A/N: We passed 300 reviews since I last posted! Whaaat? How squee-y does that make me! Thank you, as always, for continuing to be amazing readers and reviewers!

I still read each and every one, and even if I don't respond to all of them, whether they are short or long, mashed on the keyboard in excitement or carefully penned, I appreciate them all and that you took the time to post it. I also truly thank you for your kind words of support and encouragement. They have actually helped me make a slightly scary, major decision*.

Also, I do apologize for the lengthly gap since the last chapter — lots going on IRL. The delays have been mostly for positive reasons*, though there was one not so great week I spent passed out from an evil summer cold. I also already have a significant portion of the next chapter written, so it should not take too long — I am shooting to have it up in maybe a week.

* As for my decision/reason for delays! I have decided to officially aim for becoming a writer/video game writer, so the past month or so has involved a lot of behind-the-scenes work, research, paralysis, soul searching, agonizing, reading, advice-soliciting, office preparation, resource-gathering, etc. in addition to actually just writing. I am still working out a variety of kinks in my schedule/situation/own head, but rest assured that working on and completing this story is one of the cornerstones of my overall plan. :)

And now for dessert: Our amazingly talented NineShadows whipped this up after finding out it was my birthday after I found out it was her birthday. Happy birthday to us all, I say! http :/ /fav. me / d47swoq (remove the spaces, as always!)

With that, on to the actual story (I apologize that it is not as long, for once!) BioWare owns all…

6 Justinian - 9:31 Dragon

As usual only Bodahn and Sandal were up and bustling about that morning when Bartrand emerged from his tent. Steely, narrowed eyes taking in that breakfast preparations were already underway, the expedition leader cursorily surveyed the rest of the campsite, a close cluster of tents — just as he had ordered. Still, he ground his teeth and huffed through flared nostrils, disturbing the offensive silence. Though it was earlier even than his usual hour to rise, he glared around, face darkening with disapproval as he stomped over to Hawke's tent.

"GIRLY!" he called. "You, Varric! My tent! Meeting in five-" Bartrand's gruff commands cut off when he lifted the tent flap only to witness Fenris on hands and knees, straddling Hawke's prone form.

"Great Ancestors, what in the…!" the expedition leader roared.

"Nemas kevesh," Fenris muttered, shaking himself further awake as he attempted to get his bearings. The sound of someone approaching had just barely roused him from his deep, peaceful slumber, but his instinctual burst of motion to confront their intruder had only resulted in flipping Hawke over, face down, and him falling on top of her in a heap of tangled limbs.

Fasta vass, he thought to himself groggily, it is only Varric's brother. Though slightly better than being set upon by magisters, hunters, darkspawn, or wild animals, Bartrand's presence was still of small comfort to Fenris as he came more awake. It seems I, too, have trouble rousing now. Hawke's influence is insidious…

He tried to extricate one leg from where it was pinned between hers and remove his hand from inside her shirt, also fighting lingering sleepiness and an acute awareness of Bartrand's judgmental gaze boring into his back. It didn't help that Hawke seemed to be barely stirring, still clutching Fenris's arm like a pillow and stubbornly trying to sleep on even with the sudden flurry of activity in their tent and around her.

"Fenris, wha…?" she grumbled, turning her head to peer up at him. His face consumed her entire field of vision as he hovered over her, though his hair and the darkness hid most of his expression.

"Move," he commanded in a murmur. "Quickly."

Hawke's bleary eyes widened, for Fenris's low, gruff tone surpassed even the alluring sound of his voice in her dream. She suddenly realized his hand plunged deep inside her shirt and his hips pressed against her backside, and a slow smile spread across her face at the realization she wasn't still asleep. In fact, she began to feel quite alert.

Thank you, magnanimous Maker! "Mmm, don't I even get a 'good morning' first, Fenris?" she purred, arching into him.

Fenris went completely rigid.

"Nothing good about it from where I'm standing," Bartrand said with a snort, causing Hawke to freeze too. "Paragons below, it even smells like the Blooming Rose in here!"

Fenris gritted his teeth and flicked his eyes up at the expedition leader's mocking, though kneeling above Hawke he himself had noticed she had a distinctly intoxicating scent about her. Matters only got worse as she began trying to wriggle out from underneath him.

"You didn't say… I didn't know Bartrand was… oh Andraste's singed buttocks, let me up!" she hissed, squirming and twisting as she tried to slide her way out.

"Release me so I can, Hawke," he growled, still struggling to untangle his limbs from hers. She lifted herself up to unpin his arm, and they hastily unwound their legs, but Bartrand had already seen enough.

"Gah, I'll be by my tent. Sodding knew bringing a woman along would lead to… unpleasantness…" The expedition leader shook his head and averted his gaze from the sight of Hawke's undignified crawling and Fenris's hasty backwards retreat. "Just put some damn clothes on and find Varric, Girly," Bartrand grumbled. "Five minutes — don't keep me waiting!"

Hawke and Fenris finally scrambled to their feet, both tugging and brushing at their mildly disheveled clothes, but the eldest Tethras brother had already dropped the flap. They soon heard him stomping towards the hirelings, roaring, "Time for the rest of you to stop dicking around, too! This is a business venture, not a sodding honeymoon…"

Unable to look at Fenris, Hawke rubbed the back of her neck and tried in vain to put her dream out of her mind. Her cheeks burned as the carnal scenes flashed in her thoughts anyway and she fidgeted, discretely trying to shift her bunched underthings. Andraste's damp purple pantaloons, what a way to start the day… she groaned to herself.

Fenris kept his eyes elsewhere too, staring at a nondescript knot on one of the wooden tent poles. He hunched over more than usual, hands dangling limply at this sides. It figures… I can do nothing without scrutiny, he thought, mouth turning down in a bitter moue. What was I thinking? I should have known getting entangled with Hawke would lead to this. Was it the wine? No, surely not — wine barely affects me. This was… simple carelessness. He sighed a deep and silent sigh at his own folly, hanging his head.

Too soundly asleep to hear that dwarf approaching until he was almost upon us… he told himself reproachfully. Reckless. How could I be so foolish? Vague recollections of his dream stirred, but he could remember little besides feeling restful and at ease until the moment Bartrand was suddenly there, hollering.

Had we been in danger, my negligence could have cost us dearly, he knew. Fenris thought of the hunters, of Danarius, of darkspawn and many other foes, each just as eager as the next to exploit his slightest weakness to lethal effects. His hands curled into defiant fists and he slowly shook his head. I am not meant for easy sleep… I should have remembered that last night. That I found it at all is a wonder, but… it is just as well that I am reminded of reality before I forget myself.

Fenris then noticed Hawke's continuing shifting, how she kept distractedly rubbing at her throat and chest with one hand while the other ran over her hip. He gave her a sidelong glance, keen eyes examining her body for a moment. Then he looked away again.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I hope I did not injure you when I tried to rise."

Hawke froze. "No! Nothing like that," she assured him.

Fenris tried to remain nonchalant, brushing the backs of his fingers over his jaw and shrugging. "I awoke abruptly, when I heard someone approaching the tent. Not knowing what to expect, I thought it best to… prepare." Hiding a sudden blush, he looked even further aside. "I… did not have time to recall our… um, sleeping arrangement." Foolish…

"Oh. Um, yes," Hawke said, clearing her throat. She kept her eyes on her hands as she clasped them together in front of her, twiddling her thumbs fitfully. "Totally… understandable. Couldn't have foreseen all that, of course." Though I wish I had… she thought ruefully. Trying to arouse you with Bartrand looking on was hardly my master plan of seduction…

I could have foreseen it, Fenris thought. How many times did Danarius blast my door off its hinges, accusing me of oversleeping, of lazing about on my oh-so-comfortable pallet, saying he could smell the scent of a woman — a dead one if he ever caught her — never realizing it was Hadriana all along.

