The last of the freed slaves dispersed from the cavern. Some skulked away without a word of thanks or farewell, while others chattered to one another, hugging and waving their goodbyes. Fenris understood both responses to the situation, although he most identified with the ones who fled in bewilderment or fear. He didn't know where any of them would go or if they'd manage to keep their freedom long enough to find homes, but he wanted to hope, to believe that it was possible.
Marian glanced at him, the trace of a smile on her lips. "They'll manage, Fenris. They have a chance now. That was your doing."
He reached down, touching the hilt of his Sword of Mercy at his hip. It felt good to have recovered his weapons and armour again. He felt more like himself when he had his equipment – at least, the person he'd thought he was. Varania's revelation had turned all of that upside down again. Was he a victim of circumstance or one of the power-seekers whom he'd feared and despised, a fool who'd brought magic's curse down upon his own head? He didn't like this sense of complicity with the mages who'd tormented him for years. It made him a hypocrite, albeit an accidental one.
They sat down on one of the sand dunes to rest, watching the sun melt into the sea and the sky darken from vibrant streaks of orange-pink to bloody rags of crimson. The tide came rolling in, waves fluttering against the splintered hull of ship wrecked in the bay. At this time of day and season, the Wounded Coast appeared to best advantage, almost a romantic prospect, if one ignored the faint reek of dead fish and the constant threat of falling excrement from the gulls soaring overhead.
But, then, Fenris had never been a great one for the seaside. It held too many memories of slave ships, of Danarius' orders and Fog Warriors lying dead in the sand.
After the end of his struggle with Danarius, a sunset felt symbolically appropriate and Fenris entertained how this scene might play out in one of Varric's novels.
There'd be a reunion of lovers, certainly. He and Marian would kiss, bodies silhouetted by the waning sun, before they cast all the care and labour of their pasts aside and boarded a ship bound for points unknown, some distant paradise, some brave new adventure.
It was pleasant to contemplate, although it occurred to Fenris that he might not be the hero of this story. Indeed, in many respects, his credentials were more befitting a villain, one who wore a scowl more often than not and had little compunction about killing anyone who stood in his way. He'd chosen much of his own suffering and done little to seek the happiness he wanted.
Marian regarded him with a solemn expression, her concern evident. The ink from Danarius' markings was still on her skin. It was startling to see purple lines swirling over her neck, tracing up her chin to bisect her full lips and transforming into petal-like shapes as they reached her cheekbones.
"How are you faring?"
"I thought discovering my past would bring a sense of belonging, but I was wrong," he said. "Magic has tainted that too. There is nothing for me to reclaim. I am alone."
"I'm here, Fenris." Marian pressed a light hand on his shoulder. "But you must know that."
Turning, he gazed into her eyes, unsure what to do with this compassion. She was there, always, when he needed her. She'd been there for so many seasons and yet he still seemed unable to find the words for what he needed to say. He stroked a hand over her cheek, gently tracing one of the markings with his fingers, hoping that she would understand that she made all the difference.
"You heard what Varania said," he said. "I wanted these. I fought for them. I feel unclean. Like this magic is not only etched into my skin, but has also stained my soul."
These words were inadequate. They did not clearly express the complicity he felt, the discomfort of the hypocrisy that he had unknowingly lived with for all these years. He had played the victim and embraced the role, but indeed, he'd been the victor and the markings had been an agonizing symbol of his triumph. He'd stepped over at least a dozen bodies to get them and done other things, deeds he didn't want to imagine, never mind, to remember. Memories, however, had a way of rising like bile in the back of his throat.
A shadow lengthening on the wall, reaching out spider-like hands to seize him, hauling him up from the woven mat where he'd curled up to sleep. Leto knew this game and that he had to play along, if not for his mother, then for Varania, who lay sleeping little more than an arm's reach away.
