Times Gone By
A Dragon Age 2 fic
A/N: By now you probably know that I write largely to music. This piece, in particular, was originally inspired by my love of classical opera, specifically, Verdi's immortal piece from Nabucco, Va pensiero , which is, to sum it up crudely, the song of slaves longing for their lost home and freedom.
The other, entirely different song, kind of undercurrent, if you will, came to it when I was listening to Eel's Agony. The two pieces slowly mingled and at the end, this story was born.
Fly, thought, on wings of gold; Greet the banks of the Jordan
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!
and Zion's toppled towers...
Oh, my country so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance so dear and so fatal!
Greet the banks of the Jordan
-Verdi, Nabucco—Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves
Am I gonna be alright?
No, I'm not gonna be alright, nothin' is alright now
Am I gonna see the sun come up?
Or am I goin' down?
'Cause everyday I'm here
All I feel is sheer agony
He really doesn't understand what this is all about, but Hawke is all excited and almost bubbly… and that hasn't happened, really, since her mother died. There is something about the opening performance of the city theater for this season, which, considering the events of the Qunari sacking of the city and the viscount's death is almost miraculous…
"I'll have to play security, of course." Aveline says brusquely as she presses the tickets, large-ish paper invites with elaborate calligraphy on them, in Hawke's hand. They look fancy and expensive and official; Fenris, sitting there at his usual place in a corner, wonders whether they were specially made for the Champion. "Meredith will have her own Templars around her, but there are still enough nobles that require the warm fuzzies, and there's nothing that provides that better than the Guard Captain herself patrolling the box corridors. Apparently." she adds with a sour frown.
"Well, I'll be safe, I think." The new Champion of Kirkwall grins, and almost bounces on her seat as she looks at everyone else around the table. "Listen, I know that not all of you are the theater-going types, but surely, some wouldn't mind doing the honors and spending an evening with me… all expenses paid?" She wiggles her eyebrows and raises her voice slightly as Varric and Isabela are in a heated discussion at the end of the table about who owes how much to the other after last night's slightly illegal greyhound race, and given that the Guard Captain is within earshot, it's not exactly the best move on their part.
"Sorry, Hawke." Varric says a bit sheepishly as he accepts a jingling pouch from a pouting Isabela. He's apparently in an appeasing mood, as he continues in the same vein. "You know I'm a patron of the arts, so…count me in."
"Patron of the arts, all right." Isabela snickers. "You mean you visit the Blooming Rose twice a week?"
"Shut up, Rivaini." The dwarf says mildly. "Just for that, I'll take you with me to see the performance… what are they showing, anyway, Red?… Err, Guard-Captain, ma'am?" he adds hastily as Aveline's expression darkens.
"It's Emerio." Aveline says, and Fenris sees Hawke practically clap her hands in delight.
"Oh, perfect!" she says, and then she turns to him, her face all lit up with one of those smiles that turn his insides into a painful mess of guilt, bewilderment and anticipation. "Fenris, you absolutely need to see this one. It's about Radun and the revolt of 25 Ancient!" And, as he stares at her in confusion, she shakes her head with a slight disapproving click of her tongue. "Don't tell me you lived in this city for almost five years and know nothing about its history. The great slave revolt that resulted in the city of Emerium finally being free from Tevinter rule, renamed as Kirkwall and accepting Andraste's faith! It's a grand, grand piece of theater, with music and cleverly done stage effects…there's intrigue, and majestic scenes and a tale of love and betrayal with swordfights and knifings and such…"
"As usual in these." Varric mutters, flicking an imaginary piece of dirt off his cuffs. "Elf, I wouldn't resist if I were you. When it comes to music, Hawke can be pretty… passionate."
Isabela snickers again.
"Laugh now, Rivaini." Varric says mildly. "You were there when she almost broke that girl's teeth over some differences of interpretation about a verse in a song…"
"It wasn't just any song!" Hawke cuts in, gesturing wildly. "She changed the lyrics to Ae Fond Kiss, dammit." She turns to where Sebastian sits with an amused expression on his face, sipping on his wine. "You tell them ignorant sods, please."
"Ae fond kiss, and then we sever/Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!/Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee/ Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee." the exiled prince recites, almost singing in his baritone voice, which, Fenris must admit, is quite good, trained in the long years of Chantry singing. "I'm assuming she tried to 'modernize' the 'quaint' turns of phrases there, right, Hawke?" he asks, pronouncing the words with distaste. "Why Kirkwallers think Starkhaven accent is something that needs to be scrubbed out of old folk songs, I'll never understand." He shrugs. "And while I wouldn't exactly have gone as far as… fisticuffs over a song…" He tries to look stern as a scolding Chantry brother should, but the effect is ruined by the goblet of wine and the open collar, "...I must admit, your enthusiasm for doing things the right way is commendable, Champion."
