Fenris gripped at her shoulders as though she would disappear into thin air without him. His thoughts were overcrowded with the things he needed to say to her; he could not choose between them.
This chaos was interrupted when, hesitantly, she raised her good arm to seek him. Rarely had she been able to touch his bare skin, which he tended to keep covered. His hands would normally be sheathed in sharp gauntlets made to tear flesh from bone. Even knowing it was coming the elf could not help but gasp softly as her fingertips touched him. In the dark her fingers traced along his bare arm and came to rest atop his own. Stunned, he let her remove his hand from her, gently, and hold onto it.
It felt strangely intimate, just to touch her hand. A callused, strong hand - a warrior's grip, much like his own. But her hands had comforted just as often as they had harmed; they had protected and guarded so many citizens of Kirkwall more deserving of it, he knew, than he was. Yet in her presence he felt worthy, with the steady, reassuring press of her fingers around his.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Like I've been dropped off a cliff repeatedly," Hawke joked without mirth. "Better than I look, though. Don't worry, I landed on my face. It was never my best feature anyway."
Hawke was rambling. She did that when she was nervous. Why was Hawke nervous?
"But how are you?" she asked, squeezing his fingers lightly. "Are you better now?"
"I believe so. Let me..." Reluctantly he pulled away from her, not sure what would happen when he attempted to activate his lyrium. It required conscious effort, but the lyrium brands did light.
Sadie watched him as his tattoos flickered. They lit only dimly, though whether due to a lack of power or reluctance on his part she couldn't tell. The markings provided just enough light to illuminate them both, and for her to see the full path of the lyrium along his bare chest and stomach. She could see the rueful smile he had when they lit, his relief that they still worked and his disgust for them nonetheless. She could see the dark hollows around his eyes that spoke to worry and fear. And see the exhaustion on his face and in his body, that he had been pushed to his very limit by what had happened.
Hawke was reminded of the last time she had been reaching for something under her desk and been startled into standing up suddenly, hitting the back of her head sharply on the table and falling down in a wince. That was the thing her heart had done in her chest, the moment she saw his face.
For his part, when he looked up and saw Sadie's own bruised cheek and scarred face he winced, forgetting to hide his reaction. Still glowing, he studied her with concern.
Hawke blanched at his gaze. "I know it must be hideous. I won't even look for a few more days, I just don't want to know. I've forbidden all mirrors. Banned."
Her rambling ceased as soon as he caught her chin in his hand, lightly, and examined her. "You look far better than the last time I saw you," he mused. "What does the healer say? No permanent injuries?"
"That's what he says." She pulled back from his touch, uncomfortable with such scrutiny. "The arm's going to be out of commission for awhile. But it will mend." She held her breath several seconds before continuing. "That's right, you were there in the Bone Pit when I... came back."
He looked surprised. All at once the brands went out, and they were plunged into dimness again.
"You remember that?"
"Only vaguely." She kicked her feet awkwardly over the side of the bed. "But I've been putting together details from everyone else. I've been hearing you were the only one who never gave up on me."
He felt both pleased and embarrassed. "And where did you hear this?"
"... That much is true. I knew you would survive." He leaned back against the wall along his bed, watching the shape of her carefully.
Sadie shifted uneasily on the bed. Why was she so nervous? He was one of her closest friends, she had spent more time drinking and talking with Fenris than she had spent with her own sister since they were children. Yet she felt so unsure of herself, suddenly.
"Well, I wanted to say... Thank you for saving me."
She sounded almost shy. It was so unlike her that it caught Fenris off-balance.
"Aveline saved you," he told her honestly. "She was the one who pulled you out."
"But she wouldn't have been there without you."
"Perhaps. But she came to bring the marigolds, as she may have done anyway. And you were nearly there by then."
"I wouldn't have been able to make it without the light. Those little lights that came down, I couldn't see to climb until they came-"
"That was Merrill. It had nothing to do with me."
"Of for the love of - are we really going to argue about this?" Hawke tried to sound stern, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "You - you just sit there and let me thank you. Jerk."
Fenris stopped protesting and smiled up at the ceiling. There were no words for how grateful he was for this moment.
"Thank you, Hawke... for not dying."
"My pleasure," she answered lightly.
Then she forced herself to go on, maneuvering around the lump in her throat to get the question out: "So, I was wondering… How did you know? Why did you wait for me for so long, when everyone else left?"
