The trek back to Kirkwall from Sundermount was never sunshine and flowers. The Maker, in his infinite wisdom, had deemed that the winding trails be difficult to differentiate from the rest of the thick vegetation, typically lined generously with red widow weeds that rewarded accidental contact with itchy long-lasting rashes, and that the skies always be dark and gloomy. To add to the cozy atmosphere, the thirty mile stretch had a strict quota of hungry giant tainted spiders that were required to be present and on the job at all times, lest nature get too bored and release another Blight upon the land. Garrett Hawke could not remember a single time that this particular journey had ever been fun, much as Merrill pranced around cheerfully in her bare feet.
"The mud feels so lovely between my toes," she said, stretching her arms toward the sky. "It's much softer than the ground in Kirkwall. Don't you think so, Fenris?" Merrill had made it her personal mission in life to bring out the inner Dalish in Fenris. More dedicated than any of Andraste's most fervent evangelicals, she was wholly convinced that the Tevinter fugitive would abandon city life and embrace the traditions of the clans if only she prodded him enough about it for long enough.
The aptly named Dog barked a happy agreement.
"Looks like rain again," Fenris said, ignoring Merrill and slowing his pace to match Garrett's at the rear. "We may want to consider making camp for the night."
Garrett squinted at the sky. There wasn't so much as a single hole of blue in the heavy white that netted across the horizons, but such was generally the case in this wretched terrain. "How can you tell? Is this some psychic elvish thing?"
"Just an educated guess, is all."
Sure enough, as though Fenris's prediction had demanded it be so, within the course of just several minutes a heavy gray smoked across the sky and thickened the clouds ominously. The wind strengthened to a loud wail and hissed through the trees, cooling the temperature substantially even before the light pattering of a drizzle began to fall. Garrett wasn't keen on stopping for the night if they could help it – if they pushed, they could make it to Kirkwall before late, but the trails had turned to cold mud that his boots squished into. Fenris didn't wear boots and his natural scowl deepened to something murderous. Even Merrill stepped lightly, rubbing the soles of her feet against her knees for warmth.
When it was obvious that the rain was only getting gradually heavier, Garrett gave in. "All right, everyone. Let's call it a day. Keep your eyes peeled for a cave or some kind of shelter." They did have tents packed that had been oiled and hardened to keep them waterproof, but with the ground as wet and sloppy as it was, they would have to set them up in an unspoiled area or they would be in for a miserable night regardless.
"I don't think the blankets will be very dry," Merrill lamented, tugging on the pack that was slung across her thin shoulders. "But I can build us a nice fire. A good Dalish can make a fire even from rocks and river weed, the Keeper once told me. I think she meant with magic, though. I can't seem to do it without."
Fenris scoffed at the mention of magic, but Dog barked encouragingly at her. Dog, it seemed, didn't share Fenris's aversion to supernaturally generated fire. Or, more likely, Merrill was always slipping him treats whenever she thought Garrett wasn't looking, and subsequently Dog was as madly in love with her as a ferocious war hound could possibly be.
They trudged further through the wilderness, each step more arduous than the last. Eventually, the flat terrain gave way to rocky hills which, though more tiresome to portage through, held more promise of shelter from the rain. As they hiked through the rocks, Garrett held his staff and used it as a walking stick. Bethany would have yelled at him for that, and to honor her memory he had been trying to break the habit, but with the rain soaking him from the hair and through his robes, and making the rocks slippery when they were already unstable, he thought she might have understood just this once.
Dog looked a little less happy than normal when Garrett brought him on missions, but even with the rainstorm he just seemed pleased to be free from the monotonous confines of the Hawke Estate. The mabari hound moved with enthusiasm, and even though he frequently lost his footing on the rocks he did not seem put down in the least. Most graceful was Merrill, who had been accustomed to traveling in the wilderness since she had learned to walk at all. Her slight elven build seemed to balance her weight with natural ease that Garrett could only envy. For all that she tripped over the occasional offset floorboard in the city, she was quite literally in her element in this area, which was why he had brought her along.
To take his mind off the disagreeable weather, Hawke took a moment to admire Fenris in front of him. He looked quite miserable in his wet armor, and was glaring at some offending stone under his foot – though that wasn't exactly anything out of the ordinary.
