Aaaand the final chapter. I will just reiterate the chapter one disclaimer of this being shameless whimsy and rather AU. Deep psychological drama it is not but I hope you have enjoyed it nonetheless. I've had great fun writing it and huge thanks to you for all your alerts, favourites and reviews. As an aside I will be writing a naughty epilogue but separate to this story so I don't have to change the rating. Grand gestures of love to my beta, Midsummer who shouts random numbers when she gets overexcited.
Chapter 8 – The Last Dance
Fenris trudged slowly through the shadowy Kirkwall streets, head down as if in thought. In reality, however, his mind was blank, his body numb, the only recognisable sensation a dull ache in his chest. He looked to neither left nor right. A stray thought prickled at his mind – if he were to be followed and attacked he would most certainly find himself at a disadvantage owing to his distracted state. The answering whisper was that in truth he did not much care and the darker feeling unspoken was that he would almost certainly welcome any pain which may have followed. For once the streets were empty and quiet though, and eventually he stopped in a darkened alcove, slumping onto a stone bench set into the recess.
How could I have gotten it so wrong?
Whilst at first they had not shared a particularly friendly relationship, in fact most of their exchanges had been borne of extreme animosity, recently he had been fairly sure of earning her respect, grudging though it was. Over the last weeks his feelings towards her had begun to change. If he was honest with himself had begun to change that first night, at the unexpected loss in her eyes whilst she gazed into the fire, the hurt when the reason was revealed the next day as a consequence of his bullishness, his sudden urge to make it up to her so as not to be excluded again after they had argued over her lyrium burn.
And she had accepted his gift…
She was still stubborn, defensive and quick to take both offense and the offensive but she had also shown him flashes of understanding, even tenderness. Her barriers were his, built to guard against loss, mockery and to bolster the resilience needed to survive, to keep going. He had thought they were beginning to understand one another, to see past the masks they both wore. She had surprised him with her perceptiveness, had seen the pain and anger he had tried to hide at being cast as her manservant and had addressed it. Had tried to make him feel better. That was new. He could not recall anyone treating him with a kindness that was not marred by pity or self-interest. She had also shown him vulnerability and recognised his in turn, her fingers gentle as they had clasped his bared hands.
Then she had kissed him and the pleasure had transported him before the realisation had knocked him back down to earth. His first reaction had been one of hurt and anger that she would use him so carelessly and then discard him afterwards. She had shaken him off and wiped her mouth, curt with a throwaway line and he had hated her for her cruelty…until he had seen how much her hand was trembling. He had watched her walk unsteadily towards the elven woman and then leave, barely looking at him. The old, uncaring Hawke, the Hawke he thought he knew, would have stayed around for a few more jibes, would perhaps have tried to provoke him more, hammer more chinks into his armour. There had been something there. Something had changed. He had almost gone after her, there and then, desperate to pull at this new thread but he knew the elven woman's presence would put her on the defensive so instead he had fetched a bottle from the cellar and sat next to the corpse who had eyed him almost amicably as he drank and pondered.
So he'd turned up at the hovel she called a home the next evening with something that felt very much like hope, and, ignoring the jeering voices in his head had offered himself to her as manservant. She had made a throwaway comment, yes, but she had not laughed at him, had accepted another gift carved from his soul, one more meaningful than the mere baubles from the apostate.
He had not known where to go from there and then she had apologised. He had thought her on the verge of saying something else when she had abruptly turned and made as if to continue her appointed meeting with the stupid Viscount's boy. Anger had flooded him then with the fear that it had all been an illusion, that her regard was a Fade dream, strands pulled together by his loneliness and need and he had kissed her feverishly, desperate to show her what she was to him. And oh Maker she had responded, and, dizzy with elation, he had opened his mouth, made a glib comment and pulled everything down around them.
Her reaction had sent him reeling, he had barely felt the blow she dealt him. At first he had been too undone to come up with anything coherent and later too crushed to even try.
He dropped his head into his hands. Nothing good will ever come of it. Her words echoed in his head and he drew in a sharp breath at the memory of her face. She was beyond him now, the only feelings she harboured towards him were those of disgust and he had certainly lost her respect. They would go on misunderstanding, misinterpreting and hurting the other until whatever they had managed to build was completely destroyed.
I have no choice. I must leave tonight. I cannot risk seeing her again…the distaste on her face. I am nothing to her. Less even than a slave.
