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.
The edge of the Planasene Forest is less than a day's travel eastward when Isabela looks to one side. "We're close."
"Close to what?" asks Teeth, picking a leaf from his hair with his bound hands.
Fenris scowls and says nothing; Varric glances at Hawke. "Aveline stayed back with Anders and Merrill," he says. "We weren't sure what they wanted with mages, between you and the boy. I guess we know now."
"The boy?" says Hawke, and a black-haired blur cannons into her chest so hard she is almost knocked from her feet.
"You're alive!" Aleron cries, the shortened ends of his black hair swinging loose at his jaw. He throws back his head and laughs, barely noticing in his delight when Fenris pulls him away from Hawke by the scruff of his neck. "I knew it! I knew it!"
"Aleron," Hawke says, and over his shoulder she sees Merrill, and Anders and Aveline as well, all hurrying towards her with broad smiles and, in Merrill's case, happy tears. Merrill reaches her first and her hug is almost as enthusiastic as Aleron's; Aveline follows, her embrace harder but no less sincere; and Anders comes last, as genuinely pleased and relieved as she has seen him in a year. It is a pity, she thinks, that it will not last long—even as he pulls away, his eyebrows are drawn together, his smile less spreading and bright, his happiness sapped by the somber faces arrayed behind her.
He says, "Hawke?"
Varric steps forward, opens one hand in explanation. "Blondie—" he starts, gently—and then Fenris sucks in a sudden hissing breath, his eyes wide when they all look at him.
He takes two long strides towards Anders and fists one hand in his collar. "You can bring her back," he says, and breathes not in accusation but in epiphany: "Abomination."
"What?" says Anders, his eyes hard and narrowed, one hand wrapped around Fenris's metal wrist.
"You can bring her back." His words trip over each other, too hurried and hope-starved for sense. "She—I saw you, in the Chantry, years ago—with that man. That mage. You brought him back—you brought him back. You can do that for Hawke."
The color begins to drain from Anders' face as he leans back, head turned, as if he has glimpsed a truth too terrible to face full-on. "What are you talking about?"
"They made her Tranquil," says Varric, his voice gentle, and the wind lifts Hawke's hair away from the branded sun.
Anders sags in Fenris's grip for only an instant—and then his slack mouth opens and his eyes light a brilliant blue and a voice that is not his voice but Vengeance says, "I will slay the ones who did this."
Teeth lets out a startled oath and Fenris staggers back, releasing Anders' robe, his eyes going from the mage's Fade-fissured skin to Hawke in painful eagerness. She can see Aveline standing behind him, pale enough to turn her freckles dark, one hand unmoving on her sword; Merrill's tear-tracks are frozen on her face.
Anders steps closer. His hands come up empty and crackling with magic, sheer power leaping between his fingertips in acrid sparks of lightning, so steeped in pure Fade that the pine needles blister under his feet, that Fenris's lyrium catches with sporadic flickers of light like struck flint.
"Champion," he says in the low rumble of distant thunder.
"Justice," says Hawke.
She feels nothing.
There is no Fade in her, no wild clear leaping song to snare her heart and open her magic, no twist of gold light to blaze the fire in her fingertips. She is safe and small and hidden in the smooth polished walls of her river-stone heart, curled and sleeping behind silence so thick that Justice's call recoils like rain on glass, sliding away quick and clean and without resistance. He calls again and the song dies sooner, a wave breaking on the wind to leave nothing behind but breeze-whipped froth and the swift glancing of sunlight off the sea.
The Fade sings; she does not answer. Justice brings her light; she tucks her head into her shoulder in the stone, like a bird in the grip of a storm, and waits for it to pass.
"Champion," says Justice, confused and angry. "Where are you?"
Hawke lifts her chin, the sun-scar on her forehead bare and blazing. "I am empty," she tells him in both apology and explanation.
"You do not answer."
"I have no answer to offer," she says, her voice calm and final in the way that an iron door slamming shut is final. She cannot change her heart; she cannot speak through stone, either.
The light fades; the cracks in Anders' skin close over, the hot pressure of the Fade easing away from the clearing as Justice pulls back into himself to leave Anders only, gasping, gulping sobs down like air. He stumbles back a pace, and then two—and Fenris grasps him by both shoulders.