Fenris was quiet for a long time, trying to arrange a reply that would adequately explain it. He remembered both the calm certainty and the agonizing doubt he had felt as he sat beside the abyss, waiting for some sign of her.
"I did not know for certain," he admitted slowly. "But if you were alive, if there was a chance you were alive... I did not want you to be alone."
It broke her, his quiet devotion.
Because she needed it so very much.
Not to be alone... the thought thundered through her, shaking her very bones. How long had she been alone? Possibly always. Even with her own lover she had been alone. That was clearer tonight than ever.
Sadie had to fight hard, now, to restrain the sob she had been holding in. She held herself together so tightly it was making the bed tremble underneath her, and when she felt the bed shift beneath her she thought she would fall to pieces. Literally shatter, like glass.
Then there was Fenris's hand on her back, and she fell into him.
Still, stubbornly, she tried to hold the tears back, even as his arms came around her. She leaned onto him fiercely, more like a wrestling grip than an embrace. Her breath came quickly, in angry gasps. No, she would not fall apart. No.
He stroked her long hair tenderly, and each touch undid her a little more. She almost hated him for it. How dare he be gentle with her. In all the years she had known him, she had never known him to be gentle. He was her strongest companion, unbreakable, unyielding. How could this be the same angry man she very nearly rejected in the Alienage a million years ago? How could he be the same man who carried her broken body back to Kirkwall so carefully? And how had she never noticed this about him?
Her gasps turned into whimpers, and then into sobs. She could not stop crying. It all came tumbling out of her.
It took some time for Hawke to stop crying. She hadn't cried like this since she was a child. Perhaps she had been storing it up all these years. Every time she thought she might at last be through, another sob would choke her and her body would bend under its strain.
When at last the tears began to subside, she found herself telling Fenris the whole story. About being dragged by the leg into a Drake's nest and crawling out of it in the pitch black and realizing that she would have to climb back to the surface herself. About falling into empty space, and being swarmed with dragonlings with no way to fight back. About pulling herself up over and over and over again, for endless hours on end.
This wasn't the version she would later tell in the taverns, to a crowd of onlookers, where the unstoppable Champion climbed a dark mountain with one arm and killed monsters with her bare hands, no sweat. Not this time. In this story she was cold and scared and unsure and more alone than she had ever been in her whole life. She didn't know if she would ever see the light of day again. And all that kept her going was the thought of the people who needed her, and those she needed to be there when she returned.
Daringly Fenris stroked the ends of her long hair, soothingly, as she spoke. And now and again he offered up some details of his own - he spoke of the chill of the underground, of skin against stone, which Hawke knew only too well. He described the cloud of spell wisps that Merrill had summoned, the ones that somehow found her deep below. And he filled in, at the end of her story, the fact that the drakes and dragonlings that had attacked her and suddenly vanished had flooded to the chamber above, where they had slain them all.
Putting their stories beside one another made them both feel better.
"It's funny, I feel like we went through it together..." Hawke said, hesitantly. Her cheek was pressed against his bare chest, and she was finally noticing the steady thrum of his heartbeat beneath her ear. "You were there with me the whole time. Up there. Breathing the same air. I think I knew it. I thought of you, actually. When I needed the strength to go on. And the whole time you were waiting for me."
Fenris shifted beneath her, and Hawke sat up suddenly. "I'm so sorry for crying all over you. I don't know what got into me."
"Well, you almost died, Hawke. That tends to be stressful."
She smiled gratefully. She hated that she had cried - she counted it as a personal failing, one she would have to make up for. But she had to admit that she did feel an awful lot better now. Relaxed, even.
She wasn't sure what she had been so worried about after all. Fenris was the easiest person in the world to talk to. When he was with you, it was as if there was nothing in the world he would rather be doing at that moment.
Fondly she stared at the dark shape of him next to her, filling in the familiar details in her mind. His hair would be hanging down over his eyes, now, and he would have just the faintest upward quirk to his lips that she had learned to see as a smile.
Dimly, Fenris could make out Hawke watching him intently, with a look on her face that he had never seen before. "Is something wrong?" he asked, concerned.
Hawke kissed him.
She would later rationalize this as a thank-you kiss, a happy-to-be-alive kiss, a I-just-had-a-fight-with-my-boyfriend-and-I-really-need-this kiss. But the truth of it was, she simply wanted to. Without stopping to think it through, she found her way to his mouth in the dark with an ease that seemed magical, and she kissed him.