The silence stretched on for a moment, Fenris making no reply.

"Still," Hawke said with feigned cheerfulness, "better, I suppose, to be caught pleasantly unprepared than just…" Her gaze shifted over to him as she spoke, taking in his tense, defensive posture — though her eyes lingered longest on his muscular legs, which had featured rather prominently in her dream. "Unprepared…" she finished in a murmur. Maker's breath, that elf is entirely too much man, dream or real…

"I would prefer to not be caught at all," Fenris said, scowling at the tent flaps.

At his dark tone, Hawke shook herself out of her daze. "Ah, come now, it wasn't that bad," she said, trying to put both him and herself more at ease. "I'm not a fan of surprise visitors either, but… it beats a visit by a horde of darkspawn. Or my mother…" she added in a mutter. "Someday we may even look back on this and laugh. 'Remember when we managed to scandalize Varric's irascible older brother before breakfast? Oh, how I miss the Deep Roads; surely those were the good ol' days…'"

Fenris just made a disgruntled noise, keeping his back to her.

"Really, there's no harm done, Fenris," she said. Except to my pride, perhaps, she added to herself, rubbing at her brow. Maker, I hope Bartrand gossips less than his little brother…

No harm done… yet, Fenris thought. He kept his face turned down, combing the fingers of one hand through his hair as he stewed. How am I to get out of this? She will be expecting this now… or more. More than last night even, perhaps. He thought back to Hawke's rather personal morning greeting, shifting uncomfortably where he stood. Fasta vass, I should have taken my own tent from the start…

Hawke noticed the way he kept glancing and grimacing at their shared bedroll. "I… guess it wasn't the best idea to get so tangled up," she admitted reluctantly, "seeing as how we could be needed at a moment's notice down here. Especially since I am a heavy sleeper…"

Fenris shifted his gaze to a spot on the floor near his feet, hands hanging by his sides again. "The idea was my own," he said. "I should have… thought it out better." I should have thought it out at all, he admonished himself. I may not have known what to expect, but I should have known something would happen…

Hawke chewed on her lip as he slowly shook his head at himself. "I'm sorry that I tripped you up," she offered.

"Ach…" he grumbled, waving a hand and pacing a little. "The fault lies with me. I am usually far more alert. And… agile."

Hawke thought of how lithely he'd curled around her throughout the night, and how sinuously he'd molded against her in her dream. "I know," she sighed. "Me too."

She stood there for a moment, fingers brushing over her lips, lost in her reverie — until Fenris shot her a curious glance as he turned to pace the other way.

Snapping herself out of it then, Hawke reached to retrieve her pack from just outside the tent flaps. "Hopefully no one will be any the wiser to our bumbling. We have our fierce reputations to maintain, after all," she teased. She knelt in her usual corner to dig through her things, smiling a little at their atypical predicament.

Fenris remained silent, coming to a stop in the front corner of the tent. After Bartrand's loud comments, the whole expedition will assume… things. He couldn't bring himself to look at Hawke again, even though she had her back turned to set out her armor. He clenched his jaw and his fists, indignation and anger already starting to bury his embarrassment. This will have undone her endeavors to be taken more seriously. And it likely means more scrutiny for me, as well… He looked at the tent flaps, wondering if he fled if it would only serve to confirm suspicions. But if I stay…

"Well… no time to wash, I guess," Hawke sighed, sitting back on her heels. "Bartrand seemed in a hurry." She looked at Fenris's back when he made no motions at all. "We'd better get dressed," she said, hesitantly unbuttoning her shirt. "He must need something important to have dropped in personally."

"I doubt it," Fenris grumbled distractedly, staring down at himself in indecision. "Besides, he only wanted you and his brother." Perhaps I should go. Though where? To sit outside? To wander? To hide?

"Oh. Is that what he said?" Hawke wriggled out of her shirt, then stuffed it into her pack. Her face crinkled in puzzlement. "Maybe it's something, I don't know, administrative, then."

Fenris continued standing in place, offering no comments and venturing no suggestions, and all she could think about was how delightful her first moments of waking up had been — and a pang of disappointment that Fenris seemingly would not be undressing, too. Naturally, the whims of Varric's surly elder brother seemed even more difficult for her to grasp than usual that morning.

Hmm, I think I much prefer Fenris's inexplicable moods to Bartrand's, she decided, eyeing his lean, tall, elven frame, all clad in close-fitting black. Yes. If a man is going to frustrate, fluster, or bewilder me, he should look at least that good doing it…

"Well, whatever Bartrand might want," she finally sighed, turning back to her pile of armor, "I can't say I care for his timing."

I can't say I care for anything about him, his timing least of all, Fenris thought.

When he made an unhappy grunt of agreement without looking at her, Hawke paused in shaking out her underpadding, beginning to suspect his morning mood had already soured — again. Two days in a row? We can't have that, now… she thought. We don't want a repeat of yesterday morning. Not after all that lovely cuddling last night…

She hesitated for a moment, then placed her armor down before rising to her feet. Quietly she padded up behind Fenris, resting a hand on his shoulder and laying her cheek against his back, softly caressing his fingers. "At least you needn't rush this morning," she said, eyes closing as her bare skin pressed against warm silk. "You can take your time…"

Fenris held himself rigid under her touch, eyes flicking between her hands and around the close tent as his nervousness spiked. A dozen reasons to pull away ran through his mind all at once, though he had thought he'd overcome his cowardice. "Yes, well… Bartrand is waiting," he said. "I… should not-"

His voice failed as her hand slid up his arm and across his chest, tracing the silky, open neckline of his shirt. He finally realized seeing her bare arm that she herself was already shirtless.

"Damn Bartrand…" Hawke muttered, eyes resolutely shut as she rubbed her cheek against Fenris's solid shoulder. Her fingers toyed with the first fastened button at the center of his chest. "If he comes by again, maybe I should explain my tent rules to him… I am an equal partner, after all."

Fenris cleared his throat and looked towards the tent flaps, almost expecting the expedition leader to come bursting in again as if summoned by the challenge. Hawke's hand began drifting down his shirt's row of buttons, trailing lower and lower along his abdomen, and Fenris's heart uncharacteristically started hammering in his chest. We should not… cannot. I cannot… His whole body tensed, and he assumed it was in preparation to flee.

He began buttoning his shirt all the way up, his movements disrupting hers. "We all must do things we would rather not, Hawke," he said, eyes on his swift fingers. "This morning is no exception."

"Too true," she murmured, moving her hand from his shoulder to play with the trimmed ends of his hair. She dared to rest her other hand on his narrow waist, smiling to herself as his muscles flexed beneath the silk that slid under her fingers.

Fenris shuddered involuntarily as her fingertips tickled across the back of his neck and clutched at his side. Too late, he realized his resolve was not as constant has he would have liked to believe. "Forgive me, but I really need-"

"Don't start what you can't finish!" Bartrand yelled from his tent across the camp. "Been eight sodding minutes already, Girly. And I thought elves're supposed to be quick!"

Hawke's eyes snapped open, already looking to the hidden heavens in futile beseechment. Andraste's grace, just one morning! That's all I ask!

"I will not keep you," Fenris said, slipping out from Hawke's arms and making a hasty exit. He did not even look towards Bartrand, stalking quickly in the opposite direction of where the expedition leader glowered at their tent.

