“Oh, Maker,” the sight before me is one I did not expect to encounter in the Deep Roads, “Is that water?”
Scouting ahead is proving to have its advantages. I am taking a bath. My excitement is short lived. Just as I reach for the straps to unfasten my armor, a loud clamour arises behind me. Thinking the worst, I draw my blade.
Bartrand’s men come pouring out through the narrow entrance.
“We’ll make camp here,” Bartrand shouts to his men and all begin relieving themselves of their packs.
There goes my bath.
In an uncharacteristically whiny tone, I complain to Varric, “Why were they so close behind us,” I feel like stomping my foot, but I know it’s childish.
“I guess Bartrand didn’t want to stand around waiting again,” he shrugs me off and heads straight for his brother. Varric will not be happy that Bartrand allowed his men to be put in danger. While we did well enough carving a path through the darkspawn, that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be stragglers. I can only assume Bartrand had faith that, should we leave any behind, his mercenaries could handle them.
“Problem, Hawke,” Anders approaches and rests his hand upon my shoulder.
“No,” and again the whine in my voice annoys even me, “Ugh… when I saw the water my only thought was, I’ll be able to bathe before they show up. Look at me.” lifting my hands to my hair, I run my gauntleted fingers through. Chunks of darkspawn flesh fall to the ground. I’m not sure if it was in my hair or my armor but I feel I’ve made my point.
He pulls his hand away to find it covered in the same goo that sticks to nearly every inch of my body.
“See what I mean,” he wipes his hand on his robe and instantly regrets it.
I shouldn’t be frustrated. I wasn’t even expecting to find water down here. I don’t know how I thought the dwarves could have survived without it. It just never occurred to me.
My frustration seems to amuse him because he laughs and begins unloading his pack. “Bartrand has our tents and bedrolls,” Anders informs me and gestures for me to join him in retrieving them.
“Here, I suppose you’ll be wanting your own tent,” Bartrand tosses me a rolled bundle and catching it nearly knocks me on my ass. Maker, that hurt worse than it should have. Varric chuckles, but seeing the pain on my face, quickly tries to hide it.
“Thanks, but if you need it for your other men, I don’t mind sharing a tent with mine,” I toss the tent down at his feet and he grunts. I can’t decipher the meaning of it so I move on. Anders takes the tent proffered to him and I make my way to the bedrolls. I turn to say something to Anders but the look on his face gives me pause. Instead I ask if there is something on his mind.
“You sure you want to share a tent with the three of us? It might get a little… cozy,” his sideways grin is awkward and I can tell he’s uncomfortable. I can’t help but laugh.
“I will be fine,” he turns away from me. I know he wants to avoid being shoved into a confined space with me for extensively prolonged periods of time. Whether that time is meant to be sleeping or not, so I say the only thing I can think of that might put him a bit more at ease. “Besides, sleeping alone down here doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing in the world,” a little shiver runs down my spine at the thought, “I never really liked caves. Too many dark corners for things to hide in,” Anders expression is a mix of mild amusement and concern. “Do you not want me to sleep with you?”
“Well, now that you mention it…” he cocks an eyebrow up at me and I roll my eyes. We head for the supplies and I grab two bedrolls.
“Hey, just because you’re a lady, don’t mean you can just take two for comforts sake,” a rather round dwarf reaches to take the second bedroll from my hand.
I am tempted to draw my blade but I resist, for one, my hands are full, “Oh, please, little man. Do the math. There are four in our party and only two of us standing here,” he glares at me but takes his hand back.
“Well, it’s good to see you are making friends,” Anders quips. I punch him in the arm and make my way back to the camp. Anders grabs two more bedrolls and jogs back to my side.
I can hear the sound of people splashing in the water nearby and I grumble again.
“Someone is sure in a mood,” Anders rubs his arm.
“Just help me set up the tent, will you,” he frowns at me but proceeds to assist me in rolling out the tent and posts. Fenris joins us and we work in companionable silence until the tent is up and our gear placed neatly around it. Fires are being built around us and Anders lights the dry wood in the center of our little campsite. The smell of woodsmoke begins to settle my nerves. The boys head off to take their turn in the stream and I stay behind. I have no interest in seeing that many naked men. I lie back in front of the fire, relaxing my tired muscles. Closing my eyes, I fall somewhere between sleep and awake.