He'd always a talent for masking his thoughts, curving his mouth into a smile because that was what Danarius wanted to see when he looked at the pretty elven youth. A happy boy. A sweet boy. Affectionate. Innocent and stupid, even after they'd done everything they could to corrupt him. He knew his role in this farce and the source of his appeal. The magisters found him decorative and pleasing – his outside, at least. It made them less inclined to tear out his insides for their spells. He didn't flatter himself that they liked him or that they might be convinced to care about him, as some of the others did. When he grew older and his novelty faded, he would have to find another way to guarantee his usefulness to them. The alternative...was unpleasant.
"The master favours you," his mother told him, as if this were a revelation.
Leto knew exactly what the master favoured and that was why he made sure Varania looked dirty and unkempt, why he'd cut off her hair and made her cry, even rubbed her clothes with cloves of garlic. She thought he was cruel, that he was trying to sabotage her.
"You're scared he'll like me better than you," she'd said to him. "You're jealous because I could be a mage and you never, ever will. I bet that if the master liked me enough, he'd teach me how to make flames come from my hands."
"You're just a silly little girl," he'd replied. "And you shouldn't play with fire."
Varania knew that her father was a magister. That was the one thing their mother had seen fit to tell her. The rest of the circumstances she'd left to the child's imagination and Varania had filled in the blanks with romantic rubbish. One day, after she'd alluded to his father as a slave one too many times, he'd told her how generous Danarius was with his party guests – how they could borrow books from his study or extra robes from his armoire, how he was so kind, so wonderfully selfless that he'd think nothing to lending them a slave for the night, if they wished it and if they got a female with child, so much the better.
"More little slaves who'll grow up to serve them," he'd said. "That's your glorious noble father. A fellow too cheap to buy himself a whore."
He'd regretted it afterwards, when she'd run off sobbing again and reported the words back to their mother. His mother hadn't said anything to him, not a word of reprimand, just glanced at his guilty face, her grey-green eyes large and weary.
She'd looked down again, rubbing Varania's back. "Don't cry now. Your brother doesn't know everything about magisters, even if he pretends to. You can think something different if you wish to."
They were weak and so he'd had to be strong, to be the man of the household and do things that he didn't like for the sake of them all. He'd resented the females their weakness and they'd feared his strength, the weight of silence that burdened him and the upheaval might occur if he actually spoke. They understood that their little privileges – decent food, a private sleeping room, a two free hours a day for rest and leisure – had been purchased with dirty coin and yet no one would ever mention it and risk toppling the careful balance of their world.
Marian's voice was gentle, a caress. "All I know is that you sacrificed everything to free your Mother and Varania. Perhaps it didn't work out as you'd hoped, but it was a selfless and noble act. I think you should be proud of what you did. Of who you are."
"And who am I, Marian? I only wish I knew."
While other people had identities, histories, intellectual resources to draw upon, for a long time, Fenris had thought of himself and of others as little better than objects, bodies who might do him harm or bodies who might obstruct his pursuers and allow his escape. He'd known only the instinct to survive and if necessary, to kill, and this had seemed sufficient, although he'd been vaguely aware that others had colour and richness in their lives that he was incapable of comprehending. He'd learned more of this in the time he'd spent with Marian and her circle of acquaintance, but for a long time, it took effort to cover over the hollowness of his own existence, to play the role of a person when he often still felt he had more in common with an ornate sword or a well-strung bow.
It would be beneficial to have some time to ponder his next course of action, if only to decide what to call himself now. He wasn't sure that he liked this new name – or rather, this old name that felt uncomfortable as too-tight clothes.
His sister had given it unpleasant associations and it felt like another chain, something else to weigh him down. He wouldn't become Leto again, the boy who'd been forced to smile and scrape before the magisters in a frantic dance for his life. Fenris was scarred and sullen, plain-spoken and stoop-shouldered, without any ounce of that boy's effortless grace, but at least he had a voice and wore his own frown instead of another man's smile.
