A Dragon Age 2 fanfic
Usually I'm fearless
But I've become undone
A clown without even a disguise
Now everyone will know that I've...
Fallen...fallen...I've fallen in love
And I can't make sense of it
-Keri Noble, Falling
It was like freefall. I suppose Varric saw it first; at least he told me afterwards that he'd seen it coming from a mile away, on that first night we played Diamondback at the Hanged Man. Well—they played. What I was trying to do was to learn. Again. It was really ridiculous that my bloody dog has learned how to play (fine, he was a Mabari, but still), and I just couldn't. But there it was: I mixed up the hands, and I gave away what I had and I got flustered and frustrated and threw down in disgust every single time.
Kind of like what happened in my life, now that I think of it.
Mother saw it next, of course… she had a keen eye for it, after all. Back in Lothering, she was the one who figured out which way the wind blew about ten seconds after I showed up late for dinner after my first…um, intimate encounter with Bryant.
"He's fifteen years your elder!" she screamed at me in the barn after everyone else went to sleep and she got me there on the pretenses of getting more hay for the horses. "And a Templar… Are you completely mad?"
"Well, at least now he will not immediately execute every one of us if we're found out." Yep, that was me, with all of my eighteen years. I even shrugged, I think. "You could take it as an… insurance?"
My mother never, ever hit me in my life, except that once. And it was a good one, too; for all my bones and the muscle I started to really pack on from weapons training, it sent me staggering into the stalls.
I think she seriously considered doing the same after I've returned from the Deep Roads without Bethany, but she was too heartbroken to really do anything about it. I sometimes think Mother was so slow about moving back to her old home because she first thought I bought it back to appease her.
As if anything ever could compare hearing my sister's laughter again.
"Did you pick up that thing from the haberdasher for me today, Marian?" she asked me that evening at supper. "I thought you said you'd be going that way."
"Oh." I swear I didn't want to blush, but I did. "Sorry, Mother…I got…I was on my way there, but got distracted."
"Distracted." Mother put the fork down and looked at me with narrowed eyes.
"Well, I was at the market just about to get to your haberdasher, honest, but stumbled upon some friends and we… ended up doing some weapon shopping." I felt my hands getting clammy (ridiculous, really…) so I continued on, as yet again my mouth started to completely run away from what I thought and mostly how I intended to approach this whole thing. "Nothing serious, we just looked at some sword comparisons between different vendors here at the market and up at the Gallows, then went down to see a couple of the smiths in Lowtown and browsed some antique stores as well, found some really weird old Antivan stuff… and honestly I had no idea anything I tried with those would work, but it did, we actually got them out and tried some moves, it was fun to see the merchant's face, and we really didn't mean to break those swords, but…"
"So Captain Aveline had to put in yet another word for you not to end up incarcerated." Mother said mildly. "I know…She came by later the day and told me."
"Well, she did say not to do it." I acknowledged, somewhat petulant."As she was there personally, with us. Being one of the friends I was with. Shopping, I mean."
"Yes, she said that, too." Mother was watching me with those keen eyes of hers that saw through whatever I did from the time I was two. "So when is he coming over to dinner?"
"What?" I dropped my knife and as I fished for it under the table I tried desperately to stall. "I'm sorry, Mother… Aveline's a girl, under all that mail and plate and scowl. You should know, we traveled with her all the way from Lothering." I got the blasted knife but as I tried to straighten, my head came up too fast and hard against the edge of the table. "Ow, shit!"
"Marian, manners." Mother said, using the exact same tone of voice as before. "We had Aveline for dinner already. In fact, we had… let's see. You dwarf business partner who taught Tiny to gamble; your pirate friend who carved something unspeakable with her dagger into the stairway while waiting; your healer friend with the nice smile who brought that wonderful salve for my joints; your Chantry brother friend who knows all the nobles in this city and in the Free Marches in general and who actually offered to do dishes; your elf friend who sang to the roses that made them shoot up five feet this year and who keeps coming back to just sit there with them…"
"Mother." I said tiredly, rubbing at my forehead where I banged it. Blast, now I'll have a swelling there, and probably it'll turn purple, too. "Just get to the point: chew me out for keeping bad company and being irresponsible and not listening to you or Avvie… That way I can get into a huff, yell back at you and storm out to spend the night drinking and gambling in a disreputable tavern and maybe get into a barfight or two. I so love those, they come along very rarely, and I could really use more bruises this week."