Hawke frowned at the tent flaps for a few moments, then folded her arms tightly across her nearly-bare chest, fighting down disappointment and her growing frustration. Business first, pleasure later, I guess? she grumbled to herself. I hardly expected to sleep the day away in Fenris's arms, but Maker… at least let me say good morning!

She screwed up her face and rubbed at it with both hands, sighing heavily before smoothing her hair back. Well, once we get back to Kirkwall, Bartrand will no longer be a daily obstacle to my happiness. This is temporary — whereas Fenris and I…

Buoyed a little, Hawke hurried to don her armor despite her misgivings about the expedition leader and his reasons for meddling in her affairs that morning. Plenty of time for sleep, wishing, washing, love, daydreaming, and more, once this expedition is a success and done with, she tried to assure herself. Ox before cart, and peas before pudding, as Father used to say.

Thinking of him, Hawke smiled fondly and hoped her father would have been proud of what she was trying to accomplish for their family. The thought of seeing her mother and Bethany well taken care of spurred her on even more, and she finished dressing in a decidedly optimistic mood.

The rest of the camp hummed with activity when she emerged from her tent a few minutes later, looking as professional as she could manage, but the only other of her companions to be seen about was Varric. He lounged on one of the benches, waiting for her with an unconcerned look on his face.

"Hawke! Nice weather we're having this morning, wouldn't you say?" He lifted an open palm to the cavern ceiling with a broad grin. "Not a cloud in sight."

"Except for the little black raincloud that already paid me a visit," she snorted. "Or didn't you hear the thunder?"

"Heh! That I did, that I did…" Varric's head dropped as he shook it, and he sighed in commiseration. "Welcome to my world…"

"Given Bartrand calling on me in my tent, I had thought to have to look for you," she said, eyebrow going up. She gestured around their circle of tents. "Where'd Fenris and Anders go?"

The dwarf hopped off the bench and shrugged, brushing at his duster. "I dunno, they both took off without saying anything — and with those faces, it is probably for the best. They're off brooding and sulking respectively, if I had to wager a guess."

Hawke gave Varric a mildly reproachful look as the two of them headed in the direction of Bartrand's tent together, and the youngest Tethras sighed, waving a hand. "Sorry. I'm just not looking forward to this. My brother is up to something, I just don't know what yet. I was dreaming sweetly of Bianca in my tent when he came by, so who knows why he decided to bother you."

Sighing, Hawke shook her head. "I wondered that as well… or I would have, if I had been awake enough to when he dropped in." Varric made a apologetic grunt, and she added, "You know, your brother's lucky Fenris was half-asleep, or he might be short a heart right now."

The storyteller barked a laugh. "Shit, he doesn't have one to begin with! Ha!"

They both chuckled a little, lowering their voices as they neared Bartrand's tent. The expedition leader was intently scowling at an open panel on the water clock in the closest nearby cart, arms crossed over his broad, squat chest.

"Whatever wild hair got up his ass this morning," Varric muttered, "I really envy that Blondie and the elf get to skip out on hearing about it. Just let me do most of the talking, okay?"

Hawke put on her best professional expression and nodded, and together the two expedition partners approached Bartrand as summoned.

"'Bout time you got here," the surly dwarf said. He squinted his eyes first at Hawke, then at Varric.

After a sufficiently irate glare, he said, "So, I been thinkin' since yesterday…"

"Now he starts thinking?" Varric whispered in an aside, winking over at Hawke.

She pressed her lips together and glanced between the two brothers, hoping she looked more impassive and less anxious than she felt. Bartrand started to go crimson, but the younger Tethras plastered a serene smile on his face. "I'm sorry, brother. What I meant to say was 'Good morning.' As you were saying…?"

"I was saying, Varric, that things are going to change around here! I'm not liking the way this expedition is going. Not one bit!" Bartrand jabbed a finger towards his brother's nose. "For one thing, I could do with less of your smart-mouthing." His finger poked towards Hawke. "Second, I'm sick of everyone else lounging around while I do all the work! We'd be to the sodding thaig already if I could get the lot of you to keep up with me!"

Hawke blinked a few times, but she decided against looking at Varric or letting her skepticism show.

The expedition leader began to pace then, a deeply consternated expression creasing his face. "But, well… besides all of you shirking, things are just going too smooth. The further we get down in the Deep Roads, the more I get the feelin' like something ain't right…" He stopped and squinted around the campsite with suspicion, tugging at his elaborately braided mustache.

"Some of the rumors say there's a reason this lost thaig's been untouched for so long…" He turned back to face them, eyes flashing as he looked between their blank faces. "Some people say the dwarves that lived there, the road leading there, the thaig itself… they're all cursed. And so is anyone who tries to find it."

Varric remained blessedly silent, though one of his eyebrows arched so far up that Hawke was certain Bartrand was about to try to rip it off. The look on the expedition leader's face when he noticed his brother's dubious expression was sufficiently ominous enough that she decided it best to intervene before the morning turned any worse.

"Yes, well, I imagine all the non-cursed thaigs are pretty well picked over by now," she said, managing pretty well to keep her tone respectfully even. "But… what exactly did you have in mind to thwart this… curse, Bartrand?

The expedition leader's piercing eyes shifted to her, then sized her up for a moment. "Hmph, well… I don't believe in a bunch of superstitious crap," he grumbled, "but I do trust my gut that something's gonna happen. And, seeing as how last night Varric couldn't stop yappin' on about how legendary you and your pals are, I figure we'll start with the four of you standing guard when we camp at night."

Hawke exchanged a glance with Varric, who then turned to eye his brother. "And uh, just when are we supposed to sleep, dearest brother of mine?" he asked.

Bartrand practically backhanded the air with his impatiently flicked gesture. "I don't care how you do it," he roared, "or which one of you does it, or whether you want to do it! I just want someone patrolling, on watch, at all times from now until I say otherwise! You got me?"

"Oh. I got you. But uh… what will we be watching for?" Varric asked sweetly. "A nug ambush? Bandit rats? Ghosts?" He cleared his throat, though the cough sounded ever so slightly like a laugh.

The expedition leader's expression blackened again. "Andraste's loose, flappy lips, Varric, it's the sodding Deep Roads! There's darkspawn! Spiders! Packs of wild bronto! Who knows what else could be down here with us? Or did you forget about all that while you were makin' up bedtime stories for the hirelings, swillin' your ale all damn night? Paragons preserve me…"

Bartrand's face screwed up with even more suspicion and anger, and he furiously resumed his pacing, twirling his mustache around one finger as he muttered to himself. "I knew I shouldn't have listened to you and brought those kegs along. Half my damn problem is probably that everyone's always drinking! Hmph… As if this is some kinda party… Maybe I should take my axes to them barrels, dump 'em out. Would speed us up, I bet, in more than a few ways…"

Varric paled visibly, the smile on his face faltering. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on now! No need to do anything so drastic!" He held out his hands in placation and Bartrand pulled up short, glaring as his brother looked to Hawke. "I'm sure we can work something out," Varric said. "Right, Hawke?"

She sighed, rubbing at her forehead. "I'm sure that between the four of us, we can figure out a schedule to take turns keeping watch. Besides, we should be reaching the thaig any day now, right?" Bartrand made a curt nod, and she let her hand drop, shrugging tiredly. "I don't know… it might at least make the hirelings feel more secure, I guess. I know a lot of them have been worried about being attacked. They are just simple laborers, after all, so it is up to us to protect them." She looked between the two brothers, feeling rather ineffectual.

