A Gift for Tongues
Act II, Fenris/Hawke, post-Book of Shartan, mage!Hawke. Giftfic for Sam, prompt: m!Hawke, Fenris, foreign languages. Fenris can't read, but he has a gift for tongues. Hawke likes listening to him- even if he has no idea what he's saying - and tries to get him to talk as much as possible. Hijinks and bonding over learning ensues.

It's a hard thing to understand, Hawke's presence in Fenris's life.

Which is to say, it's not just a matter of listening to someone else's combat directions during their periodic group brawls - as Danarius's bodyguard, and therefore top of the slave food chain, Fenris always used to give the orders on which opponents should die first and which should simply be maimed - and it's not about being invited over for meals where half the members look like they're actually there to rob the place. It's the fact that Fenris is being included. Despite his newfound status, Hawke is curiously willing to retain his less-than-fashionable allies. Even though there are nobles lined up to ingratiate themselves to the Amell Estate, Hawke puts his traveling companions first on the list of those he spends time with. He doesn't mix the two. Fenris expected the reason to be out of shame, that Hawke would not wish to admit associating with those of lower rank, but he eventually realizes it's because Hawke outright avoids as many high-class gatherings as possible, and sneaks out of the rest.

Which wouldn't be of any particular concern to Fenris - except that, at some point, Hawke had decided that the best use of his free time was to get to know his traveling companions a little better. Fenris as well. Somehow along the way, the elf had been upgraded from occasional visits all the way up to two nights a week, which wouldn't be so bad except that they're two erratic nights a week, with occasional afternoons thrown in. His first line of defense is therefore neatly thwarted: Fenris can't simply plan in advance and be mysteriously absent whenever Hawke comes calling.

Fenris can't tell if it's flattering or insulting to be regularly imposed upon. After all, the alternatives are less than palatable. Holing up in Darktown with Anders? Maybe getting together for tea with Merrill in the Alienage, chatting cosily while she tries to claim that blood magic is harmless? Horrifying.

So Fenris shouldn't resent the disruption of his personal time. That's what he tells himself whenever Hawke shows up on his doorstep at random hours of the day and night. Sometimes they chip away at the wine stash together. Sometimes Hawke just comes by to say hello. Fenris doesn't think he'll ever get used to that.

What he shouldn't resent either is the day that the man - the mage - decides that he also wants to make good on his offer to teach Fenris how to read. As readily as the suggestion had been given, Fenris had assumed that it would be forgotten equally quickly. He'd resigned himself to slow progress on his own, paging through Shartan's book, touching the pages to remember the feel of them just in case it's taken away too one day. The words were too overwhelming on their own; he'd tried to study the shapes of the paragraphs instead, the irregular lines resembling ranks of battle-split soldiers.

But Hawke comes prepared one afternoon, swinging in gaily through the front door and wandering around from room to darkened room, calling out Fenris's name until the elf is forced to come out of hiding. One of the largest tables ends up sacrificed for the effort, cleared off of dust and crockery. On it, Hawke dumps a wide, blank scroll that he unravels with a flourish; the gesture would have been more dramatic if it didn't knock over a vase midway, and drop the end of the scroll completely off the table.

Hawke's enthusiasm is undeterred. "Letters!" he announces brightly. "The best place to start for this sort of thing, don't you think?"

Fenris blinks, shoulders hunching forward in a wary defense. "You tell me."

"Reading and writing go together, that's all." Dragging over a moth-nibbled chair, Hawke cracks his knuckles with a determination more suited for a barfight. Out of one pocket comes an inkwell; the other produces a battered quill that must have lost its natural point a long time ago, graced instead with an ominously sharp metal nib. Moving with lethal precision, Hawke uncaps the inkwell and begins to scribble out shapes. "Copying the alphabet should be easy compared to dragging that sword around with you. Let's begin!"

The display of penmanship horrifies Fenris into silence. Being able to open a book and understand what's inside is one thing. But to write something down is at odds with every instinct Fenris has learned in his new role as prey: it leaves a trail behind him of thoughts on paper, like the glaring footprints of a beast through the snow. It makes a record of his presence, a tangible thing that can be passed around and shared so that everyone can see what he thinks. Writing is a concept that unsettles him thoroughly, opening up potential vulnerabilities that could be assaulted by anyone. All it would take would be a pair of knowledgeable eyes.

"No," he says at last, waving aside the quill when Hawke tries to tuck it into his hand. "Just reading. That's all I'll need."