"Aw, you're such a sweetie." Hawke says fondly, and leans across the table to brush her lips across Sebastian's cheeks. Fenris feels his nails cut into his palms as he balls them into fists and he has to turn slightly aside so the feral curl of his lips exposing his canines doesn't show. "Will you come with me, too?"
He's a brother of the Chantry, Fenris reminds himself sternly; he tries to even his breathing as he watches Sebastian blush slightly and nod and mutter something about how he would have been there anyway due to Grand Cleric Elthina's appearance. Sworn to chastity and renewing his vows just this year. He's the one who hears your informal confessions on occasion. Not to mention, you have really no right to claim over Hawke.
All of that sounds very cool and logical… and yet, the facts remain: the way he still holds his breath when she looks at him; the way he still wants to rip out every man's throat who smiles at her; the way every unexpected kindness she shows towards him make his heart ache with an emptiness he almost forgets when he's not with her.
And that's precisely why he can't do anything else but nod and acquiesce after Sebastian assures Hawke that he'd be there; to see that smile on her face light up the dim taproom of the Hanged Man, the smile that shows all too rarely of late.
"I knew you would." she says, eyes sparkling. Her hand reaches out... and stops abruptly about half an inch from his on the table.
That was close.
Hawke clears her throat, and Fenris grabs his cup and empties it and they both pretend that it just didn't happen. Everyone at the table takes their cues, and starts speaking at once, glances sliding off hastily from the two of them like arrows from armor.
He's still not quite sure about the whole thing when the evening of the performance arrives, and he finds himself in Hawke's mansion, with Varric wearing something with a stiff collar, way too much embroidery and tasseled shoulders, that he swears is formal Dwarven noble attire.
"They'd been up there for an hour." Varric says, pacing up and down on the parquet floor, glancing at the staircase. "I mean, I know women need...primping and such before grand occasions, but this is just a theater performance, by the Ancestors!"
"Apparently not." Fenris reminds him. "According to Aveline, it's much bigger than that."
"Yeah, don't remind me, elf." Varric mutters, adjusting his shoulder instinctively, and looking very uncomfortable without Bianca there. "First big official event since the disaster hereafter referred to as 'the Qunari incident'. Symbolic, even." He frowns. "And not having Bianca with me will cause me to fidget horribly. Perhaps even whistle."
"Don't worry." Fenris smiles a little; during the years, he unexpectedly grew fond of the dwarf. "I made a little…arrangement with Aveline regarding weapons." Varric's eyebrows go up, and the elf continues. "She or any of her guardsmen will make not to notice if our armaments are delivered in an 'inconspicuous manner' to the theater… 'box'." He pronounces the term carefully and with slight distaste. He nods towards the corner where their assorted heap of weaponry lays. "Would that be acceptable to you?"
"My dear elf…" Varric grins widely, and stops just in time from clapping Fenris on the back. Turning that motion into a hasty cough, he continues. "You continue to amaze me. One of these days, you may even stop brooding."
"I. Do. Not. Brood." Fenris says tiredly, but with the same little smile in the corner of his lips. It's an old game by now. He would never admit it, but he has grown to kind of like it.
"Well, let's just not argue about…oh, dear." Varric stops his pacing in front of the staircase, face upturned, and freezes dead on his tracks as he looks at the two appearing figures. "Oh, sweet dimpled buttcheeks of His Bride, we're in trouble."
Fenris agrees; oh, he does. Very much so, in fact, and in the next few minutes he busies himself concentrating on re-learning how to breathe and arrange his features into something resembling his usual neutral expression.
He also considers it's high time to go to confession again.
"Come on, Varric." Isabela, in the meantime, walks down the stairs, holding her gown's wide skirt gracefully to the side. "You don't have to lay it on that thick, although it's sweet. It's just a dress."
"Yep." Varric says, nodding. "Exactly." He steps out and takes the ex-pirate's hand, bowing gallantly over it, so he can whisper. "I don't know how you convinced her, but I think I owe you." He glances towards Hawke, who is following Isabela down. "Although I think we might have to tell Fenris to start breathing again."
Isabela chuckles, patting her dark hair, this time uncovered by her customary kerchief and twisted into an elaborate updo.
"Oh, let him suffocate if he so wishes; he's a free man, after all." Her earrings jingle as she shakes her head. "But you know, this was fun. Shopping for gowns and lacy little things, and getting Hawke into a corset…"
"I heard that." Hawke says darkly arriving at the bottom of the stairs. "And you shouldn't get any ideas into your pretty head just because of that." She surveys the grinning Isabela coolly. "This here relationship with you is built on mutual trust and not on the fact that we saw each others' tits in my bedroom."