"Damn straight," Bartrand said, slamming his fist into his open palm. "And I don't trust those Carta scouts, especially farther than I can see 'em, double-crossing bastards… So, that leaves you four." He peered up at Hawke, narrowing his eyes even more at her. "I only agreed to bring you along anyway because you were supposed to be handy in a fight, Girly."

"And for my fifty gold, and the Grey Warden maps," she said with a smile, crossing her arms. "And you can call me Hawke, by the by. Or Marian. My parents did go through all that trouble of naming me to avoid people having to call me things like… well, 'Girly,' you know."

Bartrand flicked another dismissive gesture and made a rude noise, pacing a little more slowly. "Ppffth. The only names I'm interested in are the names of the ancient noble houses whose thaig we'll uncover two days from now." He paused and stared off with a greedy gleam in his eye, though when Varric nudged Hawke in the leg and pulled a face, his attention swiveled back to them.

"Speaking of which — sodding get going! The two of you have held me up long enough. I've got things to take care of, then we're moving out!"

The expedition leader stomped away without another word, and Hawke and Varric looked after him for a few moments. Then they looked at each other, eyebrows quirking up in a mirror image of the skeptical expression on each other's faces.

"Not much to be done for it, it seems," Hawke said.

Varric sighed heavily, shaking his head. "Nope. And I'm not about to risk all that ale or the ire of the hirelings if it gets dumped out. Bartrand doesn't realize what really greases the wheels in a place like this… Easier to just humor him for one night. He'll soon forget all about this… paranoia. Honestly, I think he's just still pissed off about yesterday morning."

Hawke rolled her eyes. "No thanks to you."

"Trust me," Varric chuckled. "He'd have found something to get his panties in a twist over, with or without me giving us a bit of a break now and then."

They began walking back to their section of camp, busy hirelings stopping in their tracks to nod in greeting to Varric and stare in awe at Hawke. But her eyes were peeled for Fenris.

His pack is gone, but the tent looks empty… Maybe he was worried Bartrand would barge in on him dressing. Her shoulders slumped in disappointment. Just when I was getting used to having a morning peek at his chest, too. Maker, this day is starting out all sorts of wrong.

Indeed Fenris and Anders were still nowhere in sight, and she began to worry about the day's prospects if both of them were in poor moods again. "I might let you break the good news to our friends over breakfast," she said, glancing down at Varric. "It seems rather like an 'administrative' announcement and thus better suited to you. I'm more the executive, 'decision-making, idea woman' type, I think."

It was Varric's turn to slump, and he hung his head with a shake. "Bah. So much for being feckless. I knew I should have never let you catch wind that I had the slighted bit of feck in me." His hand sliced the air. "From now on, no more feck. Ever. Completely feck-free." Hawke laughed as he resolutely shook a finger high in the air. "Strictly useless ornamentation, with a dash of crossbow showmanship, and good for the odd story or forty… that's me," he pronounced with solemnity.

She patted the dwarf on the back. "Hmm, well… feck or no, I wouldn't be here without you, Varric."

He beamed. "Aw, thanks Hawke."

"We just won't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing until we actually reach this cursed thaig," she added with a sly smile. Then her eyes flicked up and she tapped a finger against her chin in thought. "And find something of value. Then make it back to Kirkwall with our booty. In one piece. All while surviving the Deep Roads, a curse, your brother, and now sleep deprivation." She fought not to smile as Varric's face fell further and further the more she spoke. "Yes, I will have only you to thank… or blame," she said frankly.

Varric pressed a hand to his hairy chest, eyes twinkling despite the convincingly horrified expression on his face. "Madam, you wound me deeply with your plethora of doubts!"

"Let's just hope Fenris and Anders don't wound you with worse when they hear about these night patrols," she said, eyebrows going up. They stopped in the middle of their circle of tents, both taking one last look around for their two missing companions. "I imagine they'll turn up at breakfast…"

"I think I'll go get started on mine," Varric said. "I don't want to be nearby in case Bartrand thinks of some other random task that would soothe his bruised pride."

"Now now, watch won't be that bad," she reassured him. "We'll divvy up the duty somehow."

"I know," he sighed, already looking tired. "It's just that there's nothing down here coordinated enough to attack our camp, not if Blondie's right about there being no darkspawn nearby. Our biggest danger is when we're on the move." He shrugged, waving his hands testily. "Bah, but what do I know? I only researched the risks for weeks while my brother was haggling over the price of pick-axes… And trying to explain things to him would be even more pointless than standing around in the dark will be."

"It doesn't have to be completely pointless," Hawke said. "You can tell the hirelings over breakfast about all the ghosts you saw." She went over to her tent, the thought of breakfast suddenly reminding her that she needed to brew her moon tea. "In fact," she called back, "maybe I should nominate you for the middle watch… All that interrupted sleep should make you very receptive to spirits. And, well, this is sort of your fault…"

Varric's mouth fell open, a chuckle of disbelief escaping in a huff. "Maker but you're a cold woman this morning! When did you become so ruthless?" he asked. She shrugged, smiling smugly at his surprise, but his eyes shifted over to her tent.

He scratched at his chin for a moment, then snapped his fingers, wagging one at her knowingly. "Ahh, I get it. The elf must be rubbing off on you."

Hawke began digging through her pack, eyebrow going up as her smirk went even more mysterious. "Wouldn't you like to know…"

Cackling, Varric turned and waved a hand back at her. "I wouldn't, actually, but I'm sure I'll read all about it once we get back to Kirkwall." He headed for the mess tent, talking to himself in a Ferelden-accented falsetto voice. "Dearest Journal, you won't believe who kissed me then tickled my bum behind Bodahn's wagon when we were in the Deep Roads…"

Hawke scoffed, snorting with laugher so hard she nearly spilled her herbs all over the cavern floor. "I do not sound like that, Varric, nor do I write like that! Honestly, it's like you want me to stab you this morning…"

"Ah, but I don't hear you denying it happened though!" he sang back without turning.

She felt her face flush at the thought of her and Fenris actually carrying on like that, but Varric was too far away for her to respond without a number of hirelings taking note. Hawke glanced around again, wondering if Fenris, too, was within earshot. He seemed displeased enough with Bartrand's veiled comments, to say nothing of Varric's… imaginatively blatant ones. But I don't think he was around to hear that one, thankfully. Where is he, anyway?

As she scanned the cavern, her eyes fell upon Anders instead. She frowned, feeling suddenly apprehensive, and quickly turned her attention back to pinching out her herbs. Time to go…

The healer reentered the camp, face looking washed if a bit drawn and scruffy, and he slung his bag into the back of one of the carts before going over to his tent. He stared down at it with abject mistrust, hands going to his hips.

"I hate this thing more every day…" he muttered, the tent shuddering as he poked at one corner of it with the toe of his boot. Then he glanced over at Hawke, who continued to ignore him, before sighing to himself. "I'll tackle it after breakfast, I guess…"

Anders took a few steps towards the mess tent, looking over his shoulder at her one more time. His expression went from unhappy to concerned as he observed her clutching her stolen tumbler. He turned back and hurried over, going to a close crouch beside her just as she was tucking her moon herbs away.

"Did you forget to drink that last night?" he asked in a hush, pointing at her cup. "Marian, you need to be more careful with those herbs. You can't just-"

"I'll be fine, Anders…" She could only flash him a sidelong look, finding it difficult to face him fully as she thought of their strange argument the day before — and how amorous he'd behaved in her dream.

