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.
Notes: And in one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me in this fandom, the lovely and very talented amaranthined on tumblr drew some incredible fanart for the lake scene in part two. You can see it here on tumblr: tinyurl.com/cqc949y. Go look! It is awesome.
And now we come to the conclusion of the fic. Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing! :D
The afternoon sun hits Hawke like a brick wall when she finally emerges from the prison. The air is hot and heavy, thick with salt and the promise of rain, and it is not long before Hawke's hair is plastered to her neck and her clothes clinging to her back like damp fingers. She should go home, she thinks; Fenris is waiting and the weather is uncertain and she is tired, weary to the bone with something deeper than nightmares. She should go home.
The path forks ahead of her. Hawke pauses, shading her eyes as she glances towards Kirkwall's southern gates—and then she turns away, turns west, until she faces the setting sun.
It is steep going at first; this path down to the Wounded Coast is little-used and less maintained, and more than once Hawke finds herself catching at roots and the stubby cliff-grown trees that dot the trail when her feet slide out from under her. It is not long before her shirt is soaked through and her brand stinging with salt sweat, but when she reaches the bottom at last and steps forward onto the beckoning white sands it all falls away into the earth and stone behind her, easy as the shedding of a cloak and with just as little thought. A song is burning in the back of her throat, a voice silenced and ignored so long she aches at the pressure of it, and when she stumbles into the cold white surf of the Waking Sea there is nothing in her mind but the deep and driving pulse of magic.
Hawke lifts her hand and calls for fire.
It comes, as familiar as the wind and the sky and the shape of her name, and rests in her hand like a blossom with petals of light. Bits of it shiver here and there, her magic creaking with disuse and her control not quite steady, but it holds the shape she gives it for as long as she asks, and when at last she allows the bloom of fire to vanish upward into smoke Hawke cannot keep back her smile. The Black Hoods took from her many things, she thinks. They did not take this.
The sky darkens above her, the sun long gone behind clouds black and swollen with rain, but Hawke pays it little mind. There is magic seething under her skin and she must loose it or be lost, must remind herself of what she is and what she is not, and when a distant, rumbling roll of thunder booms across the storm-dark sea Hawke throws back her head and laughs. The cowl catches on her hair, on her neck—she tears it from her head and surrenders it to the sea, a scrap of grey cloth that hangs in the air only an instant before the water leaps to swallow it.
"Try me!" she shouts, her voice almost lost in the rising wind, her shirt twisted and sticking to her skin. There is a boulder jutting up from the shallows, a foot higher than the swelling waves and more than wide enough to stand on; Hawke scrambles atop it, spreading both arms wide as if to embrace the storm and winds that buffet her. "I'm here, I'm ready, I'm ready for anything you can throw at me—"
Then the clouds burst at last, and in her eyes and ears and mouth there is only rain.
It falls in great heavy sheets, warm and steady through the gusting winds, drenching her through in a matter of seconds. In the distance a finger of lightning leaps seaward; Hawke laughs again and mimics it with a bolt of her own, a pale imitation drawn out of her mind to pierce an imaginary enemy at her feet. The air cracks and another strike lands brighter, closer, as if in pride—or warning.
"Fair enough," Hawke says, breathless, and the words are ripped from her mouth by the roar of thunder that follows. She will leave the lightning to the Maker for now—she has other ways to set her magic free.
The fire returns when she asks, settling into her cupped hands as if it belongs there. The rain pounds around her in a voiceless, deafening cadence, whipping the waves to a white froth and pummeling her arms and hands numb, but her magic is strong and the fire still burns like a star. The wind picks up as if it wishes to beat her from her stone perch; she leans into it even as another blast of thunder cracks above her loud enough to rattle her bones, to thrum deep in her heart like the voice of the Maker himself.
A sudden wave rolls in high and cold against her shins, hard enough to make her stumble, the spray like ice chips scraping across her cheeks. Hawke lifts her chin to face the gale, closing her eyes under the onslaught of the driving rain, closing her fingers into tight fists that blaze with fire and magic.
The storm batters; she will not yield. I am not empty. I am not a stone.
I am not Tranquil.
Lightning strikes again, closer; the fire surges in her hands hot enough to scald her skin, bright enough to sear even through her closed eyes. Her throat is dry with the terrifying wildness of the storm, the black-swollen clouds, the iron hammer of her heartbeat. I will not stumble—I will not falter—I will not—
Hawke opens her eyes. The sea roils before the floodrise of her magic.
Fenris's voice leaps unbidden to her ears. Hawke.
I will not be lost.
Hawke throws back her head, throws her arms wide to the winds, throws herself headlong into the sweet siren's song of the Fade. Her magic burns through her skin like a brand, brilliant and cleansing as if Maferath himself has stoked her storm-soaked boulder into a pyre—she blazes atop it, lit from the inside out until she thinks she must go mad or die away, consumed like the last spark of oil at the bottom of a lamp's hungry wick. Fire burns at her very skin—her own fire, her own self, neither lost nor tamed—she opens her mouth and swallows flame instead of rain, breathes white-curled steam instead of wind.
