Fenris sighed in frustration. Even though Hawke's birthday was still a month away, he was determined to come up with a suitable gift. However, he was at a loss because he couldn't afford anything truly nice, and she was wealthy enough now to have purchased whatever she wanted anyway. Still, he persisted because he felt it was the least he could do for all she'd done for him.
He knew Hawke valued him as more than just a sword arm, though he didn't completely understand why. She had befriended him despite his cynicism, showed affection towards him despite his resistance, obstinately challenged him to let go of the only sense of identity he had, and risked herself for him. She hadn't hesitated to go after Hadriana.
Hadriana… Fenris had been so single-minded in his focus at the time that he hadn't noticed how badly Hawke was still hurting over the loss of her mother. Varric finally pulled him aside and scolded him for being so selfishly demanding and insensitive when it should be obvious he was one of the few things holding her together at that point. The knowledge brought guilt, which only grew worse the following evening when Hawke stopped by to make sure he was alright.
"You look downright in the dumps," a voice began, jarring Fenris from his reverie. He looked up to see a familiar old woman standing behind a counter, realizing that while lost in thought he'd wandered into a bake shop that he frequented regularly.
When the elf didn't immediately reply, the woman smiled gently and asked, "Is it about that pretty Dalish girl I see you come in with sometimes?"
"It is nothing," he answered, gesturing to a loaf of bread he wanted to purchase. A moment later he sighed, adding, "I am having trouble finding a gift for a friend that has no need of anything I could buy."
The woman nodded while retrieving the bread. "Well, if you want my advice, the best gifts come from the heart. That's where the meaning comes from, not from how much you spend."
"Thank you," he replied while paying. "I will consider that."
Fenris thought about what the woman said and about the gifts Hawke had given him in the past. She gave him gifts regardless of occasion, or at least tried to. And he realized they weren't things that carried a high monetary value, but rather things she thought would be meaningful to him.
Thinking about Hawke's gifts caused guilt to bubble to the surface again. A few months earlier she attempted to give him a book, thinking the story would resonate with him. He had reacted poorly.
The expression of sympathy she bore when he admitted he couldn't read had infuriated him. And when she offered to teach him to read, the situation quickly devolved into an argument that ended with him throwing the book against the door and telling her to leave.
He wasn't sure what Hawke would find meaningful, but now that the idea was planted he couldn't settle for anything less. He started back for the Hightown estate he called home to give it more thought.
"Ahhh, what brings the broody elf to my humble abode?" Varric asked, chuckling as he looked up from the ledger he was writing in.
Fenris exhaled slowly. He'd finally come up with an idea for Hawke's birthday, but he was struggling against the trepidation it filled him with. "I have a favor to ask."
The dwarf nodded while gesturing for him to have a seat. "What do you need?"
As Fenris explained, Varric raised an eyebrow curiously. "How come you didn't ask Hawke? I'm sure she would've been happy to help."
"I do not wish for her to know. Not yet. As such, I trust you will not speak of this to anyone."
Varric gestured for the elf to relax. "Nothing to worry about. Come back tomorrow and we'll get started."
Fenris knocked tentatively on the door to Hawke's estate. Today was the culmination of weeks of obsessive work, both with Varric and alone. He didn't have long to wait before Bodahn answered the door.
The old dwarf smiled. "Good day, Serah. Please, come in." In a quieter voice he added, "I must warn you that she's not in a pleasant mood today."
Fenris nodded in acknowledgement, stepping inside and passing through the foyer into the living room. He glanced up to see Hawke at the railing on the second floor, standing with her arms folded across her chest, waiting to see who was visiting.
"Hawke," he called out, his neutral tone belying his nervousness.
Her eyes flitted between his face and the small box he carried. Finally she motioned for him to join her. After he climbed the stairs, she faced him and waited expectantly for him to speak.
"I… it is your birthday, correct?" he asked.
The thinnest of smiles crept across her countenance. "You remembered?"
"Y-yes. I…" he began before pausing and holding the box out awkwardly to her. "It is not much, but I wanted to say happy birthday. I got some of those confectioneries I know you like."
Hawke sighed. "It hasn't been very happy. I can't stop thinking about how much I've lost. My family is gone. Some days I don't know if I have the strength to keep going. It's worse on holidays and birthdays." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be dumping this on you. Thank you for the gift, it means a lot to me that you remembered."
"You have no need to apologize. As much as you have listened to me wallow, the least I can do is return the favor."
She smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. "I'll try not to make it a habit."
Fenris stiffened when she set the box down on a table and began to open it. This was not part of the plan. She wasn't supposed to open it until he'd left. He could only watch in horror as she picked up the folded sheet of paper he'd left on top of the pieces of chocolate inside.
"What's this?" Hawke asked as she casually unfolded the page to reveal the text. Moments later her eyes grew wide and a gasp escaped her lips. "F-fenris? You wr-wrote this?"
It took all of his willpower, but he stepped forward and took the note from her hands. His hands trembled as he held it, and instinctively she grasped and steadied them. The proximity of Hawke only added to his unease as he cleared his throat and began to read aloud.
It is becuz of you that I am able to rite this. You push me to be more than I am. You lend me strength when I have none left. There is much I hate about my life. But knowing you is not something I will ever regret. And though I am not worthy of your attenshun, I thank you and will remane at your side for as long as you will have me.
The words came out stilted and uncomfortable, but he managed to get through it with only a few stumbles. When he finished he lowered his head, unwilling to look her in the eyes. Her hand quickly came up and lifted his chin. Her own eyes were glistening.
"B-but I thought…" she began.
"I couldn't… then," he said. "I am sorry for rejecting your kindness the way I did. You told me refusing to learn to read was allowing Danarius to still have power over me, and… there was perhaps more truth in that than I cared to admit. I wanted to make it up to you. Varric taught me to read and write enough that I could write this to you."
Fenris misinterpreted her tears, which were beginning to flow in earnest. "I-I… it was not my intent to upset you. Forgi-"
His apology was abruptly cut off when Hawke leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. She slid her arms around his waist and pulled them together.
Fenris had known lust, but never had it been accompanied by genuine desire before now. The feeling was both frightening and exhilarating. As Hawke intensified the kiss, his mind warred with his body before concluding that he would follow her lead.
Hawke broke the kiss and pressed her face into the crook of his neck. "Thank you," she whispered hoarsely. "You don't know how much this means to me."
"If you are willing to give me another chance, I would accept the book about Shartan."
Hawke looked up at him in mild surprise before a grin began to form. "Would you read it to me?"
Fenris shifted uncomfortably at the suggestion but finally nodded. "I am not very good with written words yet, but if you would help, I would try." She answered by kissing him again.
Letting go of the trappings of his past wasn't something easily done, so he still feared where she was leading him.
But for Hawke, letting go was something he was willing to try.