"Mage," he says, the lines of fury and despair deep on his face. "Mage. Don't stop. Bring her back—bring back the spirit—Justice—"
"There's nothing," Anders gasps, his arms locked around Fenris's like desperate anchors, his head bent between them like he might crack in two if he tried to lift it. "There's—nothing. She's gone. Like Karl. Oh, Maker—let go—"
He yanks away from Fenris, both hands pressed hard over his face; three steps and he disappears into the trees and a moment later, they hear the thick-dead thump of knees on earth and the low, muffled cry of unchained sorrow. Fenris turns away, the muscles of his clenched jaw jumping; Isabela exchanges a glance with Varric and follows after Anders, her steps light and silent on the forest floor, and the trees swallow her without a sound.
The two of them do not return until hours later, well after Aleron has sparked the fire and Varric has found the rations. The camp is as quiet as Hawke has become accustomed to: Fenris across the fire and alone, Teeth slumped against the base of a tree in sleep, Aleron sitting at her feet with his face buried in his arms. Aveline tries a few conversations with Hawke, the only one who does, but her responses do not encourage their once-easy friendship and when Aveline gives up at last, her hair lit copper in the little glow of the fire, Hawke catches the sheen of standing tears in her eyes. She regrets that, in the way she regrets hurting Fenris, but she cannot be anything other than what she has become, and she thinks that the sooner they are back to Kirkwall, and the sooner that her friends may be free of their stone burden, the better.
Then Merrill comes to her side, her slim hands cupped in front of her and her face calm and ungrieving. She says, "I wanted to give you this as a welcome-home present. It doesn't feel quite right, now, to celebrate like that, but—here." Her fingers unfurl, and Hawke sees a delicate, carefully-woven bracelet resting on her palms. The stems are thin-bladed grass, green and waxy; tiny white flowers peek through at regular intervals, enfolded in elegant curves of dark, bent bark laced through with silver wire. "I made it for you," she says. "So you should have it."
"Thank you," says Hawke, holding out her hand. The bracelet makes a sharp contrast with her rough and blade-scarred hands; still, she slips it on and Merrill smiles to see it on her wrist, and she supposes that is enough.
Then a twig cracks at the edge of the camp, and they look up to see Anders emerging from the dusk-thick shadows and Isabela close at his shoulder. His face is steady and composed, if pale; he crosses to Hawke without hesitation and kneels in front of her, both hands lifting to settle carefully on her wrists. "You're wounded," he says, and his voice does not waver. "I should have taken care of that earlier."
"You were distressed," Hawke says. "I understood."
"No excuses for a poor healer," says Anders, and then his magic washes over her in a clean, cool burst of blue light.
It has always fascinated Hawke, the difference between Anders' healing and hers: she was good, she knows, serviceable in the broad, blunt way that a hammer is serviceable—but Anders is a natural, potent and piercing, and in a matter of moments the long-standing aches in her ribs and her shoulder vanish completely, the taste of blood in her mouth swallowed at last, the knife-edged throb in her forehead and her fingertips and her cheek easing to a mere breath of pain—and then an twinge—and then nothing.
Anders leans back and rests his elbows on his knees, his brow furrowed and faintly sweating. "They really worked you over, didn't they?" he says, too quietly for Fenris to hear. He reaches up, peeling the bandage from her throat, and then his eyes flick to the brand on her forehead and stay there.
"Yes," she says.
"Well. You're better now."
He winces, then forces a smile and pushes to his feet. "Get some rest, Hawke," he sighs, and drags a hand down his face. "We'll make it back to Kirkwall tomorrow."
She waits a moment more as he puts his hands to the small of his back and stretches, turning with the stiffness of an old man to tend Isabela's wounds and Fenris's and then to find his own bedroll by the meager fire. Aleron lifts his head, watching him go, and then he looks at Hawke and says, "I knew I shouldn't have gone without you."
"I do not think anything would have ended differently, save that you would be branded too."
He blinks, one hand coming up to tug on a braid that is no longer there. His fingers close around nothing—then he drops his head into his arms folded over his bent knees. "Sorry I took so long," comes muffled through his elbow, and one grey eye meets hers through the dark fringe of hastily-chopped hair.