There is nothing but the Fade. There is nothing but her magic.
Hawke presses the heel of her hand to her forehead, at the sun there lit as brightly as the fire around her. Nothing but a mark, now, nothing but a scar and bitter memories. Lighting strikes again and again, one-two bolts that burn acrid in her nose and raise the hairs on her arms, but she pays it little mind; she is lost in sun and shadow, in the deep press of sorrow and the agony of remembered hope. She will not forget—cannot forget—but scars fade, and memories ease, and with time Hawke knows that even these wounds will become little more than a skin-deep mark and an ache on winter nights.
She also knows that she will not have to carry this burden alone.
As if her thoughts have been heard, the winds slacken a moment and the rains ease their ceaseless drumming, and the fire around her curls closer, more calmly, into her skin. Hawke draws back into herself, blinking rainwater from her eyes; thunder rumbles low and long through the clouds above her in some great, wordless song that catches her breath in her throat. She drops her hand to her chest when her heart tries to follow after, but its own limping rhythm is not quite the unchained power of the heavens, and Hawke laughs in as much relief as to hear the sound of her voice as the thunder fades into the western sky. The storm is passing, breaking without breaking her against it. She has survived.
The boulder is slick with wind and water and she almost falls as she steps down from it, barely catching herself on its shining face before going face-first into the shallows. The Maker is laughing at her somewhere, Hawke is sure, but it matters little; she is soaked to the bone, her tunic and trousers clinging to her skin and stiff with salt as if teasing her one last time for her challenge, and neither an ounce nor a bucket of water could make her wetter than she is now.
Hawke wades to the shore, toeing her boots into the sodden sand to be sure she is on solid ground once more, and glances back over her shoulder at the sea. Its waters are still dark with the storm, the clouds still thick and black with rain, but there is no fury in it, now, no tempered rage seething for release. She has not broken; she is not empty.
Hawke smiles and starts back up the path that will lead her home.
The winds have turned cold by the time Hawke at last reaches her front door, the streets of Kirkwall dimmed and empty with the twilight rain save her lone, unsteady figure weaving her uncertain way home. Her clothes are a dead, frigid weight on her skin, heavy and thick and mercilessly clinging to what little warmth she has left, and Hawke bites back a breathless laugh at her own stupidity as her fingers fumble for the third time on the latch.
"Come on," she mutters, swiping impatiently at the dark strands of hair dripping into her eyes. "Come on, come on—"
At last—there—the latch clicks and the door swings open, and Hawke stumbles gracelessly into the firelit warmth of her mother's house. "I win," she tells the door as she kicks it closed behind her, half-drunk with exhilaration and the fact that she is so cold her bones feel ready to snap. The great hall is empty, though a fire burns cheerfully in the hearth; she lurches towards it in gratitude with a single-minded focus, leaving a wandering trail of water behind her on the stone floor. Louder, she adds, "Anyone home? Fenris? Orana?"
There is no answer, but Hawke can't seem to make herself mind; instead she drops heavily to the bench in front of the fire and tugs off her left boot. Good leather, once—it'd been dyed to match her favorite black coat—but ruined now, limp with seawater and crusted and stained with salt. "Poor boot," she says as it settles into a despairing heap at her feet, and laughs into her fingers. A log splits in the fireplace with a burst of sparks that vanish upward as quickly as they come into being; she stretches both feet towards the welcome heat, wiggling the bare toes of her left foot until the numbness vanishes into the deeper ache of pins and needles. One boot down, one to go—but she is so tired, and the bench surprisingly comfortable, and with no one here to mind what harm could it do to close her eyes, just for a moment, and think of the storm behind her—
"Fenris," she breathes, twisting so suddenly on the bench that she nearly topples off the other side. He stands at the foot of the stairs, his armor gone, one hand still on the railing and his eyebrows lifted as surprise chases naked relief across his face at her appearance. "Fenris, hi! Hello. I'm back!"
"So I see," he says, his voice and his steps both cautious as he makes his way across the room. "I expected you some time ago."
"I," she declares, "got distracted."
"So I see," he says again, lower, and his eyes track down her pale skin and her sodden shirt to her sad, ruined boot flopped into the growing puddle under her feet. "Aveline came by to say you had visited the prison."
"I did," Hawke tells him. Rainwater slides from her hair down her cheek to drip quietly to her lap. "And then I went down to the Coast."
His lips press together in disapproval, but when Hawke reaches for him he allows her to wrap her arms around his waist and bury her head in his hip. His fingers brush lightly over her hair, across her cheek, down the lines of her throat. "You are cold."
"Bitterly." Her voice comes out muffled in his leathers, but she does not move, and he does not pull away. "The sun went down."
"While you stood in the storm."
"It was testing me."
"Oh, Fenris. You sound so skeptical."
"I cannot imagine why."
Hawke smiles. "It was a pivotal moment of self-discovery."