Varric chokes on his own breath for a second.
"Oops, sorry." Hawke gracefully places a hand on her mouth. "That was the Fereldan soldier speaking. " She takes a deep breath and Fenris really tries not to look too closely. "I shall just call forth my charming Kirkwall noble persona I had so much chance to cultivate between killing the Arishok and chasing bandits and whatnots."
"Surely…." Varric says hastily, "…surely you had those tea parties and those little dinners and…"
"Indeed." Hawke says curtly and that conversation trail ends fast. Everyone in the room realizes they just touched on a subject that doesn't ever get discussed unless Hawke herself brings it up. Those dinners, tea parties, and the carefully displayed talent of her singing in front of a select audience were all her mother's efforts to integrate them fully into Kirkwall's nobility.
"So anyway." Hawke says into the silence that descended into the room. "Just because I don't wear this stuff every day doesn't mean I don't like it. Or that I don't know how. "She carefully lifts the rich wine-colored gown's hem and whirls around, grinning again. "See, Varric dear? Petticoats. Thought you might want independent confirmation that I actually own some."
"No one can say you don't clean up nice, Hawke." The dwarf shakes his head, bemused, and, apparently decides it is time to be cruel. "Right, elf?"
"Nasty, nasty." Isabela's murmur reaches Fenris' ear as he tries to stall for time by executing a semi-formal bow and realizes that he still remembers those courtesies with disturbing ease.
"As do we all." He decides to say, diplomatically, and sees to his greatest relief, that Hawke finally let the hem of her skirt down, so those damned lacy-edged petticoats are out of sight.
"Voice of reason in this crazy world." Hawke says, and claps her hands together briskly. "So, now that Fenris established we all look dashing, can we please go? You got the carriage, Varric, right?"
"Out front, waiting." The dwarf nods and holds an arm out to the ex-pirate. "If you would honor me, dear?"
By the time they load the ladies in the waiting carriage and make sure the assorted weaponry is 'inconspicuously' hidden in the rear coffers, Fenris is sure that this is, at least, almost the equivalent of one of Danarius' elaborate affairs he would really care not to remember. The theater is in one of those areas of Hightown he doesn't go very often; it's too close to the Viscount's empty palace and the Gallows. It's almost transformed with torches and oil lamps lighting the square, coaches and carriages unloading people dressed in all kinds of finery, and pedestrian theater-goers streaming in from all directions up on the wide stairs. Focusing on that, and making sure they are not in a very vulnerable position helps Fenris to get his mind off of the tingling that run through all his lyrium markings when, unavoidably, he needs to touch Hawke's arm to help her down the stairs of the carriage as they get out. Her cool fingers brush his palm for a brief second as she balances, and she smiles apologetically as she straightens and surveys the steps of the theater in front of them.
"Last time I was here we were milling with the common crowd in the pit. " she says with a wistful little smile and her eyes cloud over. "Mother insisted on bringing Bethany and me on her birthday, but that was all we could afford." She makes a face: her companions look at her a little worriedly. "And look at me now; all fancy and decked out, in such good company. I just wish…" She trails off and shakes her head almost angrily.
"It's all right, Hawke." Varric says and pats her hand awkwardly. "She is probably looking at you now from the Maker's side, nodding in approval."
"She is probably also saying I walk like a man, even in a gown like this." Hawke sniffles, the fragile moment of her weakness fluttering away, and Varric grins.
"Dear lady, I would say something about how you walk, but it would get me arrested for indecency." the dwarf says, golden hoop earrings glinting just as wildly as his teeth and Fenris has to turn sideways a little to hide a sudden smile. Because yes, when it all comes down to it, Hawke tries: her years as a soldier taught her the efficient, brisk, masculine walk of someone always in armor and always moving with a purpose. But her figure…well, plainly spoken, it doesn't really allow for it. No man has hips swaying quite like those in front of him now moving up the stairs, swathed in dark wine-colored rich silk…
He swallows thickly, and tears his eyes away with supreme effort. He takes pride, always, in his self-control, aided by long hours of daily meditation and breathing exercises he learned back in Tevinter and which served him well up till now. It's odd, he reflects with a self-deprecating little smirk as his breathing slows back down to its familiar pattern, how he manages not to care much when Hawke is in armor, or wears an adventurer's sensible gear… even though in those, perhaps, there is more showing from the shape of those hips and legs and waist. But the way that thick, rich silk slides on bare skin brings back memories of his own hands and lips replacing the fabric, and that simply won't do. Not tonight, not tomorrow… not ever.