Hawke says, "I thought you were dead. I see I was mistaken."
"A branch caught me by the hair as I was going up a tree when the Black Hoods were after me. I used your knife to cut it off. Then I waited until dawn and did just what you said until I got back into the city."
"You had no trouble, then."
"No," he says, shaking his head. "As soon as I showed the knife to the elf—um, Fenris—he came right away. He took me straight to Lowtown until we found that dwarf, and then we were coming back this way as soon as we could."
"You must be tired," Hawke says, because it is a lot of walking and she knows Fenris would not have set an easy pace, regardless of the boy's strength.
He lifts his chin at that. "I'm okay."
"All right," she says peaceably, and when he says nothing more she lies down on her bedroll, face turned up to the unseen stars behind the night-dark leaves. "Good night."
"Good night, ser," he says, his voice almost lost in the crackling of the fire, and she hears him pull his own blanket into place.
Hawke closes her eyes, and she does not dream.
They emerge at last from the green-lit shadows of the Planasene Forest less than a day later. The rolling grass-spare hills spread out before them, Kirkwall rising on its rocky tor in the distance—and halfway back, in the little stone clearing where she'd first found herself outside the city, lie the charred black ashes of her father's staff. She tells Varric the story, when he notices her gaze, but for a storyteller he does not seem to enjoy it. They do not speak much otherwise, especially for a group of their size; still, Hawke finds that she does not mind the quiet. It matches the deep emptiness in her mind, the blank and black-laced stillness that muffles her limbs and her heart alike, coursing through each corner of her thoughts the way a dark and rock-choked pool rises to cover the broken walls of a cave.
She is drowning inside herself, and she cannot even open her mouth to breathe.
Kirkwall's side gate opens to them a little before sunset, long black shadows twice their height stretching out before them like black arrows, guiding them back to the city that offers neither sanctuary nor respite from suffering. It takes only a moment to hand Teeth off to the ungentle care of one of Aveline's lieutenants; he goes without complaint and without farewell, looking neither at the lieutenant nor at Hawke, as if she by her very presence has made him Tranquil too. She says, "Goodbye, Thom," and he does not answer.
Anders is the first of her friends to break away when they pass by the street that leads to Darktown; Aleron follows him in, his head hanging, and something in Hawke recognizes that even now Anders would not sentence an apostate to the uncertain mercy of the Gallows, even one as accidental as Aleron. Isabela goes next, smiling, when the warm and noisy light of The Hanged Man spills over their feet, and Merrill pauses in her wake long enough to embrace Hawke with fierce, unflinching affection. "Come talk to me sometime, lethallan," she says, holding both Hawke's hands in hers. Her thumb brushes against the woven-grass bracelet. "You know, if you'd like to. I've always been curious to know what it feels like not to feel anything. If you don't mind talking about it, of course."
"Of course," says Hawke, and Merrill slips away like a breeze into the night.
Varric and Aveline linger a while longer, walking with them until they are nearly at the door to Hawke's estate; then Varric touches his hand to his forehead in gentle warmth before smiling. "I'll see you around, Hawke," he says, and then to Fenris: "Don't worry, elf. We'll figure something out. We always do."
Fenris looks away as Aveline embraces Hawke before heading for the barracks. Varric sighs, rebuffed but not surprised, and then, with a wave to Aveline, he turns and vanishes into the dark. For an instant, starlight streaks silver down Bianca's taut-stretched string where it arcs across his back, as if in—sorrow.
Fenris opens the door. She hears Orana cry out in welcome, and then Bodahn's voice joins hers with audible excitement—and she regrets that, because she knows the pain they will suffer, soon, and at her hands, and because Fenris knows better than Varric that hope has no place in a body that cannot feel.
She steps inside, into the hearth-lit warmth. Quietly, Fenris says, "Exspectata domus."
Routine comes quickly in Kirkwall, more quickly to the Tranquil, and Hawke settles into the new and steady reality of her resumed life in a matter of days. Orana keeps close to her—almost too close, she would think, if she cared for things like that now—but Orana is careful to keep her questions separate from her gentle suggestions, fiercely protective of both Hawke's muted decisions and her privacy. She turns away more than one well-wisher-cum-voyeur at the door, as unimpressed by titled presumption as Hawke had been, before—
Before she was made Tranquil.