"You already have this conversation all laid out in your head, don't you?" She just shook her head. "Darling, I haven't seen you like this since…well, a long time." Her eyes grew distant for a while. "In fact, you remind me of my own self at your age. Right here at this table." She reached across the table and took my hand. "Right after I've met your father." She smiled. "Hence my question: when is he coming over to dinner?"
"He isn't." I pulled my hand back and crossed my arms in front of me defensively. "He breaks antique swords on your daughter's pauldron to prove a technique doesn't work, smashes bottles of priceless wine on the wall, kicks muggers so hard their ribs just come out on the other side, swears in Tevinter and Qunari and even Isabela refuses to translate those, oh and did I mention the glowing lyrium tattoos that were etched into his skin by an insane magister who owned him and used him in an experiment to create a living weapon? Not exactly the kind of guy you bring home, you know?" I just realized what I said and groaned. "And oh, Maker, he'd probably kill me if he knew I just said that. After hitting me for an hour with a sword, telling me I should learn discipline and refine my techniques instead of just hacking around like a savage all Fereldans obviously are." I rubbed on my shoulder and winced. "Case in point."
"Aveline told me you weren't alone in 'holding'." Mother pronounced the Guard term carefully, shook her head and pushed her plate away.
"Traitor." I said bitterly, toying with a piece of bread. "She's ratting me out to my own mother. What's next, I get a curfew?"
"Not if you bring him over for dinner." Yep, that was my mother. I definitely got my stubbornness from her. "What does he like to eat?"
Maker's breath, she's planning the menu already!
"Food." I said morosely, seriously entertaining the idea of getting up and just leaving the house. For a week. "Mostly very spicy. There's this hole-in-the-wall at the Docks that makes this stew of lamb with peppers that would burn off a dragon's head…the only place you ever see Qunari eat outside their compound. Fenris says it's not hot enough, compared to what he'd gotten used to in Seheron, but at least it makes him forget the taste of meals in Minrathous as a slave…"
Yeah, I know. Not the best introduction. But really. He walked me home almost every evening after we finished whatever we did in the Hanged Man or around town, normally not saying anything, just being there, a silent, lanky shadow by my side, eyes constantly scanning the street for signs of trouble. Once or twice we really did get into trouble—it's odd how even in Hightown you couldn't walk a block without being jumped. Varric said several times that he couldn't negotiate with those who 'owned' this area. I personally suspected he just enjoyed the fact that whenever it happened to Fenris and me, we always had some good stories to tell the next day, usually ending up demonstrating some moves on my part rather enthusiastically.
Also, I suspected he placed bets on us.
But anyway. He walked me home several times a week, like I said, always taking his leave at the doorstep under the sole oil lamp above the entrance alcove—Bodahn obsessively made sure it was always full and burning. Oddly formal bow, a bit of a hesitation, as if there was something else to say but it never happened, except the first time, when he wryly remarked that I really ought to have posted some guards at the door, considering all the trouble I seemed to get into… and then he was gone, as if those tattoos of his helped somehow to become a shadow under the tall arcades of the Hightown mansions lining our square.
We never even touched. I figured very early on after a botched attempt to take his arm once, that it was a bad idea… and the rest of us just followed suit, even Isabela, who normally was all over everyone like a bad headcold. When Fenris looked at you with that scowl on his face, you learned pretty quickly to take a step back, raise both hands to where he could really see them, and apologize.
