Missing What's Gone
A Dragon Age 2 fic
A/N: This was… difficult to write. For personal reasons. But it had to happen, so… here it is. I'd recommend listening to these songs while reading: I Grieve by Peter Gabriel and It Doesn't Matter by Allison Krauss (quotes below).
I also, again, turned to Catullus for the poem Fenris quotes (Carmen 68). What can I say? Classical poetry is hard to beat when it comes to emotions, and boy, howdy did I have those while writing this.
As always, I am deeply indebted to my lovely beta, solan_t, who saved me, amongst other things, from a crucial mischaracterization early on.
All characters therein belong to Bioware, I'm just borrowing them.
i grieve for you
you leave me
let it out and move on
missing what's gone
they say life carries on
they say life carries on and on and on
life carries on
in the people i meet
in everyone that's out on the street
in all the dogs and cats
in the flies and rats
in the rot and the rust
in the ashes and the dust
life carries on and on and on and on
life carries on and on and on
-Peter Gabriel, I Grieve
It doesn't matter what I want
It doesn't matter what I need
If you've made up your mind to go
I won't beg you to stay
You've been in a cage
Throw you to the wind you fly away
-It Doesn't Matter—Allison Krauss
It's dark and late when he knocks on the door and the fact that it's not Bodahn answering alone should be a warning sign.
"What do you want, knife-ears…?" It's her uncle—Gamlen?—barking at him with a voice that's hoarse and blinking with eyes that are red-rimmed and haunted. "Oh." He adjusts the tone a little bit as he takes in his face under the hood of his cloak, with the markings and the white hair. "You." He almost spits that word, though, and shows no inclination to step aside or let him in. "Not receiving visitors today. Not any more."
"I just got word." He says shortly, not feeling like explaining to this man, smelling of weakness and despair and cheap wine. "I wish to speak to Hawke." he continues, because, despite everything, he wants to be courteous to anyone in this house.
"She's resting." Her uncle says ferociously. "She'll get with you if she feels like it." He tries to shove the door closed, but Fenris' foot is already there, followed by his shoulder, and the door bounces back so Gamlen has to jump back if he doesn't want to get the thick oak full in his face.
"I'm…a friend." He says, his voice breaking there a bit at the end. "I just got back to the city, and…"
"Yeah, some friend." Gamlen is staggering a bit, steadying himself on the wall and snarling. From somewhere inside the house, Fenris hears the mournful howl of Tiny, her mabari, and feels his insides twist at the sound. "Where the Fade were you when she needed you, eh?" He steps closer and Fenris, again, smells the sour scent of despair. "She even went to your house to ask for your help when Leandra disappeared and you…" he flails with his hands, "…you were probably out drinking or something instead of…"
"Uncle!" The word from the top of the stairs is like a whip snapping and both of them turn in unison.
"You're probably tired and in need of sleep." Marian Hawke looks unusually frail out of armor this time, but there's no frailness in the set of her spine or her voice as she comes down with quick, measured steps; even the way she draws her thick house-robe closed speaks of careful control. She puts a hand out to stop the nervous Bodahn, who just stepped into the hall a bit breathless from the back storage areas, still holding a piece of Hawke's armor in one hand and a cleaning rag in the other. The pauldron is dented, and, Fenris sees with disbelief, literally coated in dry blood.
"All is fine, Bodahn. I'll handle this." One look from her and the old dwarf shakes his head and retreats, muttering something into his beard in his own language.
"Marian, I was just…" Gamlen looks deflated all of a sudden, and there's nothing but gentleness in the way Hawke slides an arm under his shoulder and steers him towards the door. "Sorry…"
"You can do nothing more here, Uncle. Best to either go home, or lay down in the guest room if you want. I can ask Orana to make the bed for you." She stops and considers. "On second thought, that might be the best… I'd really rather not let you out in the streets just now."
She speaks in an even tone, very carefully and without her usual Fereldan speech patterns… and that alone would be enough for Fenris to be wary.
"So sorry…" Gamlen mutters, suddenly sagging and almost incoherent. "Didn't mean to…wake you up…I…"
"Wasn't sleeping." Hawke makes a little noise in her throat that's sort of like laughing, only on its darker side. "Not likely to, any time soon. But you need to. Come on, Uncle…I have a potion somewhere that'll help."
