AN: Welcome, everyone, to the latest installment of Quark Writes More Than Intended. I actually know the exact date this fic came into existence; on February 6, 2012, I sent my dear friend and beta Jade an email with the subject line "VAMPIRES EVERYWHERE" and maybe four lines of dialogue, and that was that. I've never even particularly liked vampires or the vampire mythos either, so I'm not sure why this concept fascinated me so much, but the Dragon Age Big Bang gave me an excuse to write it at last and now, a year later, I've finally managed to finish the Dragon Age vampire AU I couldn't let go.
I want to first thank Frikadeller (frikadeller dot tumblr dot com) for her amazing, amazing artwork for this fic. I have no idea how she managed to reach into my head as she did to pull these characters to such vivid life, but I am so unspeakably grateful she donated her time and effort to something so ridiculous and yet so dear to my heart. The first two character sheets are spoiler-free, but the two art pieces are scene-specific, so for those who wish to avoid spoilers for the moment those pieces will also be linked at the end of the appropriate chapters. :)
Fenris character sheet: tinyurl dot com /byartq3
Hawke character sheet: tinyurl dot com /bdqch3p
Art #1: tinyurl dot com /bfq7czz
Art #2: tinyurl dot com /bh3aqv9
And of course, I couldn't get through one of my massive pre-fic notes without thanking my best friend Jade for her tireless efforts to improve my writing, even though I keep insisting on using the skills she gives me to write about characters and ships she doesn't particularly care for. The fact that she knew this fic was going to be Hawke/Fenris and long (though it still ended up longer than either of us expected), and she still decided to edit it anyway is one of the great mysteries of our friendship, and I am never going to be able to precisely articulate how much it means to me that she does it with such enthusiasm and unshakeable patience. This fic (and every hopeless side-plot in it) is dedicated to her.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
A Meeting Occurs to Mutual Displeasure
There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: - upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: - to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, "A Vampyre! a Vampyre!"
—The Vampyre, John Polidori
It was raining.
It was not, Fenris thought, hunching further into his coat, as if it ought to be unexpected – three weeks he had been in London, and three weeks the nights had brought him nothing but rain – but all the same the cool, slick fingers of rainwater trembling down the back of his neck were as unwelcome as the first evening he had arrived. The gas-lamps flickered wildly along the narrow street, caught in the swift and sudden winds that surged here and there with fickle impulses, tossing a bit of news-print against the scuffed toe of his boot, sending thin waves rippling across the shallow puddles that lined the edges of the cobbled road.
Ahead of him the road cut sharply left; he turned up his collar and followed, ignoring everything but the curve and shape of the shadows and the heavy fall of his revolver against his side. The word had come from Anso only two nights ago, the note even now tucked into his vest. As shifty as the man might be he had not yet misled him – two of the creatures dead and gone was proof enough of that – and so when one of the lamps before him abruptly guttered out, hissing with oily smoke, Fenris kept his pace steady, moving only to slide his hand into his coat until his fingers brushed the cool wood of the Remington's handle. With his other he pulled the narrow brim of his hat lower over his eyes: a futile gesture, perhaps, given his hair was pale enough for mortal eyes even in this rain, but he was not a careless man and against such an enemy he would not –
A woman's cry rang out through the rain-muffled street, rough with terror and pain; a moment later another cry followed in a different voice, one with clearer words: "Please, help!"
Two then, desperate, and not far ahead – he broke into a run, pulling the revolver free as he drew close to the empty, shuttered shops that lined the streets, careful to avoid the worst of the standing puddles in the London gutters. The second voice called out again as Fenris neared the next bend in the road, this cry more frantic than the first; he paused only a moment at the corner to press his back against grey brick before moving cautiously into the adjoining street, the revolver's muzzle up and steady and glinting here and there with shards of silver rain.
Ahead, half under a shopfront's low-hanging awning, lay a woman in evening white, her black coat torn open at the waist to splay around her in the soaked street. A tall, thin boy in a vest and shirtsleeves knelt over her, both hands to his mouth; when Fenris's boot caught the edge of a puddle the boy looked up sharply, and even through the steady rain and the cap pulled low over his eyes Fenris could see that he was white with terror. All of the gas-lamps were out save one at the farthest end of the street.