Well, strictly speaking, that's not true. We fought alongside each other long enough, even at that point, to learn to give some first aid after encounters… and it's terribly difficult to dress a bleeding gash on one's thigh without at least some touching. So. There was that. Not nearly as awkward as one might think, because there's still the occasional straggler who tries to jump the others (spiders, for instance, the giant types, simply love to do this) while you're cussing and standing over your fallen comrade, trying to press some field dressing hastily grabbed from belt pouches to their wound and yelling for your healer or fumbling again for a potion that managed to get to the bottom of the pack. Just intense and very, very personal—but after a while it becomes second nature and you don't even notice it any more.
I still felt like a complete idiot for this…thing that was happening. That I knew was happening. Just didn't want to acknowledge; or hope. Or anything. I guess I figured if I just pretend that it was nothing more than comradeship, the respect of a fellow warrior to another, borne by the long times together, carefully padded in my jokes and jibes and babbling and trying to draw him out and be part of something other than squatting in a horrible half-ruined old house in a forgotten corner of Hightown… than it, I don't know, would just go away and smooth over and not be at all like a constant ache behind my breastbone like an old war wound or the sound of my hitched breath loud in my ear on the rare occasion he smiled.
Yes, that was me. Marian Hawke, self-deceiving till the end.
But, anyway, that dinner. Because it happened, and because he came. Mistress Leandra Amell and Serah Marian Hawke requests the pleasure of your company…Mother insisted on a formal invite, like with all my other companions before, drawn up on one of those thick cream-colored sheets of paper Bodahn insisted on buying for our correspondence, despite Mother's horror when she found out how much they cost. She kept using it still, but I knew that she'd matched the cost of every sheet with a donation to Fereldan refugees. I knew because I took the money every week to the storekeeper who had the donation box set up.
"Maker, am I glad to see you!" I opened the door for him instead of Bodahn; I hovered there for quite a long time rather than endure Mother's nagging. "I don't think I could stand one more pointed remark from Mother that maybe I should have worn a dress instead."
"I didn't realize this was a formal occasion." He wore somber black again, and only his bracers as visible armor, although I could tell from the way the cloth shifted on his shoulder that there was something more substantial underneath. As he stepped closer and I let him pass, I heard a faint 'clink', and I smiled. Yep, mail. Just in case. That's so him. "Although I suppose that invite should have been a giveaway."
"Oh, no!" I shook my head with such vehemence that my bangs went all over my face. "Not at all; Mother did this to all of you…My friends, I mean. You should have seen her going on about Anders' hands…" I stopped as I noticed the frown between his brows and changed the subject, quickly.
Note to self: don't bring up the mage in this conversation again.
"I think she's practicing for when she works up the courage to invite Viscount Dumar or something." I leaned closer and lowered my voice. "Even since we had that little rescue mission, she thinks his son, Seamus has a soft spot for me or something."
"That boy has a soft spot indeed." Fenris nodded almost absently. His eyes scanned the entrance hall just like any other potential trouble spot. "On his skull."
"Oh, come on." I felt my mouth twitch into a grin. "Just because he likes to hang out with Qunari…"
"It got him kidnapped and almost killed once." He argued, easing into the familiar patterns of our everyday conversations. "Seamus Dumar has an oversimplified and entirely false view of the Qun and views its practice as a way out from the life that constrains him. Just like many in this city, he only sees what he wants to see."
"Well, it's hard to see past those horns." I muttered. "They are mighty. But I can sympathize with the man. He's only eighteen, after all. I'd been there."
"Well, then marry him." Fenris suggested, with a savage expression on his face I couldn't quite place. "I wager that would cure him from wanting romantic adventures spreading the word of the Qun across Thedas."
"By all Her wet frocks, don't mention that in this house!" I hissed, and forced a smile. We crossed the entrance hall and arrived to what Mother called her 'drawing room'. "We wouldn't want to give more ideas to Mother than what she already has, okay? Oh…there you are!" I said loudly, motioning to Fenris to enter and beaming at my mother with as much innocence as it was possible. "Here, let me see if I can do this the right way: Mother, this is Fenris; Fenris, this is my mother, Leandra Amell." I watched them exchange bows, the way Mother checked her hand from offering it (I briefed her previously about the touching thing) and how she very carefully took a tiny step back. People usually did that when they first met him. I sighed, inwards. Yes, here we go again.