"I know you," Marian told him. "Perhaps not every detail, but the important things. I know that you're wise and you're loyal. That you're clever and your sense of humour is dryer than old bones. That you've been through things that would've driven other men mad and yet you're still capable of so much...goodness." She seemed nervous at this admission and broke the tension with a soft chuckle. "I also know that you have a gambling problem and a fiery temper and that you rival my uncle Gamlen for the coveted title of Worst Housekeeper in Kirkwall. Quite an achievement, that last one."
He cracked a smile. "It would seem you know a great deal."
"I do. And I like you. Every bit. Even I'm still not entirely certain what to call you."
"I – Marian..." He paused, trying to recover himself from tongue-tied bewilderment. "I'm Fenris. I left that other person behind long ago. I want to be...the person you know. I want..." He didn't know how to finish that sentence. He wanted so many things. Instead, he gently cupped the back of her neck in his hand, leaning forward, intending to kiss her.
She blinked, recoiling slightly as footsteps sounded on the path behind him. "Varric?"
Fenris turned, feeling a twinge of annoyance at the sudden, belated appearance of their rescue party. How inconvenient. All they'd managed to do was save them from a perfectly lovely moment.
Varric sauntered down the hill, his broad face wearing an equally wide smirk. Aveline, Sebastian and Isabella followed in his wake.
"There you are!" he said, clapping a hand against his thigh. "We've been searching every damn slaver cavern on the Coast for you two. Getting underground so much, I was starting to feel like a real dwarf. With a beard and everything."
"Oh, please. I have more Stone sense than you," Isabella said.
She winked at them. "He couldn't track down a tunnel entrance to save his life. My dear departed husband would've had an easier time finding my clitoris. Not that he ever bothered conducting a search."
Marian gave an awkward laugh, standing up to greet them. "Ah, I was wondering when the cavalry was going to show up. You know, I'm quite embarrassed about letting myself get captured by that damnable magister. I don't suppose we could pretend this never happened? That I just killed the vile fellow in a timely and efficient manner?"
"You do have a reputation to keep up," Varric said. "I'll see what I can do, Champion. You're just lucky I'm a convincing liar."
Varric turned towards Fenris, assessing his face with cunning eyes that shone like coppers. "How are you doing, Broody? You must be happy now that the magister's dead. Do I even see a wee bit of a smile? With you, it's, uh, sort of hard to tell."
It occurred to him that he should be in more of a celebratory mood and yet, he felt oddly disappointed, underwhelmed. He'd expected the magister's death to change everything and yet the world had gone on just the same and here were the usual suspects from Kirkwall, standing around making the same fool jokes.
"Danarius is gone. I am...satisfied."
"It will open up a lot of possibilities for you," Aveline noted. "You won't have to hole up in that mansion anymore. If you wished, you might travel."
It was true. He might go anywhere and yet he could think of no place he'd rather be than inside his rat's nest of a mansion, drinking wine with Marian or puzzling over a book.
"Indeed. It's a possibility. One I shall consider. But for now...I'm in no great haste to depart Kirkwall."
As they trekked back towards the city, Marian struggled to keep pace, moving gingerly on her wounded foot. Despite his offers of assistance, she refused to allow him or anyone to carry her over the uneven terrain.
"You're wounded as well," she noted. "And I'm heavier than I look."
He remembered what it felt like to lift her and carry her body in his arms. She wouldn't have been a burden. "I'm rather strong, you know."
"I know. But so am I. And it's hard to tell which of us is more stubborn."
"You are stubborn," he said. "I am merely determined."
She smirked. "Determined like a mule."
Eventually, however, she acceded to leaning between his and Aveline's shoulders for occasional support while making climbs up rocky slopes. Fenris endeavoured to resist glancing at Marian when she draped an arm around him, although he was curious to see her expression and to learn what she thought of his decision to remain in Kirkwall. With tensions erupting in the city between the mages and the templars, he suspected that she might soon require his aid. Aside from that, while travel had its appeal and he would certainly enjoy the chance to see the world as a free man rather than as a fugitive, he had the notion that it might be pleasanter to be able to share those new experiences and unfamiliar places. Perhaps with someone who knew him well and had the marvellous gift of believing the best of him.