Perhaps you always were whispered a treacherous voice. He closed his eyes briefly and then rose with a sigh, heading towards the mansion one last time.
Hawke finished off her third glass of wine with a flourish, smiling brightly at Saemus who was chatting with some local dignitaries. He shot her a pleased glance and continued the conversation as her gaze wandered around the room. She was feeling a lot better generally. Saemus had proved to be a diverting companion if only to count the number of 'ers' he could drop into a few simple sentences and the ferocity with which he could blush. He was, however, endearingly keen and seemed not to notice her distracted state. She caught herself as her thoughts turned towards Fenris and gave herself a mental shake, breathing through the cold tendrils beginning to weave their way through her chest. Turning, she grasped another glass from a passing tray and beamed at a nearby merchant, taking a large mouthful. As far as networking went, she had been very successful. Most of the people she had encountered during the course of the evening had been more than willing to talk with the honoured guest's guest, more than a few had pledged work for her little 'organisation' and had promised to be in touch within the next few days.
She took another sip of the wine grimacing at the sweetness and drifted towards a nearby bench, settling herself beside an elaborately dressed matriarch. The elderly lady turned her attention to her, the feathers on her hat tickling Hawke's nose.
"Serah Hawke, I presume?" Hawke immediately bristled at her tone, the clipped speech marking her as one inhabiting the higher echelons of the gentry and making a statement of the question.
"Indeed. And you are?"
"Curious." She replied archly. "Saemus caused quite a stir when he presented you as his companion for the evening. How do you two know each other?"
"Through work." Hawke took large gulp of wine and tried not to let her irritation show. There was a pause as the woman looked her up and down.
"You drink uncommonly fast."
I don't have to be polite to everyone tonight. Hawke plastered a smile across her face. "Do you like balls, my Lady?"
"I do" she replied, looking slightly startled at the sudden change in subject.
"Big, colourful ones? They are certainly a delight to the eye, wouldn't you agree? Or the smaller, more intimate ones, perhaps? Much easier to accommodate, I find." She arranged her skirt ostentatiously, biting back on a smirk as the elderly lady appeared to consider her question carefully, her gaze moving over the hem of Hawke's dress.
"Ah," she said finally. "So the mystery of who purchased Madame Selena's finest shoes is answered." Her tone was decidedly less frosty, Hawke noted with surprise. She lifted a foot and regarded it, shrugging slightly. "There must have been very little of news this past week if these shoes were a major topic of conversation."
"The mystery was not so much the shoes, my dear, rather to whom the peculiarly dressed elven servants who collected and paid for them belonged. An acquaintance of mine happened to be by the stall at the time."
Hawke felt her mouth drop open. "I'm sorry – elven…servants? There wasn't a dwarf there displaying a frightening amount of chest hair?"
"Yes, dear. The male one especially, most dedicated. I believe he even had Madame show him how they should be properly fitted. You must pay them well for such attention to detail. And I'm sure my friend would remember a dwarf with such...features...had he been present."
"He…what? The shoes were..?" Hawke's head was spinning and she leaned back against the wall briefly closing her eyes. The matriarch continued, oblivious.
"Of course we were all very surprised that Madame parted with her finest creation for so little." Her brow creased in puzzlement. "Very strange. And that poor little elven girl with such a terrible cut on her hand as well, my friend remembers it distinctly. She didn't seem to want your other servant to notice."
Hawke shot to her feet. "I must go."
"But I haven't finished – young woman, come back here immediately. "
"Oh sod off."
"Well, I never – "
She left her spluttering indignantly and headed for the Keep exit, past a surprised and disappointed Saemus who called after her, past staring couples whom she knocked to left and right in her haste to get to the door. Once there she stopped and sought out Saemus' face amidst the gaping guests, mouthing a last I'm sorry before hurrying off into the night.
Merrill sat quietly in her tiny house contemplating the latest damp stain on the wall with a small sigh of resignation.
"I honestly don't know where you come from. It's not rained here in weeks!" She dropped her chin into her hands with a dreamy smile. "She looked so lovely didn't she, Stain? Like some mythical creature. I do hope she's having a nice evening." Her face fell slightly. "I wonder what happened after they left. You know I really thought those two might – " She jerked in fright at a sudden hammering on her door.
Hurrying over she pulled it open to reveal a crimson-faced, panting Hawke with tendrils of hair sticking to her forehead.
