This chapter marks the end of a peek into the early days between Fenris and Hawke. Hope you've enjoyed this glimpse.
"What is…that?" Varric said, pointing at the squirming bundle in Bethany's hands.
Isabella glanced up from the deck of cards she was shuffling. Her face lit up as she dropped the cards on the table and pushed her chair back.
"Oh, he's adorable." She hurried over, her cinnamon eyes focused on the mabari.
Fenris glided out of her way, taking up a spot near the fireplace where Danal had also retreated.
"She," the mage corrected, glancing up and smiling.
"She's so cute," Isabella said, her hands sliding around the puppy, then deftly lifting her out of the mage's grasp. Fenris wasn't sure what to make of the soft cooing sounds coming from the Rivaini pirate. "Yes, you are. You're just the cutest little thing," she said, holding the puppy close to her face. The creature seemed to like it, wagging her stumpy tail hard enough to make her hindquarters wiggle back and forth.
Varric sidled up to Danal, and pitched his voice low. "What is it with women and little furry things?"
"Jealous?" Danal whispered back, grinning.
"Me? Jealous? When I have Bianca?"
"Don't take this wrong, but Bianca is kind of hard to cuddle with."
The dwarf placed a hand over his heart. "Hawke, you wound me."
Isabella, still holding the puppy, glanced over at the three men. "Tell me, Hawke, wherever did you find her?"
"More like her mother found us…or Beth, actually." He glanced down at his forearm, where the mother's teeth marks were just starting to fade. "She was quite…insistent."
"This sounds like an interesting story," Varric said.
"Not really. She popped out of an alley, dropped the puppy at Beth's feet, then latched onto my arm till we agreed to take her little one."
The dwarf laid a hand over his heart and sighed dramatically. "Hawke, all this time in my company and you still haven't developed an ear for a story? Where did she come from? Out of all the people in this city, why you two? What happened to the others in the litter? Were they-"
Danal threw up a hand, laughing. "All right." This human smiled so easily, Fenris thought. "Feel free to make up what you want. You will anyway."
The dwarf grinned and shook his head. "Details, messere, first, I need details. Best discussed over a pitcher or two of ale."
"And a plate or two of those spicy sausages." Isabella called out as Varric headed for the door. He turned and bowed, then headed down the stairs.
Fenris glanced back at the two women, heads close together as they fussed over the puppy.
"What…is that?" a voice Fenris couldn't quite place said behind them.
"I think there's an echo in here," Danal murmured to Fenris, who - to his surprise- found himself smiling at that. It shifted to a frown a heartbeat later, directed at Anders hovering in the doorway.
"A puppy," Bethany said, smiling at the abomination as she eased the mabari out of Isabella's hands.
With the fireplace at his back, Fenris had nowhere to retreat as Anders brushed by him, his gaze focused on what Bethany held.
"I've always been more of a cat person, myself. Though, she is cute." The mabari nipped at his finger when he tried to pet her. "Hey, watch it."
Fenris hid a smile. Seems the creature had some sense, young as she was.
"Oh, it's not even wet," Bethany said. "She's probably hungry."
"Mage…is not on the menu," he said, holding up his finger and examining it. When Isabella reached out to the mabari, the puppy nuzzled her hand. Anders threw her an exasperated look, then focused back on Bethany, his face going tender.
Fenris' sharp ears caught a soft sound from Danal, somewhere between a groan and a sigh. Dark eyes met his, followed by a shifting of his shoulders that might or might not be a shrug.
"Ale's on its way," Varric said from the doorway. "And the sausages, together with the usual." Fenris wondered what the usual was. Varric motioned to the puppy. "And something for our little guest."
"What did you order?" Isabella said. "Not that swill Corff claims is stew, did you?"
"Rivaini, you wound me."
"She's a growing girl, she needs-"
Fenris let their banter drift over his head. He'd never understood this need to fill up time with words that had no meaning. Though, Danarius had been exceptionally skilled in such pointless conversation. Most magisters were, or they didn't survive.
