AN: And here we are again at the end of a fic I never meant to be as long as it got. I suppose at this point I shouldn't be surprised; my first fic in this fandom, after all, suffered from the same sort of runaway-horse syndrome, but all of your support over my years of writing DA fic and sticking Hawke and Fenris into the worst possible situations I could imagine has made every bit of the hours staring at a blank Word document worth it. :)
This fic has been something of a swansong for me — not that I'm finished with Hawke and Fenris by any means, but I think it's time to ease away from the multi-chapter epics for a while. I don't mean to say I'm vanishing forever—who could, with a whole new game coming out this fall?—but it may be a little quieter around here as things recharge. I'd also like to take this opportunity to again thank both frikadeller and Jade for their amazing contributions to this fic, phdfan for her pinch-hit beta on chapters 10 and 14, and to you all as well for following along not only this story, but all of the others I've been so privileged to tell over the years. :)
See you around, everyone, and, as always, thank you for reading.
Most — I love the Cause that slew Me.
Often as I die
Its beloved Recognition
Holds a Sun on Me —
Best — at Setting — as is Nature's —
Neither witnessed Rise
Till the infinite Aurora
In the other's eyes.
—Struck, was I, Not Yet by Lightning, Emily Dickinson
Hawke was still awake when Fenris knocked quietly at her open door. She was not even in bed, he realized, apparently having bathed and changed instead into a simple red dressing gown to sit at a small writing desk below one of her windows. All the other drapes in the room had been pulled closed but these, though heavy sheers filtered away the worst of the light, and it was through those sheers that Hawke stared, her chin in her hand, her hair falling in a heavy haphazard braid down her back.
Fenris knocked again. This time Hawke turned, the softened light pulling down the curve of her cheekbone – and then she rose as he came towards her, quietly, his steps muted in the dimness of the room, on the thick rug laid over the dark-wooded floors. She searched his eyes as he reached her, wordless, voiceless, her hands lifting and then falling again without touching him. He did not know what she looked for, but when he grasped her hands she let out a soft sigh that had more relief in it than he had expected.
Ten years he had searched for freedom, and still it had taken him so long to recognize it.
"Well?" she asked, and she lifted her thumb to touch his collarbone.
"Gone," he told her, and before he could speak again her arms came around his neck in an embrace. It took him aback only a moment – and then his hands were on her waist, on her back, crushing her against him as if it might keep the fraying, bewildered places of his mind from flying apart entirely. Danarius was dead—
Danarius was dead.
It was too enormous a thing to comprehend so quickly, too great a flame of truth to grasp without being burnt. Hawke's fingers were stroking through his hair, uncaring of the sweat and blood and ash that still stained it – Fenris put everything else from his mind, Danarius and death and freedom alike, and focused only on that motion, only on the rise and fall of Hawke's chest as she breathed against him. The world was too big a place without Danarius in it – so he would let his world be nothing more than this place, here, now, nothing more than the quiet of this room and where he stood in it.
Where he stood, holding Hawke.
She stirred eventually, moved her face away from where it had been buried in his neck without drawing back completely. "So tell me, Fenris," she murmured, smiling, her voice a lullaby in the silence, "what is to be your first act as a newly-freed man?"
He met her eyes, surprised by the question, unsure of his answer. Hawke saw that uncertainty and added, smirking, "There's always hot water, if you're desperate for a bath—"
Fenris kissed her.
At first he meant only to quiet her, to stop up her ridiculous humor without having to find words of his own – but her mouth was eager on his, her hands tightening on his shoulders, and Fenris decided that as an answer this would serve well enough.
And then her mouth opened under his, and Fenris thought nothing at all.
He had forgotten. Three months – only three months – and his memories had paled, his recollections dimmed like a canvas set too long in sunlight. Her hand was in his hair to pull him closer; his own thudded against the writing desk beside them as he tried to find his balance and keep Hawke with him at the same time. Her weight shifted and he shifted with her – and then her hips were pinned to the writing desk by his weight, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, his grip tight enough on her waist to bruise.
She opened her mouth again and he tasted wine, tasted too the still-lingering smoke of battle and open flame. She made a soft, hungry noise and his hands fisted in her robe at the tight heat the sound had sparked in his belly – but Fenris was determined that this would not be the same as the last time, not now, not when he was not who he had been and not when life itself stretched out before him, open, free.
