Fenris smiled. It had been awhile since he had anything to really smile about, but tonight was special. The ground was hard and the night air was cold, but Hawke was warm and soft in his arms. She kissed him eagerly, lips bruising his with ardor. Riese was still kissing him as she began to tug off his clothes. The elf wasn't sure what prompted this sudden, sweeping passion, but a smart man did not question it when his woman dragged him off to the woods for a tryst. A wise man enjoyed it, and Fenris did his best to be a wise man.
The cool moonlight glistened on damp leaves and a light breeze sent a shudder through the trees around the lovers. Fenris wondered if any of the Dalish on hunters were about, but he didn't have much time to worry. Hawke managed to undo the elf's trouser lacing and the buckles of his leathers. She slid them off in a deft motion, leaving him vulnerable, naked in the chill spring night. His skin dimpled and a shiver ran up his spine as the mage grinned.
Riese stepped back, her loose shirt untucked, pants hanging loosely at the waist. "Mmmmm, now that is a nice sight," she sighed, looking him over.
The heat in her eyes was enough to keep Fenris warm. "It's your turn," he growled, reaching for her. Hawke dodged his grasp with a laugh.
"You've no patience, elf." She slid her hands over her hips, pushing the stitched leather down to expose another precious bit of flesh. He had barely touched her since this journey began, too full of worry at first and then wary of the disdain of the Dalish later. They did not approve of his choice in partners, and that was putting it mildly. Race-traitor, something, something even nastier, and then a harsh glare or three on top. Tonight none of that seemed to matter. When they stopped near the pass to cross the mountains, Riese had stalked him to their tent and kissed him until he had no breath, then with little more than a look, she'd pulled him away from camp to this meadow. It was just like her to drag him out here only to tease, Fenris thought.
"Not for this," he grinned, stepping toward her with predatory grace. Hawke danced back, tsking.
"Good things come to those who wait," the mage laughed.
The elf shook his head, leaping for her. "I don't want to wait anymore."
"It can't be that easy, lover!" Hawke shouted, ducking under him. He landed where she had stood, and spun to face her. Fenris had a ready reply, but it came out a breathy gasp as Riese slid her trousers off, exposing the delicate white skin of her legs and a flash of what lay between them. Only a glimpse before her shirt fell down to cover her to the knee. She giggled at his reaction, and before he could do more, she bolted for the cover of the trees. The elf took off after her, instinct and desire speeding his steps.
The sight of her pale skin flashing between the greenery ahead of him woke a sleeping joy within Fenris. Exultation in the chase, in the rapid beat of his heart and the rhythm of his feet striking the ground in time with his prey. He wanted to catch her, to crush her to him and claim her. The need throbbed in his loins and through his head, vital as breath and blood. Ahead of him Hawke leapt and twisted, bounding over fallen logs and stones, her silvery laugh giving way to panting breath. Like a wolf, the elf grinned in feral glee. Soon, she would be caught. The mage, sensing he was close, spun mid-jump and lost him in a dense copse of bushes. Fenris bolted past her, going several paces before he realized Riese was not this way. He stopped, taking a moment to listen and to catch his breath.
Sweat beaded on his lined skin, lyrium shining faintly in the depths of shadow beneath the trees. An owl glided overhead and on the forest floor, silence in respect for the hunters of night. Hawke was close, Fenris was certain of that. The elf stood still as stone, breathing deeply, the scents of the damp wood and earth filling his nose. His peaked ears strained for any sound. There, just south of him, the barest whisper skin on stone. Between one breath and the next, the elf sprinted toward the sound. Fenris surged through the brush, branches snapping, feet crushing leaf litter, heedless as a wolf at the end of a chase.
His path turned into a winding deer trail, twisting beneath the brush. Ironic that Hawke would choose this way, he thought, flashing his teeth in a quick, panting grin. At the end of the passage, the close press of the brush opened as a rocky outcropping jutted forward and up into the night. The track Fenris followed crisscrossed up the side of it, stones smooth as river rock. He crouched and sprung from the path to the first landing, catching hold of the boulder with his hands as his feet found purchase on the slick, cool rock. His gaze traveled up to the top of the rise. The elf's breath caught in his chest, green eyes going wide.