Judging from the uncertain furrow of Hawke's brow, that was not the expected response. "But - "

"There's nothing I need to say," Fenris insists, trampling over the mage's voice. "Just - just leave me alone with these. They will suffice."

But Hawke doesn't. Even though he finishes writing out the ciphers for the human tongue, rather than ending the matter there, he leaves the scroll out for display while turning his interest towards the other books left behind in the mansion. He yanks them out of the wreckage, stacking and organizing them by region. Fenris doesn't mind this, oddly; it lets him approach the letters carefully, as if they are animals he must be careful not to spook. It doesn't help when Hawke - in a misguided attempt to be helpful - sketches pictures alongside each letter to try and provide a guide for what sound they're meant to correspond to. The effect is counterproductive; Fenris can't look at one of the shapes without thinking of a man making water off a cliff.

Fenris doesn't know letters. But he knows languages - knows them in the way that slaves know them, an entire dictionary of inflictions and intonations which are as universal as cruelty. Sound forms the preliminary stages of an assault. In the world of a slave, what is being said is sometimes less important than how. Magisters can sometimes be convinced to repeat details of a task they need performed, but there are few second chances if a slave cannot interpret a sneer.

Fenris is a polyglot by necessity; he is a glutton for whatever can help keep him alive. He picked up Qunari like he was born to it, swears Tevinter curses and spits Rivaini battlecries. He listened to Orlesians giggle and Antivans moan. He didn't always know what was being said, but he wasn't expected to; literacy made most slaves into liabilities. Such was the fate of a possession. A runaway had more important things to focus on than paperwork.

And even now - even confronted with the opportunity for more - Fenris finds himself shying away. Writing is dangerous. He's not ready. He's not ready for so much.

For three days running, the air smells like rain. Clouds smother Kirkwall like a jealous lover. Fenris wakes up from dreams of mist and fog; he paddles in and out of consciousness, hunting whenever he's hungry and sleeping away the humid hours as best he can. His armor feels sticky. His skin feels cloying. In order to avoid incoming drizzles, Fenris takes refuge away from the parts of the mansion where the roofboards are split, but he hates not having forewarning in case of particularly agile intruders. He could escape from Hightown for a short while, take refuge in the drier sections of Lowtown - but it's been several days since Hawke's last visit. Any further delays, and Fenris will have to investigate.

Relief comes soon enough: Hawke's dark hair looks even more unkempt than usual when he forces his way into the estate that evening. Humidity has ravaged him thoroughly. Clumps of his bangs stick up at unnatural angles, mimicking the splayed quills of a porcupine. Somehow, he'd escaped his estate before either his mother or Bodahn could catch him with a washcloth; the smudge over his nose is a black slash in the evening light. Most nobles apply powders and color with an obsession towards mineral pigmentation. Hawke smears on anything that's handy, whether it's soot or blood. His customary armor is stripped halfway down, shed in favor of a loose set of robes, and high boots that look suitable for tromping around Darktown without catching a disease from the puddles.

Fenris eyes the other man assessingly. The sparse armor might tempt thugs, but it does look more comfortable. It's almost tempting to follow suit, but Fenris would rather not give assassins an easy victory. The one concession he does make these days is to remove his gloves whenever Hawke visits; the curved talons have a bad habit of ripping parchment otherwise.

"I will never understand how Aveline manages the enthusiasm to exercise in this damp," Hawke groans. He wanders over to the worktable, propping up his staff against a bookshelf en route; however much the templars get paid to pretend it's a walking stick, Fenris doesn't know, but he suspects Varric's involvement. "How are you doing with the scroll?"


"Now you're just being hard on yourself." Grinning wide enough to crinkle his eyes, Hawke picks up the nearest lantern and lights it without use of a match. Tiny flames melt off his fingertips and onto the wick. One starts to drip off the side; Hawke gathers it back up into his palm like a droplet of honey, extinguishing it harmlessly in his hand.

Fenris tries not to bristle at the display of power. He turns away so that he will not have to witness further defilement of the lamps. Behind him, he hears Hawke finish the process of illumination, and settle into a chair. "Let's see. Which section did I leave off sorting last time?" The crisp whisper of pages stirs the air. "Here we are. Cann - canavar - "

Fenris's mouth fixes the word instantly. "Canavarum. That book is written in Arcanum. I will not assist you in learning the Tevinter tongue." The declaration comes out as heavily as a mace-blow, which startles him; Fenris has not placed a ban on his own use of the language, nor on anyone else, but neither does he wish to recant the demand. Guiltily, he fumbles for an explanation. "I - I am sorry. I simply do not wish to hear you speak it."