Fenris returned to the mansion, taking the time to bathe and dress himself with care, mentally preparing for what he had to do, what he'd put off for too long. He knelt by the little make-shift altar in his room and murmured a few prayers for luck, hoping that Andraste was listening and sympathetic to his plight. His lips moved when he went through the familiar petitions but, for once, he didn't care.
Holy Mother, favour me with your blessing. Grant me the wisdom to know what is right, the grace to act upon it and the fortitude to accept suffering.
Gracious Bride of the Maker, hear my petition and offer me courage: to fight when the odds seem impossible, to temper all extremes with kindness, to love even without hope, to despise cruelty and injustice, calm in the assurance that the Maker is my refuge.
By the time he felt ready to go, a guard of the night watch was out, pacing the square with his lantern and he wondered if it wasn't too late and he shouldn't wait until morning.
No, he'd waited too long. He'd resolved himself. He wasn't going to give in to cowardice. The night air felt crisp and fresh, and despite his agitation, he felt a sense of pleasurable freedom, as he often did in high, open spaces.
Marian's estate was shrouded in darkness and Fenris stared ahead at the portal alcove, feeling rather intimidated by the stately door and its great brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head. He strode towards the porch, stopping at the topmost step, wondering if he'd better not prepare himself better first. It'd suddenly occurred to him that he might appear more sincere if he could offer something better than words - a gift, perhaps, a precious token that might make up for the painful gaps in his speech.
A peal of laughter dropped from above. "I don't suppose you were planning to knock."
He looked up and saw Marian standing on the balcony, leaning her elbows on the top rail. Her cheerfulness could easily be attributed to the fact she was tipsy and he suspected she was holding onto the railing partially to steady herself as she sobered up in the cool night air.
"I thought I might examine your door for a while," he deadpanned, eager to hide his embarrassment.
"It's a fascinating door. You might do well to study it."
She shifted slightly and her robe parted to reveal a tantalizing sliver of leg, her skin gleaming in the moonlight. She'd washed away most of the markings, but the dye still lingered in some places, leaving leaf-like veins snaking up calf and faint lines spiralling around her ankles. It took Marian a few moments to notice the situation with her robe and when she did, she made no attempt to correct it.
She grinned. "You aren't looking at the door."
"Has it lost its charm?"
"I've seen something more interesting."
Taking a leap from the topmost step, Fenris landed on the window ledge, grasping the ruts in the stone wall for handholds.
Marian peered down at him, confused. "In Andraste's name, what are you doing?"
"Taking an alternate route of entry."
From the ledge, he found a higher foothold by digging his feet against an ornate wall moulding featuring flowers, fruit and vines. Fenris edged along this narrow space until he was directly under the balcony, then, springing up, he grabbed the bottom bars and clambered up, swinging his legs over the railing.
Marian smirked at him, backing up a step to offer him room to pass. It was distance that he didn't need. He was weary of having so much space between them.
"You know, I could've troubled Bodahn to unlock the door," she said.
He glanced through the window, seeing her lantern casting a soft yellow light over her room. There was an empty bottle of wine on the floor and another set out on the table. "May I come in?"
She shook her head in bemusement, wandering back into her chamber. "Now you ask. Very well. Come in. Pour us a nightcap."
Fenris sat down at the table, finding the wine and a silver decanter of ice water. He poured her a glass of ice water to help sober her up and uncorked the new bottle, which he reserved for himself.
"What? Why, you... How terribly rude." She tried to feign indignation, but it wasn't very convincing when interspersed with giggles. "That is my wine, by the way. I didn't 'borrow' it from your cellar."
Fenris took a long draught, which quickly confirmed that it wasn't Danarius' wine. The stuff Marian drank was from Ferelden and while he didn't doubt its nostalgic value, its taste left much to be desired.