"Help," the boy said, his voice tight and with the faintest traces of an accent, "please. She – we were walking and this black shape came from nowhere – she's bleeding –"
Two quick steps and Fenris was there, kneeling with the boy on the slippery cobbles, sliding the woman's blonde hair from her unconscious face with his black-gloved fingers, seeking out what he knew already to be –
Two small wounds spaced no more than three fingers apart, white at the edges and bleeding, marking with their livid stain the pale skin of the girl's throat.
"What – what is it?" the boy whispered, touching a forefinger to the lower mark in repulsed fascination. "It looks like some kind of bite-mark, but what could have possibly – I was here the whole time!"
"Not all evil is so easily seen," Fenris said shortly, scanning the darkened street before returning his attention to the woman. Still breathing, though pale, still beating her heart in time; the creature must have been interrupted by the boy and his own presence. "Come," he said as he rose to his feet. "Pull her from the street. It is not safe here."
The boy was stronger than he looked; in a moment his companion was tucked safely against the shop-front under a delicate display of women's hats, her blonde ringlets falling damp and close against her white cheek, her eyes closed in unnatural peace. Her black coat the boy tucked more securely around her, doing up the buttons from hip to neck with the ease of practice, hiding from the moonless night her gleaming white dress and the redder stain upon her throat.
Fenris watched a moment, then turned again to the street; the boy joined him when his task was done, tucking his blood-stained fingers under his arms. He was taller than he'd thought, Fenris realized, nearly of his own height, and the darkness of his hair under his cap gave his face a younger look than truth, though he was still not yet a man. His face was still pale.
"Sir," said the boy, his jaw clenched. "What is it?"
"A hunter," Fenris answered, lifting his revolver again to sweep the street, knowing the word to be fit for more than one of them tonight.
The boy shifted again. "A hunter of what?"
Movement at the end of the street – Fenris stepped forward into the billowing sheets of rain, his hand tense and steady on the trigger – but a lean, filthy hound stumbled into the pale circle of light thrown by the one lit lamp instead. Fenris watched it nose forlornly through an overturned dustbin and find nothing, and then he turned back to the boy.
"Of blood," he said, and the dog let loose a short, miserable howl.
"Of –" the boy began, his eyes wide, and his gaze flew to his companion. "But – will she –"
"She will live. The thing that fed on her was not…finished."
He paused. The boy's eyes were steady, his face unafraid, though his hands were still crossed across his chest. Fenris said, "There are creatures who thrive only in the night. Evil things."
"What do you mean?"
"You have heard of them. Beasts who take the shape of man and feed on the blood of their victims."
"You mean –" The boy stared, astonished, then let out a short, disbelieving laugh. "You cannot be serious, sir. Those are legends. Children's stories. They're not real."
Fenris felt his lip curl in disdain. Even here they refused to believe their eyes; even here they walked blindly into danger and found themselves surprised at their jeopardy. "Look to your friend," he snarled, throwing out his free hand in a sharp gesture that flung raindrops in a short, glittering arc between them. "Look to her throat. Is that the work of a child's story? Is that the mark of a legend?"
The boy flinched and a dark strand of hair slipped loose into his eyes. "I don't – I didn't –"
"No dog did that," Fenris continued, scowling, stalking closer to the boy, taut with irritation and uncertain shadows and the knowledge that one of the creatures still lurked close, waiting, watching, ready to finish the life of its victim. "No animal left those marks. There are old and evil beasts that hide in your London streets, whether you acknowledge them or not."
"And you come here to hunt them."
Fenris inclined his head, sweeping his gaze again down the length of the black street. The rain picked up again, sluicing down in heavy, regular waves, and he pulled his collar closer to his neck in fruitless effort. No fireplace in his room at the inn, either – this damp would take days to fade from his bones.
"Someone must, I suppose," the boy said almost to himself. "But what do you shoot them with? Don't you need holy water, or silver bullets, or – I don't know, an arrow that's been blessed by an elf who's never touched cold iron?"
"You speak nonsense," Fenris said shortly, "and your carelessness will kill you. Consider – if the one that attacked her was not y–"
Fenris stopped himself, arrested mid-word by a thought, staring at the boy who was older than he thought but who was not yet a man, whose skin was still white with fear. Impossible – but – if it was not –
His voice came hard and hot. "What is your name?"