The sound of the book clapping shut is both unexpected, and a relief. A subsequent series of dull thumps yanks his attention around; Hawke is stretching out lazily, as if it's perfectly natural that he just propped his feet up on the table and kicked an entire stack off. The offending tomes lay in a scattered mound like the jagged contours of an armored corpse. Hawke ignores them, hooking a fresh book closer with his fingers, this one from a previously undisturbed pile.

The new choice is a thinner volume. Gold coils of script loop across the velvet cover, decorated further with painstakingly tiny frills of embroidery. The nationality is identified within seconds. "Orlesian! I hate Orlesian," Hawke states aloud, shameless in his honesty. He flips open the pages, searching and searching, and finally settles on a phrase. "Jay tayme."

The words come out mangled beneath Hawke's Ferelden accent. Fenris snorts. Lured back by the temptation of the open book, he drifts closer until he can make out the squiggles. These ones are much like the ciphers that Hawke has drawn, yet with additional lines that duplicate the letters into strange cousins. He has no idea what Hawke just quoted. But the sounds of it - the sounds, those he can correct in his head, like helping to clean up someone else's posture even when the weapon is unfamiliar. "Je t'aime."

Hawke smiles, and slides his finger down to the next line. "Jay tadoray."

"Je t'adore."

Hawke's eyes move up from the book to Fenris's face. "Again."

"Je t'adore." Prickled by the command - and by how he'd instinctively yielded to it - Fenris scowls. He twists his head away from the oddly satisfied expression on Hawke's mouth; he smothers the blossom of resentment in its crib. There is no need for him to pay particular attention to the Orlesian dialect, not until courtiers start to invade the Amell Estate. He shouldn't have to care about Hawke's amusement over a few simple phrases. "Is there anything else you'd like me to recite?"

Hawke spares him the indignity of further obedience. "Writing really does help," he suggests again cheerfully, leafing through the rest of the book. "You can see how the letters join up together to make more complicated syllables. Why not give it a try?"

"Is my progress that disappointing?"

"I don't think so. But I don't often instruct people in matters like this."

Fenris mulls over the tidbit, taking refuge on the other side of the table. The scroll rests like a painted bar between them. "Have you ever taught someone anything, Hawke?"

As quickly as smoke, the mage's smile fades. "Once," he says, and his voice is calm though his expression is tight, eyes flat like a man who has taken a wound he will not show. "Bethany. She loved watching me read. She and I had a lot in common, and there was so much she wanted help with. Someone to look up to - someone to tell her it would be all right. Carver, of course, hated it - I think he hated seeing anyone be more similar to his twin than he was." He stops there, clears his throat. "If we really wanted to start with the basics, I should be bringing you children's books, I suppose?"

Mention of the deceased Hawke sibling hamstrings Fenris's tongue. He does not say, I am not your sister, or I am not a mage, or even, Carver's a lout. He most certainly does not say, She is dead and this means she can never become a monster, you should be glad for her. "I would like to think myself capable of grasping the mechanics without resorting to such simplicities."

The touch of pride elicits a laugh from Hawke; the mage draws his charm back up as if it had never left. "Don't think of it like that! They say that as you grow older, you end up having problems in learning new things - like languages. Your brain doesn't pick things up as quickly. Or some nonsense like that, supposedly."

"That would present a problem," Fenris parries. "If I can't fill in the gap with something, I'll always have less than everyone else. It seems... bleak to think that what was taken from me would put me at a disadvantage forever."

"And the letters aren't working for you yet?"

"No," Fenris admits. He sits down heavily on the nearest chair, rubbing his chin against his fingers. The lyrium veins feel warmer than they should. "I see them. I can sound some of them out. But they don't mean anything to me. Not yet."

Hawke doesn't press the matter of writing again. Instead, he throws himself more enthusiastically into working through the maelstrom of abandoned books, many of which are still buried beneath shattered furniture. The portion that he manages to recover is sorted into two neat piles: one for human dialects that the mage can understand, and everything else. There might be uncounted wisdom in those tomes; right now, they're useless to Fenris, bound piles of paper just waiting to molder away and take their secrets with them. Even Shartan's tale is silent, the cover docile beneath Fenris's hand.