"Ooh, I've found a cavern up here!" Merrill called from ahead. "Tread carefully, now, it's a bit steep!"
Just as Fenris and Garrett made it up the rocks to where the cavern lay against a tall edge of a cliff, Dog began barking, and Merrill shrieked.
"Merrill!" Garrett called, rushing up to see three giant poisonous spiders crawling out of the cavern – looking hungry, if Garrett had learned anything at all about arachnid facial expressions.
"Ah, emma harel!" Merrill cried out in Elvish. "They've already laid claim here!"
"Then we shall rob them of it," Fenris spat, drawing his longsword. His lyrium markings began to glow a blue, flushing his skin a ghastly white that seemed to fade him into the mists surrounding him, and he charged forward.
With a surge of energy, Garrett drew his staff and shouted. Ice crystals filled the air at his summonings and crashed down against one spider. The spiders focused their meager attentions on Dog, who had been the first to assault them. Dog gnashed his teeth and howled, giving the distraction that Fenris needed to leap and drive his blade into the back of one of them. The thing gave a mutant shriek, trying to shake Fenris off, and Garrett aimed and shot an orb of offensive entropy magic at it. It scuttled for several seconds, confused, before it fell and died, eight legs sticking up into the air.
Merrill yelled and raised her staff, eyes wide and lyrium coursing from the soil itself and surrounding her being. She rushed forward, feet padding against the wet grass almost silently, and the wrath of the elvhen spell followed her. Fenris was slashing his blade against a spider and shoved it back against Merrill. Once there, it was caught in her spell and, in pain, it lunged forward onto her. It bit at her, but Merrill sustained her spell and within seconds, its lifeforce had been sucked dry and this spider was dead, too. The last one was still focused on Dog, who bit one of its legs and held it in place. Garrett instinctively went for more elemental magic, and raised a cone of ice from the ground. The spider was caught in its grip, frozen and brittle but alive until Fenris swung his mighty blade and decapitated the beast. Gooey red blood splattered against his face.
"Everyone all right?" Garrett said, assessing his companions. Dog wore a few new scratches but hopped around playfully, brushing himself against Garrett's leg. Garrett awarded him a pat on the head. Merrill had a nasty bite on her shoulder, but was smiling and brushing her clothes free of renegade spider guts. Fenris scowled – probably fine, then.
"There could still be more of them deeper in the cave," Fenris warned. "We should be careful, or find somewhere else to put up camp."
Garrett shook his head. "If we go any farther, we run the risk of catching cold, or getting lost with the trails all bogged down like this. We'll have to stand our ground."
The cave was dank and smelled of mildew and moss, but it was certainly more dry and pleasant than the alternative. It tunneled into the hill and the shadows made it impossible to judge just how far it winded. They stood in the entrance for several minutes to listen for any more of the pesky tainted spiders, but when all they heard was the rain pounding above them they began to set up camp. They laid their tarps on the ground as near to the entrance as they could without the wind blowing the rain in, and put their damp blankets on top. Garrett took to trying to air them out with mild fire magic, while Merrill set about looking for wood for her fire. She could magick a fire into being well enough, but sustaining a fire unnaturally for extended periods of time was difficult work and they were all tired. Damp wood would work well enough for that task. Dog, enjoying Merrill's company more than Garrett's and especially Fenris's, vocalized his intent to go with her.
"Why do you want to go with Merrill, Dog?" Garrett asked crossly. "I'm your master, not her!"
"I think he'd like you more if you gave him a real name," Merrill suggested seriously. "How will he ever protect you from the Dread Wolf if you don't even know what to call him?"
"I do know what to call him. His name is Dog. It suits him. Don't you think so, Fenris?"
"I don't care," Fenris said, focused on wiping his blade with a cloth to keep it from rusting. He had no kind words to say to Merrill, and so when he was not in a particularly foul mood, he would diplomatically ignore her as a more polite alternative.
"Well, I'm going to call him Da'Vhenan," she said, kneeling before the hound and scratching behind his ears. "It means 'young heart.' My childhood friend had that name. She was a halla, you know, and the name fit her very well. Do you like that name, Da'Vhenan?"
Dog barked excitedly.
