Okay, my second uploaded Dragon Age II fic, though I started writing this days before 'Another Option'. I seem to have a penchant for dark fics, it seems...anyway, unlike 'Another Option', this is intended to be a multi-chaptered fic from the start. I'll warn you now, there's spoilers for Fenris' story in Act III, so if you're not that far through the game, don't read any further! I'm not sure where the idea came from - it just grew in my mind somewhere, then decided to show itself. However, I do remember thinking that Danarius was, for such a feared magister of the Tevinter Imperium, quite easy to kill (not the whole fight, but Fenris just seems to punch through his neck a few times in the cutscene, and voila - dead magister). So I give you this. As ever, if you see any corrections that need to be made, or any other feedback, it is appreciated!
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all characters and settings.
The sound of creaking timber and the slap of waves against heavy wood slowly woke her. For a moment, Eraya Hawke was thrown seven years into the past, back onto the ship from Ferelden to Kirkwall with the remnants of her family and the newly widowed Aveline, and the numerous other refugees. But, no. Mother was dead. Bethany was imprisoned in the Circle. Aveline was Guard Captain and remarried.
So why was she on a ship?
Full consciousness eluded her; she couldn't drag her heavy eyelids open. It felt as though weights had locked them closed. She only had her thoughts and memories to rely on.
She'd been...in his mansion. Fenris' mansion.
Dragging in a deeper, sea-salt saturated breath, Hawke opened her eyes, already moving her head to try and find the marked elf. They were on a ship, she noted, in the brig. The large moon's light cast a squared pattern across her face through the grid inlaid in the deck. The air was warm with closely packed bodies, and didn't smell too sweet. Each stray gust of sea breeze that swept in was a blessing.
She saw no sign of Fenris to her right, and felt her heart pick up its pace with worry.
The low, resonant voice came from her left. Hawke sat up rapidly, spinning to face it and immediately listing to the side as the ship hit a large swell. His arm was there to steady her, the gleam of the lyrium under his skin reflecting the moonlight. The reflexive twitch at any unexpected touch had faded in the past few years, but now it returned before he quelled it and pulled her into a sitting position. He remained silent, allowing her to take in the scene. There were a lot of people in with them; many were elves. Others looked like refugees; their clothing patched and tatty, bearing the weary look of long-term travellers. Most people were asleep, lying curled on the floor or propped up against each other, but those that were awake eyed the two warily, barely disguised fear lurking in hopeless eyes.
"Fenris...where are we?" Hawke asked, holding her voice down so as not to wake the little elf girl just a few feet away.
His voice was similarly subdued, but held a bitter tone she'd not heard often in the past years.
"We are currently on a ship bound for Minrathous."
"Minrathous? But that's in the..." Hawke trailed off, realisation slowly dawning as memory returned fully. Fenris watched the shift in expression with his old eyes, the ones hardened against everything.
"The Tevinter Imperium. I assume you remember, now, what happened prior to our unwilling boarding of this ship?"
They'd been talking. Fenris – he'd not known what to do with himself after the fight in the Hanged Man. She'd told him that, whatever he did, she'd hoped to be with him. They'd finally closed that motionless void that remained from three years ago when he'd left. They'd been happy. But the footsteps...
He growled against her mouth as they both glanced at the door to the room, closed by Varric as he and Aveline left. The quiet footsteps outside it came closer. He kissed her again, before breaking away to stalk towards the door.
"If Varric has interrupted us because he's forgotten his damned cards..." He muttered as he reached the door, gauntleted hand reaching for the handle.
They'd frozen at the sight of the magister behind the door, his mocking smile paralyzing them both even as his soldiers stormed up the steps, the need for secrecy long gone.
She did. Maker, she did, though she wished she'd remained ignorant.
"Danarius?" Hawke whispered, in confusion. She'd seen the magister clearly, before the hopeless battle broke out. Their weapons weren't to hand, but they'd fought anyway. And all the while the magister had watched. She'd seen the grey eyes, the deep, fresh scars in his neck, his vicious smirk. But...
"But, Fenris, you killed him!" She turned to him, to see his face clearly, his silver white hair gleaming in the pale light. His laugh was low, bitter.