Norah arrived with another bar maid, both carrying trays laden with cups, pitchers of ale, meat pies, plates of sliced cheese, late summer fruit, small rounds of bread, and Isabella's sausages. With neat efficiency, they laid everything out on the dwarf's round oak table. While everyone settled themselves, Varric slipped each woman a few silver, then closed the door behind them.
Fenris settled next to Hawke. Bethany sat across from her brother, and Anders on her right. Unfortunately, that put the abomination directly across from Fenris, but at least the elf could keep an eye on him.
"Not the best the Hanged Man offers, but it won't strip the skin off your tongue," Hawke said, handing him a mug of ale and a smile. Isabella, sitting next to Bethany, smirked and slid a sausage into her mouth, her tongue licking off the juices as she eyed him the whole time. Fenris felt the tips of his ears burning, and scowled, his hand tightening on his mug. Then her eyes shifted to Hawke, and she winked. From the corner of his eye, Fenris was surprised to see a faint flush blossom under the curving tattoos on his cheeks. Then the man raised his mug in salute to her, before draining it in one pull. The sudden intake of alcohol deepened the rosy color on his cheeks.
"Dani!" Bethany said.
Danal threw her a grin. "What, I'm thirsty."
"At least eat something," she said, picking up one of the small meat pies off the plate in front of her and holding it out to him. The puppy wiggled out of her grasp and clambered onto the table, nosing the pies.
"Hey!" Anders said, grabbing up the plate before she could latch onto one.
Varric chuckled and pick up a plate holding skewers of grilled fish and passed it to Isabella who handed it off to Bethany.
"Here," Bethany said, sliding a piece of fish off a skewer, "this is much better for you."
The puppy yipped, then wagged her tail before devouring the morsel. Two skewers later, with a full belly, she snuggled on the mage's lap and fell asleep. By this time, everyone had nibbled at something. Fenris plucked up the last meat pie -his third- before the plates were set on a side table, and they settled down to the first round of Wicked Grace.
"Winner of the first hand buys the second round of pitchers," Danal said to Fenris. "After that…" He grinned. "Whoever's got coin left."
"Speaking of coin, what's the bet limit this time?" Isabella asked, studying her cards.
"One silver, tops," Varric said, tossing one into the wooden bowl in the center of the table. The rest, including Fenris, followed. The Rivaini rolled her eyes, while the dwarf rearranged the cards in his hand. "I've got expenses. And that last job didn't net a lot of profit."
"You sure your fence isn't doing a little skimming?"
Varric arched a brow at her. "Carla? She knows better." He grinned. "You could always wager your new toy."
She patted the jeweled dagger at her hip. "Oh, no, I earned this little bauble and I intend to keep it."
Danal chuckled, and glanced at Fenris. "Isabella does like shiny things."
"I like a lot of things, sweet cakes." Another silver joined the rest in the bowl. "Raise you one."
Danal grinned and matched it, as did the others. Isabella glanced down at her cards and her brow furrowed.
The dwarf rolled his eyes. "Oh, please, Rivaini, I know you're good for at least one more."
"Always," Isabella murmured. Fenris frowned at the cards in his hand. Did the woman have to infuse every comment and gesture with suggestive possibilities?
The pirate tossed another coin into the bowl. "Do you ever smile, sweet thing?"
Focused on the cards in his hand, it took Fenris a moment to realize she was addressing him.
"If the occasion merits it," he said, matching her bet, his eyes meeting hers. Danal chuckled. The silver coins clinked as he and Bethany both added to the pot. After a moment of scrutinizing his cards, Anders shrugged, then added his bet.
Isabella smiled over the tops of her cards at Hawke, leaning forward, and conveniently affording a generous view of her bosom.
"I call it. Now, show me what you've got."
The human grinned and laid his cards down revealing a pair and three of a kind. "Queens over towers."
"Bollocks," Isabella muttered, then laughed and laid her cards down, a pair of knights and a pair of three of coins.
