never give up! ৵ never surrender! (loquaciousquark) wrote in lovelosshope,
never give up! ৵ never surrender!
loquaciousquark
lovelosshope

[Dragon Age 2] River Stone [5/6]

Title: River Stone
Pairing: Hawke/Fenris
Rating: M
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.

part one    |    part two    |    part three    |    part four    |    part five    |    part six



---


River Stone
part five


---


Hawke is barely halfway down the stairs before Anders' head comes up in startled recognition. He blinks, his mouth open—and then he is up the stairs as fast as she can race down them, both of them talking over the other with I can feel the Fade in you and I'm sorry for not telling you sooner and how did this happen? but rather than wait for her response he wraps her up in a crushing embrace with an easy, joyful laugh that Hawke has not heard in years. Her breath whooshes out in a sigh as he squeezes her tighter but she cannot make herself mind; he is laughing, and she is smiling, and by the time he puts her down again she is not the only one breathless.

"How—?" he says again, amazed. Hawke starts to tell him, gets as far as the lake—and then Orana comes in and bursts into tears and she starts over—and then Bodahn follows after her and there are more tears and more embraces, and by the time Orana manages to send off half a dozen slightly soggy missives to their friends Hawke has lost the thread of the story anyway and decides to wait and tell it all at once.

Her study fills to bursting over the next half-hour, her friends warring for chairs and benches in a flurry of embraces and delight that fills the room to bursting. Varric is the first to arrive, his eyes suspiciously brightening when Hawke bends towards him with a smile; Aveline follows with Donnic at her heels, and though neither of them quite yields to the emotion she can see just barely held back, Donnic takes her hand and Aveline crushes her hard in her arms hard enough to bruise.

Then Merrill and Isabela arrive together, both of them with bulging sacks of alcohol dangling at their sides, and what had been relatively ordered becomes a full-fledged free-for-all.

It is absolute chaos, loud and laughing and wonderful, voices shouting over each other and bottles passed freely from hand to hand, and Hawke finds her words stripped raw by the glorious bedlam of it. Everywhere she looks there is light and noise and motion, their friends depositing themselves in chairs and on benches to be pulled to their feet again immediately by laughter and glinting glasses. Anders claims a seat only to have it won from him by Orana's shy smile; Bodahn and Varric rescue tipping tankards from the edge of a table and settle themselves by the fireplace; Isabela perches at Aveline's elbow in the wing-backed armchair that faces the open door. The long shadows grow longer as the afternoon gives way to dusk, as someone finds matches to light the candles in the cosy, close room, as Fenris leans against the mantle, his arms crossed, and smiles at her.

She gets out most of the story in the lulls between snatches of stories and curious questions, wetting her throat every now and then with long pulls of red wine as she tells them of the iron brand and the fire and the swift stone-walling away of her heart; of the Black Hoods and the speechless terror of that first night; of the lake, and the noose-tight emptiness that had taken her when she left it. The telling comes easier, here, in the friendly riot that is her study, with less hysteria than sympathy and no somber moments to smooth over at all. She apologizes again and again her apology is waved away—and for the third time that evening Hawke finds herself fishing a handkerchief from her sleeve to pass to a wet-eyed friend.

"Sorry," says Aveline, her nose red. Isabela tosses a penknife with a cork stuck on the end over her shoulder and shoves an open bottle into Aveline's other hand. "It's so good to have you back, Hawke."

"Shouldn't have left in the first place," Hawke says with a smile. "Captains," she adds to Aveline and Isabela both, lifting her own bottle in a toast, and pretends the burning at the back of her eyes is only from the liquor.

Isabela thumps her on the back, hard enough to stagger her into Anders by the fire. "Easy," he says, catching her with one hand, the world whirling as she tries to get her feet under her again. Somewhere across the room, Fenris stands with his weight on one leg and an opaque glass in his hand, listening to Varric tell Merrill about their part in her rescue. "…day you're back."

"What?" says Hawke, blinking—and Anders' face comes back into focus, his eyebrows lifted in surprise. "I'm sorry," she says, hastily setting the bottle of wine down on a nearby table. "Sorry. I was thinking about something else."

His lips quirk, as if he hears the someone else under her words. "I said, you shouldn't overdo it the first day you're back."

"No, you're right. You're absolutely right. No more wine for me."