She looks at Fenris, briefly, and her eyes are absolutely unreadable.
"I'll be right back." She says and motions with her free hand, towards the chairs and table in the corner of the receiving room. "Please, sit."
And he obeys instantly, only realizing he did it after he's already sitting, and it chills him to the bone—but can only watch wordlessly as Hawke helps her uncle out of the room and up the stairs towards the back wing of the mansion. He thinks he hears a stifled sob from Gamlen as they pass the door upstairs he knows hides Hawke's mother's room—and then silence. Orana flutters through the room, barely raising her eyes at him (although she curtseys deeply, a move that normally infuriates Fenris but now it only leaves bitterness in his mouth), her arms full of clean linen and follows them upstairs a couple minutes later.
It doesn't take long for Hawke to come back down. Her hands are thrust deep in the pockets of her house-robe as she leans against the doorframe, her head bowed for a second in an unguarded moment of incredible frailty and tiredness when she think he can't see, before she speaks.
"I apologize for Uncle's…behavior." she says on the same even voice as she raises her eyes to meet his. "I told Tiny to stay with Gamlen for the night; for this once, I think he'll welcome his company. In the light of…" She chokes back something, makes a short, sharp nod to herself, as if she'd decided on something, and beckons, turning. "What the Fade. Come on up."
That sounds more like the Hawke he knows, and so he, yet again, complies. It's rather unsettling, he reflects briefly as he follows her up the stairs, turning right and down a short corridor, how he obeys her voice and yet feels no anger at the way he eases back into a role he thought he'd forever shaken off when he escaped his former master. But just as quickly as the thought comes, it withers and dies away in shame: because this is different, utterly different at the same time it feels familiar. Fenris cannot help but wonder briefly yet again if the masters of slaves in Tevinter ensured the loyalty of their slaves by magically twisting and corrupting the natural emotions one feels when happy to do something for another… He wouldn't be surprised—he never felt anything like this naturally. And yet, as he looks at the woman in front of him, he realizes that to see her shoulders lift from under the terrible weight she seems to carry, he'd lay devastation to entire provinces of the Imperium, and gladly.
"Well, come on in." Hawke says curtly, holding a door. "I have some drinks in here, if you need some. I know I do."
It's her room, Fenris realizes as he steps in, and stops dead there on the treshold, unsure, eyes darting around. It's large and looks lived-in without being too messy, with a fireplace and a little area with a table and two chairs just to the side; an empty armor stand with chests around it; a bed in front of a large window, its rumpled cover still preserving the shape of her body…
He hastily looks somewhere else. Rugs, some furs in the Fereldan tradition of her homeland, books and letters piled on a sideboard, and a single boot thrown in front of the screen in the corner, a large red stain on its leather like a warning sign.
Or a reminder. Fenris snaps to attention, nostrils flaring at the scent of blood.
"I'm assuming you're here because Varric left some kind of a message, so you know what happened." Hawke goes to the sideboard, grabs a goblet and fills it halfway with some dark liquid from a decanter that smells strongly of herbs. She regards it for a second, then slams it down in one breath, barely pausing before refilling. Her voice is scratchy and throaty suddenly: whatever is in that decanter, it must be strong. "Dwarf needs to mind his own damned business, I told him already."
"He had someone watch my place while I was away, yes." Fenris says cautiously, watching her empty the goblet the second time. Her hands tremble just a little bit more as she reaches out for the third time, without ever offering him any. "Hawke." he says, a bit louder then; her fingers pause as she turns, and he suddenly feels his throat go dry seeing that bleak landscape of devastation that is her face in that moment.
"I cannot imagine what it must be like. To…lose your family." he continues, taking a deep breath; he really isn't good at this, but there are words that need to be said, and this was why he came as soon as Varric's messenger told him. And he'll see this through. Despite everything; despite how they parted that night, which he still doesn't dare to remember in its entirety, and which made him take the job that called him away from the city this long. "Anything I could say would be insufficient."
