AN: And we've finally come to the end! I can hardly believe it's over. I started this fic over a year ago in September of 2011, and I can tell you quite frankly that I did not really expect to ever see the end of it. This is the longest thing I've ever written by about 50k words, and it would have been impossible without the help of everyone listed in the first chapter and without you guys for your reviews and wonderful kind words. Thank you to each and every one of you who took time out of your day to leave a review, and to everyone else who's followed along as well, thanks for letting me share this story with you.
Special thanks go again to Jade, without whom this fic would not have come into existence, and without whom my writing would be a black morass of cliches and commas. You're the best, even when I hate it. :)
The soundtrack for this chapter, if anyone is interested, is Healing Katniss (watch?v=NbB4qUiFSkk) and Tenuous Winners Returning Home (?v=Z31wvfEqFGM), both from the Hunger Games soundtrack.
Thank you, everyone, for reading.
Wandering oversea singer,
Singing of ashes and blood,
Child of the scars of fire,
Make us one new dream, us who forget.
Out of the storm let us have one star.
—Prayer after World War, Carl Sandburg
There are fingers stroking through her hair. Long fingers, gentle fingers, delicate and warm, brushing over the nape of her neck like a whisper. It has been so long since she has felt this touch.
Hawke sighs where her head rests on her mother's knee, and the movement frees the faintest hint of the scent her father had once brought her mother from Orlais. A tiny little bottle, no bigger than her thumb, the winking, delicately-cut glass brought out only on very special occasions: the rare party, Satinalia, their anniversaries. The memories are so warm they hurt.
"There, now." Her mother's voice, low and soothing like she is a child again; her mother's hand on her shoulder. "There, now, my sweet girl. You're all right."
Hawke smiles into her mother's lap, closing her eyes at the obvious untruth. "You know Bethany was always the sweet one. I was the one with muddy feet that Carver kept giving black eyes."
Her laugh, as easy and gentle as Hawke remembers, and with none of the pain and grief and agony of their last meeting. But not here, not now—Hawke pushes that shadow of thought away, twists her fingers into the wine-red fabric by her cheek. Her mother says, "All of my children are sweet in their own ways. You were just more…difficult about it."
"That's a very generous way to put it."
"I knew you would never be one to stay safe at home with me. You take too much after your father."
That one stings her eyes before she can stop it. Hawke swallows, hard, and manages a smile. "I miss him," she admits; then she adds, quietly, trembling, "I miss you."
Her mother does not even pause her fingers in her hair. "There, now," she says again, as if she is chasing away the nightmares for her little girl once more, banishing the darkness with a candle and the immortal strength of a mother's love. "Don't cry, my darling girl. Hush. I'm here."
"This is a dream. You'll be gone when I wake up."
Her mother smiles so warmly Hawke can feel it on her back. "Do you think I will stop loving you just because I'm gone? Oh, my daughter, there is nothing in this world or the next that would ever keep my heart from yours."
Hawke shudders, clenching her eyes closed against the tears. "It's so hard. It's so hard—so many people are looking to me for answers and I don't—always have them. And I can't—ask you."
"And you think I am the keeper of all knowledge?" She laughs again and the sound is like a lullaby, like the warmth of a hearth-fire, like coming home. "I was a nobleman's daughter living hand to mouth in a foreign country, married to a mage on the run, with both my daughters every bit as magical and in just as much danger. Do you remember when you and your sister froze your father's entire pumpkin patch solid?"
"Oh, yes. I haven't thought about that for—years. And…I suppose I never told you, but that was my idea. Bethany didn't know what I was planning."
"I knew. Poor Bethany. But what did I know then of raising mages to keep them safe, from both others and themselves? Who could I possibly ask about concealing my children from templars, about keeping everything important in light bags and boxes so that they'd be easy to carry if we needed to flee during the night?" She sighs so that Hawke's hair slides down her cheek, then lightly tucks the strands back behind Hawke's ear. "Sometimes, my dear," she murmurs, "you can only give your best effort, and hope the Maker takes care of the rest."
"I…We never knew. You always seemed so in control."
"As I meant it. Those were cares too great for you to carry."
"Shh." Her mother smiles again, but this time when she speaks there is a new, teasing tone in her voice. "Besides, you have no reason to be afraid. You are not alone now."
