|Why you gotta go rifling through my stuff???|
I'm a writer first, and once upon a time I was one helluva wiz with pencils, pastels and acrylics. Alas, I've neglected the latter talents in favor of real life, though I hope one day to pick them up again. Writing is my passion, though it was not always my strongest skill (and is still in the refining process.) I'll quit that when I'm dead... maybe. ;o)|
You can also find me on fanfiction.net where I'm still Lourdes23. I've got a bit more posted there, but much of it is years old and nowhere close to the standards I now hold myself to.
I've copied my favorite pieces here though.
I also post photographs I take which I find appealing, though I wouldn't call myself a photographer, or even a hobbyist. My camera is older, my skills are remedial and there are many times in which I am scolded by family for not taking enough pictures at special events. But I can appreciate lovely scenery, so if I catch a lucky shot I'll share it with the class.
I REMAIN AT YOUR SIDE
Understanding what would be asked of her after receiving Varric's message, Hawke had possessed the forethought to take steps that would assure her usefulness before meeting with the Inquisition; an organization which could have wanted her neck stretched for her part in Kirkwall's fall for all that she knew. That use would be to provide the Inquisition with intelligence they may need to turn their battle in their favor, and though she did not have much information to provide personally, she knew someone who would.
It had not been difficult for Hawke to pinpoint Stroud's location before arriving in Skyhold. She had made it a point to keep touch with a few of her more nomadic acquaintances in case she needed mobile support during her travels. Through this contact she had already been aware that something had been troubling the Grey Wardens of late, and that Stroud had been on the outs with his superiors, presumably for this unknown problem. In one of his last messages Stroud conferred his intent to slip into hiding if the situation worsened, though he would not speak of what the issue was outright. Given the recent mysteries surrounding the Grey Wardens' disappearances, Hawke was positive that Stroud would have taken his leave by now.
Thus it was to be a simple enough matter to travel to the cave where her friend had informed her in a coded message that he would take refuge. Or so she had believed.
In fact, the trek itself had proven anything but a quick jaunt through the countryside. The rains had not relented once since she and Fenris had descended the Frostback Mountains, and after two nights and one full day at the inn, the pair had decided to accept that they would be traveling uncomfortably going forward and return to the storm-wracked roads, or risk Stroud relocating without their knowledge.
Their luck, she found to her everlasting ire, was only to turn for the worse, however. The poor visibility caused by the foul weather had made it difficult to find their trails in this unknown landscape, and on multiple occasions Hawke found herself forced to backtrack in order to recover the route they had accidentally strayed from.
Then, of course, there were the undead. Ungainly creatures which were easy enough to dispatch... if you didn't unknowingly step into their resting places first.
By the time dawn broke on the final day of their travels Fenris was a growling mess of fatigue with varying gouges to his body from their numerous encounters, gauntlets that were growing increasingly difficult to function in after being sodden for so long, and waterlogged bare feet. Hawke was not much the better off. Her boots had flooded, her usual dexterity had been all but ruined by the sodden landscape, bringing about more injuries than usual during battles, and her hands were so numb from the constant cold rains that she could no longer spin her daggers with any efficiency within her grasps.
"How exactly did you manage to survive in this accursed country for so many years, Hawke?" The elf growled, ruffling his sodden hair with a single hand to stop the rivulets from running down over his eyes; the rain undoing his attempts in short order.
Hawke had learned quickly enough after leaving the inn that if Fenris was in a foul mood, or if they were in the company of others, he reverted to addressing her by her surname, which suited her just fine. She'd been accustomed to hearing that name used in any capacity over the years; but if her given name was only spoken in moments of tenderness she would treasure the sound of it all the more.
"Not all of Ferelden is like this," she grumbled in response as she trudged through mud that threatened to suck the boots from her feet. True this weather was unusual for her native land, yet Crestwood seemed bent on drowning them, and Hawke was quickly losing her patience with the area.
The cave was blessedly closer than she anticipated, though, and with a sigh of relief she lugged herself into the dark opening, leaning against slick rock walls as she pulled off her boots, pouring water from them as she would from pitchers. "We should probably announce ourselves," she announced once Fenris had taken a moment to scrape the muck from his feet, "no doubt Stroud will want to know he's among friends."
Traversing the narrow passageway was easy enough, though she found the bandit standards a bit comical. Thankfully he had laid no traps or trip wires to catch them up.
The large wooden door at the back of the corridor was solidly locked, but with a few steady blows she coaxed a roughly phrased demand from beyond the planking, the voice thick with an Orlesian accent. Reflexively she smiled. That was quite an act he was putting on!
"It's Hawke." She announced without any additional clarification, knowing that none would be needed. Moments later the door latches were released and she found her friend peering warily from the opening before laying eyes upon her and visibly relaxing at the sight.
"Hawke," he breathed, reaching an arm out to grip at hers in greeting, "it's good to see you."
"Likewise," she replied, "you and your impressive mustache." The smile she received in response was small, almost obligatory, and Hawke surmised that things were worse than she had feared. Putting aside any further attempts at levity, she informed him of her reason for coming, and of the visitors he was going to receive soon.
Thankfully Stroud appeared not only tolerant of the intrusion, but lightened by the prospect of it as well, if only slightly. "Perhaps we can be of assistance to each other then," her Orlesian friend murmured, apparently lost to his own thoughts. Grey Wardens were given to secrecy, and Hawke expected this was the case yet again. And so she volunteered herself and Fenris to stand guard at the mouth of the case and wait for the Inquisitor and her party to arrive. Without additional conversation Stroud returned to the cave, and Hawke and Fenris took up their assigned sentry positions, understanding that the Grey Warden was in no mood to exchange pleasantries.
The day wore on, and as it did the rain at last faded until it was nothing more than a light drizzle, falling cheerfully from a nearly sunny sky. Hawke chuckled darkly and cursed their luck aloud; Fenris smirking with her in her sardonic humor and joining in with a few choice epithets of his own.
It felt right - sitting here with him, carrying on as they had before that fateful night in Kirkwall. Yet it was not exactly as it had been before, she realized, for there was a warmth in his eyes now when he looked upon her; a softness to his smile that spoke of secrets shared between the two of them alone, and she could not resist returning the expression in earnest.
When his eyes began to swim with unspoken emotions she found herself tempted to wrap her arms around his neck and drink in another of his intoxicating kisses, until the sound of hooves on the path caught her attention. In moments the Inquisitor was upon them, Varric and two others reigning their own mounts in behind her. Hawke stifled an undignified giggle at the sight of one very uncomfortable dwarf on the back of a horse that nearly tripled his own height.
With their mounts secured Varric took the brief liberties of introducing the pair to Cassandra, the Seeker Varric had written her about, and a mage by the name of Dorian. Yet as Hawke lead the company inside, her arm was caught up by her dwarven friend, who pulled her back for a moment.
"Listen," his voice dipped low as he cast furtive glances at the backs that were moving further into the cavern without them, "I tried to convince her to leave Dorian behind, but they're practically inseparable. Almost as much as her and the Commander. She wouldn't leave him without cause, and I couldn't give her the reason without royally pissing her off. Just do us all a favor and keep Broody away from him."
Hawke's brow quirked. "There's no need for that. We knew that we would likely be working along side mages again," she replied softly, "the Inquisition sided with them, after all."
"Yeah, but you didn't count on Dorian." Varric grimaced. "He's Tevinter, pal. A Tevinter magister."
Hawke's stomach performed a series off flips within her at the revelation. "Maker!" She blasphemed vehemently, yet managed to keep her voice to a whisper, "Varric! Why didn't you stop her from bringing him?"
"I tried!" Varric repeated, over annunciating his words as though trying to speak reason to a drunkard; a display that Hawke did not appreciate.
"You should have tried harder!" She rasped. "If Fenris finds out-"
"Just don't let him." Varric suggested as though the idea were simple enough. "Keep him distracted. You're good at that, after all."
Hawke opened her mouth to retaliate before stopping short, eyeing the dwarf suspiciously.
"You knew." She accused.
"What was that?" Varric blinked, not following her insinuation. Yet their opportunity for secrecy was brought to an abrupt end.
"Hawke." Fenris' voice called for her quietly from within the cave, his platinum head coming into view as he circled back to find her. "Why are you lingering out here?"
Her mind stumbled for a reason - any reason - to have remained behind while not actually lying to a man who shared so many secrets with her. Recalling her secondary grievance with Varric, she quickly decided that the dwarf would have to be sacrificed for the greater good. "You knew Fenris had feelings for me all this time?" She demanded of her favorite storyteller, her eyes narrowing on him heatedly. "You knew and you never told me?"
