AN: Sorry about the long wait! I hope the length makes up for it! Much thanks to my betas as well!


Deep Roading

(Part 2)

Time had started to lose its meaning as they traveled deeper into the abandoned roads the Dwarves had left behind. With no sun and moon to mark the progression of the hours, Hawke had tried to come up with other means to keep track. Their dwarven lanterns were of no help, as they burned continuously through enchantment. Hawke could only judge by the condition of his body, able to guess at the passage of time when he felt sleep or hunger creeping up on him. Hawke wondered if it was day or night above ground—while trying not to imagine just how many tons of stone strata were resting above them. Hawke couldn't see how Dwarves could feel so at home down here. Why weren't they more afraid of their tiny bubble of space collapsing underneath the sheer weight of Thedas above them? Hawke touched the rough surface of a stone wall. Bethany would have liked this; she had always been sneaking off to sinkholes and caves when they were small. Hawke could still remember his father's lectures on how unsafe it was to just go wandering off into caves. It was one of the few times his father had raised his voice. As the eldest sibling, the brunt of the lecture had been directed at him. "Andraste alive, boy! How could you let the twins go into that cave! Haven't I told you how unsafe that is? What if there had been a bear nesting there, or what if your brother or sister fell into a crevasse? What about lyrium exposure? Do you want to be madder than a milliner? And you know Bethany doesn't need to have her control tested by running around and being exposed to lyrium!"

Lyrium, Hawke spared the mineral a sour thought. It had started to crop up with much more frequency now, and the Fereldan had to wonder if the exposure he was receiving was dangerous. He was no mage, yet he swore that he could feel the stuff in the walls now. It almost seemed like his blood quickened now each time they passed a new vein. His heartbeat quickened when he passed a blue-white intrusion in the walls. Was he becoming addicted? Was it Hawke's imagination, or was he really tasting the metal on his tongue? Or maybe the lyrium around them was only more reactive because of their companion from Tevinter.

Hawke glanced at Fenris out of the corner of his eye, and felt a kernel of warmth igniting in his core. The rogue quickly averted his gaze as he imagined himself licking that sweet, burning lyrium. Would it explode with sparks against his tongue? Would the markings pulse and glow under his mouth and touch? Would it feel good for Fenris? Hawke wondered if he could erase the lingering memory of agony in the elf's skin and replace it with something sinfully better. He cast his eyes over those gleaming white lines again. Maker, they go on forever don't they? Just how far did those markings go anyway? Hawke could easily imagine them hugging the elf's body, curling around a slender waist, conforming to sharp shoulder blades, and bisecting strong muscles. Would it taste like steel, or would it be sweeter? He could almost feel a buzzing in his teeth; was that his imagination or was it the lyrium in the air?

Maybe he was simply starting to go mad. The metal was more dangerous than quicksilver after all, though more unpredictable in effect. Hawke jumped as the air crackled loudly. A soft, unfamiliar oath escaped Fenris. His lips were pulled back in an open, defiant snarl as the markings on his skin violently reacted to a vein encircling the tunnel. Blue lightning danced over the elf's body, rending the air with that terrible sound. Bodahn, the merchant dwarf inspected the exposure without touching it.

"Mmm. Yes, this deposit is much purer than the other's we've come across so far. Might be why there was a stronger reaction… um… Messere…"

Fenris said nothing, instead gritting his teeth and moving forward. Each pace forward took an age, every step as deliberate as an aged Chanter's cleansing the sacred halls. When the elf escaped the invisible sphere of the lyrium's influence he gasped, taking in air like a man saved from drowning. Hawke discovered that he'd been holding his breath as well and let out a long sigh. Fenris's breathing was much more ragged as he sucked air through his teeth, back into his lungs. Somehow, Fenris was still standing on his own, although he was a bit more hunched over than usual. He looked as if he wanted to clutch at his own arms, but his hands hovered a few inches above them instead. Apparently Fenris didn't want to risk even touching himself.

The sight made Hawke feel guilty for his fantasies, mere moments ago. It must have been that damned metal. The rogue was starting to feel that it would be nothing short of a miracle if he didn't come out of this expedition without a Templar-like dependence on the stuff. (Because surely these thoughts came from the influence of lyrium.) He was a man, and he could master his desires!

What he told himself did not dispel the idea of a wanton Fenris gasping beneath him with hot breath and arching hips. The Fereldan suppressed a shudder, flush staining his cheeks, as his mind tenaciously offered him ways to rob the elf of breath and make him pant. Hawke turned his eyes forward, afraid to even accidentally meet the other's gaze.