"I did. I left him with fatal wounds. I don't understand it either. Maybe his blood magic was enough to keep him clinging to life for the few minutes it took us to leave. He must have had other slaves or soldiers with him; ones that didn't fight us. Bringing himself back from death's door would take a lot of blood sacrifices, but that's nothing to a Tevinter Magister if it will save his own hide. They must have aided him when we left." He breathed a low curse in Tevinter, leaning back against the mast and passing a hand over his eyes tiredly. "I knew I should have pulled that bastard's heart out of his chest and crushed it. Just to be sure. I was a fool to think such a small thing as death would prevent Danarius from hounding me," The heavy irony lining his tone twisted at Hawke's heart, a garrotte of love, fear and sympathy gradually tightening around the pounding muscle.
"No one could have predicted this, Fenris." She murmured, reaching out to place a comforting hand on his arm. He sighed, dropping his hand from kneading his forehead to grip her fingers tightly, gratefully, for a moment.
"What I don't know is why you are here. Why would Danarius take you too? I've been wondering that since I woke. You are nothing but a threat to him; one I thought he would kill at first chance. Why he chose to capture you instead worries me. None of my conclusions are...reassuring." Frustration seeped into his voice as his gauntleted hands curled into fists, his tormented eyes fixed on them.
A single trail of dread slipped down Hawke's spine, though no particular thought had triggered it. It was just a deep sense of unease, one she couldn't do anything about. Their weapons had been left in the mansion, she noticed, though Fenris could never be truly classed as 'unarmed' due to the abilities he'd gained from the lyrium markings. They were trapped in a ship in the middle of the ocean with slavers and a hull full of slaves, with no chance of escape that didn't mean suicide.
Again, Hawke glanced down at the sleeping elf girl. She couldn't be older than six.
Anger drove away the fear. Defiant, she raised her chin and summoned a cocky smile.
"Well, Danarius must have some sense. If he'd tried to separate us, I would have torn his heart out; lyrium or not," She growled. Fenris just shook his head, barely able to conjure up a helpless smile at her attempts to distract him.
"Where is Isabela when her bouts of compassion are required?" He asked rhetorically, earning a half-hearted laugh from his partner. Neither of them smiled for long. The magnitude of the situation was sinking deeper into their bones, chilling their hearts. Despite the warmth of the brig, generated by so many bodies in close proximity, Hawke shivered unexpectedly. At his silent, only slightly hesitant invitation, she gladly rested against his shoulder, shifting slightly so that his armour didn't dig into her neck. The warmth of his arms contrasted with the coolness of the metal and the lines of lyrium. At first she'd been surprised to feel that the lyrium veins were cooler than the rest of his skin. Not drastically so, but noticeable. She was growing accustomed to it now; she expected the tendrils of cooler skin laid over warm muscle, though it was still a wonder to her that she'd gotten this close to him in the first place.
Her eyes darkened as she stared at the red band around his wrist, the torn sleeve of one of her armour undershirts that he'd torn – accidentally – and kept deliberately that night, years ago. That had been before his memories had flooded back and retreated like a wave on the shore, in those few precious hours of love and joy. She'd seen him then the way he could have been, had the threat of recapture not constantly hung over him. From its tattered, slightly faded state, he'd never removed it. Her pale hand rose to brush the soft cloth as her thoughts turned resentful. They'd had it. They had just regained that tentative happiness he'd sought, right when he thought he'd been freed of his past. Then it had burst in and overwhelmed them. It wasn't fair, she thought. He deserved more than these distant glimpses of a happy life, more than insights to what it must be to be truly free. A frustrated sigh fogged his dull armour; her warm breath reflecting off the metal and brushing back against her face. Hawke felt Fenris' head dip, turning to look down at the forlorn figure resting against his chest. She knew he was going to speak an instant before a sound left him; the low thrum in his chest alerted her.
"Eraya," That, if nothing else, told her they were in trouble. He very rarely called her by her first name. To everyone, it was always 'Hawke'. She tried to relax her suddenly tense muscles, listening to the silence of him hesitating, considering his words. "I-We are being taken to the Imperium. Danarius is...reclaiming me. I think..." He stopped again, finding it difficult to even consider it, let alone force the possibility into reality by naming it. And she'd looked so tired, so disheartened. Maker, he didn't want to worry her further, but...
"Fenris?" Her voice was soft, troubled. He glanced briefly at her, then away again. He didn't want to see the fear in her usually bold eyes. "You have always been brutally honest with me. Don't stop now. What is it?" He opened his surprised, concerned eyes and saw her looking up at him. There was dried blood in her hair, spatters of it across her face. The discolouration of a bruise bloomed, peeking out of her hairline, the injury that had dazed her before that last spell...the one that had stolen consciousness from both of them. Despite her injuries and his slowly building despair, her vibrant eyes were steady. As she'd told him years ago, she would share his burdens. She always did.