"You've had enough tonight. I'd like you to remember this in the morning."
"When you've gone?" It was hard to discern whether this was a jibe or if Marian was seeking his reassurance. Her tone suggested the first of these, but her brows tilted down slightly, giving her a wounded expression.
"I'm here now. I...wished to apologize for what happened. I was foolish, thinking that my sister's intentions might be sincere. I did not expect I might be leading you into a trap. I did not imagine that you would be put in such jeopardy."
"You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing. I was glad to be there. I was glad to see Danarius get his at last."
"I hesitated. I was...fearful. As a memory, I gave Danarius more power than he'd ever wielded as a man. He ruined my past. I don't want him to affect what's to come."
"He shan't trouble you again. Not in this life or the next. You have your freedom now, Fenris. You can do anything you wish."
"Yes, I am free. Danarius is dead. Yet it doesn't feel like it should."
"You thought killing him would solve everything," she said softly. "But it doesn't."
"I suppose not. I thought that if I didn't need to fight and run to stay alive, I would finally be able to live as a free man does. But how is that? My sister is gone and I have nothing, not even an enemy."
"But maybe that just means there's nothing holding you back."
Nothing? No one? Fenris was crestfallen, having hoped that she would disagree with his assessment. Perhaps he had not done a good job of investing in his life in Kirkwall, resistant as he was to putting down roots, but he'd flattered myself that a few people might miss his taciturnity and surliness - if only because it provided them an easy target for jests.
Even if there were none to count among that number, he'd still depended on Marian to think well of him on occasion, even if when he didn't deserve it. He'd hoped that she might be tempted to hold him back from the vague possibilities of freedom, his limitless future that dropped down into emptiness, an oubliette.
"Hmm, an interesting thought. It's just difficult to overlook the stain that magic has left on my life. If I seem bitter, it's not without cause. Perhaps it is time to move forward. I just don't know where that leads. Do you?"
She hesitated, seeming to consider the invitation, absentmindedly tracing her fingers along her collarbone. Her lips curled into a nervous smile.
"Wherever it leads, I hope it means we'll stay together."
Stay together. As if they'd never parted. Those last two words warmed him and seemed to offer an island of hope amidst the chaos stirring around them. Heretofore, he had never considered solitude to be a burden, but without her eyes, her voice, her smile, he knew he would be unmoored, lost and drifting.
He smiled. "That is my hope as well." She had said enough to encourage him, but somehow, this did little to ease his anxiety. "We have never discussed what happened between us three years ago."
"You didn't want to talk about it."
"I felt like a fool," he said. "Thought it better if you hated me. I deserve no less. But it isn't better."
His throat felt dry and raw, but he forced the words out. She deserved to know the truth, even if it would not bridge the distance between them and bring her back into his arms. Even if she didn't like what he had to tell her, at least she would know that she had given him something to hope for – one of his first, surprising tastes of happiness.
"That night – I remember your touch as if it were yesterday. I should have asked your forgiveness long ago. I hope you can forgive me now."
Marian tilted her head to the side, hair falling forward over her cheekbone. She seemed minutely focussed on his words, as if they might mean her life or her death.
"I need to understand why you left, Fenris. Why you...kept on leaving."
He furrowed his brow, looking down at his hands, the wrinkles marking the joints of his fingers. He still didn't understand all the answers, but his confrontations with Hadriana and Danarius had made a few things clear. Buried in his past, there were indignities, violations that he was probably best not to remember... or, at least, not to fixate on in agonizing detail. He'd never known pleasure from another person's touch or a sense of intimacy and when he'd experienced it with Marian, it had been terrifying, like a disturbance of the natural order. He'd been frightened at the depths of emotion she could provoke in him and having felt such overwhelming goodness, he'd expected an equal measure of something bad and hurtful, a punishment he would deserve for being careless and letting down his guard. Yet how to say that aloud? How to make her understand, without sounding pitiful and irrevocably broken?