...

Overall, the expedition had been progressing along rather well. They had only seen a handful of giant spiders and a smattering of darkspawn so far. This was both a blessing and a curse, as it left Hawke's mind free to wander.

Currently his mind had wandered down his elvish companion's back, following the path of exposed skin along Fenris's spine. How he longed to draw his fingers up that inviting little road of flesh! If only they were alone, Hawke would do just that, dragging his fingers along the gentle groove of the elf's spine. He'd let his fingers stay there and come around to face Fenris. Hawke would gaze deeply into those wide, elven eyes—get lost in them—and then he'd start to pull Fenris closer to him, breastplate digging into the rogue's sternum. Next, Hawke would tease his fingers into that slit, hand sliding underneath the man's tunic. He'd smooth his hand over hidden flesh until he came to cup a shoulder blade in his palm. Are there vines swirling around his shoulders? How much of his back do they cover? Hawke decided, in his imagination, that there was a branching set of vines on each side of Fenris's back, twining together at the nape of the elf's neck. His fingers gently brushed at the edge of a marking. Their lips hovered mere inches from each other. Hawke reached between them with his free hand, slowly opening the clasps on Fenris's shirt, working to expose his navel, pulling the jerkin out of the belt. Just as Fenris reached over to rest his gauntlet-clad hand on the base of his neck, Hawke came back to the present with a bit of a start—and an erection. Oh Maker! I'm doing it again! His face was warm, and his breathing a touch ragged. He prayed that nobody else had noticed.

Hawke quickly glanced over at Isabela. She only smiled at him, rather like a crocodile. Hawke looked down at the ground, very interested in his footing. She was having fun, torturing him. Earlier she'd spent at least half an hour talking about oils and glistening slaves, and narrating the trails of various droplets down the elf's body. ("Ooh, just imagine, a droplet of sweet-smelling coconut oil trailing down over a hip bone, hugging the thigh and sliding easily down those long, lean legs, until it can cling no longer and falls to the ground from a delicate ankle bone.") It had been Varric who mercifully came to Hawke's rescue, telling the Rivaini woman that if she didn't stop, he would gladly steal her ideas for his next novel.

Hawke was aware of the pirate moving at the edges of his vision. She stood close to Fenris, though not quite close enough for their arms to touch.

Fenris sighed wearily, "What?"

Hawke could hear the devious smile in the woman's voice, "So that opening in your shirt… is that like backdoor access?"

Hawke's head snapped up, more than a bit horrified and unsettled. Isabela isn't secretly a blood mage, is she? Fenris seemed to be a bit startled as well, "What nonsense is this now?" He shook his head, "It's hot in Seheron. The main purpose for it was ventilation."

"Well you're not in Seheron now," She pointed out. The woman tapped a thoughtful finger to her gold lip piercing, "Didn't that leave your back exposed? I thought you were supposed to be a bodyguard." The duelist in Isabela apparently couldn't help pointing out such a flaw.

Fenris shrugged, "If we came under attack I was to stand between my master and his assailant. It also ensured that he could administer immediate 'discipline', if he deemed it necessary." As always, Fenris spoke matter-of-factly about the things his former master had done, yet Hawke was skilled enough now that he could detect the faint edge of anger and bitterness that lay beneath. Isabela's spirits were clearly dampened by the unexpected admission. She took a half step away from the man.

"Oh…"

"Save your pity," Fenris sneered. Hawke wondered what other scars, besides the lyrium brands, might be on the other's body.

Another image came to Hawke then. He was sitting on a bed with a fireplace glowing nearby. Fenris was standing on his knees, fiercely gripping a tall bedpost, with his back facing Hawke. He saw himself kissing the small of Fenris's back, thumbs gently brushing over white lines of lyrium and placing gentle kisses on faded whip scars. A low moan left Fenris, sending a jolt of arousal to Hawke's loins. The image faded almost as quickly as it came, but it felt different from his prior daydreams. This one had almost seemed more… prophetic, the opposite sensation of déjà vu. It was very strange.

And now he was hard again. Hawke rubbed his temples, vainly trying to picture something that would stifle his arousal. It was an exceedingly difficult task, standing behind the elf.

Hawke was starting to fear for his self-control. Even as a hormonal adolescent, he'd never had trouble diverting his mind from sex. Now it was all he could think about. Maker's breath, is this what it's like in Isabela's mind? Perhaps the pirate's influence was the answer for his stubborn libido. Or maybe it's because you haven't been with anyone for over three years now.

