AN: Another kmeme fill, and I am apparently incapable of filling concisely. Original prompt: Because Fenris being around children is hilarious and endearing. Because Fenris being growly and protective is hot and sexy. And Hawke needs someone to take care her/him sometimes.
So Hawke gets turned into Wee!Hawke and somehow Templars threaten Wee!Hawke so Fenris pulls out all the stops as Anders does not have a monopoly on glowy protective vengeance. I prefer F!Hawke because in my head canon Hawke was a completely girly girl when she was little playing Rebels and Orlesians but always had to be the Hero of River Dane and save everyone. So props if you pull a princess and her knight, especially when wee!Hawke becomes Lady!Hawke again.
Betaed by the lovely and ever-patient Jade Sabre, who is far too tolerant of my love for Fenris and my insistence on breaking Anders's heart.
The Broken Binding
Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!
-The Poet and His Book, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her father in a wooden cottage at the very end of the river. Most days, she was a contented child, golden-haired and bright-eyed and laughing, but on the days when the winds blew warm spices from the north and the leaves on the trees whispered to her their secrets and the river brought her murmuring songs from beyond the Waking Sea, she knew that she wanted to see the wide world and those who lived in it. But the girl's mother had died in childbirth and she was her father's only companion, and so for sixteen years she lived with him in their little cottage, for she did not wish for him to be lonely.
Spring came, and the girl's father grew ill and died. The leaves of the trees watched the girl who was not so little anymore as she dug the grave by herself, for there was no one to help her. Then, when she was finished burying her father, she gathered all the food and water from the wooden cottage and packed it and closed the door behind her. "Goodbye," she said to the leaves on the trees; "goodbye," she said to the sighing winds; "goodbye," she said to the river. "I'm going to see the world."
"Help the first soul you see on your path," said the river, for it traveled far and knew many things, "and less harm may come to you than otherwise."
The girl thanked the river, because her father had taught her to be polite to all who spoke to her, and then she set forth. Days passed, and the leaves still whispered their secrets and the winds still sighed and the river still murmured of wondrous things, but there was no one to hear it, because the little girl was gone.
Fenris hates magic.
Most of the time it's nothing more than fact of his life, a simple thing easily ignored like blinking, like breathing—but there are some times that it bursts forward in full fury, when he remembers very vividly how very much he dislikes it. Right now, with Hawke thrusting a thick, ancient book that actually smells like magic between him and his wineglass—well. It's one of those times.
"Look at this," she crows, sliding between him and Varric on the bench without bothering with the extravagance of a greeting. The book thumps heavily onto the table as she sits, and she hardly notices her careless elbow knocking the cards of their two-handed game of Wicked Grace entirely astray. Corff shouts something from the bar and she waves a hand in response.
"It reeks of magic," Fenris grumbles, pushing the book away from his wineglass with one finger. For a second something—tugs at the lyrium in his hand and he snatches it back, startled—but before he can examine the book more closely, Varric has pulled it towards him with the perusing air of a connoisseur, apparently undisturbed by its contents, magical or otherwise. Isabela and Merrill join the table on the other side, Isabela already holding two sloshing tankards in each hand that she distributes among everyone save Fenris, who already nurses a glass of mediocre wine. The Hanged Man is noisy tonight, bustling with the drunk and despondent, and the commotion is loud enough that they have to strain to hear each other over it.
"Old," says Varric, tipping the book this way and that, peering at the wear on the corners of the faded scarlet binding. The book is as long as Varric's forearm and at least two inches thick, and the gilding on the title has worn away so much it is almost unreadable. He thumbs through the pages carefully without cracking the book open wide enough to read it; Hawke looks over his shoulder like a giddy child, strands of her dark hair falling loose around her face. "Very old, by the look of this vellum. At least Storm Age, maybe as old as Steel."
"6:20 Steel," says Hawke, unable to contain herself any longer; Varric's eyebrow pops up in surprise as he hands it back. "Give or take ten years."
Merrill is practically bouncing in her seat. "Tell them what it is, Hawke!"
"Of Magicks Wilde and Wicked," Fenris says, reading the title sideways in Hawke's hands. "A Series of Cott—of Cautionary Tales." He straightens just in time to catch the look on Hawke's face, mingled surprise and pride, and then she grins at him with a private warmth that makes his stomach flip. Isabela scoffs loud enough that a few nearby patrons glance in her direction, and Fenris's tentative complacency vanishes under the more comfortable weight of irritation.
"Oh, please." She slams back a long swallow of rum, shrugging at Hawke's pointed look. "If you two get any more transparent, even I'm going to feel embarrassed."
Fenris bristles at Varric's snort and Hawke rolls her eyes. Isabela laughs at him again, not unkindly, and toasts them both before taking another drink. Hawke's hand darts across the table like lightning and tips Isabela's tankard further into the air with two fingers, pressing it closer to her mouth; Isabela sputters only a moment before her eyes light in challenge at Hawke's grin, and with a wave of her free hand, she polishes off the rest of the rum as if it had been her own idea. The empty tankard slams to the table with a hollow thunk and Isabela tosses her head in a storm of pride and alcohol. "Do your worst, Champion."
"I concede!" Hawke cries, sitting back with a wry grin of defeat, and signals for Norah to bring Isabela another drink. "To the victor the spoils, Captain."
