Beyond the Ice and Fire
A Dragon Age 2 fic
A/N: I relied heavily on two songs for this fic: Dante's Prayer and As I Roved Out from Loreena McKennitt. The tones couldn't be more different, and yet they are harmonious—if you can catch them on YouTube, do listen to them while reading, it's fun.
And yes, I am paraphrasing dialogues from the game, for a non-conventional reading of this romance.
All characters therein belong to Bioware, except Marian Hawke (although the name is theirs). I am just playing with them…
He is sitting at his usual table in the Hanged Man again; Corff knows him well enough by now that he brings him his drinks when he empties what's in front of him: a strong, dark red, one of the best in the house, as 'best' is defined in a shady hangout such as this. He also knows when to cut him off—this from one of the first times when he came in with Varric for a game, and left rather hastily before one of Captain Aveline's patrols burst into the scene. He still remembers the dwarf's curses as he dragged him out to a side alley through an entrance apparently only known to the regulars… and vividly recalls Aveline's visit the next day, too.
"For the Maker's sake, Fenris," Aveline threw up her hands, exasperated, "I don't mind you getting a cup or two, and we can all use a drink what with all that's going on, but was it really necessary to make such a mess?"
"We all helped." Varric shrugged, no hint of apology in his voice, coming to his rescue. "To clean up the bloodstains afterwards, I mean." With a sheepish grin, he added. "Guard Cap'n, ma'am."
"You two…" Aveline shook her head. "One of you is enough, but together…Seriously, how do you manage, Hawke?" She turned to the fourth person in the room, who flashed a quick lopsided smile at her and ran her fingers through her dark locks.
"Why, through the force of my charming personality, womanly wiles, and the liberal application of coin and lavish gifts, of course." After a brief pause, she added, almost pensively. "Though I didn't reckon having to clean up innards from a floor after midnight might be considered fun, but…" She tilted her head to one side, azure eyes glinting with glee. "Say, Varric, can you pay me for that?"
And thus, now he is rationed…when Corff sees him leaning on his elbow above his cup, that's it. He's not there yet, but seriously considers it just now. Seeing that family reunion between Hawke's uncle and his long-lost daughter... he shakes his head, trying to clear it from the memories that are flooding back, inevitably, but only briefly as he struggles to suppress them.
Flashes of lyrium, molten heat over his skin, on it, under it…
"You're not my sister!"
"Don't call me that!"
"She's all yours…"
The touch of her hand on his shoulders as she leaves the room, drawing all the others with her, here, in this very inn, just yesterday…
He closes his eyes briefly, and, yet again, asks himself why he is still here? He never, ever imagined that freedom will be like this. That the pain would not go away, that it rekindles and doubles and triples in intensity every time he looks at her, curse it!
Isn't that what fugitive slaves do, Fenris? His own voice asks from deep inside, bitter like acid. Running, from everywhere, from everyone?
I am slave no longer! And I am still here… he offers, dimly aware of the absurdity of the situation. Arguing with himself is not exactly the sign of sanity: but, then, neither is living with tattoos of lyrium etched into one's skin, or with the ability of being able to rip a man's heart out of his chest in one movement with bare hands.
Are you? His own voice mocks, with the slight slurring of the wine. You ran from her, after all… and still running, after three years.
Shut up! He snarls, almost unable to contain himself, and feels the lyrium boiling up under his skin, sending the intricate web of etched lines slightly glowing. That was not…
Cowardice? Failure? Failure to face the fact that you're not merely a tool anymore? That you have memories, feelings… People who care about you? About whom you care? Failure to understand what freedom really means, now that you don't have to run?
It doesn't help, it really doesn't that this is the exact moment that blasted prince-priest chooses to sit by his side (apparently, even Sebastian Vael deems it fit to mingle with commonfolk, Fenris' rational side observes for a second), regards him with those bright eyes that ooze compassion, and asks him, after a respectful moment of silence and a sip of wine:
"You know, Fenris, as a brother in the Chantry, I'm allowed to hear confessions."