"I just wouldn't want you to get… into trouble," he said. "I care-"

"Excuse me," Hawke mumbled, rising, "but I need to go eat. Bartrand is in a mood and I need to talk to everyone before we have to leave."

Anders stared at the ground as she hurried away. She felt a pang of guilt at his sad pout and hangdog face and for letting a silly dream and her own preoccupations keep her from patching up their friendship — but Hawke quickly forgot about him as she finally caught sight of Fenris as he was returning a bucket at the side of the mess tent.

Already armored, washed, and combed, she found him even more handsome than usual, especially with his newly trimmed hair, and a tantalizingly guarded expression still on his face. Maker's breath, last night and then that dream, she thought, biting her lip as she stared. It is going to be hard spending part the night without him when one of us has to take a turn on watch…

Fenris headed towards her, though he kept his head bowed. Hawke sighed, stopping in front of the mess tent and reflecting on their warm embrace and night of closeness as she waited for him. Just when it seemed like things were looking up between us — but it figures this would happen, she told herself with a small smile. There's always something keeping my life from getting too boring… or too comfortable.

"Good morning, messere!" Bodahn said, coming over and smiling up at her from behind the counter. "I trust you slept well?"

"Never better," Hawke replied, her gaze slipping over and catching Fenris's as he stopped beside her. He looked aside quickly and she could have sworn he blushed, but the dwarf cook caught her attention again before she could get a good look.

"I ah, couldn't help but notice that messere Tethras seemed to be in a bit of a state this morning," Bodahn said, wringing his hands a little. "Is everything going all right with the expedition?"

"As far as I can tell, it is," she replied with a reassuring smile. "Bartrand just has some ideas for ensuring it stays that way, is all. Nothing to be concerned about, Bodahn."

"Oh, I'm not too worried — not for myself and the boy. We've seen plenty of sticky situations in our time, especially traveling with the Hero of Ferelden! And besides, you and your friends seem like able folk!" The dwarf picked up and handed her her usual tray, nodding. "Still, I find it's always good to keep an ear to the ground, just the same."

"That's very wise," Hawke said with a smile, taking the tray. Fenris, too, nodded in silent agreement, then took the tray from her as she tried to balance it on one hand, hiding her filched tea tumbler in the other. She gave him a quiet, fond smile, and he hurriedly looked away again.

She turned back to the merchant-cook, a curious look still on her face, remarking, "You know, you're probably one of the most experienced adventurers along on this little excursion, Bodahn. What you're doing making us porridge, stew, and sandwiches I'll never know — though I can't complain. Last night's stew was very scrumptious." She glanced back at Fenris. "Didn't you think so, Fenris?"

He looked startled, glancing between her and Bodahn a moment before he politely nodded. "Yes. It was quite… satisfying."

"Oh, you're too kind," Bodahn chuckled, waving them both off. Still, he puffed up a little, and Sandal began to clap from the back of the tent.

"Yay, Bodahn," he cheered, grinning at everyone. "Yummy!"

Hawke beamed as Bodahn began to blush.

"Now now, I just manage the provisions like I was hired to do," the dwarf said humbly. "Hopefully me and my boy will be able to turn a bit of additional profit repairing things and trading them, then we can figure out what to do with ourselves next. We had a busy year last year, so it might be nice to settle in one place for a while… but we aren't exactly ones for a completely quiet life, either."

"Boom!" Sandal shouted in agreement.

Bodahn turned and gave his son an uneasy smile. "Ahh, maybe not that kind of excitement, my boy." He leaned over, whispering to Hawke, "He does have a tendency to keep things lively. I'm never quite sure though if trouble finds him or the other way 'round…"

"I know the feeling," Hawke chuckled. Fenris began to fidget behind her, so she made motions towards their usual table. "I'm sure we'll get plenty of excitement once we reach the lost thaig though, and no doubt it'll continue once we return to Kirkwall and everyone hears of our success. You'll have all kinds of opportunities I'll bet, Bodahn."

The merchant-cook smiled. "Aye, indeed, you are probably right! But we can talk about all that later. I don't want your porridge getting cold because I can't stop chatting on… Go on, enjoy your breakfast!"

"We'll talk more soon," Hawke agreed amiably. "A good conversation can be as filling as a home-cooked meal, as my Father used to say — and you somehow always manage to provide both."

Bodahn practically giggled. "Oh, go on with you now…"

"Bye-bye!" Sandal called. He waved his dripping ladle at her.

"See you soon, Sandal," she said with a laugh before turning to follow Fenris to the table.

He shifted over as she caught up, leaving a more than respectable gap between them as they walked. "What did Bartrand want, anyway?" he asked in a low grumble.

"Apparently for no one to enjoy this expedition, even a little bit," she sighed. "Despite any efforts to the contrary."

Fenris raised an eyebrow and gave her a sidelong glance, but he said nothing as they took their seats across from one another on the benches. Varric was already at the table, eating, and Anders followed shortly, sitting down without looking at anyone or anything but his bowl.

"Looks like we're all here, Varric," Hawke said with an invitational gesture. "You're up."

He poked at what was left of his porridge, then set his spoon down. "Yeah, yeah…"

"What's this all about?" Anders sighed. He eyed the two expedition partners with tired suspicon.

Fenris just sat quietly, watching and listening, holding off on his breakfast for the moment. Hawke looked to Varric as she nonchalantly poured hot tea over the herbs in her cup.

Varric cleared his throat. "So… Bartrand wants us to start patrolling the camp," he explained without preamble. "All night. From now on."

"What? Why?" Anders cried, frowning. "And why's it got to be us? We patrol the expedition all day long, now we have to do it all night, too?" His fists fell to the tabletop with a clatter, and he looked down with a scowl. "Andraste's ripped knickerstitches, this is feeling more and more like being with the blighted Wardens every day!"

"So we take turns walking around a little after camp is set," Varric said with a shrug. "These caverns have all been pretty defensible so far, and it's not like there's been much action since our second day."

"Hmm," Fenris said, expression thoughtful. He rubbed his hands along his thighs as he shifted on the bench. "I'm surprised your brother didn't think of this earlier. Why now?"

"Heh, mostly I think Bartrand just wants to throw his weight around," Varric said. "Misery loves company, and my brother is as miserable as they come." He picked up his spoon, poking his breakfast again as he scratched his ear. "One, maybe two nights ought to satisfy him. Then we reach the thaig and the hirelings will be all spread out anyway, working round the clock — they'll sound the alarm if need be."

"How is one person staying up is supposed to make a difference?" Anders grumbled. "The Wardens never bothered. Either you'd sense something coming in your sleep and get up to dispatch it, or a horde would show up and mop the floor with your blood. Being awake didn't matter in the slightest."

Fenris eyed the mage flatly. "Yes, well, we have been fortunate so far to have your ever-alert senses to rely on. Such as yesterday morning, for example."

Anders gave him a baleful look, but said nothing in defense of his previous morning's hangover.

Fenris glanced at Hawke, who was quietly swirling her tea, then looked at Varric. "It would be unwise to ignore the potential dangers of this place. Though it might be inconvenient, a night watch does seem prudent to me." Indeed the idea had appealed to him immediately, even if he had not been concerned about it before.

Anders rolled his eyes before crossing his arms and looking away again. "As if I didn't sleep badly enough down here," he muttered to himself. "Now I'm supposed to wander around in the dark while everyone else is asleep… I could have done that in my clinic, and for better reason. I should never have left Kirkwall. I don't even know why I agreed to come in the first place…"

Hawke gripped her tumbler, staring down into it. "I'm sorry. I know this wasn't the kind of news any of us wanted to hear this morning. But Bartrand and Fenris do have a point — it will make things safer as we get deeper in. We shouldn't assume anything down here. The last thing anyone wants is for someone to get hurt."