Isabela laughs again, bowing to the applause of Merrill and Varric, but before Fenris can voice his disapprobation, Hawke has wrapped her hand around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. It's not the first time she's been so demonstrative in front of the others—and yet, it still surprises him enough to abruptly deflate his annoyance, and the grin she gives him tells him that had been precisely her intention. "Ah, love, don't be so surprised," she says, and winks as she flips Norah a coin. "Right on with the title, by the way."
She straightens as Varric asks her a question about the book, her arm falling away from his shoulders, and Fenris refuses to allow himself to miss its warmth. Hawke has always been free with her affections, freer still since they'd formed this—something between them, and he does not pretend that it is something he can easily comprehend. Her fingers brush so casually over his shoulders in the Lowtown bazaar and she does not understand why the touch is a luxury; she wraps her arms around his neck from behind as he reads for nothing more than the pleasure of it, and she does not realize why he savors every moment. A freeman's province, he thinks with only a hint of bitterness, to be so open with one's feelings, so wholly unconcerned with reprisal. So unafraid to show weakness.
Hawke laughs aloud and Fenris jolts—the wine must be stronger than he realized to have so turned his thoughts, and with effort, he forces his attention back to the conversation.
"It's fairy tales!" Merrill cries, leaning over the table to be heard. The tip of her kerchief drops into her untouched tankard and Isabela fishes it out with a fork. "Really old ones, too, old enough that my people have nearly identical stories." A dreamy smile spreads over her face. "'The River-Walker,' 'The Lady and the Wolf'—oh, I haven't heard these since I was a da'len. Do read one, Hawke."
"These are children's stories?" Fenris asks cautiously. He cannot shake his lingering mistrust of the book and how it pulled at his markings, but Hawke seems so delighted that he finds himself unwilling to dampen her enthusiasm.
"Yes!" Her fingers stroke over the battered red cover. "Gathered from all over Ferelden centuries ago. We used to have a copy back in Lothering before Bethany buried it in our front yard, though ours was much more recent than this." Hawke smiles at the book, clearly lost in a memory, and Fenris wonders how that feels, to be fond of one's childhood.
She seems content to leave the tale at that, as she always does when she speaks of her family, but Varric looks like a hound that's scented blood. "I hear a story in this."
"Potential blackmail, you mean."
Varric steadies himself on the table as the raucous drunks one table over roar with laughter and hearty back-slapping, their wild gestures nearly knocking him over, then waves a dismissive hand. "Semantics. Spill, Hawke."
She grins and makes a gesture of concession. Fenris finds himself watching her hand without meaning to; the long fingers dancing through the air as she speaks, curling around her mug, touching the edges of the book's pages. "It's not really that intriguing, honestly. The twins were—oh, let me think. Eight? Nine? And Bethany had a little pet silverfish that she'd caught with my father. She loved that fish. She named it Tiger, I think, because she thought it was clever." Hawke smiles again, the distant one that tells Fenris that there are some parts of her heart that he will never see, would not understand if he did see, and his hand twitches around his wineglass. "When it died, Carver told her she ought to bury it with something pretty so it wouldn't feel alone."
She takes a sip from her mug, leaning back in her chair, and pulls a face. "Oh, that's vile. Anyway, I think Carver meant for her to pick some flowers or something, trying to be kind in his own rough sort of way, but instead Bethany went for the prettiest thing in the house, which was this old book with all its illustrations." Hawke laughs, and the amusement in her voice nearly hides the lingering grief. "She didn't tell anyone she'd done it until weeks later—well after Mother had nearly torn her hair out looking for it, of course—and by then Lothering was knee-deep in mud as it is every spring and the book was ruined. The end."
Varric sighs. "How disappointingly charming."
"And hardly material for a best-seller." Hawke shrugs, flicking a forgotten Wicked Grace card at his chest hair. "Sorry. I'll try to come up with something more appropriate for your literary skullduggery in the next one."
Isabela gasps in mock affront. "How dare you impugn his authorial honor?" She wags a chastising flagon in Hawke's face.
Varric throws a salute in her direction."My lady, always rising to my defense. I'll have to dedicate the next part of Firestorm of Love to you."
Merrill claps. "Oh, I like that one! At least, I think—is that the one with the Fereldan apostate and her elvhen lov—"
Hawke chokes and Merrill breaks herself off at the sudden fit of coughing. "Oh my goodness, lethallan! Are you all right? You really should chew your food before you swallow, only I suppose ale's not really food, is it—"
"Dwarf," growls Fenris, allowing a not-inconsiderable amount of irritation bleed into his tone. "I was under the impression that we had an understanding."
"Literary skullduggery, as our dear heroine so quaintly phrased it, sometimes has its price." Varric shrugs, utterly unrepentant, and helpfully pounds Hawke's back between coughs. "You're just the one paying this time. I refuse to apologize for telling a good story, elf."
"Then I will refuse to apologize for ransacking your suite," Fenris says with easy nonchalance, and pushes to his feet. Varric scrambles for Bianca, sputtering a protest—Fenris can only make out the words, "my notes!"—but before he can extricate himself from the table and make good on his threat, Hawke snags his belt with one hand and tugs him back to the bench. Her face is flushing pink, and he's not sure if it's from the coughing fit or embarrassment; nevertheless, he allows himself to be pulled and resettles on the bench with a glower. Isabela looks thoroughly delighted at the whole thing.
"Why don't we," Hawke says, sounding a little strangled and refusing to meet Fenris's eyes, "just get back to this book here on the table? And not talk about any other books? At all? Is that okay? I think I'd like to do that."