The elf closes his eyes for a second to compose himself and not to snarl at the man; Sebastian, mostly, is really all right for what he is. The exiled prince of Starkhaven, for some reason, likes to engage him in thoughtful conversation from time to time, genuinely curious about his past, even his future, and even with all his Chantry-raised goodness, he every now and then says something that makes him stop and think.
"And why would you tell me this?" He is proud of his control: when he speaks, his voice is almost calm, and only a hint of deeper registers betray the turmoil of his soul a mere moment ago.
Sebastian, though, is apparently more observant—and tactful- than he gave him credit for. He allows another long moment of silence, during which he sinks a bit more comfortably in one of the awful chairs of the Hanged Man, before he continues quietly.
"I was… watching you for a while now, and…I know Danarius made you do things." He pauses and weighs his words carefully, now that he has Fenris' full attention. "You and… your sister both. And now that he's dead, and..." He clears his throat, not wanting to dwell on that too long; wisely so, Fenris notes. "I don't wish to impose upon you, but I thought you might be more comfortable talking to a friend. About this, I mean." He adds, and Fenris can plainly see, even through his incredulity over what's happening that Sebastian's deep, honest… accursed desire to help people almost overflows his blue eyes as he continues. "You should know: a murder committed under duress is a sin on the one who ordered it, not the one whose hands carried out the deed."
Oh, really? Fenris' sarcastic, inner self cannot help the snarling: the elf feels his lips curl up from his teeth as he fights for control. And what would you know about that, princeling?
When he finally gathers the composure enough to answer, those deeper tones undertook his timbre almost entirely, and Sebastian has to scoot his chair back a bit from the ferocity with which the elf leans closer to him.
"Have I not spoken enough of my past? Does everyone in Kirkwall wish to hear every sordid detail?" The snarl is almost uncontrollable now, and he grinds out the last sentence in a low growl that sets Sebastian's teeth on edge. "Does it amuse you, prince?"
Sebastian shakes his head, looking at Fenris with something in his eyes akin to pity. He stands up to move away from his table: but his last words and gesture towards where Fenris tried not to look very hard for the past hour or so hits him harder than a bucket of cold water or a punch in the face would have.
"Sometimes it's painful to speak. But it's the only way the wound can be lanced." A last bow of the head. "Believe me; I speak from experience in this regard." And then Sebastian is gone, threading his way towards where she sits, and Fenris looks now, really looks at her, with more than a mere glance, or one of those behind-the-back looks that Merrill likes to tease him about, and he suddenly understands a hundred poet's songs he's heard before but never paid attention to, with a clarity only old and constant pain can bring.
Hawke is sitting at the bar, at her usual place, where else… that corner is hers since Isabela has fled with her relic, good riddance. She doesn't come often, but when she's here, she simply fills the space with her mere presence, and, at the same time, makes people doubt that she really did all those things their Champion is said to have done.
The Champion of Kirkwall… Tall for a woman, long-limbed and wide in the shoulders, she is out of her usually grim armored finery, and, having dressed for a night in town with friends (the safety of whom during these outings, Fenris knows, often costs Varric heavy coins), she looks years younger, slightly flushed with the blush of wine and good company. She just finished singing some grim ballad about a highwayman's ghost, some bizarre Fereldan legend that's quite popular here in the tavern where so many refugees still linger. Fenris never would have thought that someone who can drive her two-handed blade through the neck of a fully grown dragon to sever it in one big heave can sing so crystal-clear…
He squishes the memory that comes up at the heel of that thought: Varric, winking at Sebastian when they first heard Hawke singing.
Come on, choir boy, she certainly has the lungs for it…
… and who is sweeping her hair out of her face now in a thoughtlessly graceful gesture, laughing at something Varric just said and smacking him playfully behind the ears. Another colorful remark from the dwarf's repertoire, no doubt.
She does that smacking very carefully, though, Fenris observes, settling back to nurse his drink—the last one for this night, definitely. Those long-fingered hands, laced with a fine cobweb of scars are strong…
Like his memories.
The same hands, the same fingers, strong, warm, sword-calloused, on his skin, slipping under his clothes, exploring the lines of his shame, but without judgment or pity, lighting them up, one by one with the almost feverish desire to touch, to feel, to get closer, to be alive...