She looks at him then, eyes huge and that carefully maintained mask breaks into a hundred little pieces. It's disconcerting to realize just how much this affects him, and yet there it is: the way she allows everything to show on her face now that there's no one else to see it but him.
"I went to your house and just kept knocking." she says in a small voice, hand balled into a fist next to her body as she slightly sways back and forth. "I actually banged my knuckles bloody a bit, I think…until Varric's man came out from hiding and told me you were gone on a 'job'." Her breath hitches, almost sobbing. "You weren't there… and then Aveline and Merrill and Sebastian and Varric and Isabela and Anders all wanted to come with me and Uncle Gamlen said we should start in Lowtown, that maybe she got lost…" A small laugh escapes her lips that are, Fenris just notices, raw and almost bleeding as if she was constantly biting them. "As if she could have been… lost in Lowtown where she's lived for four years." The noise of her goblet as she puts it down on the little tray is jarringly loud. "There was… so much damned blood. And that smell… like when they piled the dead up at Ostagar before we retreated. Rotting flesh, charred bone, blood and, over it all, lilies. Those sodding white lilies he sent to her, to this very house."
She hugs her own shoulders as if she's cold; she's barefoot, Fenris realizes, with every little bit of her visible skin angry red as if she's scrubbed herself in scalding hot water for a long time.
"All my stuff's got that smell in it now… Bodahn is still cleaning my armor. Orana kept telling me it's okay, I don't smell like… like that anymore, but I still can…" She shakes her head and stops, taking a big breath to steady herself.
"There'll be a memorial service for her later this week." She continues, a bit calmer. "Seneschal Bran sent word that the city's wishing to pay for the funeral. Viscount Dumal sent word; half of bloody Kirkwall's nobility sent word and flowers and any moment now I'm waiting for the covered dishes. Because, you know, nothing says 'condolences' like a sodding beltfish casserole." The words are bitter and almost burning, laced with the fuel of two glasses of the herb liquor she drank.
She walks to her bed, slow and with the steps of someone much older, and sinks down, pulling her knees up and hugging them to her chest. Fenris suddenly remembers an old painting he once saw in an ancient Tevinter palace he escorted Danarius to. It was almost entirely darkened by age and soot so only impressions remained—dark mess of hair and glowing eyes, a pale flash of a throat and neck… a study in contrasts, just like this woman in front of him. His fingers twitch with that well-known urge to take up a charcoal stick and make this moment in time last forever on a piece of paper, and he knows he'll do just that when he's back at his house, just like he did a number of times since he's met her.
"Varric also wants to do a wake." Hawke speaks up, muffled as she rests her head on her arm. "Probably will involve a lot of drinks and funny stories about Mother." This is the first time she actually says that word since he's arrived and Fenris' insides twist a bit at the way it hitches in her throat. "I vetoed the Hanged Man as a location, though. We'll have it here, so it's not just the sodding 'memorial service' that remains alive in my mind when I think about it. When I…have to write the letter to Bethany." She bites her lip again. It's really quite disconcerting to Fenris just how much emotion she's showing all of a sudden, as opposed to her calmness before… and it's even more disturbing when he considers that she chose to show it in front of him.
Because, really, what did he do to deserve this trust?
And that's what, at the end, compels him, above every other consideration, to go over there and sit down next to her, however awkward and stiff he feels.
"At least you have your memories of her." he offers the words haltingly, but with painful honesty. "Kyria Amell was… a remarkable woman." He isn't sure where that comes from, but can he give anything but that to her?