"When you say it in that cutesy voice, of course he's going to agree with you," Garrett grumbled. "Fine, Dog. Go follow Merrill back out into the rain and look for wood. Your masterwill be nice and dry back in the cave."
When they were gone, Garrett settled on the ground to continue warming the blankets with flame spells when he noticed Fenris giving him a strange look. Garrett caught his eye and quirked an eyebrow, which made Fenris cough and look away.
"Something the matter?"
"No, nothing in particular." Fenris leaned back against the stone wall of the cave. He kept quiet until he realized that Garrett was not going to avert his gaze and forget about it, and so said, "I just loathe that word. Master."
"Ooh." Garrett scratched his head. Fenris had a lot of touchy subjects and some conversations insisted on being awkward before they even started. With Garrett being an apostate mage on top of Fenris's naturally biting personality, their relationship had started off quite rocky and had only recently reached a détente in their naturally conflicting positions. "Well, I don't think of Dog as my slave, you know. He's, uh, free to leave if he wants, I suppose. I never beat him. Or anything."
Fenris cracked a wry grin. "He's an animal. Even if he's not a slave, you are his master. He's happy to serve." He closed his eyes, rubbing his sword-arm which seemed to be sore. "But once I was considered an animal. There was a time I, too, was happy to serve."
"I find that hard to picture," Garrett said before he could consider the tact of it, but luckily Fenris only smirked.
"Sometimes I find it hard to picture, too."
Lightning struck outside the entrance, followed several seconds by thunder. The wind had gone from moaning to positively howling, and even though the cave wasn't windward, a chill filled the damp air. Tossing Fenris a blanket that was finally more or less dry, Garrett said, with no small amount of suggestion, "You should take that armor off."
Fenris cleared his throat. "I, uh... what?"
Garrett found the proud elf's look of affronted confusion rather adorable. "You're soaked and that armor isn't warm. You'll get sick if you sleep in it like that."
"You're hardly one to talk about being soaked, Hawke," Fenris countered, glaring to make up for his misunderstanding.
"Oh, no need to worry about me," Garrett winked. "I always sleep in the nude."
That got a laugh out of Fenris, which Garrett basked in. Fenris pulled off his gauntlets and rubbed his fingers together to gather warmth, before freeing the straps of his armor and pulling it off. Underneath he wore a simple dark tunic. It was thin and not much more dry than his armor had been, and Garrett waited impatiently for Fenris to take that off as well when Fenris matched his gaze. "Should I feel affronted that you're watching me like this?"
"Well, you could try blushing," Garrett suggested. Even if Fenris didn't often reciprocate his advances, flirtations came out of his mouth before he could even think about holding them back whenever he was around the elf.
"I'm afraid I don't have that in me," Fenris said blankly. "But I'm told I can do a great strip tease."
"That's... what?" Garrett had to double-take that one to make sure he hadn't been mixing sexual fantasy with reality, as was sometimes the case, but this time Fenris chuckled at him. Revenge for tripping him up earlier, no doubt. "That's not funny. You're a very cruel man, you know."
"And you're a very... honest man." He set a hand on the shoulder of his tunic but did not remove it. Instead he watched Garrett with a curious expression. "You're really not what I expected from a mage."
The topic was one that Garrett tried to avoid with Fenris, but he couldn't help but voice a gentle objection. "If the only mages you've known well have been bloodthirsty magisters, I should hope I exceed your expectations."
Fenris was quiet for only a moment, and then all humor was drained from his voice. He tilted his head, expression serious. "You've been running all your life to stay free of the Circle. There are few who offer an apostate shelter. Instead, mages here are treated like feral hounds, the sort that mothers hide their babes from and lock their doors when they're only looking for a scrap of food. Here, they are ostracized and locked away."
Garrett paused. "You sound as if you have sympathy for mages after all, Fenris."
He looked at him levelly. "Then you misunderstand me. If the mages in Kirkwall are told to embrace their abnormalities and are recognized and praised for their spellcraft, the stage for another Tevinter is set. No one wants to be dirt, Hawke. This is something I can understand. But if the mages here are emancipated, they will not allow their powers to be kept in check ever again. They will become magisters. It is inevitable."
