A/N: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I'm really sorry for the delay AGAIN. I feel really bad that it took so long to get this update done, but real life has just kind of been pooping on me lately. That said I AM still planning on writing more of this story and I do hope you guys still enjoy it. I'm really really sorry again! I still don't own Dragon Age or any of the characters.

"Hawke! It's so good to see you. You haven't dropped by in quite awhile," Anders said, smiling at the mage as he removed some books from a chair for her to sit on. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

The diminutive woman didn't take the cleared seat, crossing her arms stubbornly over her chest. "I hear tell you've been spending a lot of time at my house while I'm not there."

Anders smiled pleasantly, though Hawke knew she wasn't imaging the nervous flicker to his gaze. "Well, I keep trying to call on you but I never can seem to catch you at home. And Leandra is always so polite. She always invites me in for tea."

Hawke shifted her weight from foot to foot, feeling her scowl deepen. The meeting with the viscount had been a tense affair, and one fraught with worry over the situation with the Qunari and the Arishok. It had done nothing to ease her temper, and she felt her anger, misguided as it was, bubbling up in her chest and aiming itself toward Anders. "Can you do me a favour and tell my mother we're not an item next time you see her, then?" she asked stiffly.

"Wh- Hawke, I never presumed to—"

"I'm not saying you did. But my mother has apparently taken it upon herself to find me a husband, and the whole thing is making me really uncomfortable. And once she gets ideas in her head, there's no discouraging her from them." She said, swallowing the much harsher words she wanted to say.

Anders nodded, his expression softening. "I didn't know about all that. I'm truly very sorry."

Noel sighed, feeling her shoulders slump. She felt like a deflated balloon. Why did Anders have to be so damned kind and understanding? This would have been much easier if he was an ass. "No, I'm sorry I lost my temper. I just—I don't like the idea of anyone else trying to decide what they think is best for me. I need my freedom."

The man rubbed a hand along his stubbled jaw and turned away to leaf through a stack of papers. "And you've already, ah… set your cap, so to speak." He ventured quietly.

Just say it and be done with it. Best to let him know now, so he doesn't get his hopes up. Steeling herself, Hawke nodded before realizing he couldn't see the gesture. "Yes."

Anders glanced over his shoulder at her, meeting her gaze. She was surprised to see how hard his expression was. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but can I give you my honest opinion?"

She groaned inwardly, sure she wasn't going to like where this was headed. But hearing him out was the decent thing to do. "Alright."

"Well—Hawke, the elf hates mages. He would see us all under the Templars' thumbs! That's not a healthy relationship to put yourself in. You… you deserve someone who understands you, who understands your plight as a mage."

All of a sudden, Hawke felt anger rising in her chest once more. "He does understand me!" she said in a snarl before she could catch herself. Anders abruptly fell silent, gaping, but she continued. "I don't think there's anyone who does understand me as well as he does. To imply that he can't understand or respect me because I'm a mage is ridiculous. I'm a hell of a lot more than just a mage. Magic is a part of my life, yes, but it doesn't consume me. It contributes to who I am, but I'm the whole—the sum. It's a part of me, not the other way around."

She knew she was rambling and probably not making sense. Before Anders could try to stop her, she turned and stormed out of the clinic. Luckily, she'd pretty much gotten all her steam vented when she told the other mage off, so she was already cooling down by the time she reached Lowtown. She even felt herself easing into a smile as she visited the various stalls along the way toward Hightown. Despite her newfound fortune, she preferred doing her shopping in Lowtown. The food wasn't pretentious or silly there, and the prices and shopkeepers were a hell of a lot more honest than the Hightown merchants.

As she picked up a few things—a fresh loaf of bread, some goat cheese, some ripe blueberries—she paused, lingering at the stall of a curiosities vendor who always seemed to have something interesting to sell. It had become one of her favourite little shops, and she usually ended up buying something from the man at least once a week. He was an older man and Fereldan, and she was happy to help another refugee make a living.

"Ah, Hawke! It's a pleasure to see you today!" the wrinkled old man grinned, gesturing her over. "Come see what I've picked out for you. I think you might like it."

Hawke's smile brightened as she approached the rickety table and glanced over the various odds and ends littering the wooden surface. The man, whom everyone just called Grandpa or Pops, withdrew something wrapped in cloth from a small trunk and set it on a relatively empty area of the table. As he unwrapped it, Hawke gasped in delight. "Oh, it's wonderful!"

The man's pale eyes twinkled, his smile deepening the lines of his face. He carefully dusted off the statuette with a corner of the cloth. It was a mabari hound, laying on its side and carved out of smooth black stone. Despite the powerful musculature of the dog, its ears were perked up and the suggestion of a very happy, doglike smile was on its face, a hint of a tongue lolling at the corner of its mouth. "It's a paperweight I picked up. I know you're always busy and getting letters nowadays, so I thought you might like it."