Concentrating on his breathing and watching the crowd ought to do for controlling those memories, he decides, and, with a grim set of a frown in the corner of his mouth, he succeeds. It seems he still can muster the willpower for this, albeit it's harder and harder. He watches Hawke greet Sebastian and kiss the ring of the Grand Cleric reverently, watches them enter the theater together, sees the eyes on her, and hears the whispers of the crowd around them as they enter the large vestibule of the theater. It's huge, only half-lit, filled with shadows, nooks and crannies, every one of which is a perfect opportunity for any ill-wisher to jump out and attack from and only he can protect her from them, only he knows how to discern the patterns in the crowd, the telltale signs of assassins reaching for hidden daggers and garrotes, rogue mages forming spells to destroy...
"Easy, Broody." Varric touches his shoulder, his eyes serious. "Not everyone here is out to get her. Or you, for that matter."
"How do you know?" Fenris growls back, hands clutching at the bundle of assorted weapons he's hiding under his cloak. "Those all-female assassin squads we encountered just last week almost at her doorstep? The Dog Lords in Lowtown? The Undercuts on the Docks? Now that the Qunari are gone and there is no Viscount, Hawke is one of the only real powers in this town, whether she likes it or not. I doubt anyone would try to eliminate Knight-Commander Meredith any time soon…" he indicates the Templar contingent just entering the theater, with the ramrod-straight blonde Commander in the midst, "…and everyone seems to agree that the Grand Cleric is a saint. The First Enchanter only ever comes out of hiding if it is time for another verbal battle with the Knight-Commander. That leaves Hawke as the easiest target to eliminate."
"You know…" Varric says slowly as they follow Hawke and Isabela, chattering with Elthina and Sebastian, up the stairs to where the boxes of the nobility are, apart from the arena-like lower bowl of the commoners, "for an ex-slave who does nothing but brood and drink in a half-crumbled mansion, you have a pretty astute grip on the political reality of this city. Ever think about running for office, let me know, I can back you up with the money." He lifts a hand, seeing Fenris bristle. "As for this whole assassination business…you really think that they'd try something against her here, in a crowded theater, as opposed to trying to stick her when she leaves the Hanged Man after losing her shirt on Wicked Grace again, or when we come back exhausted from yet another mission to the Wounded Coast?"
Fenris wants to argue, he really does… but the words are stuck in his throat and Varric watches him with his amber eyes, patiently, as if waiting for him to work through the implications of what he was just doing.
"I understand that you want to protect her." The dwarf says quietly as he sees the expression in the elf's eyes change. "But think about what she'd say if she realized how or why." He lifts a hand, forestalling anything Fenris might want to say. "And you don't have to say anything right now either. Just...do everyone a favor and try to enjoy this."
Fenris feels his hands shaking a bit as he watches Hawke enter the box reserved for them, smile painting little wrinkles in the corners of her luminous eyes; she looks around, mouthing 'wow' to Isabela and they share a laugh.
"I have received an offer of employment." His words ring hollow as he turns to Varric. "Through Sebastian. To be a... weaponsmaster of a family he knows. Outside Kirkwall."
Varric watches as he struggles with the words, one eye following Hawke around the box as she scoots her chair closer to the edge of the box, excited like a little child, pointing out people to Isabela and waving at Aveline who appears briefly in the Templar box to confer with Knight-Captain Cullen for a minute. There's an orchestra downstairs in a pit-like dugout just in front of the stage: the arrangement is indeed very similar to the Tevinter amphitheaters he's used to—they are busy tuning their instruments in a strangely harmonious cacophony that makes Fenris' sensitive ears tingle.
"A position of some standing, I am told, and an opportunity to make coin using the abilities I possess, while maintaining a degree of respectability." He frowns. "The family apparently doesn't have issues with employing an elven arms instructor for their young sons."
"I see." Varric strokes his nonexistent beard. He is silent for a few minutes, taking away the weapons Fenris brought in under his cloak and arranging them by their chairs, easy to reach. The two women chatter away happily in their chairs, and that's exactly how Varric wants it now. He is glad Isabela's fine-tuned rogue senses have yet again told her when and how to distract Hawke—he makes a mental note to make sure the rivaini ex-pirate gets some well-paying commission next week from one of the lesser-known merchants who owes him a favor. "Did Choir Boy offer this to you on his own or...?"
"We...talked about it earlier; him offering me some kind of employment if he decides to take back his inheritance." Fenris isn't sure why he sounds so defensive. "And as he settled on remaining in Chantry service after all, he felt this would be something he... kind of owed me."
