AN: HUGE thanks to my reviewers this time around: NoMadKa, GlysMari, marie-ise, Anon1, Pint-sized She-Bear, Anon2, Loki-an, MermaidFal11, Sintar, lorkay, Brynde, Amina Noir, csorciere, Shinshia101, DKAllayna, EkoCentric, Darth Melly, and DegreeBound205, and to everyone else who has read, faved and followed this story. You guys are wonderful (and patient!)
Feels good to be writing this story again. Fenris and Marian make me so sad sometimes, so I just have to say that I plan on diverging a bit from canon in this 3rd act. You guys can probably already tell where I'm going with this, but I have a few surprises up my sleeve too, and I hope it makes for a more satisfying, fulfilling conclusion. (Not for quite a few chapters yet, though! :D)
As always, I absolutely adore hearing back from you all, so please leave me a review or send me a PM if you are so inclined. Thank you for reading, everyone, and I hope you enjoy!
Fenris knew that for all intents and purposes, his principled stand against succumbing to Hawke was nearly all for nothing. Most nights he spent at her estate, watching over her as she slept fitfully, curled up in the armchair in front of the fire - her leg often pained her too much for her to climb the stairs to her room. He helped her prepare her meals, plan her missions, answer her mail. He made her laugh when it seems as if she would never laugh again.
There was a sarcastic, bitter part of him that noted his duties now were nearly identical to his duties as Danarius' slave and bodyguard. But he was quick to correct this thought; he was here beside Hawke because he wanted to be. He couldn't allow himself to love her, for it was too dangerous. But he could allow himself to serve her. That was familiar, that was safe. He would take it, for the alternative was too painful to bear.
But there were idle times while she slept when he would remember that one night, the memory of it as sharp as if it had only just happened, and the ruthless span of years did not step between the touch of her hand on his besieged skin and the absence of it. He would look at her and almost be able to recall the taste of her lips, the exact quality of her eyes and the way they shone like stars, the sound of her breathless laughter more precious than gold.
He stood guard over the broken woman he loved, because many years ago in a fit of feverish haze she had asked him to stay and he had promised that he would. He was bound by his word to her, because it was all he could give. And while it would have been better to stay away, to flee to his mansion and protect her from everything that he was, he could not.
He knew for certain that if she were to come to him with that look in her eyes - the look of want so large that it grew beyond the confines of physical presence - he would be unable to deny her. He wouldn't even want to. He'd look into her eyes and answer her want with desire of his own.
It was enough to drive a broken down, bitter elf to prayer. Would the Maker look at him and feel pity, perhaps? Would He laugh instead? Fenris felt that perhaps He would; if not for its danger, the situation would strike a god as ridiculous. If not for the menace coiled in his body, the lyrium ghost that hungered for blood, the puppet strings that he feared even now, it would be enough to shrug off with mild hilarity; the nonsense of mortals and their chains, too often of their own devising.
Hawke did not sleep long. After four hours, she lurched upright in her seat, her eyes wide and unseeing. Her hands were rigid claws. "Fenris!" she screamed, flailing. "Fenris!"
He was at her side in an instant, and though it was nearly physical pain to touch her, he captured her wrists in his hands, gently as if she were made of glass. "Here, now," he said quietly. "It was only a dream."
Slowly, her eyes focused on him as the traces of the nightmare faded, and he was horrified to see that they filled with tears. "Fenris . . . " she whispered, and he feared that his own heart would break at the sound of her broken voice.
"It was only a dream," he repeated, feeling useless.
"Right," she echoed, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes. "It's just . . . Maker. It was so real. I could nearly touch the dream, and it felt as real as your hands."
He relinquished his grasp on her wrists, suddenly self-conscious. "What happened? If you don't mind my asking, that is. I mean . . ."
For a moment, he wondered if she did mind. She had called out his name in the throes of that nightmare, so he knew that it had featured him in some way. But he wondered: had she called out in fear for him . . . or fear of him?
"It was Danarius," she said finally. "I dreamed he took you away."
"You know that will never happen," he told her, but she shook her head.