Hawke does not remember it well, truthfully, that giddy gold light and the glorious beat of a racing heart, the swelling waves of emotion that caught her up and carried her, as light as air and as strong as steel-cast nails. She knows objectively that she felt things once, outside her glass-smooth stone, but the memories are faint and sun-faded, a painting left too long in a shaft of light until there is nothing left but smeared color and the impression of a onetime image. Her friends provide her all the emotion she needs, anyway; Merrill comes frequently with daisies and bright bluebells and brighter stories to fill the empty corners of the estate, her laughter mingling with Orana's giggles and Bodahn's heartier chuckles until they can almost forget the emptiness left where Hawke used to be. Aveline stops by too, with Isabela as often as not, bringing food and cheer as if they might break through her walls with sheer force of will; Varric laughs often, with grieving eyes; and when Anders visits to check her healing and her heart even he tries to muster up a cheerful smile, though she feels the blue-hot simmer of Justice burning in his touch.
In truth, the only one who does not smile for her is Fenris.
She does not mind this, she finds; it is almost easier to bare what is left of herself to him when she does not need to suffer the inconvenience of weeping. She supposes the heartache is understandable, when it forces itself out in Merrill's tears or Varric's sudden pauses or Aveline's stone-faced sorrow, but there are more useful things for her to be doing than reassuring her friends of her sanity and her satisfaction with her emptiness, and it is—satisfying that Fenris does not require such assistance. Three days pass, and then a week, each day beginning like the one before it, and ending like the one before it, and Hawke finds herself, if not happy—at peace.
Then one day Fenris comes, in the middle of the morning as he always comes, and his face is not the calm enduring mask that it has been since the forest but heavy, and old, and lined so deeply with grief and anger so that he might have been carved from rock. He finds her sitting quietly in a straight-backed chair beside the desk in her room, waiting in patient stillness for a task to be given or a need to be expressed, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes half-shut in Tranquility. She looks up when he enters, notes his distress, says nothing when he stops in the doorway and only looks at her.
"I cannot do this," he says without preamble, softly, as if he is not sure whether he is speaking to her or to himself.
Hawke does not know whether he refers to their once-relationship, her Tranquility, or some other yet-unnamed thing that weighs too heavily on his mind. She says, "I do not understand what you mean."
Fenris swallows, hard. His hands open and close at his sides, the metal of his clawed fingers flashing bright in the morning sun and dark again. "Hawke, you…I promised you something, once. A long time ago. Do you remember?"
"No," she says, because she does not—and then a glancing flame of memory flares in the back of her mind, swift and soft with age: she remembers a shadowed alcove of the Chantry, a hundred red candles aglow on a stair-stepped altar, handfuls of thrown light shivering pale and gold across hands, and throats, and slender silver lines of lyrium—and her own voice, whispering please, and never like that, and swear you'll do for me what Anders did for—
"I remember," says Hawke, so she is not surprised when Fenris pulls from his belt the narrow shining blade she'd lent to Aleron more than a lifetime ago.
"You said," Fenris starts, but something in him is not steady and he clenches his fist around the hilt of the knife. "I told you—I swore—"
"Yes," she says. "I had forgotten. I apologize."
"Stop that," he snarls, taking two quick steps towards her—then his face changes again and he draws back, aghast. "Hawke, I—"
"I do not fear death," she offers, and tips her head back and to one side, away from her heart. "I understand if you wish to keep your promise."
"Wish to—wish—" He draws close again, suddenly, his eyes narrowed and hurting and his mouth a slash of tight-pressed pain. "Hawke, you think I wish for this? You think I desire to stand here with your blade in my hand, weighing the life of the one person—the one person whom I—" he stops himself mid-word, draws in a breath, straightens. His gaze turns inward, looking back over some distant, cherished, painful memory. He murmurs, "I should not have presumed to hope."
"You swore an oath to me at my request. I would not object to its fulfillment."
His face settles into something opaque and wooden. "You would throw your life away so easily?"
"I would prefer to live," she tells him frankly, then adds, "I would prefer more to be useful. If this is the best use of my life, then I have no qualms about giving it."
