carefully, as if to keep her from breaking. He holds her like that a long time, his breath stirring her hair and his heart thumping out a rhythm hers cannot follow, and then he pulls away. "Go to sleep," he says without looking at her, and she goes.
The last thing she sees before she falls asleep is Fenris's fists clenched at his side as he stands bone-stiff by the stream, the shining metal of his gauntlets unbroken in the moonlight save by a thin red strip of cloth.