Riese stood at the top, hair twisting in the wind. Her shirt was gone, but she did not look vulnerable in her nakedness. She looked ferocious. Silhouetted on the hill, moonlight silver-gilt atop the tips of her breasts and her nose, and head. Fenris felt his heart stutter for a moment, thudding precariously in his chest.
Hawke didn't run this time. She waited for him, regal in her posture. The hunter turned supplicant, the elf finished his climb. On the hilltop, beneath the moon and stars, Fenris kissed every part of his magnificent lover. Her face, he cupped and held, lips tasting the sweat of her brow and the sweetness of her mouth. Along the delicate length of her neck and across her strong shoulder, where she tried to carry the weight of the world. He kissed her breasts and suckled each nipple, her moans coaxing him to playful nips. Down her belly and between her legs, he moved slowly, exploring, caressing each bit of her until Riese was too breathless to cry out.
Under the moon, beneath the stars, Fenris took her and was taken in turn. Hawke was passionate and fierce in her love-making, nearly insatiable. The night passed in a blissful blur, each moment exquisite as it passed into the next, until the lovers drifted into slumber, holding each other in the soft light of dawn.
The elf slept better than he had in a long time and woke when the sun was nearly at its peak. Riese was gone, already up and dressed, he guessed. Fenris stood and stretched, feeling a pleasant soreness in his legs and back. He smiled broadly, shaking the dew from his hair. Sleeping on the ground had never been more refreshing, he thought. The elf found his clothes in the clearing, damp but serviceable. Once dressed, he headed back.
The Dalish camp was buzzing with activity as Fenris slipped in, nodding to the hunters on watch. They acknowledged him with a look and one gave a wry shake of his head. The elf was glad they were too surly a bunch to offer commentary on his evening jaunt, though he caught whispers behind him as he walked. Hawke had been very . . . vocal . . . last night and so had he. If they were traveling with Varric or Isabela, the teasing would have started the instant those two laid eyes on the lovers. And the damned dwarf would probably shoehorn it into one of his horrible books.
Thinking of their old companions brought a quiet laugh to Fenris' lips as he climbed into the caravel where their packs were carried. There, he found a set of traveling clothes laid out for him. They were clean and even smelled nice, which meant Riese had been busy yesterday. He changed quickly and strapped on his leathers and sword. He left the wet clothes in a pile, promising himself he would wash them at the next camp. The mage's clothes were nowhere in sight, though her bag sat to the side, neatly packed.
Fenris made his way to the campfires, but they were coals, breakfast long over and lunch not yet ready. He sighed and rooted around in a supply sack until he found some dried meat to chew. Hunger addressed, he moved on, looking for Hawke. He found her engaged in a heated argument with Tarun. When the young Dalish apprentice saw him, the two fell silent.
"Good morning," the elf smiled cautiously and leaned in to kiss Riese.
"Morning," she mumbled, letting him peck her on the cheek.
After last night, he was confused. Maybe Tarun had done something to upset her, ruining the mood. Fenris frowned at the Dalish, tucking an arm around Hawke's waist. No one spoke for several breaths. "So . . . what's going on?" the elf ventured.
"You should talk to him," Tarun told Riese, voice low and choked. He turned and practically ran away from them before Fenris could respond.
"Talk to me, Hawke," Fenris told the mage, pulling her gently around to face him. "What's wrong?"
Riese chewed at her lip, frowning. "You aren't going to like it."
"I don't like a lot of things," the elf said wryly. He touched her cheek lightly, "How bad can it be? You aren't dying or possessed." She didn't reply right away, giving Fenris a momentary terror.
"No . . . but . . . we need to leave the Dalish, then head north on the imperial highway. I want to help them, and - and we will. But we have to go to Anders - to Sebastian - first." Hawke's voice cracked with intensity, desperation showing in the white knuckled fists at her sides.