"I dreamed that you went with him willingly." She let out a shuddering breath. "I can see it so clearly; your head bowed, his hands on you. I've never met him, I don't know what he looks like, but I fear him just as much as I hate him."
At that moment, Fenris thought of an alternate life of Hawke's - one where he'd never met her. It would be free of the things that plagued her in the past, free of his own ghosts. She'd never know pain at his hands, or fear on his behalf, and in his estimation, this life was preferable to the one she had now; broken, tormented. If he was stronger, he would have left that moment.
Instead, he sat beside her. "I would never go with him willingly."
"I know. Sometimes, though . . ." She shook her head once again. "Never mind."
"Tell me," he insisted. "Please."
She fixed him with a gaze that seemed to penetrate beyond the tricks of the surface, to glean the truth beneath. "Sometimes I fear that it won't matter what you want. That the moment he speaks, you will obey."
For a wild second, he wondered if she knew everything; if he'd confessed the truth in his sleep, perhaps, or tattooed it on his forehead. He wondered if she knew him so intimately that she would always be able to divine his fears, no matter how desperately he sought to hide them. "That won't happen," he said again, more weakly this time.
"I hope it doesn't," she said, coughing. "See how it torments me?" She made her voice light, but the attempt fell flat. Her face was covered in a fine sheen, as if she was in the throes of fever, and her eyes were shadowed by circles, so that when he looked at her out of the corner of his eye she seemed to him to be like a hollowed out skull, illuminated by loss.
She did not give him the chance to reply. Before he could get to his feet and help her up, she lurched upright, favoring her good leg. "I feel like getting drunk," she said, attempting an airy tone. "Care to join me?"
"You know me," he said, at her side. "I'll never say no to a good vintage."
"Pity you couldn't taste it either way. How would you know it's good or not?"
"I can still smell, you know."
They set out for the Hanged Man without any delay. It was still quite dark, and Fenris guessed by virtue of the color of the sky that the sun would not rise for a few hours yet. He mentally tabulated the hours that Hawke had slept, and frowned when he formulated the answer. It seemed that these days, she only slept in fits and spurts, preferring to spend her idle time in drunkenness.
He wasn't surprised to learn that Hawke had the same idea. "When's the last time you slept?" she asked, and though she attempted to phrase it as a casual aside, he heard the reproach in her voice.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd gotten a straight night of sleep. "Last night."
"You filthy liar."
He sighed. "I don't know, Hawke. I don't sleep; you know that."
She met his gaze for a moment, and he tried to ignore the way that that gaze seared, the way it gave him the sensation of falling. "Maybe you're rubbing off on me."
"Oh, come on. I can think of quite a few people who are worse role models."
"Yes; surely there are some other murderers out there that you can emulate. Only difference with them is they can sleep through the night."
She didn't reply immediately. "Where's this coming from?"
"Fenris . . ."
"Forget I said anything."
She fell silent once again, and Fenris was left alone with the lump of guilt he battled with, an entity that grew more impossible to suppress as the days turned into weeks and years. If he wasn't careful with that one memory, it would rise from his gut to his throat, fighting desperately to free itself from its prison. And he would be damned before he confessed that sin to Hawke.
She deserved to know the truth, surely. Many times over. She deserved to know everything that he did, so that she was able to finally make a decision regarding his position in her life. But he knew the outcome of that deliberation, even without knowing the future. She would recoil and send him away, and it would be no more than he deserved. He would even obey her, though it would kill him to do it.
Or worse, perhaps, she wouldn't care. She would forgive him as he'd never been able to forgive himself. She would stand at his side when he faced Danarius, and ultimately suffer the same fate.
Briefly, he entertained notions of running away; finally, after all these years, packing up his armor and his sword and seeking out Danarius alone. That was the best course of action, surely. In this scenario, there would be no chance Hawke would be hurt. She would be safe, half the world away. She would hate him for leaving her, but she would be safe.