Footsteps near our site, I sit up. Pain lances through my side and I cringe. Shit. I must have pulled something. I lean back, eyes closed against the pain, giving it a good stretch.
The pain must be evident on my face because Anders’ worried voice cracks with concern, “Are you alright?”
I open my eyes to tell him I’m fine but the words stick in my throat.
Fenris has no shirt on.
His wet skin glistens in the firelight. His lyrium tattoos swirl across his entire body in beautiful intricate patterns. It is hypnotizing. My eyes follow their trail, his chest, abdomen and the luscious “V” that separates his abs from his hipbones. I find myself wondering just how far they go.
“Hawke,” Anders voice again.
“Uh… what… Oh, sorry.” I sit up and bring my hand to my forehead, partially to hide the small blush in my cheeks but also in an attempt to make my next words more believable, “Just a little light headed there for a second,” light headed is right.
I meet Fenris’ eyes and he looks away. He knew what I was doing and his shame brings on my own. While his markings may be beautiful to me, they are a brand he will bear the rest of his life, marking him as a slave. As property.
“Most of the men have cleared out if you want to make your way down there,” Fenris states but he refuses to look me in the eye.
Standing is painful but I make it to my feet without anyone asking again if I am alright. I reach for the straps holding my armor on. They are stuck. I tug on them hoping with enough force, they will release but it is a losing battle. Fenris and Anders both move to help me but with Anders being closer, Fenris resumes his seat next to the fire.
“Having some trouble,” Anders chuckles, “Our mighty warrior can’t even remove her own armor?”
“Oh, har-dee-har. It’s stuck.” I raise my arm so Anders can better see the straps and his nose wrinkles.
“Well that would be because you are caked in darkspawn ichor and it has somehow congealed onto your straps.”
“That’s disgusting,” I twist my body to try to get a better look but my side protests. I groan and it earns me a frown from both Anders and Fenris.
“I won’t disagree,” he turns and grabs a canteen of water.
Pouring the water down my side sends a chill throughout my body and I shiver. His eyes lock on mine and a hint of playfulness resides within and is quickly gone. I try meeting his eyes again and I can tell it is hard for him to not give in. An awkwardness settles over us, but he doesn’t stop until most of the ichor is gone and the straps can be undone.
“There,” his fingers work the straps loose and I lower my arm, but Anders pushes it back up and and continues until all the straps are loose.
“That’s not necessary,” I try to pull away from him but the effort makes me cringe. He stills my body and lifts the armor over my head.
“You look completely worn out. Just accept my help and say, thank you, Anders. It’s not that hard,” he grins and I can’t help but give him one myself.
He hands me the canteen so I can work the straps on my gauntlets and cuisses. “Thank you, Anders.”
“Anytime,” his suggestive tone sends another shiver up my spine but I force my body to not react.
Once all of my armor is removed, I place the hunks of metal with Fenris’s gear just outside the tent. “Alright, bath time,” I announce to no one in particular and head for the stream.
A feather light touch grazes my arm and I turn to find Fenris reaching out to me. He quickly draws his hand back, “Someone should go with you.” Well, wouldn’t you know. Fenris is concerned for my safety. I smile and am rewarded with a small one from him.
“Alright, let’s go,” not bothering to put his gear back on, he bends to grab the blade at his feet and follows me to the water’s edge.
There is no one within sight and I decide to strip down to my smallclothes. I get my shirt up over my head and hear Fenris’ quick intake of breath, “Hawke, you are injured.” He reaches out, without thinking and when his skin makes contact with mine the lyrium tattoos begin to glow. Realizing his mistake he pulls back quickly.
“Does that happen every time you touch someone,” maybe I shouldn’t have asked but now that I had, I couldn’t take it back.
He begins fidgeting, rubbing the underside of his feet along the inside of his calves, he casts his head down and I know that whatever he is about to say will be difficult for him, “No.”