"You make this too simple," he snaps, and crosses to her with quick steps until he can brace his free hand over her on the back of her chair. "This is no easy thing, Hawke—"
"I am trying to clarify a clouded issue," she says, her voice impassive, and then she reaches out and grasps his knife-bearing fingers in her own, drawing his hand up and towards her chest until the sharp and gleaming blade-tip rests just under the swell of her breast. "A short upward thrust here would be the most efficient."
Fenris stares at her, his eyebrows lifted in dark shock, his fingers clenched hard around the leather-wrapped hilt of the knife—but he does not struggle, and he does not pull away, and when Hawke allows her hands to drop back into her lap his own stay where she has placed them against her chest, stable and unwavering.
The knife rests there, rising and falling with her breath, fixed as the one-two beat of her heart. The morning sun falls bright and thick across his gauntlets and the blade, washing halos of steel-brushed silver into her eyes until they are almost too bright to see, too painful in the unflinching light—so she looks up instead, into the softer green of his eyes, and to the heavy black brows drawn down in concentration and in grief, and to the jumping in his jaw under his white hair as his eyes fix on the silver line of the knife. A single thrust, and it will be over; a single bunching of his muscles and the blade will slide through her skin as cleanly as a pear, as quick as a glance to the sky—one push and—
He looks up, at her face, and at the brand on her forehead.
Now the knife wavers, and now the fingers tremble, clench and reclench around the hilt, his thumb sliding up to the handguard and down again as if to tear the leather braiding from the haft—his eyes are locked to the sun-scar as hers had been to the firelit brand, unblinking and unable to look away, as trapped as a hare in the piercing gaze of a falcon. Fenris shifts his weight and the hand on the back of her chair slides free, to her shoulder, and then to the thin white scar on her throat; he traces it with the cold steel tips of his gauntlets, following its riverbed winding up over her jaw and her cheek to where it ends on the rise of bone under her eye. She blinks and he flinches, just slightly—and then, as if bracing himself for the sharp red burning of flame, he lifts his hand and for the first time—
Fenris touches the scarred flesh of her brand.
It is a glancing brush, at first, a light touch made lighter by the deadened skin that rises in a perfect rayed circle between her eyes; then he touches it again, more deliberately, more delicately, finding with his fingertips the places where the raised and thicker flesh, proud flesh, meets the softer paler skin beside it, following the curving edge from the outside in until he has traced out all the lines of the sun in their dark-lifting glory. He passes his thumb over it from bottom to top once in a long smooth stroke, and even Hawke can feel the intent behind that touch—and then he spreads his hand wholly over the mark, the bare skin of his palm pressed against her skin, warm and yielding where the metal of his gauntlets was cool, closing away the sun and the sight of it from his eyes, from the world that passes them by with neither interest nor pity.
"I apologize," Hawke says then, gently, because she feels somehow that she should; Fenris closes his eyes in a deep-seated pain that she can only cause and not relieve and she thinks: perhaps her death will better serve him after all—
—and then his eyes open again in a sudden green flaring of glass-sharp anguish and he leans towards her, all the strength of his arm tensing behind the knife that still presses point-first against her breast, driving it—forward—
—and away, the blade falling from his fingers until the sharpened tip scores deep into the dark-oak wood of the floor by her feet, until the leather handle falls with a soft and hollow thump to rest, bloodless, against her heel.
Fenris says, choking, as pale as death, "No."
He sags slowly, like a cliffside being washed away by the sea, his knees giving way under him, first one, and then the other, the hand that had held the knife gripping the side of her chair with a locked elbow, a brittle brace for a body that can no longer stand in the storm. His other hand drops heavily from her forehead to her shoulder, and from her shoulder to her thigh—and then, all at once, he buckles like a blow has felled him and goes hard to his knees in front of her. His head bows forward until it rests against her knees, one hand fisted against his forehead in despair; he twines the fingers of the other into the loose fabric of her trousers as if searching for an anchor, futile and wind-beaten and without hope.
"Forgive me," he says, his voice thick and broken, his shoulders catching in quick, shallow jerks of breath. "Hawke, I cannot—forgive me."
His hair is very white, she thinks, against the blackness of her trousers and the deep tan of his skin. She says, "I forgive you."