"Wait," he said against her mouth, laughing at the gentle bite she gave him for the interruption. But all the same he would not be dissuaded; he pulled and she let herself be pulled, let herself be settled on the bed with her back against the high carved headboard, let Fenris sink down beside her and undo the catches of his still-stained gauntlets one by one until they loosened.
Hawke pulled them free herself, baring his fingers to the dim-lit room, and placed them carefully on her nightstand. Then she was back again, that same small smile curving her lips, pulling her father's watch and chain free of his waistcoat pocket, undoing the buttons of his vest so intently that the same heat in his gut twisted tighter and Fenris could not help pulling her mouth back to his. She laughed without stopping her work, and soon Fenris was shrugging out of his battered vest, peeling away too the bloodied shirt that lay under it to let them both fall forgotten to the floor.
"Battle scars," Hawke murmured, touching the newer bruises on his bare shoulder and his waist – and then her eyes went to the thin knife-wound that still bled sluggishly across his ribs, and Fenris felt rather than heard her intake of breath. Her bare fingers danced over the split skin with shocking warmth and for a moment he thought she meant to bring those fingers to her mouth – but she kissed his shoulder instead, and flattened her hand across his ribs, and a second or two later Fenris felt the cool tingle of healing magic wash over him to not only close that wound but to work out the aches he had carried in his back for too long, the knots that tightened his neck and wound tight under the bones of his shoulders.
"Better?" Hawke asked, and smiled.
"Better," he said, low and hoarse. Her magic had worked deeper than she knew; his self-control was fraying thread by thread with every word she spoke, and the touch of healing rather than teeth had been an unexpected weight on an already-straining cord. Worse, she looked as if she saw it, concern vanishing into outright delight, and Fenris laughed again, ruefully. Helpless. Hopeless.
Enough, he decided, and kicked off his boots. If he were to do the thing he might as well do it properly – Hawke leaned back against the pillows again as Fenris knelt beside her on the bed, his hands slipping from her knee to hip to waist as he reached for the sash of her robe. He forgot himself once, when Hawke twisted her fingers in his hair and dragged his mouth to hers, but when he came back to himself again it was all the more encouragement to finish the knot once and for all.
She laughed as he freed her, laughed again as he slid the dressing gown away from her skin until it spread, wing-like, around her on the bed.
"Hawke," he said, looking down at her, as if there were words for such a thing as what she had given him.
Something caught in her eyes, something graver than the mood that had brought them both to this place. "Still here," she whispered, her hand splaying over the place on his chest where his heart beat; he covered it with his own, then brought her fingertips to his mouth, pressing his lips against them in mute apology, and in gratitude, and in place of the things he could not say. "Still here," she breathed again, and his mouth moved to the inside of her wrist, where the veins lay blue and still beneath her skin; then to the inside of her elbow; then to her shoulder and her breast until she arched off the bed under him.
Fenris wanted that – and he wanted more, wanted to give her more. She breathed his name into the pale shadows of the room and he smiled against her; and when her breath came as rapid as a stream he drew away from her breast, moved to her ribs, to her navel, to her hips and lower. There he stayed, feeling the muscles of her stomach jump under his fingers, working her higher and higher until she arched again, one hand in his hair, the other clenched in the pillow above her head as she gasped for air in quick half-sobs.
"Fenris," she said then, when she could speak, and pulled him up until she could kiss him. Her bottom lip was reddened where she had bitten it; Fenris kissed her there, kissed her again for no more reason than that he wished to, and when she let out a wry laugh into his neck he tightened his arms around her as if the pressure alone would keep this moment in his memory, preserved for a lifetime and more, clear glass dropped over the world to keep this exact second safe.
But time marched on and he had no glass besides, and when Hawke murmured in his ear it was no hardship to lean back himself, to help Hawke's clever fingers with the laces of his trousers until she could pull them free. Then Hawke stretched out beside him, and those fingers slid over his chest, his stomach, his sides, tracing out the long curling lines of lyrium with the edge of her fingernails, pulling light to their surface until it rippled across his skin like a sunburst.
One of her hands slid upwards, danced over the lines of his throat where his pulse beat, moved to touch his jaw. "Still here?" Hawke asked, a corner of her mouth turning up.