"It's perfect! It looks just like Winston!" she exclaimed, reaching for her coinpurse. As she glanced downward though, her gaze fell on a battered leatherbound book, clearly much-read and well loved. Her fingers reached out of their own accord, gently opening the cover.

He followed her gaze and explained. "Book of Shartan, that is. Found it stuffed in a sack in the Alienage."

"Fenris would like this," she murmured to herself. Looking back at the man, Hawke smiled. "I'll take the book and the paperweight, Pops. How much?"

Ten minutes and one good-natured bout of haggling later, Hawke was scampering up the stairs toward Hightown, her previous annoyances of the day utterly forgotten. The heavy paperweight was in her satchel along with the food she'd picked up, and she clutched the book to her chest.

"Fenris," she sang as she burst into the elf's mansion, "I brought you a surprise!"

For a moment, she wasn't sure if he was even there, but then at last she saw the elf emerge appear from his bedroom, a bottle clutched in his hand. "A surprise?" he asked, brows lofted in curiosity.

Grinning, Hawke scurried up the stairs and offered the book to him. "Here! I thought you'd like it."

But instead of the reaction she'd been expecting—one of his tiny half-smiles and a word of thanks—Fenris looked more confused than anything else. His free hand reached out slowly and at last he plucked the battered tome from her. "It's… a book." He said haltingly.

Nervousness plucked at Hawke's mind. Had she done something wrong, somehow? "It's about Shartan… I thought you might like it." She said once more in a much smaller voice.

The elf's dark eyes met her own, and he shook his head as if to soothe her. "Forgive me if I seem ungrateful. It's just… slaves were not permitted to read."

Hawke felt her cheeks burning with shame and she immediately berated herself inwardly for not taking that into consideration. "Y-you never learned?"

"No." his answer was quiet, simple.

"I could teach you!" she blurted out immediately, trying desperately to fix the situation. "If—if you wanted to learn."

His gaze softened as he looked at her, and she felt herself begin to relax by degrees. "I have always wanted to learn," he admitted.

"Then I'll help you! Whenever you want, Fenris, just let me know, okay?"

Nodding, he set both book and wine bottle down on an end table. Then he gently drew her into a warm embrace, his breath tickling her ear. "Thank you."

"I missed you." She whispered, her own arms circling his midsection. As the months had passed, their physical contact had gradually grown more comfortable and more frequent. As with all other facets of their relationship, Hawke let Fenris set the pace. She was careful not to initiate physical displays of affection, not wanting to startle him or make him uncomfortable. She never wanted to force anything onto him. But every time he initiated physical contact with her, she was always quick to respond in kind. First of all, because she wanted him to know she enjoyed being close to him, and second… well, she enjoyed being close to him.

"I missed you too. Have you had a busy day?" he asked. She felt him shifting his weight from foot to foot, and she took that as a cue to step back and look up at him, though her hands remained lightly on his sides. His own hands fell to rest loosely on her hips.

"Like you wouldn't believe," she grumbled, wrinkling her nose. "First I had to tell my mother to stop trying to marry me off to anyone who would take me, then I had to go talk to the Viscount about the Qunari, then I had to go talk to the Arishok and he wants me to deal with some problems, and then-"

Fenris silenced her by placing an index finger on her lips. "Take a breath."

She obediently did so, and he withdrew his finger to allow her to continue. "Well," she said more slowly, "I figured that since I was dealing with crap from everyone else today, I thought I'd go tell Anders to step off."

"Did you?" Fenris asked, brows lofted. "How did that go?"

"Swimmingly," she grumbled. "He did that awkward 'But I'm better for you' ….thing. And I may have lost my temper and yelled at him."

"'Better for you-?' Than me, you mean."

"Yeah. I mean I know you two are like oil and water but he was really out of line."

Fenris growled, a deep reverberating sound that Hawke practically felt in her bones. "That damned abomination. It's no business of his-"

"I know," she soothed him quietly. "And I told him that."

"Good," he muttered. "If he keeps making advances, tell me."

Hawke nodded. "Okay, but I don't think he will. I really didn't, ah… leave him any room for argument or misinterpretation."

He snorted, the corners of his mouth turning upward just the slightest bit. "Good. Because I'm not sharing you with anyone," His voice was low, thrilling her senses. The man leaned in, his lips nearing her own, before he shifted and planted a kiss on her cheek instead. Withdrawing from her, he picked up the wine bottle and the Book of Shartan. "Shall we?"

Hawke could only nod, exhaling in a longing little sigh as she followed him down the hall. He had to be driving her crazy on purpose.