Anders's frown deepened into a scowl, and it looked for a moment like he would argue. But instead he settled for a last, quick glare in Fenris's direction, then began digging into his porridge in sullen silence.

"If you think you'll be lonely, Blondie," Varric said, "we could always pair up for half the night." He turned his eyes to his breakfast, his expression pointedly neutral. "Any objections, Hawke? Elf?"

Midnight watch with Fenris? Hawke thought, lips already pulling up into a small smile. It would safer and far better than being alone, to be sure …

To her surprise however, Fenris hastily stared down at the tabletop when she looked to him for approval. She frowned, puzzled at his silence, but shrugged and turned to Varric. "I suppose I woul-"

"Wait. You mean stay up half the night, every night?" Anders asked Varric, interrupting her. "Sounds even worse, if you ask me. We'd all be exhausted and useless within a few days!"

Some of us more useless than others, Fenris thought uncharitably as they all pondered their options. However, he could not disagree with the healer's main point. I imagine Hawke would become quite tired, he told himself. Alone together, half the night walking, then the other half… He cleared his throat, then reached over to pour himself some tea.

"Perhaps pairing up is unnecessary," he said hoarsely before he took a sip. He kept his eyes down on his cup, not looking at Hawke as his fingers fidgeted with the hewn ridges in the wood. "It… might just be better for two to take turns one night, then the other two the next. Unless there is some credible threat."

Anders gave him an incredulous look, disbelieving his tacit agreement. "Maybe…" he reluctantly said.

Varric's eyebrow went up as he looked from Fenris to Hawke, though he pursed his lips together in thought. "Hm. I… guess I can see some sense in that," said the dwarf. "Both could catch up on sleep on the off-days that way. A nice, long rest… Yeah."

Fenris shifted in his seat, then took another, long drink.

"I… guess that settles it, then," Hawke said, shrugging in acquiescence. She looked between each of the three men, though none of them were looking at her. "I suppose we can decide when we stop for the night who's up first — who knows what today will bring, after all."

Everyone nodded, looking about as satisfied as they could be with the unwelcome assignment.

"And if it doesn't seem to be working out," she quickly added, glancing at Fenris, "we'll find something that works for everyone, I'm sure."

They all made various murmurings of agreement and turned to their breakfasts, so she retrieved her own bowl from the tray and focused on it.

We're only a few days out from reaching the thaig, she reminded herself. It may be frustrating, but this is a worthwhile endeavor. You worked hard to get here, remember? Just take it one day at a time. Fenris is just being logical. We're all professionals, after all — even Anders.

She glanced at the gloomy mage as she added a few extra drizzles of honey to her tea and porridge to cut the bitterness of the moon herbs. The uneasy feeling in her stomach grew as she pondered Anders, so she tried to put it out of her mind for the time being. As she handed the pot of honey over to Fenris, however, his carefully hidden face caught her eye, his curious bashfulness making her smile despite her concerns. She surreptitiously admired him as she drank down her tea.

Hmm, I rather get the feeling he's none to keen on being caught off guard by Bartrand, she thought, wincing a little with embarrassment herself. I doubt Bartrand himself cares much, so long as we don't hold up progress. But I suppose I already knew Fenris prefers to keep things… private. I'll just have to hope this morning doesn't make him reluctant tonight…

Tonight, Fenris contemplated, accidentally adding more honey than he intended to his first bowl in his distraction. He glanced at Hawke briefly in between quick, too-sweet bites of porridge, but she was smiling down distantly at the table.

I could just… volunteer, he thought. It would be for the best. Nothing more can come of this. Last night was… a fluke. A careless one. This morning only proved it. Though he'd resented Bartrand's interruption, Fenris had acknowledged while quickly dressing in a secluded part of the cavern that he'd expected the tide would turn. With so many memories of pain and disappointment, the temptation to simply be satisfied with what he'd had was ever-present. More unnerving by far was the thought of taking a risk and losing what little he'd gained.

My markings, nosy dwarves, this place, that whiny mage… he thought, soon growing irritated with the whole situation. It seems new troubles always spring up to replace those I leave behind. At least I could run from the hunters, or kill them. Keeping solitary watch, keeping watch in pairs… it hardly makes a difference. Either way, it seems I'll never have a quiet, easy night, not until I return to my mansion.

He thought almost fondly of his solitary, quiet bed there, where he hadn't feared waking up paralyzed or in terror — but the warm feeling of falling asleep with Hawke was fresh too, as was the memory of her tucked under his covers, smiling at him over her cards.

I should just concentrate on getting through today without any… incidents, he thought, setting his jaw. After all, Hawke seems rather… He glanced at her again, looking away when his eyes met hers. …something. I do not wish to hurt her, but how can I explain about the pain without her pitying me? How can I tell her that I just need… I don't know even know what I need. Time? For what? To think, to be alone, to… brood?

He frowned and continued to eat automatically, questions gnawing at him to the point where he barely tasted a thing.

Those lips, Hawke thought, taking advantage of his preoccupation to watch him openly. She nearly dropped her spoon when he licked them, imagining his lips tasted even sweeter than the most generously honeyed porridge. And his tongue… ooh…

She struggled to finish her meal, trying carefully not to accidentally chew her own tongue off in her distraction.

Hawke quickly smoothed her fingers over her hair as she carried two lunches up to where Fenris was standing guard near the sweating, toiling hirelings. While she had been away, scouting further back the way they had come, the workers had already eaten and begun excavating the only promising side tunnel around. Though a good number of the strapping Fereldans worked shirtless, her eyes were firmly fixed on Fenris's svelte back. Her breath even hitched a little as he shifted his weight and crossed his arms, and she couldn't help imagining herself wrapped up in them.

Maker, just give me five solid minutes alone with him… she prayed.

One of the Carta scouts had already rushed ahead to speak with Bartrand, delivering the news that no other passages seemed navigable. The expedition leader cursed colorfully at the understandably standoffish messenger, then began pacing behind the line of hirelings. His ranting caught Hawke's attention as she approached.

"I knew I should have listened to my gut when we passed here earlier," the dwarf grumbled. "Sodding Carta scouts couldn't find their ass inside their pants using both hands! Half the damn morning wasted, now it's looking like the whole afternoon!"

Hawke suspected that Bartrand was exaggerating slightly, but it did appear at a glance that the delay would not be resolved for at least an hour or two.

Good, she thought, a smile already on her lips. More time for a leisurely lunch, and we deserve one after having to put it off to backtrack all this way. It isn't our stomachs' fault we hit a dead end. Honestly, doesn't Bartrand realize we all want to get to the thaig already, too?

She shook her head, then turned her focus on Fenris again as she came up behind him. She brushed her fingertips up his back and leaned into murmur a greeting, but he leapt and spun away, fists half raised and lip curling into a snarl. Hawke hopped backwards a step, and it seemed to take a moment before Fenris recognized that it was her.

"Hawke… " he said gruffly. He lowered his hands and straightened, then took another step away. "I… did not hear you there." Distracted again, he admonished himself. Too lost in my own thoughts — unacceptable.

Hawke's smile had gone a bit lopsided, and she lowered the hand she had reached out with. "I just… brought you your rations, Fenris," she said, holding up two cloth-wrapped bundles. "Bodahn said you hadn't come to get them yet. I thought perhaps we could sit and eat lunch together. We didn't have much time to talk this morning, and-"

"Thank you," Fenris said, stiffly taking the larger bundle, "but I am fine eating while standing guard." He left it hooked over two fingers, looking down at the wrapped parcel but not opening it.