Hawke and his last paramour had been separated by the whims of bureaucracy. Their unit in the army had been dissolved, about a year before the Blight, and the men dispersed across Ferelden, which is how Hawke, and later on Carver, had ended up serving under Captain Varel. Hawke didn't even know if his former lover had survived the tumultuous events surrounding the Blight. Still, it wasn't thoughts of his ex-lover that had kept Hawke from pursuing romance until now. The suddenness of the separation and the helplessness of being pulled apart was a wound that had taken a long time to close. Perhaps now that I'm my own man—not a soldier—it's time to try again? It was something to seriously consider. He was certainly attracted to Fenris, at the very least.

"So tell me Fenris," Isabela had already rebounded from her earlier misstep. "Is your Alienage decorated with lyrium?"

"I—What?" Fenris's dark brows were furrowed in confusion for a moment before his expression shifted to a more wary look. His face was rife with mistrust, "What are you talking about?"

The woman laughed, "Your mighty blade! Your night-commander! Your tuber in an amusing shape of generous proportions. Your Chanter's scroll! Your ship's prow. Your—"

"I get it," the elf said wearily. Hawke suspected Fenris would have pinched his brow if he hadn't been wearing those spiky gauntlets. Varric was trying to hold in his laughter, biting onto a gloved knuckle. Hawke was still stuck on 'night-commander.' He wondered if he'd ever be able to think about the chief Templar with the same amount of fear and intimidation as before.

Isabela laughed again, "So come on, tell me then! How far do those markings of yours go?"

Fenris was saved from her invasive line of questioning when their caravan came to a stop. The path they were following was covered in rubble. It didn't look like the prospects of clearing it out were any good, if Bartrand's reaction to the news was anything to go by.

He sucker-punched the poor dwarf across the jaw, with what Varric would later describe as a girlish shriek of rage, "Useless! What am I paying you blighters for?" Bartrand barked out orders for camp to be set. Hawke approached his business partner, Varric at his side.

The beardless dwarf spoke first, "Problems brother?"

Batrand sounded like he was ready to start spitting teeth at any moment, "Sodding Deep Roads! Who knows how long it'll take to clear the path!"

"Shall we not try to find a way around instead? Seems like the logical choice."

"You think I'm an idiot, Varric? The scouts say the side passages are too dangerous!"

Hawke tried to calm Bartrand with a steady, even tone, "We need to do something, sitting here in the open is just as dangerous."

"We'll take a look brother. If we come back, running and screaming, you'll know staying put was the right decision."

Bartrand waved his hands, "Fine, fine! Find a way around. Just do it quickly!"

Just as Hawke and Varric had finished placating Bartrand, Bodahn approached them with a pleading voice, "I'm sorry to add to your troubles Messere, but my boy Sandal is missing! I fear he's wandered off into those passages! I only turned my back for a moment and then he was gone! I suppose I should have been sterner with my lectures…"

"We'll keep an eye out for him, I promise." Hawke privately doubted that the 'Enchanted' boy was still alive, but Bodahn seemed convinced that Sandal would be safe, as long as he didn't get lost.

Going through the side tunnel proved to be a real challenge for them. There were many monsters, and not just darkspawn, but giant spiders as well. Hawke hated them. He spent most of the battle hiding behind Varric, throwing rocks at the disgusting things. When they were small, Carver and Bethany used to catch spiders—big ones—and then dump them on their older brother while he was asleep. Sometimes he'd find his boots filled with them, massive colonies of black, hairy, writhing spiders. Confronting arachnids with bloated abdomens the size of grown men did not do anything to curb Hawke's fears. Carver and Bethany had been too good; they had ingrained the phobia in him for life. Varric was never going to let him hear the end of it.

"Hawke, I don't understand you," the dwarf said conversationally, as he let fly a volley of fire from Bianca. "You can face down darkspawn with as little fear as a Warden, but you can't face giant spiders?"

"Well," Hawke answered "you can thank Bethany for that when we get back to Kirkwall." He sliced off the arm of a Hurlock with a rather explosive strike of his dagger. "She still puts spiders in my hair when she gets mad at me." Varric chuckled softly and let Bianca rain a shower of bolts down on their enemies.

The creatures were slowing down, and the small skirmish was nearly won. Hawke let his daggers sink into the shoulders of a Genlock, utterly surprised when the tip of a great sword emerged from the creature's spine. He retrieved his blades with an easy pull. As the creature slowly sank to the ground and Fenris came into sight. Hawke felt a stupid grin forming on his face; he couldn't suppress it to save his life. He secretly hoped it appeared at least a little dashing.

