AN: I'm so sorry for the delay! This weekend got a bit hectic. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this last installment, and thank you all for reading. I'd love to hear what you think. :)
The whisper hisses out of the dark, ominous as a cawing crow. Hawke ignores it, circling around the end of the bench; a moment later the front door creaks shut with a hollow boom, and heavy footsteps tap one-two-three across uncarpeted stone. "Sister," comes the whisper again, and as the pale face looms out of the shadows behind her Hawke whirls with both hands on her hips.
He flinches back, startled at her hissed vitriol. "What are you doing down here? There's still more than an hour to dawn."
"I am walking," Hawke says acidly, resuming her little circle around the bench in her great hall. "Come on, Carver. I know they teach you some things in the world of the Wardens."
"We know how to tell time," he offers, though Hawke loses her chance to retort when another sharp cramp clenches pointy little fingers into her back.
"Wonderful," she says at last, though her breath is a little thin and she isn't entirely sure what she's responding to. "Now, if you please, go to bed."
But instead Carver watches her make another circle around the bench, the knuckles of both fists pressed into the small of her back.
After a long, excruciating moment, he says, "Are you in labor?"
"No! Absolutely not!"
"Maybe!" Hawke snaps, and when Carver goes pale and trembly she blows out a short, frustrated breath and stalks her stilting way around the end of the bench until she can prod him in the breastbone. "Stop panicking."
"I'm not panicking. I should go get Fenris. Does Fenris know?"
Hawke narrows her eyes—but before she can speak another pang claws up her insides, shorter than the last but no less potent, and by the time it passes her poking finger has become a fist in Carver's shirt. "No," she grits out. "You are not going to wake Fenris. You are going to let him sleep for a few more hours, and then I am going to go wake him up and you are going to go get Anders."
"I—but—all right, don't choke me, but—why?"
Hawke closes her eyes, struggling for composure. "Because in the end someone is going to need to have their wits about them, and since I'm the one giving birth and you are apparently coming apart like a dandelion tuft in a strong breeze, it's going to have to be Fenris. Which means he needs all the sleep he can get, which means—"
"Leave him alone for the moment. I've got it."
Still, his look of concern does not ease, even when Hawke pushes him down to the bench to stop his hovering. The labor pains—if that's what they are; she's not entirely convinced—are not quite regular, coming in waves a few minutes apart and then split by almost a quarter-hour. She does not particularly care for uncertainty.
But as dawn pales her great hall grey and then rose-pink and the contractions begin to even out, even the Champion of Kirkwall finds herself admitting defeat at last. "All right," she mutters, sighing at the interminable stairway stretching up to the second floor. "Help me upstairs and let's…get this started, I suppose."
The stairs pass without incident, the walk to her room equally calm, and as Carver releases her elbow at her open doorway Hawke cannot pretend she does not feel the first stirrings of excitement. Or indigestion, she supposes, sinking down on the side of the bed where Fenris has sprawled on his stomach, one arm hidden beneath his pillow, the other curved up near his face.
Hawke would like to sleep on her stomach again.
Still, she keeps her touch gentle as she smoothes the hair from his sleeping face, as she curls her hand over his bare shoulder. "Fenris?"
He stirs with a low mumble; then his eyes open and he comes awake all at once, as he has for as long as she's known him, and his green gaze fixes tiredly on her face. "Hawke?"
"Sorry," she says softly, her voice abruptly trembling, "but I think it's time."
Fenris blinks at her—then his eyes shoot to her stomach and he sits up so quickly he nearly strikes Hawke with his forehead. "Time," he repeats, something lost and wondering in his voice.
"Get dressed," she suggests, kissing him without lingering. "I'll meet you downstairs. I have to walk a little more or my spine's going to snap in half."
"Yes," Fenris breathes, staring at her with something uncomfortably close to open affection, and before Hawke can embarrass either herself or Carver she stands and makes her way to the door.
Carver picks up her elbow again as she reaches him, a thoughtful look in his eyes, and halfway down the stairs, he begins, "You really…"
She looks up at him as they reach the bottom. "What?"
He stops, gripping her shoulders with both hands. "You really love him."
Her mouth quirks. "Funnily enough, I do. Does that make you squeamish?"