He shudders deeply, his head bending farther into her knees, far enough that she can see the place where the twin lines of lyrium start at the top of his spine and, she knows, wind their way down his back in straight and gleaming paths of silver ink. His hand clenches harder by her knee, by his forehead, all prickling pointed armor and the sharp glint of sunlight on steel.
Hawke wishes, suddenly, surprisingly, to comfort him.
It is a peculiar sensation because this grief is the same grief that the others have shown her and she has not once wished to comfort them; all the same, it is Fenris's head on her lap and Fenris's sorrow in her hands, and in the stone-smoothed spaces of her heart she finds a desire to ease his pain for nothing but the sake of it. She is no Chantry mother and Fenris is soul-sick from something no confession can soothe, but still Hawke finds herself lifting her hand the way the sisters used to for her and resting it, gently, on his head.
"I forgive you," she says again, uncertain. His hair is softer than she remembers, sliding like cornsilk over her scarred knuckles, snagging on her callused skin in a way that would have embarrassed her in another life.
Then he turns his face into the palm of her hand and his fingers catch on her wrist, and something sounds inside her like the striking of a harp-string in a deep and full-voiced chord, something wild and sweet and piercing that has no place in the crag-sharp corners of her heart, no place in a soul made out of stone. She blinks, surprised at herself; Fenris does not notice, and a moment later his face slips away from her skin, returning to the safe, cloth-clad sanctuary of her knees.
Her hand stills; the blackness curls softly around her again. The harp-note dies, mute.
They do not move for a long time. When Fenris departs at last, he leaves the knife behind him. Hawke picks it up, sharpens it, cleans the thumbprints from the blade, and places it in a drawer with Merrill's woven-grass bracelet. She does not think of it again.
Fenris does not visit for days after that. Hawke suspects he feels some sort of shame for the sorrow he showed, or anger at his own weakness, and she would tell him he need not feel either but he does not come and so she cannot. Then, at last, he does, his face composed and his back straight when Orana lets him in, and she decides that if he will not speak of it then neither will she. They fall into their new-old routine without further missteps over the next few weeks, though she finds herself thinking often of that struck-harp moment—and wondering, in the half-dimmed seconds before sleep, if there will ever be another.
Then, one day, there is.
The moment, when the moment comes, is precious little more than the space between one second and the next, unremarkable in any way save that it occurs at all. Fenris is seated at her desk, his back turned to her as he goes through the growing stack of her neglected correspondence, answering some himself but leaving the majority for her attention. The sun marks just past noon, a gold afternoon glow lazing up the side of the dark-polished legs of the chairs, along the bared lyrium twining up his forearms, touching strands of his white hair with a fine-tipped brush of liquid light as he bends his head over her letters.
Hawke watches him from the edge of the bed, dressed and placid in her usual habits, her eyes following absently the awkward grace of his hand as he grips the pen with muscles unused to such fine work. His handwriting is cramped and narrow, but elegant in a way that suits him, a match to the sharp and prickly delicacy that she has always loved seeing in the privacy of his few tender moments. She can still recall the first time she'd tried to hold his hand—he'd waited expectantly for her to pull him somewhere and she'd laughed and said no, this is all, and he'd looked down to their linked fingers and frowned as if offended—and then, hesitantly, his fingers had relaxed, and his thumb had stroked over her thumb, and it had been so blasted sweet she'd ended up holding his hand all night just to see that defensive warmth ease through the gaps in his armor—
And then, suddenly, like a wild thing startled from sleep, her heart skips forward a full beat.
"Oh," says Hawke, startled, and puts a hand to her chest where it hurts.
Fenris half-turns when she speaks, his pen not quite lifting from the page. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Yes. Fenris—"
"I love you," she says, her eyes wide, and the stone around her heart cracks wide open.
There is an instant's silence when he draws in a sharp breath and her heart thumps once against her ribs, hard, and then the river roars in her ears and she puts both hands to her face, fists clenched, trying desperately to make sense of the sudden senseless surging in her chest. Her heartbeat will not settle—it leaps forward and slams against the stone she has built to cage it, over and over, racing madly in the unleashed storm brewing inside her and striking each painful blow with the desperation of a trapped deer sensing freedom. She is aware, distantly, that Fenris has said her name more than once, but she ignores him, ignores the gasping breaths scraping from her own throat, ignores everything but the savage crush of emotion that swallows her whole.