"Your wish, milady," Varric says, somehow sweeping a half-bow from a sitting position. Fenris looks away, still irked, but Hawke's hand alights on his knee under the table, and he sighs, touching her wrist briefly in acquiescence. Varric pulls Of Magicks Wilde and Wicked back towards him. "Where did you find this thing anyway, Hawke? I doubt Darktown had this hidden between the Antivan brandy and moldy scarves."
"Black Emporium, actually." Fenris stiffens and opens his mouth—that place is dangerous, no matter the useful artifacts they've found there before, and Hawke ought to know better than to traipse through it so casually—but under the table, her fingers trace intent circles on the inside of Fenris's knee and his protest dies unvoiced. The tavern, already overwarm, suddenly seems stifling, and Fenris forces himself not to loosen his collar as Hawke props her head on her free hand, the barest hint of a smile twitching the corners of her mouth. "Merrill found it hiding behind that sword that always giggles when you touch the hilt. Xenon said it was the original, though I don't think even he could manage to get his bony hands on that."
"See if it's got the one about the Antivan shoemaker," Isabela offers, and looks put-out at the surprised looks she gets from Merrill and Hawke. "Pirates were little girls once, too," she says, crossing her arms over her decidedly un-childlike chest. "Besides, it looks old enough to me. Xenon's an antiquarian. He…antiquaries."
Merrill leans forward on her elbows, her kerchief missing her mug this time. "It's all the same where it came from, don't you think? The magic's in the stories, not how old they are. Just read one, Hawke!"
Hawke shakes her head, smiling, but she's already cracking the cover open. The title page is heavily embellished with roses and ivy, a riotous mass of vines that wind around the text and still carry traces of their original colorful dye; Hawke brushes them with her fingers only a moment before she turns the pages to the first tale. "Oh, I love this one. 'The Mabari Prince.'"
The words seem to loose something into the air, a curling blue flicker that prickles suddenly at the back of Fenris's head. He remembers that peculiar pulling in his fingers—something is wrong with this book, something magical and dangerous, and he needs to get it as far from Hawke as he can. "Hawke," he starts, but she doesn't notice the uneasy warning in his voice as he reaches for the book.
"Just a moment, Fenris," she says, twitching it away from him, but he reaches over her hands—he has to get that book—
"Hawke," he says, again, urgent—
"Once upon a time—" Hawke reads, and the world stops.
The girl traveled north for many days. She rested when she grew weary and walked when she was not, and all too soon her pack grew light until she had only a crust of bread and a swallow of water left. Before she could leave the path to forage, though, she heard the terrible baying of an animal in pain, and when she rounded the bend she saw a mabari hound, its fur black all over and unmarked with kaddis, trapped in a hunter's wolf trap. It howled with agony and snarled at her when she approached, but the girl remembered the river's advice and though she was terrified of the enormous beast, she knelt and worked the animal free of the trap. No sooner had she freed it, however, than it clawed her leg with sharp nails and fled deep into the woods. The girl wept, for harm had come to her after all, but soon enough she wiped her eyes and set out in search of a stream to clean the wounds.
That night, as she huddled beside her tiny campfire, bright eyes gleamed at her from the brush. Her heart leapt to her throat and she sought her dagger with a trembling hand, but the eyes drew closer, and when the terrible shadow emerged into the light it was no hungry wolf ready to devour her but her mabari instead, and dangling from his great jaws was a brace of hare. He laid the hares at her feet and gently licked his marks on her leg, and then he crouched at her side as she ate and guarded her until she slept.
What strikes Fenris is that it is one of the most spectacularly un-spectacular pieces of magic he's ever seen. There are no brilliant flashes of light that blind him, no great claps of thunder and lightning, no earth-shaking rumbles to terrify the drunkards and knock the clinking bottles from their shelves. Instead, time just—slows,one silent second stretching like winter-cold syrup into the next—and then just like that it snaps back into place and the discordant roar of The Hanged Man rushes over them again. Fenris can't quite breathe.
Hawke is gone.
Hawke is gone, and in her place is a little girl of no more than six, her dark hair pulled back in the same low tail Hawke wears, her face still turned to the book still lying open before her. Her bright blue eyes are the same as Hawke's eyes, only wide with astonishment, and worse a fear that Fenris cannot remember ever seeing on Hawke's face. The Champion's robes nearly swallow this girl alive; the furred ruff is impossibly large on her, sliding off one shoulder to reveal the simple dark shirt Hawke wears under her coat falling past this girl's bare knees, and the gloves that had fit her dancing hands so well now nearly drown her arms entirely. There's a quiet thump under the table as one of Hawke's boots falls over—boots that this child's feet can no longer reach—and then the little girl looks up at Fenris where he sits beside her, his hand still outstretched towards the book's pages, his heartbeat quickening in his chest.
"Hawke?" he says, because—it is—and Varric covers his face with a hand. Merrill looks thoroughly dumbstruck; Isabela seems torn between a worried kind of surprise and outright glee.
"Please," Varric says, his voice strangled through his glove, "tell me that a magic book did not just turn our Champion into a tiny—"
"—adorable—thank you, Isabela—version of herself."
Merrill covers her open mouth with her fingertips. "This just seems so…unlikely, don't you think? What a peculiar book."
Fenris barely registers the wildly inappropriate levity. Hawke is—Hawke is a child and he doesn't know how, doesn't know why—he stares at the wide-eyed girl as if she can somehow explain it, as if Hawke's voice might suddenly burst forth in exasperated amusement and tell him to stop staring and help her into her abruptly-oversized boots. But in the child's face he sees only a mirroring of his own blank apprehension, and helpless, he again says, "Hawke."