Varric blinked, glanced at Fenris and then shifted his feet. "Well shit. This is awkward. Care to throw me a bone, Hawke?" Varric asked. "Are congratulations in order, or should I be taking the elf here out to drink himself into a stupor?"
"We'll discuss this later," Hawke whispered heatedly, yet not so quietly that Fenris could not hear, stomping into the cave and praying silently that Varric knew she wasn't truly upset with him. Well, not that upset at him at any rate. "For now we have a task ahead of us."
At her back there was a fair amount of shuffling before a pair of heavy boots plodded along behind her. "Well, I'm not crawling out of this one anytime soon," she heard Varric grumble as they hurried to meet the others and then, to her surprise, Fenris' low response.
"Hawke never did like to be the last to know anything." He reminded Varric. "I will speak to her again. She already understands that nothing could have developed between us sooner than it did."
"Sooner than it did, huh?" Hawke could not measure Varric's opinion of Fenris' revelation by the dwarf's voice alone, which was unusual for the normally expressive man. "So, you and Hawke? The world's a crazy place."
She had not time to ponder her friend's opinion of the couple's new-found romance for, to her horror, she found the door to Stroud's hideaway already open when she reached the back of the cavern, and inside the Grey Warden had the tip of his sword at the Inquisitor's neck.
Maker - what is he doing?!
"It's just us!" Hawke called, striding into the cavern quickly. "I brought the Inquisitor."
After a tense few moments Stroud sheathed his blade, making formal introductions to the Inquisitor and promising his service. Thankfully the Inquisitor seemed more glad for the offer of assistance than she did upset at her first encounter with Hawke's friend, and Stroud quickly began to share what knowledge he possessed of Corypheus. It was all speculation and conjecture, until Stroud made a startling revelation:
The Orlesian Grey Wardens were hearing the Calling. All of them. At once.
"Maker!" Hawke gasped, horrified. "Why didn't you tell me?"
When Stroud informed her that it was a Grey Warden affair she seethed inwardly. The man knew that she had a sister in the Order, and he had the audacity to keep something this important from her?
"And every Grey Warden in Orlais is hearing that right now?" She demanded, Bethany's face swimming before her mind's eye and, to her surprise, Anders' as well, for he had undergone the Joining, and that was permanent. Or so Anders had told her. "They think they're dying?" Her concerns spiraled outward. Stroud knew of the Orlais Wardens, but what of the Wardens in Ferelden? Or the Marches? And where was her sister?
Hawke could not feel that guilt that had nearly suffocated her before. She could not feel that horrible failure at the lives she had failed to save. Bethany could be in danger right now, believing herself dying, because of that creature.
Right now, all Hawke felt was rage.
And then, once Stroud had recounted the Grey Warden's foolish intent for saving their order and departed for the Western Approach - to her horror - things became even worse.
"This would not be something you would have any knowledge of, I presume?" The Seeker spoke up after Stroud had departed, her words casual enough, though the stare she pinned on Dorian was nearly accusing.
"Oh yes, of course," droll humor rolled off of the man's tongue with practiced ease as he affected what appeared to be a nostalgic expression. "All Tevinter magisters are taught blood rites in deserted towers. Ah, this will be just like my apprentice years."
Fenris went rigid, and at her back Varric's muttered expletive suddenly didn't seem sufficient in Hawke's opinion.
"I should have known." The former slave snarled, and Dorian appeared for the first time honestly taken aback at the sudden reaction from the composed elf. When Fenris took his first step towards the mage Hawke immediately intervened, placing herself squarely before her new lover, her hand on his chest.
"Fenris, there's no need-"
"Move aside, Hawke," Fenris sneered, ripping her hand from his chest and attempting to push her aside; yet Hawke held her position, freeing her hand from his metal grasp at the cost of a few bloody lines drawn upon her wrist, and gripping his shoulder tightly.
"This man has done nothing to you." She replied, trying to keep her voice calm and composed. "He is fighting with the Inquisition-"
"His kind is the definition of everything vile in this world!" Fenris snarled, white teeth flashing from bronzed skin. "And you expect me to cooperate with him-"
"I'm not expecting anything of you." She announced forcefully, drawing her shoulders back and lifting her chin as she always had when commanding someone's attention. "I'm asking you to trust me." Her voice softened, her head tilting slightly as she gazed at him seriously. "Is that something you can do again, Fenris? Or am I asking too much?"
Green eyes ablaze with near unbridled hatred laid upon her, and to her relief began to flicker. After a moment the cords within his neck relented fractionally and he took a single step back.
"Festus bei um canaverum." He muttered.
That phrase he had translated once for her, and a sudden sadness gripped her heart at how valid it could someday prove. "Maker, I hope not." She whispered, and that softly spoken admission seemed sufficient to break him from his prejudice induced trance as he blinked at her odd response.
"We should get moving," he announced and spun upon the balls of his foot, following the path Stroud had used to exit the cave.
The Western Approach had been horrific to bear witness to, but it had also given Hawke the conviction she had needed to stand against an order she had always held in high esteem. The Grey Wardens had protected Thedas since the first Archdemon crawled out from the stinking depths. And in a show of the power which fortitude and strength of will could endow, the last Blight's end had been orchestrated by the only two Grey Wardens left in Ferelden. Two Wardens, where there had once been hundreds, and still they were able to slay the Archdemon be sheer ingenuity and determination. The Grey Wardens were unquestionably a force to be reckoned with.
Yet what this group of Wardens was doing was inexcusable. They had not just resorted to blood magic out of desperation to save their own lives. They had allied themselves to a darkspawn magister, sacrificed human lives to raise an army of demons, enslaved the minds of their own mages to ensure compliance, and now were planning their ascension to 'god-kings' to rule the world under Corypheus' boot heel.
Or so the mage at their fore claimed.
Hawke's resolve had become infinitely clearer. Though Stroud spoke of their reasons and attempted a weak defense, Hawke knew that all who followed this path would be put down. There would be no compromises. The image of Bethany, lifting her hands and lowering them like a puppet on command as those Wardens in the Western Approach, had her grinding her teeth in near a nearly blinding fury and gut-roiling fear. She would not allow her sister to come to such a fate.
And if she had... Hawke's fists trembled at her sides.
Maker have mercy on the Grey Wardens, for I will not.
And so when the Inquisition's Commander - who unbelievably enough was Cullen Rutherford, the one-time templar who had stood with her in the final battle against his own Knight Commander two years ago - had asked her to join the Inquisition's ranks when they stormed Adamant Fortress, Hawke had volunteered her temporary services gladly, not even asking Fenris if he would come. She already knew his mind, for it was the same as hers.
The traitorous Grey Wardens must be put down.
It had started in silence, as all great battles did. Moonlight and anticipation were the only presences hanging in the air. No voice carried in the still night skies.
Then came the first explosion of sound: a war cry delivered from the lungs of the Commander of the Inquisition's armies.
And so began the bloodiest battle Hawke had seen since Kirkwall fell.
As one both sides rose to Cullen's challenge. Demons crawled forth at every corner. Wardens railed against the invading army with anything and everything at their disposal. Inquisition siege engines laid waste to stonework, and soldiers poured over the fortress' battlements - Hawke and Fenris among them - to find their foes waiting eagerly on the other side. Yet as a testimony to Cullen's leadership the Inquisition's forces rallied valiantly, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were hard-trained and battle ready.
And so Hawke danced.
It had been years since she had been able to dance as she did. Small skirmishes on the highways and country roads provided almost no opportunity to push her abilities to their limits. But here, surrounded by demons and warriors bent on her death, Hawke felt herself able to simply let go of thought; of restraint. She was her own greatest weapon.
Her daggers sang free of their sheaths as the first of her prey moved in, her body spinning lightly on her soft boot soles, twirling her in circles with her blades extended on either side like deadly wings. And around her three Wardens fell at her feet; expressions of shock frozen upon their lifeless faces.
Without pausing she located her next target and lunged; her dagger an extension of her arm, and the rage demon at the end of her assault was hurtled over the edge of the battlements to its death.
At her back game a guttural growl, and she whirled to find Fenris carving his way through human and demon flesh as though he were cutting down wheat in a field. His lyrium marks blazed to life and his sword swung wide with a grand sweeping gesture, leaving him ample room to bury his unencumbered arm in the chest of a mage before him, ripping the appendage free with a horrible sucking sound. It was enough to cause a few Wardens around them to balk; a reaction that Hawke capitalized on quickly, along with a few nearby Inquisition soldiers; dropping those off-balance Wardens with ease.