"No," Carver tells her, pulling her into a rough embrace. "Just glad."
"Thank you," Hawke says into his shirt, when she can speak, and for a little while she lets herself be held.
It is not, as labors go, particularly graceful.
Hawke paces the great hall well into morning, barely managing to muster cordial greetings for a sleep-dazed, bewildered Anders when Carver arrives with him in tow. She snaps at and subsequently apologizes to every member of her household, including Sandal (he is, blessedly, unoffended, though Hawke feels utterly wretched all the way through the next contraction). Even Fenris is spared little of her unfocused irritation, though he too seems inclined not to take it to heart, and the gratitude she feels at that patience is almost enough to curb her tongue when Merrill, Sebastian, and Varric show up at her front door with flowers and too-innocent smiles.
Orana takes the flowers with grace and goes to find water. Sebastian takes a seat beside Fenris on the bench before the unlit hearth. Hawke takes herself upstairs, as far from people as she can get, and pretends her belly is not trying to squeeze itself inside out through a cheese grater.
Eventually, as she eases through the end of another cramp—closer together now, and lasting longer, blast them—there's a knock on her half-open door. Hawke scowls at the window above her desk without turning. "Anders, I care deeply for you, but if you tell me to stay calm one more time I'm going to feed you your feathers."
"An interesting image," Aveline says dryly, and Hawke swivels in surprise as she closes the door behind her with a soft click. "But I can promise I won't tell you to do anything at the moment."
"Oh, good," Hawke says, a half-smile tugging at her mouth at the sight of Aveline, armorless, her civilian clothes a uniform that doesn't quite fit. "I didn't expect you until later."
Aveline shakes her head, crossing to the bed. Her arms are full of clean towels and a large, thick sheet; with brusque efficiency she drapes the sheet over the already-made bed, sets a careful layer of towels over the middle of it. "Believe it or not, Donnic was fretting about you two worse than I was. He's downstairs with Fenris, trying to calm him down with stories about watching his brothers be born."
Hawke blinks. "Did Fenris seem worried?"
A soft snort slips free as Aveline replaces the pillows against the headboard. "Not especially."
"Well. I'm comforted to have you here."
"Wouldn't find me anywhere else, Hawke," Aveline tells her, hands on her hips, surveying the bed in satisfaction before looking to Hawke. "How's the labor coming?"
"Agonizingly slowly. Anders keeps saying it's normal. I keep saying there's a reason they give people whiskey before they cut an arm off."
"To numb the pain?"
"That, too. Mostly I just miss being able to drink."
Aveline laughs when Hawke does, but a sudden tight cramp cuts off the end of it, and Hawke hisses as she bends forward, her hand clenching around the lip of the writing desk. Seconds pass—more than before, more than she is quite prepared to bear, and as soon as this child has life she is going to kill it—but after perhaps forty-five seconds the cramp begins to ease, and Hawke's gasping breaths find their way to steadiness again.
"You all right?" Aveline asks, her voice low.
Hawke wipes a bit of sweat from her forehead before waving her hand in dismissal, and Aveline flinches at the unwelcome spray. "Sorry. But—yes. Just…so ready for this to be over."
"Except then a whole new set of problems start."
"Thanks for the reminder. I don't know how women do this more than once."
"I hear that eventually, mothers forget the pain."
"They'd have to. To propagate the species if nothing else. I mean, my mother did it twice—and with twins! I can't even imagine."
"She must have decided to try to get it right the second time," Aveline says, her voice light and teasing, but—
—but it is far, far too late, and rather than meet the sympathy in Aveline's eyes Hawke turns to put her other palm on the desk as well, staring out the tall glass-paned window at the sunny Kirkwall streets below. She recognizes a few of the brightly-colored figures going about their lives below: the handsome prostitute from the Rose; the Chantry sister with the long black hair; the nosy wife from the mansion to the left currently gesturing wildly at Hawke's home, the absentminded scholar she speaks to peering up in bemusement. Frankly, Hawke isn't even sure he knows her name even though he's lived opposite her for three years—but even this distraction is not enough to soothe the cold aching place behind her ribs, the open wound that grief has left behind after eating her heart.