"She was still there." She whispers, almost too quiet to hear. As she pulls her knees even tighter to her chest, her house-robe parts: the soft pants and shirt she wears underneath are white and unadorned, the hem of one pant leg carefully mended. The scent of her soap tickles his nose and he bites down on the inside of his mouth to quell the memories it invokes. "In that mismatched body with different hands, and feet, and Maker, there was this line across her neck with stitches…"
Fenris stares at her in horror as he comprehends, all other thoughts fleeing his mind. He didn't know the exact details of Leandra's death, but now, as the words spill out of Hawke like from a fountain that can't contain the filth that clogged its source any more and finally breaks free, he sees…
"His research is truly groundbreaking, amice." One of the sophisticated dinner parties in Minrathous where he had to literally stand an inch from Danarius as his bodyguard all the time. The voice of the man who leans close to his master and whispers is cloyingly sweet, his breath smells of mint and cinnamon. "His claim into unlocking some ancient manuscripts from a pre-Elvhenan conflict-era crypt up North is…"
"A fancified, feverish product of his imagination, aimed at capturing the purse of wealthier patrons who could sponsor his claim to higher office." Danarius makes a face. "Has anyone truly seen the results of such experiments? I attended the lecture he held at the Academy last week, and found it distasteful and, frankly, slightly boring." He makes a sweeping gesture, encompassing the great dining room, decorated with garlands of flowers, illuminated by soft globes of magic lights; the tables, groaning under heaps of food in fantastic shapes and colors; the red marble fountain in the middle, spewing wine instead of water; the attendants, all perfectly beautiful young girls and boys draped in short robes made of the sheerest of silk…. "This whole event, designed to unveil the 'crowning glory of his lifetime search for immortality', financed by Maker knows what…" He pauses. One hand, bearing the garnet ring of a Senator, rests lightly on Fenris' arm, fingers tracing his markings idly, and he manages, with years of practice, not to wince. It's no more than if his master were petting a hound or his favorite horse, after all. "The Senate knows where its true interest lies. The power of the Imperium is in its weapons created by magic, ready to be wielded right now, against the greatest threat on our borders, the heathen Qunari; not in some outlandish claims at creating life from dead body parts. I'm just as progressive as the next fellow magister, but let's not repeat the sins of our forefathers, shall we? Prudence is a virtue that, practiced in moderation should prove useful even for Armenius." A slight chuckle. "After all, we all exist to serve. Maybe I shall tell him that, after he receives his next refusal to be considered for a Senate seat."
"Necromancy." Fenris whispers now, understanding dawning as he connects Hawke's tale with that memory about that long gone evening in the Imperial capital. Hawke takes a sharp breath, looking as if she sees him for the first time. "He used different parts from different women to recreate something he loved." He shivers as he considers what's next. "Including your mother." Those words taste like ashes and he almost chokes on them. "There are few even in Tevinter who dare to stoop that low."
"Well, this one is not stooping anywhere anymore." Hawke says with savage satisfaction, and Fenris draws back a bit at the ferocity of her expression. "He's feeding the rats in the sewers; but his sodding apprentice escaped." She sees his question before he can ask and shakes her head; somehow, talking about it seems to bring her back more to herself, Fenris notices. "Sure felt like a fool… Remember that Gascard DuPuis guy we let go during that mad goose chase we went on, based on Ser Emeric the Templar's theories about a serial killer?" Fenris nods, watching her. "Turns out he just wanted to get back in his old master's good graces after all. He ran away before I could get to him, the rat bastard. Varric shot a bolt through his arm, so he probably bled to death by now. Serves him right, the…" and Hawke's words trail off into a shuddering sob as she draws a breath to steady herself. "Blast it, I'm a sodding mess." Her hands are twisting at the sheets covering the bed and her voice is thin and reedy like a small child's. "Before… before she disappeared, we…argued. It was a big fight. We both shouted… I broke a vase on the floor and stomped out, like a three-year old in a tantrum. I told her I wasn't…" There's that hiccupy sob again, the one that just about makes him reach out and touch her hand,"…that I wasn't coming back home until she realizes that she can't control my life and make me do what she wants."
"Hm." Fenris tries to sound soothing, but he knows he's not very good at this as soon as he takes a breath to answer. But he remembers several visits to this mansion earlier, and suspects he knows what the cause of their quarrel was. "Was this something about, ah, the repeated visits of Saemus Dumar?"
"Fade take it, yes." Hawke says, sniffling. "It was pretty obvious, wasn't it? After all, you've been here enough, before…" She bites her lip and turns away for a second. "She was always like that." she says quickly, not finishing her previous sentence and Fenris is grateful. "Once she really got an idea in her head, there was nothing that could make her give up on it."
"Really?" His voice is dry, and he feels his eyebrows lift. "I wouldn't know anyone else in the family like that."