"Well hello there. You come here often?" Hawke chuckled a little nervously.

Predictably, Fenris said nothing, although he did give the man a strange, appraising sort of look. The elf flicked his wrist to get the fresh blood off of his blade. Hawke didn't really feel deflated by the elf's indifference. He was feeling a bit more mortified at himself, and that he had actually said something so stupid out loud. He suddenly noticed Isabela smirking at him. Hawke wished he had even half of her mastery at stealth. He wouldn't mind turning invisible right about now. Courage Hawke, take heart! You haven't completely lost face yet. At least you haven't pulled out a terrible Antivan 'How you doing?' yet! If you do the accent, then you can stay here in the Deep Roads to die a terrible, tragic death. No one will ever have to know. Well, he'd have to kill Isabela and Varric first. Then no one would ever have to know.

As it turned out, Bodahn was right about Sandal. They found him further on in the caverns, dozens of darkspawn littered at his feet. The young savant was covered in blood, but otherwise looked no worse for the ordeal. Hawke approached the wayward lad. "Are you all right? How on earth did you fell all these darkspawn?"

Sandal held up a stone with a strange marking on it, "Boom!"

Hawke took the stone a bit gingerly, "And how did you manage that?" Sandal looked at the large, crystalline Ogre behind him. After a moment he turned back to Hawke with his answer.

"Not Enchantment!" With his curiosity about the Deep Roads sated, Sandal started to head back from the direction they had come.

"Smart kid," Varric observed quietly. Hawke felt inclined to agree. He glanced over at Fenris, wondering how the other was coping with the larger, wilder branches of lyrium they were encountering. Hopefully they had passed the last such tree-like formations for awhile. The elf was the first to press on. Had he noticed Hawke's gaze? Was he trying to prove that he wasn't weak? Hawke certainly didn't think that of Fenris! Or perhaps he was just reading too much into things. He cast his eye about the bodies quickly, to make sure they hadn't overlooked any good loot and then started down the hallway. He could almost hear the next group of darkspawn already. The short passage turned into a set of steps, and another long, open hall he had grown accustomed to seeing. There were large statues here of stoic Dwarven paragons, otherwise anonymous to the ignorant human. And darkspawn, lots of darkspawn.

There wasn't a lot of talking in this battle, the quips were fewer and the fighting a bit more intense. Hawke cried out as a blade ripped down his arm, leather slicing with repulsive ease to expose his limb. He managed to sip at a poultice, spilling the rest of it on his arm. It numbed the pain well enough for him to continue. He'd have to do something about his armor later though, after the battle. The rogue managed to avoid getting any further injuries as they thinned out the ranks of the darkspawn. Just as he threw a flask to stun one of the creatures, Hawke thought he felt a soft rumble coming from the floor. It set off warning bells in his head. He glanced up and saw a few darkspawn trickling into the room from an opening they hadn't noticed before. The feeling of dread grew stronger. Fenris rushed past him, ready to clash and meet these new foes with a sweep of his blade.

A sick sense of déjà vu washed over Hawke as an Ogre ducked into the hall. He was back in Lothering, the Deep Roads gone, and all he could see was—"Carver! No!" Except that Carver didn't have a shock of white hair crowning his head. Carver didn't wield a sword impossibly too big for his frame. It was Fenris now standing closest to the Ogre, but all Hawke could remember—all he could flaming see—was a hand reaching down to pluck his brother from this world again. The rogue sprinted towards the foe, pulling out one of the many abandoned daggers he had claimed for himself. He threw it with all his might at the fiend, screaming at the top of his lungs. Anything to take attention away from his brother! "Face me, you bastard!" The Ogre barely seemed to notice the mild annoyance of a dagger suddenly sprouting below its collarbone. Someone else called out Hawke's name, but he could scarcely hear it over the rushing in his ears.

A Genlock appeared between him and the towering Ogre and Hawke let out a curse, slashing the creature's throat with one of his blades. He couldn't let Carver down again! Not like this! All sense of discipline and self-preservation were lost. His hands shook as fear and adrenaline flooded through his body. Carver was too far away, and panic was ruling over Hawke. He wouldn't make it in time. "Carver, get out of there!" But Carver didn't listen to him, that stubborn brat! He never listened. Hawke had always been such a terrible elder brother. He was supposed to protect his little brother; instead all he had done was lead him into trouble, ever since they were children. He felt like he might be sick as the Ogre lifted his hand and then reached down, trying to flatten his foe like a bug.