Across the square, a pair of larks alights on a high rooftop. They stare at each other, at the square below; then they lift free for the dubious superiority of the neighboring home in long, swooping arcs, without signal, without sound. Hawke says, "She should be here for this."
There's a long silence, just hard enough for regret, and at last a rustle as Aveline sits heavily on the edge of the sheet-draped bed. "You're right. She should."
"I keep—" Hawke tries, but the word tangles in the sorrow at the base of her throat. "I keep wondering what advice she'd have given me." She snorts. The sound is almost convincing. "Probably to sling Fenris over my shoulder and find the first boat to Ferelden."
"I can't imagine Fenris putting up with much slinging."
"She liked him, you know. I don't think she understood him, but…" Hawke blinks, blinks again. "She told me once that she liked him very much."
"High praise, from Leandra."
"She thought he was very polite. She wanted him to eat more. Oh, flames. Why are we talking about this?"
"You wanted advice." Aveline stands, crosses the room until she can rest one hand on Hawke's shoulder. "It's not the same thing, but…I can tell you what she told me, once, when I was first—how does Isabela keep saying it?—stupid over Donnic."
"You were never stupid. Oblivious, maybe."
"Hush up, kettle. I was on patrol. It was near dusk and Leandra was outside pulling away some of that stray ivy from your windows; I stopped to say hello and we got to talking." Aveline steps closer, her eyes turning out the window to the square below, as if memory might paint a quieter, dusk-grey evening over the living street. "I don't remember how it came up, but I…told her how difficult it had been to stop seeing Wesley in every man I met. How much I still missed him. And then she patted my hand, and I remembered that she'd lost both her husband and a daughter, and I couldn't believe what a numbskull I'd been."
Hawke laughs despite herself, despite the prickling tears behind her eyes. Bethany should be here, too; Bethany of all people would have relished the arrival of this child. But Aveline does not allow her to wallow, bumping Hawke's shoulder with her own as she continues. "And while I was in the middle of feeling both very lonely and very foolish, she gave me a hug and told me that it takes great strength to love again after loss. That there are times when it just doesn't seem worth it. But sometimes, if you give it a chance, the love that comes after grief can seem all the sweeter for knowing what came before it."
Hawke does not cry. She does not. She has neither the strength to spare nor the wherewithal to stop once she's started, so she gulps and swallows and blinks quickly enough to blur the larks on their rooftop, and then she says, when she can, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Aveline murmurs, letting her head rest briefly against Hawke's own.
But the moment does not last. As if her child has sensed the maudlin mood in need of breaking, a fierce, hot cramp seizes Hawke's stomach from navel to spine, and any lingering grief vanishes like smoke before the more insistent solidity of labor. Hawke bends forward, sucking in quick breaths through her teeth; when it is over she shakes her head, half-laughing, forcing herself to relieve her iron-clenched grip on Aveline's forearm.
"I think you had the right of it," she tells her. "I don't see a single good reason why the men shouldn't be the ones pushing the children out their asses."
Aveline rubs her forearm and laughs. "I'll pass that on to Donnic."
"Though, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure if Fenris could."
"Skinny hips. I hear that's not the best for bearing children."
"Or—Maker. It could be worse than that."
"What do you mean?"
"He would be even moodier than he is now."
And even like this, even with old grief sitting hard in her chest and older memories shading the sunlit room, Hawke can do nothing but laugh.
Anders confines her to bed just after mid-morning. The labor pains grip her now more often than not, each one longer and harder than the last. She thinks, distantly, that it is a good thing she has already so little dignity to lose; between the grunting and the open splay of her legs baring her to Anders, Orana, and Fenris alike, she can't imagine she has much left.
"Damn," she gasps, her head craning towards her feet as she pushes. "Damn, damn, damn damn damn shit—"
"It's crowned," Anders tells her, lifting his head long enough from between her thighs to grin. His coat is across the room, his hair tousled across his forehead, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows and Isabela would have died—but the pirate queen is not here and Hawke is not surprised, and she collapses into the pillows piled behind her with a groan.
"Crowning just means there's more still to come."
"Well, we could stop here. You'd just have—oh, a tenth of a baby to carry around. Maybe an eighth."