"And of no sense at all," Fenris adds, his voice dry, and when his warm fingers slide to the back of her neck Hawke tips her face up to meet his eyes. "Most people don't court death so lightly, Hawke."
"It was hardly courting. It was more a wink and a coquettish blush, with maybe an awkward flirt on the side."
"Fenris," she parrots, but under the mock irritation in his tone she can hear the lingering threads of true worry, and she relents. "I'm sorry. I lost track of time."
His mouth twists with more resignation than bitterness. "A poor excuse," he tells her, but there is no heat to it, and when Hawke smiles his own lips twitch in answer. "Come. It is warmer upstairs."
"Now you're speaking my language," Hawke agrees, pushing to her feet with only a moment's wavering; Fenris has the courtesy to catch her by the arm when her knees buckle, and when she nearly goes head over heels trying to remove her other boot he reaches down and tugs it off himself.
"You are like a child," he grumbles, tossing the ruined leather towards its mate by the fire.
Hawke throws an arm around his waist as much to steady herself as to soak up the heat of his skin. "Helpless," she agrees, and grins when he pulls a face at her icy, wet clothing and sopping hair pressed full against his side.
By the time they have reached her room, though, Hawke is shivering in earnest, and not even Fenris's arm across her shoulders is enough to ease the winter-deep cold driving into her bones. The rain is still falling outside, a slow, steady rhythm drumming against her windows, the drops on the glass throwing back the firelight like tiny stars as Fenris stokes the flames into life again. It is warmer up here, she can tell, the heat prickling along her exposed skin in waves, but her fingers are still numb and clumsy and she cannot control their shaking long enough to undo the buttons of her shirt. A rumble of distant thunder rolls across them and she pauses, thinking of the Coast, thinking of Teeth—
And then warm fingers close over her own to still their useless plucking. Fenris lifts an eyebrow, inquisitive and concerned; Hawke quirks a smile in response and drops her hands to her sides in acquiescence as he makes short work of the clasps that run from neck to navel. Then a thought occurs to Hawke suddenly enough that she cannot quite stifle her laugh, and Fenris pauses on the third button from the bottom. "Something amuses you?"
She laughs again through teeth that will not stop chattering. "Nothing. It's just exactly the plot of one of Varric's novels."
"Oh, yes. The heroine comes in soaking wet and the hero leaps up from his chair—come on, you've read this one. 'My dear, you're chilled to the bone.'"
She pauses expectantly, but Fenris only pulls the shirt from her shoulders and tosses it to the floor in front of the fire before turning his attention to the knot of her belt.
"My dear, you're chilled to the bone."
Fenris snorts, his fingers busy with the second knot of her belt. "I will not."
"You're chilled to the bone," Hawke says for him, her voice lowered in a poor imitation of his own; then she switches to a higher, breathy register that sounds remarkably like the noblewoman next door. "Oh no, sir, thank you, a cup of hot tea and I'll be perfectly fine!"
Fenris shakes his head as he achieves victory over the belt at last. "You are a fool, Hawke."
"Poor woman," says Hawke, warming to the story, "to be caught in such a terrible storm—"
"Because you did not have the sense to come out of it—"
"In such a terrible storm," Hawke continues, overriding Fenris. "We simply must get you out of those clothes." She flings her hair over one shoulder and a spray of cold water flicks over Fenris's face; he scowls, insulted as a cat at her carelessness, and Hawke laughs. "Oh, I couldn't possibly," she continues, mincing her words at the ends as she brushes the water from his nose. "If my mother found out, or my aunts—oh, the breach of propriety—how could I ever?"
"Was this written by Varric or Isabela?"
"Fenris! It's rude to interrupt."
"I beg your pardon."
"Granted. Where was I?"
"The breach of propriety."
"Oh, yes." At last Fenris has managed to get her laces untied, and Hawke switches again to the voice of her imaginary baron. "Do not jeopardize your survival for the sake of your modesty," she tells Fenris sternly. Her trousers are soaked through and sticking to her legs, and she braces one hand on Fenris's shoulder as she tries to push them down over her knees. "Come, lay with me on my incredibly convenient bed—I will preserve your maidenly virginity—I will only—"
"Hawke, be careful—"
But the warning comes too late. Her foot catches in her trouser leg hard enough to yank herself off balance—and Fenris, too, when her hand fists uselessly and firmly in the collar of his shirt—she hears one of his palms smack against the heavy footboard of her bed, but the stone is slick with rainwater and her body too clumsy with cold, and she only has half an instant to think well, at least you're taking him down with you before both of them go tumbling into an ungainly heap on the floor.
It takes a moment to sort out the elbows and knees and whirling world around her, but soon enough Hawke gathers her wits to find herself clad only in her smalls with her sodden pants still clinging to one ankle, lying half atop Fenris on the thick rug before the fireplace. One of his arms is still wrapped tightly around her waist; the other he has thrown over his eyes as if overcome by either amusement or despair.
"Hawke," he groans—definitely despair—and presses his fingers into the bare skin over her spine. "You are impossible."