He shakes his head, and puts his cup down, hard.
"Well, all right then." he hears, through the haze of red-clouded memories (and yes, he still wears that red ribbon around his arm she wore on her forehead that night, although it's frayed and faded through the years), her voice, drawling, slipping back into that accent she tried to shake off so hard during the years, using phrases that mark her in the higher circles she moves now as forever an outsider. "Everyone...since Sebastian here asked sooo mighty nicely, and, let's face it, he comes down so rarely to mingle, it's really an honor... Shut up, Varric, or I swear I do something that's not ladylike, not the least... Anyhow, good folks, I swore I won't sing anymore tonight, but this one... A fine song indeed, and one that happens to be dear to my heart too." She quietens a bit, bending her head and the crowd around her grows silent too: they know her moods by now, know their Champion after six years of always coming back to them.
"You see..." she says, almost in a whisper now, and Fenris feels his heart constrict to see something flash through her face, normally lit up with a wry smile. "My mother taught me the words to this... An old prayer, it was... written, it is said, by a traveler who went to many corners of this world... and the one behind the Veil, back in the olden times, when everything was whole, or such the old folk and the Dalish say. Right, Merrill?" she turns to the slender elven woman at her side, who nods, her tattooed face all concentration as she balances a lute on her lap. "And, truth to tell, there were things happening lately that...brought it back to my mind, and no doubt our mightily clever and oh-so-shiny prince-in-exile here thought it, too." Slight laughter, as the Champion flashes her lopsided grin, the one she wears almost always, the one that made so many underestimate her here in Kirkwall. "But with all that, I reckon you'd much rather hear the song than me prattling on, so how about?" And she nods, and the man everyone knows as the Bad Poet has a fiddle he plays rather well and often, when he doesn't brood in a corner, and Merrill is, of course, there with the lute she's been learning from Orana to play these past years... and Fenris cannot help but close his eyes as the music and Hawke's clear voice wash over him. She sings different now, a hint of tears in her voice as she recites the words...
When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
And the Bad Poet's fiddle soars, and Merrill's lute plays counterpart, and suddenly it's all back, all awash in red and the silver of lyrium, all of it, everything he tried to forget and give up these three years...
Her face, turning towards him as she looks up from straightening a chair, absentminded in the courtyard as he entered... that crazy, lopsided grin again, quickly turning into concern as she sees his face... the way her eyes grow impossibly large as she heard his words, leaning so close his hair brushes her cheeks...
"Tell me to go and I will..."
And the lopsided grin returns, with that fierce determination in her azure eyes that always signals that Hawke has made up her mind and the Maker be merciful to those who stand in her way...
"Did you hear me saying anything?" she breathes as she grabs his shoulders and before he knows his back is against the wall (he always forgets she is strong, so strong), and her lips are on his, and her arms are around his neck, and those hands, those same hands, the same fingers, strong, warm, sword-calloused, on his skin, slipping under his clothes, exploring the lines of his shame, but without judgment or pity, lighting them up, one by one with the almost feverish desire to touch, to feel, to get closer, to be alive...
Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and fire
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
A slave no more
Her voice, again; her eyes, again; her lopsided grin, again.
But Fenris: I hold with none of that. I ain't putting no people in neat little boxes with labels on them... I look at their faces and listen to them talking, and see them act, and that tells me everything I need to know. Each person is his or her own creation, sum of actions, choices and consequences. Mage, Templar, slave, noble, elf, human, qunari, dwarf... We all choose our path and we all should, at one moment of our life, have a choice to be free from then on, or to wear invisible chains for the rest of our lives, no matter how fancy our clothes are, how pretty our mansion is, or how many titles we wear or what power we wield.