Surprisingly, it's the foreign books that Hawke spends his time on. He picks through them at random and then wastes hours sounding out the words, until it seems that Hawke is more interested in having Fenris recite other languages than he is in Fenris learning how to read any of them. The only way to distract the mage is for Fenris to try and study the alphabet scroll as often as possible, so that he can ask the questions instead. It's a strange form of defense, waging letter against letter. Fenris can memorize twenty-six shapes, but the way that Hawke writes them isn't the same as they appear in other people's handwriting, and that's not factoring in capitalization, or how two letters end up changing when placed together.

During the second visit that week, when consonants are blurring together and Fenris wastes half the afternoon on what turns out to be a Rivaini exotic spice manual, the elf's patience finally breaks. He pushes away the book he was trying to match up - letters to their native environment, picking out words and referencing the list to try and sound them out - and turns upon Hawke. "Why are you trying to teach me?" he blurts, frustration itching at him like steel wool being rubbed along his spine. "Is it - do you think I should be grateful?"

Hawke lowers the folio he'd been scanning. "You asked," he says, not ungently. "Do you no longer wish to learn?"

Confronted with the option to quit, Fenris huffs. He glares down at the scroll with its jaunty illustrations. "It seems that I am no longer satisfied with my limitations," he confesses, his voice low with shame. "Yet I do not know what might be foolish for me to pursue. If I can make no headway on a matter, should I even continue to try?"

Hawke absorbs the doubt with a shrug, and switches the folio for another equally incomprehensible tome. "Is this a rutabaga on the cover?" His brow wrinkles. "What country produced this one?"

"How should I know?" Distracted by a fresh point of contention, Fenris launches himself to his feet. Tension keeps him prowling, encompassing the table and Hawke in the same predatory circle. "You're a mage," he points out, and can't help to be bitter but doesn't mask it; if Hawke doesn't know of Fenris's tastes by now, there's no saving the man. "Don't they make you read all the time? Can't you recognize all of this? Every magister in Tevinter loved their books."

Some part of Fenris's barb hits the mark deeper than he expected. Hawke's lips twist at one corner, bunching up in displeasure before he can smooth them clean. "If I'd gone to the Circle, they likely would have given me libraries to read, yes," he admits soberly. "But those libraries would have been my only chance to see the outside world. I'll take ignorance in exchange for freedom."

Inwardly, Fenris kicks himself. Then he kicks himself again. There's no good reason to feel chagrin; mages should be locked up, it's safest that way. But to think of Hawke being restrained, kept inside a cell - that does not sit entirely right on Fenris's mind, and he does not want to dwell on it. He resorts instead to a grumble. "Then you cannot mock me."

"I wasn't." With a squirrel's sudden energy, Hawke discards the book and hauls out the covered wicker basket he'd brought along. He flips open the top and starts to burrow through layers of waxed paper, releasing the smell of fresh bread and roasted meat. "I am starving. Is it time for lunch yet? This cheese that I picked up in the market," he says, with a breathlessness that borders on lewd, "is proof of the Maker's eternal benevolence. It is just that good. Here, have a bite. You'll like it. I bet you haven't eaten all day."

Despite Fenris's self-control, his stomach makes a squeak.

It's confrontations like that which make Fenris uncertain on how to progress with Hawke. By all rights, Hawke's ego should be inflated with rank, money, and poisonous magics. In practice, the man borders on being a fop. Dignity seems to matter less to him than simple pleasures: a good battle, a good glass of wine, a good card game with one's traveling companions. But Hawke - just when Fenris thinks he has Hawke down, corralled and pinpointed into simple interpretations, Hawke does something or says something that is ruthless or gentle or both, completely out of the box that Fenris has built to contain the man. There's an ongoing list of the number of times that the elf has been forced to reassess Hawke's character. Hawke's a mage but not a magister; he's a mage, but not Danarius. He's a noble, yet he rejects nobility, and spends three nights a week now having Fenris speak fragments of foreign tongues.

Fenris contemplates the riddle over the leftovers of the day's meal. There's no point in storing the bread for later; Hawke will notice during the following visit and ask after Fenris's health. The cheese was delicious. Hawke might bring more. Hawke might talk to him, get him to talk back. Hawke might say things in languages that Fenris doesn't understand, and wait for Fenris to provide insight.