"You can't make that kind of generalization," Garrett said defensively. "Everyone has the potential to be a tyrant, whether they are born with magical ability or not. To a victim, what difference does it make if her murderer has a staff or a sword?"
"There is a clear difference," Fenris argued heatedly. "A swordsmen can't fall prey to demons."
He shook his head. "We all have demons, Fenris. I wonder if you don't face more demons than me." Fenris flushed, anger glinting in his eye at that comment, but Garrett held up a hand. He reached forward and wrapped his hand under Fenris's chin – Fenris startled at the touch but didn't move. "Look at me, Fenris. You know who I am. Do you think I could become a magister?"
Fenris's eyes narrowed and he shook his head out of Garrett's grip. "You said it yourself," he snapped. "Everyone has the potential to be a tyrant."
Patience crumbling into dust, Garrett grabbed Fenris's shoulder. "You don't wear chains anymore, Fenris, but you're nothing but a slave to your own antagonism! You're so determined to see things your way that you may as well stab your eyes out for how it's blinded you!"
"Taceas! Fasta vass!You say I'm blind, but it's you who–" Fenris stopped short, head snapping toward the dark tunnel behind them. "Did you hear that?"
Another crack of thunder roared, the sound of crashing glass. Garrett took a breath to regain his composure and strained his ears. "Hear what?"
In a moment, Garrett's human ears also picked up the tapping of feet against stone. His heart thudded, and he had a sinking feeling that whatever was coming toward them was not a mob of butterflies and kittens.
"Venhedis!" Fenris swore, snatching his longsword and jumping to his feet. His keen elven eyes could already see the monstrous spider and her poisonous brethren rushing their way with the promise of blood in their hearts.
The beast was huge, at least twice as tall as Garrett himself stood, with fangs nearly as long as his forearm. She reared and snapped, and her companions followed suit – though they were smaller than the monstrous queen, they were still bigger in size than a human being. He had his staff in hand in an instant, lest the queen overpower him in a second's hesitation. The spiders shrieked, their large globular eyes resting on the men before them. Shooting a makeshift fireball in the queen's direction, Garrett backed up to attack from a ranged position.
Fenris ran forward, shouting in Tevinter, and hacking his blade at the queen. Though the smaller spiders were like paper sacks filled with blood – one well-aimed slice and they popped – the queen had a rocky exoskeleton and seemed unaffected by the force of Fenris's pulverizing blows. Taking advantage of their numbers, the smaller spiders mobbed Fenris from behind, who were still likely heavier than Fenris himself. Fenris slammed his weight backwards to knock one off his back, but another instantly took its place.
"Dammit!" Garrett cursed. He slammed the butt of his staff against the stone ground and with a pulse of lyrium, summoned a massive firestorm. His staff emitted a bright orange light, and then a smoky cloud thickened in the air above the spiders and volcanic flames sizzled down from above, mauling the spiders. Garrett clenched his fingers and concentrated the spell to not hit Fenris, but Fenris was surrounded by them and controlling the fire was proving difficult.
With lyrium markings glowing aggressively, Fenris switched strategies and turned his focus to one of the smaller spiders which was already engulfed in flames. In one ferocious swoop, he cleaved the head of the spider in half. Syrupy red insides bubbled out, draining thickly to the floor, and it dropped dead several seconds after. But there were still three more, including the monstrous beast, and Fenris was red with blood that did not belong exclusively to his victims and was tiring quickly.
"Merill! Dog!" Garrett yelled desperately, and shot an arcane bolt at another weakening spider. He had so far been spared from physical hits but he could feel mana draining his energy from using powerful spells when he was already tired. "Fenris, back up! We can't win alone!"
Fenris took a step back and shoved a spider that was trying to maul him. He huffed and staggered, trying to back up, but the enormous queen blocked his path. Silver threads whizzed by, and realizing what was happened, Fenris ran and somersaulted to dodge the thick web erupting from her spinnerets. But she blocked his path, and the precious split-second he used to double back was enough for her to catch his ankles in the sticky ropes. Fenris lost his footing and tripped. He tried to dig his sword into the web and cut it free, but the queen pressed one thick appendage onto his chest. She leaned down and bit his shoulder with her vice-like jaws.