The door of the Hanged Man slams behind him as the last accords of the song ebb away, but it's lost in the following clapping and general hubbub of the tavern well enough: people come and go all the time, and probably no one even knew he was sitting there apart from Sebastian, anyway. Varric calls a last round, as he always does, on him, and they cheer, and Merrill announces that it's late and she'd just take a nice stroll back to the Alienage because it's always so quiet at night, and puffs up her cheeks when Varric tells her, again, that those quiet nightly strolls of hers cost him quite dearly (so better stop them, Daisy!), and Sebastian offers to escort the Champion home but she shakes her head and says thank you, she thinks she'd rather just, maybe, stay for a little longer before heading back, but he better go before his curfew is up... Anders didn't show again, someone remarks about the renegade mage, but he avoids them lately, and folks from the Darktown clinic say they see him rarely there these days too... In the chaos that follows, Varric taps Aveline on the shoulder, and cocks his head towards the door, in a silent gesture those two obviously understand, and the Guard Captain, whose presence tonight guaranteed good behavior, moves through the crowd like a solid wall of the Law itself, with the leather-clad dwarf in tow, disappearing into the night on some errand only those two know about...
The Champion's eyes follow them, pondering... then she purses her lips, as if she decided something, says something to the slender elf girl at her side, and they both finish their drinks as well.
"Here, Corff." Hawke says, tossing a coin at the bartender. "One more round for everyone. I gotta take this girl here home. Proprieties and all that."
"You do that, serah." he agrees; the coin disappeared so fast it was barely in the air. "Coming back tomorrow, then?"
"Might be." Hawke shrugs. "Unless there's another villain to foil. You know: a Champion's work is never done. " She sighs. "Hawke this, Hawke that. Nobody does no work in this town any more but me. Us, I mean, Merrill, sorry."
"It's all right, Hawke." She smiles. "I don't like attention, anyway."
"Of course." Hawke nods as they move towards the door. "You're a daisy: you'd wilt."
"You're a strange woman, you know that?"
"Pot. Kettle." Hawke chuckles, but outside they talk less, as the bitter winds of Lowtown whistle through their cloaks and they quicken their steps. Hawke whistles insolently as they pass by a now empty gang hangout: a back alley they thoroughly covered with bodies a few weeks back when one of the gang members had the bad timing of trying to murder a small boy for coin right in front of Hawke.
"You'll go by, right?" Merrill finally says as they arrive to the Alienage, and they stop for a bit to have her rest her hands on the Tree's weather-worn bark. "He seemed... lonely. And...broody. More than usual, I mean. I don't think he even looked at us."
"Probably. " Hawke drawls, tentatively. "Though I don't think I'd bring any more drinks: he had what he can for one night. " She weighs her next words, head cocked to one side. "But maybe flowers? Sweets? Some furniture, rugs, you know, those things...knickknacks?"
"That house could use some cheering up." Merrill agrees. They'd been friends for so long, they understand each other all too well. Since Bethany, Hawke's sister... remained on the Deep Roads and Hawke's mother died, the lithe elf treats the tall human as a slightly absentminded sister—and the feeling and treatment is the same from the other side too, to the amusement of all. "And so would he."
"Shut up, Daisy." Hawke shakes her head. "I told you..."
"You should see him looking at you when he thinks no one is watching." Merrill says, with her chin up defiantly.
"I know, you told me already. About three gazillion times. Puppy eyes." Hawke sighs. "By Andraste's britches, why's everyone harping on me so mightily lately?"
"Because time is short." Merrill says curtly, and there's not a trace of the slightly airy elven girl in her voice now. Hawke looks down at her, surprised at the change of tone, and the power of her words—she's so sweet most of the time, one forgets what she really is. What she could be. "And because the storm is coming, and we all know it, and because even the strongest sword can break if it becomes brittle. He lost just about everything he could, and he doesn't know how to live after, and he's too proud and afraid to ask you to help, now that the reason for him running is gone." She lifts a hand, and pushes at Hawke's chest. "Go, now. I can see my house from here, be there in no time, safe and all. Go, before Aveline and Varric convinces him to move out of that mansion and in with you without you being there."
"Dammit, you people." Hawke bursts out. "There's nothing one can do in this here town on her own without you meddling?"
"No." Merrill steps closer and hugs Hawke briefly but hard. "Go get some knickknacks, you probably have a whole roomful of them in that big mansion of yours." Her face lights up. "Maybe a book."