The girl sucks in a trembling little breath, and then she twists in a single movement like a startled bird and before Fenris can move, she has leapt from the bench and darted off into the crowd.
He hears a gasp behind him, hears Merrill cry, "Hawke!" but Fenris is already after her. The drunks one table over stumble into his way; Hawke weaves between their legs as only a child can and disappears from his sight, and from the far side of the room Fenris hears a man shout, "No children at the bar!" There's a sound of a scuffle and the drunks laugh uproariously, and then the man shouts again and Fenris stops hesitating—he drops his shoulder and rams through the crowd in a single powerful motion, heedless of the cries of protest he leaves in his wake, breaking through just in time to see the shadow of Hawke's too-large coat vanish through The Hanged Man's doors.
She is on the streets, alone. He allows himself a single vicious curse, and then he is through the doors after her.
Fenris hates magic.
When morning found her, the girl gathered her few possessions and scuffed out her dying embers. The mabari watched her carefully, and when she turned back to the road, he trotted along behind her as if he belonged there. "No," said the girl. "Don't follow me. I haven't enough for two, and you will need far more than I could provide."
The dog sat back on his haunches dutifully, but as soon as the girl took a step, he fell apace again. Twice more she tried to stay him; twice more the dog followed after her as soon as her back was turned. At last, the girl spun, arms akimbo, and stared him in the eye—an easy task, for she was not a tall girl, and the mabari's head stood higher than her waist. "Fine," she said, "come if you wish. I cannot give you much, but I can build a fire and keep you warm at night, and if you will fetch your own dinner and mine, I will do what I can to make our travels easier. But," she added firmly, gesturing at her bandaged leg, "no more of this, if you please. I've neither the strength of your kind nor bandages to spare, and no patience for a disobedient pup."
The dog whined low in his throat, all contrition and abject obedience, but the moment the girl patted his head in comfort, his tongue lolled out in a dog's smile.
"Oh, have a little decency," the girl said, laughing, and he managed a moment of sheepish delight before bounding down the road ahead of her, barking loud enough to shake the crows from the pines.
And so the girl made her first friend.
The nights are cool in Kirkwall, the winds from the sea pulling the worst of the heat from the city, and on any other night not even the hot metal stink of the foundries lacing the Lowtown air would be enough to make the evening less pleasant.
This is not any other night.
Fenris skids around a corner, one hand on the hilt of his sword and his eyes scanning the streets for any hint of a little girl. It is ludicrous that a child that small can move so quickly—but there is no sign of her anywhere and Fenris curses again. Lowtown has never seemed so dangerous before; it has always been disreputable, but now every shadowed corner hides a naked blade and every sideways glance thrown his direction threatens a knife between his ribs, and he still cannot find Hawke. He darts past a narrow street that twists off into the darkness, barely sparing it a glance—and then he stops. There's something on the ground there that looks familiar, and he draws his sword as he approaches, his eyes flicking to the empty, darkened windows overlooking the alley.
It's Hawke's coat. Fenris snags it without letting go of his blade; the shoulder is torn along the seam and the fur is sodden and limp with gutter water, and when his fist clenches around it, dirty rivulets trickle down between his fingers. He will not think of what this means for Hawke, alone in a filthy Lowtown street, coatless and barefoot and terrified. All that matters is that he is on the right track, and he peers down the alley for another sign of her passage.
The night air cracks open with a child's shriek.
Fenris is in a dead run before the echoes even begin to die away. His heart leaps to his throat and lodges there, making his breath come thin and quick in the night air, but his speed does not falter as he races down the alley. Shutters slam closed as he passes; Lowtown residents know when it is safer to let the streets lie unnoticed, and the blind eye they turn to his naked blade tells him he may expect neither aid nor interference tonight. He cuts around the sharp turn at the end of the alley and a pair of voices suddenly grows audible, bouncing off the high stone walls in an eerie reverberation. Fenris speeds up and the coat drops from his hand, forgotten.
"Shut your mouth, girl!" A man's voice, young, thick with drink and irritation.
"Ah, leave off," slurs a second man, more intoxicated than the first. "'S only a dog-lord's child. Prob'ly lost."
"She keeps getting in my bloody way—get off,brat!" There's a sudden smack of skin on skin and the girl cries out. Fenris emerges from the alley just in time to see Hawke ricochet into the stone wall behind her, one small hand clutched to her cheek; her foot comes down wrong on a piece of rubble and she staggers sideways, nearly going head over heels down the long flight of stairs that leads to the docks.
Fenris chokes on the sudden swell of his fury. His markings light white fire in the dark streets and a wordless snarl tears from his throat, but he is still too far away and the two men in shining templar armor fail to notice him. One reaches down for Hawke—her oversized gauntlets are gone, a distant part of him notices, and she is clad only in the thin dark shirt that hangs past her knees—and Fenris doesn't know if the templar means to help her or harm her but either way the sight of his hand clamped around her arm sets a roaring in his ears and if he doesn't release her this instant he will reach into his chest and rip out his heart—
And then Hawke's hands burst into flame.
The man stumbles back with a shouted oath, ripping off his suddenly-smoldering glove and cradling the scalded fingers close to his chest. The glove lands at Hawke's bare feet and burns there, a tiny light as damning as any pyre could ever be. Fenris sees the recognition dawn in the men's eyes, sees their hands flash to their swords, sees their mouths open in shocked condemnation.