"Right—to gin!" shouts Isabela, and a moment later Hawke finds herself in dubious possession of both Aveline's abandoned bottle and Anders' skeptical frown. "Ha," Hawke adds, weakly, as the pirate darts away towards Orana. "That Isabela."

His frown deepens for a moment, and then he sighs, relenting, and the tight corners of his eyes ease. "Justice might not understand, but—someone should get to celebrate."

Impulsively—and the wildness of being impulsive chases through her—Hawke reaches for his arm. "Thank you," she says. "For coming after me. For healing what was left."

Anders' eyes soften with memory and the weight of too-old grief. He says, "I wish I could have given him a second chance, too."

"I know," says Hawke. No need to ask who he is; no need to cheapen his honesty with empty platitudes. They are silent a moment, and then Hawke says, "Where's Aleron?"

His lips press together. "Back in the Gallows."

"What—?"

"No—not to stay. To spy. He says it's what he can do to keep this from happening again."

"And you let him go? He's just—" Hawke stops herself mid-word. He's just a child—who fled alone through the forest, who found Fenris, who brought Fenris to her through a wild wood he knew nothing of surviving. He is not just a child—and if he chooses to face danger for a cause he believes in, what difference is there between his choice and hers? "Just…just don't let him get himself in too much trouble."

"I'll do my best."

"Thank you, Anders," she says again, and smiles.

"Hawke—" he starts, his voice serious, his eyes flicking up for a moment to the scar on her forehead—but before he can get out whatever question he has, Isabela has circled around again and pulled him by his feathers to a little low table by the fire, its surface covered with half-full glasses of varying liquors.

"We're going to play a game," Hawke hears Isabela tell him, her voice matter-of-fact and brooking no argument.

"What game?"

"I'm calling it 'Pour Whisky Down Your Throat Until You Can't Tell My Tits From Andraste's.'"

"Catchy," says Anders, and Hawke grins and leaves them to it.

Bodahn finds her then, with Sandal at his side, and takes the opportunity to press his hand to hers and welcome her home. He speaks with her only a few minutes, mentioning something about making some sandwiches in the kitchen—the sun is setting over Kirkwall, throwing long slants of dying light through her windows to mark the time well past dinner, and she supposes that with the sheer amount of alcohol saturating the room her friends shouldn't be around open flame anyway.

Then, as Bodahn heads off to the kitchen, Sandal reaches up one long arm and touches the scar on her forehead. "Not burning," he tells her, and before she can think of a single thing to say in response he is gone after his father. Hawke watches him go, speechless—and then Aveline laughs and Isabela chuckles, warm and low, and she turns away from the shock-touched moment into the brighter laughing circle of her friends. Merrill is perched on Varric's knee, both of them singing some Orzammar drinking song in the dwarven tongue—Hawke does not ask how Merrill knows the words to that one, though she finds herself desperately curious—and Isabela is draped over Aveline's shoulder, reading dirty limericks out of a slim volume Hawke had almost forgotten she had. Voices lift from the far end of the room and Hawke glances over to see Anders arguing good-naturedly with Donnic over some bottle of rum, and Orana stands between them, looking torn between diffusing the battle and simply whisking the bottle away herself.

Her heart swells behind her ribs. Hawke is happy—and more, she knows herself to be happy, surrounded by friends that she feels to be friends, warm and safe and content as she had never expected to be again. But the happiness burns so hot it hurts and she lifts the gin to her mouth, unwilling to spill more tears for such a pointless reason; she takes two long swallows and coughs around the glass rim, sputtering and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand until the press of tears is pushed wholly back.

"Does that help?"

"You should know," says Hawke, and leans her head back against Fenris's shoulder. "I learned from the best."

He lets her drop her weight into his chest, his long ear sliding against her cheek as she settles, one hand coming up to settle tentatively on her waist. "Hawke—you should not—"

"I know. I'm not. Not really." She takes another swallow, not to keep from crying but because she simply wishes to, then offers the bottle to Fenris. "You want a taste?"

He lifts an eyebrow, but when he fails to decline Hawke puts the mouth of the brown glass bottle to his lips and tips upward. She watches his throat bob as he swallows—and then he coughs suddenly, sharply, and he pushes the bottle away from both of them. "You—that is—ugh—"

"Pungent? Potent? A right kick in the pants?"

"Repulsive," he chokes, still pursing his lips as if to repel the flavor by will alone.