The boy lifted his chin, his blue eyes flashing above his pale cheeks. "Hawke, sir."
Sir – but no respect in that tone, now, no deference; only delight and sharp teeth and the thin thread of laughter. The revolver came up and his finger squeezed hard on the trigger – the night blew apart in light and the splintering retort – and the creature was gone.
Before the echoes of light began to fade Fenris had already cocked the hammer, swiveling on his heel to press himself into the shadows under the awning. The blonde woman slept still against the shop-front, breathing lightly; at the end of the street the one lamp guttered in desperation, its light shivering smaller and smaller on the rain-glittering street. The dog was nowhere to be seen.
A flash of color caught his eye. The boy's – the creature's, he reminded himself – tan cap lay upon the cobblestones at his feet. Carefully he bent to take it; it was better-made than he had expected, sturdy and thick, well cared-for save the new hole pierced through the crown by his bullet.
"You are, sir," came the creature's voice above him, soft through the grey and hushing rain, "an excellent shot."
Fenris snorted, easing sideways as he scanned the rooftops across the road. Misted shapes all, blurry and indistinct, and impossible to tell where without aid – "And you an excellent actor."
"The benefit of practice."
"I do not make a practice of deceit."
The voice laughed, then, easy and light, and when it spoke again the accent was thicker, strong enough that he could name the root of it as American. "I heard there was a new hunter in town. I didn't expect you to be quite so –"
The gunshot cut the creature off, the shadow that was its crouching form vanishing from the roof of the bakery; a moment later a step sounded on the awning above him, and he fired two more shots in quick succession through its flimsy protection. But there was no thump, no cry of pain, and after a heartbeat's pause Fenris took three quick steps into the unprotected rain and turned, the Remington raised to the place where the creature stood upon the shop's sloped roof behind him with one hand out for balance to the attic window that jutted towards her.
The rain slackened for a breath, long enough for Fenris to see at last the true face of the thing he chased. Her eyes were too bright in her pale face, her skin too white and too smooth; her dark hair spilled over her shoulder in a disheveled braid, the ends curling where the rain plastered them against her shirt. The vest had fooled him, he realized, appalled and furious, the fabric cut thick and loose to hide what little figure she did have. She inclined her head towards him, brushing a bit of rainwater from her brow.
"So quick," she finished, and she smiled at him.
Fenris snarled and fired again, incautious with anger, but the shades of night belonged to her kind and to her and not to him, and when his shot went wide she drew a sigh of mist around herself and vanished. His last shot he spent to blow even that curl of mist apart into shreds of white smoke, knowing it would achieve nothing but so lost to his anger he could not – would not –
Below the awning, almost vanishing into the night's shadows beneath the display of hats, the blonde woman stirred. Fenris clenched his fist around the revolver, gritting his teeth, staring up at the place where she – it – had looked down upon him, where it had smiled at him; then, carefully, he let a long slow breath hiss out between his teeth, taking with it his anger and his frustration into the dark and constant rain. When he was once more in command of himself he placed the revolver into its hidden holster and turned to the woman just opening her eyes, glassy and indistinct with lingering fear.
"Come," he said roughly, not sure how much she understood, "there is a doctor not far from here."
She nodded; he helped her to her feet and waited as she tucked her black coat more closely around herself, and then when he was certain she could stand on her own, led her northward to the small office, ignoring the wind that carried through the rain the faintest, laughing whisper: Good night, hunter.
The Broken Longsword was not a residence known for its excellence. It was, in truth, barely a residence at all save the fact that four walls and a roof enclosed Fenris's narrow, uncomfortable bed; privacy was nonexistent with the constant noise of the tavern filtering up through his floor and his own neighbors bellowing their numerous petty squabbles across the narrow hallway. But coin was dear in abject flight and if the inn was not comfortable it was safe, at least for him, and the landlord asked no questions as long as his four shillings were delivered every week.
Several days had passed since his first meeting with the creature who had smiled at him in the rain. Anso had visited once to tell him there was no more news of either the woman or her brethren – unsurprising, as those meetings rarely left both parties living in his experience – but all too soon came the 16th of August and the Daces' yearly fête, and he was forced to put his nightly hunts on hold in favor of white gloves and his one black coat.