Fenris knows it does not matter that she is a child. It does not matter that the fire is already dying away from her fingers with a plaintive sputter, that her face is as frightened and surprised as theirs; it does not matter that they know nothing of this girl, not even her name. Hawke is a mage-child, an apostate, and they are templars made to break her.
He will not allow it.
The taller templar, the one who'd grabbed Hawke's arm, is the first one to free his sword. His cheeks are flushed with alcohol, but there is no unsteadiness in his movements as he takes two deliberate steps towards Hawke, her child's body flattened against the wall, her blue eyes wide in terror. "Come here, girl," he says, voice stern. Hawke doesn't move save to press closer against the wall, and the templar's eyebrows draw down in a scowl. "Move!" he shouts, his hand reaching out for her arm again—and then he makes a choking noise and falls silent, because a lambent ghost has slipped from the shadows to stand between him and his target, and a gauntleted hand has wrapped tightly around his throat. His sword drops with a ringing clang to the cobbled street.
"I would suggest," Fenris says, "that you find yourselves elsewhere. Quickly." He increases the pressure ever-so-slightly on the man's windpipe and feels him try to gulp; he grips Fenris's wrist in both hands and strains, trying to shift the weight, but Fenris is still squeezing, still glowing, immobile in his anger. The other templar sways once on his feet, confused, before his face hardens and he raises his sword again.
"Th' brat's a mage-child," he snaps, stumbling over every other word; Fenris recognizes the drunken voice of the man who'd struck Hawke. "She's going—going to the Gallows tonight.'S standing orders fr apostates."
"Not this one." He does not want to kill them. It's not the act itself he hesitates over—he's killed enough men in his time to have quelled that pang—but he cannot forget Hawke crouched behind him, still and silent and terrified. He adjusts his one-handed grip on his sword, troubled; he does not wish to frighten her further, and yet he cannot keep the vicious threat from his voice when he squeezes the man's throat again and growls, "Get out."
"We're not going anywhere without that girl," the other templar snarls. The one in Fenris's grasp tries to shake his head, his eyes so wide Fenris can see the whites around them, and for a moment he dares to think they might escape unscathed after all—and then the other man snorts in derision. "Coward, Tomas!" he spits, and raises his sword to charge. Fenris tenses, the muscles of his shoulders bunching as he brings his own sword to bear. The man in his hand chokes and goes limp; he hardly notices, his mind tearing through battle plans and tactics faster than his conscious thought can track them—stay away from the stairs, keep his back to the wall and watch out for that rubble, and whatever happens he must protect Hawke—the other templar closes the distance, his face flushed with the promise of a fight—
And then he stops mid-step, his eyes rolling back in his head, and crumples to the ground in a sudden clanking heap.
Aveline stands over his body in the middle of the street, the knobbed hilt of her longsword still hanging in the air where the man's head had been. She glances down at the figure at her feet dismissively, her captain's armor gleaming in the moonlight, then turns a more piercing gaze on Fenris and the man he still holds at arm's length.
"Fenris," she says evenly, though he can hear the tempered steel edging her tone. "There's a stack of paperwork a foot high on my desk. I hope you're not about to add an arrest warrant to it."
"No," he says, abruptly aware that the man's face is beginning to gray at the edges, and he allows the unconscious templar to trickle through his fingers to the ground. The man slumps over with a sigh and Fenris realizes—it's over. Hawke is safe. Relief sweeps over him, nearly swallowing him whole, and he half-turns from Aveline to hide his face as he sheaths his sword at his back. With the rush of battle fading fast, he can no longer ignore his bone-deep weariness and the aches in his arm from supporting the dead weight of the templar so long; he is grateful his gauntlets mask his hands' trembling. "Thank you for your assistance."
She makes a noncommittal noise, nudging the man's body with the toe of her boot. He groans but doesn't wake, and Aveline sheaths her own sword before crossing her arms over her chest. "Assaulting templars in the middle of the night doesn't seem your style, Fenris. Mind telling me what you're up to?"
Vishante kaffas—Fenris looks away again, feeling rather pinned by her gaze. "It's…complicated."
"I'll take the short version."
Her voice brooks no argument, but Fenris hesitates a moment longer. It's not that he doubts her—Aveline is one of the most trustworthy people he knows—but this story would stretch even her limits of belief, and Hawke has already been under enough stress tonight—
Aveline raises her eyebrows expectantly, and Fenris sighs, stepping aside.
"A girl?" Aveline's arms fall away from her chest as she sees what Fenris has been guarding so closely. Hawke is crouched in a corner behind him, wedged so far into the rubble and discarded crates that they can barely see her, and it is not until she raises her white, tear-stained face from her arms and stares at them that Aveline realizes why the templars were there. "A mage girl? You're rescuing apostates now?"
Fenris shakes his head sharply as Aveline steps over the body of the second man. "Not any girl," he starts, then falls silent. He cannot think of a way to explain without sounding like a lunatic. "There was an accident."
Leather creaks as Aveline crouches beside Fenris, holding her hand out to the girl like a woman coaxing a nervous stray. "What do you mean, accident? Come out, child. We won't hurt you."
Her bright blue eyes dart from Aveline's hand to Fenris's face, seeking some reassurance he does not know to give; for a long moment, he thinks she will press herself further away from them or worse, bolt again, but then Aveline smiles at her, gently, and Hawke bites her lip and edges her way out from her hiding place.