"Yes," Fenris told her, and when she slid lower on the bed he closed his eyes. Then her mouth was on him, and her fingers were on him, and even if Fenris had wished to he would not have been able to keep the noise he made from escaping his throat. She hummed in approval and that tore another word free – and Hawke laughed at that one, as if the oath had been a benediction instead. Then she settled again, and Fenris threw his head back into the pillows, and for several minutes there was no sound but his quick breaths and Hawke's low, tuneless humming.
Then all at once – too soon, far too soon – she tore away, and Fenris had to blink the stars from his eyes before raising himself on one elbow.
"Are you—" he started, hoarse and half-worried, hardly certain of what he meant to say, but Hawke cut him off before he could finish.
"I'm sorry," she said, one hand cupped over her mouth in horrified amusement. "I'm so sorry – I wasn't expecting—"
"What is it?" Genuinely concerned now, he reached up to pull her hand away; she resisted only a moment, and then she let her fingers slide between his as she dropped her hand, as he saw the white and shining teeth that had sharpened like blades in her mouth.
"I'm so sorry," she said again, though the last of it was choked in laughter. "I'll make it up to you, I swear."
"Sarai la mia morte," he groaned, and threw his arm over his eyes. The bed shifted as Hawke raised herself over him, as she slid her palms in long soothing strokes over his jaw.
"Fenris," she said softly, and he drew his arm away from his face. Her amusement had gone; what was there now was deep and true, stripped of the masks they both wore in self-defense. "I will not – I wanted to say—" she huffed a breath, frustrated with herself, then drew her hands lower until her thumbs rested along the veins of lyrium that stretched over his throat, along the unfaltering beat of his heart. "Only what you give," she said then, and met his eyes. "Only that. Nothing more."
For a moment he could not speak – then he found his voice, found too the words for what he thought she had already known. "It is yours," he said, and pressed her palm against his throat. "I am yours."
Hawke clenched her eyes closed, but Fenris had already seen the sudden shine of tears, the hitch of her chest as she tried to keep her breath even. That he could not bear; he pulled her leg across his waist so that she rested fully against him, touched the back of her head until her mouth came to rest at his throat beneath his ear.
"Too precious," she breathed over his skin, and let out a watery laugh; Fenris laughed himself and shifted them both on the bed until her hips were nearly flush with his, until it would only take a ghost of movement on either her part or his to close the space between them.
"Yours, Hawke," he said again, and felt her shudder to her bones against him; then she kissed his neck, and his throat where the lyrium ran, and with a shadow of a gasp her teeth slid into his skin.
"Yours," he whispered as she pulled free, as her lips closed hot and wanting over the place where he bled; "yours," he breathed when he gripped her hips in the palms of his hands and pulled her down to meet him.
One of her hands slid into his hair; her other stroked over his temple and his jaw, tender in a way he had forgotten Hawke could be, as if she held something she treasured, something she – loved. Her back curved up like a cat's and then bent again, and curved, and bent, yielding to his rhythm, yielding to the gentle demands he made of her as he palmed her spine, the muscles of her shoulders, her sides. Her mouth pressed against his throat, drawing out his heartblood in long slow strokes; he let one hand twine into her heavy braid, tugging free the leather strip that held it, unplaiting it section by section until the whole dark mass of it tumbled over his fingers like spilled ink.
A few strands caught on his calluses as she pulled free of his throat at last, as she touched a gentle swell of healing magic to the wounds she had made. Then she kissed him, her hair still tangled around his fingers, the taste of his blood still on her lips, and when she gasped his name into his mouth a few minutes later he wanted nothing more than to hear that sound again, and again, and again. But Fenris was human, as much as he could be, and Hawke had brought him too close earlier, and in only a few moments he followed her over, bowing up and against her until his forehead rested in the crook of her shoulder.
Yours, he thought, and he chose – and that was freedom.
Later, once Fenris had at last washed and Hawke had thrown the unneeded robe and coverlet aside, they lay together in a quiet tangle of limbs. Hawke's head was tucked under his chin, her hair spilling over his chest as he breathed in the silence, as she breathed against him. Her arm lay across his chest, toying with one of his gauntlets where it had fallen to the white sheets beside them; she touched the tips of its claws, the articulated joints, slid her hand into the sheath too large for her and flexed her fingers so that they caught the faint light in long gleaming streams.
"Something's scratched out here," she said eventually, touching the rough place on the metal where an engraving had been rasped away.