It was not that he looked forward to the party itself, nor even the company – indeed, he had met the young Lady Dace all of once at a similar event just after his arrival in London, though at the time he had found her sensible enough – instead, his quarry lay among the guests. The Daces were an old and storied family even in a city full of them, tracing their lineage of nobility back to the times when maps still warned of dragons, though their wealth had dwindled over the years; then more recently in 1870, the Lord Anwer Dace, Lady Dace's father, had turned the last dregs of the family fortune to trade and merchandising, building strong friendships with eastern Europe until he had doubled and then tripled his investment. Now the Daces stood proudly at the helm of a vast international empire, and as always at their annual celebration they were careful to invite the sundry dignitaries who facilitated the trade of their precious roads.
Including the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The hackney carriage cost him another 2p and a sideways glance from the coachman, who seemed prepared for neither the gentleman emerging from the disorder of The Broken Longsword nor his destination. A sharp glance from Fenris, though, and the coachman turned hurriedly enough back to his horses; and when the carriage settled at last into its easy, rocking rhythm he allowed himself to lean back into his seat and turn his attention to his goals.
Nearly six years had passed since Fenris had last seen Giulio Prinetti in person, but there was little doubt in his mind of recognizing the man. The last time had been at the villa in Rome, half a decade before Prinetti had ascended to his current position. It had been cold for April, and colder indoors, and though Fenris had spent the majority of the evening in a pain-soaked delirium he remembered too well the bare, hungry look that had flickered across Prinetti's face at the end of the meal, when he had leaned close to listen to the pretty, vicious promises whispered in his ear by the man who headed the table, by the man who was his mas—
A street urchin darted across their path with a laugh, startling one of the horses into a whinny, and Fenris was torn violently from his thoughts as the carriage lurched hard to the left. He could hear the driver soothing his horse and cursing the boy who'd alarmed him; Fenris tightened his jaw, but soon enough the driver had his horse to rights and with a polite apology he drove the carriage on again. Fenris settled back, what little he had of composure restored for the moment, but he did not allow himself the memories again. Time enough to dwell on those years later; time now to discover from Prinetti the truth of Fenris's own hunters.
The rest of the ride passed swiftly and without further incident, and when at last the carriage drew into the long avenue leading to the Dace estate Fenris felt the iron disquiet in his chest ease. Here the dress gave way to the hunt; here the glitter of jewels marked only prey. Even a tamed wolf might track after his instincts, and Fenris knew himself to be no tamed thing.
Not any longer.
The carriage came to a stop in the warm light spilling out from the great windows that spread across the whole of the Dace manse. The driver he dismissed – no coin to waste on a journey as easily walked at the end of the night – and when the servants opened the carriage door he emerged as blank-faced as any nobleman, as cold and aloof and politely disdainful as they were ever once to him. Once inside a manservant relieved him of his hat, and with his jaw set Fenris allowed himself to be led to the heart of the Dace estate.
Nearly eighty guests were gathered here in the great hall, all arrayed in gems and silks and shining smiles; more voices floated through the open double doors at the far end of the room, twined with lifting strains of music as if to warn Fenris of the necessary breadth of his search. The room was already warm despite the opened windows, gold and silver fans fluttering across women's faces as Fenris stepped along the wall to survey the Daces' guests. Some he recognized by face if not name; more, though, were strangers to him, men in foreign uniforms bending towards women with jewels in their hair and none of them the man he sought.
Slowly he worked his way along the wall, some part of him aware as it always was of the conversations that drifted by. "Straußenfedern, mir wurde gesagt," said a woman to a man in a blue dignitary sash, the enormous feathers set in her headdress waving wildly. "Sehrexotisch." And two young women clustered behind one spread fan, giggling: "Le déchirure dans sa robe est énorme – elle ne l'a même pas remarqué!" And another man, stout and grey-haired, pantomiming a rifle lifted to his eye before a group of breathless onlookers, saying too loudly, "El tigre es feroz, pero yo no tenía miedo. Levanté mi rifle y –"
Fenris snorted at the last, but allowed the unlikely gamesman his fierce tiger. The crowd thickened at the doorway to the grand ballroom and he paused a moment, assessing the crush of black tuxedos and elegant gloves and beribboned shoes, when a voice at his elbow caught his attention.