She loves Fenris.
She loves him, and—she is angry—and she grieves—and she is so unbearably afraid—
The dam breaks all at once; the stone shatters like glass under the unbearable pressure that is her heartbeat. Everything she has felt, everything she has kept so carefully tucked away since that last hopeless instant before the fired sun touched her skin—it all comes out in a towering wave, thundering with white-flecked foam and cold, as cold as ice, cold enough to strike the breath from her lungs and make her double over in agony. Fenris's hands are on her hands, pulling, grasping, his voice frantic with worry—
She realizes that she is weeping.
That cannot be right—that cannot be right, because a stone does not weep and the Tranquil do not weep—but Hawke cannot stop the tears, cannot swallow down the hot lump of fear and rage that lodges in her throat, a strong and vicious thing made stronger for how long she has held it at bay. A sob catches like thorns in her chest and she chokes, desperate for air, for the cool blank blackness of her empty mind that even now recedes before her uncaged heart like the night giving way at last to the rising dawn, too brilliant to her dark-used eyes and painful, so painful that she knows she cannot bear it, will break apart into a thousand splinters like a tree run through with lightning.
Everything that has happened in the last few weeks crashes down on her in one blow, the memories merciless and blending together until Hawke cannot pull the threads apart to make sense of them. Delia tears the fingernails from her hands again and she sobs at the remembered agony; her father's staff burns with her own magic; Teeth hands her the canteen of water and she swallows down her gratitude at his unlooked-for kindness. And then the Tranquil brand comes and it burns and she cannot look away from the white-lit sun driving down between her eyes—she will go up like smoke at the memory alone—and then it changes and she remembers herself, awake and alive, and the first hard layer laid around her heart at the realization that her failure then would bring the brand again.
Her mouth is moving. She realizes that she is speaking, bits of memories and half-dreams mixing to make a nonsense babble of pleas and prayers that spills from her tongue in fluid terror. She can feel the warm solid presence of Fenris close by, his hands on her hands the one anchor she can fix on in the cloudburst of her mind—she gathers every conscious effort left to her and says, choking, "Don't let go."
"I will not," she hears him say, "I will not—" and then his voice drifts away under the river's roar and she is lost again.
Aleron dies and the grief bears down on her like the tide; she stands at Delia's mercy, and Carn's mercy, stripped bare and gagging on shame and humiliation as they probe without care into the private places of her heart; the taste of spindleweed tea blisters her tongue, sharp and pungent; she stands waist-deep in the cold clear water of the lake, a breath from ending everything, watching as the wild singing thrush burns away into the sun.
Teeth kisses her by the pine trees and she hates him, choking with disgust and frustration; Arden saves her once, and then again, and she is too full of relief to speak. Fenris reaches out with strong arms and pulls her out of the white mists and into safety—and—she loves him. Hawke's head comes up at that, staring blindly into the tree-thick fog and the soft crush of pine needles under her feet—Fenris saved her—Fenris saved her, and Isabela saved her, and Varric and Anders—she is safe. She is safe. She is healed. She is whole.
A whole woman may feel. A whole woman may love.
She is—she is not empty—
Hawke's heart thunders in her chest. She presses a palm to it, astonished, bewildered, terrified beyond words; Fenris's hand comes with hers, his fingertips pressed to her skin until she knows he must be able to feel the chaotic beat that has no place within a Tranquil. It is difficult to breathe but she forces her lungs to fill, her gaze to pull back from the shuddering muddy mess of her mind to the true things she can see in this living moment: Fenris's hand, on her hand; his chest, heaving as if he has run too long without rest; his face, gaze fixed on her like a drowning man sights a guiding star, his eyes lit in an agony of hope.
"Hawke," he breathes, and touches one trembling thumb to her tears.
She draws in a too-thin gasp of air—and something cold and clean catches hold inside her, lifting free of the last heavy places in her heart in a wild rush of white-feathered wings, soaring on the unfettered swell of gladness and relief and love that course through her as thoroughly as a fresh salt wind off the sea. She says, sob-thick, joy-thick, "Fenris."