"I've thought about the answer a thousand times. The pain and the memories it brought up. It was too much. I was a coward. If I could go back, I would stay. Tell you how I felt."
A smile twinkled behind her eyes, one that slowly crept to the edges of her lips, teasing him. "What would you have said?"
He took a breath. Say it. Now. No more silence.
"Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you."
Her smile widened, her hand touching his arm, fingers stroking softly over the bared skin on the inside of his wrist.
"Fenris, I forgave you long before you asked it. Not because I thought you might change your mind, but because I could not change my heart."
His breath caught in his throat and he looked down, giving a low chuckle to play it off. "As much as you might wish you could."
"I struggled valiantly. But in the end, it was always you."
Fenris sprang from his chair, annoyed that the table presented a barrier between them. Circling around the obstacle, he stooped down, grasping her face as he drew her up into his arms. "Marian, if there is a future to be had, I will walk into it gladly at your side."
He kissed her, just as he had intended to on the Wounded Coast, without hesitation or regret, in the sure knowledge that at least one thing had remained unspoiled. He had believed that he was incapable of love and yet it had always been there, inside him, waiting for the right season and her touch to unlock the clenched fist of his heart. The warmth of the fireside crackled behind them as he pressed his lips to her neck, each kiss a promise. Her hands moved up to his chest and she began to strip away his armour.
Marian felt Fenris' hand stroke downward over the soft fabric of her robe, fumbling with the sash knotted at her waist and then pulling the cloth back to expose her skin, freshly scrubbed from the bath.
His eagerness brought a smile to her face and she rolled the heavy garment back from her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She moved to embrace him, but he took a slight step back, holding her at arm's distance.
"Let me...I want to look at you."
His eyes raked over her, seeming to drink in every detail, as if he sought to memorize the lineaments of her face and the lines of her body. Under anyone else's gaze, she might have felt self-conscious, remembering her many battle scars, but he made her feel beautiful, softer and more womanly, worthy of adoration.
At last, Fenris gave a low sigh, dropping to his knees, his lips warm against her stomach, the sandpaper-rasp of his tongue trailing down over her abdomen. He ventured lower still and she heard herself whimper as if the sound were coming from another place, another person, her eyelids fluttering at the gentleness of his mouth and the deftness of his hands. She reached down, stroking her hands through his fine, silvery hair, wanting to have him closer to her and yet not wishing this pleasure to end.
He glanced up at her, smiling as if they shared a secret. "What do you wish of me? Say it and it is done."
"Just...come here. Fenris. I want you close to me now. I want you inside me."
He stood, wrapping his long arms around her back, burying his face against her neck.
Marian loved breathing in the smell of him, the scent of leather, a faint metallic tinge of lyrium rising from the warmth of his body and something else, sandalwood or incense, she suspected, from his religious devotions. She drew him towards her bed, allowing her body to crumple back and rest against the blankets, his weight falling upon her.
Their breathing seemed to deepen and synchronize as he kissed her throat, brushed her hair back from her face. His tongue darted out to lick her nipples, before he took one of her breasts in his mouth, the soft insistence of his lips making her throb with desire.
When he thrust inside her, she gave a soft gasp and he glanced down at her with concern. "Did I...hurt you?"
She smiled. "No. It feels good. It's just been...a long time."
"For me, as well." Fenris shifted his hips, gently delving deeper and she bucked against him, her legs wrapping around his ass and her fingernails raking over his muscled back.
He gave a low moan, his initial caution cast off with the heat of the moment. He increased the speed of his downward strokes, gripping her legs and bending them back over her head, her good foot nearly striking the mahogany headboard.
Marian laughed. "I see you remembered that I'm flexible."
"It's one detail that was rather...difficult to forget."
She writhed under him, then, kicking her legs downward, she managed to roll over and on top of him, pinning him to the mattress. She leaned over, hair falling forward to curtain her face and kissed him hard on the lips.