"Signor Fenris," said Lady Dace, smiling, "how good of you to come." She was in gold tonight, her brown hair pulled away from her face, and for the second time Fenris found himself grateful that she was too well-bred to stare at either the whiteness of his hair or the two thin silver lines that trailed over his chin to vanish into his collar.
"Your invitation was welcome," he said, bowing briefly over her hand. Welcome, perhaps, in another way than she'd meant it, but –
"I am sorry my father couldn't be here. He's away on another expedition in the roads. Old ruins, you know, but the fascination runs in the family. My uncle will join him in a few days' time."
"Indeed," he said, and when she gestured he followed her around the crowd to a smaller side door which led directly into the ballroom. The music was louder here, a cheerful quadrille by Lanciers tumbling over the regular tapping of dance shoes. Perhaps forty more guests were dancing here in two long columns, the men's lapels draped as thick with jewels and ribbons as the women's necks. "You are fortunate in your company tonight."
"We've worked hard to keep them," she said, her voice frank as they passed alongside the laughing, whirling couples. "I'm thankful he trusts me to host in his absence, but I will be glad when Father's returned."
"I heard mention that your family intends to make overtures into Mediterranean waters."
"Yes, sir. My father believes there is good trade to be had in wine."
They skirted the musicians, pausing the conversation for a moment until they passed away from the loudest cello; then Fenris said, "Perhaps you know an acquaintance of mine, then. Giulio Prinetti, of Milan?"
Lady Dace frowned, tapping her fan against her bottom lip. "The name is familiar to me. The Foreign Minister?"
"He – is here, I believe, sir, though I'm not sure where he is presently. But," she added, her face clearing into a smile as she drew close to a group of men and women standing at the base of one of the double, sweeping staircases, "speaking of acquaintances, you must allow me to introduce you to my friends."
"Lady Dace –" he tried, conscious that every second wasted politicking with the gentry meant another chance for Prinetti to slip away, but she was already at the shoulder of a short, stout man with a flaming red beard braided into a complicated mess and a near-empty glass of wine in his hand. "Excuse me, Uncle Oghren," she said over his guffaw, touching one of the women of the group on the shoulder, a tall woman dressed in dark red trimmed in white and gold, her hair twisted high on her head –
Her black hair pulled away from a pale, smooth face, framing bright eyes and dark lashes, red lips turned up in a smile better fitted for the rain.
"The Lady Marian Hawke," said Lady Dace, and the musicians ended the quadrille with a flourish.
The greatest risk to them both, Fenris later decided, lay in that first moment, in that quick instant when his anger ran blackest and his senses narrowed to the sight of that smile and the sudden silver hiss of lyrium in his veins. He saw her weight shift forward, saw the tendons of her throat flex even as he himself drew in a breath – and then the guests broke into polite applause and the second shattered, and he heard as if from a great distance Lady Dace's voice saying, "From Rome, Marian. Perhaps you know some of the same people."
"Perhaps," said the creature that called itself Hawke – no lady she, despite her title – smiling at him again. "A pleasure to meet you at last, sir."
She did not proffer her hand; he did not bow. But Lady Dace took little notice, only laughing as she said, "At last?"
"Oh, yes," said Hawke. "Until now we have only passed each other in the night."
His mouth was dry enough that he had to swallow twice before he spoke, but his voice was level when he said, "Just so."
Lady Dace seemed to catch something in his tone and she threw him a surprised glance, but the musicians struck up again into a German valse in a minor key and suddenly she took Hawke's hand in her own. "Perhaps you can coax her onto the floor, signore," she said, ignoring the abrupt movement that Hawke made at the suggestion. "She dances so well but so rarely."
He opened his mouth, but her refusal came swifter than his. "No, thank you – I'm sure my card is quite full –"
"Allow me. Ah, as I thought: untouched and empty all. Come, Marian, one dance."