How stupid, that even in the Fade her mother could still make her blush. "He…well. You knew back then, but…it's different. Now. We worked it out, I mean."
"I know. You may inform him that I expect my first grandchild to give you as much trouble as you gave me."
Hawke doesn't know if she's laughing or crying. "Mother!"
"Oh, tush. I've been after fat-cheeked grandchildren since you first began courting seriously, you know that. And your father's wanted them even longer."
"Oh, tush yourself. You knew I…you knew…" A sudden lump surges in Hawke's throat, hot and hard as grief and just as hard to speak through. "I wish you were here, Mother, so much. It hurts how much I miss you. I wish you could see Fenris again. I wish Father could meet him at all. I hope—I hope he'd—approve—"
Her mother's fingers smooth over her cheek, wiping away the tears. "You know he would," she tells her quietly. "All he ever wanted was for you to love and to be loved. That's all he needed. And that's all I wanted."
Hawke's smile is thick and watery, a damp patch growing on the fabric under her cheek, but it is a smile. "I'm only sorry you won't be able to hold your first grandchild."
"You shouldn't be. You know I'd spoil them rotten."
"They'd have loved you for it."
"And I love you." Her mother's voice is fading, like a breeze has picked it up to bear it away. Hawke fists her hands harder in her skirts as if to anchor her there, with her, but it is of little use. The fingers in her hair slip away. "My sweet girl," her mother breathes, and a kiss like wind brushes over her forehead. "Be happy."
"Say hello to Father and Bethany for me," Hawke whispers, and she is gone.
She can feel her heart beating.
This is a good sign, Hawke thinks; beating hearts generally go hand-in-hand with life in her experience, and the steady one-two thump in her chest seems to indicate at least some spirit still remaining. She also feels like she's been run over by both her father's buck wagon and the mule pulling it, which is further encouraging on the alive front if not overly comfortable. Piece by piece, her world filters into existence around her: a pillow under her head, cool sheets, soft sunlight on her shoulder and softer voices at her feet. Her limbs are heavy as lead and her eyes feel like they're glued shut, but she did not survive Jaculus only to lose a battle of will to sticky eyelashes, and after a brief but invigorating battle she manages to coax them open.
Slowly, the blur of sun and shadow resolves into a red coverlet and ivory walls—her room in Minrathous, she realizes, and her bed—and two figures at the foot of the bed in quiet conversation, one with flaming red hair and the other white, their noses alike in profile. Fenris, she realizes muzzily, and Varania, his sister, Varania who even as she watches gives Fenris a nod and a small smile and slips from the room. Hawke blinks like an owl, lazy and slow, and watches dazedly as Fenris circles the bed to settle into a dark-wooded chair pulled nearly to her elbow. He drags a hand through his hair and glances a moment out the window, his green eyes old and tired, weary with something more than simple fatigue, and the sight of it makes even her bruised soul ache. It is time, she thinks, to go home.
She sighs, "Fenris."
It comes out hoarser than she means it to and rough as if she has screamed herself raw, but Fenris's head snaps around as if she has yanked a line. The rest of him follows, sliding forward to the very edge of his chair. "Hawke," he says, and then as easy and as open as she has ever seen him, Fenris smiles.
The sheer warmth of it takes her breath away. It doesn't matter that her bandaged arms are throbbing in remembered pain or that her head might as well be tied to the bed; she must touch him, must feel the confirmation that this is real and she is alive and he is here, despite every threat to the contrary, and Hawke fumbles her hand from the bedclothes to reach for him. He meets her halfway, catching her trembling fingers in his own, folding her hand into the familiar, honest calluses that line the creases of his palm. Hawke closes her eyes.
"Welcome back," Fenris murmurs, the smile still there in his voice.
She grins without looking at him. "A reprise with the roles reversed? I think I prefer the first one, where you were the one doing all the bleeding."
His tone turns wry. "I do as well."
She tightens her hand around his in answer, stretching her toes downwards as far as she can, feeling out the tug and pull of half-healed wounds and deeply sore muscles. Then she rolls her head on her shoulders until it loosens enough that she can ease her way up the pillows, until she can see Fenris clearly in the morning light. "How long?"
"Not long. Two days."
"Dare I ask what happened in the arena?"