"I know you want to go to the fort first, I know. It's in my heart too, but more people will die if we let Anders and that demon continue. The mages will follow them into rebellion, and it will be terrible. I can't let that happen. It's - it's women and children and whole villages . . ." Riese babbled.
"Hawke, we promised," Fenris began, feeling numb with shock. "We promised the Keeper, the whole clan, that we would help them get their people back. We can't abandon them now. Not for mages. Not for Anders." He couldn't keep the venom from his voice as he said it, the words bringing a rising surge of anger at Hawke. She was always like this, always choosing mages over everyone else. Over him a quiet voice whispered in the back of his mind.
Riese nodded, looking away. "I know what we promised. We will help them. Sebastian can probably send soldiers to the fort. It would do a lot more good than just us two." Even she didn't sound convinced of her own argument, the elf thought. Hawke's fingers uncurled reaching for him. "We can ask him to send help while we take care of Anders. He's being used, Fenris. By a magister. We can't let them pervert the mage rebellion."
Fenris took the words like a punch to the gut. "What are you even talking about? Anders is dead and Sebastian is mad. The mage rebellion isn't - isn't even our problem!" The words came out with more heat than he intended, voice rising with each syllable. He paused, taking a breath to calm himself. "I can't think you're serious, Riese. We gave our word. And more, those women and children are counting on us. You know we can make a fight of it, do some good."
"I . . . I haven't had a chance to tell you what I learned. This thing with Sebastian and Anders . . . he's dead but Justice said-"
"You spoke to Justice?" The question was an accusation. Riese was dealing with spirits in the Fade. That one admission made Fenris bristle. Demons, spirits, it was all the same to him. He knew where this path led for a mage. "You know Justice is dangerous. You let him in your mind? In your dreams?" The elf took a step back, betrayal sharpening the edges of his words.
"Yes, yes in a dream, just before the Dalish came. I didn't have a chance to tell you yet. Justice says there is a demon controlling Anders' body, influencing minds through him as part of some Tevinter plot. Sebastian must have caught rumor of it. I don't know what they will do, but it can't be good. I can't do nothing - not when I . . . when it's at least partly my fault." The mage seemed at a loss for words, or perhaps she had too many words and couldn't put them together properly. She fell silent, fidgeting.
Fenris glared at her, anger all out of proportion to her words. She'd known about this for weeks and said nothing. After last night, it felt doubly cruel. "So you're leaving me? Breaking your word too? All on the say so of a demon?"
Hawke's head snapped up, anger flashing in her eyes. "Justice is no demon. And yes, I do believe him. I'm not so helpless that I can't speak with a spirit on my own terms and judge its words. I'm not leaving you and I'm not breaking my word, just . . . putting off the promise by a bit. We can still go to them and help, after."
"We? What if I don't agree to run off because Sebastian crooked a finger and Justice whispered in your ear? If it was so important, why didn't you tell me? If talking to that spirit was so innocent, why not trust me with it before today?" Fenris waited for an answer, wanting some justification. Something he could believe.
After a moment, the mage shifted her feet. "There wasn't time. And I knew you would be angry. I knew you would see it like this."
"How else should I see it?"
Riese said nothing, and after a moment she turned away from him. Part of Fenris wanted to go after her, to grab her and hold her. Tell her nothing, not this nor the end of the world could come between them, but his feet wouldn't answer to that piece of his heart. His body was held by bonds of anger, betrayal, and unyielding pride. If she loved him, Hawke would stay and help the elves. If not . . . Fenris pictured his life without the mage. Without her laughter, the feel of her curled beside him in bed. Days without her smile. A hot, angry tear rolled down his cheek, and he dashed it away before anyone could see.
Riese didn't turn around. She didn't stop. She picked up her pack from the caravel and walked away.
"You did the right thing," Tarun said, approaching from the veil of a nearby tent. He had probably listened to the whole exchange.