Alright, I wasn’t expecting a full explanation but I was hoping for more than that. I can see he doesn’t want to talk about it any further so I slip my pants off. “Would you mind holding these?” He takes them and turns his back to me so I can bathe in peace.
“Enjoy the show, Elf,” Anders stands on the side of the tent, arms crossed and a sneer marring his handsome features.
Oh, Maker. These two just won’t quit.
“I didn’t see you rushing to her side. Someone had to go with her,” he lays his blade back alongside his original place next to the fire and with the grace known only to his kind, crosses his legs and sits. He leans back on his hands, stretching out his lean figure. My eyes are drawn to him, yet again. This does not go unnoticed.
“Put some damn clothes on Elf. Or do you enjoy displaying those markings for all to see,” Anders knew it to be a low blow. But it has the effect he desired. Fenris reaches over for his tunic and slips it over his head. Satisfied, Anders turns to me. It is my turn to glare. I shake my head and turn my back to him.
I see the main camp has begun handing out dinner and I head in that direction.
“And I suppose you’ll be wanting two bowls as well. One to take back to your little elfy boyfriend,” the same rounded dwarf that handed out the bedrolls is now dishing out stew for our merry little band.
“Excuse me,” my anger has my hand going for the blade at my hip. Hand on the hilt, I glare at the undaunted dwarf.
“Your boyfriend,” he gestures towards our campsite, ladle flinging remnants of the stew across the makeshift table holding the pot and bowls.
“What gave you the impression that he was anything but muscle I brought along to aide us in slaying darkspawn,” hands on my hips I wait for his response.
“Oi, are you daft? Have you not seen how this one wields a blade. I’d watch it if I were you,” one of the mercenaries takes his bowl from the dwarf and heads back to his people. The dwarf shifts nervously but decides I won’t do anything in front of all of these people.
“I saw the way you made him light up like a glow worm,” his accusation loses some of its heat as he refuses to look into my eyes, instead choosing to give his ladle more attention than necessary.
“Just give me four bowls. I think I can carry them all.”
As he is handing me the last of the bowls, precariously perching it on top of one I am already holding, Anders walks up and takes two. He leans in and grabs four chunks of bread, dropping one in each of the bowls. “Now, all we need is some ale to wash this down with,” he smiles, trying to gage whether or not I am still angry with him and his smile makes the anger slip away, not completely, but just enough to tolerate his presence. Together we walk over to the man with the ale barrels and grab two full mugs a piece. Hands full we head back to our tent in silence and dole out the mugs and bowls. Both Fenris and Varric take theirs elsewhere.
“Listen, I’m sorry about what I said to Fenris. He didn’t deserve that,” his apology loosens up my anger a bit more.
“I am not the one you should be apologizing to,” I take a bite of the stew and it is surprisingly delicious. Hearty chunks of meat fill my mouth and I dip my bread in for another taste of the broth. I’m going to sleep well tonight with this in my belly.
“He wouldn’t accept it, even if I tried,” I know this to be true but it doesn’t excuse him from trying.
“What is it with you two? You can’t seem to be around each other for more than a few hours without someone saying something offensive to the other,” Anders seems confused. Like I had just asked, why is the sky blue. No one knows, they just accept it and move on,
“Truly, I want to know,” I ask in earnest.
Anders sets his bowl down and turns to me, “Do you really not notice how much he hates mages? How can you justify hating someone on principle?”
“Uh-uh, that’s not what this is about. Why did you get mad at him for wanting to protect me earlier,” the question hangs in the air. Anders’ eyes are now on his feet.
“Hawke, I know your sister is a mage and you speak fondly of your father but,” his words stop abruptly. Whatever he was about to say I may never know. “Nevermind, let’s just say I don’t trust him.”
“Do you think Fenris will hurt me,” he doesn’t answer but I can tell by the look he gives me that is exactly what he’s thinking. “What? Why would you think that,” the incredulity clear in my tone.
“Maybe not physically, but it’s not the physical I am worried about. Not really,” again I am taken aback. This is not a conversation I ever planned on having with him. “I have seen the way you look at each other. I know you’ve been spending time alone with him.” he drops his head in his hands. His fingers play through his hair and I wish they were mine.