"Don't you dare joke about that," Hawke says, her voice sharper than she means it, and Orana clucks as she presses a cool cloth to Hawke's forehead. Fenris says nothing, but his grip on her hand tightens.
He is so quiet. Has been all morning, ever since he and Anders had taken Aveline's place in her room almost two hours ago. He has barely moved from where he stands at Hawke's shoulder, even when the first real cramp had set her sparking with flecked lightning; even now his eyes are huge and fixed on her, the lines of his throat whipcord-tight, his breathing so shallow he might as well be either dead or a very indifferent breeze. She can't read his face, when she looks up at him to find him watching her: he is not angry and he is not afraid and he is not—pleased, not really. If anything it is more a dreadful joy, a gladness seen through the colored glass of both anticipation and anxiety.
Hawke thinks she understands that.
But another cramping, desperate need to push seizes her, tearing her from her pleasantly painless introspection, and when Anders lowers one hand from her thigh to a rather large something between her legs, her heart lurches. "Come on," Anders says, his eyes trained on whatever is pushing its way out of her. "Come on, Hawke. Push, push, come on—"
"Can't," she says, the word heaving out of her between gasps as she tries even so, and after another handful of seconds her trembling grip gives way and she falls back against the bed.
Anders offers her a distracted smile, patting the inside of her knee. "You're close. So close. One more! Maybe two."
Hawke laughs and stares up at the ceiling, blinking away sweat from her eyelashes, feeling it roll across her temples into her hair. "You know, it did not look this hard in Lady Rolin's tapestry."
"Just be patient."
"No! Someone go find me—Orana, go find me a damn pry bar. I'll solve this problem."
There's a soft snort at her shoulder, and Hawke looks up to see Fenris smiling. "A vivid suggestion, Hawke," he tells her quietly.
She squeezes his hand in answer. She—tries to squeeze his hand in answer. Then she says, "Fenris, I love you dearly, but if you don't relax you're going to break every one of my fingers."
He starts, looks down; then with a noise like a stiff door creaking he unfolds his fingers from around hers, both their hands striped red and white with pressure and strain. Hawke shakes out her fingers, bends and flexes them with effort, and carefully—less desperately—takes his hand again.
"Don't let go," she tells him at his look, and crooks a smile. "Just don't break me."
"I will try," he murmurs, the corner of his mouth turning up, but before Hawke can muster any response another labor pain shudders up her stomach, hot fingers twisting her insides into a great sizzling knot.
"Andraste," Anders says as Hawke groans. "I think this is it. Push. Hawke, push—"
"I – am – pushing!" she grits out through clenched teeth, her eyes stinging with sweat, her grip on Fenris's hand just as tight and tighter than his ever was—
Something gives way inside her with a slick, wet noise—there's a slight tug as Anders reaches between her legs, eyes focused on something she can't see—
And then, unbearable relief.
Hawke deflates, crumpling into the pillows like a wrung rag. Her heart still races, the muscles of her thighs quivering with strain—but none of that matters in the face of the bloody little squirming infant Anders lifts in his arms. Orana is already there, rubbing the child's arms briskly with clean towels, drying the fine black hair that curls close to its head.
"Oh, Hawke," Anders says softly, the constant fervor behind his voice stilled for a moment as he looks at the little scrunched face in his arms, the aimless clenching of soft, tiny hands, the toothless mouth working its way open to let out a little wail from littler lungs. "Look what you did."
She swallows. Swallows again, tries to find breath beneath the sudden blinding ache in her chest. She is—too small for this. "Well? What is it?" She pauses. "A half-elf?"
"A girl," Anders says as Orana neatly cuts the cord and ties it. "A girl. A healthy girl."
Hawke twists on the pillows to look up at Fenris. All she can see at first is the underside of his jaw; then he looks down at her blankly, lips parted on some voiceless, nameless word. She smiles, murmurs, "Leda."
"Leda," Fenris repeats numbly, and even as she watches his already pale cheeks fade paler, and with a soft breath he begins to sway backwards.
Hawke tugs on his hand hard, twice, until he looks at her again. "Sit down," she advises, and he sinks silently to the edge of the bed.