He took a deep breath, the words flowing from him as he exhaled.
"I think Danarius may remove my memories again." He sighed. Seeing her large eyes widen, he elaborated, tilting his head back to address the silent silver sentry in the night sky through the bars of their cage. "He knows I would never be obedient as I am now; I'd sooner turn my blade on him than use it to defend him. Without memories, I wouldn't go against him – I'd have no reason to. But I'd also forget you," He turned his sombre eyes back down to meet hers, the deep green depths looking almost black with sorrow in the dim light. Hawke shook her head slightly, in denial, refusal, she didn't know.
"No, Fenris. That won't happen. I won't let it!" She hissed forcefully, fingers curling in the neck of his armour, her dark brows drawn close as a flare of protective anger warmed her from the inside as well as out. He wrapped a hand – the one with the red band around the wrist – around hers, gently prying it free of his collar. His eyes were quenched. It was as though he'd already given up.
"If...when he does, Danarius will remove anything that may remind me of my past for a few days until the memories are truly locked away. If it is anything he deems unimportant, he will dispose of it." Holding her gaze, he slowly started to unwind the red cloth from his wrist.
"Don't. Please," Hawke whispered, trying to pull her arm away. He held onto it tightly, not letting it go. She watched helplessly as the band fell open and he started to retie it around her own arm, her resistance slowly crumbling. He gave her back the battered Amell crest that had rested faithfully on his hip for the past three years.
"I do not want Danarius to destroy these as though they're nothing. Keep them safe, Hawke. Promise me." It wasn't often he made demands of her, and when he did in the past, she agreed. This time she stared at the two relics of their brief happiness, already so far distant, before slowly lifting her head to meet his eyes again.
"I will, on one condition." She bargained. That drew a wry laugh out of him.
"Which is, Champion?" He asked, in his new, quelled voice.
"That I give them back to you." She said firmly. Immediately she saw the indecision in his eyes, but cut him off before he could object.
"If Danarius removes your memories again, maybe seeing these will bring them back. You remembered your past before; why wouldn't you be able to again?" Defiant, she watched his lips twitch, as if to answer, then still as his own argument crumpled before he gave it.
"This is even assuming we see each other after we disembark," He managed finally, shaking his head in reluctant defeat. "Danarius may intend to sell you to the highest bidder, along with the rest of these slaves," An edge of anger sliced open his tone as he spoke, and a flutter of relief lightened Hawke's chest. He hadn't completely given in. He still had enough fight in him to feel protective. She'd never doubted he'd stopped, but it was calming for it to be confirmed.
Still. She saw an immediate flaw to his theory.
"I'm the Champion of Kirkwall. I seriously doubt Danarius will auction off such a valuable bragging point." The sarcasm in her voice didn't go unnoticed; Fenris snorted, the ghost of a laugh staggering the sound.
"Probably not. But answer me this: presuming he doesn't keep us separated on purpose, to avoid any trigger that may bring back my memories, what reason would I have to speak to you? I would be Danarius' pet bodyguard again. I don't know what tasks he would set you, but I doubt ours would coincide. When would you see me to give these back?" He asked, his tone bitter though there was a light in his eyes, even as the moon passed behind a bank of clouds, leaving them in total darkness. There was hope there.
Hawke narrowed her eyes at him, as if accepting a challenge.
"I'd make an opportunity. Find your quarters, wait for you. Or a simpler solution would be to go after Danarius – if I kill him, we would have a chance to escape-"
"No!" He cut her off, his voice sharp. Hawke stopped, as startled as some of the other slaves. The volume had disturbed some of the nearby sleepers. The little girl mumbled and curled into a tighter ball, a woman Hawke presumed to be her mother gently smoothed her hair to soothe her before shooting a fearful glance at the branded elf.
With a measured breath, Fenris visibly pulled his control back to himself and continued in a hushed whisper, his hands gripping her arms tightly as his moss green eyes bored into hers.
"You will not do that, do you understand? If you do that, I might-" He stopped, to disguise the catch in his voice as he fought to keep it level. "I might kill you. I would kill you, because then you would just be another slave, another assassin to deal with. I wouldn't know you." He finished, brutally, in a bid to make her understand. Slowly, he released her as he saw comprehension breach her eyes. She stared at him for a moment longer, then nodded, silent as her eyes lowered. A rope of remorse wound its way through his innards and constricted as he looked at her, hating that he'd doused her usual fire.
"Hawke..." She didn't look back up. Her eyes narrowed at some invisible insult on the floor metres distant, and she finally burst out in a quiet rage.