And Hawke danced, and twirled, and leapt and killed. At times she danced in tandem with Fenris, and that dance was intimate and thrilling and brutal. She'd never fought at his side in such a way; twisting her body around his, using her blades as close-combat cover while the warrior inflicted massive damage upon those before him, muscles bunching in his corded arms as he wielded that massive sword with a grace and ease one would never suspect from a man of such trim build.
He was magnificent, she decided, and was surprised to find a small smirk upon his lips following one particularly close pairing. She allowed her battlefield facade to fall if only for a moment, returning the smile before schooling her features to stone once more and spinning around to Fenris' back, ripping her blade across the throat of a man who had intended a stealth attack.
"I'm at your back," she murmured.
"I know." Came his rumbled response, and again her composure slipped for an instant at the meaning behind those words.
Moments later, or perhaps it was hours, a tremendous crash shook the very stone beneath her feet. "They've breached the doors!" She shouted to her nearby allies.
It was just in time, too. Though she and Fenris were cutting down foes with practiced ease, more and more were rushing in to fill the fallen's places with every passing minute, while ally soldiers fell with greater frequency the longer they were forced to endure so little support. Soon skill alone would be insufficient - they needed greater numbers if they hoped to come out of this with their skins.
Yet all was not well just yet. To their immediate right a pride demon materialized from a small group of Warden mages, and Hawke bit out a coarse oath. She and Fenris might have been able to survive a fight against a pride demon just barely, had their potions not been touched, and if there had not been Warden mages prowling around the demon like lurkers.
Desperately she bellowed for help from soldiers in the distance, yet they were in no position to assist; too embroiled in their own present battles to break away. The monstrosity, however, heard her call, and with a laugh that drove a chill down her spine it approached. Grimly, Hawke bared her teeth and rose up on the balls of her feet, preparing herself for a battle she knew she had little chance of winning.
At her side Fenris lowered himself to a near crouch. "Be ready to draw its attention," he growled, and she nodded her understanding. Being fleeter of foot, she would act as decoy while he unleashed the full extent of his power upon the demon. It was risky, but it was all they had.
And then, like a prayer answered, a bolt as fat as her finger and as long as her forearm struck the demon where its heart should be, and another only a second later buried in the monster's neck.
"I've got your back, Hawke!" Varric's familiar cry was a boon to her soul, and she nearly laughed aloud with relief. With the knowledge that she was now supported, the former Champion rushed in, only to find herself matching strides with the Inquisitor herself. The women glanced at one another as they tore into the fray, the Inquisitor smirking lightly at her ally.
Four daggers sang out; the Inquisitor blitzing past the monster with a surprisingly brutal blow considering her chosen class and stature, while Hawke crouched low, skirting along the demon's peripheral vision so that she could strike out at an exposed weaker point on its flank, her daggers piercing holes in the armored skin with ease once she was able to surprise it.
Together she and the Inquisitor dipped and darted, spinning clear to make room for their warriors, or to give wide berth to one of Dorian's spells or a volley of Varric's arrows. It felt oddly familiar, almost like her days of fighting beside Isabella when the two would practically duel each other in play as they took down their foes, though the Inquisitor was far less vocal and more disciplined in her techniques than the pirate captain.
Unexpectedly whips of lighting suddenly crackled into existence within the demon's claws and, caught off guard, Hawke felt a jarring impact more than any pain as she sailed into the air; Fenris' cry of alarm echoing faintly in her ears. The world faded to black and silence for an instant and then Dorian was above her, his hands glowing green as he poured a potion down her throat.
"I would recommend not standing in the path of those bolts in the future," he said flippantly, and against her better judgment Hawke smiled.
"I'll try to remember that." She replied, rising to rush back into combat and finding Fenris aglow with the power of his markings; his eyes twin orbs of cerulean light as he struck out at the demon viciously.
"Fenris," she called, and a near maddened face turned to her; eyes widening impossibly at the sight of her standing, and for a moment he forgot to raise his sword to defend against the coming blow.
Yet green energies sailed over his head, throwing the demon's arm back violently, and from behind Fenris' shoulder Dorian leaned in. "You're welcome, by the way," he purred into the pointed ear, and Hawke could not tell if it was for saving Fenris from the demon or Hawke from her injuries. Yet no retort came from the former slave, save for an alarmingly large bulging of his jaw.
The battle against the pride demon continued on hard-fought, with Fenris, Stroud, and Cassandra proving the most useful against its formidable defenses as their blows were the most punishing, and eventually the monster groaned and crumbled to the ground before fading into nonexistence.
Hurrying off to lay waste to the remaining siege points, the Inquisitor gave Hawke a brief smile and word of thanks before together the ever expanding group moved deeper into the fortress; encountering more demons, Wardens and abominations with every turn. Yet soon enough they pushed past the final set of doors to find that odd green glow that spoke of a rift filling the inner courtyard, and within mages and Wardens crowded while the Warden Commander herself sacrificed a man before the gathering.
Enraged, the Inquisitor stepped forward, hurling accusations and demands at the Tevinter magister from the Western Approach and Warden Commander Clarel, though to no avail. With a barked command from the leader of the Grey Wardens, the rift within the courtyard expanded dangerously, leaving Hawke and Stroud to raise protests of their own to the Wardens, desperate to avoid what they thought was to come.
Until something tore free from the skies and sailed over their heads like a black cloud.
It was, but then again it was not. Hawke had fought dragons before, but nothing like this. This dragon was darker, grotesque in its form and seeming decay, and elicited a response within the Wardens like nothing Hawke had ever witnessed.
And then she understood what it was they were seeing.
Maker preserve me, that's an Archdemon!
Immediately Wardens were rallying to the Inquisitor's group at the command of Clarel who, from her place upon the dais, attacked the Tevinter magister at her side before throwing magical energies against the Archdemon without restraint.
Around them the courtyard exploded into a frenzied nightmare. Demons spawned in every corner of the clearing, Wardens fought and fell shrieking to the ground, and a steady string of Tevene profanities poured from Fenris' lips, or at least Hawke believed they were profanities, judging by the echoed phrases or additional words she heard Dorian elicit during Fenris' breaths.
Yet there was no time to engage them all, for Clarel was rushing to the battlements in pursuit of the Tevinter magister, with the Inquisitor and her troupe not far behind. If there was any hope to stave off the tide of demons pouring into the fortress, it would be with those two. Rounding corners and dodging abominations and demons at every turn, Hawke and Fenris finally reached the battlements behind the Inquisitor and Stroud; her skin prickle with apprehension at the scene. the Warden Commander was a furious sight to behold, attacking the magister without reserve from her place beside the ramparts, until he was little more than a quivering, smoking mass of flesh and cloth upon the stone. It seemed to Hawke that the man's death was all but inevitable.
Inevitable, that was, until the Archdemon dropped from the heavens on black wings of death and plucked the Grey Warden from the battlements, carrying her off and shaking her violently before tossing her back to the stonework. Such a horrific attack should have been enough to kill anyone, yet impossibly Clarel rolled to her back, muttering something softly as she raised her hand into the air -
- and rent the battlements asunder with a magical blast the likes of which Hawke had never before witnessed; the Archdemon floundering and falling beneath the stonework with a terrifying guttural howl.
"Run!" The Inquisitor shrieked as the great pavers beneath their feet began to give way, crumbling to to the jagged rock below. Needing no further coaxing, as one the group turned to flee, with the Inquisitor trailing behind, pushing Stroud passed her forcibly.
Nimbler than Fenris, Hawke reached back, clutching at his arm desperately and pulling at him as though she had any hope of speeding him along beyond his current pace. Yet in the end he could not outrun the crumbling stone and mortar, and she would not release her hold on the man she so desperately needed.
And so the rock beneath their feet gave way, and then they were falling, the pit of her stomach rising into her throat as she watched the ramparts rush by her through her decent; thought that this was it, this was the end of it all.
Until the brilliant green light swallowed her.
A/N - Tevene (latin) translations are at the bottom of the page.
Returning to the highways was almost a welcomed respite for Hawke. Though she enjoyed the comforts of civilization, she now enjoyed anonymity more so. It was an oddity for her to be so introverted, she knew. She used to love being in the thick of a crowd. Spending time at the Hanged Man's tables, playing Wicked Grace and drinking with her friends, as well as anyone else who had the coin and cared to risk it, had been a great source of enjoyment for her. Yet now, when Hawke found herself surrounded by a mass of faces, she felt only emptiness. No matter how she tried, there were so many people who had come to her suffering, desperate, pleading for her help, and in her incompetence she had failed them.
Or worse: she had inadvertently caused their deaths.