"Did I do that right?" I asked her as we settled around the table after some insignificant small talk where she asked about how he liked Kirkwall and he answered that if you didn't mind the crime, it was rather quiet. "The introduction thing?" She continuously tried to educate me in the manners of higher society now that we moved in those circles on occasion.
"Well enough." She patted my hand. "Stop fretting, darling; it's going to be fine."
I wanted to retort with something suitably sharp, but Bodahn arrived with the food and we all paid attention to that instead.
The evening was flowing smoothly enough for a while, so I relaxed my clenched teeth and knotted stomach to force down some food. This was proving to be much less disastrous than I feared. I noted with grudging approval that Mother managed to somehow scrounge up a recipe for a stew that was spicier than our normal fare back in Ferelden (in fact, noticeably so); that she didn't serve anything fancy but the food was hot and plentiful; that her small talk was not forced in the least but honest, telling little stories about our home in Lothering and her childhood memories of a happier Kirkwall, and asking Fenris about his travel experiences, which, I was surprised to note, he was willing to actually talk about. He described the great market in Seheron, with its myriad spices scenting the air, the riot of colors, the voice of a hundred dialects constantly ebbing and flowing with the crowd, the huge dreadnaughts looming over the horizon at the harbor like a constant reminder, and the call of prayer that rose in the evening for all of those who followed the Qun, halting the frantic activities as if a spell had been dropped in the middle of the crowd.
"Must have been quite a life, traveling like that." Mother remarked over the cinnamon-scented orange cake I knew she slaved over in the kitchen earlier the day, whipping the eggs' yolks with the sugar for about an hour until the concoction was airy and frothy and smelling like my best memories. I watched Fenris' face as he took the first bite; his eyes actually closed for a second and the expression that fluttered across his normally guarded features made me almost ashamed to witness it. He took a deep breath, shook himself almost visibly, and turned his head towards my mother.
"I apologize, kyria Amell." He said politely. "I didn't quite catch that. This is… quite a feast." He indicated the table and the plate in front of him. "I'm afraid I enjoy the food too much."
"Oh." I could see Mother's cheeks color a bit; she was always insanely proud of her cooking skills, and likewise intent on trying to pass it on to her daughters, with varying degree of success. "You like the cake, then?"
"It's a treat." He weighed the words carefully; I could almost see something stirring behind his green eyes. "And a reminder that one, perhaps, should enjoy small things in life more than previously thought possible."
"A wise motto to live life by." Mother smiled, with genuine surprise. "One I always endeavored to teach my children." She glanced at me. "Although on occasion I feel Marian here takes it just a bit too far."
"Mother, please." I said, feeling that clawing return to my stomach. "Fenris knows pretty much all of the embarrassing things I've done in Kirkwall—he was there for most of them, after all."
"Oh, shush, you." Mother waved a hand at me. She sipped on her wine: I had no idea where she got that particular vintage, but it was exceptional—almost honey-colored, sweet and surprisingly potent, complimenting the cake perfectly. "We're talking philosophy here. You were always more of a… hands-on person."
"Yep, that's me." I carefully slid her goblet just out of reach. "Completely and utterly worldly and ignorant about the higher arts of the universe. Experience over theory, matter over substance, all that kind of crap. Sorry, Mother." I subsided, hiding my embarrassment in my own drink.
"No, you are not." She shot back, shaking her head. "One of these days Aveline will not be able to protect you, you know… and then what will you do?"
I was shocked at this turn of conversation, honestly. How did we get here from enjoying life's small things and cake, I wasn't quite sure… but before I could question her, I saw Fenris stand from the table stiffly, bending his head in a formal bow.