"Snob." She laughs, taking another obnoxious gulp to spite him, and adds, "As if cheap gin ever killed anyone." Her head is spinning pleasantly enough that she does not notice his sudden narrow-eyed glance until his hand tightens on her waist; then she blinks, trying to clear the lines of his face, and says, "What?"

His grip eases; he looks away. "Nothing."

"Don't give me that." Isabela starts a lusty seafaring ditty across the room, and a moment later both Anders and Merrill join in. "What's wrong?"

"You—" Fenris's jaw works as he forces himself to meet her eyes, and Hawke finds herself silenced by the naked yearning he allows her to see. "That is the first time you have laughed since you were taken."

Hawke touches her mouth, startled—and then her lips curve into a smile and her hand slides behind Fenris's neck. "It won't be the last," she tells him, and then she kisses him.

Fenris does not pull away this time, even in such a public place; instead he pulls her closer, the hand at her waist sliding to splay over her ribs as she opens her mouth under his. It does not last long—this is a flash of white lightning rather than a long-simmering blaze—and when she pulls back Hawke flicks her thumb over her bottom lip and grins.

"I thought you didn't like this gin."

"It may have certain applications," Fenris says, his voice dry, his eyes alight in rare good humor that does not vanish even when Isabela appears from nowhere, her bandanna slightly askew, to drop her arms around both their necks.

"Time to drink!" she announces, a flask in each hand. Her earrings jingle as she glances from Hawke to Fenris. "Am I interrupting something? I am. Feel free to continue as if I weren't here."

"Thank you for the permission."

"Too selfless for my own good." Isabela sighs dramatically, her breath strong with liquor, but her eyes are clear and bright as she smiles. "This is a party. If you're not stumbling over something you're doing it wrong."

"Stop helping, pirate," Hawke says, but she is laughing again, and she lets herself be dragged to where Merrill stands beside the little low table and its half-full glasses, her brow furrowed in contemplation as she peruses her choices.

Finally, Merrill selects two and holds them up for Hawke's appraisal. "What do you think?"

"I think it's the beginning of the end," Hawke tells her, and downs the leftward glass herself.

The rest of the night passes in a blur of images and warm words: Varric, smiling with a flash of white teeth as he recounts their half of the search and rescue; Donnic, a tumbler of something amber in one hand and his wife's fingers in the other; Anders' brown boots kicked up on an ottoman as he allows himself to relax for the first time in months. The night deepens and the dark corners grow darker, Isabela's jewelry flickering into a snake of fire around her neck as she bends to pluck an abandoned bottle from the floor, Merrill little more than a slim shadow before the glowing hearth as she holds them spellbound with a Dalish tale of lost love.

In the end, though, even that fades with Hawke's exhaustion, with the heavy lidding of her eyes until all that is left is the solid warmth of Fenris's chest against her back, his slow and steady breathing a counterweight to the gold-licked heat of cheap gin sitting deep in her stomach. She leans back, rests her temple against his cheek.

"Hawke," she hears him say, quietly, and she is asleep.

---


That night, she dreams.

She does not realize she is dreaming, at first; it has been weeks since she has seen the soft shifting places of the Fade, longer still since she has stepped through them without fear, and when the yellow mists part to reveal black star-studded skies and dark-wooded trees and a brilliant burning sun hanging inches from her face she cannot bite back her startled cry.

The sun does not move; she swallows her terror around the aching lump in her chest. "A dream," she tries to say, but though her mouth moves no sound emerges. Then a hand fists in her hair to drag her down to the earth and Delia smiles, her fingers around Hawke's throat, her lips pursed around the shaft of a silver bolt. "This is a dream—"

"You don't have any dreams," Delia tells her, and drives the burning brand straight through her head—

—and Carn laughs, soft and without mirth, in the grey stone circle of the open plains as her father's staff burns before her eyes. "Stop crying," he says. "We don't want to spoil your looks for the buyers."

"Shut up," she snaps, burying her face in her hands, but her fingers are burnt and blackened things, shriveled at the ends and dead to the touch and she recoils, appalled—

—and the giant turns away as Teeth drops his hand to her stomach and then to her thighs and then between her legs, as she finds herself unable to either move or speak, her shoulders digging painfully into the rough bark of a white oak tree—

"Stop it," Hawke gasps, breathless, voiceless, defenseless, but the Fade is not a place known for its mercy and her dreams are all the stronger for having been shut away so long, and it does not stop.