She snorts a laugh but doesn't waste time retorting; instead, she kicks away her trousers and shimmies her way up Fenris's chest until she can drop a kiss on his chin, then finishes the baron's speech. "I will only keep you warm."
One green eye cracks open in the shadow of his forearm. "You are as cold as a fish."
"And you are as romantic as a brick."
The other eye opens at that, and even half-lit as he is Hawke can see the corners of his mouth turn up in wry humor. "Coming from you, Hawke, I should consider that a compliment."
"Oh? Known many seductive bricks, then, have you?"
"Something like that," he says, voice dropping, and then with no warning to speak of the muscles of his shoulders bunch and he rolls her onto her back, closer to the heat of the fire and well-pinned under the warm solidity of his hips. He braces his elbows on either side of her head, one of his legs sliding between her knees as he holds her eyes in that opaque green gaze—and then, quietly, he kisses her.
He is more gentle than she expects—certainly more tender, and for the span of a heartbeat she is almost lost to the treacherous prickle of tears behind her eyes. But she refuses to do that to Fenris—he has suffered enough of her tears in these last few days, after all—so instead she swallows them back and lifts her head to meet him, her slow-drying hair sliding free from her forehead, her fingers fumbling at the clasps of his shirt, at the hem at his waist—
Fenris goes utterly still above her.
For a moment Hawke panics, certain somehow she has hurt him—and then without moving, without opening his eyes, he says, "Your hands are—like ice."
Hawke takes a moment to consider this, flexes her fingers against the curling warmth of Fenris's stomach—and then without a moment more of hesitation she slides both palms under his tunic to splay flat against his chest. Fenris jerks, choking, and Hawke laughs; he manages to secure one of her arms with his own but the other still bears his weight, and before he can maneuver her into submission she twists and slips her fingers around to his shoulders and then up to the wonderfully warm skin of the back of his neck.
"Ooh, Fenris, you're a furnace—"
"Stop, Hawke—stop that—" He shakes his head like a cat, rolling blind away from the unexpected torment of her temperature; she laughs again, relenting, and in the time it takes for her to draw breath Fenris has slid her arm from his shirt and pinned both her wrists above her head on the rug.
They stare at each other a moment, his white hair catching the firelight like tarnished gold, his eyes flashing green in the shadows, his thumb on the driving pulse in her wrist. Then his eyes darken, his amusement fades, and when he speaks the murmur is nearly lost to the crackling of the hearth.
Fenris asks, "Why did you go to the Wounded Coast?"
Hawke closes her eyes. She'd known this question was coming, known too she could only delay it so long—and yet she has no idea what to tell him, nothing to say that will not hurt him or herself. And yet to dismiss the question is impossible—Fenris of them all deserves an explanation in the light of his patience and his efforts on her behalf—and more than that she knows that if she chooses not to tell him he will accept it, will not press her again on the subject, and in the end that is why she speaks.
"There was a lake," she says, and opens her eyes. He meets her gaze levelly and without censure, waiting as he has waited for days for her to gather her thoughts into coherency. "At the last camp. Delia sent me to wash dishes and to bathe for the buyers."
The corners of his eyes tighten in anger but Fenris does not interrupt, and Hawke is grateful for it. "It was the first time they had permitted me to be alone. The water was so cold—there was a bird singing, and I thought maybe I could escape—but the lake was too large to swim and there was nowhere to go, and all I could think was that between the emptiness of the camp behind me and the promise of only suffering and slavery ahead, that perhaps the only choice I had was to—well." She cannot meet his eyes; she looks instead past the white blur of his hair to the dim and shadowed ceiling above her. "To let the lake have me instead."
His fingers tense on her wrist, his mouth opening—but she hurries on before he can stop her. "But I didn't—I didn't—I remembered what you said, once, to Anders—" and now she looks at him, and for a moment she is drowning again in the fury and the hurt and the sorrow in his eyes; she blinks, hard, and does not look away again. "You said some things are worse than slavery. You said—if there is a future to be had—but there wasn't, not if I died—let myself die, so I took everything that wasn't Tranquil that they'd left to me and gave it to the lake instead."
Fenris swallows, his jaw clenched. Hawke tries for a smile, but between the memories and Fenris's eyes there is little room for it and instead she leans up, carefully, to kiss him. "I went to the Coast," she says against his mouth, "to get it back."
"Your magic," he says, hoarse and unsteady.
"Yes. And more than that—I wanted—I needed to know that I could still fight, still feel, that I could stand alone in the storm and not be lost to it. Even without you."
His voice drops; his eyes hold hers still. "And can you?"
"Yes," she says: the truth. And then she adds, because it is also true, "But I don't want to."
"Good," he says fiercely, and closes his mouth over hers.
The warmth of the hearth pales in comparison. The logs there burn quietly, complacently; this is fire and desperation and the wildness of knowing a thing almost lost, a heat that rushes to every part of her still cold to set it burning until there is nothing left but the heady blaze of his breath and his touch and his taste. She tries to reach for him and his fingers tighten around her wrists, gentle and unyielding, and when she opens her mouth under his he does not hesitate to take what she offers, to slide his tongue between her lips and his knee higher between her thighs until she gasps for breath.