"By the Dread Wolf, Hawke, I nearly died of shock!" She peered past her and seeing no-one whispered conspiratorially. "Is Saemus really that good?" She quailed slightly at Hawke's wild-eyed stare of incomprehension. "Perhaps you'd better come in."
"The shoes, Merrill," wheezed Hawke. "You went with Fenris to get them."
Merrill's hand shot up to cover her mouth. "But how did you..? I wasn't sleepwalking again, was I? Did I sleepwalk to your house and accidentally tell you?"
"You…? Never mind. No, I found out from someone else. Why would he ask you? He hates you. And Anders. In fact, most people. Including me."
"Well," said Merrill, looking shifty. "I didn't so much go with him as see him standing at that lady's stall – I mean what would he want with ladies' clothing although sometimes I do wonder about those leggings…"
"Oh. Well. I decided to get a look at what he was buying…and then I saw and asked him were those for you – he wasn't pleased to see me, I can tell you, I thought he was going to twist my head off he looked so cross!" She clapped her hands delightedly. "But then I said that they were beautiful, a perfect present for you and just your colour too! So he – "
Hawke clutched her head. "Wait…just a minute. The patterning on the shoes. Did he know what the patterning signified?" She took a breath. "This is important."
Merrill bit her lip. "No…but I told him. I said the script was a traditional Dalish courting decoration and he looked at me very strangely. And then he asked the lady how much they were. Goodness, he went a funny colour when she told him and I'm not surprised at all because they were very expensive." Merrill looked shifty again and Hawke eyed her suspiciously.
"I sent him off to another stall to look at something and I…bartered."
Hawke grabbed her hand and shook it when she saw the stained bandage. "Merrill you used…how could you?"
Merrill drew herself upright. "He wanted to buy them for you and he would never have been able to afford them otherwise. I couldn't think of anything else to do. He didn't see."
"That's not the point!" Howled Hawke and then took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Why didn't you tell me? I barely thanked him for his gift - like a complete ingrate – I thought he'd given me that salve." She narrowed her eyes as a sudden thought struck her. "Wait a minute. So when Varric said he was looking forward to seeing me put his gift on…why that dirty little – "
"Oh…now I understand. Ooh, that's a bit naughty. He's been spending too much time with Isabela I think."
Merrill drew herself up. "He asked me not to say anything. He said he didn't want to buy your forgiveness or your affections. That if you returned his regard it should be honestly and that you'd know the gift was from him anyway. And then he did his threatening thing but I could tell he didn't really mean it."
"That's ridiculous! Why not just say? I wouldn't have mocked him for it." Oh, yes you would floated through her head. Back then you certainly would have.
"That's what I said. Then he gave me his really grumpy look."
Hawke wasn't listening. "His regard? So when I said I approved of his gift…he assumed…but I had no idea! And after that he was so…and things were better. Well, mostly. Then I, like a complete…" She clutched her head. "I honestly didn't know until then but he did…so when he…he wasn't doing it to…oh Maker I'm such an idiot!"
Merrill put up a finger timidly. "Um, Hawke? I'm a bit lost now."
"I have to find him," muttered Hawke and vanished, leaving Merrill gaping after her.
Hawke fell through the front door of Fenris' adopted mansion. The estate was dark and silent. Hurrying towards the stairs she glimpsed the corpse who sat with his head bowed, both arms wrapped tightly around himself and drew in an anguished breath. She ran up the stairs not bothering to lift her hem, and, stepping on the dress in her haste, tore a large section away from the bottom. She reached his drawing room and came to an abrupt halt. The usually lit grate was cold and dark, what little possessions he had had were gone, bottles lay smashed and fresh splotches of wine daubed the walls. Hawke slowly surveyed the room. A flash of colour atop the mantle caught her eye and moving closer she saw that a small, red purse sat there. She picked it up and ran her fingers over it, eyes prickling. Silk. Opening it she saw it contained a single lock of white hair and clenched her teeth painfully against the ache in her chest.
He was gone. She was too late. Too stubborn to see past your own wounded pride she thought furiously. Even after what you did he was still willing to forgive you and you didn't even bother to try and let him explain away your stupid misunderstanding.
She clutched the purse to her chest and after one last slow look around left the room.
Fenris approached his estate and rested his forehead briefly on the door. He had gotten a few miles inland before a sudden urge to return had hit him. Closure. This period of my life must be dead and buried before I can move forward. Wherever that may be. Forcing himself to move he pushed open the door and padded into the foyer. The sight that greeted him at the foot of the stairs made him stop dead.