Anders sighed and showed his hand, a pair of two of daggers that wouldn't beat anything except a random collection of cards. Bethany made a face at her brother, while Varric shook his head as he tossed his hand onto the draw pile.
Fenris glanced down at his cards, then, one at a time, laid them on the table.
"Holy shit, elf," Varric said, staring at the royal hand spread out before them.
Danal laughed. "Figures, I finally get a decent hand and I still lose." He scooped up the bowl and handed it to the elf. "Looks like the second round's on you."
"So it would appear." Fenris retrieved his winnings from the bowl, stacking the coins next to his mug.
"Just don't get that swill Hawke buys," Isabella said.
Grinning, Danal picked up the scattered deck and started shuffling. "You maligning my tastes again?"
"Only in ale, sweet cakes," she said.
Fenris didn't miss the quick, shy look Bethany gave him after glancing at her brother. The elf focused on eating his meat pie, too aware of Danal, of his warmth and scent filling the air between them. He dealt with it by focusing on the game, and somewhere between the second and third round of ale, he found himself relaxing, even listening to the others' banter, though he made few comments. These people were so easy with one another, so easy with him. They'd seen him fight, seen these cursed markings flaring as he'd phased and torn through the demons Danarius had left behind, seen him rip the slaver's heart out of his chest. And they weren't afraid of him.
"Well, I'm tapped," Anders said, leaning back and stretching sometime after the third round of pitchers.
The puppy stirred on Bethany's lap, and she glanced at her brother. "I think I'll call it a night."
Anders pushed to his feet, smiling down at her. "I'll walk you home,"
"Thank you," she said, ducking her head and smiling in return.
Danal watched them leave, his chin propped on his hand, his cheeks a little flushed from drinking. He sighed softly, then picked up the pitcher and filled his cup halfway, then held out the pitcher, his dark eyes catching the elf's.
"Some left, if you're interested."
"Oh, he is," Isabella murmured.
"Rivaini." Fenris heard a warning in the dwarf's voice, but Isabella just leaned back, fingering the pommel of her new 'toy.' For the first time that night, she looked thoughtfully at the elf, rather than like she was trying to imagine what he looked like under the plain dark tunic and leggings.
Danal was still holding the pitcher. Fenris shrugged and held out his cup. The human emptied a swallow or two into it. After two pitchers of the stuff, it didn't taste half bad. Corff did have some fine ales, and from comments the elf had overheard, good whiskey and rum. But the man had no taste in wine.
"Well, I'm done in," the human said, stretching his arms over his head after setting the pitcher down, his fingers interlaced. Knuckles popped and he winced, then settled back to a semi-slump, his chin propped on his hand. He glanced at Varric.
"No, Hawke, you can't stay here."
"Did I ask?"
"It's in your eyes, sweet cakes," Isabella said.
The human grimaced. "Just don't fancy getting into a row with uncle about the new 'mouth to feed.' He'll blame me, even though the mabari's imprinted on Beth. Not that I want him grousing at her." He sighed. "Maker knows she's got enough to deal with in staying two steps ahead of the templars all the time."
"She's a smart girl. She'll be fine," Isabella said.
"I know, it's just…" Danal picked up a card from his last hand, flipping it over and over in his fingers. The prince of daggers flicked in and out of view. "Father trained her well, but all it takes is one little slip at the wrong time…or someone spilling what they know to the templars."
Fenris' eyes narrowed. "Your father…was a mage?"
Danal nodded. For a moment, Fenris considered that Danal's comment about templars might have been a subtle warning. But the man was looking at him too directly.
"Legally, he was an apostate. Only way he could have any kind of a life approaching normal. And if he hadn't escaped from the Gallows, I wouldn't be here. Or Beth or…." He looked away, but not before the elf caught a flicker of pain in his eyes. "…or Carver," he finished very softly.
"Why don't you head home, Hawke," Varric said with a gentleness that surprised Fenris. "Check back in a few days. I should have heard from some of my contacts by then."
Danal downed the rest of his drink, then pushed to his feet.