Hawke breaks away, throws her head back on the rug to swallow air; Fenris only moves to her throat, lingering with tongue and teeth over the pulse that hammers under her skin. One hand still pins both of hers to the rug—some prisons, she discovers, she is not so eager to escape—and then the other skims down her collarbone until she can feel the tell-tale tug on her breastband. A breathless laugh escapes her, more from the surprise of her delight than anything else—and then her smalls are gone and the heated wash of the fire presses over her bared skin and Fenris's hand—
"You left me," he says against the skin of her throat, his mouth brushing over her heartbeat, his voice as rough as she has ever heard it, "to try yourself against a storm."
"To find your magic. To feel the bruises and scars that have been left behind."
His teeth close briefly at the base of her neck sharp enough to startle her, hard enough to send a bolt of heat straight to the pit of her stomach. "Yes—"
"Then tell me, Hawke," Fenris murmurs as he finds her mouth again with his own, his eyes bright and hot, "what you feel now."
She blinks, startled by the question, but there is nothing but open truth and need in his face and in his touch. What does she feel? The coarseness of the rug behind her shoulders, the slide of damp hair over her cheeks, Fenris's weight on her thighs, Fenris's hand on her hands and his lips on the raised and rippled skin of her forehead—
"Oh," says Hawke.
What she feels—what she feels, not the Tranquil or the stone or the empty shell as brittle as glass. She flexes her hands above her head and feels Fenris's strength pressed against her wrists; she arches towards him and feels the rasp of his thumb, callused and warm, over her breast. That she likes—she closes her eyes and stretches upwards again, seeking more—and then she draws back, draws in a breath, quirks a smile as she looks up at him because as impossibly trite as the sentiment is it is the only thing she can say. "I feel—whole."
His eyebrow lifts, his mouth twisting in amusement. "Whole."
"Yes," she says, defiant and delighted, freeing a hand from his hold to twine her fingers into the soft white hair falling across the back of his neck. "Whole. And warm. And home."
"The same room it has always been," Fenris says, his voice dry, but his eyes are alight with the knowledge that she means neither the fireplace nor the walls around them. She smiles and Fenris laughs, then, low and warm, and his palm slides down her bare arms to her shoulder to her throat to the swell of her breast, skimming over her stomach and the curve of her hip to leave a trail of impossible heat on her skin. Hawke kisses him again and again, pushing and giving alike as he gives, as her hand slides further into his hair to keep him with her. His mouth goes to her throat and she laughs herself, turning her head until her lips just brush the tip of his long, tapered ear.
"I missed you," she murmurs.
His hand tightens on her hip, the muscles of his shoulders tensing as he lifts himself on one elbow to meet her eyes. Half his face is dimmed in shadow, the other half lit almost too brilliantly by the snapping fire; and yet his eyes are brighter still, somehow, than even the flame, and for many moments there is no sound in the room but the fire and their breath and the soft rhythmic hushing of rain against the windows.
Then he says, "Then do not leave again."
Her voice comes fierce and quiet, strong as stone and just as certain. Fenris searches her face a moment more as her fingers slide from his hair to the slender lines of lyrium chasing down his throat—and then, all at once, his gaze sharpens and his shoulders roll forward and he smiles, and when Hawke pulls him down to meet her with her own gaze burning just as hot, he comes willingly and with a sigh of her name across her lips that has her arching towards his hands again. His eagerness is as great as hers; one hand twists into her hair as the other returns to her breast, deliberate and painful with tenderness, and he shifts only to allow her the freedom to reach the clasps of his tunic. It does not take her long—she knows them by touch, after all, and even a month's absence has not dimmed the memory of their workings—and in the space of two slow breaths she has bared his chest to the firelight—and to her searching fingers.
She draws them soft and steady over his chest, over the twined-silver branches reaching through his skin, impressing on her mind anew the tracings of his muscles and his warming skin and the knotted twists of his scars, reminding herself of the things she has lost and the things she has not lost until there is precious little left inside her but the taste of his mouth and the sweet hum of his lyrium and the sound of his breath in her ears. Her heart is racing—she revels in it, urges the beat faster and faster until it pounds hard enough to leap from her chest. Fenris shifts above her and when his skin slides too smoothly over hers she realizes she is hot—blazing from the inside out—how could she have ever been cold?
Fenris kisses her and Hawke laughs—and says, "Yes," and "there," and when his hand slips to her waist and lower she says, "Fenris, that feels—" and then she says nothing at all because words have been lost to her; he brings her over the edge with his fingers alone, and by the time he allows her to speak again she is limp and trembling and as desperate for his touch as for air.
"I like that," she says to the ceiling, her eyes closed; Fenris snorts into her neck.
"You are easy to please."