"He cannot read." Hawke mumbles. "They don't allow slaves to read in Tevinter, did you know that? Dangerous ideas in books and such. I offered to teach, but..."
"Shoo." Merrill pushes at her again, more firm. "Try it again, then. Three years... you people are crazy. Crazy!" She whirls, draws her cloak around her and disappears around the Alienage tree towards the hovel she calls home.
And Hawke, still mumbling curses under her nose, obeys. Weaving her steps through the cobbled streets she knows by now in her sleep, she gets to her house, sneaks through the vestibule and the great receiving hall in the dark, praying all the while that none of her household of three (four, really, counting Tiny, her mabari, but he's on loan for the Guard training now and thus absent) wakes up with questions. Then, still questioning her sanity, she grabs a book from the shelf above the mantelpiece in her room ("with my luck it's probably a tractate on the agriculture of Orlais" she mutters), then curses again as she stabs her toe on a chair, ("if someone rearranges here again and not telling me, there'll be bloodshed") and limps out through the back door towards a little more run-down corner of Hightown.
"Aw, now, don't be a hardass." she hears as she nears the stairs; as usual, the door is not locked, and there's no sign of habitation anywhere but in the large room above where a fire burns in the grand old fireplace and two are sitting in worn and frayed armchairs, with a slightly ruffled dwarf is pacing in front of said fireplace. "I'm not saying you didn't fix this place up nice, but like Red here says...sorry, Guard Captain, ma'am...that people want this old mansion cleared up and out and, well..."
"Indeed." Hawke stops at the doorstep, and, like so many times before, ponders why is it that every time she hears his voice it's as if it would run all the way through her body town to her toes? "And if I happen to like it here?"
There's no justice under the Maker's wide blue sky if she can't just stand here forever and a day and just listen... but no, there's no such thing, it seems. It's not exactly as if she can be making no noises, she was never the sneaky type, even out of armor, and these new boots scuffle even on this old worn marble just so...
"Blast." she mutters as she enters, drawing attention from everyone and feeling as if the whole night just went slightly sideways, even though she knew exactly what she'd find. Must be that voice, she decides; her own, consequently, almost fails her. "I... hey, do I hear that there's a buyer for this old thing?"
"Why, care to place a bid?" Aveline stands up, stretching and pretending to be absolutely nonchalant. "The Seneschal's office eyes it; I just came by to tell Fenris before I got home so he can... make plans."
"Plans." Hawke's eyes narrow. "You telling me you managed to successfully hide this from His Dryness' eyes all these years and all of a sudden it's ' Oh, look, a whole mansion right here in the heart of Hightown. How did we never see this before? And it's blue, my favorite color.'" She subsides as she finally looks at the third person in the room. "Sorry, Fenris." She swallows. "For just intruding, and...well, I didn't knock."
"Hawke." He nods, face unreadable, but she knows that face by now all too well, and that telltale quirk of the corner of his mouth told her a lot. "We were just... visiting."
"Yes, and now we're leaving." Varric says hastily, and collects Bianca from where he had the great crossbow leaning against the wall. Hawke briefly reflects on that: she'd never seen Varric put that thing down except in her house. "To do... things guard captains and...respectable dwarven merchants do in the middle of the night." He touches the side of his hat with a finger. "Good to see you, elf. You know you still owe me those five sovereigns from last time, right?"
"Likewise, funny dwarf." Fenris nods, and Hawke notices how his shoulder relaxes just a bit more. "I am good for it."
"Nah, you're going to borrow it from Hawke anyway." Varric laughs, then, when no one follows, but Aveline slightly shakes her head and hovers over him for a second, understanding flashes through his face. "Erm... I was going to say...coming back to the Hanged Man tomorrow for Wicked Grace?"
"Never miss it." Fenris says curtly, and that obviously needs to be investigated just a bit more, so barely Aveline and Varric clears the stairs leading down to the great doors that Hawke turns to Fenris and bursts out:
"'Never miss it?' Really?" She scrunches up her face and throws herself in a chair, almost carelessly, all else forgotten. "So how often you and Varric play?"