Then Anders is there, bending towards them with their dry, cleaned child as Orana clears away the linens soiled with both blood and afterbirth. "Here," he says, and the moment in which Hawke feels the weight of her daughter settle into her arms is profound enough to silence her, to know that everything, everything has changed irrevocably: her life divided from this moment into before and after.
She is going to burst.
Fenris's arm comes around her back as he leans forward, as Hawke adjusts her daughter's head against her shoulder. She says, wet sobs of laughter tearing from her throat, "Look at her. She looks like a little abomination."
"Mistress," Orana says from across the room, chiding, "she does not. She's beautiful."
"She's a beautiful abomination with a pointy head and no teeth." Hawke touches her nose, her wide mouth, curves one finger around the blunted tips of the child's ears. Not elven—nowhere near her father's—but not quite human either. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Healthy lungs, as evidenced by the cries that still slip free as she is jostled. "Good morning, you wrinkly darling. Welcome to the world."
"She is—" Fenris says, his voice low and rough and unsteady and startled as he carefully—so carefully—curls his hand around the back of his daughter's head, "so small."
"I know. I was honestly expecting something the size of a mabari."
Fenris glances at her, eyebrow lifted, but then their daughter stirs and squirms and opens her eyes, and Hawke grins to see the familiar green gaze blinking up at her in softened miniature. "Oh," she breathes, "but you're going to break hearts."
Fenris's hand tightens into the sheet at her hip. His weight comes harder against her back as if he cannot quite stay still, lyrium flicking in faint shimmers up his arms and down them again, and when Hawke leans her head briefly against his temple she can feel the tremors running along his spine. He says, roughly, "It is—too much."
The words are an echo of another memory, another moment in this same room—but Hawke knows Fenris better now than she did then, and as his ear comes to press against her cheek, as his fingers slide from his daughter's hair to her shoulder, her throat, there is no room left in Hawke's overfull heart for fear.
After a little while, Anders reclaims the infant long enough to examine her more thoroughly with magic and hands alike, long enough for Orana and Fenris to remove the last sheets and towels and help Hawke wash herself before changing into a clean nightshirt. Then, after a brief moment of healing magic between her legs and through her unbearably sore back, she is at last in the wordless comfort of her own bed, under her own covers, supported by both clean pillows and Orana's delicate touch as she settles gingerly against the headboard.
"All done," Anders says, smiling as he crosses the room again, but Hawke jerks her head to where Fenris stands at the nearby window, his hand still on the latch after opening it to the cool sunlit breezes that filter in from the coast.
"His turn," she tells him, and when Fenris balks, she adds, biting back a smile, "And if he doesn't take her, drop her."
Fenris makes an inarticulate noise and his arms come out like lightning; then, as he finds himself with an abrupt armful of infant, he turns to Hawke and glares. "That was not necessary."
She smirks. "Whatever you say, love."
His lip curls in an irritation that swiftly fades as he looks down at his unexpected burden. Anders stands near, watching just closely enough to be sure they are both secure, and when Fenris at last lets out his held breath Anders gives a short nod and smiles at Hawke. "I'm off, then. I'll be downstairs if you need me, Hawke."
"Mage," Fenris says first, silencing Hawke's thanks in her throat, and looks up. His eyes are very serious. "Anders. I am grateful."
"You're welcome," says Anders, startlement giving way to a sort of pleased contentment, and Hawke grins at his wink.
Still, as the room quiets, as Anders and Orana finish the last of their cleaning and slip out of the room, as Hawke watches Fenris adjust the weight of his daughter in his arms, her grin begins to fade. Tiny hands slip free, swing through air in confusion before Fenris catches them in his fingers and carefully tucks them beneath the blanket again; enormous eyes blink open, their green deep and rich and framed by black lashes, glancing without purpose at the walls and window before fixing on Fenris's face. On her father's face.
Then Fenris closes his own eyes and gently presses his mouth to his daughter's forehead, and Hawke begins to cry.
It is not much, and it certainly isn't loud; rather, it is the overwhelming mute relief of a battle over and done, a victory without price, a living breathing little soul brought out of nothing into her father's arms, without harm, without lasting pain. The sound stifles well enough in her palm, Hawke determined above all else to allow Fenris the privacy of this moment; and yet, as he shifts his daughter's head against his heart, as he carries her to the better, clearer light of the open window, Hawke suspects that even if she were to shout his name he would not hear her.