Fenris moved his thumb where it rested at the nape of her neck, the memory easy, the wound healed and fading, the bruise no longer sore. "Homo homini lupus est."
"Man is a wolf to his fellow man?"
Hawke hummed and ran her fingertips over the place again, then pushed the gauntlet away. "I can't give you anything like that. Not that you don't look very dashing in steel," she added, and her fingers slid up his arm and down it again to quell the motion he had made. "But I mean – oh, what do I mean?"
"I could not begin to guess, Hawke."
She thumped him on the chest with the heel of her hand; then she readjusted herself against him, sliding her leg further between his, pressing her head closer to his heart. "I mean," she said at last, without looking at him, "that for all the money my mother left me I can only give you worthless things. Friendship trapped by walls and veils. Freedom that you had already."
He waited; she paused, drawing in a breath, and then he felt her smile into his chest. "A heart that doesn't beat."
That made his own skip forward, hard enough Hawke must have felt it – but she neither moved nor lifted her head, only kept trailing her fingers along his arm. "Hawke…"
"I did. Give it, I mean. I did a long time ago, before I'd even realized what I was doing. It's not a very good one – broken, you know, and bit patchy with scars – but it belongs to you anyway, so – have it if you like."
The words had the ring of careful practice – but Fenris heard the nervousness beneath them, felt the anxiety in the tips of her fingers as they slowed on his arm. That was a simple fear to ease, made easier by the strength of his own feelings, by the heady unfamiliar lightness of free and open affection. He grasped her trailing hand in his own, reached up until he could press his lips to her bare arm; then he slid his hand over hers until her thumb hooked into the red cloth still bound around his wrist.
He said, quietly, "As did I."
Hawke grew very, very still. Then she shifted, rose up onto one elbow beside him, and without freeing herself from the handkerchief she leaned down and kissed him. There was no heat to it, no savagery, no need; instead it was an affirmation, and a promise, and when it was finished she lay down again and splayed her fingers over his stomach.
He fell asleep to the rhythm of her breath and her voice, humming, gentle and soft, and he did not dream.
They rose sometime near dusk. They were both quiet as they dressed, not out of discomfort but of precisely the opposite: because when one was utterly content one could be quiet with the ones they cared for, in the place that was home. Hawke seemed to have some sort of fascination with his vest; she insisted on doing the buttons herself and on replacing his pocket watch where it was meant to be – though she did consent to allow the favor returned when her offhanded mention of a corset had heat flaring in his chest and his fingers twitching at his sides.
"You're only helping me put it on so you can take it off later," Hawke accused him from where she held the bedpost, though there was breathless laughter in her voice.
Fenris tied the laces at the small of her back neatly, permitting his hand to linger only a moment on the curve of her hip. "Do you object?"
"Not in the slightest."
He laughed, then, and kissed her, and when at last he had tugged his grey coat into place and Hawke had finished tying herself up in a prim lavender evening dress with a black ribbon at her throat, they made their way downstairs. Varric had wanted them all at the Hanged Man by eight for cards; Bethany and Merrill had left already, but Orana had prepared for Hawke and Fenris a light dinner of pasta and lamb, and a quick glance at the watch with the Amell crest told him they had more than enough time.
Despite himself Fenris caught his eyes wandering to Hawke too frequently during the meal. Her hair was twisted up behind her head; he knew she favored that twist, knew too that she favored fire over ice, and mercy when she could give it; knew that she preferred purple to red and French to Spanish, that her German was beyond atrocious and she had a terrible habit of collecting useless, broken things in the futile hope of making something more of them.
But that, he thought, was why he had found himself here to begin with.
When they were finished, Fenris pushed back from the table and collected their overcoats and gloves from Bodahn. Hawke let him help her into hers, let too her hand curl around the inside of his elbow, and Fenris felt a twist of heat spark from where she touched him to settle deep in his stomach.
He wanted to know more. Not only the enormous things, the broad sweeping strokes that made up her heart and her history – but the small things too, the insignificant habits, the look in her eyes as she read a novel, the way her fingers curled under his in her sleep. But there was time for that, time enough and more, now, to learn not only the dark places of her heart but the light ones too, time to unfold the hidden pieces of her life as she allowed him, as she unfolded his own in return.