Delia grasps the length of Hawke's hair in one fist and shaves it all away to leave her head stubbled and bare for the branding; Carn does not stop at one tooth but pries the rest from her mouth with the same length of silver wire rusted red with her blood; Fenris turns his back on her, the hatred on his face at once false and more real for the strength of it; the river-waters flood to swallow her whole, filtering the harsh slants of sunlight around her immobile arms, stone arms, stone flesh dropping her further into the deep. Wake up, she thinks, desperate, dying, wake up, wake up, wake up—

Her eyes snap open.

Chest heaving, breath coming sharp and quick, it takes Hawke a wild moment to reconcile the soft muted blurs of her room to the brilliant afterimages of fire and the taste of blood. She blinks sweat from her eyes and lifts one trembling hand to her mouth—Fenris is still asleep beside her, so she must not have screamed—and forces her breathing to steady. Her room, her room—her bedhangings, deep scarlet and still; her fireplace, swept and unlit in this too-warm night; her high narrow windows, silver with stars and a thin cloud-covered moon. Silent.

Safe.

Hawke closes her eyes again, dragging her fingertips over the slick sweaty skin of her forehead. Her lips are dry and chapped with fear; she tries to wet her lower lip with her tongue and finds it just as parched. A long, low sigh slips out as she eases the cramping muscles of her back, her thighs—and then Fenris turns his head on the pillow and very quietly says, "No."

His name ghosts from her lips, less than a whisper. "Fenris?"

His brow furrows and he flinches as if struck; then the lyrium coursing down his throat flickers with sudden light and he says, louder, "Quaeso—quaeso—no—"

"Fenris—"

"Hawke," he says, gasping as his eyes open wide, and every tattoo on his body lights up like sky at noon. His eyes are less green than black, pupils blown wide in terror as they dart from one corner of the dark room to the other, searching for something she cannot see—and then they come to rest on her, on her face, and before Hawke can think to move, to even speak, Fenris has half-risen from his pillow to crush her against his bare chest. She tumbles over in a whirl of blankets and white sheets, her shoulders sliding against the sheen of sweat on his own skin like a ribbon slides over silk, smoothly and without resistance.

"Fenris—" she tries again, and his fingers dig hard into the muscles of her back. His heart races under her cheek like the thudding of horse hooves.

"Quaeso," he says again, mindless and blind over her hair, and then a long incomprehensible string of Arcanum that she understands nothing of save her name.

Ah, but she knows nightmares too.

Hawke relaxes into his chest, tucking her chin over his shoulder and dropping one arm around the shuddering heave of his stomach. "It's all right," she murmurs, as much to herself as to him. "It's all right. It's not real."

He says nothing as she continues the quiet, meaningless litany, but eventually his breathing slows, his grip eases, and he splays a callus-rough hand over the curve of her spine. "A dream," he says at last, his voice ragged and too rough, dark with fears not meant for daylight. "Hawke, I—"

"Me too," she tells him, and her fingers trace down the line of his ribs where the now-dimmed lyrium curls. "Happens to the best of us."

Fenris lets out a silent breath of laughter that is more air than true amusement and his hand tightens on her back. "It is not the first."

"Or the worst?"

"Just so." He pauses, his mouth quirking, then adds in explanation, "After all, you were here when I woke."

There is something ugly behind that, something lonely and terrified and too tender to touch so soon, and Hawke keeps her voice light. "Well, then, don’t we match nicely? Like stockings made of night terrors."

He laughs again but does not respond; instead his fingers move up her spine in a long, deliberate motion, bump over the fabric of her breastband, trace over her shoulders and neck and into her hair before wandering back down again. Hawke closes her eyes, her thumb sliding over his side, lulled by silence and the slow somber drag of Fenris's fingers over her back. She does not speak again; neither does he, as the stars fade and the slivered moon pales greyer, as the first edge of the sky begins to push back the night at last into the brighter air of morning.

They wait, in silence, for dawn.

---


The next thing Hawke knows, the morning sun is streaming thick and gold through her uncurtained windows across her face, and a woman's voice says, "Ooh, they do go all the way down. I owe Varric a sovereign."

"Stop that," Aveline says from further away, so mortified Hawke can hear it even through the half-dazed muddle of sleep. "Just—stop ogling and get Hawke!"

"Am I being ogled too?" Hawke asks, yawning, and cracks one eye open to find herself eye-level with Isabela's sashaying hips. Behind her, Fenris rolls over with an irritated noise and pulls the blankets so high nothing is left but white hair and the tip of one long, pointed ear. "Or just him?"