Hawke means it lightly, but Fenris's face darkens like a thundercloud, his smile vanishing under the sudden weight of shadow. "You nearly died," he tells her, his words clipped at the ends. Hawke cannot blame him; she does not enjoy that memory either. "The gates opened the moment your victory was registered, but you were already…" He makes a short, helpless gesture in the air. "There was nothing but blood."
The haunted look in his eyes is too much, too deep for her to fathom; she twines her fingers through his more firmly, pulling him back to the present. "You brought me back," she says, and means it. "I wouldn't have made it if you hadn't been there."
"I could not protect you."
"No?" Hawke runs her thumb over the vein of lyrium lining the inside of his wrist, resting it over the place where his pulse beats. "What about this?"
He turns his head away, though he recaptures her thumb with his fingers. "A curse."
"A gift. Fenris, you saved me with it. You saved me, not the lyrium or anything else. I owe you my life."
"You owe me nothing," Fenris snarls, his eyes snapping sharp enough to cut as he turns back to her, as he stands and bends over her on the bed, as he slides his free hand behind her head and presses his lips hard against her own. The suddenness of it shocks her—and then her mouth opens under his and her hands fist themselves in his shirt to draw him closer, and for the next several minutes there is no sound in the room but the shift of weight and the hush of her own breathing. Eventually, though, the kiss quiets, and the tense lines of Fenris's jaw ease under her fingers, and he pulls back enough to rest his forehead against her own. "A gift," he repeats ruefully, and closes his eyes.
He has one knee on the bed already; when Hawke tugs he yields and settles at her hip, the room so heavy with sorrow and something deeper that she cannot quite breathe through it. Instead, she feathers her fingertips up his neck, over his jaw, letting them slide into the white mess of his hair; his eyes slide shut at her touch and her heart twists. The crow's feet around his eyes have deepened in worry and fatigue, his forehead stuck in a permanent crease that has not relaxed since they docked months ago. She smoothes her hand over his eyebrows until they ease, sliding her fingers across the bridge of his nose to the corners of his eyes, erasing the years from his face as best she can until the anxiety becomes something more yielding.
She says, "I love you, Fenris."
He had been leaning into her hand; at that he stops, suddenly, and pulls back just enough to look at her, and there is something alight in Fenris's face that sets her soul on fire. His thumb glides over her bottom lip, and then he bends and kisses her again, and this time it is so gentle that she is heartsore at the sweetness of it.
"Do not leave me again, Hawke," he tells her, his voice low and heavy with emotion. "I could not bear it."
"I never left," she says, and then as if in a dream, or in the memory of a dream, she adds, "If there is a future to be had, remember?"
His eyes soften; his mouth turns up in a smile. "I have not forgotten."
"Neither have I." She smiles at him in return, then, sensing the heaviness returning, turns the conversation to something lighter. "I saw Varania was here."
"Yes," he says, and there is a new thing in his eyes that she has never seen there before, a sort of surprised pride and gratitude and relief that together make him younger than his years. "She healed you," he continues, touching one of the bandages around her upper arm. "She was at the match, and afterwards she was the only mage I—was willing to trust."
"Oh, I see how it is. Any mage will do in a pinch, hmm?" Hawke grins to lighten her teasing, probing with her own still-drained magic at the half-healed cuts and gashes still left behind. It is not bad at all, she realizes, only a step or two below her own blunt healing, and when she touches the place on her cheek that Jaculus had split open she finds only the faintest line of a scar. "Remind me to thank her when I see her again."
Hawke smiles; then she draws in a breath and her gladness fades away behind anxiety. No reason to put this off longer—no time to waste if she has not succeeded. "What happened with Jaculus?"
"Dead," Fenris says shortly, his eyes going hard. "His funeral was this morning."
"All pomp and no substance, I'm sure."
"A spectacle worthy of the Archon himself."
"Of course. What else?"
"With his death in the arena, you have officially inherited the majority of Jaculus's property. You are now a magister twice over."
"With twice the enemies. I was afraid of that." She scrubs the heels of her hands over her eyes, then sighs. "I'll tell Dalos the plan today."
"Do not linger overlong. The sooner we are free of this city, the better."
"Why, Fenris, you say that like you want to leave."
Fenris smirks, but Hawke's heart is racing for another reason, a question she both dreads to ask and desperately wants answered. "Fenris," she murmurs, her voice now serious, "what of Alam?"