He was not the man he once was – but that was right, after all, because that man had been little more than flight and hatred, little more than a ghost in the dark as he ran from shadow to angry shadow. But Hawke had caught him even though he had not wished it, had nailed him to the ground between the dark places until he could no longer hide, forcing out his haunting ghosts with a light that burned as brightly at the sun. The man he was had died the night he'd met Hawke; now Fenris buried him, cleansed, clear-hearted, let him go without mourning. Hawke loved a living man, not a ghost.
Fenris intended to live.
The February air was cold and crisp, the night's first stars beginning to creep out between the bare branches of the oak tree in the next yard over. Fenris adjusted his hat and started down the steps; he was halfway down before he realized Hawke had paused at the top, and, pausing himself, he turned to look up behind him.
There was something in her face, something amused and wry and amazed at the same time; she raised her eyes to his and said, "Do you remember the last time we stood here like this?"
"Yes," he said, because he did, and shook his head. "I suspect you would prefer not to."
"You were terribly short with me. I confess I was surprised you didn't shoot me right then."
"That urge vanished the night of Lady Dace's party."
"I remember that. You danced so well I almost forgot you were angry with me."
He snorted, distant with memory. "Anger is too pale a word. Death drove me then, and hatred. I could see little past those."
"Remember what I said about rising above what you were made to be?"
"Yes. I remember, too, the night you laughed at me from a rooftop."
"How little I realized then! I thought you would be there and gone again the moment you saw me at the Daces'."
"You may recall my own greeting was – less than enthusiastic."
"I remember. Quite vividly, actually, as I believe you tried to shoot me. More than once. And then you tried to tear my heart from my chest."
Fenris shook his head, feeling as if the smile that threatened was a dangerous thing and still unable to repress it. "Regrettable," he murmured, thick with mock gravity.
"More than that," Hawke said, her eyes alight with humor. "But I suppose we dramatis personae always walk the fine line between comedy and tragedy."
Her words were light but they caught something in his chest all the same; Fenris moved back up the steps until he stood beside her and let his hand lift to touch, gently, the place where her heart had once lived. "Tragedy comes too close," he said, his voice thick now with something else, and Hawke stilled. The words were already on his tongue; it amazed him how was easy it was to loose them, to give voice to something that had been as alien to him a year ago as peace. "I did not know it then, but – meeting you was the most important thing that ever happened to me, Hawke."
She drew in a breath. "Tearing out my heart with words now. A subtle strategy."
He shook his head again. "Now I would only take it from you if you asked," he told her, low and true, and then in a moment of reckless abandon added the truth's other half: "My own would follow after."
For a moment her eyes clenched shut as if she had stared too long at something too bright, and when at last they opened again they shone with tears. Hawke leaned forward and kissed him, quietly, tenderly, and then she said against his mouth, "Then I suppose yours will have to beat hard enough for the both of us."
His hand was on her hand; he lifted her fingers to the place on his neck where his pulse ran, where lyrium marked the veins in whorls and vines of silver light. "I am yours."
"Then – stay," she whispered, and her fingers curled around his jaw.
He said, "I will," and while there was hope there was promise too, and purpose, and a decision that both bound and freed him at once.
Hawke kissed him again, hard and hot and utterly unlike the last; then she tore away and strode down the steps. At the bottom she turned and looked up at him, her face framed in dark hair, her eyes glad and blazing, her smile a thing of untamed joy. "Well?" she asked, and laughed. "What are you waiting for?"
"Perhaps you should tell me," he said, his voice dry, though there was a slow unfurling elation in his own heart that matched what was in her face.
"You're a free man, aren't you? Choose your own orders."
He began to descend the stairs, his eyebrow lifted. "You ordered me to come back."
She took his hand when he reached her, her fingers twining between his, her thumb slipping over the scarlet handkerchief that enclosed his wrist. "And so you did. And here we are. And – now—" she added with a grin, "We should move on."
Fenris laughed, and he went with her into the night.
It well may be that I saw too plain, and it may be I was blind;
But I'll keep my face to the dawning light,
though the devil may stand behind!
Though the devil may stand behind my back, I'll not see his shadow fall,
But read the signs in the morning stars of a good world after all.
Rest, for your eyes are weary, girl — you have driven the worst away —
The ghost of the man that I might have been is gone from my heart to-day;
We'll live for life and the best it brings till our twilight shadows fall;
My heart grows brave, and the world, my girl, is a good world after all.
After All, Henry Lawson