"I should probably retire as well," Fenris said, rising. Isabella quirked a brow, but said nothing.
The human rested a hand on his dagger as he turned to the elf. "I'll see you to the stairs to Hightown. Gangs are usually out roaming around this time. Less of a chance they'll attack two armed men traveling together." A grim smile touched his lips. "Though they'll more likely be fighting over the scraps of what used to be Sharp's territory."
Fenris could have pointed out that he had traveled the narrow, twisting alleys of Lowtown alone at night since he'd arrived in Kirkwall months ago. But he didn't. He enjoyed the human's company. Besides, it was only a casual stroll, not an invitation to share a bed.
The night air, thick with the dead seaweed smell of an outgoing tide washed over them as they exited the Hanged Man. Danal's nose wrinkled.
"Don't think I'll ever get used to that smell, but it's still better than pig shit."
"Not a smell I'm familiar with," Fenris remarked. For some reason, that earned him a chuckle from the human.
"I grew up on a farm near Lothering. All kinds of smells, bad and good. Every season has its own. Sometimes…sometimes I miss them, even the bad ones."
Shadows flickered behind the lanterns set in wall niches where Danal paused at a corner, scanning the alley entrance across the street. The dim light extended only a few feet into the narrow space, but enough to show no one hovered there. After they crossed the street, the human continued, his voice taking on the cadence of a poet.
"In the spring, there's the smell of rain damp earth when you break through winter's crust. Apple blossoms. The first rose." He smiled. "Then summer smells like honeysuckle or crushed blackberries on a hazy afternoon. Autumn…autumn is the sweet grass scent of hay put up for winter feed, apple pie cooling on the table, and a smokehouse hung with ham and bacon. Winter is clear and clean. The air smells like iron, sometimes, just before a snowfall. Every time I catch one of those scents, it reminds me of home, of what...we had to leave behind." His face went wistful then, maybe even a little sad. It was hard to discern his expression in the soft light of a half-moon through the haze of the foundry smoke that drifted out of the armory district. "Kirkwall smells like fish guts and tar, year round." He laughed, then. "Well, at least Lowtown does."
By this time, they'd reached the stairs leading to the 'better' sections of Kirkwall.
"Varric will probably have a lead on something in a few days. I'd welcome your help, if you're of a mind. Though I should warn you it will probably involve bandits or slavers."
Fenris' hand closed around his sword hilt and he smiled. "I think I can handle that. You'll find me at the mansion. I'm usually there." It's not as if he had many places to go to.
Danal nodded and wished him good night, before gliding away then melding into the shadows. He moved like one, too, soft and silent. Fenris lingered a moment, watching where he had disappeared, then slipped up the stairs.
Later, stretched out on his bed, a small lamp he'd salvaged from the debris in the receiving room burning on a side table, he considered his new situation. He had allies, companions even, if not friends. Work, if he wanted it; so there would be coin for food, armor and weapon repairs, when needed. Healing, too, as skilled as any Danarius had had access to. His thoughts strayed to Hawke, then. An unusual man. Fenris sensed a deep well of kindness under the flippant humor. And while the human had courage, he didn't rush blindly into battle. As for his other qualities…
Fenris rolled to his side, away from the lamp to gaze into the deep shadows on the other side of the small room. A man raised by a mage might also have less savory attributes. But a life of slavery, especially under Danarius' stringent authority had honed the elf's instincts about people to a fine edge. There were depths to Danal Hawke, hidden under the easy words that, unexpectedly, veered into poetry at times. He thought beyond the surface of things, an uncommon trait in the elf's experience, especially in a man who hired out his blade for a living.
The shadows shifted on the whitewashed wall, changing shape as a stray wisp of air drifting through the narrow opening in the window nudged the lamp flame first one way then another. Fenris rolled over and blew it out before pulling up the light blanket to his shoulders, thinking of the people who had accepted him so easily. He had a place to make his stand. As for what tomorrow might bring…well, tomorrow would come soon enough.