"I hate this! I hate not being able to do anything!" Her eyes shot back up to his then, burning with anger and desperation. "If I can't stop this from happening to you, then what good am I? What good is being 'The Champion of Kirkwall' if I can't even save you from that bastard-"
His firm tone cut through her fury, silencing her. The belligerent look faded from her face as she registered the faint smile tugging at his mouth. She felt her face smoothen in shock. Despite everything, despite being shipped back to the chains of his master, he was smiling at her.
"That you care this much is more than enough. For years I have run alone, having only myself to rely on. To have someone as strong and proud and as beautiful as you ready to defend me, with her bare hands if need be," He brushed his thumb over the split skin of her knuckles, where she'd lashed out at the slavers with nothing but her fists after the broken wine neck she'd been using had shattered. "That means more to me than if you could single-handedly take over this ship and turn it back around." He meant it. Fenris wasn't one to tell white lies just to make someone feel better, and he wasn't changing his ways now. His forest green eyes were steady, sincere. Hawke offered up a small, helpless smile before sighing and shaking her head.
"Thank you, Fenris. Though the latter would be far more useful right now," Her mild amendment drew a dry chuckle from him, and a single nod of acknowledgement, if not agreement. He heard another sigh from his slight rogue, and glanced back at her solemn expression. She caught him looking, and raised her shoulders in question.
"What now then? How long is the voyage to Minrathous?" She asked, settling at his side again as he hummed in the back of his throat in thought.
"Two months, with favourable conditions and to dock occasionally to resupply. In adverse conditions it can be longer. I heard of one captain who left Minrathous for Kirkwall and didn't arrive at his destination until half a year later. He had a...run of bad luck, shall we say." There was a note of amusement in his tone. Hawke smiled slightly, intrigued.
"That sounds like a story. Do you know it?" She asked hopefully.
"You'll listen to anything to keep me talking, won't you?" He asked, recalling the long-ago conversation in Danarius' mansion when he'd, in his rather intoxicated relaxation, told her of the Fog Warriors. She'd coaxed him into the tale, not that he'd required much convincing. She'd told him she enjoyed listening to him talk, or something along those lines. He'd been content to share her company; enjoyed it even. He'd drank most of the bottles of Agreggio Pavali before she'd arrived; the taste had long since lost its character on his tongue, yet that final bottle had tasted richer than any of its predecessors. Maybe because he was sharing it with her.
She laughed, tugging him out of the pleasant memory.
"No, I am genuinely interested. And if you started talking about all the different ways to cook a nug, I would have to tell you to shut up," She retorted, drawing a surprised laugh from him, one that settled into a low murmur as he settled into the tale.
"Point taken. You wanted to hear of the captain's six month long journey? I only know parts of it from listening to Danarius' guests when I was required to stand in a corner and look intimidating, but from the little I know I have some suspicions that our dear pirate may have been involved."
"Isabela?" Hawke asked, surprised. He nodded, smiling.
"During one part of his voyage, in which he lost all of his men, hit several reefs and was beset upon by pirates numerous times, he was chased down by a black flagged ship. The captain of this ship was a 'siren', according to the man when his ship finally limped into port. He said she and her crew boarded his ship, and tricked him. Whilst the pirate captain...distracted him for the night, her crew stole everything worth carrying from the ship. When he woke the next morning, she and the pirates were gone, leaving him just enough rations to make it to shore, and nothing else. Apparently the bed sheets had even been stolen from under him." He felt Hawke's shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter, and couldn't dampen his amused tone as he rounded off his story. "It makes for an entertaining tale, though I suspect it has been blown grossly out of proportion in its retelling. That particular chronicle of his voyage, however, I am inclined to believe,"
Hawke chuckled, turning her head into his chest to stifle the noise. When she lifted her head to look at him, her eyes had lost the hopeless cast, and were instead filled with mirth. He was glad he'd been able to drive the thought of their situation out of her mind, at least for now.
"I would bet a round at the Hanged Man that it was Isabela. We'll have to ask her when..." Her laughed faded rapidly in the wake of her shrinking smile. Her eyes flickered away for an instant, before returning with forced lightness in her tone. "...when we get back."
Fenris had, in the past, contemplated what it would feel like to his victims when he reached inside their chests and crushed their hearts. When he saw her determination to be brave despite everything, he thought that he'd felt a bit of what it must be like. His heart ached, and for an instant he wondered if Hawke had somehow gained the same abilities as he had.
Abruptly, he pulled her tighter against his chest, pressing his face against her hair. He heard her surprised question, but cut it off with the answer before she'd finished asking what was wrong.