Isabela drops to the side of the bed with a flourish, kicking one leg over the other knee. "Do you have intriguing and mysterious tattoos too? Because if you're offering a private show—"

"I can hear you," Fenris points out, his voice muffled through the blankets.

"I know, pet," says Isabela, and winks at Hawke.

"Isabela." Hawke unearths a hand from the tangle of her sheets with some difficulty and rubs her face, wiping the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes. "Is there something you want?"

"That depends. Are you sharing?"

"That's it—" Hawke knocks Isabela's hip with her knee through the pile of quilts, bumping her off the mattress. "Get off the bed—damned pirate—"

Isabela stands and dusts herself off, unruffled. "Hey, don't bruise the messenger. I'm only here because the Lady of the Mannish Knuckles over there couldn't muster the brass balls to get past the doorway."

"You—" chokes Aveline, but her face is flaming red. "Hawke, I didn't want to intrude—"

"She means she thought Fenris was naked."

Fenris snorts at that—she sees the tip of his ear twitch—and Aveline grits her teeth so hard Hawke can almost hear them crack. "Stop. Helping."

Isabela grins and Hawke laughs despite herself, covering her eyes in despair as she says, "Look. Is there a reason you're here, or did you just want a captive audience?"

"I don't mind my audiences captive," Isabela says with waggling eyebrows, but in the doorway Aveline's face grows solemn and Hawke feels the easy humor of the room slip away.

"Aveline."

She sighs and adjusts her headband. "They're convening a special tribunal. Today. In just a few minutes. I wanted to know if you were coming."

"A tribunal?"

"To judge the case against Thom."

Against Teeth. The last surviving member of the Black Hoods. Her kidnapper—and her healer.

"Oh," says Hawke, blankly, and sits up, barely remembering to hold the blankets to her chest. "I don't…am I supposed to be there?"

"Only if you want," Aveline says. "You'll just be observing—they won't be calling you to speak."

Hawke snorts. "An effort to spare my feelings?"

"You are an apostate," Fenris says, and Hawke falls silent. The covers slide down until he can turn his head over his shoulder. "And the Champion. They will not wish to advertise the involvement of either."

"Wonderful. I think I preferred pretending it was about my privacy."

"No such luck," Aveline says, leaning heavily against the door. "You in or out, Hawke? I need to leave soon."

She swallows, then— "I'm in. Give me a second to get dressed."

"Got it," says Aveline, and as Hawke slides from the bed in her smalls the guard captain strides into the room just long enough to drag Isabela out by her sash. "I'll see you downstairs, Hawke," she adds—Isabela makes a rude gesture over Aveline's shoulder and mouths downstairs with a sultry wink—and then the door closes, and they are gone.

Hawke stands in the silence for a long moment, her head whirling, and then she darts into action, snatching a soft white shirt and dark trousers from the floor of her wardrobe and fumbling a pair of boots from under her desk. She barely even registers that Fenris is watching her from the bed until he speaks.

"Are you sure this is wise, Hawke?"

"Nope," she says as she shimmies into the shirt and pulls her hair through the collar. "It's probably one of the dumbest things I could do. But I'm doing it anyway."

"Hmm."

Her fingers do not even pause on the laces of her trousers. "Judge away, elf. I need to go."

She sees him hesitate at that in the corner of her vision, and then he throws back the bedspread and stands. That catches her attention—which, she thinks, is entirely fair considering the long expanse of tanned, muscled thigh laid bare for her scrutiny—but he only pulls open a drawer of her dresser and rummages through it a moment before turning back to her with a cowl in his hands. Hawke does not protest as he crosses the room again to draw it gently over her head; nor does she object as he tugs the hood a bit lower over her forehead, eclipsing her sun-brand in black hair and soft grey wool.

Fenris adjusts the hood once more, and then his hands fall to his sides, empty. "Do you wish for me to come with you?"

Hawke considers, her gaze moving from his lyrium-marked chin to his black eyebrows drawn down in unhappiness to the clear green of his eyes. "No," she says at last, and means it. "I think I'll go this one alone."

"As you wish," he says, inclining his head—then he hesitates for a moment, and adds with his fists clenched, "Come back."

Hawke kisses him. "It's a promise," she says against his mouth, and leaves.

