A/N: This is the fourth part of my drabbles on the relationship between Fenris and M!Hawke. If you're interested in the others, they are: Stolen Memories, Stolen Heart, and Lesson in Humility. Thanks for reading and hugs to zevgirl for being my awesome beta.
The Wounded Coast reminded Fenris of Seheron: the taste of salt in the air and the grittiness of it on his skin, the clumping sand between his toes, and the screech of a gull wheeling overhead. If he closed his eyes, he could hear the echo of Seheron's surf the way it sounded at dusk as the Fog Warriors gathered around their campfires to partake of the meat from the day's hunt. The resounding crash of the waves had been present even at the end, unable to drown out the cries of battle and the hiss of magic. As dearly as Fenris longed to remember his past from before, he wished just as much to forget Seheron and the blood-soaked sand beneath his bare feet.
Hawke adored the sea. Before he and his family had traveled to Kirkwall, he had never seen the ocean. Now, whenever he had the opportunity to accept a mission to the Coast, he took it with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old boy. It had become a ritual of a sort, the sojourn to the beach after each job was completed. Hawke insisted on it, practically dragging them, still bloodied from the fight, down to the sand strewn with driftwood and seaweed. By now they all expected it and Varric had even given it a name: "Hawke's Beach Party."
This day was no different and after slaying a good number of Tal-Vashoth, they were all ready for a rest by the seething waters of the Coast. Even Merrill didn't have to ask where they were going as they followed a buoyant Hawke, who became more jovial the closer they came to the rocky beach. Varric plodded along, humming to himself while Fenris took up the rear, brushing back hair the color of new-fallen snow from his sweaty forehead. The air had the sour smell of salt and brine, and the humidity left their armor and underclothes sticking uncomfortably to their skin.
They always visited the same beach, a circular glade surrounded by palm trees and littered with porous rocks. It resembled a miniature paradise: smooth brown sand dappled with shade from the broad palm leaves; clear, blue water shimmering with the late afternoon sun; and a cool, moist breeze ruffling their hair. Merrill sank onto the sand with a relieved sigh and tilted her petite face to the hot sun, eyes closed as she relaxed into the familiar rhythm of nature. Varric settled himself on a low rock and pulled Bianca from her sheath, lovingly wiping her polished wood with a clean cloth to remove salt and sand. Fenris leaned against a tree, his skin-tight armor shielding him from the roughness of the bark, and watched as Hawke kicked off his boots before wading into the surf.
It had been two years since that fateful night when Fenris had finally opened his heart enough to allow someone to get a toe inside. The repercussions still haunted him at night, sending sleep fleeing and driving him to the cellar to fetch more wine. Varric liked to joke that Fenris was becoming an alcoholic, but one of the dubious qualities of this physique that Danarius had bequeathed him was that he was quite resistant to things like minor illnesses and addictions of food, drink, and drugs. Unfortunately, this did not include needs such as the feel of skin against skin, the headiness of tongue stroking tongue, the taste of spilled pleasure wetting the lips. He wouldn't even mind developing an addiction for those….
A shudder wracked his body, and he was very glad that no one was paying him the slightest bit of attention. Being near Hawke always brought such thoughts to his head, the memories of that night still as vivid as the blue of his tattoos when he became angry. It was for this reason that he drank in those lonely hours when darkness covered Kirkwall, the bottles of wine his only company. When the remembrance and the regret became too unbearable, the warmth of the liquor and the blurred haze it bestowed were able to obliterate those memories, if only for the night.
A chuckle from Varric brought him back to the present, and he looked up to see Hawke shedding his armor, tossing it back up on the sand carelessly.
"Going swimming, Hawke?" Varric called. Merrill was blushing furiously and averting her gaze.
Hawke turned, clothed only in his smallclothes, and gave Varric a mischievous grin. Wading deeper into the surf, he waited politely until the water rose above his waist before removing the last piece of clothing and gleefully throwing it on top of a nearby rock. He looked almost like a small boy, his face shining with a childlike openness, the cares of the world momentarily dropping from the creases around his eyes.
"Come on in, Varric! The water is spectacular!"
The dwarf shook his head, laughing. "You know I hate the ocean, Hawke. I don't mind sailing it in boats, mind you, but swimming and Varric don't mix well."