"Easier now than I was," Hawke tells him; it comes out more seriously than she means it to, but she has been gone for too long and she has missed him for too long, and that she can enjoy the touch of a lover now is testament enough that she is not what she once was. She will not let her feelings wither sunless inside her heart; she will never hide herself again in the stone.
Fenris meets her gaze as if he knows what she means; she smiles—and means it—and then she cannot wait a moment more, cannot let another instant pass by with her heart still trapped in the fear-stark cage of memory. She brushes the white fall of his hair from his eyes, touches his face with the scarred and half-healed skin of her fingers and he does not flinch; she presses his shoulder and he allows himself to be turned until she can sit astride him, her hips in the cradle of his hips, her hands at the laces at his waist. Fenris lets her, watching with open warmth as she unknots the leather and slides it down over his hips, and then as if to banish even the last lingering half-thoughts of shadowed dark-wooded pine trees and unwelcome embraces, he cups his hands around her jaw and pulls her down to kiss her.
She lets him; then she draws back and closes her eyes, rests her branded forehead against his like the last breath of sunlight before coming home, and says, plainly, "I love you."
A shudder runs through him as thoroughly as a gale shakes through slender branches, a glimmer of lyrium's unsteady light brushing against her closed eyelids—and then his fingers splay wide and coal-hot on her back as he wraps his arms around her waist, as he digs his heels into the rug and lifts his hips to meet hers in one unhesitating stroke. The immediacy of it startles them both; Hawke draws in a breath, and then another, easing homeward as his fingers tense and un-tense on her spine, as his hooded eyes fix themselves on hers like a ship sighting the last living star. Then she rolls forward, clumsy and uncertain at first with too little practice and too many memories, but he is there to meet her and to catch her, evening the rhythm until she grasps hold of it.
Always the anchor, Hawke thinks distantly as she leans over him, her fingers twining with his at the newest arrow-scar on his shoulder left by the woman with the red hair; always the linchpin in the savage gleam of Kirkwall's harder edges, always the steady storm-lit beacon that she can trust to guide her steps, to help her find herself again—
To find herself—
Her back bows as she trembles into a sigh, voiceless, euphoric; she opens her eyes when he stops, so close, but Fenris is not nearly through with her, and before she can even draw breath he has turned her again to her back on the rug before the still-burning fire, his face fierce with gladness and relief and something deeper, something nameless, at once wilder and more familiar and so powerful she aches at the pressure of it, at the answering cry surging in her own heart.
"Fenris," she says, and it is as if the word has loosed an arrow between them. He quickens and she does too, soaring again, caught in the swift-winging flight of breath and hammering hearts and fingers pressing into well-loved skin, in the rasp of promises made less with words than the heady glide of mouths and scars and broken edges easing back into place. His hands tense on her waist, her only warning—he buries his head in her neck and his hips drive hard into hers at last, and then for the second time she bends under the weight of the heavy wave that swallows her. There is nothing but the sea—there is nothing but Fenris—there is nothing but the hard-thudding beat of her heart—
—There, she thinks. Peace.
The world rights itself slowly, piece by piece gliding into existence again like the white sails of ships emerging from the mist. The gilded blur of her room dwindles into the red hangings of her bed and the carved wood of her desk and the flame-gold sheen of sweat on Fenris's skin; the roaring in her ears gives way to the little crackling fire, to the soft beating of rain on glass, to the quick, quiet draws of air at her shoulder as Fenris slips free to lie beside her on the rug.
He touches her hair, damp now with sweat and less with rainwater, and a corner of his mouth turns up in a smile. "You no longer look cold."
Hawke laughs, sated and satisfied and thoroughly not cold, and says, "Smug bastard."
His smile broadens but he allows her the point, and when she tucks her head under his chin he even goes so far as to drape an arm around her shoulders to draw her closer. They lie together in contented silence for a long time, easy with the rainfall and with each other, but all too soon Hawke becomes aware of her still-sticky skin and her hopelessly tangled hair, and with one last kiss to his chin she pushes reluctantly to her feet. The weight of his gaze follows after like a physical thing; she tosses a grin over her shoulder and is rewarded with a small smile of his own as she vanishes into the small, adjoining bathing room. She doesn't linger, though, staying only long enough to wet a cloth in the washbasin and rub herself down with brisk, thorough strokes and to knot up her hair behind her head until it is well out of the way.
Still, by the time she returns, Fenris has risen as well to stand by the window, a rust-colored blanket from her bed slung over his hips—and that, she suspects, is more for the sake of her privacy than any concern for his own modesty. Hawke does not bother with clothing of her own; the room is lit only by the small fire behind them, the night well-fallen, and the rain still heavy enough to obscure what little detail the darkness does not hide. Instead she crosses the room on bare feet until she can wrap her arms around his waist from behind, resting her chin on his white-veined shoulder as she holds tight to the steady safeguard of his strength.
Fenris lifts a hand and pushes open the lower pane of the window to let in the evening's breeze and the unmuffled sound of water on stone. A faint trace of moonlight darts down the lyrium on his fingers like tiny silverfish as he draws back, letting his hand come to rest on her hands at his waist; Hawke leans her head against his, and together they watch the last sigh of the storm.