---


Kirkwall's prisons are less dingy than Hawke expects. Small, yes, and undeniably formidable—but it is Aveline's prison, after all, and she supposes she should not be surprised that the stone floors are swept clean and the torches fresh, and that each cell even comes equipped with one high, barred window to let in air and light. Fresh air, too—the prison had been built on the far side of the Viscount's Keep, carved deep into the lip of a sheer cliff overlooking the Waking Sea for the sake of both safety and expense.

Aveline meets her at the door to the deeper cells, barely more than a glimpse of copper-coin hair through thick grated wood before Hawke hears the catch of a key in the iron lock and the heavy gate swings inward. Neither of them speaks—they both know why she is here after that disaster of a tribunal, after all—and when Aveline turns with a nod down the long, straight hallway that runs the length of the Keep, Hawke falls into step behind her without hesitation. The door closes behind them, gently.

The prison is mostly silent save the quiet conversation of a pair of guardsmen at the gate, but as they move down the hallway even that soon fades to leave only the clank of Aveline's boots and the softer sounds of her own leather soles on stone. It takes precious little time to reach the cell at the end of the block—less time, in fact, than Hawke would prefer—and all too soon she finds herself caught in a trap of her own making, cornered by stone and iron and her own damnable stubbornness, face to face with the straight black bars of the last cell door in the hall.

Aveline raps one of the iron bars sharply with her mailed knuckles. The sound rings around them in a heavy, unending chime. "Visitor," she says.

The figure slumped against the opposite wall shifts without rising. The small window high above his head is white and brilliant with the noon sun, throwing a dust-thick dimming haze over the whole of the room until the air swirls with pale, silver-flecked fog, until Hawke almost cannot make out the man behind his cloak of dust and light. The shadows shift again, and then Teeth says, muffled, "Go the fuck away."

Aveline sighs and turns to Hawke. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she tells her, her lips twisted in resignation, and for the second time in as many minutes Hawke finds herself listening to the regular beat of Aveline's footsteps as they disappear down the hall.

There is a rustle under the window, then derision thinly veiling anger. "Are you deaf now, too? I said go away."

"I heard you," says Hawke, her voice steady. A distant door closes with a clank. "But I'm not leaving."

Teeth snorts. "Come to get your revenge? Torture the prisoner before the noose ruins the chance?"

"No! I—" Hawke hesitates, uncertain, and suppresses the urge to pull the cowl further down her forehead. Why has she come—why can't she let him die in peace? Surely he deserves no less; surely this is justice. Instead, she says, "I was at the tribunal."

"Ah, yes. My mockery of a trial."

"You didn't even defend yourself."

His head comes up at that, sharp enough that the movement leaves a darker, blur-edged trail in the haze. "To a judge," he snarls, "who'd made up her mind before entering the room, against a witness I wasn't allowed to name, when half the room was made of your guards and the other half your devoted fans. Forgive me if I know futile when I see it."

"Fine," she snaps, stung, and swivels on her heel. "Hang, then."

Teeth laughs, suddenly, low and bitter, and the sound stops her mid-step. He says, "Finally gave up the act, hm?"

"What?"

He stands, then, slowly, hampered by the manacle bolted around one ankle and the long fat links of chain that tether him to the wall; he crosses the cell with uneven steps that hang loud in the opaque air between them—and then he is there, inches from her face, his smile too white and his blond hair washed colorless, a living ghost. He says, "I knew."

Hawke sees, suddenly, a dark-wooded pine tree and blue eyes intent on hers; hears a too-warm voice murmur her name; catches the clean, crisp scent of valerian. She cannot pretend she does not know what he means. "When?"

"The first night," he says, and one long-fingered hand snakes through the bars to touch her scarred cheek. "You were crying in your sleep, my Marian."

She jerks away from him. "And you concealed it out of the kindness of your heart, I'm sure."

His hand hangs a moment in air, then wraps loosely around an iron bar at his chest. "What do you think the black hood was for?"

"Stop—"

"Marian," Teeth says kindly, as if she is a slow child, "Tranquil mages don't cry."

"Shut up," she says, furious and hurting; she closes the gap between them in two quick steps and clenches a fire-sparking fist in his shirt. "Don't you dare pretend you were trying to save me."

He doesn't even flinch at her magic. "I don't pretend half as well as you. The bit with the lake? Genius. Delia never even saw it coming."