The next day, when Hawke shows up with an excuse for having to collect the empty basket before Bodahn fusses him to death, Fenris is already prepared for another afternoon spent playing guide for the mage's literary tastes. He waves off Hawke's claim that he's hiding from a gambling losses to Isabela. It doesn't matter that Hawke has shown up for a fourth night; Fenris can't stop the man anyway.

The one good thing about the mage's intrusion is the way it forces Fenris to keep matching up books to the reference scroll. He stretches and twists his mouth around each letter, feeling foolish with each one. While he can catch a few of them now - the simpler ones like the and if - he has problems with of and off and uv. Their and there exist solely to spite him. Letters imitate each other far too often, whether it's in appearance or sound. Sometimes, Fenris finds himself staring at a vowel without recognizing it, all because the author happened to get too enthusiastic with a line, or because they found it more artistic to add in hooks.

He stops when he notices he can't make sense out of anything anymore, resolving to only take a short break before resuming his studies. Hawke already has a half-dozen books spread out across the table. Strangely enough, the mage isn't reading any of them; when Fenris glances up, he discovers Hawke's gaze looking back, the mage's eyebrows faintly knitted as if trying to dissolve a puzzle knot.

"What?" Fenris blurts, if only because the scrutiny makes him feel even more unnatural about the process of enunciation.

Hawke drums his fingers in an unsteady staccato. "I was wondering if maybe you know how to read already. After all, you didn't forget how to walk and talk when everything happened to you, correct? You know Tevinter - you're amazing with Qunari. You haven't balked at a single language I've thrown at you yet. The knack must be there somewhere. We just need to unlock it."

Surrendering with a sigh, already guessing what the mage is leading up to, Fenris tries to ignore the queasy tickle of dread in his chest. "Very well. Maybe I should try writing. Once."

The assertion takes Hawke by surprise. He straightens up, fetching the neglected quill and inkwell from their position as paperweights on the scroll. Sacrificing reverence for necessity, he flips through the nearest book until he comes across a blank divider sheet sandwiched between the chapters. "All right. What's the first word you would want to learn? I'll help you spell it out."

Fenris takes the pen carefully, poising it above the page. "What's the first word you learned?"

"My - ah. My family name."

Fenris hears the regret in the mage's voice without even having to wait for an apology. Of course Hawke would realize the significance of Fenris's first word being something Danarius granted. The brief flicker of confidence twists into sour bile. "No. This was - foolish." Straightening up, Fenris pushes away from the mage, dropping the pen on the table. The nib spatters ink in a jagged arc, ruining the untouched page. "I am taking up too much of your time," he declares. "We should stop."

Hawke does not move. "I like hearing you talk."

"You like hearing me flounder," Fenris corrects sharply. His stomach feels tight; his bones are restless with anger. Having no other target to spend it upon, he turns upon the mage. "Why do you keep coming back? Is this entertainment for you? Are you doing this just to mock me - to mock the poor ignorant slave? Do you want to see how much I let you in here, or to have me correct your pronunciation like a serving boy, to attend you every time you swagger in here like - like you're invited, or - or, wanted or - "

When Hawke strikes, he does so without smiling. He is quick enough that some part of Fenris is already cringing in expectation of a lash. The other half of the elf's instincts demands that he retaliate. He suppresses them all desperately, locking his own muscles in place in order to keep from reflexive murder, unwilling to either cower or fight.

But Hawke doesn't hit him. The mage simply steps closer, twists, and then shoves forward. Fenris is so caught up in trying not to move that he's numb to Hawke's grip; the mage presses up behind Fenris so that the elf is pinned between his body and the table, yet no violence comes.

Reaching past Fenris, Hawke picks up the fallen quill. He dips the nib in the ink, and scribbles out letters on the page, slashing black lines as aggressively as a battle plan. He finishes with a sharp underline. The resulting shape is a wave of curves, starting out with a sloped bridge and finishing with a declining rampart.

"This is my family name," he says. "Go on. Say it."

The letters should be familiar. Hawke's rapid scrawl beat them out of recognizable shape. Fenris starts to panic at the blur, but relies on verbal memory instead. "Hawke."

The mage jabs the pen at the page, leaving a hostile splotch behind. "Anything that looks like that word, this is how you know how it sounds. Now it's your turn. Say something for me."