The lightening of his face is answer enough. His eyes brighten, his smile turns real—and the weariness slides away from his face like water. "Safe," he tells her, and Hawke's eyes slip closed in relief. He continues, "The invasion has been abandoned. The Imperator Petra has returned to Carastes to salvage what she can from the armada. Even Priscus has fallen into disfavor, close as he was to the magister Jaculus. The Fog Warriors…" Fenris sighs like an iron band has lifted away from his chest, as if he is taking his first real breath in months. "No more of them will die. Not from this attack."
"Then we did it." She laughs, giddy and bright. "We won."
He throws her a sharp glance that encompasses every cut and bruise still peeking out like spilled wine around her bandages. "The cost was almost too high."
"But paid willingly. Besides, there are—others—who paid much more."
"I do not regret it," Fenris tells her, his mouth quirking, an echo of another night of granite and ghosts and broken chains.
She smiles. "Neither do I."
"I owe you my thanks, Hawke."
"A gift," Hawke reminds him, and places her hand on his chest. The sunlight spills over her hand where it touches him, warm as a summer stream, as an overfull heart, as a glad voice calling home at the end of the day.
Fenris looks down at her in the rumpled crimson coverlet, her hair in disarray and her skin pale and mottled with bruises, and he smiles, and then he mirrors the motion, resting his palm over the place where her heart beats out a song solid and steady, a rhythm meant both for him and for herself: alive, alive, alive.
A full two days passes before Hawke is able to make it down the stairs on her own, two more before she gathers the strength to stagger anywhere but the study. Weak as she is from both blood loss and the absolute draining of her magic, she can do little but sign paperwork and talk, but with her recent acquisition of Jaculus's household and a number of important magisters visiting to either curry favor or dispense polite threats, she finds her days more than full enough of both. Varric and Isabela visit often, one with information about Hawke's conquests and the other with information about conquests of her own—Hawke suffers through recitals of her necking with Lydas more than once—and then on the fifth day after the duel Isabela saunters into the study and collapses on a low couch with a sigh.
Hawke doesn't look up from the stack of manumission papers in front of her. A few minutes later, Isabela sighs again, louder and more pointed, and Hawke suppresses a smile. As casually as she can, she says, "Is something wrong?"
Isabela toes a stack of books on the arm of the couch, then throws an arm over her eyes. "I'm bored."
"Already? It's not even noon. You usually don't expect to be entertained until at least three o'clock."
"So entertain me."
Hawke rolls her eyes. "I can put you to work, if that's what you mean."
"I'd prefer to play."
"I thought you and Lydas had a—thing—going."
"Lydas," Isabela says, her voice aggrieved as she stretches both hands over the end of the couch, "has found himself a suitor. One of the field hands from that dead magister's new place outside the city."
"Oh, really?" Hawke lays down her pen and props her head in her hands. "I didn't know he'd been over there."
"Oh, yes. He's all calf eyes and mooning and lovestruck sighs, and as good as that looks on some people, I prefer it not to be the ones I'm sleeping with."
"Even if they're directed at you?"
"Especially then." Isabela gives a little mock shudder. "Faint with love? I'd rather be faint with fu—"
"So Lydas has a suitor," Hawke says hurriedly. "Sorry for your loss, but I guess that's what free will does for you."
"Sweet thing," she purrs, "I am the embodiment of free will. But I suppose there are plenty of good-looking dockhands who know enough of the trade tongue to strip when I tell them to."
"It's the little things that count." Hawke grins, turning back to the last of the paperwork from her victory. She signs her name with a flourish to the bottom of the manumission documents, then slips the whole stack into an envelope for Varric. One last stop at the magistrate's and these slaves will be free too; then all that will be left is Dalos's instructions and her own final goodbyes.
The very thought is arresting enough to still her hands. All this and they are nearly finished; all this and little left to do but pack. Isabela starts humming something from the couch, her leg swinging in time, her voice throaty and low, and the melody drifts through the room like an errant thought to vise around Hawke's heart. The song is simple and sweet and sad, sad enough to make her ache with longing—and despite everyone here and the things she has learned and the friends she has made Hawke knows one thing to be true:
She is so ready to be home.
The siren spell of Isabela's song lasts until footsteps pound outside the door to shatter it. Varric bursts in, his hair wild and Bianca askew on his back, and slams the door closed behind him before flattening himself against it. "Rivaini," he pants, ignoring Hawke where she has half-risen from the desk, "did you really have to do that?"