"Fenris!" Running forward, Garrett meant to give up his position and distract them long enough for Fenris to get free. One of the remaining small spiders took him up on the challenge, and Garrett cracked it across the face with his staff. It scuttled back, momentarily confused, and he took that moment to blast it with another strong fire spell. The spider hissed, and Garrett risked a glance at Fenris.
The queen had lifted her head and did not seem to be planning on eating Fenris – yet. Fenris's face was ashen and he grimaced in pain. His breath was hitched and he looked groggy; the bite had injected him with venom that was quickly pumping a paralysis through his blood. The queen continued to wrap her silky ropes around Fenris, and though through sheer determination he managed to stab at her head, soon his arm went too numb to move and the sword dropped beside him. She quickly finished wrapping him, and then picked up his limp body with her long, front two appendages.
"No! Fenris!" Garrett shouted, trying to work his way forward with the two final smaller spiders blocking his way. "Listen to my voice, Fenris! Don't go to sleep! I'm coming!"
The two spiders seemed intent on stopping him, however. They swiped and bit at him, which Garrett fended off as best he could at close range, until one pounced on him. The weight threw him off balance and he fell onto his back with the creature on top of him. Knocked by the impact, his staff fell out of his hand on the stone next to him. The spider's jaws snapped as it tried to sink them into his flesh, and Garrett pressed his left hand up against its hairy head to keep it from getting too close. For a moment, it was Garrett's physical strength against the spider's, and his muscles throbbed in the effort of holding back certain death. Stretching his right arm, Garrett reached his fingertips for the staff. He lost his grip on the spider's head and its fangs lowered, but at that moment Garrett shoved his weight to the side, snatched his staff and shot an arcane bolt at the belly of the creature. The spider exploded on impact, guts coating the ground, and before Garrett could wipe the blood off of his eyes, he summoned a flame to burn the other. The last spider flung itself around brainlessly, fire burning through its hardened skin, before it sizzled and fell over.
Garrett fell to his knees, gasping for air. "Fenris!" But the spider queen had already disappeared into the dark tunnel, taking her prey with her.
"Shit! Shit!" Garrett stumbled back to his feet. "Merrill!" he screamed into the rainstorm, but amidst the wind's crying and the rumbles of thunder, his voice did not travel far. Merrill must have gone back down to the forested area to find firewood, as there were scarce trees nearby. Still, for her to be gone this long...!
Garrett looked from the entrance to the dark tunnel, and back to the entrance again. If he went after Fenris on his own, there was a good chance he would die trying to face the spider queen on his own. If he waited for Merrill, Fenris might not last that long. He paced for a moment before making a decision. With a flick of his wrist, his staff began to emit a golden light that would do well enough for a makeshift torch, and he ran into the darkness. If Merrill wanted to catch up, she could just follow the trail of spider entrails.
The tunnel went for awhile before forking, and Garrett paused only a moment. Finding a spider as big as a small house should not have been so difficult, but it seemed in the time he took two kill the last two she had traveled quickly. He banked left and ran on, deciding that if he didn't run into the creature in several minutes he would go back.
The tunnel widened into a deep cave, with a path winding and spiraling against an abyss that even Garrett's magic could not illuminate. Sharp stalagmites lined his trail and he pressed on, hoping his balance was at least better than the spider queen's. He reached what looked like an entrance to another cavern but passed on – the gap was a head smaller than even him, so there was no way the queen would be able to pass through. Soon after, he was encouraged by spider webs woven in corners and above him. If the queen had a lair, he had to be getting close.
The tunnel widened even more into a tall, wide room. Sparse light flickered through cracks in the ceiling above, indicating that they were not as far below ground as Garrett had thought they had been. Spiderwebs were everywhere, along with a good deal of bones scattered on the cold floor and the shells of giant insects that seemed to be sucked dry.
"Fenris?" Garrett called, his voice echoing against the walls. "You here?"
There was no answer, and Garrett was struck with a wish that he had chosen the wrong side of the fork – so that Fenris would not be unable to answer because he was already dead. He lifted his staff to adjust the light and peered into every web. Some did appear to hold old, dead victims, but most of the webs were old and frail, their glue long since dried out. Garrett stomped through them and tread further, listening carefully for sounds of life. All was quiet, which was more unnerving than spotting the queen himself. At least if he saw the queen, he could assume Fenris was nearby.