"CARVER!"

Except, Hawke realized (at last) that it wasn't Carver, and he came to a halt as the clash between reality and frantic panic tried to resolve itself. Carver couldn't glow like a beacon in the middle of battle. Carver was stockier and heavier than this other warrior. Carver wasn't an elf.

In the back of his mind, Hawke knew he was still in danger, that he should still be moving, fighting, but he was too busy trying to understand. The Carver in his memory had not reached into the creature's massive hand and pulled back a limb covered in gore with a bone clenched in his fist. The Ogre staggered away from the man with the blade, towards the motionless rogue. Carver had not turned to face Hawke in the haze of battle.

Carver had not survived.

And this was the source of Hawke's confusion. He looked up quite stupidly, at the enraged beast was towering over him now, infuriated by the damage to its hand. There was nothing but silence in his ears as Hawke looked up in wonder at the Ogre who had not killed his brother.

The world was moving so slowly for him, it seemed like he had plenty of time to try and piece things together. Ah yes… this… was not Lothering, Hawke finally saw as a bloody hand lifted up. And that warrior… was not Carver. Hawke almost felt like smiling, now that he had figured that part out, watching with detachment as that giant fist grew larger. Suddenly a fan of foul Darkspawn blood sprayed across his vision. Hawke felt himself falling to the ground, with not-Carver on top of him. Time had started to increase in tempo again, and he watched in amazement as four crossbow bolts seemed to suddenly grow from the Ogre's face in the space of a few seconds. Isabela sprang from the shadows, landing on the creature's shoulders, sinking her knives into the thing's neck, black plumes of vile blood spraying from the wound. A great shudder went through the beast, and it lay still. Hawke also realized that he could hear again, and that the battle had ceased. He looked to the warrior, still lying on top of him from where they had crashed. Everything became perfectly clear as he identified the man on top of him. Ah, right. So it was Fenris. Not Carver then.

He felt so stupid.

The elf pushed himself up to his feet, using the rogue's shoulder for leverage, a sour expression on his face. Hawke was surprised at the weight. Fenris was heavier than he looked. Perhaps it was a consequence of having a body made purely of muscle. Hawke realized that all three of his companions were staring at him. After a few moments of silence, it was Fenris who finally spoke. "Who is Carver?"

Hawke looked down at the floor, wishing that it might open up and swallow him. Shame, embarrassment, and guilt were all clamoring to be felt most keenly.

"He… my brother. We lost him in Lothering…" He paused. Hawke was surprised by how thick his throat was, how hard it was to talk about this "…to an ogre."

Isabela let out a sharp sigh touched with irritation and pity. "Maker's breath Hawke, you don't have to be that eager to join him you know!"

Hawke felt slightly sickened with himself. They could have all died, trying to save his worthless ass.

"It won't happen again. I'm sorry."

"See that it doesn't," Fenris said in a hard tone, "Next time you might share his unhappy fate."

It took all of Hawke's self-control not to shove his face into his hands and groan. Perfect. Just perfect. Now his companions all probably thought he was insane or far too delicate to continue on with this expedition. Hawk got up to his feet carefully, "It just caught me off guard. I already said it won't happen again."

"Hmph. It better not," Varric groused. "Your sister made me promise to bring you back in one piece, Fereldan. I don't want to disappoint Sunshine."

Hawke felt a crooked grin splitting his features, "I'm not that cruel am I? I wouldn't let Bethany lose both her brothers."

Besides, he could actually still protect her. He wouldn't let the Templars take apart what was left of his family. They needed each other too much, and losing Bethany would kill Mother. Hawke frowned, thinking of his little sister. He trusted Aveline to watch over her while he was gone. He trusted Bethany's good sense and a lifetime of experience at evading mage-hunters. Maybe he'd take Bethany and Mother on a trip to Orlais when this expedition was done. Just a little while longer, and they'd have no need to separate, ever again.

Later, while they were fighting a healthy-sized dragon, Hawke realized that he and Fenris had touched for the first time.

The thought made him feel a bit like a young farm girl. He still felt like one, even as his daggers ripped through the dragon's wing.

...

The further they progressed, the more it seemed that they had to deviate from the actual Deep Roads into the natural caverns and tunnels of the earth. Some road ways had been sealed off, forcing them to go around, and sneak through the deep places like Wardens.