"I want you to make sure you remember this."
She slid forward, the tips of her breasts brushing over his face and she could feel his breath heavy against her skin.
Fenris cupped them in his hands, fingers stroking down her stomach, running over the gentle curves of her hips and thighs, squeezing her ass, drawing her down over the length of him. "I...don't think...there's any risk...of this...slipping my mind."
She could tell he was on the very cusp and yet he managed to hold off, concentrating on finishing her before he allowed himself to slip over the brink.
Tumbling back against the mattress, she stared dazedly at the crimson canopy that draped over her four-poster bed, giving a soft growl of contentment.
He leaned his head against hers, his arm sliding around her back to embrace her.
Marian turned, admiring how the firelight danced in his soft green eyes and how they crinkled at the sides when he smiled. She knew that Fenris didn't like the way he looked, that he thought of himself as mutilated but he was one of the most beautiful people she'd ever seen. His scars, the premature silvering of his hair, the callouses on his hands and how the sun had browned and weathered his skin...she adored all these small perfections and she would not have changed a single one.
She lay in his arms, enjoying the way his hands strayed over her skin, caressing her, stroking away the tension from her muscles. It had been years since she'd felt so protected and even...cherished. He made her feel necessary, safe and valuable and that was something she could use more of in her life.
In their pillow talk, they spoke of faraway things. He told her tales of Seheron, its rain-scented forests and rolling white sands, and of his passage through the Anderfels, as a fugitive long ago, the first time he had seen true mountains.
"One day, I will take you there and we shall trek up one of the mountains. The view from above – to see the rest of the world so small – it is truly a magnificent sight. It lends one a sense of perspective."
"I would like that." If it'd been up to her, Marian would have let him whisk her away the very next morning, but there were still dire issues in Kirkwall, ones that the city's avowed Champion couldn't leave behind. Nevertheless, it would be wonderful, one day, to be able to go exploring with him and see all the places from the books they'd read together. Although she'd seen many marvels in her time, she was still, in many respects, a village girl from Fereldan, not nearly as cosmopolitan or well-travelled as many of her friends.
Indeed, when she began to tell her own stories, they were often anecdotes from Lothering or the other rural towns where she'd spent her childhood in Fereldan. They were simple recollections, memories of how she and Carver used to fish and catch frogs in the stream by Willowbrook, splashing prim Bethany as she tried to work on her lessons or how excited her mother became when it was Feast Day in Lothering and bands of minstrels and players ventured into town, merchants bringing festive wares to hawk to the crowds. She thought that Fenris might think her past dull, but he seemed to take a strange delight in mundane things and made thorough inquiries about the gruff, sensible farmfolk and her silly neighbours in Lothering who'd covered their front yard in traps, much to the bane of squirrels and pigeons.
Eventually, their murmurings ceded to more embraces and kisses and he made love to her again by the waning light of the hearth. Marian fell asleep with her head nestled against his chest, his heartbeat a steady rhythm in her ear.
When she awoke the next morning, she found him still asleep, a pleasant surprise. He had a snug grip around her and she didn't wish to move and risk stirring him when he looked so peaceful, so she lay quietly, listening to the soft wheeze of his breathing and the sound of birds chirping outside. Sunlight streamed in through the balcony window, stroking soft fingers over the white bed sheets and their bodies beneath them.
Fenris gave a sigh, his eyes fluttering open and she looked at him, unable to resisted smiling at his rumpled hair. They certainly had enjoyed a lovely tussle the night before and her own hair was probably a fright, matted against the pillowcase and falling in a dark tangle over her pale shoulders.
"Good morning," she murmured.
He yawned, raising his fists to his face and rubbing his eyes. "I... haven't slept like that for some time."
"Did I actually succeed in wearing you out?"
Fenris chuckled. "You might have. I'm surprised. I am usually something of an insomniac."