The rain falls steadily, tiny droplets bursting against the stone sill with the sound of small, flat bells ringing the evening vespers. Bits of clouds thin here and there with errant breezes, letting scant fingers of moonlight trickle through to shaft light over a length of wall draped with damp ivy; across the grey slate of a distant roof; down the back of a lonely guardsman walking his patrol in the streets below them, his cloaked shoulders hunched up by his ears in paltry defense against the weather. In the darkness, somewhere, a nested thrush lets out a quiet, sighing song that ripples down the scale.
"I don't want Teeth to die," Hawke murmurs over his shoulder, and the sudden sentiment surprises her. She hesitates, her arms tightening around Fenris, and then just as softly, she asks, "Is that wrong?"
His thumb strokes over her wrist. "I would kill him even now," he murmurs.
"Sometimes I want to," she admits. The downpour continues, slow and unhurried; the guardsman quietly passes out of sight. Hawke can feel the swell of Fenris's chest as he breathes in and out. "I dream of killing him in a hundred different ways. And then I wake up, and all I can think of is the water he gave me when I was thirsty, and the valerian he gave me when I was in pain. But I can't kill him without him—dying, and—I don't know how to save him. Fenris, I'm so tired of death."
Fenris says nothing for a long time. Neither of them moves, her chest pressed to his back, his fingers laced through hers as they watch Kirkwall's rain-blurred edges shift and slip through the shadows of the ebbing storm. A faint, wispy mist begins to rise from the streets, just enough to soften what sharp edges are left and to dampen the cooler air easing in through the window, and then Fenris sighs and says only, "I know, Hawke."
They do not leave the window until the rain stops.
Two days pass before the last grey clouds lift over Kirkwall. Then the morning of the third day dawns clear and cool, a faint northern breeze skimming over the Vinmark Mountains to fill the streets of Hightown with the clean crisp scent of pine, and for the first time since she returned to the city Hawke finds herself awake before Fenris. His sleep is still deep enough that she can slip from the bed without waking him, and she pulls on a shirt and trousers and makes her way downstairs, caught up in the silence of the morning skies and the white-muted hush of a city not yet stirring.
She means to go to the kitchen and brew a cup of tea and then perhaps drift into the study to read; instead, somehow, she finds herself moving to the front door, her bare feet nearly silent on the stone, her fingers twisting the latch until the door stands open and she can see the empty square laid out before her stoop. It is early enough that the streets are still half-hidden in pale blue shadows, but Hawke only leans against the jamb. There is a sense of anticipation floating around her shoulders, an impression that something important and irrevocable has been decided and she must, she must wait here to meet it or regret for the rest of her life letting this moment pass her by.
So Hawke leans against the door, her ghosts gathered patiently at her feet, and waits.
It doesn't take long—maybe five minutes, maybe ten—long enough only for the lines of shadow to draw closer to the buildings that cast them, to recede under the rising light of dawn like tidewater giving way to solid ground. Then Hawke hears them: voices, first, followed by footsteps, both kept low as their owners round the corner of the square to step into her line of sight.
Isabela, and Varric, and Aveline close behind, and all three of them with faces like errant schoolchildren caught at the creek rather than at lessons.
"Hawke," says Aveline, recovering first. "Good morning."
"Morning," she says lazily. She does not so much as shift her weight in the doorway. "Long night?"
Isabela breaks into a saunter across the square, brazen in discovery and apparently quite free of the shame that neither Varric nor Aveline can quite hide. "The longest," she says, tossing her head as she passes through a gap in the shadows, and for an instant her earring flares so bright Hawke cannot look at it. "You wouldn't believe where we've been."
"Isabela," Aveline says in warning, but the pirate pays her little attention, so she and Varric are forced to follow behind as Isabela approaches Hawke's open door. "Hawke," Aveline says then, trying a different tack, her hands spread placatingly before her. "We would have told you, but there wasn’t time—"
"Time for what?"
"To stage a daring rescue," Isabela says, swiveling on one heel to lean back against the wall beside Hawke. One hand goes to her forehead in a mockery of dramatic emotion; the other fists itself over her heart. "A rescue of truly epic proportions, featuring greased palms and sweat-slicked skin and really well-oiled—"
"—hinges, big girl, no need to get testy." Isabela laughs and winks at Hawke, who cannot help but return the smile despite her misgivings. Aveline sighs and buries her face in her hand.
"I wanted to tell you," she says again, her voice muffled by the leather of her gloves.
"Stop fussing and just spit it out," Hawke says, and her smile slips at the sound of anxiety in Aveline's tone, at the resignation drawn all over Varric's face. "Who did you rescue?"
Then the Chantry bells toll, slowly, ponderously, beating out the hour across the city in steady bronze-voiced booms, and Hawke remembers at last an empty gallows and who was meant to hang atop it.
"Oh," she says, blank with realization, and for a moment she tastes only the bitter bite of valerian.
