"And you're sure the mage thing doesn't bother you?" Hawke repeated, skepticism clear on his face. "I mean, you were nearly arrested by Templars today because of me."
"Kitten," Isabela said patiently, "if you think shooting sparks is enough to scare me off, you've clearly never had to steer a ship into port in the middle of a hurricane."
Hawke pursed his lips.
"What?" she demanded.
"I'm just making sure that wasn't a sexual innuendo," Hawke informed her, a corner of his mouth lifting into a sly grin.
Isabela laughed, delighted. "Oh, you'll know when it's about sex, Kitten."
Hawke just smirked and lifted the pint of ale to his lips.
"Varric's not around, is he?" the pirate queried, peering suspiciously over her shoulder.
"And why does that matter?" Hawke asked, following her gaze to Varric's currently vacant table.
"I beat him at cards the other night," she admitted. "And he knows it wasn't by… strictly legitimate means. He's rather irritated now, I'd imagine."
"Nothing you do is strictly legitimate," Hawke said. "I thought we'd established that already. And I find it difficult to believe that he didn't cheat, either."
Isabela smiled coquettishly. "Oh, he did. But I beat him at it."
"Do I even want to know what the stakes were?" Hawke grumbled into his ale.
"My loss, I'd have to flirt with that drunk at the bar who wields poetry like a fat Chantry priest with a broken sword. His loss, he'd have to tell me how Bianca got her name."
Hawke's eyebrow lifted. "He must have been confident. How'd you win?"
She rolled her shoulders, the daggers strapped to her back catching the dim light of The Hanged Man. "He slipped a little something into my drink, but I had put a paralytic powder on the rim of the mug. His hand might as well have been made of stone for all the good it did him. Couldn't hold his cards right, poor man. Er, dwarf."
Hawke coughed up the ale he had been swallowing. "You two were poisoning each other?"
Isabela watched him, amused. "Nothing that extreme, Kitten. A little friendly botanical experimentation, perhaps. But it wasn't like we were about to drop dead."
The Champion massaged his forehead. "I shouldn't even be surprised. I had been wondering where that deathroot we harvested from Sundermount had gone…"
Isabela scowled. "Do you really think I'd be foolish enough to try my own hand at brewing poisons? That's touchy stuff, that. I got it off the black market in Darktown. Merrill took the deathroot."
"Questionable reliability of the merchants in Darktown aside, why in the name of the Maker would she need deathroot?" Hawke demanded, exasperated.
"She has her reasons," Isabela said vaguely, admiring her fingernails.
Hawke sighed. "I'll trust your judgment."
He set down his mug of ale aside hers, and their arms touched when he did so. She didn't seem to mind.
They sat like that, in companionable silence, for several minutes.
"You know I plan on leaving one day," Isabela said softly, staring at the wall.
Hawke looked sideways at her, his green eyes flecked with gold in the candlelight. "I know," he agreed. "And I won't stop you when the time comes. But right now, it's enough for me falling asleep knowing that you'll still be here when I wake up. One day at a time."
Isabela stood abruptly. Without looking back, she quickly left The Hanged Man. The heavy oak door banged shut behind her. The tavern was filled with people, but for some reason that was the only sound he heard.
Hawke stared at where she had just been, his face expressionless. His hand tightened slowly on the mug of ale until it was white with effort.
Then he dug into his pocket for a few coins, tossed them on the bar, and left.
He knew exactly where she would be.
The wind had died down by nighttime, but there was still a strong breeze that sent the merchant vessels rocking in their berths, roped to the docks as they were. The waves crashed against the dockside, sending flecks of dark foam into the sky. Old wood creaked and groaned, a comforting sound against the constant pounding of the waves.
She didn't seem to notice as it landed on her bare skin.
Hawke watched her silently, regret and hope warring within his chest. It wasn't often that he was unsure of himself, and when he was he hid it well. But now, he didn't want to hide behind a façade. He would be lying to himself. But honesty… he didn't want to scare away what was most precious to him. And the scary thing was, he had never even realized it was happening until it had already happened.
"Any other man who tried to sneak up on me would be on the ground with his arm threatening to pop out of his socket right now," Isabela said without looking behind her.
"Then I shall consider myself fortunate," Hawke said carefully.
It was several more seconds before she turned to face him. When she did, the wind sent her hair flying wildly across her face, the dark sea behind her. He had never seen anything more beautiful.
"I killed the last man I loved," she told him, dark eyes glinting. "I have no reason to believe this will end differently."
"So there is a 'this'," Hawke said, unable to keep the note of hope out of his voice.
The pirate narrowed her eyes. "It it's word games we're playing, Kitten, fair warning; I cheat at those too."
"That's not-" Hawke broke off, grasping for words. "Isabela, I cannot lie to myself, or to you. I can't force you to do anything against your will, but I also can't change how I feel about you-"
"Love is a prison," she snapped. "It's chains, it's cold steel against your back, it's the noose around your neck. I will not be trapped again!"
Hawke searched for something to say, but found nothing. He looked at her helplessly, his heartbeat suddenly pounding within his ears.
She looked back angrily, but the fury slowly melted from her face. With an oath that would have made a dwarven mercenary proud, she turned her back to him.
He felt his heart shatter into pieces.
He turned around and began walking away, focusing on setting one foot ahead of the other. Step by step. Mile by mile. Day by day. Year by year.
She had never left his thoughts. Her quick smile, her sharp tongue, her musical laugh. At first, it had merely been lust. But while that never faded, it had been shoved into the background by infatuation. And without his knowing, the infatuation had become love. A love that was never to be.
He heard rapid footsteps behind him, and his fingers cupped reflexively to form a fireball, but the familiar smell stopped him just in time.
He was turned around and slammed into the wall of the building just as her lips crushed against his, her hands winding themselves into his hair.
Quickly overcoming his surprise, the passion he had been suppressing surfaced in full force. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer, and deepened the kiss until she was the only thing he knew, world be damned.
She slid a leg between his thighs, and he had to bite back a groan. She smiled against him and broke off the kiss, instead trailing her fingers lightly down his jaw line.
"What… brought this on?" he asked, realizing that he was panting.
"I've seen you confident," she breathed against him, looking into his eyes. "I've seen you happy, desolate, frustrated, victorious. But I've never seen you lost before."
"If insecurity was all you wanted…" he said, frowning slightly.
Her fingers wrapped possessively around the back of his neck. "Let me finish, Kitten. I have feelings for you too, feelings that I didn't want. They're chains, these useless emotions, and all they do is spoil a good time."
He exhaled, not sure if he liked where this was going.
"And they scared me," she admitted. "I'll deal with a mutiny any day of the week if it means I can have my own ship, but love? No thank you. But you… you're just as scared as I am."
He tensed beneath her, then relaxed slowly. "That's one way of putting it."
Now her breath tickled his ear. "I want you. And not, I think, in the temporary way."
He closed his eyes, savoring the way the joy washed over him. "One day at a time," he repeated softly.
"Maybe I love you," she said, her eyes twinkling, "but for your sake, I hope not. Whatever comes, know that I care about you more than anything else."
His eyebrows lifted. "More than the open seas?"
She bit his ear softly. "That is a different kind of affection that you can't interfere with. Likewise, it does not interfere with my feelings for you."
He swallowed with difficulty. "Fair enough."
She bore him to the ground, and he went with no resistance. "I'm sick of this conversation," she murmured. He felt her lips moving against the side of his neck. "Let's get back to something I'm good at."
He grinned. "I can't imagine what that would be."
The corners of her mouth lifted, and the stars in the nighttime sky were nothing compared to the radiance of her smile.
"You don't have to."