"I am sorry, kyria." He said to my mother, using that Tevinter honorific again. "I'm assuming you're referring to the recent incident at that merchant's shop that resulted in your daughter enduring the hospitality of the Viscount's holding cells for a while." He paused. "I'm afraid I had a part to play in that, and hence I bear responsibility equally. Thus, I offer my apologies and ask for your forgiveness."
"Manners." She shot a look at me. "See, Marian? Why can't you learn that?" She smiled at Fenris. "There's no apology necessary, ser. I am perfectly aware where blame should be laid in this case, and why."
"Mother." I leaned back in my chair, covering my eyes for a second. "If your plan for the evening was to have me completely humiliated and slightly drunk, I'm letting you know you're making great progress."
"Hardly." She unexpectedly chuckled, her eyes sparkling up with a memory. "If I really wanted to embarrass you, I'd tell those stories about you sneaking back to the house in the middle of the night after…"
"Mother!" I was honestly mortified. "Next you'd be listing the things I did as a two-year old? Sucked on my thumb? Carried that awful crocheted blanket everywhere? Tried to hold that old sword with both hands with that huge grin on my face?"
"Well, the night is still young." she said calmly and turned to Fenris again. "Another slice of the cake, perhaps?"
He grew rather quiet after that, almost withdrawn. His eyes moved between Mother and me as we eased into conversation, recounting the last time she made that cake for Father's birthday, planning months ahead so she could save up enough money to get the sugar and spices needed… and how Carver ate the entire cake up absentmindedly that night, returning from the fields after a long day of work and finding it in the kitchen on the table. Despite the fact that he was almost a head and a half taller than Mother, he got smacked around that day, and badly so. With a wooden spoon.
"That was… not so bad, right?" I asked tentatively as he finally took his leave after catching Mother stifling a yawn. We were standing at the door again; me holding onto the frame, him about to step through the threshold. That faint ache behind my breastbone was back, that feeling of not being quite complete. "I apologize if… We can be a bit overbearing sometimes together."
"No need." His voice was thoughtful. "You and your mother…" he started, hesitating. "It's just… It's unusual for me to hear people talk like that."
"Oh. How so?" As soon as I said that, I wished I could take it back—it was, of course, painfully obvious the whole night. I should have paid more attention to it. I shouldn't have been so damned polite.
"All those memories you have, Hawke." The sudden emotions in his voice made me feel dizzy; I leaned against the doorframe, trying to find my bearings. "You have this… this foundation to build on. A past. Memories. Good times and bad. Family." He gestured with his hands at himself. "This… this thing that was done to me… it took all of that away. All I have now, everything I have now, is tainted with blood and lyrium, and no matter how I try, it will never change." A little, bitter laugh escaped his lips and it made me terrified against all odds. "I'm… trying to make sense of things. Of me, here, in this town, not running any more. Of me having… friends." He took a shaky breath. "Of you being so… terribly, awfully kind."
"By landing you in the cells and dragging you all around to beat up people and getting covered in spider guts and abomination ichor?" I heard myself say, horrified. "That's a whole new definition of 'kind' in my vocabulary."
"Why?" He'd never done this before. Never leaned so close, this way, never searched my face with those green eyes so intently. "I'm not kind, I'm not nice, I'm not a good person. I'm an escaped slave who doesn't remember anything that's not tainted with violence, who can and does rip out people's hearts from their chests, who lives in a rundown old house smelling of old blood, stale wine and dead dreams. Why?" His voice was barely a whisper. "I don't…I don't understand."
And then he was gone. One heartbeat, he was standing there, so close I could feel the heat rising up from his body, as those lyrium marks started to glow with the intensity of the same emotions that made his voice almost smolder… and then, there was only the open doorway, that blasted oil lamp, and my madly beating heart trying to get back to its usual rhythm, trying to find an anchor, trying to fill that void that was there, right there where he stood just a heartbeat away.
And in that heartbeat's time, everything changed.
I suppose Varric knew it first; at least he told me afterwards that he'd seen it coming from a mile away, on that first night we played Diamondback at the Hanged Man.
It was like freefall.