There was a twitch of movement, and Garrett caught it immediately. He rushed to a thick spread of webs that covered a short tunnel that ended abruptly. Spread upon it, bound in webs from his ankles to arms was Fenris. His head was drooping.
"Fenris!" Garrett nearly grabbed his body to pull it free before stopping himself. The least productive thing he could possibly do was get tangled in the sticky webs himself and give the queen two meals instead of one. "Are you awake? Look at me, Fenris."
Fenris did not answer, but was able to incline his head slightly. He could not meet Garrett's eyes, though, the weight of holding his head up was too much.
"Hang in there. I'm going to get you out." Garrett pointed his staff forward against the webs, testing their strength, before shooting a controlled flame against the threads holding Fenris's form up. The fire greedily ate at the silk, and though the strands were thick, they gradually began to weaken and snap. Garrett pursed his lips and he focused on the flame and manipulated it away from lingering too close to Fenris himself. Suddenly, Fenris's head jerked up, eyes not focusing on Garrett but right behind him.
Garrett immediately extinguished the flame, and turned around to the shriek of the spider queen.
"Okay, bitch," Garrett growled, taking a step backwards. "Now it's just you and me."
She charged forward, her jaws widened and snapping. Garrett ducked and rolled out of the way, swiping his staff through the air to call a cone of ice crystals from the dank ground. They popped up from below her and pierced at her body. It was enough of a distraction for Garrett to put distance between them, though he had to dodge fresh cobwebs that littered the walls. One wrong step and he would lose valuable seconds trying to free an arm or an ankle, and the queen would be sure to strike. He fired an arcane bolt in her direction, hitting her midsection, and though it did not pierce her exoskeleton she whined a sound of annoyance and momentarily lost track of her prey.
The queen turned toward the noise of Garrett's boots against the ground and approached, spitting globs of green poisonous mucus in his direction. It was another obstacle to avoid, and Garrett ran to the side to throw off her accuracy. He fired blasts of lyrium repeatedly her way, and all she did was scamper toward him, each massive leg pounding against the floor with ferocity. Garrett backed up, knowing that if he got too close he was a dead man, until he was up against a thick spider web. The queen was charging toward him now, and he shot a blast of flame. But whether or not she was affected, she did not slow down...
"Ar tu na'din!" Merrill's shrill voice rang against the walls, following by a huge chain of lightning. The bolts struck the queen, who stopped in her tracks, stunned.
"Merrill!" Garrett called. "Maker's breath, I am so very happy to see you."
"Hawke, you're okay! Oh, ma serannas!"
Dog, who had been growling at Merrill's heels, howled and plowed forward. Baring his teeth, he lunged forward and latched onto the queen's arachnid neck. Dog didn't let go, he held on fast to where the queen's head and midsection met, aiming to severe them completely. The queen reeled and spun, shaking at where Dog had made her vulnerable. Merrill struck her again with electric bolts, sporadically lighting up the dark cave.
With a burst of energy, Garrett yelled, "This is it!" He raised his staff into the air, and suddenly the queen was enveloped in light. She shook and spasmed as she fell victim to a web of Garrett's brand – the Crushing Prison spell. The light held her body still and forcibly ripped her life force away. She shrieked again and again, shaking her body and trying to dislodge both Dog and the agonizing sensation of the magic. After a minute of holding her there, she stilled and with one snap, Dog had ripped off her head. Her corpse scuttled for several seconds before it realized it was dead, and finally the colossal beast was no more.
"Hawke, Hawke!" Merrill rushed up to him, perspiration glinting on her brow. "I am so sorry. Da'Vhenan and I, we ran into trouble in the woods, too. It was wolves. Tainted by the Blight, you know, and Da'Vhenan proved himself a mighty hound. Just like in the old tale about the dog and the Dread Wolf! But when we got back, you were gone, and the dead spiders were everywhere! I never should have left until we made sure the cavern was secure, I am so-"
Breaking away from her, Garrett ran to where Fenris was, still bound and hanging in the thick webs. He began the fire spell again, blocking out Merrill's chatter to focus on keeping control over the flame when his mana count was already painfully low.