"It's nut butter and strawberry jam today," Hawke offered after a moment, gesturing at his with her own. "Should be a nice change from salty ham and cheese with mustard, no?"

Fenris shrugged, looking aside at nothing in particular.

Her hand lowered along with some of her optimistic mood. "I'll just… keep guard with you, then," she said. "I can stand to eat, too." Her stomach punctuated her words with a growl, and she added, "Pun intended, apparently." She chuckled and began to untie the cloth, but paused when Fenris ground out an impatient sigh.

"That isn't necessary, Hawke. You should rest while you have the opportunity," he said. He gestured down the line of carts to where the remaining expedition members lounged, catching naps or leaning back quietly as they waited for the latest blockage to be cleared. As she considered the line of carts herself, Fenris looked the other way, noting that Bartrand and a few of the workers kept glancing at the two of them.

Bad enough to have these markings, the pain of them, this apprehension, he thought setting his jaw, but to have an audience to it…

"I'm not really that tired," Hawke said, turning back with a small smile. She moved closer and lowered her voice. "It's nice of you to think of my well-being, but I slept quite well last night, you know."

"Tonight won't be like last night, Hawke," Fenris responded in an uncompromising undertone. "Go. Rest while you can. It is for the best." He turned away and set his tied bundle of sandwiches down at his feet, then crossed his arms and resumed watching the hirelings' progress.

Hawke blinked at his back a few times. Was it something I said? she thought. Did Bartrand get to him that much? Maybe something happened while I was away… Or is his mood for some other reason entirely? I can never tell with him… but would he even tell me if I asked?

"Is… something the matter, Fenris?" she ventured quietly.


He barely turned his head when he answered, and her eyebrow went up at his clipped tone. "You're sure? If there's something bothering you, maybe I-"

"You needn't concern yourself with me, Hawke," Fenris said firmly. "I'm doing my duty, aiding with this endeavor of yours as asked — aren't I?"

"Well… yes," she said, clutching her own lunch. "Always. I never… meant to imply that you weren't. I just-"

"So leave it to me." He shot her a glance over his shoulder. "This isn't anything I can't handle on my own."

Hawke let out a small, flustered laugh. "It wasn't a question of you handling it, Fenris. I just thought you might like some company."

She doesn't understand… Fenris thought. He hung his head and sighed. Of course she doesn't. I don't understand. All I do know is that I am making a mess of it. I just… don't want to deal with this right now. This just isn't the right time or place.

Hawke felt other eyes watching them as the silence grew, the weight of Bartrand's gaze in particular further sinking her hopes. She glanced at Fenris's formidable posture, then plucked at the cloth of her lunch bundle a few times, experiencing a rare loss of words.

"Do you want me to leave you be?" she finally asked, voice far quieter than was necessary for privacy.

Fenris looked to one side, gazing at nothing. "I think it would be best."

"I… see." Hawke cast her lowered eyes around, fidgeting with the knot in the cloth. "Well… maybe we can talk later, then."

Fenris's shoulders slumped, but he didn't have the strength to disillusion Hawke further. "Go, try to rest up for tonight. I will be here."

Hawke took a step back, reluctantly turning away. "I'll just… leave you to it, then, Fenris."

He remained silent and still as she left, his body somehow more tense than when he'd been alarmed by her touch. I handled that poorly, from beginning to end, he thought, feeling disgusted with himself.

As she walked further off, he could hear Bartrand grunt in self-satisfaction. "Girls," the expedition leader then grumbled to himself. He came over and stopped a few paces away, squinting at Hawke's retreating back for a long moment before his steely eyes shifted over to Fenris.

"That one likes to talk almost as much as my brother," he muttered. "Doesn't seem like it's her conversation that interests you though, eh?"

Fenris returned Bartrand's hard gaze with a blank, unrelenting stare of his own. This dwarf is every bit as nosy as Varric, he decided. But where Varric merely seems curious, his brother is… meddlesome. I do not like it.

"So…" Bartrand said quietly, crossing his arms and thrusting his chin at Fenris. "You'll start glowing if anything dangerous turns up, right?"

Fenris narrowed his eyes. "Excuse me?"

"You light up like a sodding torch whenever we get attacked," the expedition leader said. "Or at least those… tattoos do." He uncrossed one arm to gesture at him. "Look like lyrium to me — some kind of magic warning signal or something?"

Fenris's eyebrow cocked up. "No… I control my markings in battle. They do not control me." He flicked his eyes up impatiently — just before he realized the irony of his own statement.

"Eh, I see…" Bartrand rubbed at his chin, fingertips flicking his long, braided mustache as he considered Fenris anew. "But they are lyrium, right?"

"Yes," Fenris answered, expression souring. "Forced upon me by a magister of the Imperium, my former mas-"

Bartrand held up a hand, loudly grumbling, "Didn't ask for your life story, elf." He pointed a finger towards him. "Just keep alert. Got a bad feeling, and it's been growing on me. Like an… itch. Right between the shoulders. Know what I mean?"

Fenris glowered, but nodded once. "I believe so." After three years of feeling it, how could I not…

"Yeah, I thought you might," the expedition leader said. "Lad like you?" He scratched at his chin again, eyes boring into Fenris. "You got a, what do they call it…? A 'dark air' about you. Maybe that's what's got my whiskers standing on end…"

Fenris bristled. 'Lad,' hmph. He sounds far too like Danarius… "If something about me bothers you, feel free to keep your distance," he replied. "But before you go, you should perhaps know that I didn't fight my way alone across the length of Thedas simply to die in a tunnel under it. Rest assured I will sound the alert if I see or hear anything dangerous." He shifted and crossed his arms, giving Bartrand a hard glare that he hoped would encourage the expedition leader to avoid dropping by again. Perhaps he will think twice about barging into my tent, too.

Bartrand pursed his lips for a few moments, quietly considering. "Well… I guess you do talk when you got something to say," he said, nodding. "Good. I don't trust anyone who doesn't say enough."

He eyed the knot of shifty Carta scouts that lingered around the frontmost carts, then glanced back down the line towards where Varric sat, far at the rear, keeping guard with Anders. The constant sound of Varric's voice echoed well past where Bartrand and Fenris stood.

"I gotta say, though," the expedition leader shouted, "saying little is better than yapping on too much!"

Fenris raised his hands halfway to his ears, but Bartrand's booming voice hit him in full force. "Volume should count for something, surely…" he muttered, grimacing.

Varric's faint, longwinded tale cut off and everyone turned to look at Bartrand. The gruff dwarf chuckled grimly in satisfaction, and he clapped Fenris on the arm with a meaty hand before stomping away

Caught off guard, Fenris couldn't avoid the rough contact. He gritted his teeth, barely keeping himself from clutching at his skin. Venhedis, he cursed inwardly, will these trials never end? This is exactly what I wished to avoid…

He closed his eyes for a moment and did his best to ignore the pain that radiated from his arm. When that did not work, he bent down to scoop up his rations, hoping that perhaps eating would distract him from his unending woes. It was foolish to come here. Stuck underground with so many others and nowhere to go…. Damn these markings, damn Danarius, and damn all of this…

He stared at the bundle of food for a moment, his appetite utterly nonexistent. All I want is a little peace. Hawke came here seeking better fortunes, and I owe it to her to aid her… but I grow tired of this. How can I ever be normal with these… cursed markings? he thought, willing the discomfort away. It did not seem to help, and his frustration served only to compound his lingering anxiety that he might never feel as he thought a normal man should.