But one covert glance in her direction defeated this plan before it could take root. She limped through the Lowtown alleys, trying gamely to swallow each tender grimace of pain. One hand trailed over the filthy stone of the buildings, and he noted that her nails were bitten down nearly to the quick, crusted with dried blood. When he searched her face too long, he could see the suffering of the last seven years etched there in the crease between her brows, the circles under her eyes. He could see her misery as if it was physically manifested, a creature sitting on her back, and with that knowledge, could not leave her any more than he could cut off his own hands.
"Seems like the rioters didn't do that much damage," she commented absently.
"They seemed keener on hurting each other than damaging property," Fenris said.
"Hm. Odd that the nobles should be so caught up in the issue. Orsino had worked them up nearly to a lather."
"It's just like you said: if he's at all interested in making a case of pity for himself and the rest of the mages, screaming his rhetoric in the faces of a crowd was probably not the best decision."
"You got it." She picked at her ravaged nails. "This whole situation gives me an odd feeling."
"What do you mean?"
"Like . . . it's almost like they're actors in a play, carrying out the motions of some mad plot, and they have something bigger that they want, that they're working for."
"I think you're right."
"I wonder if it's related to what Isabela said," Hawke said finally, craning closer to look at him. "If it's the Tevinters, playing with their puppet strings, working everything and everyone up, so when the time comes they can sweep in and make short work of the city."
Something twisted in Fenris' gut. "I would not be surprised in the least if that was so."
"I suppose that just leaves what we do about it," Hawke said quietly.
She slowly came to a stop, her hand hovering over the Hanged Man's door, and at that moment she looked so lost that Fenris had to actively control the urge to take that hand and press it between his own. Touch was dangerous, proximity was dangerous; there were a thousand similar rules, but the need for them faded when faced with Hawke's unhappiness.
He was struck by sudden, foolish inspiration. "Run away," he told her.
She recoiled from the door, her wide eyes catching the strange light of the moon. "What?"
"Run away." He could not curb his intensity, and he took a step closer so that they were only separated by mere shivering inches; so close that he could feel the heat of her skin on his own, and it seemed to him that they shared the same breath. "You've given more than enough to this city. You deserve an end to it all."
"Fenris, that's not how it works," she said, pulling away.
He lost the battle against his fear and captured her hand in his, holding it tightly as if to protect it. The sound of her quick intake of breath was painfully loud in the still night. "It is," he insisted. "Cut and run. Travel like you always wanted, before you can't anymore. Find some wooded cottage and cultivate land, scare the village children with your stories. Sail off into the horizon with Isabela; I know for certain she wouldn't deny you."
He felt her trembling, and suddenly her eyes seemed bright. "Don't know that our pirate queen would have much use for a crippled crewman," she said in a shaking voice, suddenly near tears.
"Even if you were truly crippled, she would make an exception for you," he insisted. "Find another place, anywhere but here."
"I couldn't," Hawke said. "I - I can't. There's still so much to be done here, and . . . and they need me."
"That's absolute shit," Fenris spat. "Rank nonsense."
"Ooh! Listen to you!"
"I'm serious, Marian. Leave this fetid pustule of a city before - before it claims you."
"And if I were to run away, what would I do with you?" she whispered. "Leave you here?"
He was suspended between two forceful extremes; the need to convince her to run away before she was hurt any more, broken by the selfish demands of Kirkwall, and the desire to close the slim distance between them with a kiss. He could not stop staring at her lips, the gentle curve of her cheek, her wide, shining eyes. And this was the danger of touch - this beauty, not pain - for it inspired a cascade failure of control, one that gained momentum once it had broken its banks.
He cleared his throat, struggling. "If it came down to it, yes. Leave me."
Something closed behind her eyes. "No."
"Marian . . . "
She yanked her hand away with such sudden vehemence that it almost sent him crashing into the dirt. Without another word, she pushed into the bar, and in that manner, the conversation was over. He trailed behind, watching the long rope of her hair bounce between her shoulder blades, the slight yet pronounced limp that she could not hide anymore.
And again, he was suspended between extremes. Relief that she had pulled away before he could make such a horrible mistake that there would be no recovering from it, and yet . . . dismay for the very same. He had gone three years without kissing her. Instead, he was tormented by those pale memories every time he closed his eyes.