He turns, leans one shoulder against the stonework jamb so that her small face falls full in the sun, so that she may see the colorful blurs of scarlet and gold and orange of the square below. His daughter blinks, shocked, at the light (one, two, three blinks, Hawke counts, and knows she must be very shocked indeed); then all at once her face crumbles and she drags in a tiny, massive breath.
"Hush," Fenris murmurs, and puts the pad of his thumb to her chin, to the place where his own markings wind like riverbeds beneath his mouth. She lets out a short, hiccuping breath; Fenris moves to cup her head with his hand, long fingers easing across the softened points of her ear. Gently, he says again, "Hush."
And she hushes.
Hawke does not speak, her hand falling away from her mouth, her tears receding as she watches Fenris, Fenris who has torn hearts from men, Fenris who denied all semblance of affection for the first three years of their friendship, who once did not know what it meant to touch someone in gentleness—hold his infant daughter close against his chest to soothe her. His discomfort, his hesitation—are gone as if they had never been. It is not that he has been meant for this any more than she has, not with their histories between them, not with the uncertainty of Kirkwall's fate still hanging above them like a sword, but—
But he stays nonetheless. And will stay. And will marry her, not out of duty but by choice, because he wishes to, because there is a love between them strong enough to bear even this weight and be made greater for the bearing of it.
Because he is a father holding his daughter for the first time.
She will not weep for that. It is too precious.
Eventually, when the room's noontime warmth and her own exhaustion combine to turn her limbs leaden, Hawke lets out a soft sigh. Fenris, still leaning against the windowsill, looks to her without shifting the child sleeping at his heart. He murmurs, "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Just tired." She smiles. "Have you got her, for a little while?"
Fenris stands, then, and crosses to her side with no trace of hesitation. He bends carefully, slides his free hand into Hawke's hair at the base of her neck, slants his mouth across hers in an answer that requires no words. When it is over, he closes his eyes and rests his forehead against hers, and he says, quietly, "I have her."
"Then she's all yours," Hawke tells him.
He smiles, kisses her again; then the door closes softly behind them, and Hawke sleeps.
When she wakes again it is to the long gold light of late afternoon spilling in through her window, pooling in the twists and folds of her crimson coverlet. Hawke yawns, stretches, puts one hand to her empty stomach—empty of more than infant, she realizes; she is hungry—and it is not until the shadow moves in her open window that Hawke realizes she is not alone.
"Hello, sweet thing," Isabela says, winking from where she sits sideways on the sunlit sill, and looks down again at the child sleeping in her arms.
Hawke musters a sleepy smile and pushes to one elbow. "I didn't know you were coming," she says by way of explanation, and knuckles a bit of grit from one eye.
"Hadn't planned on it. But your window was open, and I thought—why not visit you while you're in bed in an almost certain state of undress? Really, it wasn't even a choice."
"And the baby?"
"Stole it. Why, are you missing one?"
"I don't know. Something seems so familiar about her."
"Mm. Well, I did lift her right out from under the aquiline nose of one serah Fenris, elf."
"That must be it. I hear he's a new father."
"Has his eyes, anyway," Isabela says, and, as if on cue, they open bleary and blinking. She shifts the baby's weight so that the tiny wrapped feet press against Isabela's stomach and her small head rests supported by her bent, booted knee; the child makes a soft, bemused noise of protest, then falls still again, eyes wide and fixed to Isabela's face.
Isabela dips forward, just enough that a few strands of dark, sea-roughened hair slip along her cheek, just enough that the heavy gold of her necklace catches a breath of burnished light to lick fire. Hawke's daughter blinks again, eyes drawn to its etched surface, and Isabela smiles to see it as her thumb draws down the soft, hours-old cheek. Isabela's eyes, half-shadowed in silhouette, are—very soft.
And then, because she is Isabela and because Isabela does not hesitate to love things, she cups the child's cheeks in her hand and kisses her gently on the forehead, the nose, the mouth. Leda's green eyes cross as they try to follow her, her tiny lips twisting, and Isabela laughs as she leans back against the window's frame. "What do you think, Hawke?" she asks, grinning. "Teach her a sea shanty and I could put her right on the prow."