"You think—you stupid—" she flattens her hand over his breastbone, incoherent in her anger, shoves as hard as she can until he stumbles back. The links of the chain jangle over each other like broken bells. "There was nothing false about that day. I stripped away everything when I went to that lake because I was forced to, because Carn was expecting a Tranquil—because of you—"

"Oh, yes," he says, mocking, cruel, "because I was so threatening with my bandages and my meadowsweet and my constant protection—"

"Protection!" Hawke says, and laughs, short and sharp like a breaking branch, and the walls around them turn the sound into a thousand echoes of her empty amusement. Teeth draws back, wary, and Hawke thrusts her fist through the bars by her head. "Protection from this?" she asks, her fingers unfurling like a flower to bare the half-grown nails, and then she yanks the hood from her head and flicks away her hair, allowing the noon sun fall unhindered and undimmed over its branded cousin on her skin. "From this?"

Now he flinches, his eyes lowering to some point on her shoulder. "I had no choice—"

"Oh, and you gave me so many."

"They would have killed me—"

"I died!" Hawke shouts, and the stone rings back died died died. "You took me against my will and you let them make me Tranquil, let them use me however they wanted until there was nothing left—and you ask me to be grateful—" Her heart is racing; she presses her fingers against it until she thinks she must be swallowed by the ache. Why is she here? "I owe you nothing."

His back straightens; his lip curls. "I kept you alive. I treated your wounds—and I kept your secret without asking for anything in return!"

"Except for what you could take when no one was there to stop you—"

"You knew how I felt—you didn't push me away!"

"I couldn't have turned Carn away, you bastard—"

"I loved you!"

The admission comes suddenly, loud in the still stone prison; Hawke sucks in a breath and tastes the salt from the sea. Teeth falls back another step, though she has not touched him, and braces one white-knuckled hand on the wall under the window. His fingernails dig hard enough into the mortar between stones that Hawke can hear it crumble under the pressure.

"Loved me," she repeats, without inflection, and for a moment she is as blank and Tranquil as she ever was—then she shakes her head and the blankness falls away to leave only bitterness in its place. "Loved what. Loved an empty shell? A husk that would have accepted slavery without complaint?"

"I wouldn't have let them—"

"I think," Hawke says, gently and without condemnation, "that you would."

His eyes flick up to her forehead, just for an instant, and then Teeth turns his face away to the wall. "I wouldn't," he says again, softly, but there is no strength behind the words, no conviction, and Hawke suspects he is trying less to convince her than himself. His face is pale, his mouth tight; his eyes turn inward, as if he has caught an unexpected glimpse of himself in a half-forgotten mirror and is not sure of what he sees—then his eyes clear and he draws in a sharp breath as he looks at Hawke still standing at the door to his cell, still unflinching, almost as whole as the day she'd first set eyes on him cringing in a Lowtown alley, and when she lifts her head he bends his own, sagging against the wall beneath the window.

"You came here to torment me before I hang," he says. "For revenge."

"No," says Hawke, and realizes that it is the truth.

"Why did you come?" he asks, his face still turned to the ground, and the words are not an accusation but a plea.

"I came…" she starts—and then she trails off. She closes her eyes in the light of the sun, considering—and then the answer hits her like one of Merrill's rock fists to the chest, as blunt as a blow and as clear as the summer sky. Hawke meets his eyes, and she tells him, "I came here for me."

"Because of what I did to you."

"And because of what I did to myself."

"I don't understand."

"That's all right," Hawke says, because it is. "I do."

Voices wash over them, suddenly, as the far door opens with a creak of iron hinges, and outside Teeth's window a wild seabird lets out a fierce and distant cry. Hawke turns back to the door, to Aveline standing patient and steady for her return, but Teeth's voice stops her one last time.

"For what it's worth," he says, quietly, straightening until his hair flashes gold in the sun, until his eyes cut through the haze in one last moment of genuine honesty, "I'm sorry."

There is no rage in her, here, no anger, no shame; instead there is only pity and deep sorrow—and the clean clear breath of absolution. "Goodbye, Thom."

"Champion," he says, and does not protest when she moves away. She glances back, only once, to see through the iron bars his eyes turned up to the window above him, lost in one last glimpse of freedom in the grey-stoned prison of his future.

Then Hawke steps forward, towards Aveline, towards light.



---




part one    |    part two    |    part three    |    part four    |    part five    |    part six
Tags: *fanfic, [fandom: dragon age], multi-part: river stone, ship: hawke/fenris
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