Thought it was the dead of night, the Hanged Man was surprisingly crowded. In the back corner was a group of unsavory folk that Fenris did not recognize, and he felt a vague sense of unease at the sight of them. He was not surprised to see Isabela was awake, but instead of the usual court of admirers, she sat amid a dozen empty glasses with Merrill. She appeared to be attempting to cajole the mage into a game of Wicked Grace, but Merrill vaguely waved her away.
"Ung. No more," Merrill moaned. "I can hardly see my hands."
"Kitten, if your head doesn't feel like a beaten drum, you're not getting out of this that easily," Isabela teased.
"But it does! I don't think I can drink nearly as much as you can."
"Clearly." Isabela caught sight of Hawke and waved her over. "Maybe you'll indulge me, Mighty and Merciful Hawke?"
"Not after I've ingested my weight in alcohol," Hawke said, and though Fenris thought he might have imagined it, her eyes flickered to him for one, hard second. "I've had just about enough of sobriety to last the rest of my life."
Wonderful. He'd driven her to an alcohol habit. Not that he had any room to talk; he was such a regular patron of the Hanged Man that the barkeep could predict to the minute when he'd arrive, how long he'd stay, and how much he'd drink in the course of his evening. In fact, it seemed to him that most of Hawke's allies were in various stages of alcoholism - the better to deal with all that they saw and fought, perhaps.
Isabela lurched upright, threading her arm through Hawke's. "Well, then," she said, red-faced. "Allow me to accompany you. Just me, though. Fenris stays."
He knew better to argue, especially with Hawke in her current mood. With a disgruntled look at Merrill's crumbled form, he took a seat at their table and tried to ignore Isabela's vague whispering, which somehow managed to carry through the bar.
At least Merrill was too drunk to badger him, as she was inclined to do when sober. She'd ply him with thousands of irritating, personal questions about his life, his experience in Tevinter, his 'unwarranted' hatred of blood magic. It was infuriating that she seemed to think her experience as a mage gave her the perspective to comment on his experience, when the opposite was true; she was so entrenched in her view and power that she could not begin to consider anything that went beyond it.
"Mrph. Hello, Fenris," she said, muffled, her head buried beneath her arms.
"Good evening," he said stiffly. He would have liked to ignore her, but Hawke disproved of his rudeness, and he'd done enough to upset her for the evening.
Merrill poked her head up, gazing at him with surprising clarity, considering her inebriation. "Is Hawke all right?" she asked, slurring a little.
"Why do you ask?"
"She looks unhappy. Though she looks unhappy most of the time, these days. I ask her, but she always brushes me off. I think concern makes her uncomfortable."
He made a derisive noise. "Understatement."
"Well, yes. If you say so. Is she all right?"
Fenris decided against the lie; it was late and he was tired. "No," he said quietly.
"And that's why you're unhappy," Merrill said, her green eyes uncomfortably wide as she studied him. "Sometimes I see the two of you out of the corner of my eyes, and it seems like you're waiting for her to send you away or some such. Like you're waiting to be chastised every time you speak."
Someone as naive and foolish regarding their own life choices had no business being so astute when it came to others. Fenris frowned. "I don't know about that," he hedged, but Merrill forged ahead.
"Isabela says you love each other."
He let an irritated sigh out between clenched teeth. "When you gossip about someone, you normally don't come right back to the subject and share with them all your wild, offensive speculation."
"Well, why not?" Merrill seemed genuinely affronted. "It's quite dishonest, otherwise."
Fenris decided not to indulge Merrill with a response.
The four of them nursed various stages of drunkenness for the rest of the night. He watched Hawke and Isabela confer as the hours passed, and there was a small part of him that was glad to see it. Since Isabela had returned all those months ago, she seemed genuinely eager to atone for her betrayal. She shadowed Hawke nearly everywhere she went, and offered her expertise without asking for anything in return, not even a share of the spoils. Indeed - when trouble descended, Isabela took to defending Hawke with almost the same ferocity as he did himself. It was encouraging, when all was said and done. He wasn't inclined to trust Isabela immediately, but even he couldn't maintain his grudge against her in the face of her devotion.