"I don't have the faintest idea what you mean," she sing-songs, crossing her hands behind her head and staring up at the carved ceiling.
"Really? Because Hawke's steward is on the warpath and it's actually a little frightening how angry that elf can get. I didn't even know faces could turn that color."
"What's going on?" Hawke asks, straightening behind the desk.
"Nothing sordid," Isabela offers at the same time Varric says, "Rivaini drew a giant cock on the wall of Danarius's bedroom."
Then, faintly: "Did you…did you really?"
"Did you…I mean, is it…recognizable?"
"Let's just say Varric neglected to mention my obvious and marketable talent."
"My apologies," he says, chuckling in both amusement and despair. "You are truly a master of the medium."
Isabela grins widely as Varric leans back against the desk. Hawke closes her eyes. "Isabela. You drew a cock on Danarius's wall."
Varric nods. "Six feet tall. In bootblack."
"I go where the muse moves me."
And because she can do nothing else, Hawke throws back her head and laughs.
Slowly, room by room, Hawke's possessions begin to make their way into boxes and crates and canvas bags, bits and pieces piling up here and there like the moldering suits of armor in Fenris's mansion. They aren't leaving with much more than they arrived with, thanks to both frugality and the natural savagery of Minrathous's preferred souvenirs, but the packing still does require a not-inconsiderable amount of Hawke's attention as their tenure in Tevinter begins to draw to a close.
The Arras brothers visit, along with Varania; Damia comes too, with Feynriel, to both wish her well in her recovery and to say goodbye. Feynriel tries more than once to convince her to stay, but Hawke refuses to be swayed; Dalos will be more than capable in her absence and besides, there is another city with an older claim on both her time and her heart, and Hawke refuses to abandon either Kirkwall or her people there until the city burns down around her ears. Feynriel seems to accept that even if he does not approve, and when he and his mentor rise to leave he even manages to muster enough courage to kiss Hawke on the cheek.
All that is left is Dalos.
Hawke finds him in one of the west wing's guest bedrooms, fussing over the placement of a pillow on an already-immaculate bed. He tugs it one way, then the other, then rotates it to an identical side before standing back and eyeing it critically.
Hawke leans against the doorframe and grins. "Nervous?"
Dalos jumps so hard his wide sleeve catches a candlestick on the nightstand, just about knocking both the silver and himself to the floor in his recovery. "Mistress," he says in both acknowledgement and reprimand, and replaces the candle. "I didn't hear you."
"You were very focused. When is she supposed to get here?"
He glances at the sunlight pouring in through the tall windows. "Perhaps an hour. Palla is watching for her in the yard."
Her tone softens as she steps into the room, taking in the polished bronze, the gleaming oak, the high, cosy heap of quilts on the bed. "I'm sure your wife will love it."
Dalos smiles at the very mention of her, suddenly enough that Hawke does not think he realizes it, and his eyes are warmer than the light. "I have—missed her. A great deal."
"I believe it," Hawke murmurs, and then the smile slips from her face as she sinks into one of the straight-backed chairs tucked into the corner of the room. "Dalos, I want to ask you something."
He straightens, his own smile fading. "Of course, Mistress."
"You know I'm leaving. That Fenris and I are going home to Kirkwall in the next few days, and that I've given over the management of this estate to you and to Ara while I'm away for as long as you're willing to do it."
"You know we may be gone a long time. Years."
His eyebrows furrow. "Yes, Mistress. Ara and I have already discussed some long-term plans for the building and the grounds, if that's what you mean."
"Yes. No. Not really." Hawke leans her head back against the wall and inhales, trying to order her thoughts and her words into something closer to coherency. Just say it. "Dalos, I want this estate, and Jaculus's estate, to become part of the slave's underground."
He tenses so suddenly Hawke thinks he might snap in half. "You…what?"
"I'm serious," she says, and there is no doubt in her voice. She'd had the idea from one of Anders's letters, a rare missive where he'd been more humorous than angry; then she'd run it by Isabela, who'd approved of the intrigue, and Fenris who'd approved of the irony, and Varric had been the one to find her the contacts she'd needed in one of the safehouses itself. But regardless of her intentions she cannot stay here, not yet, and if Dalos refuses to jeopardize his family and his home she will not begrudge him the choice.
Still. She hopes.