"You'd have to tie her in place, I think. But she's a little young for that kind of thing."
"I can come back in a few days." Isabela offers, but the amusement goes out of her voice as she touches the small cheek again, as the green eyes begin to droop. "She's beautiful, Hawke."
"Glad you like her. She's going to be sticking around for a while."
"You know she's already got Carver wrapped around her little finger."
Hawke laughs. "Her father's not much better."
Isabela snorts, kicking the foot that dangles from the sill, then glances to Hawke. "You look rather unwilted for a woman who just gave birth, you know. I'd have you this moment if you hadn't just pushed out what amounts to a small cask of rum."
"That's so sweet. What, do you want sordid stories of labor?"
"I get enough sordid in my own nightly activities, thank you," Isabela says with a mock shudder. "Besides, I heard you shat yourself."
"The miracle of birth."
Hawke sighs, easing up into the pillows. "Honestly, a dozen Arishoks would have been less difficult."
"Smell about the same, though."
"You're such a charmer."
"Believe me, I know." Isabela winks, sliding from the sill with babe in arms. "Lucky for you, I'm an honest thief."
Hawke lifts her arms for her daughter as Isabela hands her over, and smiles despite herself as her daughter lets out a soft huff and settles, eyes closing, breath evening out in something like comfort. "Giving back all the treasures you steal? You'll ruin your reputation."
Isabela kisses Hawke briefly on the forehead before straightening. "My reputation is exactly what I want it to be."
"I would expect no less," Fenris says from the doorway, one black eyebrow lifted in amusement as he pads into the room.
"Well," Isabela says, cocking her hip. "If it isn't the proud papa. Oh, well—I was done in here anyway, I suppose." Hawke begins to protest, but Isabela waves a hand, cutting her off. "There's too much domesticity in here for me. Actually, I think I'm going to go see what your brother's learned while he was away."
"How to tell time," Hawke mutters, grinning, and adds, "Isabela—thanks."
"Anytime, pet," she says with a wink; then she grasps Fenris's face in both hands and kisses his forehead, too—and she is gone.
Fenris blinks, touching his hair, but when Hawke laughs he shakes himself and comes to join her on the bed. "How do you feel?"
"Better. Hungry," she tells him honestly, but she pulls him back to the coverlet as he starts to rise. "Later. I'll be all right for a little while longer. And Leda must be starving, for that matter; I'll feed her in just a moment. Who's still downstairs?"
"Your brother," Fenris says, ticking them off his fingers. "Orana. Aveline and Donnic. Merrill. Sebastian and Varric have gone for an early dinner with the—with Anders, but they planned to return before nightfall. They are all…eager to see you."
Hawke smiles, leans against his shoulder. "A full house, then."
"For the moment." Fenris's arm comes around her, awkwardly at first and then more sure, but the kiss he presses to her mouth has nothing of uncertainty in it. He says softly, "It will be different now."
"Yes. Do you mind?"
"No." His fingers stroke down her cheek, her neck. "And you?"
She looks up into green eyes, warm and bright under the white hair she loves so well, the half-smile on his lips that she loves better. "Never."
The baby yawns. Hawke pulls her closer between them as Fenris lifts his feet to the bed that must have seen so many of her family's births over the decades, and as Fenris settles she yawns so widely herself her jaw cracks. Fenris laughs, guides her head to his shoulder, tugs the coverlet more securely against her waist as he stretches out beside her. It is an easy thing after that to allow her eyelids to drift almost closed, to rest her forehead against the curve of his neck where the lyrium stretches up towards his jaw, to let every part of her go loose and quiet as the afternoon sunbeams drape across her shoulders to warm her, across her daughter's face to cast her in light.
She can feel Fenris's heartbeat at the base of his throat. It keeps time measured slow and steady, constant as a tide beneath the sharper higher rhythm of her own, two unlike cadences to fall so well together; and when she rests her hand on her sleeping daughter's chest it is the last piece of the tuneless song she listens for, quick and new and strong. They beat slightly out of time with each other, but that, Hawke thinks, is right, too. They are not the lesser for it.
Only his heart and their daughter's heart and her own heart following after, and somewhere between the three of them, Hawke thinks she hears something like home.