"I will not impose upon either of you," Fenris said shortly, irked at the very idea, irked more that he seemed to be of one mind with the creature, but before he could protest further Lady Dace had presented Hawke's hand close to his chest, close enough for him to see the innocent sensibility in her face and the unwilling acquiescence in Hawke's. To refuse again would be to insult them both, and though he did not particularly care for the wounding of the creature's pride he did for Lady Dace and the connections she represented. He still had not found Prinetti; if he offended the Daces now, the next chance might not come so easily.
"If you insist," he said, his voice stiff, his arm stiffer as he offered it to Hawke.
She took it, as uneager as he, and when the next space on the floor came they were caught in it, swept away by the swelling of strings and the flashing whirl of silk.
The first few steps went badly, both of them unhappy and awkward; then his feet remembered their way and the rest of him followed, and he found that despite the nature of the thing he held in his arms she did, in fact, dance well, and she danced well with him. Her hand in its white glove rested lightly on his shoulder, a bracelet of gold and rubies wrapped twice around her wrist; her other hand he held in his own, and in spite of his own gloves Fenris thought he could feel the cold seep of her fingers through the kidskin.
No vest to hide her figure, here, nor rain to blur her face. Her dress was dark and heavy with embroidery, made darker by the paleness of her bare arms and throat; the touches of white and gold at her shoulders and her slim waist did little to lighten it, and neither the candles nor the warm gleam of brass could bring a flush to her cheeks. The creature's features were even enough, her jaw a touch square and her nose just too long for true beauty, but her mouth was full and her bright eyes almost too blue, and when she turned her head just so he could see an echo of that cold loveliness that touched so many of her kind.
Dangerous, he thought, but more than that: deadly.
Hawke smiled at him as if she knew his thoughts; in retaliation he lifted his arm and turned her under it, sparing himself a moment's respite from the peril of that smile. But she moved gracefully despite her surprise, and smiled again when her fingers came to rest on his shoulder, and when his palm settled once more on the small of her back she stepped more lightly than before.
"I had not expected to see you again so soon," she said at last, and her accent seemed less heavy than he remembered. He said nothing, choosing instead to watch the other couples circling with them, and eventually she spoke a second time. "I did not know you knew Lady Dace."
Still, he did not speak. She turned under his arm again, the dark silk of her skirt spinning out in a red arc, and again she came to rest easily in his grasp, one eyebrow lifted in arch surprise. "Still so quiet?" she asked. "I remember you being more…eloquent."
"And I remember your teeth in a woman's throat," Fenris said harshly, piqued now into comment. "Should I warn the hostess of her danger? Or have you already stolen this hour's life from her as well?"
Her hand tightened around his and – at last – her smile vanished. "I am sated for the moment, signore," she said, and there was something both strong and dangerous in her voice that sent a lazy tremor of anticipation – for flight? for battle? he was not sure – along his veins.
Hawke's eyes lowered to his chin as if the lyrium itself had responded; Fenris turned the both of them in a sudden step and her gaze flew to his. "Keep your curiosity to yourself, creature."
"A cat has more lives than I," she said lightly, though she did not stare at his scars again. "I did not mean to pry."
Fenris snorted. "No?"
"I suppose even a hunter might have secrets he wishes to keep."
"And you are so considerate as to avoid them."
"I make a habit of consideration."
Fenris snorted again, and this time when they turned together, his left hand clasping her right behind his back, he allowed himself to meet her eyes over his shoulder. "And a practice of deception, Lady Hawke."
Her head turned away as she took hold of his shoulder again, and for a breath his gaze caught on the tiny golden pins half-hidden in her hair; then she said, so quietly he nearly missed it under the music's stronger chorus, "My mother was the Countess of Pembroke."
Again her falsehoods, and this time in a world he knew too well. "The Amells have not held that seat of power for a quarter of a century."
"Yes, signore. My mother was Leandra Amell before she died."
Then it was his turn to look to the dancers circling alongside them, unsettled by the pain in her voice, unbalanced by the memories of rumors of that gruesome murder. But no – he would not have sympathy for the monster that she was – he would not be swayed by pretty words from a forked tongue. "With a viper such as you by her side, I wonder that she claimed you at all."
Hawke's eyes flashed suddenly with hurt and with anger, and when she twisted under his arm she came back too hard into his chest. "Mock me if you want," she snapped, "but leave her ghost in peace. She suffered enough in life without your derision burdening her death."