A giddy feeling bubbled through her, and warmed every part of her that had been cold.
He should have seen it coming. She grasped his arm and leaned over and he should have been ready, but he had never expected, not even a little bit, that Hawke would kiss him. By the time his poor stuttering mind had registered that Hawke was kissing him it was already over. She was pulling back with a surprised look on her face, as if he had been the one to do this impossible thing that she had done herself.
"Oh flames..." she said, shocked. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." Fenris said it immediately and emphatically.
"I just..." She laughed a little, sounding both horrified and excited, in a way that made perfect sense.
"Yes," he said simply. Yes to everything. Yes.
"Anders." He hated the name, and saying the name. But it had to be said.
"Yeah," she whispered.
Strangely, the thought of Anders no longer filled Fenris with bitterness and longing. He felt good. Hawke had kissed him, and he felt good. Fantastic, actually. Anything was possible.
"If you ever..." he started to say.
"Yes. I mean," Sadie put her head in her hands, still giddy and upset and now utterly overwhelmed. "I can't right now. But yes."
It wasn't necessary to explain any more. They both understood.
"Well." Hawke sighed and looked up at the ceiling, where the last of the candlelight was guttering and preparing to go out. "I am so incredibly tired, and walking all the way back to my bed is going to be too much work."
"What did I tell you?"
"Yeah, yeah. Move over." Hawke pulled her feet onto the bed and lied down next to Fenris. It was not a large bed, and it would have been unbearable had they not both been exhausted beyond all measure. Too tired to really think about what she was doing, Hawke pulled his arm around her and held on. It felt nice.
Fenris lay beside her and let her pull his arm around her waist, to really hold her. A wonderful feeling, and for once he felt that he had earned something pleasurable.
"Fen?" She said cautiously, not sure how to say the thing she needed to say. "I... I'm glad you're okay. When I heard you've been. That you were terribly ill. From trying to help me, I keep thinking... Earlier I was lying in my bed and thinking, what if I'd woken up here and found you were- I don't know what I'd do if-" Her throat tightened, and she couldn't finish her thought.
Touched at this concern, Fenris squeezed her comfortingly. He certainly didn't want her to start crying again.
"dormiat neces tu, Hawke," he spoke into her ear.
She grinned. "One of these days, I am getting a book of Arcanum, and I'm going to figure out what you're saying to me. For all I know you're comparing me to an orlesian cow."
He laughed softly. "I said you need sleep, Hawke."
"Aha. Door-me-at. You need some of that door-me-at too, Fen."
"utinam erat non a ordinis ignavus." He brushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear before continuing. "Post hoc volui diligenter veritatem dico vobis. te amo.
"Hmm?" Hawke said drowsily. She loved to listen to him talk, especially when he spoke another language and she could just enjoy the beauty of his voice.
"Amo te ex toto corde meo."
"Amo te ex toto co- what was that?" She looked over her shoulder at him, and saw his eyes widen.
To hear those words from her lips, words that had never been spoken for him... it made his heart pound, even if she didn't know she was saying.
"Say it again," he requested, fervently.
"Amo te ex meo corde... was that right?"
"Yes. Very close. Yes." He held her tighter, and buried his face in her blonde hair.
Sadie looked back at him quizzically. She knew she had pleased him, but not why. "But what does it mean?"
"... I will tell you someday."
She sighed. "Lucky for you I'm so sleepy. I'll get it out of you eventually."
Fenris laid awake a long time, holding on to her. Alive and well and in his arms. If this was to be a reward for his ordeal in the Bone Pit, it was enough. It was more than enough.
And then, at last, he slipped into a sweet and dreamless sleep.
My lazy Arcanum is courtesy of Google Translate. It says, roughly:
dormiat neces tu = you need to sleep
utinam erat non a ordinis ignavus = I wish that I was not a craven coward.
Post hoc volui diligenter veritatem dico vobis. te amo = Then I would be able to tell you the truth. I love you.
Amo te ex toto corde meo = I love you with all my heart
Thank you to all of my faithful reviewers: PenguinRegina, xZoex, Enchanter T.I.M., Aya001, LifeandFire25, paulaHandGJ, Frazi, stripedwolf, CommanderHawke667, and everyone else!
Hope you've enjoyed this, and I'll start putting up a follow-up story after a short break.