"I'm...sorry. I'm sorry that this has happened to you," He whispered into the dark waves, hearing the agony in his own voice. Her arms stilled momentarily, then rushed around him as the surprise and compassion struck her.
"Do you know something, Fenris? I'm not," She murmured into his shoulder. She felt the astonishment jolt through him, and let him pull away to look at her closely as if scrutinising her for any head injury he hadn't noticed. To disprove his concerns, she looked at him steadily. "I'm sorry that you are being taken back to the Imperium, but I'm not sorry they brought me too. What you told me at the mansion, that you would walk by my side into the future, no matter what it held...that applies to you too. If they had only taken you, I would have gone to Minrathous anyway, to get you back."
'You wouldn't be saying that if you knew the life you'll have.' Instantly, Fenris berated himself for the thought. He knew her better than that – she didn't say things she didn't mean, but he still found it hard to comprehend that he meant so much to someone because of something other than an investment laid beneath his skin. The mere concept made responding to her sincerity difficult, so instead of gawping at her like a fool, he closed the distance between them one again with a swift kiss before holding her tightly. Her felt her laugh, softly, and murmur into his arm.
"Besides, now I'm with you, escaping should be twice as easy,"
He frowned, looking down at Hawke without letting go of her.
"Escape?" He even sounded doubtful to his own ears. She nodded, however, unperturbed.
"I have no intention of becoming a slave, Fenris, nor of letting you experience that again. We may have the entire Imperium against us, but we are not staying in Danarius' grasp," She said firmly, as if remaining free was as simple as making the decision.
He hesitated, finding it difficult to believe her optimism.
"Hawke, escaping won't be as easy as simply walking away, especially with me at your side. Danarius will be loathe to let me slip away again-" She cut him off, though her voice remained low, almost neutral. Had he not seen the open, honest look in her eyes, he wouldn't have recognised her words as a question, but an accusation.
"Why are you so quick to make excuses to avoid fighting anymore?" He opened his mouth, only to close it again and bow his head, quelling the snake of defensive anger that coiled in his gut. Had this happened even a month ago, he would have acted on it. Now, he tried to find an answer that was more than barbed words to keep her at bay.
"When I arrived in Kirkwall...I think I was already tiring of the hunt. I'd become lazy, ignoring the signs that the slavers were catching up and instead passing them off as a fugitive's paranoia. Meeting you, and seeing someone so willing to help, despite the danger...it gave me some of my old determination back. But this..." He gestured at their surroundings, and even that one wave of an expressionless arm told Hawke that his hope was waning. "This is too much. I'm tired, Hawke. I was ready to make a final stand in Kirkwall. This just makes me feel that you simply delayed the inevitable for a few blissful years," His voice was low, remorseful. Resigned. He'd already given in to the idea of being a slave again. She should have realised when he'd returned the red band, and the crest. Maybe...maybe it was even a relief. Soon he would forget everything, and have his life dictated for him. He'd hate it, but accept it, because it would be all he knew. It wouldn't include her, and her well-intended, false hope of a free life.
The very thought made the stoic woman feel like crying. A feeling of desolation settled, heavy and daring to be permanent, in her chest. She could see the same weight nesting behind his eyes; a smug gargoyle slowly suffocating them both.
"You wanted me to promise you to keep these safe, Fenris," She held up her wrist, to show him the band and the shield she held. Her voice shook, threatening to break, but she stubbornly clung to its semblance of steadiness. "I'll promise you something else as well. I promise you, Fenris, that this will not be the end of us. We will be free again one day; no matter how long I have to fight to get us there, with or without your help," His eyes were wide at the vehemence of her words, but they closed tightly as if pained. He was whispering something under his breath, as one would use a mantra to distract them from some agony. He was shaking his head as she made it out.
"Please don't," The same two words she'd said to him before making her first promise. "Please, please don't. I don't want to see you hurt trying to fulfil an impossible promise," He hated how weak he sounded, but he would willingly take any humiliation, any amount of torment for his breach in composure to keep her away from all of this, out of Danarius' cold grip. He felt a reassuring warmth suddenly press against his side. Fenris opened his eyes and looked down at the brave woman who didn't even blame him for dragging her into a life of slavery, and in something akin to wonder, he stared at the tears lining her lashes, the black spears refusing to let them fall. All either of them could do was hold each other to offer what scant comfort they could, wordlessly waiting out the rest of the long night and praying for some brief respite in slumber as they rested in each other's tight embrace.