She has half-fallen from the side of the bed already—Fenris drags her the rest of the way with hands that shake on her shoulders, on her back, until her knees slip to either side of his hips and her weight falls full against his chest. Her arms wrap around his neck like the lifeline that he is and she thinks perhaps she is holding him too tightly, but she can't bring herself to care when his own hold is just as frantic and just as fierce, crushing her so close she loses track of which hammering heartbeat is her own.
"Fenris," she gasps, barely aware that she is speaking, barely conscious of the bone-deep shiver that runs through him at the sound of his name. "Fenris—I'm so—I'm so sorry. I never meant for this to come back with me—I never meant—"
He shakes his head against hers, voiceless in denial. She can feel his fingers clench against her shoulder and her spine. "No—" he says at last, choking. "No, Hawke—I should have found you sooner. Forgive me—I—"
"I should have told you as soon as I saw you—"
"I did not see—"
"—only I didn't know by that point there was anything to tell—"
"Fenris," she says, her heart bursting, and she kisses him.
He recoils at first, eyes wide, as if even now he cannot believe it. She smiles and it is a broken, anxious thing but it is a smile nonetheless, and a smile for him—he blinks, startled, and then his face clears like the sky after a storm and something deep in him flares so brightly that Hawke's smile widens, becomes something real, and this time when she cups his face in both hands and leans forward he is there to meet her.
There is no softness in this kiss, no gentle affirmation of affection—this is hot and bright and savage like the sea in the summer sun, each seeking to fill with the other all the soul-struck hollows and the split, patched places of their hearts, healing in one blow the bruises and the sweeping scars left by the iron brand of these last few weeks. Her hands curl around his jaw, holding him to her; his own slide into her hair and around her waist, lifting and resettling her on his lap until there is no space for even a breath between them. She pushes and he pushes back; he growls into her mouth and she revels in the sound, glories in the urgent anticipation that surges through her.
Her sunlit bedroom vanishes; the hard wood under her knees melts away. There is only Fenris's mouth and Fenris's hands and her racing pulse in her ears, and under it all the strong sweet-singing harp-note of her heart.
Fenris draws back first, a lifetime later, his lyrium glittering with both sunlight and some nameless emotion. Hawke kisses him twice more, though gently, face flushed and fingers trembling, and she says for nothing more than the pleasure of it, "I love you."
His eyes fall closed; his head drops forward, into her neck. She says it again, just as quiet, and feels him shudder, and then something hot and wet falls against her skin, one-two quick, like rain. "Hawke," he murmurs, cracked, and hoarse, and then something long and smooth in Arcanum spills out like a prayer to wrap around her, head to toe, warming her from the inside out.
"Fenris, I'm sorry."
The words slip out before she means them to, though the sentiment is not untrue; Fenris lifts his head with a bare, crooked smile, and takes her face in both hands. "You came back," he says, as if it is a simple thing, and presses his mouth, lightly, to the brand-scar on her forehead.
Hawke lets out a long, slow breath, her eyes closed, her heart thumping out an uneven joyful counter-rhythm to the hard-thudding beat in Fenris's throat. A distant door slams shut somewhere below them, Orana's voice lifting in welcome and a man's voice answering; and slowly, piece by sunlit piece, the red curtains and gleaming hardwood floors of her bedroom fade back into existence.
"That'll be Anders," Hawke whispers without moving. Her room is too bright and Fenris's arms are too warm, too long looked-for to leave so easily now. Her magic is singing under her skin like the wash of light over a stream.
"He will wait."
"No," she sighs, and pushes to her feet. Fenris comes with her without letting his hands fall away from hers, as if the moment he releases her she will vanish back into that black Tranquil nothingness. "Not for this."
"So quickly you begin to thwart my wishes," he says, though his face bears nothing of displeasure.
"As if you mind."
His hands tighten on hers, just for a moment, and then one last time he leans forward and kisses her. Sunlight dances over his white hair, down the silver lines of lyrium on his throat, his arms—and in the soft green-lit warmth of his eyes. "Perhaps not."
Hawke smiles, because she is happy, and because she loves Fenris, and because here, in his arms, in the quiet, gold-dusted air of her room—
She is not stone.