Hawke made mental notes of each resource they passed, most intrigued by a pool of bronze colored liquid Varric named 'Orichalcum.' Worthy could probably put it to use in crafting runes.

The lyrium they encountered now was also fascinating. It took on shapes, growing up the walls like trees and vines or forming natural murals of swirls in the walls. Beautiful as it was, it was wreaking havoc on Fenris. He followed a bit slower, glowing like a beacon, and his markings seemed to excite the lyrium around them.

An eerie sound echoed throughout the walls. Hawke was reminded of Sister Leliana showing him and his sister how to make glass goblets 'sing.'

"In Orlais there is a beautiful instrument called the armonica. It is a favorite instrument of many noble ladies, because it does not create calluses on the hands. All one simply needs to do in order to play is dab their fingers in a bit of water and work the pedal on the bottom to spin the shaft holding the glass bowls." The memory of simpler days made his heart ache a little bit. The 'music' slowly faded as they left the lyrium forest behind, and Hawke turned back to take a look at his friend.

Fenris didn't look so good, he was hunched over even more than usual and positively covered in sweat. There were dark circles under his eyes, and Hawke realized with a shock that the elf must have been denying himself sleep. Or perhaps the other simply couldn't sleep.

His first instinct, of course, was to call a halt to their little caravan, but he knew that course of action would only lead to an untimely death at the hand of the irritated elf. Well, if Fenris suspected his motives anyway.

Instead, Hawke scanned the floor, found a likely spot, and gave out a cry as he slid to the ground. Hawke growled out little curses, and grabbed his ankle tightly while Bartrand and Varric came over to investigate his troubles.

"Sorry! I'm all right…. It's just… twisted. Maker that smarts! Do you think… we could stop here for a bit? Might as well make camp right? It's pretty late today isn't it?"

He damn well hoped so at least. He was feeling ready for dinner, at least. Bartrand spat on the floor and growled out several uncomplimentary observations about Hawke and Ferelden as he gathered the rest of their caravan to start setting up camp. Varric didn't say anything, merely lifted a brow at him. Hawke just smiled apologetically.

The beardless dwarf snorted lightly, and spoke in a soft tone so that it wouldn't carry to their friends, "Your acting sucks Hawke."

Hawke stubbornly continued with his little charade, "Oh go ahead and bite me dwarf, I was so hungry I couldn't see straight, is it any wonder I couldn't walk straight either?" Varric's eyes lit up with a smile, as if to say 'much better.'

"I can think of much more pleasing ways to get a person unable to walk straight," Isabela helpfully added, as she walked over to inspect Hawke. "You want to try?"

Hawke pursed his lips, "Isabela, you may not take advantage of my injury to take advantage of me."

The woman chuckled softly, completely unabashed, "Spoilsport. I was thinking about myself you know. I haven't had my Deep Roads explored since we left Kirkwall!"

Varric shook his head, "Rivaini, that is entirely too much information."

"Well nobody told me that there was going to be no sex on this little expedition! I was promised virgins and deflowerings, if you recall."

"Those were metaphorical virgins Rivaini, as such, they are only good for metaphorical deflowerings," Varric only grinned at Isabela's pout.

"Metaphorical rutting is my least favorite kind." The woman put her hands on her hips, clearly upset with these selfish men not considering her needs!

"I think you'll be able to survive without, pirate," Varric chuckled, "You're worse than the son of an Antivan nobleman."

Isabela rounded on their straggling companion, "Fenris! You must be willing to help a girl out, yes?"

His answer was biting and clear. "Not even if it would kill an Archdemon."

"Hmph. You say that now, but you'll come 'round. Someday you'll regret those ill-chosen words and you'll be begging for me to have a go around your mizzenmast."

Hawke nearly burst out in laughter at the expression on Fenris' face. It was equal parts disgust and horror—perhaps at the metaphor more than anything else. It could be hard to tell, sometimes, with Fenris.

Isabela made a sound of frustration, "Balls. I'd swear I was surrounded by eunuchs! Varric! As the last bastion of manliness, you've got to help me out!"

The dwarf chuckled, "Sorry Isabela. You know I'm spoken for. Bianca is a touchy lady, and she doesn't like to share."

The pirate threw up her arms in despair. "Well I wish someone had told me we were bringing along the Chantry on this little expedition!"

Hawke decided some retribution was in order, "Why not think of the upside?"

The woman lifted a dark brow, "Oh? What's that?"

Hawke smirked at his compatriot, "Think of the poor, sex-starved populace you left behind in Kirkwall desperately waiting for your return. I'm sure the city is feeling the strain worse than when Madame Lusine had to close the Rose during the last bout of flu."