"Oh, Fenris!" Merrill kept a sharp dagger on her, a gift from Craftmaster Ilen from her clan before she left. She helped hack at the threads as high as she could reach, and soon Fenris's bound body fell to the ground. "Hawke, use your dagger and not your hands," she warned as they crouched by his fallen form. "It's still very sticky."
"He's still breathing," Garrett said. "Thank the Maker."
Merrill nodded. "Poison from Asha-Arane'thu paralyzes its prey, you see. She catches it and stores it for her babies. She won't kill it herself, because then it will start rotting right away when she might want to save it for a special occasion, you know."
Garrett grimaced. "Thanks for that image, Merrill."
To best keep the threads from ripping and irritating Fenris's skin, they sliced through Fenris's bodysuit and peeled it back against his shoulders. The threads themselves had been wrapped around specifically his legs and chest, which they cut without nicking him with their blades as best they could. Once that was torn off, what was left was just a sticky white residue – syrupy to touch but far from dangerous.
Garrett lifted Fenris into his arms and slung his chest against his shoulder. Fenris was well-toned and muscled for an elf, but his weight was still less than Garrett's own and he managed to carry him without too much discomfort. Merrill followed beside him, unable to keep quiet with her apologies intermingled with cheerfully graphic explanations of how giant spiders typically devour their victims. Garrett was more interested in the way that Fenris's head nestled into his neck and the slow but sure beating of his heart.
Finally they reached the end of the tunnel, where musty air was flushed with the smells of rain and grass. Spider corpses were still littered around the campsite, but Dog would make quick work of them. Merrill quickly scrambled around camp to retrieve a dry blanket and laid it over one of the tarps. Garrett gingerly laid Fenris down and loosely swept another blanket on top.
"I picked some elfroot while I was out," Merrill said, digging into her supplies and handing Garrett several glass vials. "I put them in flasks with rain water right away."
Though best when left to sit overnight, the elfroot thickened the water and created a thin salve that was effective against open wounds. Garrett opened one vial and poured some into his hands.
"It's a lucky thing that cobwebs help heal wounds faster, you know? When I was a young child, the herbalist would sent me to collect sticks of cobweb. She would put them on open wounds from when the hunters got hurt. It stops the blood."
Indeed, Fenris's open wounds had mostly crusted over and did not look so bad as they had during the battle at the campsite. Still, Garrett was generous with the elfroot potion, and washed Fenris's chest clean of blood before finally resorting to healing magic. The school of creation magic was not one that Garrett himself had studied intensely and so his spells were basic, but he was able to rejuvenate Fenris's life force at a gradual but steady pace.
Merrill cooked a stew over the fire, flavored with bark and roots she promised were both tasty and nutritious. Garrett kept close vigil over Fenris, who was sleeping. Merrill had assured him that the spider venom just needed to run its course through his system, and with the healing magic, he would sleep it off and wake up bright as day. Well, she added as an afterthought, not this day, this day was quite cloudy.
The sky outside darkened, indicating that the sun had set behind the heavy clouds. The rain still hadn't let up, and Fenris hadn't yet awoken. Merrill kept the last serving of stew warming over the campfire's embers for Fenris, and fell asleep ensconced in her blanket with Dog plopped beside her. Garrett leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
It could not have been more than a few minutes after that when Fenris stirred. He groaned, and the noise woke Garrett instantly, though Merrill and Dog were snoring and oblivious. Garrett knelt beside Fenris's makeshift bed as the elf blinked and propped himself up on an elbow.
"Seems I, uh..." he yawned, rubbing an eye with his fist, "missed something?"
Garrett frowned. "You didn't exactly miss it, per se."
"Ah. Right, the spiders." Fenris sat up and stretched his arms, muscles pulling taut under his lyrium-etched skin. "I can't help but notice I'm naked, Hawke."
"Uh, that's – well, I had to clean you!"
"You were bloody, and the spider guts..." Garrett stuttered. "Listen, you're still wearing underwear."
"So you mean to say, I shouldn't be worried about pregnancy?"
Garrett glared. "Absolutely not."
Fenris chuckled weakly and assessed himself for damage. He traced his fingers over the bandages and bruises mechanically, as though he was a blacksmith surveying nicks in a used blade. Then he rested his hands on his thighs, fingers clenching and then unclenching in turn. "You healed me. Thank you."