“Anders,” I reach out and place my hand on his thigh, meant to be a gesture of reassurance but he pulls away from me.
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything,” he walks away, leaving me with more questions I won’t be getting answers to tonight. I finish my stew in silence, wondering where Broody and Varric had gone off to.
With the stew and a few mugs of beer in my belly, sleep sounds like heaven. I grab my oversize tunic and my comb out of my pack. Bethany calls it my warrior gown. I just can’t see why most women go out of their way to look good going sleep. Her nightgowns have lace and frills that would just irritate my skin. Mine is literally an oversized mens top. Ensuring the tent flap is down I strip off my clothes.
My side protests again as I crawl into bed but I decide rest will help it more than anything. As I am about to fall asleep, Fenris enters the tent. He takes his tunic off and again I find myself following the flowing lines. He turns towards me. “You are awake,” it comes out as a question.
“Barely, I was just dozing off when you walked in,” I prop my head up on my arm.
He walks over towards me and I am reminded of just how graceful he is. Sitting a respectful distance away from me he looks as though he has something to say but no words come out.
“What is it, Fenris? You can talk to me,” he looks up and a small smile plays across his lips.
“Earlier I noticed you have a tattoo,” he seems to be searching for a way to finish that statement but he falters.
“Yes, I do,” I say to keep him talking.
“Why,” his curiosity is unexpected so I decide to answer as truthfully as possible.
“Before we left Lothering, we lost my father. As the eldest, it fell to me to ensure my family’s safety and wellbeing. We got by, but it wasn’t long before our village was destroyed by darkspawn. We barely escaped. We lost my brother. When we got to Kirkwall, it again fell to me to ensure my family’s safety. My sister and I became a mercenaries to gain entrance into the city. For an entire year I worked off that debt. It was difficult at times but it made me stronger, wiser. One day many of the men in my company decided to get tattoos, a symbol of our commitment to one another and the Red Iron. I went with them but decided I didn’t want a symbol that tied me to them. I wanted one that represented the future. It is a symbol of strength and unity. It reminds me that no matter what I’ve been through, as long as I stay strong and keep those I care about close to me, I will be fine,” I can see the question in his eyes but what he asks next surprises me.
“Did it hurt,” his gaze shifts to the floor and I know he is thinking of the pain he endured to gain his own markings. It crushes my heart to imagine the amount of torture he’s received.
“Yes, what good would a symbol of strength be if you endured no pain to earn it,” his eyes meet mine and he smiles, a genuine smile.
“Fair point,” he rises and returns to his bedroll. “Goodnight, Hawke.”
“Goodnight, Fenris,” I lay my head down and my thoughts begin to drift. Tonight, they are not about Anders.
Sometime later I awake to the touch of fingers brushing along my thigh. I moan in appreciation. The fingers still but only for a moment. The coarse blanket covering me shifts and I realize whoever was touching me before is simply trying to cover me back up. I crack open my eyes to find Fenris standing over me. I reach up, meaning to thank him with a gesture but he quickly pulls back.
“Sorry, Fenris,” I whisper, the tired gravel in my voice making it barely discernible even to my own ears, I clear my throat to say the next words, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“No… uhh… you didn’t frighten me. I thought you were asleep,” he looks away shyly.
I can’t help but giggle, “I was, silly. Until I felt someone touching me. Your hands are soft,” I don’t know why I said the last bit. Probably just my sleepy mind not knowing that it was inappropriate.
“I… uhh,” he doesn’t know what to say and I can hardly blame him. Men don’t like to hear that any part of their body is soft.
Instead of making him more uncomfortable I thank him, “I’m covered now. No need to worry about me waking up exposed.” My tunic had risen well above my hips and the blanket had slipped off in the course of the night.
With a small nod of his head, he returns to his bedroll but before he lays down, he turns to me, “Hawke,” my name comes out as a question.
He takes a moment to respond but when he does I am floored by what he says, “I think you are very strong,” and without another word, he rests his head on his pillow.
I have no response to this. I lay my head back down and wonder at his words.