As soon as he says it, he'd like to take it back. It really isn't appropriate to attempt joking like this when there's grief involved, even he should have known that. But he gets no chance to apologize, as what he just said seems to be the final straw that causes Hawke to unravel. She looks at him with those azure eyes of hers that now seem even larger than usual, brimming with tears…then her entire body rocks as a huge heaving sob rips through her, propelling her forward. Fenris, almost instinctively, puts up an arm to stop her, but it's too late; she clings to him with desperation born of holding her grief in and being strong for others for so long. He feels every one of her frantic heartbeats against his own as she burrows her face against his chest and hot tears soak through his shirt as she finally starts crying.
He's never seen her like this… no, he's never seen anyone break down like this, he corrects, trying to maintain his usual cool demeanor. It's awfully hard, however, to remain critical and aloof in the face of this, even though every instinct in his body screams that this is wrong, that after what happened between the two of them that night, this should never be. Something else rises in the wake of those thoughts, though, something that has a lot to do with that night, though, after all, and Fenris feels his own arm curve around Hawke to steady her just as her arms come up to wind about his neck and she presses even closer in her grieving.
"Omnia tecum una perierunt gaudia nostra…" The words come to his lips unbidden, but once there, he can't not say them. All my joys have perished together with thee. The words of a funeral poem, heard so often in Minrathous that they eventually, inevitably stuck in his mind. It was often recited for those who perished away from their homeland; Danarius as a Senator attended quite a number of state funerals for members of the Tevinter military who died in the Qunari wars. The stark emotions it evoked in him every time seem to fit the sense of loss that fills this room now, and so he continues, even though his voice is raw and choking.
"Quem nunc tam longe non inter nota sepulcra
nec prope cognatos compositum cineres
sed Troia obscena, Troia infelice sepultum
detinet extremo terra aliena solo."
Thee now far, far away, not among familiar graves,
nor laid to rest near the ashes of thy kinsfolk,
but buried in hateful Troy, ill-omened Troy,
a foreign land holds in a distant soil.
Leandra Amell was from Kirkwall, but, no doubt, her home became foreign to her after being away for over two decades. Fenris remembers how she sometimes looked around in the mansion in the middle of conversation, as if she still couldn't quite believe it was all hers, a hand smoothing over the drape of a curtain or the rich wood of a carved shelf; her halting steps as he once escorted her to the Hightown market, seeing a guardsman respectfully salute her; the trembling, proud smile she wore as she looked at her daughter ringed by admirers at an afternoon tea she gave, as if she dreaded to wake from such a dream. As he holds her sobbing daughter in his arms now, trying to ignore the pain coursing through his lyrium-marked skin like wildfire upon such close physical contact, he considers that the name of that legendary cursed city in the poem certainly fits Kirkwall, especially if one looks at it in light of what happened to the Amells and their descendants, one of whom is almost breaking in twain now from the pain of loss.
There's nothing sweet, majestic, poetic or uplifting about how Marian Hawke grieves for her mother. She's crying louder now, letting go of all the things she kept inside of her, fingers clawing at him, at her own arm, nails gouging at her palms, tearing at her hair…She's sobbing incoherent words, quiet whimpers alternating with long, loud wails threatening to shake the walls and windows with their raw emotions. Fenris needs to restrain her, changing from passive observer to the one preventing her from doing harm to herself in a heartbeat. He clasps her to his chest, her arms pinned to her side, one hand moving along her spine in a soothing motion as ancient as the role he assumes now without even knowing he's doing it. She struggles for a second, her cries intensify, body going rigid against his in a struggle she's not even aware of…then, as his fingers glide upwards into her hair and he cradles her to his chest and starts rocking back and forth, she relents and quiets down at last. She's still sobbing, but it's more of a relief now, tension gone and tears flowing freely as she lets him soothe her with something in his heart he never thought he would feel…
All my joys have perished together with thee… he thinks, and his mouth tastes like wormwood as he murmurs the very last line of the funeral poem. "Lux mea, qua uiua uiuere dulce mihi est."