Several expressions tried to cross Isabela's face at the same time. Eventually, she settled on a grudging sort of smile. "I suppose you're right about that. I'll just have to think about whom to dally with first on my return. There's so many to choose from…"

Surprisingly, Isabela fell silent, seriously contemplating the matter. Occasionally a name would pass her lips, but otherwise she was now totally devoted to this new idea. Hawke could only hope that this would remain so. Perhaps she'd stop spending the entire day trying to torture him with salacious thoughts of Fenris. He didn't need help fantasizing about the elf!

Hawke glanced over at Fenris and bit his lip. The elf was sitting on a wooden cask, inspecting his sword, whetstone in hand. The hilt was resting on Fenris's thigh, against his hip with the tip of the blade wedged into a seam between two uneven flagstones. With slow, smooth strokes the elf was running the stone down the edge of the blade, a low scraping filling the air. The rogue found the motion fascinating, and suggestive, and he could feel his blood seeping into his cheeks. Each time the elf stretched his arm out to the fullest, his hand returned to the base of the sword, between his legs, slowly starting the motion over again. Dear Maker, is this some kind of test? Punishment? Hawke received no answer from the absent god. The only sound that filled the quiet was the scrape of stone on metal. Hawke swallowed nervously. It was all too easy to imagine Fenris tending to a very different 'sword,' moving his arm like that. The rogue drew in a breath. He couldn't take this any longer; he needed to stop the elf before he fell to madness. Against his better judgment, Hawke got up and walked over to Fenris in order to engage the other man in conversation.

As anticipated, Fenris ceased his captivating task and looked up at the human, "Yes, Hawke?" Hawke suddenly felt like he was frozen. He had no idea what he was going to say! He opened his mouth, as though hoping the right words would just spill out. Instead he looked a little bit like an ass, so Hawke quickly closed his mouth again.

Clearing his throat he tried again, "Uh… hello Fenris. I just thought I would… we could talk." Hawke could feel the blush spreading on his face all the way to the back of his neck.

Fenris's expression barely changed, but for the raised brow, "….about?"

Hawke rubbed the back of his neck, "Um, well…I just… wanted to know if I could borrow that whetstone." He gave himself a small, well-deserved, mental pat on the back for such adroit thinking.

Fenris glanced down at the stone in his hand briefly, "I suppose you may… when I finish." Hawke suddenly felt less triumphant.

"Right, of course," he tried to think of a way to keep the conversation going. "So uh…" The circles underneath Fenris's eyes were even more obvious up close. "…Have you not been sleeping well Fenris?" The elf looked up at Hawke through his hair, and then set the whetstone down on the crate beside him.

"Hrm. Is that why you put on that ridiculous charade? I'm fine. I've simply been… avoiding the Fade," Fenris cast his eyes elsewhere, avoiding Hawke's concerned gaze.

"By not sleeping you mean?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing!

"My dreams have been… rather vivid as of late. Part of me wonders if the markings and the lyrium in the walls are keeping me… conscious in the Fade when I should be asleep." Fenris scowled deeply. He was no mage, and he had no desire to explore that place beyond simple dreaming.

Hawke understood the man's fears, but he was more worried about the other's health, "You need to sleep though, you can't keep yourself exhausted like this, it's too dangerous down here."

Fenris shot an annoyed glare at the other, "I'm not weak. I've kept myself going under harsher conditions than this."

Hawke held out his hands in a gesture of peace, "I don't doubt that Fenris. I know you're tough, but you aren't invincible either… I just... worry." He paused, and then added softly, "I don't want to lose anyone like I lost Carver." The elf relaxed slightly, now that he knew the suggestion wasn't a personal affront to his strength.

"…It isn't just the dreams," Fenris admitted softly. "I haven't slept properly in years. Whenever I traveled with Danarius I was not permitted to sleep, in case assassins might make an attempt on his life." His olive eyes seemed flat and distant, as he gazed beyond Hawke. "He did whatever it took to keep me from sleep. Pain, denying my food, or giving me cocoa leaves to chew. More often than not, he would pour energy into my markings… I was incapable of sleep, because he required it of me."

Hawke's mind was swirling. How could someone go without sleep for that long? His fingertips twitched, he wanted nothing more than to rest his palm on the other's shoulder.

"Fenris," Hawke started to say, knowing that whatever he said would be pathetic and completely inadequate. He still wanted to try, to say something.