"Really." Varric stretches the word, and Fenris scowls.
"I am somewhat capable of deduction, dwarf." he says, a bit testily. "I can detect slight ulterior motives when they are present... remember where I came from." Varric holds up a palm, placating, and Fenris subsides somewhat. He sits down next to the dwarf by the door, stretching his long legs out. "But this is Sebastian Vael we're talking about."
"True." Varric's smile is brief. "Just checking to see how your jealousy was doing."
"Now you're insulting me." Fenris says slowly. There's much less movement and noise in the theater suddenly; the performance should start soon, then. He looks at the dwarf: this is not the first time they have had a serious conversation lately, and it seems most of them are about the same topic. "My professional capabilities are in no shape or form..."
"You were perfectly ready to start hacking away at shadows and imaginary assassins just a while ago, Broody." Varric says mildly but with brutal honesty, and watches Fenris wince. "I'd say that's kind of a screwy behavior for a professional such as you. I'd say your professional capabilities are in slight disarray over whatever is going on between you and Hawke." He continues, ignoring the almost subvocal growl coming from Fenris' throat. "I'd also wager that you are trying very hard not to tear out the throat of every man that even gets close , but I can't for the life of me figure out just how far the two of you'd gotten before something obviously happened and now both of you try to pretend that nothing has happened, if you know what I'm saying. Finally, Broody, as a friendly advice: if you decide to accept this offer from Choir Boy's friend, make sure you skip town very fast so Hawke doesn't catch you and tan your hide for it." He grins valiantly. "And now I shut up before Hawke asks what we're babbling about...the play is about to start, anyway." With a wince, he adds. "And I'd be deeply grateful for removing your fingers from my upper arm. Please." he adds, a bit more frantically as Fenris' fingers shimmer with lyrium and sink deeper. "This really is an antique dwarven heirloom coat I'm wearing and I happen to be quite fond of it. Belonged to my father, in fact, and...Oh, look, curtain!" he exclaims loudly, just as Hawke and Isabela turn towards them with questioning eyes and the deep maroon curtain covering the stage does, indeed, lift .
"Shh, you two!" Hawke's hands flutter in front of her excitedly. "Here it is..." She bounces in her chair as she looks towards the stage. "Fenris, come here, you need to see this closely. This scene... the lamentation of the slaves, it's called and..." She stops abruptly as music starts: violins and flutes, trembling in unison, sweet and sad, in a melody that suddenly grips Fenris' heart and the group of men and women standing on the stage start to sing along with the instruments.
He's not sure when or how he stepped up to the edge of the box, but there he is, gripping the railing and staring with eyes wide open and hungry. They are dressed in drab clothes, eyes downcast at first, but as the melody starts to soar, taken up first by a single flute and then by the sweet voices of those on the stage, they look up, and Fenris feels something tight in his chest rise and rise, listening. They sing about their lost land, their lost freedom, about their fate and their faith and their love... and although the words are stilted and sometimes over-pretentious, the melody more than makes up for it. It soars and flies, dipping and weaving, and it slowly but surely wraps a ribbon of sorrow around Fenris's heart.
Give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or may the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.
They sing, and he glances at Hawke's face, upturned and openly joyous as she drinks in the music, eyes closed and her whole body slightly swaying with the melody... and he knows fear then, crystal clear and piercing, almost numbing in is purity. Fear has found him now, here, listening to this melody of sorrow over lost freedom and homeland, looking at the woman who helped him to arrive at his own freedom's gate, just to realize that the chains are still on him. Fear is here, and the determination in its wake, borne on the wings of the most beautiful song he's ever heard, is just as clear: the decision to go, to flee, like the thought on wings of gold they have just sung about. The only thing that remains, the only thing that's free for him, it seems... and Fenris closes his eyes too, letting the song sweep over him and carry him, if only for a little while, to those slopes of hills the playwright described long ago, with their fragrant airs and gentle breeze and land of times gone by.
I need to go, he thinks, leaning against the railing, the certainty growing in him every second as he breathes the song in, like it was the essence of freedom itself. I need to go, he repeats stubbornly again, even as his hand, casting around in the darkness of the box for a hold finds Hawke's fingers clutching the railing.
I need to go, Fenris hears in his mind echoing over and over, almost desperately, as the lyrium in his body comes alive from Hawke's touch. Both of them have their eyes closed now, in the sway of the melody that soars above their head… And so, and then, who can find fault in the fact that their fingers, hesitant at first, but sure and tight a second or two later, entwine and remain like that, if only for the duration of the long-dead master's powerful song about freedom, lost, craved and remembered?