He drew her even closer, snarling, furious at both her false sorrow and his own unexpected susceptibility to it. "Then let us discuss your death, Hawke, and the deaths on your own hands. How many have you slaughtered for your own gain? How many innocents have died to slake your thirst?"
"None," she said, and her hand tightened on his shoulder to the point of pain. Her eyes were level with his; she held him thralled, transfixed by truth and a hard, ancient light that caught the candles and burnt them brighter. "From the day I was turned I have not once bled an unwilling soul; from the first moment my heart stopped I swore never to take another's in its place."
"Pretty promises," he said, sneering to mask his turmoil, conscious that the cellos were driving them fast into the final movement, "and yet I heard the woman scream that night."
"I let her see me as I was," Hawke answered evenly. "And recall, sir, that I shouted for help too."
"An invitation. I wanted to meet London's newest hunter."
Fenris's jaw tightened then, and without a word of warning he gripped her waist and held her still, stopping them both in the midst of the circling stream. "So met," he said, his voice low, his grip unyielding. Other couples slid by in smears of black and orange and pale green all glittering with jewels, but he did not look away as the violins soared their triumphant finish into the rafters, and she did not flinch. "Now what do you want with me?"
"I want to offer you employment," she said into the silence, and a moment later the room filled with the muted applause of hundreds of gloved hands.
"Employment," Fenris repeated, blank with shock as the couples around them began to disperse; then his jaw tensed in fury. "I am not your servant," he spat, his voice low only from the sheer force of his anger, "nor your slave to be bought and sold, and if you dare to think –"
"That's not what I meant," Hawke said sharply, cutting him off with a nod at the nearby wall, and he allowed himself to be drawn aside, too astonished and offended to find words for his protest. She continued, either not noticing or not concerned with his raw irritation. "I have a…well. A number of companions with a – unique set of skills. We were set for a rather important job early next week, but due to certain circumstances I find myself shorthanded."
"And you ask – me."
"You would slot in quite nicely. We haven't had a solid blade for some time."
"I carried a revolver."
"I have watched you for many days," she admitted, and Fenris was torn between ire and gratification that she had the grace to look embarrassed. "Besides, you don't move like a ranged combatant."
His lip curled. "I would sooner tear your heart from your chest."
Hawke lifted her chin until her gaze was nearly level with his, and when she spoke her voice was even. "You may try, of course. But I think I can offer you more."
"You underestimate how much I wish to kill you."
"Flatterer," she said lightly, but before he could unleash his anger she dropped her teasing tone in favor of something more serious. "It pays very well, firstly. The interested parties are quite – interested. Nothing illegal," she added at his glare, "but you'll understand if I withhold the details pursuant to your acceptance."
"It will cost you more than coin," said Fenris, but he was abruptly conscious of the scuffs on his shoes, of the thin-wearing places on the elbows of his jacket; abruptly reminded of the nights spent only in his shirtsleeves as he tried to clean blood from his sole vest. "I have survived so far without your benefaction."
Another quadrille began, the dance floor filling quickly behind them. Hawke crossed her arms, wrapping her white-gloved hands around her elbows. "Fair enough. I've also been authorized to offer you better lodging. Not that the Broken Longsword isn't an inn of –" she paused, searching for the word, "—character, but one of my friends is the proprietor of a clean, well-kept place in Lambeth, where he says he will let you a furnished room he personally guarantees to be free of both rats and roaches."
"You mock me," he said, unwilling to show her his sudden indecision, unwilling to admit to himself his hesitation. But – no – he had gone without coin before, and lodging too, and despite the attraction of the offer he would not accept charity from one of her kind.
She must have seen something of his reluctance in his face, and before he could reject her entirely Hawke nodded to the open doors of the ballroom, and Fenris turned to see over his shoulder the short, gray-bearded figure of Giulio Prinetti lean heavily on the arm of his French wife as they departed.
"I can offer my aid in other things as well," Hawke said quietly, and Fenris whirled on her.
"You distracted me. You allowed him to escape –"
"You wouldn't have had the chance to speak with him anyway. He's ill, and he's been run to ground by the younger Dace brother all night. But there are other ways to get the information you need."