It was even more surprising to note that Merrill now treated Hawke in the same way. The two of them did not have much history, and yet the blood mage completely devoted to Hawke, protective to a degree Fenris had trouble reconciling. In his experience, mages were not interesting in altruism unless such behavior benefited them in the long run. Yet, as far as he could see, Merrill asked nothing of Hawke but company.
It made holding a grudge against her difficult. She did not use her blood magic to take control of the situation, or to serve her wants. In fact, it almost seemed as if she had none.
But Fenris was no fool. He knew that just because something was not evident, did not mean it didn't exist. And so he resolved to watch. If there was a hint of duplicity in any of them, he would not hesitate as he had last time.
He did not know how many hours had passed when the front door opened, revealing figured robed in the Tevinter fashion. He felt his hackles rise, and just as the lyrium sang in his flesh the magister turned, his expression betraying immediate recognition. "You!" he hissed, drawing his staff.
Fenris did not hesitate. He drew his sword and flew forward, his singing blade whistling through the air as he moved, then -
- the next thing he was aware of, he'd smashed into the opposite wall, his head slamming back against the wood. He heard shouts, the sound of Hawke's voice, the sight of her stumbling off her stool, the barkeep yelling for them all to get the hell out -
He clambered to his feet just as the shadowed group in the back of the bar abandoned their drinks, advancing on the fray. For a moment, Fenris believed they meant to battle the magister and his entourage, but the illusion died when one sent a blade hurtling toward him, slamming ineffectually into the wall only inches left of his head.
They were all stupid and drunk, he raged, and he could not get the image of Hawke stumbling into a set of blades out of his mind. He screamed the force of his rage and hurtled to her side, the lyrium in his bones burning like the heart of a star. His sword was in his hands, and from that decision the world grew dim. He inhabited the battle, a nearly preternatural awareness of everything that transpired on the grid in his mind.
A dark man came at him, feinting left before lunging right, and he slammed his fist into his chest, noting with relish as the blades fell from his hands like leaves. He dodged the magister's spells at his back, whirling like a furious dervish and cutting down three mercenaries as he went. He saw Isabela fly over the fray, her blades point out like claws, before they sunk into the bank of an archer about to loose an arrow into Merrill. For her part, the blood mage acquitted herself far better than Fenris would have expected of her; her spells were fierce yet accurate, flaying flesh from the bone, a furious halo of thorns.
But it was Hawke who felled the magister. He did not see her advance - these days, no one did; she inhabited the shadow as if she had been born to it. Before the mage could turn to face her, she cut out his legs from under him before slicing through his guts, ensuring a slow and painful death if no one else intervened.
Only then, it was quiet. Hawke advanced on the magister, her blades spinning idly in her hands, catching the dim light of the fire. "Tell me your purpose here, magister, and I'll ease your passing," she hissed, kneeling at his side.
"Speak of it to your slave, bitch," the magister spat, flecking blood on his chin. "Or the whore. They could tell you, if not inclined to lies."
"I'm asking you, instead," Hawke said sharply. "Were you here for Fenris?"
But the magister turned away, gurgling wetly, splattering the floor with his blood. With a snarl, Hawke dragged her dagger across the magister's throat, and in that manner, the room was silent once again.
"Well," Isabela said, panting, and it seemed to Fenris that she was more inconvenienced than concerned by this turn of events. "This is trouble."
Fenris held out his hand to Hawke and she took it, standing unsteadily as she wiped her blades clean before sheathing them. He could only guess the contents of her thoughts, but there was a hard, speculative cast to her eyes, and when she met his gaze, it was fathomless as the pitted dark.
He knew, then, that it would be impossible to convince her to leave. Not now, not when Tevinter breathed down their neck while Kirkwall threatened to tear itself apart from within. He wished more than anything that he could, but he knew it like he knew his own breath, his body. He knew that she would rather die than leave a stone unturned.
He knew it was likely that it would come to that.