It had been easy to dismiss these thoughts before. Her efforts at subterfuge in order to avoid public recognition, and the retaliation she believed would quickly follow, had given her something to focus on. But now the protection of the Inquisition had rendered her aliases unnecessary, the burden of the needs of the people had returned to her shoulders, and Hawke was more afraid than she had been in years; which was making the coming mission that much more difficult. Hawke remembered what red lyrium did to people; if there was more - enough to infect a small army of templars - then their battles against Bartrand and Meredith had been just the beginning.
It was after days of miserable travel over the highways, during which there had been near constant rainstorms upon descending from the mountains, and with these worries reverberating within her mind, that she and Fenris reached their first village stop, much to her relief this time. Finally they had enough coin in their purse to afford lodgings without requiring a trip to the chanter's boards to offset the cost. And by nightfall the pair were tucked safely into their room, dry and warm for the first time in nearly a week. At last Hawke thought that perhaps she might actually find some small relief.
That hope, however was short lived.
"Haec passuram non possum." The words, delivered through a low growl, caused Hawke lift her eyes to the chair beside her own and blink at her companion in mild surprise. They had been sitting in silence for some time, enjoying the long-overdue warmth of a fire upon the hearth before them, drying and oiling their gear to stave off the rust that would result from a week beneath torrential skies, and drinking the cheap wine that the innkeeper kept on hand for the guests. Overall it had been a pleasant enough evening in comparison to the last several days, she had felt, and she could find no reason for him to suddenly be so agitated.
"You know I don't understand Tevene, Fenris." she replied quietly, wondering if it had even been meant for her ears.
"It means 'I can tolerate this no longer,'" he replied from between clenched teeth, lifting his sharp gaze to hers and tossing his oiling cloth to the floor. "Exactly how long will you continue down this path, Hawke?" He demanded. "It has been two years. How long must this self-imposed guilt consume you before you are satisfied? Where is the woman I met in the alienage?" With every demand he grew more incensed until he was pacing before the fire, and she half suspected he was about to strike out at something physically. "The Champion I followed in Kirkwall never shied from adversity as you do now. Tell me, is that woman gone forever?"
And there it was, she realized. His breaking point had been reached.
She had often wondered if, or more precisely when, it would come to this. Fenris had been unusually tolerant, even supportive of her since they fled Kirkwall. Never in their prior years together had she ever known him to be so forgiving of anyone. She had considered in an honor; one she knew that she was taking too many liberties with. For no matter how close they had grown over the years, in the end Fenris was a man of strong principle, and she knew that she was defying those principles with her self-deprecation.
"I don't know," she murmured dejectedly. "I can't think of myself as the Champion of Kirkwall anymore. But I know you well enough to understand that my actions are wearing on your patience. You've never tolerated weakness well. If you choose to leave, I'll understand."
"Is that so?" Though the volume of his voice did not change, there was no mistaking the fact that Hawke had just infuriated him dangerously. She half suspected to see his markings begin to flicker, for how rigid he had grown, and how fiercely his eyes now shone. "Is that the value you placed on our friendship, then? You can support me through my trials and struggles, yet you cannot count on me to do the same?"
"What? No!" She blurted, realizing now how horribly she had insulted him. "No, of course not! Forgive me, Fenris, I was just-"
"You were just so busy wallowing in your self-induced misery that you forgot that you are not alone." Fenris replied, his voice a near primal growl within his throat, but there was something behind his rage now, something that Hawke could not positively identify, though it left her insides twisting. "You were never alone, Hawke. Not in the Deep Roads, not beneath the foundry the night we fought Quentin, not even the night Kirkwall burned. Three of your greatest regrets I have played a part in, and yet you will not allow me to share in the blame that is partly mine." His words puzzled her; the way he spoke of her failures almost seemed to her like he was demanding his right to some great prize she was withholding.
Before she could puzzle out his thinking, however, Fenris was upon her, looming over her not with extraordinary height but with an indomitable will she had come to admire greatly over the years. "You may have been able to turn the others away, but you will not be rid of me so easily."
Yes, she knew that in the end she had chased away her comrades; or fled from them. Most of them, at any rate. It had been for their own protection, she had felt. To associate with her now was too risky. Yet Fenris refused to be deterred. "Why?" She whispered, the answer to her confusion dancing upon the knife edge of her awareness; so close, yet just out of reach. "What is it that keeps you here, Fenris? I don't understand."
A moment of utter stillness passed before, with deliberate care, Fenris lowered himself to his haunches before her, his elbows upon his knees as clear green eyes met and held her gaze as powerfully as any mage-born spell she had ever been subjected to.
The change in the timbre of his voice was drastic and so utterly unexpected that Hawke momentarily forgot to breathe; and when she recalled to do so it came as a shuddering gasp.
It can't be.
But it was, she realized, and Hawke found herself breathless for a second time in these few seconds, now at the sight of Fenris unguarded. She had seen a comparable look turned on her like this, yet there was no anguished shadow behind the springtime hues she now gazed into as there had been within those prior amber depths. There was no fear of what could be and of what was to come.
Fenris was not afraid.
He was never afraid.
Fenris, who had willingly traveled with her into dangers which had nothing to do with him, even when not invited. Who had granted her moments of rare smiles and laughter, yet always when in her company alone. Who shared stories of a past he would sooner not relive, if only because she had asked.
Fenris now trained on her an expression swirling with a mixture of pain and hope and frustration and such longing-
Without pausing to consider her own fears, Hawke reached forward to catch olive skin and silver-white strands as soft as down between her palms so that she might crush her lips to his-
-and found her boldness rewarded.
Lithe arms ensnared her; armored hands clutching at her shoulders as soon as their mouths touched, tightening upon her until metal tipped gauntlets pierced her flesh. At her barely-audible gasp Fenris released his hold, muttering what she guessed to be a profanity as he hastily stripped the gauntlets from his hands and threw them almost violently away before capturing Hawke back into his arms and reclaiming her mouth with a near desperate possessiveness. She responded in kind, her hands sliding down his arms, raking her nails down his skin gently while pawing and pulling in an effort to increase the intensity of his embrace.
Now it was Fenris' turn to give a small, barely perceptible grunt and Hawke's hands lifted away instantly. "Your markings," she murmured against his kiss apologetically, remembering too late the pain they could inflict on the warrior. Yet Fenris was unfazed.
"They do not concern me," he growled softly, "I would suffer their discomfort a thousand times over for the feel of your touch."
The breath was squeezed from her lungs not by his arms, but by the emotions roiling inside of her, and with a groan she returned her lips to his lips and her hands to his arms, allowing them to slide up over his shoulders until they framed his neck and jaw. There she held him in place, deepening their kiss and sweeping her tongue over his lower lip until he opened his mouth and dueled his way into hers with gentle dominance.
The heat of his body beneath her hands was extraordinary, and she was overcome with a desire to experience more of it, yet as her fingers traveled over collar, shoulders and what she could reach of his chest, she could find not one catch or strap for his armor.
"Fenris," she pleaded against his teeth, "how-"
Removing her hand from his collar, he guided her hand to his back - never breaking their kiss in the process - where a short leather belt no wider than three of her fingers held his armor fastened, and once freed, his chest plate slid free into her lap before clattering to the floor, revealing a row of hooks and eyes down the front of his tunic.
"Only one fastener for your armor?" She asked, curious despite her preoccupation with the soft heat of his mouth.
"Why do you think I never let my enemies at my back?" He responded, and Hawke chose that moment to slide her fingertips up the back slit in his tunic - without her nails this time - to caress the skin over his spine with feather soft contact, watching with great interest as his back arched slightly into her touch and his eyes rolled closed momentarily.
"I'm at your back," she whispered against his lip.
"You are not my enemy."
"What am I to you, Fenris?" She breathed, and found herself gazing into fathomless crystalline depths. "Your friend?" There was a pause as he stared back at her.
"Anima mea." He answered at last, his voice near to reverent against her lips; she had never heard him speak in such a tone before.
"What is that?"
Bare fingers caressed her cheek as his eyes searched her features. "Permit me to show you." And with that Hawke found herself pulled to her feet, her rear suddenly cupped in his iron grip as Fenris lifted her against his body while she wrapped her legs around his waist, tasting his jawline and earlobes as he ventured across the room. When her tongue traced the etched line along his jugular the man beneath her hissed, arching his neck to grant her better access to the sensitive skin, which she tended to raptly before all too soon finding herself deposited upon her bed. With nimble, practiced fingers Fenris began rapidly releasing hooks from their catches, stripping his tunic and armguards from his body impatiently before leaning down to reclaim her lips, only to find Hawke's hand against his chest, halting his decent.