"A lot of it's set up already," she continues. "Varric has made some introductions and arranged certain routes of transportation both in and out of here that won't attract notice. But, Dalos, I won't lie to you—it will not be safe for anyone who lives here, and if you say no I'll find another way—"
"I will do it."
She pauses. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes," he breathes, and his brown eyes are afire with something hard and elated and desperately painful. He says, "If there was ever—ever—if I could have—"
"I know," Hawke says, her throat thick, her chest aching. "I just wanted to give you—a chance. I want to give them a chance. Even if I can't be here myself to do it."
Dalos nods, short and sharp, his gaze a thousand miles away, and when Hawke stands he lets her pull him into a brief embrace. "Thank you for everything," she tells him. "I'll write. I'll send whatever I can."
"I will look forward to it, Mistress," he says, smiling—
A woman's voice rises from the stairs.
There is no need to wonder whose; Dalos's sharp, indrawn breath is enough. His hand is on the door before Hawke has moved, his footsteps vanishing rapidly down the hall before she can even open her mouth to speak. A cry echoes up from the atrium, sounding and resounding, a man's voice and a woman's and a third she thinks might be Palla—Hawke makes her careful way through the door to the banister overlooking the wide, polished stairs in time to see Dalos practically collide with his wife halfway down, flinging his arms around her and lifting her from the ground with a wild, joyful laugh she had not known him capable of.
"My Dara," she can hear him repeating, broken and glad. "My Dara, my darling."
His wife is no less overcome; her shoulders shake with sobs, her tears running down into her smile, and Dalos smoothes her faded auburn hair from her face like a buried man glimpsing sunlight. Palla stands beside them, smiling, laughing, talking so quickly to them both that Hawke suspects even she doesn't know what she's saying; and on either side she holds the hands of two boys with dark hair, neither of them older than twelve but both already the image of their sister.
Dalos laughs again and opens his free arm to his children, and quietly, without notice, Hawke slips away.
The day of their departure dawns grey and pale, clouds seeping across the sky to hang heavy and cold as if in mirror of Hawke's heart. She does not speak much as she and Fenris prepare for the day; every moment is a moment of lasts—the last time she will sleep in this bed, the last time she will put her hand on the carved leaves of her door, the last time she will make her way down the high, stately hallways that overlook the green spreading of her gardens.
The last time she will see many of her people here.
One by one, Hawke makes her way through her farewells. Palla cries, just a little, when Hawke gives her the little silver necklace she'd had made for her; Lydas winks and throws his arm around her shoulders as she stumbles through her gratitude for his help with Fenris. Canut gives her a little basket full of seed packets and one of his most sturdy trowels and that makes her cry, though she manages to compose herself enough to save them both from embarrassment. The tears come again, though, when Ara shows her the slender gold ring on her finger, and when Marcus lifts that hand to his lips with a smile more bare and honest than she has ever seen him.
Even Fenris does not seem wholly glad to leave; she catches him clasping hands with both Lydas and Ara, who grin and prod gently at the thin paler lines of scars tracing over his arms, the only remaining traces of their struggles on a sleepless, starless night. Then the carriage arrives and they load up the last of the boxes behind it, the horses stamping in impatience, the driver with his cloak pulled close against the chill, and a different pallor settles over the few still waiting in the echoing marble atrium for their magister to depart, something deeper and colder and more quiet, as soft and as wreathing as mist.
Fenris ties the final knot into place and steps to the open door of the carriage; behind him, Hawke hesitates, half-down the steps, caught in the instant between past and future as she turns one last time to face the white marble of the home that was once Danarius's. For a moment, she cannot move.
Then Dalos steps forward, Dalos of the sharp, intelligent eyes and light brown hair streaked through with grey, Dalos with his wife and children standing behind him, smiling. He takes both her hands in his, and he looks her in the eye, and he says, "Travel well, Euphemia Hawke."
"Thank you," Hawke says, and means it, and when he lets her slip free she sees the understanding in his eyes. Then she turns away, turns her back on the gardens and the windows and the polished stone, and she follows Fenris into the carriage. The driver clucks and the horses prance forward, and at last they pull away down the avenue, the wheels spinning over grey stone, the clouds spinning out a grey sky.
