Disclaimer: not mine and make no profit of this
A/N: Fenris/M!mage Hawke. Written with the same male/pro-templar/extremely religious/ mage Dare Hawke as last time. If there are any mistakes feel free to correct me and tell me what you think.
Kirkwall was always cold when compared to the Imperium. Tonight was no different and Fenris was glad Danarius had chosen a mansion this time instead of an abandoned hovel. The warmth of the fireplace soothed him and almost lulled him into a false sense of security. He shifted, tired muscles aching in protest after a long day of walking around the Wounded Coast with Hawke and fighting slavers. Green eyes glittered as they slowly moved across the page while he silently mouthed the words. Hand combing back the white strands that obscured his view almost mechanically.
The book was short compared to other books he'd seen. The language was easy to follow and easy to guess the meaning of when a new word was encountered. Still, he found himself stumbling over words and sentences and re-reading each page once he was done with it. With uncharacteristic care, the elf's bare hands passed the pages of the book. Delight and wonder still new as the written symbols, once so alien to his eyes, now spilled their secrets each time more easily.
He'd gone a long way from the illiterate elven slave he'd been three years ago thanks to Hawke, but he still needed the practice. The mage had done so much for him already the least he could do was continue practicing on his own after that one night they shared. He was lucky Hawke still allowed him to tag along after he ran away from the human. He dared not ask him to continue the reading lessons and he hasn't gone to the estate to resume them either.
Fenris had known his inability to read kept him away from a side of the world free people often took for granted. When he stowed away on a ship to escape Seheron, he had found a book. He could still remember staring at the pages during the boring voyage hoping the strange symbols began to make sense. He would trace the letters with his fingers, as if the meaning would suddenly come to him. But just like his memories, it never came. He'd come to believe the magisters had ruined him so completely the skill was forever out of his grasp. That had been the grim conclusion he came up. After all, reading shouldn't be too hard if children were able to do it.
After three years of running away and barely blending in, Fenris had come to believe he did not need the skill. Three years that he used to learn how to act like a person while dodging the hunters after him. He learned to speak his mind without fear of punishment if they didn't like what he said. He learned to look up into the faces of people instead of keeping his eyes firmly on the floor. He learned to question orders in the few times he'd risked associating with people. And he even learned to make choices when faced with the ideas of staying, leaving or trusting people; knowing that a poor choice would very well mean his life and freedom. And he learned it all without reading. When he arrived in Kirkwall, ready to make his final stand against Danarius, he'd firmly believed he felt what free men felt like. It only took him meeting Hawke to realize he'd never known real freedom.
It had all begun with a gift. One of the first things he noticed was that, for a mage, Hawke was a nice person. He helped everyone, much to the annoyance of his brother. He even managed to talk nicely about his uncle, something Fenris didn't believe possible after meeting the man. And while the family didn't have much, Fenris had already seen him handing out gifts to some of his companions. Almost all of them were trinkets he found during a job, but to be given anything just because someone thought he might like it was a foreign concept for him. Or it had been.
Until the man handed him a book and stared at him with those eager gray eyes of his. He remembered feeling uncomfortable and looking away. He was no more special than Varric or Aveline, but he was special. That book had been his first gift, just because someone felt like he deserved something. Because someone had not thought of him as a slave and thought he knew what free men learned early in their lives. It made him want the gesture to mean more than just appreciation for a friend. It had made him feel important…. and at the same time so ashamed.
He knew he acted as if he hadn't cared. But he already cherished the gift, even with the knowledge that he would never be able to read it. It was not the first time he tasted the bittersweet knowledge that, while free, he was still a broken thing. The hated bile as he cursed the magisters for making him nothing more than an animal struggling to act as a person. And he felt the hunger. Hunger to know what Hawke knew. Hunger to be someone. To be important again in someone's eyes. Even if those eyes were the eyes of a mage. He'd been tired of feeling ashamed and Hawke always made him feel differently.