Fenris does not answer. He cannot answer - he cannot breathe. The lyrium is reacting - he can see light coiling up in lazy threads, like the warning hiss of a roused snake. He does not accidentally want to lose control and phase through Hawke's flesh. Distracted, he picks a word out of the scattered cloud of his wits. "Hunt."

The quill ambles forth again, crossing the divider sheet onto another book. It leaves behind a bridge with rising watchtowers, a series of waves, and an overhanging platform. "Hunt. What's another one?"

Rote memorization fails when Fenris tries to rely on it. He barely can read what Hawke's written, even though it should be clear. It's too much to learn right now - he can't focus on the letters and the proximity of the other man beside him and all the eternal sensory information from his surroundings, each rustle of the logs and scent on the breeze and everything that Fenris must pay attention to if he wants to continue staying alive, wary of an attack at any given moment. It comes out before he can control himself. "Stop."

He dreads the consequences immediately, already expecting Hawke to abandon him and leave him staring alone at a pair of ravaged books. But the pen moves, treading heavily on the parchment, and dances out a trail of curves and circles. Then Hawke seems to understand the implied meaning; the nib lifts away from the books, and the mage begins to step back.

"Stop," Fenris says again; it's the only word he can dredge up. Then he forces his lips to create something else. "Don't."

Heat rests against his shoulders. Hawke leans forward, wraps around him, and covers the elf's thinner wrist with his own. Fenris's bones are stiff; he does not know what the man intends, but Hawke's gentle pressure guides him until he finally opens his fingers and allows the quill to slip inside. Slowly, Hawke steers his hand. A third book becomes marked.

"Don't," Hawke narrates softly when it's finished, and then reverses the order and meaning together. "Don't stop."

The nib gleams bronze in the lamp lights. Fenris's spine is rigid. The spikes of his armor must be jabbing into the other man's chest, but Hawke doesn't recoil. Watching his words become visible so easily is almost mystical - not something wretched like a mage's tricks, but a phenomenon that's simultaneously fantastical and mundane, like mist undulating over water on cool days.

"More," the elf manages at last, and watches Hawke guide both their hands, crafting meaning out of liquid ink.

Hawke's other hand shifts as he reaches for a fresh book to write on, resting against Fenris's back. Fenris's heart is an escaped horse; its hooves kick against his ribs, relentlessly drumming. "More," he starts to say again, but he's already tired of repetition; he scrambles for synonyms, qualifiers, anything to help direct Hawke next. "I want," he says, and breaks off. "Give me."

The quill loops and twists. It waits.

"Fear." The sound crawls off of Fenris's tongue. He does not wait for Hawke to finish scribing before leaping to the next. "Run. Escape. Pursue. Hate. Danarius. Danarius. Magister. Tevinter. Anger. Death. Removal. Forgetting. Loss."

Hawke writes it all for him. Letters pour from their joined hands. Words run out of Fenris's mouth. By the time he's done, fresh ink glistens like an exploded carcass over the books, belly-up and covered with two layers of print. Fenris has lost track completely of which word means what; his eyes skitter over the pages, searching for something to latch onto.

"Love," he says finally. "I want to see what love looks like."

Hawke pauses, so long that Fenris wonders if the man is planning on writing the entire sentence out. But he moves at last, finding a clean corner of one last page, and outlines the letters of a single word with meticulous care. The resulting shape is longer than Fenris expects. It starts off as half a tree, all branches to the right, and then dwindles down through small curves to end with a dotted column and a snake.

"There," Hawke whispers, finally releasing the pen and Fenris's hand with it. He steps back, eyes lowered to the side, away from the table. "That's love."

Transfixed by the markings stretched out across the table, Fenris cannot answer at first. The words are everywhere; his legacy of stuttered desires has imprinted every book. He has created all of this. This is his. It is a story that he has made, and that can be recalled later if he wishes - it will persist, even if his mind is stripped bare a second time. These words belong to him. Seeing them spread out ignites a sudden yearning to know them, to read them on his own now. He will learn how they work. He will.

Gingerly, as if the merest pressure will cause it to shatter, Fenris lifts a finger and touches the nearest page.

"Thank you," he says, because he's not sure what else would be appropriate.

Hawke smiles, breaking the stillness that had claimed him. He gathers up his inkwell, merry once again, the slyness back in his eyes. "Je t'aime," he enunciates, in perfect Orlesian this time.

Automatically, Fenris finds himself repeating the phrase, echoing it back in a series of mirrored sounds. "Je t'aime."

"Je t'adore."

"Je t'adore."