Later, Hawke safely tucked away in her bed with her blankets around her like armor, her face swollen and her eyes red, he makes sure she breathes evenly and deeply before he finally leaves the room, and her house, all quiet now. He pulls up the hood of his cloak as he sets out, his steps are fast and unwavering, carrying him towards Kirkwall's underbelly: Darktown. He has unfinished business there: and it will get done.
He has contacts who can guide him, and he makes sure he gets answers fast. It's not even an hour after he left the Hawke mansion and he is crouching in an alley, looking up at a window of a disreputable boarding house. It's not too far from the ground and the wall is uneven stone. His fingers find the gaps and crevices necessary to grab hold, and he hoists himself easily onto the ledge. His dagger makes short work of the flimsy window latch, and Fenris slides noiselessly into the tiny room smelling of sweat and blood and fear. He doesn't even stop; with one smooth motion, he is right next to the bed, and his markings flare up with the force of his wrath as he grabs hold of the man on the bed and lifts him up in the air.
"Gascard DuPuis." The name falls from his lips slowly, like drips of blood from the man's throat as Fenris' fingers dig under his skin. He tries to struggle, to cry out, but he hasn't a chance. "Or whatever your real name is. What a miserable excuse of a man." He shakes him, and the bulging eyes, filled with fear and pain stare at him with horror as the mage recognizes him. "I know what you did. I'm here to make sure you'll never have a chance to use Quintus Armenius' research. Ever." He pulls him closer, lyrium-enhanced muscles flexing as he hears bones crunch and flesh tear, and whispers, almost gently, as the light goes out in Gascard's eyes. "For Leandra Amell and her daughter."
He discards the body with a casual toss, and it crumples on itself in a corner like a doll. The room is dark but his eyes are used to working in almost no light and his fingers find what he's looking for under the bed, hastily bundled in a blood-soaked blanket. The notes and the weighty book bound in leather he cannot read, but the sketches of human body parts, pentagrams and twisted symbols are clear enough, telling him what he needs to identify the grimoire and research notes of the mage who called himself Quentin after he was expelled from the Imperium.
He sets the fire quickly, pulling the bed to the center and arranging Gascard's body on it, tucking the book and the notes by his side. He lights those first, and watches from the window's ledge for a bit, making sure all of the paper catches.
He's far away from the boarding house when the warning cry for fire goes up, and his lips twist into a feral grin as he considers how long it will be before any of the City Guard even considers venturing there to investigate. And even if they do, the chance they'll attribute the shriveled corpse's fate to anything else but accidental death from an unattended candle is… slim at best. He pulls off his gloves, bits of gore and flesh still clinging to it, and tosses them in an open sewer as he passes by.
As he walks faster and faster through the maze of streets in dawn's faint light, Fenris weighs the advantages of asking Captain Aveline about the 'accident' later, just to be sure… but quickly decides there's nothing that would raise her suspicions more than him inquiring about the death of some unidentified lowlife in the slums. No, this story ends here, in the dark, damp underbelly of the city, amidst rats and silence, blood and death and despair, and nothing from it shall make it to where she lives. Not any more.
He attends the large public funeral two days later. He remains in the background, easy to do in the crowd and with all the notables in attendance. The rain splatters on the cobblestones as the Viscount himself delivers the eulogy, his son standing next to the pale and straight-backed Hawke, awkward and obviously wanting to be somewhere else. Fenris is somewhat relieved to see that Varric, all respectable looking and clean-shaven (albeit still openly wearing Bianca on his back), stands slightly behind Hawke, one hand resting on her back protectively. There's not much that evades the dwarf's keen eyes, Fenris knows; and thus, when Varric finally discovers him, hiding halfway behind a pillar, and his eyes narrow slightly, Fenris gives a light nod and brings up one fist to touch lightly upon his chest. Varric's response is barely noticeable, as he relaxes his hand to his side and holds up a thumb: but Fenris understands.
It all will be fine. She'll be fine.
The rain doesn't let up; Viscount Dumar drones on and on about grace and loss and the will of the Maker… and that last line of the Tevinter funeral poem steals into Fenris' thoughts again, like a long-forgotten prayer, as he watches Marian Hawke's face.
"Lux mea, qua uiua uiuere dulce mihi est." My light; whose life alone makes it sweet to me to live.