When she was eleven, Marian Hawke reached for a rashvine nettle, thinking to use it to make a potion to heal the infection in Bethany's scrapes. Father was teaching her a little of how to use her magic with herbs, and she thought that if she could not use that gift and that knowledge to help her younger siblings, then what good could any of it possibly be? She was not yet twelve, and did not know that even when one possessed great gifts, rashvine nettle still stung unbearably.
She spent the rest of the afternoon desperately scrubbing off her hands. In the end, though, they made a salve with the vicious plant and a few less irritating ingredients that drew the disease from Bethany's scratches. It was a good day.
Hawke is twenty-five now, and her sister has been dead for a year. But when he speaks, in the aftermath of all she did to help him—because everyone deserves to be free, elves and mages alike—she feels the sting of the rashvine nettle all over again.
"I saw you casting spells inside. I should have realized sooner what you really were."
She can't untangle her gaze from his. That would be backing down. Father taught her not to back down when it mattered, just as he taught her how to use her magic for good. And she knows, for reasons that elude her, that it matters with him. Fenris is worth challenging.
When they speak, alone in the mansion he's laid claim to, it is a dance and a fight all at once. Hawke heard once that they call something like that a tango. That's what she does with Fenris. She feints with a joke, then takes his hand—
(Metaphorically, of course, because she can sense from the way he curls in on himself at her flirting that touching him without his consent would be overstepping her bounds, and that would lose her points in the game that is their friendship.)
She takes his hand, metaphorically speaking, when he's least expecting it, and invites him into her life. He can make of it what he will. If he learns from her, then she is winning.
What she doesn't expect to happen is for them to find common ground, there on their trapped conversational field of lost history and ruined lives. They find common ground. To her surprise, Hawke wishes that they could stay there, evenly matched, seeing eye to eye. They can't, of course. He hates, and she defends. The thing that might be called a tango starts up again.
When they fight, side by side, they are most in tune. Hawke doesn't think about goading Fenris to recognize the value of her magic in protecting those she cares about-she simply uses it to protect those with whom she fights.
Sometimes, when the battle is over, she finds one of the others—Aveline, perhaps, or Anders—looking at her sidelong. She knows why: she was just a little too quick to heal Fenris when he fell to one knee, staggering against his sword. She can't help it, though. She wants their dance to continue. She wants to be able to challenge him again tomorrow.
He never thanks her for the healing. That would be going too far; that would be admitting her victory. But when the enemy presses in too close and all she can do is smack them furiously with her staff, she grows used to seeing Fenris sweep into the fray in front of her. He defends.
In the Hanged Man after a particularly brutal fight, Varric buys them all drinks. Hawke's is particularly strong—the dwarf has picked up on her tolerance. For once, though, she doesn't drink it. She checks its purity, finds a clean cloth, drags Fenris over, and proceeds to scrub his wounds with the alcohol.
"Why you won't let me heal you, I have no idea," Hawke finds herself saying, automatically, even though of course she knows. "Looking beaten up really isn't as dashing as you think," she covers with.
"Enough," he mutters, half-flinching from her indirect touches. "I have had enough of your magics for ten lifetimes." His voice drops to a murmur. "And yet..."
"And yet what?" There is a gouge on his cheek, and she presses the wet rag to it.
He does not flinch. "Enough for ten lifetimes, a hundred," he says, "and never enough at all."
Hawke feels her gut drop to the Void within her. Why is she tending to this man's wounds as if he were family when he won't even accept her magic? When did it become more than thinking he deserved better than his past had given him? Her own feelings are the challenge now. She looks into his guarded eyes, and she understands: the same is true for him.
Deeper in his cups than she's seen him before, yet with not even half a bottle of wine finished (how sweet it is to know that she can outdrink him twice over), he chuckles low and smooth, a careless and unshielded sound that only she is allowed to hear.
Hawke feels her breath flutter in her throat, her heart slam against her ribs. The challenges are piling up. She must win him over to accepting her; she must tend to his wounds; and she must, she must, she must hear him laugh more.
Alone in the estate save for her charming visitor, with Mother out on errands, Hawke finds herself looking at Isabela's inviting grin. It's infectious; she wants to smile back, and she does, but something's missing.
She wants to accept what Isabela's offering: the night alone with the two of them, a mad and wild tumble in Hawke's fine bed. She would be crazy to turn it down. That Isabela is also a woman doesn't bother her, because she's also absolutely gorgeous in her own way. More importantly, she offers a chance for Hawke to laugh and enjoy herself.
And isn't that how she's lived her life? She laughs when she can, because the things that befall her family will hurt her when she can't. By all rights she should sweep Isabela into bed with her right now. But she can take her eyes away from Isabela's. The pirate is not what she wants, not who she wants. The opportunity to laugh feels empty.
When Isabela turns to go, there's the gleam of knowledge in her dark eyes. She doesn't understand the specifics, but she knows the feeling. She knows what it's like to chase and fight with all one's heart.
Hawke pins him to the bed with one hand that night when their bodies meet, and somehow he lets her. She can't tell whether he's accepting her challenge or accepting his defeat.
She has so many things to say to him here and now, but every time that light flows through him she can see all his damage laid bare. She can't say them then. She can't tell him that she finally knows why it matters with him, that she finally knows what she's been trying to prove all this time.
He does not ask what it is she knows. She wants to tell him anyway.
A pulse of light. She stays silent. The words echo instead in her head.
You are better than your hate.
She knows, but he does not. And she wonders how long it will take for them to reach a place where they both know it together.