"There we go," Aveline says, keeping her voice soft as she approaches. Fenris watches Hawke give her a tremulous smile through her tears and ignores the pricking at the back of his head that whispers, useless. Aveline needs to know.
"There was an accident," he repeats. Aveline glances up at him. "Hawke purchased a book from that antiquarian at the Emporium. A children's book." She blinks, uncomprehending, and Fenris struggles onward as Hawke takes another tentative step towards the guard captain. "The book was ensorcelled. Hawke became—enchanted."
"Enchanted?" She sounds surprised and a little worried, but her attention is distracted as Hawke finally stops at her knees. "Maker, look at you. Are you all right?"
She nods shyly and allows Aveline to dust her off, straightening her tunic and wiping the dirt and tears from her face in a motherly, business-like fashion. She brushes the hair from the girl's eyes, tucking it behind her ears—and then she pauses, her fingers suddenly uncertain, and Fenris knows what stills her.
Hawke's tired blue eyes gaze at her from a child's face. Hawke's dark hair hangs loose around her shoulders, disheveled and dusty and unmistakable, and Fenris sees the comprehension dawn in Aveline's eyes.
"You're joking," she breathes. Her hand still hovers in the air as if she's forgotten about it, and Hawke stares back at her in confusion. "I—what is your name, child?"
The little girl draws herself up, pushing her shoulders back and clenching her fists. "My name is Marian Hawke," she says in a high, clear voice. "And I want to go home."
Many days passed. The girl and her mabari, who had quickly ceased to respond to anything but "Pup," soon fell into their own comforting routine. The mornings they would spend walking, keeping to the road that led the girl ever farther from her home, and when the noontime sun grew hot, they would take their lunch under the shade of the forest. Sometimes they napped, the dog throwing his heavy weight across her legs with a contented sigh, but when the skies cooled again, they returned to the road. In the evenings, when the stars just began to peep out shyly from behind their clouds, the mabari called Pup often bounded away into the forest when some unfortunate creature's movement caught his ears. The girl would take these minutes to start the night's fire and unroll her blankets, and when the dog returned to her with a fat grouse or a rabbit held gently in his giant jaws, she would thank him prettily and make much of his hunting.
So did two weeks pass in unexpected contentment.
Then, one day, when the girl had begun to quite despair of ever reaching the world she hoped to see, they crested a hill at the edge of the trees and found a city laid out before them, spilling down the hillside like an enormous colorful quilt. In truth, it was little more than large town, tucked as it was between a wild forest and the rising hills, but the girl found it the most wondrous thing she had ever seen. Her exhaustion forgotten, she raced down the hill, laughing in excitement, and her hound loped along beside her with his own happy barks echoing off the hills.
The sights and smells of the town were overwhelming to the girl, who adored every moment of it. The market flooded her nose with rich spices and the delicious smells of baking pastries, and the worked metal bracelets and brightly-dyed cottons draped over the merchants' arms dazzled her eyes. The streets seemed full of people jostling and laughing and shouting at each other, and though she delighted to hear them, the girl was glad of the enormous mabari at her side. A kindly baker saw her eyeing his raspberry tarts, and because he had a soft spot for dogs, he slipped her the fattest one and a meaty bone for her companion with a wink. At the end of one street, she found a group of children playing with a ball and a rope; she had never seen such games before and the children saw her interest, and though she was long enough out of childhood to blush at their invitation, she still readily accepted and was soon enough laughing with the rest of them.
Dusk fell, and when the mabari called Pup put his cold wet nose into her hand, the girl realized that they ought to be moving on. She thanked the children for their kindness, laughing as the bobbing lanterns of their parents collected them for the evening, and declined their offers of a room for the night. She had left her home intending to see the world; now she had seen this part of it, and she knew that lingering too long in a pleasant town might stop her travels forever. She left the town with a light step and a lighter heart, Pup capering at her side like a particularly playful shadow.
This is how Varric finds them. Aveline stands close to Fenris, her head bent as he explains in a quick undertone what has happened tonight, while Hawke leans on Aveline's leg in drooping exhaustion, her small hand clutching Aveline's so hard her knuckles are white. All three of them look up as he enters the square and Fenris goes for his swordhilt defensively before recognition sinks in. A bundle of cloth and metal lies heaped in Varric's arms; Fenris recognizes Hawke's coat and the rest of her armor, shed like errant leaves in her flight.
"Found it scattered all over the district," Varric says, nudging Bianca back into place with an elbow and nodding at Aveline. "I take it you've been caught up on our little situation."
"I have." She begins to say something else, but even as she does, men begin shouting a few streets over and the sound of a distant scuffle carries through the dark Lowtown night. "But I think we should discuss it elsewhere."
Fenris concurs. Hawke is nearly asleep on her feet, her head bobbing against her hand where it joins Aveline's, and her fatigue is creeping closer to the rest of them in the aftermath of battle. "The Hawke estate," he suggests. "For now. Perhaps her bed will feel familiar." He hears the doubt in his own voice, but Varric and Aveline have no better suggestions; after a glance at Hawke's bare feet, Aveline bends over and hefts Hawke onto her hip. She wraps her arms around the woman's neck and immediately falls asleep.
Fenris finds himself staring at those arms as they hurry through the narrow streets. It feels as though he is in a dream—he knows those arms, knows the skin pale from too many hours indoors at her spellbooks, knows the cluster of faint freckles dusting the inside of her wrist—but now they are the arms of a girl and not a woman. They look so weak now, the muscles earned from hard living gone, the fingers short and uncallused and fragile, and they might as well be the arms of a stranger for how familiar they seem. Hawke shifts her head on Aveline's shoulder without waking as they cross into Hightown, letting out a tiny sigh, a child's sigh, and Fenris looks away.