"Weekly. "he says curtly, looking at her cautiously. "Every Thirdday."
"Serious. You are gambling." Hawke shakes her head. "And there goes up my world in flames." She takes a deep breath. "Fenris. I..." She scuffles her feet. "I...brought you a book." she says miserably, but she soldiers on, determined, sliding the tome across the table. "I wanted to bring something and this is... I thought maybe what I said back then...I could teach you to read if you. Still. Want to. Learn, I mean."
There is silence. Hawke keeps her eyes trained on the scraped wood of the table in front of her, not wanting to look up, not wanting to see his face just now; not after that. After all of this.
She can't believe what she just said, what she just did. After three years of... of things unsaid and undone and unbending... after seeing him just yesterday hunching over his sister's lifeless body he's just killed with his own hands… after seeing his face earlier today watching Uncle Gamlen and Charade in that little room, finally united… all that comes out of her is 'hey, here's an old book, and by the way, I could buy this house if I wanted to...'
Hawke, you're an idiot. You're really good at killing dragons and Arishok, but this whole relationship thing…? Not so much.
"So... what is it about?" She hears after what seems an eternity of silence. A scraping of chair legs on floor: he must have stood up.
"Oh, by all Her wet frocks!" she explodes, and she's out of her chair, and grabbing at the book. "Of all the blasted volumes there, I had to get this one..." She stops, and glares at the elf, standing there in front of her, white hair falling in front of his eyes, that unruly lock that always irritated the snot out of her.
"Never you mind." she says suddenly, with the decisiveness she always feels before a battle. "Pardon me..." And she reaches up (she only has to reach slightly: she's tall for a woman, and Fenris is positively towering for an elf) and smoothes that lock back behind Fenris' ear. "I wanted to do that for years, it always looks like you won't see where the next blow lands in battle, and it bothers me so. Bangs should be short. Now I can die happy." She lifts her chin, absolutely ready for anything. "And you were saying...?"
There's a look of slight disbelief on Fenris' face... something Hawke knows all too well, and her heart squeezes tight. There he goes, locking up again, and she's sure she is the reason for it…
"Bloody Fade." She blurts out, exasperated. "Look here, we both know this isn't supposed to be like this, right? Let's pretend I was sitting over there prim and proper all the time, hands on the table, looking at you with mildly veiled compassion, concern and interest, while you went on about how you are finally free but doesn't know how to live with it… and then I smiled and said 'but you could live with me' and then maybe you could tell me how these three years were a mistake and you still remember that night every time you look at me and you were a fool, and I would come back and say but I am at fault too because I didn't want to push and wanted to let you to work it out, and then, say, you'd lean over and say something overwhelmingly romantic like 'if there's a future to be had, I'll be glad to face it by your side', and that would mightily sweep me off my feet, or.. or I could sweep you off yours, whichever way it works out… hey, say we toss a coin?"
"Are you finished?" Fenris' face is still mostly unreadable as he stands there, tall and lean, looking like he's about to move just out of reach. Looking like he always did in the past three years. His voice is deceptively mild. "Or do you wish me to provide the stupid coin, too?"
And then he moves, so fast Hawke can't even blink, crossing the space between them in one long stride, and it's like a whirlwind, a force of nature, impossible to stop or resist…not that Hawke wants to. All she could do is to cling to him, swaying and unsteady as they both grasp for balance, as their lips and hands and bodies move in frantic unison to resume the dance they gave up but never, oh never fully forgot in three years.
"No sweeping." Fenris gasps as they both come up for air what it seems a lifetime later. They both lost some pieces of clothing, and there are hands on belt buckles and such. "Promise?"
"Ooh." Hawke chuckles, her fingers tracing patterns on Fenris' neck and the elf shivers. "That will be…interesting."
"Oh, it will." Fenris whispers and the dark promise in his voice makes her gasp. "Just promise one thing."
"Anything, at the moment…" Hawke can't help it but be honest, and she triumphantly sees Fenris' lips finally twitch into a full smile as he bends his neck for a kiss again to whisper against her mouth.
"You'll never tell the details to Varric."