"What? Of course I did." Garrett did not feign surprise. He and his companions had been traveling together for awhile now and taking care of the wounded was something that he had long since taken for granted.
"And you saved me, too."
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
"Risking your life for another is nothing to scoff at." Fenris did not look at him still, though he frowned. "I was … perhaps out of line, earlier."
Garrett shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I would rather know your feelings upfront than have them arise and surprise me on the day I have to make a decision."
Fenris focused his gaze on the embers glowing in the fire pit. The light danced against his skin, warming it to a rich bronze color. "It is my opinion, but I also believe that you are a good man, Hawke. I do have respect for you. If you ever became a magister, I... don't know how to express how disappointed I would be."
Slowly Garrett extended his hand toward Fenris, like one would to pat an anxious stray cat, and when Fenris did not move away Garret ran his fingers through his white hair. It was incredibly fine and soft, and Garrett savored the sensation, brushing a thumb long his cheek to the curl of his ear. "I won't betray you, Fenris."
"I would kill you myself if you ever did," Fenris answered seriously, the declaration of death a soft promise and the only poetry he knew. He put a slender hand on the back of Garrett's neck. The touch was cool under his calloused fingers, and Fenris pressed him forward for a kiss.
Garrett wrapped an arm around Fenris's waist to pull him forward, taking little care of the bandages he has so painstakingly applied only hours ago. He shifted his weight to move onto the makeshift pallet, still holding on to Fenris's hair to keep the kiss deep, and lifted Fenris by the hips to sit on his thigh. Fenris's elbow curved at Garrett's shoulder, his nails clawing gently into his back, and Garrett pressed him against his chest.
Fenris sighed into the kiss, and encouraged, Garrett stroked Fenris thigh, hand sliding up his smooth, hairless thighs to his pelvis. He rolled his hips slightly, heat pooling into his groin from such close contact with Fenris, and Fenris pressed himself against Garrett in turn. A rush of warmth flushing his cheeks, Garrett broke the kiss and instead began to suck on Fenris's neck. He handled Fenris's body tightly, enjoying holding him how he wanted even when Fenris tried to shift himself.
Garrett continued to suckle on Fenris's neck, hips gyrating, and he felt himself hardening with a rigid desire. Sliding a hand along Fenris's undergarments, it seemed that Fenris was aroused as well. He cupped his palm around the bulge in the fabric, causing the elf to hiss and twist his neck out of Hawke's teeth to catch his mouth for another surging kiss. The feeling of Fenris's tongue sliding into his mouth was breathtaking, and Garrett felt as though he was about to burst right there. He slid his hand into the fabric of Fenris's shorts to wrap his fingers around–
Suddenly Fenris shoved Garrett to the side and snarled. "What are you doing?"
Surprised, Garrett was about to open his mouth in protest and explain exactly what he was about to do, when he realized that Fenris wasn't addressing him. He peered over and colored immediately to see Merrill in her blankets, laying on her stomach with chin propped up by both elbows and quite blatantly watching them. "Merrill!"
"What? You are quite loud, you know, and here I was trying to get some sleep."
"I, uh. We thought you were asleep," Garrett came up with dumbly, scratching his head and trying to come up with the proper etiquette for a situation like this. "Sorry you had to witness that. It was very, um, rude of us."
"Oh, I don't mind. I like to watch sexy things sometimes. You can continue, if you like."
Garrett might very well have agreed if Fenris had looked up to it, but the scowl on his face was even more fierce than normal. "Venhedis!" Fenris spat, and slammed his body back down on his blanket. Before Garrett could even dare to try to join him, Fenris pulled his blanket to his chin and made a show of turning away. An obvious dismissal.
That's a no, then. Garrett grinned and settled himself against the wall. If nothing else, it was motivation to survive another day.
Author's Notes: I feel this is pretty sloppy writing, probably due to the fact that I know I'm supposed to be working on my senior thesis and secretly do this anyway. :P Hawke/Fenris foreverrr. I went a little, um, language happy... most of the Elvish is real. I would've used more Tevinter if there had been more canon phrases out there. Maker help me. lol