"Wait." She commanded, watching as his shoulders rose and fell hurriedly with every heaving breath he took. 'I've never seen you like this before," she explained, allowing her eyes to rove over his exposed torso with awed appreciation. His body was lean, yet incredibly well sculpted; perfect contours of muscle framed by curving lines of blue grey minerals engraved into him. Though it had been an act of cruelty in its rawest form, whoever had cut into his flesh had clearly done so with the intent of creating a work of art. The markings traveled from neck to torso, down long, corded arms and shapely fingers. From his neck and beautifully sculpted chest, the mineral gathered and dipped in its design to pattern his flat stomach in parallel lines that mimicked the ones she had glimpsed upon his spine, before disappearing beneath the waistline of his leggings like the lines on a map, guiding her to paradise.
"You are... Fenris, you are beautiful." Her fingers reached up to trace lines of definition between his pectorals, allowing her touch to follow the central line separating muscles down his core to his navel, tracing the rim of that shallow depression. With a gentle touch Fenris reached down to run his own fingertips along the side of her face, recalling her gaze to his own.
"I would say the same about you, if you will permit me."
Her hear fluttered within her chest; oh to feel cherished again! Maker, she hadn't felt like this in she could not recall how long. "Will you do something for me?" She asked.
"Whatever it is, it is done." He vowed.
"Say my name?" She asked, captivated by the emotions swirling within his eyes. "My given name? No one has called me by my given name in so long."
Lowering himself to kneel between her knees, Fenris took her waist within his hands, his head tilting, leaning into her mouth, yet not quite touching. She could feel his breath upon her chin as he withheld himself from her; smell the sharp tang of the minerals within his skin mixed with his musk that presently made her feel more womanly than she had in so long.
"Raina," his voice reverberated low and deep in his throat, graveled by passion in a way that made it even more sensual sounding than normal, and her insides melted into warm honey at the sound of what could be defined as sin incarnate. With eyes half-lidded, Fenris laid a slow, tender kiss upon her lips. "Raina," he repeated, lowering his lips to her throat, his fingers trailing to find the catches in her own armor, releasing them deftly and then dipping under the fabric and leather to explore her skin beneath, pulling a moan from her chest with startling ease.
With one hand he reached up to the back of her head, knotting his fingers into her short hair gently and pulling, drawing her head back so that he might feast upon her throat and the hollow point beneath her ear with greater ease, while his other hand swept the armor back from her shoulders and limbs. Yet before she was able to press her exposed skin to his delicious heat as she so wanted she found herself firmly pushed onto her back. Fenris' hands slid down over her thighs with deliberate, slow pressure from his fingertips, his eyes feral in a way that had nothing to do with battle. The sweet, kneading touch moved to her knees and calves to dislodge her high leather boots, then returned to her hips to her utter relief, so that he might slip her trousers from her body in similar fashion.
Freed of her outer garments, and unwilling to allow him to deny her again, Hawke's arms flew up, catching his shoulders and deftly pitching him onto the soft mattress beside her while mounting his hips in a single fluid motion. The moan that escaped his throat when her mouth reclaimed him was enough to set her body thrumming as though she had just been struck by lightening. She had always found his voice captivating, but to hear it choked with lust-
"Say something for me." She demanded suddenly, wanting very much to hear the desire in his voice at that moment.
"What exactly would you have me say?" He asked, his eyes burning her with their want as she began kissing down his throat, his collarbone, his chest, carefully nipping at unmarked flesh and laving her tongue over pale lines as she went.
"Anything." An idea struck her. "Speak to me in Tevene."
She saw from corner of his eyes as he lifted his head, his face mirroring his voice in the intensity of his emotions.
"Vestri somes est meus pyre1," he began, hissing again as her lips gently plucked at a patch of lyrium infused flesh beneath his navel, while her fingers lowered to the laces of his leggings, dancing over the prominent arousal the fabric did very little to conceal, "et ego exuro pro vestri tactus2."
His voice had thickened during her ministrations, his speech quickening as black fabric was pulled down his thighs, followed closely by lips bent on milking all of the desire they could from that velvet timbre. Deliberately she ensured that her hands stroked his muscular legs down their full length, until his clothing lay pooled at her knees with her own.
Above her Fenris continued his litany. "Sententia vos planto mihi iratus3," her mouth had found his hipbone, where her teeth played across unblemished olive skin, while her hands reached up for his small clothes, allowing her fingers to once again lightly skim his growing need before reaching the strings which held the thin fabric in place.
"Plasmator servo mihi, ego sum vestri, Raina.4"
Hawke sighed breathily against his skin. "I heard my name. What did you say?"
"The truth." He growled with waning patience, reaching down to clutch at her shoulders forcibly. "Now, enough of your torment." And with that Fenris pulled her atop his chest before she could free him from his final vestige of clothing, fastening his mouth over hers, demanding entrance and delving into her with complete abandon when she complied. His bare skin against hers was intoxicating; he felt near to feverish to her, yet the only flush to his features was a result of their present activities.
Reaching a hand behind her back, Hawke released the catch to her bindings, pulling the fabric from between their bodies so that her bare breasts pressed against his burning skin. Another Tevene oath, delivered by a near desperate groan, and Hawke found herself on her back again; Fenris atop her as she had only moments ago been atop him. Now it was his turn to gaze at her body in awe, and without giving him opportunity to decide for himself, Hawke took up his hand, cupping it to the side of her breast and using her own thumb to guide his over a taut nipple. At the feel of his calloused hand against her sensitive flesh, her head tilted back and her eyes rolled closed as she whispered a litany of her own.
"Yes, Maker, yes. Oh Maker, Fenris, touch me, please."
With her only warning being that of a low, animalistic growl, the weight above her shifted urgently at her words and no sooner did she open her eyes than wet heat engulfed her hardened peak in a searing kiss that pit his demanding tongue against her nipple; her only view that of a head of moonlit-colored silk bent over her breast attentively.
Hawke moaned loudly at the sensation, her back arching into his amazing mouth, pleading with him with her body to touch her, to torment her, Maker, drive her to the brink of madness!
And he did. Ardently. His tongue flicked, teeth pulled and lips suckled at the abused nub and its surroundings, while his hands abandoned her breasts to seek out her hips, where her smalls were stripped from her body unceremoniously; his following suit in similar fashion. With no almost no warning yet again Fenris returned to her mouth, reclaiming it frantically as though to assert that it was still his territory as well, before leaving her bruised and breathless so that he might revisit her exposed breasts.
Lips and teeth slowly traveled down from her sensitized peak, traveling the underside of the plump globe of her breast; nipping, pulling, suckling and licking as he continued his venture down her ribcage, moaning and uttering sounds she could no longer recognize as a true spoken language. Yet it didn't matter. His voice thrummed low and hard in her ears, spreading liquid fire in her belly and damp heat between her thighs, which she soon felt spread by firm, hard hands. Her head tipped back as she willing surrendered herself to what was to come.
"Do not turn your face from me," Fenris commanded in a voice so far gone to lust it must have burned in his throat like fire-brandy, she thought, for it burned her insides just as fiercely. "I want to see the look in your eyes when you finally lose control."
"Maker, yes," the last word drew out in a long, wavering hiss from between her teeth, and she lifted her gaze to find him kneeling between her thighs, his face poised before her center as though he had been waiting for her to take note; to understand his intent. She did, and a reluctant whimper escaped her lips at the thought of the pleasure that was being denied to her at that very moment.
If he felt any victory from cracking her resolve as he did she could see no outward signs of it on his face; smooth but for the concentrated furrow at his brow. So slowly Hawke had to consciously refrain from bucking up to meet him, Fenris lowered his mouth to her heat, parting her folds first with his lips, before exploring her with his tongue. Against her softest flesh he felt like polished marble, warmed by a fire before being pressed to her skin deliciously, and a low, broken cry tore from her physically.
Between her thighs Fenris raised his eyes to her pointedly, pausing in his attention to her to ensure that she remembered to keep her eyes on him and, vulgar though the scene may have been, the sight of this man between her legs was arousing in a way she had never imaged. She watched as his head dipped and tilted slightly while he worked her until she was drenched, his eyes ablaze with desire and never leaving hers during the encounter. When his lips latched onto over-sensitized bead crowning her sex, suckling it gently, Hawke's wordless cry filled the room while teeth and tongue and lips sent her spiraling over the edge of control and into the inescapable whirlpool of her first climax.
Her tunneled vision cleared after what felt like an eternity, and she found Fenris still perched between her thighs, his tongue trailing over his lips, erotically relishing in her essence. With feral grace he crawled over her, placing an almost chaste kiss upon her lower lip invitingly, before swirling his tongue deep into her mouth when she responded, allowing her to taste herself on him.