"What do you know of what I need?" Fenris snarled, stepping close enough to Hawke that he could hear her indrawn breath, could feel the lyrium in his arms waking in response to her nearness.
"I know I'm not the only one being hunted," she told him, and when she tilted her head he saw again the little gold flicker of the pins in her hair. "I won't promise victory, but – I can help."
"And your price?" he said, rough, hurting, flushed with shame and anger. "More death? For me to overlook your nature and to bury your shredded prey without a word? Or," Fenris added with a bitter smile, struck by an old, familiar realization, "is it my blood you want? The lyrium in my veins?" He smiled at her again, mirthless and cold, and when she dropped her eyes to his chin he curled his lip. "Every one of you is the same."
"That is not my price," Hawke said, interrupting; her voice was hot and frustrated, and Fenris found himself startled into silence. She caught her breath and continued with more control, "My price is this: first, and perhaps of most importance to me, you will stop trying to kill me. My heart," she added, holding up both hands to forestall his argument, "will remain in my chest for the duration of our allegiance. After that I make no claims to it."
"That will depend more on you than on me," Fenris warned her. "I will not allow you to slaughter at will."
"So noted. Second: you will also forbear from killing any of my companions, or from giving information on them to others who could harm them. And third—" she paused, her eyes hardening, "—you will not speak of my mother in that way again."
"Do you always tie so many strings to your offers?" he asked, more to gauge her response than out of true interest, because he was not – was not considering her offer – was not considering accepting the aid of one monster to kill another.
"Not usually," Hawke admitted, and when she gave him a wry smile the hard thing in her eyes vanished. "But I don't think you're a usual person."
Fenris stared, doubted, and frowned. Behind him the quadrille had given way to an allemande, the musicians measuring out its careful rhythm with the deep-voiced cello; a flash of gold caught his eye and he turned to see Lady Dace dancing with her uncle, his red, braided beard brighter than her gown and one hand still clutching his wineglass – and only when he faced Hawke again did he realize he'd given his back to her, as incautious as a raw recruit and just as foolish. And still, she had done nothing.
He would be a fool to trust her, but – without her, he had no chance at all.
"I will consider it," he said at last, and felt with the words the quiet click of a distant lock – but whether that lock was opening or closing he could not tell.
"Good," she said in answer, and if she was pleased she kept her feelings from her face as she dug swiftly into her little purse. "Here," she added, holding out to him a flat, palm-sized white box.
"What is it?"
"A gesture of my thanks," Hawke said, with a twist of her mouth that might have been chagrin on another woman. "And a token of welcome."
Fenris nearly told her to keep it – but something in the arch of her eyebrow told him he would end up with the thing foisted upon him one way or the other, so despite his misgivings he accepted the box and tucked it away, unopened, in his jacket.
Unruffled, Hawke nodded towards his chest. "The Hanged Man's address is in there too. If you're interested in the room, just send Varric a note. He'll take care of the rest."
"I understand," Fenris said stiffly. "As I said – I will consider it."
"That's all I can ask," she said, and after a brief hesitation she looked away, turning to face squarely the whirling sea of silk and satin. "Good night, Fenris," she said over her shoulder.
He said nothing, and she was gone.
It cost another 2p to hire a cab, but Fenris was conscious enough of his own scattered mind to realize a lone walk across half of London would be neither wise nor safe. The ride itself was a blur, at once short as a breath and as long as a year as he tried to sort through the hundred threads of his thoughts; as soon as he settled on one side of the decision the other called him louder, pointing out both the folly and the danger of his choice.
Even the chaos of the Broken Longsword could not distract him. He pushed through the tavern crowd without ceremony and ignored the hallway brawl entirely, and it was not until he had closed and locked his brittle door behind him that he remembered the flat white box the creature had given him at that last moment.
He pulled it from his jacket and tore it open; a moment later he let out a curse and slammed the thing on the bureau, disgusted and furious and choked with a wild, desperate sort of satisfaction, because of course this would be Hawke's idea of a gift – of course she would choose this in welcome.
Six silver cartridges wrapped in a plain white handkerchief, and a note:
For the next time.
A Friendly Vampire
Art #1, by frikadeller: tinyurl dot com /bfq7czz