Three years ago the hunger had scared him away from Hawke, but the fact that Hawke knew he felt… something… only made it grow. It was wrong to want so much. It was wrong to cast his eyes into the untouchable. It was wrong to hope and wish. A slave had no hope and would not even think of making whishes. Despite all the years away from Danarius it was still hard to remember that being free meant that he could have all the things free men had.
It wasn't until he was holding a book while staring into the piercing eyes of a strange mage that he realized he wanted to want and hope and wish. That he wanted to have and get and take and give. And it was this realization that had him confessing his shameful inability to read and write. It was that realization that made him accept the offer to be taught.
The lessons hadn't been easy. He admitted to becoming frustrated easily. The books selected by Hawke almost had him leaving Kirkwall in shame. Knowing what he knew now, he was glad he didn't break the books when he first saw them since they'd probably belonged to a time Hawke had been a father. He could still remember the burning shame and the human's endless patience as he began with children stories that he knew most kids could read in a heartbeat while he struggled to make sense of the first damned word. Nevermind the pride that had shown in the mage's eyes, or the sense of accomplishment when he managed to finish those accursed books. Only to grow frustrated again and despair when the human appeared with a harder book for him. But Hawke never gave up on him and for that Fenris would forever be grateful. Because now, three years after he dared to go above his station and spent one glorious night with Hawke, reading was all he had to pass the time in his mansion.
The book of Shartan had been slowly devoured and placed safely in a locked chest hidden under the bed. Fenris kept the key on him at all times. The Chant of Light, which he appropriated after he gathered his courage and dared to hear a whole sermon, had been read and later returned to its rightful owner. He'd never tell anyone, least of all Sebastian, but he rather liked it. Though he didn't see himself going back to the Chantry any time soon on his own. It was bad enough Hawke insisted on a daily blessing from the Grand Cleric. Even with Hawke around, he still expected to be thrown out and punished for daring to set foot on it. Slaves were not permitted to go to the Tevinter Chantry. He would be killed for stepping inside one not under the Black Divine's command.
Books on Kirkwall, and its laws, along with a novel or two that Isabela 'helpfully' left in his mansion were read as quickly as he could. Though he'd never admit to having read them. And then there were the books that spoke of places, cultures and beliefs. The ones about real stories and fictional ones. Varric's novels and Isabela's rather disturbing 'friend fiction'.
But the books he liked the most were the ones that helped him understand Hawke better. The books that, while still somewhat difficult to understand, were the only thing that made him feel close to Hawke when he woke in the middle of the night with the memory of touch on his skin and a bitter taste on his lips.
Fenris had never been to Ferelden, but through books, he knew of its terrible cold weather and the mud. He knew the reason why Hawke treated his mabari as if it were a person. A bond with dogs that has been studied and explained through many books that spoke of legends more fascinating than what he told the mage of the mabari's origins. He read of the feared Ash Warriors with their dwarven rage and their warhounds. He read of Hafter,the first teyrn, and his werewolves. He read of Maric and Loghain. And even tried to learn of its politics until the headache it gave him had him giving up.
He also read about Lothering and other cities of Ferelden. He had to re-read at least three times the story of Flemmeth and the Witch of the Wilds. His mind trying to come to grips that he'd stood in front of such an abomination and had thought her powerful and dangerous, but not to the extent of the stories. He read about the Hero of Ferelden, an Amell too, and the miracle of her survival.
And the more he learned, the more he realized how wrong his first assumptions had been when he met Hawke. The more he wanted to see the place that birthed so many strong personalities. The more he wished to ask Hawke to take him there if he ever moved back. Only to remember that he ran away from the mage and lost all right to ask anything of him. Danarius was still alive. His sister was going to meet him in a few days. He had no home, no job, and no real friends besides Hawke's group. He still had so much to learn about being free, but Hawke had helped him take one step away from his past.
And every night, the elf would find himself in front of the fireplace with a book on his lap. Carefully reading the words. Struggling with the hard ones. Guessing the meaning of the ones he'd never encountered before. Relishing each page with the same passion he poured into fighting. He read because he liked to learn. Because he needed the practice. He read because it helped him pass the time and because it made him feel closer to the man he was too scared of loving. He read because he was free.