They arrive at Hawke's door unscathed—relatively speaking—and after a brief, tense wait, Bodahn opens the door in his nightshirt.
"Messere Hawke is away at the moment," he says with a jaw-cracking yawn.
"I know," Fenris says grimly, and they enter.
The story comes more quickly now. Fenris is growing practiced at telling it, especially with Varric's addendums clarifying the salient points, and by the time they finish, both Sandal and Orana have joined them in the great hall before the dying fire in the hearth. Orana, wrapped in a heavy, well-worked shawl that Fenris suspects was a gift from Hawke, sorts through the ignominious heap of clothing and armor dumped by Varric in one of the armchairs as they speak. Aveline deposits Hawke in the other and straightens, putting both hands on her back and stretching; Bodahn drapes an old quilt over Hawke's shoulders, and she pulls it closer in her sleep.
Without meaning to, Fenris finds himself leaning over the back of the chair to study her face. He can see parts of his Hawke, if he looks hard enough—her sharp cheekbones, softened and rounded in youth; her eyelashes, impossibly small dark smudges against her tear-reddened cheeks; her mouth, a trifle wide for her face as a grown woman, but always curved up in a smile. It is still wide now, but the corners are pulled down hard enough to line her skin, and he frowns himself to see it.
"So. Now what?" Aveline, voice pitched low, says what everyone is thinking. "There has to be some way to fix this."
The sentiment is obvious, but Fenris is fervent in his agreement. This is a catastrophe, and it all started with that idiotic magical— "The book," he says sharply, accidentally rousing Hawke for a moment. Varric puts up a quieting hand as he crosses to the mostly-sorted pile of Hawke's effects; a moment later he drags a familiar, square-shaped bundle from the heap, and Fenris realizes that her coat has been wrapped around Of Magicks Wilde and Wicked to guard against stray contact.
Varric sees his expression and gives him a wry smile. "I don't know about you, but one accidental kid is more than enough for me." He sets the book, still wrapped, on the armrest of Hawke's chair, then scrubs his hand over his face. "She said she got it at the Black Emporium. We'll have to talk to Xenon about it."
"Tomorrow," Aveline says, voice firm. "There's nothing more to be done tonight."
It grates terribly—anything is preferable to just sitting and waiting like this, but Fenris knows Aveline is right. It is well past midnight and they are all tired and though he hates to admit it, it probably won't harm Hawke overmuch to spend one night as a little girl.
"First light, then," says Fenris, tamping down his exhaustion with sheer will. "We can meet here." He is not looking forward to the Emporium, with its invisible statues and screaming boxes and proprietors who should have long since been dust, but if anyone knows how to reverse this spell, it is Xenon. Magic or not, he will have answers.
Aveline throws Varric a sidelong glance, and he feels a sudden sense of foreboding that has nothing to do with magic. Varric shrugs as he turns to Fenris, trying for nonchalance. "We think you should stay here, elf."
"I…should stay here." He can't have heard that right.
"To take care of Hawke, he means."
It feels as though this conversation is rapidly spinning away from him. Fenris blinks. Perhaps in his fatigue he is misunderstanding. "You want me to take care of—a little girl?"
"Not any girl," Aveline reminds him, repeating back his own words. "Hawke.You know one of us ought to stay here and watch over her until this is fixed."
His gauntlets are sharp weights on his wrists, his sword heavy at his back—and they wish to trust him with Hawke's safekeeping? Have they been affected by this spell as well? "Perhaps one of the others would be…more suited."
Aveline gives him a level look. "And who would you choose, Fenris? Her uncle? or Merrill? Would you take Anders away from his clinic, or have her stay in Darktown while he works?"
Fenris hesitates, glancing at her. Who else, indeed? He cannot ask Aveline to abandon her duties, not with her husband and her city and an entire guard looking to her for orders; Varric, likewise, is too valuable where he is. He's certain Merrill would have her on the path to blood magic before the day was out, whether she meant it or not, and her uncle would just as likely squander his time and her money as care for the child. He likes Isabela well enough, but she practically lives at a bar, and the abomination—out of the question, he thinks with a snort.
No. It must be him.
They must see the acceptance on his face, because Varric grins and Orana drops a small curtsey. "We'll help you, messere," she says, pulling her shawl around her more securely as she offers him a tentative smile.
Bodahn nods and claps Sandal on the back, the tassel on his nightcap swinging wildly. "Of course we will!"
Fenris doesn't quite know what to say. He settles for a brusque nod which seems to satisfy them; Orana gathers up Hawke's clothes and carries them away, while Bodahn and his son head for their quarters. Varric carefully exchanges Hawke's coat for an abandoned blanket, rewrapping the book without touching it, and drapes the coat over the arm of the chair as he heads for the door. Aveline pauses as she passes Fenris—perhaps suspecting how out of his depth he is here—and she puts a comforting hand on his arm.
"Don't worry," she says, smiling gently. "Who else would guard her better?"
He shakes his head, wordless, and she releases him to follow Varric out the door. Fenris watches them go and then, feeling rather like an interloper playing host, locks the front door behind them. He is dazed with a day too full of impossible magic and stupid with tiredness and he nearly trips on his own feet as he turns back to the great hall.