No, he decided, ignoring his lunch and returning to his lonely, quiet vigil, I wasn't a fool to come here. This would stay with me no matter where I was. I was merely a fool to think I had finally put some part of my past behind me, or that I had found some way do deal with what I truly am. I wish I was alone — it is so much easier to forget then.

Hawke retired to the quiet of her tent right after dinner, intending to turn in early in preparation for her turn at watch.

Up in the middle of the night, patrolling until breakfast, she thought. Aveline would approve… can't say I'm as excited though. The prospect of traveling the next day on half a night's sleep already made her feel weary.

'You can go far on tired, Marian,' she remembered her father saying, 'and sleep better for having seen your duties through.' She chuckled to herself, thinking of all the times she'd pointed out that naturally exhausting oneself would lead to better sleep. Oh Father, no doubt you would have enjoyed yourself immensely on this expedition. I, however, am already starting to long for home…

As she rolled out her bedroll, she realized just how much she missed her family, Aveline, and even Merrill and Isabela. Never a dull moment there either, but at least there was always someone to talk to. Even Ruff is a better listener than an empty tent, she thought, feeling acutely alone. I miss that dog… though no doubt he's having plenty of fun keeping Uncle Gamlen in line. Hawke rolled out Fenris's bedroll next, placing it beside her own even though there would be no opportunity for them to sleep together that night. Maybe it'll feel less lonely in here with both bedrolls out, she hoped, taking a deep breath as the faint smell of Fenris wafted into air.

She sighed and crawled over to take one last look out the front of the tent, noticing that Varric and Anders had set up the benches around the fire, littering the bench between them with a deck of cards and a few mugs of ale. They were playing a friendly game of Diamondback, and by their laughter and smiles Hawke figured they couldn't have been playing very long.

Maker, I hope Varric knows what he's doing. He knows Anders is a complete maniac at Diamondback. His offended inner card strategist will get no sympathy from me tomorrow if Anders wins with dumb luck… although it might help keep Anders from getting any more melancholic.

The mage had been in slightly better spirits after she'd offered to take the second watch that evening, while Varric, by comparison, had been unflappable about the whole situation. Indeed, a little too unflappable, enough so that his offer to "volunteer to say" he'd take the second watch had made her think it prudent to do it herself, just in case Bartrand decided to check up on the first patrol during the night.

The last thing we need is Varric's brother in another uproar. I'd rather lose a little sleep tonight and know for certain the watch is being kept rather than risk fratricide if Bartrand caught Varric sleeping or shirking on his watch…

As she'd expected, Hawke did not see Fenris at all as she looked past their circle of tents. She knew if she waited long enough he'd pass through, checking on their part of camp, but she also knew she needn't bother. She pulled her head back into the tent, thinking, Whatever is eating him, he obviously wants to think on it alone. I doubt I could even get a goodnight out of him. Maybe when he comes to bed…

She slipped out of her clothes and into her underpadding, figuring she could more quickly don her armor when Fenris came to wake her if she didn't have to first undress. After washing earlier, she had carefully cleaned and arranged her armor pieces so she could simply reach over and pull them on. Her underpadding was also comfortable enough to sleep in, if a bit revealing on bottom. And yet another opportunity wasted, she thought.

All her preparations for the night seemed complete, so Hawke lay down on her bedroll and curled up alone, sighing heavily as she pulled her cloak over herself.

I had truly hoped to be able to talk to Fenris tonight… He seemed to have a lot on his mind yesterday, and I've also been meaning to ask after his markings. But whether it's those flares or something else that's bothering him, it seems like I am too late. I should have struck while the iron was hot — he seemed at ease after dinner yesterday, but instead of talking, I let myself get carried away. As usual.

Again as she tried to settle in to sleep alone, Hawke found she deeply missed Fenris's presence beside her. She fidgeted and tried to get comfortable, but her aching back protested along with her heavy heart. It seemed her body was determined to make her long for him, and in as many ways as possible.

Fenris doesn't even want my company, she thought, stretching and twisting to loosen her back. Even were he here, asking for a massage would definitely be out of the question.

She had learned her lesson at lunch and hadn't made the mistake of assuming he would want her to accompany him while he made his rounds at dinnertime, but she had been surprised when Fenris also turned down her offer to bring him some food. Where his words had been few, his lack of appetite spoke volumes.

He said he'd just eat his lunch rations for dinner, but I wonder why he didn't have them earlier? Fenris loves strawberries, I know he does — I thought he'd be pleased that I slipped a request for jam sandwiches to Bodahn after breakfast and finding out he had brought a few jars along. She frowned, troubled by Fenris's recurring black, enigmatic moods and the distance he was keeping between them again.

Tsk, I probably worry about him too much, she chided herself. The surest way to drive a man off is to smother him, Marian…

Hawke rubbed her own legs and feet for a minute, trying not to think how much more they would hurt after adding half a night's patrol to the aggressive pace Bartrand still insisted on setting for the expedition. As she kneaded, she let her thoughts turn instead to imagining what wonders Fenris's strong hands could work on her sore feet, tight calves, and tired thighs. Her own fingers were dexterous enough, but she found them a lackluster substitute for his warm, stimulating, and mysteriously knowledgable ones.

Maker's breath, just the thought of his fingertips on my toes is enough to arouse me now?she let her hold on herself slip even as she lamented her weakness, her eyes slipping closed and her hands grazing up her legs. She thought again of Fenris darkly ravishing her in her dream, the sensations now a vivid memory since she had envisioned each moment over and over throughout the day until she could intimately recall each scintillating detail.

Her body warmed and grew pliant as her tension shifted, and she thought too of a few other daydreams she'd been helplessly entertaining of late. Of peeling Fenris out of his leggings and mapping every inch of his bare skin with her eyes — to start with; of tending each other in a long hot bath where the steaming slipperiness of soapy water would leave them flushed, yet curiously not much cleaner; and of sharing his bed for uninterrupted hours in the seclusion of his mansion, which in her imagination would be slightly less quiet than it usually was.

I suppose this is one good thing about having the tent all to myself for half the night, Hawke mused before her thoughts transported her elsewhere.

"Fenris, my love, you incredible, insufferable man," she groaned. "Maker, where are you when I need you most…" She soon battled her frustrations herself, quietly murmuring Fenris's name though she longed to cry it out.

Fenris soon silently patrolled the periphery of their camp, avoiding the harsh glare of the circle of firelight as he made another round on his patrol. His sharp eyes quickly scanned the dark recesses along the walls and under the carts, his ears alert for any strange noises. Among the sounds of Anders's gloating, Varric's swearing, and the snap of the fire, he thought for a moment that he heard his name. He paused as he passed behind his and Hawke's tent, skin prickling a little. Was that…

"Hawke?" he called. He did not reach for the tent flaps, frowning and staring distantly down as he waited in silence.

No, I must have been mistaken, he told himself after a moment. I suppose it is common enough to hear things when keeping watch. He resumed walking, mind and body falling back into the comfortingly meditative rhythms of searching the shadows and listening to the dark.

"Damn it, Marian," Hawke sighed, releasing the breath she had been holding. Well, that was close — I almost had the perfect opportunity to talk to Fenris, she ruefully told herself. Not even keeping my hands to myself helped this time…

She lay still, shaking her head facedown into the bolster.

"Sixth of Justinian, nine thirty-one Dragon," she said, voice muffled. "This was just not my day… nor one meant for love or dalliances…"