Undaunted, Hawke waved at Merrill. "Merrill! Get in here; the water is nice and cool. I promise I won't look until you're submerged."
Merrill smiled bashfully. "Maybe another time!" she yelled. "I'll just sit here and um… enjoy the breeze."
Fenris flinched inwardly as Hawke's gaze turned to him. "Fenris? Don't leave me out here alone. It's no fun playing in the waves by yourself!"
The word no was just inside his lips, bursting to come out. But somehow, the sight of Hawke like this, playful in a way he rarely displayed, pulled at something within him. The wrench in his gut was a longing usually felt only in the late hours before sleep finally claimed him. He had been the one to leave Hawke that night two years ago, but he never stopped wishing for another moment, another chance to overcome that fear of being loved.
Which was why, even as his unbelieving mind stared back at himself aghast, he found that he was standing by the water, peeling off his sweat-soaked armor and ignoring the jaw-dropping stare of the dwarf. Merrill gave a surprised, choking cough before determinedly forcing her eyes to the ground. It was the look on Hawke's face that mattered, that widening, almost disbelieving grin as he watched Fenris shrug off his smallclothes and stride into the water exactly as if he were advancing on an adversary.
The water was delicious, the coolness seeping into his aching bones and washing the sweat and sand from his lyrium-lined skin. He waded toward Hawke, stopping a short distance from his former lover, and closed his eyes briefly, letting the sway of the waves rock him back and forth. The distant, persistent boom of the waves as they crashed into boulders further down the beach invaded his ears and interrupted his sense of peace. Suddenly, he was back at Seheron, the sound of screams rising above the tossing tide.
The sizzle of magic flashed everywhere around him as he swung the heavy greatsword in powerful arcs, creating a swath of death before him. Battle cries shot through the air as the Fog Warriors threw themselves at the mages behind him, only to become life-sized torches as fire magic engulfed them. He led them all, a phalanx of magisters led by his master, slashing at his former friends at Danarius's command. The last thing he saw before their blood erupted over his armor was the shocked look in their eyes, the reflection of their burning comrades shining through the film of betrayal. And through it all, his mind screamed his anguish, that even for these people who would have protected him, he could not break the chains of slavery. Even as they died one by one at his feet, he knew the blood would never truly be washed off his bare soles; the red-stained footprints of his treachery would follow him forever.
He opened his eyes, unsure if the wetness on his cheeks was his or the ocean's. Hawke was standing next to him, one hand gripping his arm, forehead furrowed with worry.
"I'm okay. Just… thinking." It was a lame response, and Hawke knew him too well to believe it, but the mage also knew when to let things go, and he did not press Fenris further. He released Fenris's arm reluctantly, one finger lingering in a caress before stepping back. A small thing, that brush against skin, but it sent a flare of heat straight to his core. For an instant, his longing for Hawke was a tangible thing, almost choking him in its intensity. But then the water washed away the touch, leaving him bereft and alone once again.
They both moved further out to where the water rose to their chest. Hawke leaned back and dunked his head, coming up with dark hair plastered against his skull, eyes closed with pleasure.
"Now this is bliss, isn't it?" he said, smiling at Fenris, who was watching rivulets of water trail down Hawke's neck, and Maker, but he wanted to lick it off. Visions filled his mind of pushing Hawke back to the beach and taking him, fantasy conveniently removing Varric and Merrill from the picture. Pain lanced through his palms as his fingernails dug into the calloused skin.
Hawke cocked his head, his eyes straying to a distant point behind Fenris.
"Um, I wouldn't turn around if I were you."
So, of course, he had to, playing the ignorant fool as he slowly turned to look at the ocean behind him, just in time to receive a vicious slap against his face as a very large wave broke directly over his head. Salty water splashed into his eyes and up his nostrils, and he fell backward in the surf, his ass grinding into the sand beneath. Sputtering, he rolled around, struggling to regain his footing as another smaller wave whacked his back, throwing him to his hands and knees. He managed to push himself up, sneezing and coughing as the salt burned his eyes.