The drive is at once too short and an eternity too long. Minrathous rolls by them in shades of life and memory, shopkeepers' muted voices calling out their wares to passersby, slaves moving past with their eyes lowered, men and women strolling through the street's high archways with baskets and envelopes and purposes of their own, little noticing and caring less that a magister's laden carriage has passed them by. The road turns eastward, carrying them through an avenue lined on either side with olive trees, and Hawke watches as the silver leaves play faint shadows across Fenris's face. He turns to watch them as they flow by the window, swelling and fading like the rush of the sea, and though Hawke cannot be wholly certain she thinks she sees in his eyes—
His hand is relaxed on his knee; when the avenue gives way at last to narrower streets, to more people in poorer clothes raising their voices in greeting, to the great stone walls and their scarlet banners made dim and faded by thick, heavy clouds, Hawke reaches over and threads her fingers through his. Fenris glances at her, surprised, and then he matches her smile with one of his own as the familiar forest of ship-masts lifts beyond the walls.
They are truly leaving.
Soon—too soon, at last—they slow to a stop at the end of a long and wooden pier. A few sailors saunter forward, chatting, laughing cheerfully in spite of the sullen weather, and hoist Hawke's boxes over their shoulders to load them; Hawke herself steps from the carriage and straightens, staring up at Isabela's ship where it stretches out against the somber sky. The sails are furled tightly against the spars, but even still The Siren's Call II strains against her moorings, the ropes that bind her stretched taut to breaking as if the ship herself is eager to be away. To be free.
Isabela stands high on the stern deck, one hand on the great dark wheel, her other fisted at her hip as she surveys the final preparations for two weeks at sea. Cork stands at the starboard rail, grinning, his head turned to Ania beside him as his ever-busy hands twist lemongrass into little bundles for her sachets. The little blonde brother and sister stand at his other side, peering under their new caps at the smiling sailors around them and the half-dozen other members of her household joining them, all bound for the newer life awaiting them in Kirkwall. Varric is there, too, a little bag of ginger tucked into his belt, grinning down at her and Fenris from where he leans on the open railing. Hawke waves; he beckons, laughing, and a crisp wind swirls up behind her as if to urge her forward.
Fenris turns to look at her. "Parata esta?" he asks gravely, though there is a light in his eyes as yearning and as impatient as hers.
"Paratus, amaris," she tells him, and bumps him gently with her hip. "Let's go home."
It takes only a moment to stow what little they still carry in their old, familiar cabin, only a moment more to join Isabela and Varric aloft the quarterdeck where they can watch the end of their stay in Minrathous draw nearer. Men's shouts carry closer on the salt breeze only to be borne away again; a sailor lifts his hand on the pier to signal the lifting of the gangplank; another waves and calls out as the anchor rises, dripping, from the water. Ropes ripple and snap as they are loosed from their anchors, as the first white sails unfurl like birds' wings, hesitant but strong, ready to catch the wind and fly.
Isabela spins the great hardwood wheel, her face alive with joy, and the Call leaps forward.
Fenris steps closer behind Hawke, close enough that she can feel the weight of him against her back, and she does not try to check the wild fierce thing surging in her heart. She can hardly believe they have been here so long; she can hardly believe they are leaving, now, with so much still to do and so many uncertainties ahead. But Kirkwall calls, and so do Aveline and Merrill and Anders and Sebastian, and despite the unexpected tethers this city has placed gently around her heart she will not let the place that made her, the people that made her, struggle forward without her beside them.
As for Minrathous—one day, maybe. She has a place here; she has a family here too. If she can, and if Fenris is willing—one day.
The wind picks up in a sudden rush of snapping, billowing sails and white-flecked foam, in sailors laughing, shouting, in the swift swelling of the deep green waves that surge against the Call's painted hull in rhythmic song. Hawke lifts her head, looking forward, searching out the horizon that even now murmurs a call so strong she cannot help the helpless longing it shapes in her soul. Isabela turns her face into the wind; Varric steps forward to the rail beside them, smiling, Bianca straight and steady over his back.
Ahead of them, eastward, the steel-grey clouds break. A shaft of sunlight tumbles down like water, staining the leading sea as green as glass, as the deep crush of cypress leaves, glancing through the cresting, weightless spray like the shatter of white stars, then falling again to gleam along the waves' long sweeps before the wind breathes through the spindrift once more.
Hawke leans her head against Fenris's shoulder. He laughs, low, and strong, and triumphant, and looks with her to the east, towards Kirkwall.