"Fenris," she panted when he allowed the kiss to break, tugging at his hip and pushing at his chest simultaneously, "I need..." Believing he knew her mind, the warrior lifted himself from her body, readying to bury himself within her when she stopped him. "No. On your back." His eyes darkened, pupils so dilated with want she could barely see their lush green color anymore, but he complied, laying down beside her and reaching over to pull her onto his chest; upon which she immediately slithered down his smooth skin until her face hovered over his arousal, cradled in a nest of black that contrasted so perfectly with his glorious platinum locks.
She began with small, opened-mouth kisses upon the head and shaft, which had him clutching at the sheets desperately and gasping. The sight of Fenris prone and writhing at her touch made her feel powerful and sensual and - Maker she wanted to see him lose control so desperately! She added her tongue to the kisses, lapping up the length of his shaft decadently, savoring the saltiness of his skin, her mouth open near his pulsating head; eluding to the promise of entrance before denying it to return to the base of his shaft to begin again. A low groan emanated from above her head and Hawke felt her body stir in response, desperate for him to be inside her already.
She had thought to draw out the exquisite torture of the equally exquisite man beneath her longer, yet her desire was winning over her control and, after only a few more laps with her tongue and small suckles at the tip his reddened head, she took him into her mouth.
He was long, longer than she had experienced previously, and it took her a moment to adjust to his size; to open her throat properly and take in his full length. Thank the Maker he didn't thrust up to meet her at that first contact, instead compensating by arching his back and burying his hips deeper into the mattress beneath him, moaning hoarsely as she had never heard him before. She hummed her appreciation at his display and earned two fists grasping at her hair desperately in response. With careful fingers she disentangled his grasp from her hair, transferring his hands safely to her shoulders before she at last began to work at him in earnest, suckling and sliding and twisting her tongue around that polished oaken shaft impaling her mouth, her fingers lightly stroking the underside of his sac with a tantalizingly slow rhythm while her other hand held to his base, applying pressure at opportune moments.
Fingers bruised her shoulders in grips that rivaled that of steel traps as she took him again and again down her throat, purring her appreciation of his responses and reveling in the reaction her own voice was eliciting from him. His soft skin slid fractionally over his erection with her motions, veins rolled beneath its surface at her tongue's abuse, and her throat closed around his head with every swallow, tightening on him as she took him further and further from reason. Above her head Fenris panted and spoke inarticulate things, occasionally intermixed with her given name or what sounded like what could be pleas in Tevene, if Hawke chose to believe that Fenris was capable of pleading for anything.
The heavy flesh within her playing fingers tightened suddenly she found herself pushed away by the hands at her shoulders, elegantly tapered fingers moving to grip at his shaft mercilessly as he groaned and remaining perfectly still for a moment before turning an expression of unadulterated desire upon her.
As though he had not just been brought to the very brink of his own climax, Fenris sprang from the bed, heaving her into his arms before slamming her into the wall opposite the bed, lifting her knee above his arm and burying himself within her in a singular motion that had her crying out from shock and arousal all at once.
Without pausing to allow her time to adjust to his size, Fenris began moving; hard, slow thrusts that made her back and rear grind upwards against the rough plaster wall, abrading her skin with each rise and accompanying fall. Panting his exertion he pressed his forehead and nose to hers, breathing her air and holding her gaze with rapt attention as he moved inside of her; and while there was no hurry in his actions there was most certainly a desperation that was evident each time he sheathed himself within her.
With each thrust from Fenris short, vocal pants escaped Hawke's lips, tiny cries that he could have swallowed if he would just affix his mouth to hers. Yet he held back, his lips parted as he watched her, his eyes so lust-fogged it was doubtful he was even aware of their surroundings anymore. The hand at her backside which supported her raised leg clenched at her soft flesh mercilessly, and she mewled each time his grip tightened; his other arm crooked over her head supporting himself against the wall; fist clenched so tightly his knuckles appeared bloodless.
"Mei.5" He growled breathily, his words lost to her as she felt herself nearing the crest of her pleasure. "Mulier mea. Raina mea. Anima mea. Mei.6" The final word was bitten and hard, delivered from between clenched teeth as he thrust into her wildly, seemingly driven by his own mantra.
Feeling herself approaching her end, Hawke's hands rose to clutch at his sweat-slicked shoulders, trying to use them as leverage to ride him harder, deeper; Maker just more! Yet at the same time it was too much, and with a shrill cry the world exploded, unraveling her around him in pure, blinding ecstasy. At her ear Fenris' baritone cry accompanied the feeling of being impaled as slick heat splashed within her, taking her, claiming her, filling her in the most intimate, primal way and leaving her boneless, pinned between his body and the wall. Spent, Fenris' frame trembled against her as his climax subsided, and together the pair slid to the floor beneath them; his legs no longer able to support their combined weight.
Straddling his lap and still impaled upon him, Hawke brought Fenris' forehead to her shoulder, petting his hair and listening to his erratic breathing as he shuddered beneath her. The motion of his body's exertion traveled inside her where they were still joined, and her hips bucked reflexively at the sensation against her over-stimulated walls, causing him to clutch at her hips desperately, hissing a breath as he twitched within her, apparently equally raw. Yet neither tried to separate their bodies from the other, content instead to stay where they were for the moment, with Hawke stroking Fenris' locks as he leaned against her there on the floor.
And for the first time in years, Hawke's mind was empty.
If only for this moment, she had found peace.
When next her eyes opened the weak light of a rain-soaked dawn bled through the windows she had failed to shutter the night before, and the pillow at her side lay empty. Lifting herself from her stomach slightly, Hawke peered over into their room, finding Fenris standing before the fire with his back to her. He appeared lost in thought, and for Fenris that was never a good sign.
"Are you all right?" She asked quietly, and he turned to her, his eyes large for an instant, before his face settled back into his mask of equanimity.
"I might ask the same about you." He murmured, not approaching her. "I was not particularly gentle with you, and I fear now that-"
"If you're going to apologize for last night, I'd rather you didn't." She interrupted quickly. "What we did together... it was amazing."
At last a small smile crept onto Fenris' features, erasing what she at last recognized had been anxiety in his eyes. "It was at that." He agreed. "It was better than anything I could have dreamed."
"And had you?" She dared pose the question. "Dreamed of this before?"
The mirth in his features died away, yet none of his usual fire replaced it. Instead he appeared quiet; pensive. "For years I have watched while another stood where I wished to stand," he admitted at last. "Even after what you had was dead, the ghost of what had been still haunted your memories. I knew that as long as you could not let go, my dreams would remain just that."
Hawke pulled herself to sit against the headboard, the thin coverlet slipping from her breasts, and she fought the silly urge to retrieve it. "I never knew," she sighed.
"Would it have made a difference if you had?"
"I... I don't know." She had loved Anders; even towards the end, when little of the man she had first come to love was left. Yet would she have abandoned him for Fenris? True she had come to care for Fenris greatly over the years, had even recognized how attractive he was during her relationship with Anders. But to leave the man she loved for another, simply because her present lover was struggling?
"I don't think my conscience would have allowed it." She admitted at last, and to her surprise Fenris nodded as though he understood.
"You possess the rare trait of loyalty, Ha-" he paused, and smiled for her warmly, "Raina." He finished, and she returned the smile with earnest affection. "It is a trait I have always admired in you. It is also the trait I knew would keep you from me for as long as you believed that the abomination was worthy of your love."
"And yet you stayed?" At her incredulous question Fenris' expression sobered dramatically.
"I suspected the day would come when he would reveal his true nature." He admitted. "I could not condemn you to suffer that alone. And so I stayed, awaiting a day when you might need me, just as I need you."
It was so hard for her to hear. For years Fenris had walked at her side, wanting her and knowing it might never be. And she had never known. Suddenly all of those kisses she had shared with Anders in public, the private smiles and the gentle touches Fenris must have witnessed, all seemed like blades she had used to inadvertently cut down this brave, stoic man.
Yet she would not apologize. Fenris was tired of watching her lament her past. She would not allow him to be another regret; it would infuriate him if she did. And so, she put forth all of her effort to push down the pang of sorrow, as she had been able to do so easily in the past, and chose a new path to focus on.
"Anima mea." She stated, clearing her features with old practice, "you said that more than once last night. What does it mean?"
A small smile crooked Fenris' features and for a moment his eyes darted from her face to the floor - Maker, was he embarrassed? "Yes. I did say that, didn't I?" He murmured, returning his gaze to her, wiping the smile from his lips with clear intent. "It means 'my soul'."