"I don't know," Fenris replied. His heart felt torn and empty. His chest hurt. They'd fought before, many times, but she'd never just walked away from him. What happened now? What did you do when your life left you but your heart was still beating?
Things were shaping up nicely. Sebastian's spies reported that Hawke and Fenris had been found, and near to where he'd suspected they would be. Some tiny farming village in the south of Ferelden, well out of the way of the chantry and politics. He'd had mixed reports sighting them traveling north, but nothing he could credit. The prince felt a small sense of happiness that the two had agreed to come to him. Despite the blame they shared for Elthina's death, he still had great affection for the mage and elf. They'd been friends when no one else would stand beside him.
Perhaps once Anders was dead, he could apologize to Riese. She might forgive his temper, become a friend again . . . Sebastian toyed with the idea. It would be so much easier to bring Kirkwall into line with the Champion at his side. Aveline would give in and that was half the battle. Once Kirkwall was under his rule and stable again, they could work on bringing peace through the Free Marches. All they need do was reign in the templars. There were disturbing reports from some quarters that the templars were pursuing their holy calling with less than holy zeal, raping and pillaging like common bandits. With the three of them fighting together, it would be easy enough.
And the mages would listen to Hawke. They would return to their circles, to their duty. The prince smiled. Everything felt so simple to Sebastian as he looked over the reports on his desk. Letters and notes confirming his suspicions, informing his plans. This was the time he was born for and Hawke was meant to stand with him against the chaos. He felt it in his bones.
He was still grinning when one of his watchers burst into the room, scattering papers across the table and onto the floor. "Sire," the spy fell into an awkward bow. "Sire, she's been sighted." Sebastian didn't need to ask who.
"Where, how close?" The prince stood, shoving his chair back abruptly.
"A few hours outside the city? I - I'm not sure, sire." The watcher, a boy barely old enough to start shaving, looked up at Sebastian, terrified.
"It's alright -" he searched his mind for the boy's name, "Algert."
"Algret, sire." The watcher's jaw snapped shut as he realized he just corrected the prince.
Sebastian smiled reassuringly. His servants should not be afraid. Only his enemies should look at him in fear. "Algret. Are you certain it's Hawke? She wouldn't travel openly. Was Fenris with her? He's more distinctive."
The watcher shook his head, "No sighting. I saw the woman, a pack and rough staff, traveling with some merchants up from Redcliffe. No elf, tattooed or not, with her. No one with white hair either." He looked down. "I can make another run today and check, sire."
"No, that's not necessary." The prince was going to retake his seat and dismiss the boy, but an idea hit him. If it was Hawke, why not ride out to her. Meet her in open, neutral ground. She would feel safer, perhaps be more open to him. It would be better than meeting her here, with his staff and his templars. Sebastian felt sure once he'd spoken to her, she would agree with him. Anders had to be stopped, and there was only one way to do it. This time, she would side with him and the apostate be damned.
"Algret, I'm giving you the rest of today off. You have one last task for me first - head down to the stable and see that my horse is saddled. I'm riding out to meet her." The prince tossed a silver to the watcher and winked at him. The boy's eyes were wide with surprise, but he returned the smile cautiously and scurried off.
In no time at all, Sebastian was riding down the imperial highway, choking on the dust as he slowly rode past the wagons and walkers. He tried to tell himself his excitement was only due to plans in motion and his impending revenge. It was that, but he knew it was also the joy of seeing an old friend, the chance to set things right between them.
The prince studied each passing face, eyes prying under hoods and past scarves, every figure with a staff came under special scrutiny. He was disappointed time and time again. It was nearly dark and Sebastian had been searching for over two hours when another merchant caravan came into view. Three wagons, heavy loaded with two men atop each wagon, one steering and one on watch. Beside them, several figures trudged with tired steps toward Jader, hooded all, with scarves pulled up over their mouths and noses to keep out the dust. And just one with a large, heavy wooden staff, knotted on the end, still rough and oozing sap. He saw her blue eyes over the top of the dirty scarf and new he'd found her. Hawke.