When he finally got most of the water cleared from his nose and mouth, he looked up to see Hawke with his lips pressed firmly together. The corners of Hawke's mouth quirked dangerously, and he let out a curious choking sound, which caused Fenris to narrow his eyes at him. Finally, the dam burst and gales of laughter echoed across the beach as Hawke doubled over in mirth. From behind them, Merrill's high-pitched giggles were joined by Varric's loud guffaws as Fenris turned to glare at them from beneath wet, silvery locks of hair.
A splash sounded from behind him, and he swiveled to see Hawke slapping his hand against the water in sheer hilarity. The sight of this, of the usually serious mage giving in to such uninhibited happiness, loosened something inside Fenris. It was as if a ray of sunshine had broken through a crack in the wall around his heart, and a strange warmth filled his chest. Slowly, the frown relaxed and the angry creases in his forehead smoothed, as the warmth bubbled up in his throat. And Fenris, in one of the few times in his short memory, threw back his head and laughed.
It felt wonderful, like opening the door of an abandoned house full of dust and debris and letting in the sun and the clean breeze. He laughed unabashedly, feeling all the pain buried deep inside lighten with each drawn breath. The warmth danced along his skin and he felt washed in a comforting glow that spread outward to rejuvenate every tired limb. This was bliss, not the water or the hot sand or the shady palm trees, but the profound connection felt in the shared laughter of four friends, a delightful hiatus from the ever-present grind of killing and looting.
As the chuckles finally died out, Hawke moved to stand in front of Fenris and took the elf's face between his hands in a rare display of public affection. Fenris's heart raced at the tenderness of the touch, but he held himself still, fully aware of Varric and Merrill watching from the beach. Hawke didn't seem to care, his eyes seeking only Fenris's, his soft voice for Fenris alone.
"I will remember this moment whenever the darkness overwhelms me, and the sight of you laughing, so beautiful with your wet skin glistening in the sun, will sustain me through whatever dreadful path I must tread."
Smiling, he released Fenris and began to wade back toward the beach, leaving the elf stunned and frozen in place. His hands twitched and he almost reached out to grab Hawke, to stop him and beg his forgiveness for deserting him that night two years ago. For in those brown eyes, Fenris had seen the love Hawke still held for him, even after all that had happened, and his heart ached with a pain that nearly drove him to his knees. But the moment passed, Hawke already out of reach and leaving the water to catcalls from Varric, who was tossing Hawke's armor to him cheerfully.
Slowly, Fenris walked to the beach and dried with a towel given to him by a shy Merrill. He tried not to look despairingly at Hawke, to catch one last look at the splendor of Hawke's nudity, and instead, quelled the ache inside with vicious determination. He donned his armor and strapped his sword to his back, already missing the soothing coolness of the ocean. Perhaps the next time they embarked on one of Hawke's Beach Parties, they could do this again.
Varric took the lead, heading back up the rocky path toward Kirkwall with Merrill plodding after him, humming to herself. Hawke paused, looking back at the beach wistfully as Fenris came up behind, shrugging his shoulders against the weight of the greatsword. For a moment, they shared an intense look, all the longing of two years spread between them. A calm expression crossed Hawke's face, a decision made, and he leaned forward quickly before Fenris could react. Chapped lips met surprised ones, and Hawke slipped a questing tongue into Fenris's gasping mouth. It was brief, a gentle slide of tongue against tongue, and then Hawke was moving away, his eyes conveying a whole world of emotion: of acceptance and love, and most of all, forgiveness.
The pain of Seheron faded away in that look, along with the self-loathing Fenris had held deep inside his soul for his betrayal of the Fog Warriors and for his betrayal of Hawke. Hawke forgave him, whether or not he deserved it. Even though he could not reach back in time to the bloody sands of Seheron, was there any possibility that the spirits of his benefactors could forgive him also? Could there be any freedom from the bonds of guilt that bound him still? The mute warmth in Hawke's eyes seemed to say that anything was possible if Fenris would only give it a chance.
Varric called to them impatiently, and Hawke gave him one last smile before trudging up the path after Merrill. Fenris hesitated only briefly before following him, his mind swimming with something still wholly unfamiliar to him… hope. Not all was lost; that had been proven with Hawke's kiss. The fear was still ever-present in his heart, but the walls could be breached, and furthermore, he wanted them to be, wanted that connection he had felt today. As Merrill's singing floated back to him, a new song filled his heart, one that filled the bloody footprints in his memory with the laughter of the man he loved.