Hawke's heart all but stopped within her chest. "Is that what I am to you?"
Pale locks dances against his ears as he shook his head slowly. "That is... insufficient," he admitted, "yet, I can think of no other words to describe what you mean to me." Apparently unable to face her any longer, he turned back to the fire, his head dipped low as he rested one arm across the mantle. "You did not only save my life, Raina," he continued, his words muffled by the direction he now faced, "you gave me a purpose beyond vengeance and survival. You have taught me what it is to live for another; not out of subjugation, but willingly, because that person makes you better simply by being part of your life."
The most blessed pain gripped at her heart, and without waiting for another word to pour from that molten voice, Hawke strode to his back, wrapping naked arms around his shoulders and pressing her forehead to his soft hair. Carefully Fenris turned within her embrace, pulling her close and placing his forehead against hers.
"Then," she began hesitantly, "I will make you a bargain. I will be the woman you met in the alienage, if you will agree to stay with me and be my reason to not give up."
His eyes suddenly shone fierce, his jaw clenching spasmodically. "Nothing is going to keep me from you." He vowed, and crushed his lips to hers with an echo of the desperation they shared just a few hours past. When the kiss broke Hawke trained her eyes to the window.
"This rain is going to cause problems for our journey to Crestwood." She mused, allowing her eyes to slide back to Fenris'; his pupils already dilating as the pulse beneath his throat quickened. "I doubt the innkeeper would be opposed to us purchasing this room for another night," she continued, "and we should probably work on the terms of this new arrangement while we are here." Her mouth quirked, drawing out a chortle from her lover as he leaned into her lips readily.
"I think that would be a wise decision."
She had forgotten how much she loved snow, she mused to herself as her boots crunched over rock and ice alike. Kirkwall had born a near constant tepid climate, and snow had been a novelty Hawke had not experienced in close to a decade. The feel of cold flakes melting upon her cheeks and catching in her lashes reminded her of simpler times, and she allowed herself to be swallowed in the high spirits she so infrequently felt.
A muttered curse at her back caught her attention not for the first time that day, and Hawke found herself stifling another laugh at Fenris' expense; his booted feet finding poor traction on the winter terrain. At Hawke's insistence they had purchased for him a pair of leather boots and winter apparel for the trek through the mountain passes, though Fenris had argued that it would impair his fighting abilities.
"I would prefer the frostbite at this rate," he groused, meeting her expression with a scowl and his arms stretched out like the wings of a bird attempting flight. Hawke failed to hold back a snicker at the sight this time, to which Fenris responded to only with a disgusted grunt. She did not know if he had been tolerating her amusement at his discomfort in an effort to raise her spirits, but his recent accommodations had taken her aback at first. After a few days, however, she at last became comfortable with outwardly expressing amusement at the spectacle he was making; though for his benefit she tried not to overtax his fragile patience.
"Liar." She countered, calling his bluff while returning her attention to the footing of the summit they were about to crest. "Your balance would be far worse without your toes. Besides, I think those boots make y-"
The words died upon her lips. For beyond the peak they had just scaled a truly breathtaking sight captured all conscious thought from her. Towering over cliffs and rolling snowbanks, a castle unlike any she had laid eyes upon before rose like a monarch upon its throne. From every peak and bulwark the standards of the Inquisition fluttered in the frozen air, and upon those walkways figures garbed in shining metal strode with obvious purpose, even at this distance.
This was the Inquisition. Their interests extended beyond political or religious gains. They were the peacekeepers, and the war-bringers. They punished the wicked and defended the just.
This was the Inquisition, and if the rumors were true, they held all accountable, regardless of rank, and answered to no one.
Maker, help us.
It was surprisingly easy to enter the fortress, Hawke found after having built up the possibility within her mind of having to lay siege to the gates to gain entry. The guards on duty had instead given her a cursory look over and then directed her to the training fields with the other recruits.
"Actually I was supposed to meet someone here." Hawke explained. "Varric Tethras. Do you know him?"
The man lifted a finger towards a raised entry beyond the courtyard, and with a nod of thanks Hawke made her way to the winding staircase that approached it.
Inside was a massive entryway, complete with a throne at the far end. Whoever this Inquisitor was, she was clearly not one to be taken lightly. Around the chamber nobility chatted, workmen busied themselves on scaffolds and servants bustled about. There was a sense of purpose here that seemed-
"Well I'll be a nug's backside," a heart-wrenchingly familiar voice chimed from her right and Hawke's smile was instant, wide, and utterly sincere. "I knew you'd come, but to see you standing here..."
"It's good to see you too, Varric," Hawke replied and her friend shook his head.
"Enough of that shit," he growled, "come here!" Stocky arms circled her ribs and Hawke bent slightly to save them both the embarrassment of Varric burying his face into her breast, hugging him back in earnest.
"Broody!" The dwarf at last seemed to take note of the man standing at her back and with equal good cheer. "I'll be damned! I was sure Hawke would have come here alone."
"She wanted to," Fenris growled, casting a stern look at his female companion. "But Hawke has an inconvenient habit of allowing people to manipulate her. I for one will not stand for that any longer."
"Ah," Varric straightened and took a few steps closer to the elf, training his gaze upwards to meet the man's eyes, "so the Champion has a champion of her own?" Fenris turned, lifting his foot to check the sole of his boot as he often had inspected his bare feet, clearly intending not to respond.
Hawke shrugged, speaking in his place. "So it would seem."
Varric grinned with some knowing only he was privy to for a moment before a recollection sparked obviously in his eyes; his expression darkening and his eyes darting behind her almost warily. "What did you do with Blondie?"
"Left him," Hawke explained, "in the village where we received your message."
"And you left him alive?"
"You know I did." She replied softly. Varric sighed, shaking his head slowly.
"All right then. I guess that answers that. Come on, there's someone I need you to meet."
"Yeah," Varric confirmed, "and if it's okay with you, Fenris, I'll take over chaperone duties for this one. The Inquisitor's advisors are sort of... touchy... about how she is addressed."
"Meaning what exactly?" Fenris demanded, his posture tensing immediately.
"Meaning you tend to put people on the defensive pretty quickly, and these people are not really the type to waive off an insult." Varric crossed his arms over his wide chest, tilting his head in a posture Hawke recognized as his 'storyteller's stance'. Maker, she had missed him. "I mean it" the dwarf continued seriously, "some of them are downright scary. I already know how to talk to them. Trust me, I won't let Hawke get in any trouble here."
Fenris cast a quick, unreadable glance in Hawke's direction before returning his gaze to Varric. "You'd better not." He sneered, and strode from the room as though readying himself for war. For a moment Varric just stared after him, a faint smile on his lips.
"Yep. Just like old times." He muttered, and looked up to Hawke. "Shall we?"
The battlements provided a spectacular view of snow-clad mountain peaks, clear blue skies that stretched on into eternity, and a stronghold in the midst of being restored to an architectural masterwork. Yet Hawke could truly appreciate none of the breathtaking sights before her. Instead she found herself mentally reliving how she could have missed Corypheus surviving their encounter, and in each recollection of that battle she came to the same conclusion: Corypheus had died. There had been no mistake on that count.
Still, Varric insisted that the thing the Inquisition had fought in Haven was the very same Darkspawn Hawke and her troupe had destroyed years ago.
Boot heels on paver stones behind her caught her attention, and Hawke turned from her view of the courtyard to find her dwarven friend approaching, accompanied by a young woman with chestnut hair and a face too young for what Hawke had envisioned.
"Inquisitor," Varric announced, sweeping his arm in Hawke's direction, "meet Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall."
Hawke cringed slightly, feeling her stomach turn at the introduction, "though I don't use that title much anymore," she added quietly.
"Hawke, meet the Inquisitor." Varric continued amicably. "I figured you might have some friendly advice about Corypheus. You and I did fight him after all." Where most people would have departed at that point and allowed the two women their privacy, Varric stepped back only a few paces and took a pull from his bottle, gazing off into the distance in what was clearly the only privacy he was going to afford them. It seemed he was taking his promise to Fenris seriously, Hawke thought, and the idea of actually requiring a chaperone compounded the feeling of failure that had never quite left her since she had fled Kirkwall.
The silence that followed was unsettling; the Inquisitor clearly waiting for Hawke to speak, while Hawke herself could not think where to start. Instead she began by flattering the stronghold and then describing her former home to a woman who quite clearly had more important matters to attend to. Yet the Inquisitor did not push her straight into business, instead exchanging small talk with Hawke as if she was still the Champion of Kirkwall; still someone to be respected and depended upon. Soon enough the conversation turned towards Corypheus as intended, and Hawke supplied the Inquisitor with all of the information and best guesses that she had, supported occasionally by Varric who had clearly decided that staying out of the conversation was impossible. When the subject of the Grey Warden's prior involvement came up Hawke at last felt able to contribute in some significant way.