Hawke is awake. Her eyes are barely open, but she is peeking at him over the armrest of the chair, the quilt drawn up to her chin. "Hello," she murmurs, her voice thick with sleep. "Is my family here yet? Is Mother coming?"
Venhedis. He should not be here—he is the last person suited to be here—he cannot answer these questions with gentle words and comforting touches. Her mother is not coming, will never come; any of the others would have been better—and yet, he is the one who stands in front of her, and he forces himself to shake his head. "Not tonight," he manages, and crosses the room to her side with stilted steps. "They cannot be here right now. Tonight you will stay with…me, if that's…all right. You will be safe," he adds as an afterthought.
Hawke stares up at him, her eyes wide. She looks as if she is about to cry and Fenris feels the first stirrings of panic—if she cries, he will chase down Aveline, her duties and his pride be damned—but just as her eyes start to water in earnest, Orana comes bustling back into the room.
"Oh, mistress," she tuts, sounding more confident than Fenris has ever heard her. "None of that now, if you please. It's well past your bedtime, I think."
"I want to go home," Hawke nearly wails, but she allows herself to be gathered up in Orana's arms and carried upstairs. Fenris follows just behind, unsure of his place here but loath to be separated from Hawke again.
"I know, mistress. I know," Orana says, her voice soft as she pats Hawke's hair, and even as he watches, Hawke's eyes droop closed again. Fenris opens the door to Hawke's bedroom and allows Orana to pass in ahead of him.
There's a sudden sound of nails skittering on wood and Fenris winces—the dog. He'd completely forgotten about Hawke's massive mabari, and as Toby scrambles towards Orana and his mistress with a happy bark, Fenris prepares to attempt to drag the dog away before it knocks them both over. But Fenris underestimates the mabari's intelligence—the dog hesitates as it nears Orana, who stands steady and calm as he approaches, and then he stops still and carefully noses Hawke's bare foot.
She giggles sleepily and curls her toes away; Toby noses her again, letting out a soft whine, and then Orana scoots him out of the way with a foot. She sets Hawke down on the edge of the bed—her feet dangle nearly a foot off the ground, Fenris notices—and in the warm yellow light of the banked fire, she prepares the room for the few remaining night hours. The dog sits at Hawke's feet and drapes his head over her lap with a heavy huff and Hawke smiles, the first smile Fenris has seen since The Hanged Man a lifetime ago, and pets Toby between the ears until his eyes close. Orana catches his eye as she passes with her arms full of towels and nods a smile at the two of them. Fenris can't bring himself to return it, but she seems to understand.
She seems so…capable. He is not needed here, Fenris realizes, as Orana trots around the room, producing a nightgown from one drawer and a child's doll from another; he simply stands by the carved headboard, as helpful as a statue. In a trice Hawke is being tucked into bed, her hair neatly braided and out of the way, the doll clutched in her arms. Toby lies curled beside her on the floor. Orana bends over and pecks her on the forehead, then makes her way out of the room with a soft "good night," and just like that, Fenris is alone with Hawke. She stares up at him with wide eyes from her pillow, her hair like a ribbon of ink across the fabric, and waits for something that he, a man who knows nothing—nothing—of children, cannot give.
He is useless.
Barely suppressing a noise of bitter frustration, Fenris spins on his heel, preparing to follow Orana from the room. There is a guest room downstairs—he doubts it's been prepared for an extended stay, but he hardly needs such amenities—and if worse comes to worst, there are always the armchairs—
He glances back at her from the door, and he stops.
She is watching him leave her, her eyes wide in her face, pale skin made paler by her hair and the moonlight falling through her window. She is silent, and her eyes are dry, but there is a look in them that he recognizes, a look that he has seen from her before, in this very room—it is sorrow, and a calm acceptance, and a wild, naked loneliness that tears through his chest more cleanly than a blade ever could. He cannot abandon her again.
His feet move of their own volition, carrying him back to her side before he realizes what is happening. Hawke wiggles away from the edge of the bed, giving him room; he perches on top of the covers uneasily, feeling her slight weight shift behind him, half-ruing this decision already but unwilling to yield to his fears. It is easier to feign normality when his back is turned to her, at least in the beginning, but as the silent night stretches onward and her breathing evens, Fenris begins nodding towards sleep himself. Hawke rolls over behind him and he starts to rise, preparing to find his own bed, but—
Fingers wrap around his hand.
Sheer surprise stops him rather than any actual restraining force. He looks down, uncomprehending—but yes, they're still there: tiny, fragile fingers wrapped around his silver gauntlet. He turns, staring at Hawke; her eyes are nearly closed and her cheeks are still flushed with unhappiness, but her hands are sure. She is not intimidated at all by his armor, by the spines on his fingers, by his sword. He tries to pull away, but she tugs again.
He is dreaming. This is the only possible explanation for a child so unafraid of him. "As you wish." He gently pries her fingers loose from his gauntlet and pulls them both off; she watches with drowsy interest as he flips the hidden catches and drops them on her writing desk, then leans his chestpiece against the wall; even as he reseats himself on the side of the bed she grabs his hand again. The feeling of her skin on his is shocking—he remembers all too well the touch of her fingers as a woman—but this seems to be enough for the Hawke he has now, and she curls into her pillow and closes her eyes. After a moment, Toby rolls over onto Fenris's foot and lets out a comfortable sigh.
Fenris stares into the dark for a long time, Hawke's tiny hand in his, and wonders what exactly he's supposed to do now.