"I was no longer able to choose when I could sleep. Even though I was exhausted, when we returned to his estate, I couldn't resume a ….regular… sleeping schedule. Of course, he found a solution to this too. Whenever we returned from such extended visits and journeys, all he had to do was give me enough wine to drown myself and then I would be able to sleep again."

Hawke wondered if the next question was too impertinent, "Is that why you drink? In order to sleep?"

"Yes, it seems that ever since I've been on the run, old… conditioning has kicked in. I am trying to move past it, but… it seems the vigil I must keep to protect myself is similar enough to when I was on guard for assassination attempts for Danarius that I find it nearly impossible to sleep. Without help."

"….I wish you'd said something, we could have brought some wine with us." This remark seemed to irritate Fenris, after a brief moment of surprise, but Hawke was spared any caustic remarks by a sudden interruption from Isabela.

"JETHANN! Yes! I choose you! " The entire camp jumped as she suddenly screamed out the name. Hawke and Fenris both shifted awkwardly. Fenris had been there when the admittedly brazen prostitute had offered Hawke his services. This also meant that Fenris had also been present for his very delayed and awkward refusal.

Hawke coughed softly and chuckled, "I guess she's decided…. I had been hoping that might keep her occupied for a bit longer than that…"

Fenris was massaging his head carefully with a sigh, "I suppose it was too much to hope for a respite from her constant harassment."

"You have gotten better at dealing with her though," Hawke observed conversationally. "When we first met you didn't know what to do with her remarks at all. Or mine." Oh Maker, No! Why are you talking about this of all things? Don't bring up your pathetic attempts at flirting, you nug-brained idiot!

Fenris considered his answer before speaking, "The woman makes her intentions quite clear and obvious. She is only after momentary pleasure… I haven't figured out what motives lie behind your remarks yet."

Hawke blushed so hard he expected to find bruises on his face later, "I… I may not know myself yet, but… they are… fondly intended at least." His tongue felt like an ungainly piece of leather in his mouth, heavy and useless.

"Fondly," the elf repeated the word a bit skeptically.

"Yes… fondly," Hawke parroted, his voice threatening to crack. He cleared his throat. "I mean… you can… feel free to ignore me if you like, I just uh… you're very… hard to ignore." Mossy hazel eyes widened momentarily, and the elf briefly glanced over each shoulder, as though looking for who Hawke was really talking too. That uncertainty was somehow endearing, perhaps even 'adorable.' Of course, being a Fereldan, Hawke also thought vicious war hounds were adorable too. He rubbed at the blush on the back of his neck. "Maybe I should stop talking."

Fenris was looking at him with dark, unfathomable eyes. Hawke continued to stand there, like a silent fool, worrying that perhaps the elf had noticed his obscene stares when he heard Fenris murmur to him.

"You don't have to stop," The elf was very interested in his sword, laying it across his lap now. He spoke to the blade, instead of to the human in front him, "It's… I don't know anything about….matters like these." He gestured vaguely with a gauntlet. "You can… do as you will, however I may not…" Fenris trailed off for a moment, apparently unsure on how to end that sentence. He brushed his fingers over the pommel of his sword. "I will admit I am…. unused to the idea of… tenderness," his eyes lifted up to Hawke again with a look that suggested he was prepared to run at a moment's notice. Was Fenris trying to warn him? Dissuade him? Hawke wasn't sure how to interpret that slight hint of desperation in the other's gaze.

The rogue smiled nervously, unsure if that was the proper response or not. "Well, maybe we can change that." An uncomfortable, awkward silence followed that. Hawke cast his eyes everywhere except on the elf in front of him.

Fenris finally replied minutes later, "I will try to sleep tonight."

Hawke finally relaxed and gave the elf a relieved smile, "Good. You deserve a rest. I'm going to go see if I can help speed up dinner now." The man turned to leave, pocketing the whetstone as he left. His sticky fingers had never come in handier. Hawke chuckled softly when he heard an irritated 'venhedis!' as Fenris vainly tried to find his sharpening stone.

...

When Hawke crawled into his bedroll that night, he tried to keep his mind clear, but he kept thinking about Fenris. His spine and the sinuous body hidden beneath those clothes. His voice and the throaty laugh Hawke had startled out of the elf on the night they first met. The shape that those markings might make beneath the other's armor. The olive skin and wide green eyes. Hawke drifted off to sleep while idly fantasizing about those tight leggings; running his fingers along soft leather before he slipped into the Fade.

When he arrived there, in the swirling fog of dreams, he was not alone.

Fenris…?