"I've got a friend in the Grey Wardens," she admitted, glossing over how and why she had made such an acquaintance and feeling grateful when the Inquisitor did not press for details. "His name is Stroud." She recalled her last communication with her Warden friend with sudden trepidation. If Corypheus had truly returned it would explain Stroud's decision to slip into hiding.
To her regret the Inquisitor then brought up the question Hawke had hoped she would avoid, though with no accusation in her tone. "If you didn't know Corypheus was involved, what were you doing with the Grey Wardens?"
This was dangerous information, Hawke knew. Red lyrium was not something to be dabbled with, and the fewer people who knew of it the safer the world was. Yet Varric's supporting nod was enough to break her silence, and Hawke recounted for the Inquisitor how she had come to her association with the ancient order.
"Corypheus had templars with him at Haven," the brunette woman revealed, "they looked like they'd been exposed to the lyrium you describe."
It was a terrifying concept, Hawke thought, recalling inwardly that final battle against Meredith once she had been consumed by the red lyrium. If there were now more of these templars roaming Thedas it would take no less than an army to bring them to heel. Hawke hoped that the Inquisition's forces would be enough.
"I appreciate the help," the Inquisitor admitted once Hawke had spoken of the chance that Stroud might be able to provide some useful information.
"I'm doing this as much for myself as for you," she admitted, feeling that gnawing pit of guilt grow and swirl anew within her. "Corypheus is my responsibility. I thought I'd killed him before. This time I'll make sure of it."
The Inquisitor seemed buoyed by the promise of Hawke's assistance, yet the former Champion could not share in her confidence.
This was just proof of another failure. Another opportunity that Hawke had been given to do something good, and in the end had blundered with disastrous consequences. How many had died at the conclave? And how many more at Haven? In Hawke's eyes, each and every life lost was a direct result of her original failure to destroy Corypheus.
Would her conscience allow it, she would have returned to her exile gladly and given over to her shame. But Varric had vouched for her to the Inquisitor. And if she was guessing correctly there would be more lives lost in this battle before it was over. She couldn't fail any of them. And she couldn't leave her mess to another. This had been her duty; her responsibility. She would see it through.
If it killed her, she would see Corypheus dead.
Word spread fairly quickly that the Champion of Kirkwall was onsite; ready to join in the battle against Corypheus, and Hawke felt herself wanting nothing more than to leave immediately. Servants were already bowing and scraping in her presence, murmuring 'Champion' and other awe-inspired honorifics as she passed. Nobles were now smiling at her widely and making a point of conversing with her in public; or on the other side of the coin, sneering at her and criticizing her quite vocally to their peers. Political plays that she wanted no part of.
Thankfully the Inquisitor had offered Hawke the newly constructed guest accommodations in the hold's proper, which spared her from having to mingle with the general public within the inn. Varric had been assigned the task of acting as her escort within the hold, or rather Hawke suspected he had appointed himself the role, and treated the entire affair like Hawke was paying a visit to his new home, rather than preparations for the upcoming mission he had undoubtedly guessed she wished had never been necessary. He provided her with a tour and made a few introductions to those he deemed worthy before bringing his friends to the guest chambers.
The space was clearly still in the process of being renovated, yet it was clean and had been decorated by someone who felt Hawke was a person worthy enough to receive the finest the Inquisition had to offer. At the far end of the room a large fabric and wrought iron screen separated the primary part of the chamber from a second bed and chest of drawers, which had clearly been brought up recently and decorated to match.
"They were going to reserve a spot for Fenris in the inn," Varric explained when Hawke peered at the unusual arrangements quizzically, "but I told them he'd probably end up sleeping in a chair up here if they tried. Our ambassador took the liberties of having the room set up to your... uh... liking."
Hawke gave a small smile. "It's very nice."
"It's a lot of ass-kissing." Varric muttered. "They need your help and they know it. Look, Hawke, I know that coming here was not exactly easy for you." He frowned at her attempt to shrug off his concern. "Don't try that shit on me. I'm not one of your bureaucrat petitioners. I know you, and I know that right now you're adding Corypheus to a long list of things you're beating yourself up over." Varric sighed, shaking his head. "Look. I'm not going to tell you not to blame yourself. You and I both know better than to think that will do anything. But I am going to tell you that there is a reason so many people come to you. It's not because you're some all-powerful hero, capable of saving everyone from disaster. It's because you try, Hawke. And in this world there are precious few like you, and the people who come to you know it." With one final look of genuine concern and compassion his his eyes, Varric turned and left the room, clearly knowing that there was nothing left to say.
For a time Hawke simply stood rooted in place, staring at the door he had vanished through, until at last a noise at her back caught her attention and she found Fenris standing before the fireplace, stripping away boots, cloak, and the rest of his travel attire so that only his armor and gauntlets remained. With an expression of obvious relief the elf then turned his attention to the table, bedecked with a dinner large enough to feed a small family, retrieving a bottle of wine and cracking the seal with his teeth.
"And here I thought that your gauntlets were designed just for that purpose." Hawke murmured, earning a sideways glance from smoldering green eyes.
"There is nothing quite like the smell of that first breath from a bottle of wine," he admitted quietly. "Using one's hands makes it difficult to capture that." With his free hand he pulled a chair away from the table pointedly and then took the opposite seat, watching Hawke as she smiled and joined him. "It seems you warrant all of the trappings," Fenris smirked slightly, nodding to the laden table before them. "Would the Champion of Kirkwall be so kind as to break bread?" The level of formality Fenris applied to his tone was so unnatural that Hawke could not help but to chuckle at his display and oblige.
The two spent their meal conversing pleasantly enough, Fenris leading the conversation for the most part, which was again an oddity but not an unwelcome one in Hawke's opinion. It was engaging and pulled her mind from topics she would otherwise be obsessing over at the moment.
They spoke of easy things; how the landscape of Ferelden had changed since she had fled the Blight, and places Fenris had traveled previously that compared and contrasted with their current surroundings. Never did her family or Danarius enter their talks, though the locations they discussed had all been explored while in the company of those Fenris deliberately and artfully avoided mentioning. Finally Hawke paused.
"I had no idea you were such a conversationalist, Fenris," she admitted. "I've enjoyed speaking with you over the years, don't misunderstand me, but I don't believe you've actually ever guided a conversation as you are doing right now."
"Is this not enjoyable for you?" Fenris frowned. "You always seemed to appreciate idle talk in the past."
"No." Hawke spoke quickly, worrying that she had brought this dear man insult. She knew perfectly well where Fenris had learned to entertain so well, and the fact that he was now plying these skills for her benefit touched her in a way that she dared not explore. "No, this is... it's very nice. Unexpected but..." She smiled softly at last. "I know what you're doing Fenris, and I'm grateful. I'm grateful that you're here now." The scowl smoothed from her companion's features and he returned a fond smile of his own, the gentleness of his expression not commonly witnessed by any, she knew.
"There is no place I would rather be, my friend." He rumbled gently.
After having their travel supplies fully replenished by the Inquisition's own stock, and their armor and weapons tended to by the smith, there was nothing left but to bid Varric farewell again, who vowed that if he had to manage it by being dragged in irons behind the Inquisitor's horse, he would meet Hawke and Fenris in Crestwood. Though by the smile on his lips, Hawke believed that he'd have an easier time getting his way than he led on.
"Is there any woman you can't get to do your bidding?" She asked fondly.
Varric laughed outright. "Are you kidding? Norah only tolerated me because Corff paid her to. Something about me oiling Bianca at her palatial suite table like it was a work bench seemed to bother her. Women can be damned scary, I tell you." With expressive brow movements he glanced over at Fenris. "And on that note, it's just the two of you now, Broody. Be on your toes."
Hawke chuckled and shook her head, yet Fenris' ever present scowl deepened. "I'd watch my tongue if I were you. Your Inquisitor's advisors are not the only ones who do not forgive insult easily."
Varric held up his hands in mock surrender, "Easy Broody. Hawke knows it was just a joke."
"Right." Hawke affirmed, "Especially because you haven't spoken an honest word to a woman since you were on your mother's apron strings."
"Ouch." Varric grimaced. "That one was harsh. True, but harsh. Now get going you two. Once the Inquisitor has wrapped up a few things here we'll meet you in Crestwood."
With only a glance shared between them, Hawke and Fenris shouldered their packs once more and bid farewell to Skyhold and their friend.