A quiet step sounds behind her and a hand touches lightly, carefully, the center of her back. Fenris says, "You were tired of death."
She turns to look at him, fully dressed in his leathers and his armor, his gauntlets flashing silver, his eyes steady and green as grass as he meets her gaze. "I was. I am," she says, too bewildered to be angry, and then, "you freed him?"
"No," he says quickly; his hand tenses on her back, just for a moment, and Hawke sees the effort it costs him, has cost him, to let Teeth walk living from Aveline's prison. "Isabela arranged…an alternative sentencing."
"That's one way to put it," Varric mutters with a wry glance over his shoulder.
Isabela only tips her head back against the wall until she can grin up at the sky—though the smile has an edge to it, less happiness than grim satisfaction at a task done and gone and no longer worth the worry. "I hear Ferelden still needs strong hands in the rebuilding effort. Those darkspawn tend to leave such a mess."
"Oh?" says Hawke, still swimming somewhere between fury and unbearable relief. "And so you just sent him with…what, a polite note tied with ribbon?"
"Of course not. I also persuaded a good crew to keep him locked up until they dock at Denerim. And—let's just say Their Royal Majesties still owe me a favor."
"A really big favor. Like, a full night's hard work's worth of a favor."
Hawke puts up a hand to block out Isabela's waggling eyebrows and suggestive shoulder shimmy, opting instead to face Varric and Aveline behind her. "And you two helped with this?"
"Not by choice," Aveline mutters with a side-eyed glare at Isabela.
"And Anders? Merrill?"
"Seeing off the ship even as we speak," Isabela singsongs.
"You were all in this together," says Hawke, accusatory and pleading both, but Varric shrugs.
"The broody elf asks for help, how can I say no?" Fenris chokes behind her but Varric is merciless, his good humor returning at the chance to call out Fenris on his softer side. "Comes in with these big soulful eyes asking me to break into a prison on Hawke's behalf, sincere as a damn bride giving vows—"
"Dwarf," Fenris snarls, his ears flushing, but Hawke barely notices—she is caught in the sudden giddy rush of unexpected gladness, relieved beyond words to be freed from this last stone-heavy burden, drunk on the wine-sweet surety that this is one regret she will not be forced to carry with her an instant longer. Teeth, gone; Thom saved, saved and sent safely away to a place where he can take the shreds of his life and make them into something new, something better. In the prison she had seen his heart—and he had seen himself—and though she had known him to be not wholly irredeemable she had not seen a way to save him—and then Fenris, of all people—Fenris, as always, had stepped into the dark place at her feet and lit the flaring torch.
She should have known, she thinks, breathless with something deep and unnamable, should have known he'd be the one to tear the death-weight from her shoulders—he'd come after her in the woods, after all, pulled her out of the white and soundless mists into the steadiness of his arms—and then again he'd found her balanced on the point of a promised knife, cracking her stone-strong shell clean through to bring her back to herself—and here he is again, knowing her better than she knows herself, unwilling to add the bitter pangs of remorse to the heaviness she already carries with her even at the cost of his own vengeance.
Hawke says, "Fenris," and her voice sounds strange to her own ears; but when he tears his glare from the dwarf to meet her eyes she does not hesitate before pulling him into a kiss. She does not linger long—he is stiff with surprise and she herself is still too shaken for more—but she does give him what she can of what she has left until she finds herself forced to draw back to breathe.
"Oh," says Isabela. Aveline's face is bright red over her shoulder. "Can I have one of those if I ask nicely?"
"No," Hawke says with a grin. Fenris turns away, into the cooler dimness of the house, but Hawke can see that he is smiling too.
"Well," says Isabela, resigned, "fair enough. Come on, then, since you're up—we're going to get Anders and Merrill and we're going shopping."
Isabela swings out a saucy hip and gestures at her own forehead. "Can't have you going about like that all the time, can we?"
Aveline opens her mouth as if to protest, but a thoughtful look passes over her face. "It's not a bad idea," she admits. "The less attention drawn to you now, the better. Isabela might be right."
"'Course I am," Isabela says then, slinging one arm over Hawke's shoulder and drawing her forward, step by step, into the paling gold light of sunrise. "Besides, I found this amazing hat shop in Lowtown."
"Is that so?" Hawke says, laughing, letting herself be pulled. Isabela chatters on, releasing her to poke Aveline in the cheek until she smiles; Varric chuckles at them both and Bianca's stock gleams as he turns away. Hawke watches them a moment, her heart caught in her throat; then she turns to the open doorway at her back, at Fenris filling it, his lips curved up in a smile, his eyes warm on her face. "Well," she adds, only to him, and stretches out her hand. "Come on, then."
Fenris takes her hand, his fingers threading through hers with a surety that aches, and when they step together into the brilliant daybreak she thinks only a moment of the sun-bright brand on her brow. Only a scar, now, only fading; not Tranquil, not empty, not stone—only gladness, and peace, and the slow refilling of her heart.
Hawke lifts her face to the rising sun, and she laughs.