"You know, it may just be your sleeping arrangements at the mansion," she noted. "Sleeping on an old mattress on the floor is not precisely the ideal of comfort and gracious living."
"I assume that means you won't be accepting any invitations to sleep over," he said.
"I would. Because I'm fond of you. Provided we give those blankets a good airing."
"Yes, I suppose I could work on my housekeeping. And make a few...home improvements."
"Cleaning up the bones from the floor might be nice."
"I'm rather fond of those bones, you know. Believe it or not, I'm a sentimental soul."
She shook her head at this piece of nostalgia. It was funny to think that he might come to regard his fugitive days as a nothing more than a phase or that one day he might laugh and mock the memory of his pain. "That's what packrats always say. In any case, you could hang them somewhere. As art. Or as a nice conversation piece when new acquaintances stop by for tea. That would be much better than the impression you're currently giving, which is that you live in a crypt or a dragon's lair."
"Very well, Marian. For your sake, I will endeavour to amend at least a few of my bachelor ways," Fenris said, putting on an exaggerated frown. "You know, Donnic warned me of this. It seems you women will insist on civilizing us."
"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry," she teased. "It must be a terrible hardship to give up the human remains scattered in your hall..."
He gave her one of his sly smirks, leaning his elbow on the pillow. "Ah, well, you offer other compensations, I suppose. Although I will miss the lovely crypt-like ambiance of the place."
It pleased Marian to think that he might undertake renovations to the mansion, repairs that were sorely needed. She'd like to see Fenris have a proper space to call his own, since she knew that he enjoyed his independence and time for introspection. If he took better care of the mansion, she'd have an easier time petitioning for his rights to the property. Besides, it would be nice to go there and have a comfortable place to spend the night. The very sight of his nest of blankets and that lumpy mattress he'd been sleeping on for the last few years was enough to make her itchy.
"Thank you...for staying," she said. "It was nice...to wake up to you. How are you feeling?"
"Well-rested." He folded his hands behind his head, cushioning his neck. "Rather smug, as well."
"Were there any memories?"
He shook his head. "I'm done with...that sort of remembering. Not that I'll ever forget, but – I'd like to focus on making new memories now. With you. If you'll have me."
"Of course. I can think of nothing better."
He lay his head back down on the pillow, folding her into a tight embrace. When he spoke, his voice was soft and husky. "I am yours."
It was a lovely sentiment and she felt it was sincere, but it was also made her little anxious, worried that he had somehow confused the loyalty of a slave with the affections of a free man. She laid a soft kiss against his neck and then pressed another to the side of his cheek.
"That is quite a gift. You will always be your own man first, Fenris. You may be with me, but your choices are always your own."
"And I choose to be yours."
Marian felt a rush of elation, charmed by his persistence. Fenris often spent a long time in his solitary deliberations, but once he'd made up his mind about something, he rarely wavered.
"As I am yours," she whispered.
They lazed in bed for another hour, uttering few words, not wishing to break the hushed wonder of the knowledge that had passed between them. When they spoke, it was in the intimate language of lips and eyes and hands, their limbs tangling together under the sheets. A breeze drifted in from the window, gently stirring the curtains.
It was a bliss that Marian had never known and while she could not undo the tragedies of her past or save a city that seemed intent on its own ruination, she sensed that they would be one another's solace and protection from the gathering storm. Through love and shared suffering, their lives had become inextricably bound together and yet it was not captivity and she felt no loss of freedom, only the sweet assurance that she and Fenris would stand together against an uncertain future, belonging always to each other.
And that's the end! I'd like to send big thank-you out to everyone who has been kind enough to read/review this story. I love and cherish all the feedback I receive and even after a story finishes, I definitely still kept track of how people are responding to it so I can improve. So, hey, please do let me know what you think! This was lots of fun to write and I hope it was fun to read too.
All the characters from DA2 belong to the awesome folks at Bioware. All the proof-reading errors belong to me. ;)