Hawke lay slumped, her dress ripped, her head pillowed in the corpse's lap, an empty bottle in her right hand. The corpse had one arm around her. It also appeared to be wearing her shoes.
"Hawke – " He moved swiftly towards her and knelt down, relaxing as a puff of warm breath touched his face. She stirred then and looked at him blearily, sitting up swiftly. She moved to push hair out of her eyes and promptly hit herself in the face with the wine bottle. He gently peeled the purse off her cheek where it had stuck itself, lips quirking in amusement.
"You drink too much, Hawke."
"You came back."
"I was going to bury our friend."
"You can't. He's got shoes."
"No, no, the shoes mean everything. I accept the shoes, do you see? He was going to give them back to you so you could put them on again properly." She shook her head, trying to clear it. "On me. Not you."
"Hawke," he said slowly, hardly daring to breath. "What are you talking about? What are you doing here?"
"I didn't know about the shoes." She took a deep breath. "I didn't know you meant it, at the docks. I thought you were just…then a horrible old lady at the ball told me her friend saw you buying them and I left to ask Merrill. I tried to find you but I was too late and you were gone. "
He sat back on his heels, head tilted. She gazed at his impassive face. Is this too far gone to fix?
"The ball? You just left?" He regarded her, expression unreadable.
Hawke felt a flash of irritation. "No, I'm still there, Fenris," she snapped. "Yes, I left. I needed to speak to you. To apologise. Again."
He met her eyes for a moment and then dropped his gaze. After a moment she reached out and gently removed the purse still clutched in his hand. "This was for me?" she said carefully to the top of his head.
"There's still a lot of sow in here."
"That is what makes you indefinably Hawke." He smiled faintly. "I was going to give it to you before…" he faltered and shook his head. "But I could never find the right moment."
"In between our incessant arguments, you mean?"
"Fenris – "
He looked up at her sharply, his face set. "If that kiss meant anything to you…if your feelings towards me have changed, Hawke," he said urgently. "Tell me now. Mine are…most ardent. If you do not share them you will forever silence me and I will leave this place. Tonight. I cannot be your friend. There is too much – " he stopped, eyes wide and pleading.
She was still for a moment - is she counting again? he thought feverishly - then picked up a gauntleted hand and, eyes on his, brushed her lips along the knuckles. Grimacing slightly at the cold of the metal she pulled the glove off with a flourish, repeating the action on bare skin. He quivered slightly at the feel of warm lips feathering over a twist of lyrium. "Don't go."
He gazed at her silently as if waiting and she tugged gently at his hand in response. He moved forward so quickly she was caught off-guard, nearly ending up flat on her back and suddenly his mouth was slanted against hers, hot and desperate and she half laughed, half sighed into the kiss. Just as quickly he broke away and looked at her, eyes searching her face worriedly until she pulled him down on top of her again with a smile, tangling a hand in his hair when he groaned softly against her lips.
"In any case, I'm not sure I could ever silence you, Fenris," she said, brushing her tongue gently against his lower lip. He opened his mouth then and for a while everything was warmth and sensation and desire, lips and tongues tasting, hands sweetly caressing. He gradually became aware she was shifting slightly beneath him and opened his eyes to see the corpse had been rearranged into pose that was unmistakeably thumbs up. He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Am I to infer anything from this?"
"Just making sure you're not misreading my intentions for you. Your chest-plate is hard, and, amongst other things..."
"...so are these stairs. I may have a suggestion that will remedy all of these problems at once."
He hummed at her, narrowing his eyes slightly and then lifted himself, pulling her to her feet. He cast a thoughtful glance at the corpse.
"Maybe we should bury him after all."
"We can't. How will I know how you're feeling, what you're thinking after our next inevitable falling out?"
"You could always ask me."
"Where's the fun in that?" she replied lightly. He chuckled, turning his face away slightly and she pulled him gently around to press her lips to his. Ascending the stairs, she curled one hand into the fastenings of his armour and he gave her a small smile but the entrance to his drawing room he paused reluctantly.
"What is it?"
He did not quite meet her gaze. "You said once that inexperience was…endearing."
"Not that I can remember."
Hawke wound her arms around his waist, and smiled slyly up at him. "Looks like I've some lessons of my own to give you." She turned them both and walked him backwards into the room. "I can't promise to be gentle with you, however."
"I daresay I'll survive your attentions."
"In that case," she grinned and sketched a curtsey. "Shall we dance?"