Elation and then a crashing surge of anger, betrayal, regret, joy . . . a storm of emotions churned in his chest. He expected to see some reflection of that in Riese, but she only looked at him tiredly. Sebastian jumped off his horse, pulling it to a stop beside the road. The merchants and guards gave him a wary glance but said nothing as they passed. Riese stopped in front of him, silent.
"It's been a long time Hawke."
"I didn't want to threaten you. I just needed your help. I didn't know how else to get you here . . ." The prince tried to find the right words for an apology of sorts. He hadn't done anything wrong. Just what was needed, but he wanted Riese to agree there was no harm done.
The mage shrugged as if it didn't matter.
Sebastian settled a hand on her shoulder, inclining his head toward her. "Are you alright, Hawke? You didna come to harm?"
She shook her head.
"Can ya speak? Are ya sick?" The prince felt a stab of regret. Perhaps she'd taken ill in a hurried trip to Jader. Rushing to see him . . . but, but she deserved it didn't she? For letting Anders free after what he did. Sebastian tried to settle his emotions. He was steel, firm and unyielding. A prince in search of justice and holy vengeance - he shouldn't feel guilty for forcing Riese to do her duty.
"I . . . can." Hawke spoke so softly that he had to strain to catch the words.
"Ah good. You had me worried for a moment." Sebastian patted her shoulder.
Riese nodded without replying.
"Where's Fenris?" Sebastian asked suddenly. He looked around, worried the elf might be watching from a distance, waiting to strike. The prince had no doubt that Fenris would see Anders dead. The elf liked the apostate not at all, but he liked threats to Riese even less.
Instead of answering, Hawke bowed her head, shoulders shaking. It took Sebastian a moment to realize she was crying. No matter what had passed between them, it was beyond him to stand there and watch a woman cry. He gently took hold of her and lifted her into his saddle with a brief hug, then led the horse back to town. It was a long, quiet walk and he had nothing to do but think.
What had happened? Was Fenris dead? If so, that would explain Hawke's demeanor. His spies said nothing about it, but there were many months and many miles between the Ferelden south and Jader. So much could have happened. Sebastian fabricated several possibilities, from an extended illness to a bandit attack, demonic possession - maybe Riese was forced to kill him herself. He glanced up at the mage. She sat silent now, just staring forward. He wanted to ask, but not yet.
Perhaps this was Andraste's punishment for the death of Elthina. It gave Sebastian pause to think of it that way. Hawke had let a killer go free, and damned so many through that action as the apostate led others astray. Maybe Andraste or the Maker had lent a hand in the matter and done justice in their own way. What would Elthina think of that?
"Death is never justice." The old woman's voice still had strength in his memories. That's what she told him when he'd asked for the deaths of Flint Company. "Never?" he whispered.
"What?" Hawke asked, voice hoarse.
"I didn't mean to speak aloud," the prince replied. Riese nodded once and turned away from him again.
Surely sometimes death was justice.
At the inn that was now Sebastian's headquarters in Jader, he helped Hawke dismount. The stable boys took care of the horse as he led her inside. She took off her cloak without prompting and left her staff by the door. The innkeeper raised an eyebrow but said only, "Good eve, sire," as the prince and his guest passed. It was the first time he'd had a woman upstairs. No doubt it would cause talk, but they needed the privacy of his office, his rooms.
"Send up some cool wine and something to eat," he directed. If Hawke had a preference, she didn't voice it. At his door, she stopped, staring at the wood. "Please go in," Sebastian prompted.
"I didn't come here because of you. Not really," Riese told him. Her voice still sounded barely above a whisper.
The prince nodded, lips pressing to a thin line. "But you intend to help me?"
"I do." The mage opened his door and stepped inside; taking the first seat she came to.
After the servants brought dinner up and closed the door behind them, Sebastian felt comfortable to speak openly. Hawke ate her food mechanically and drank the wine. Her expression was bleak, but the tears were gone at least.
"You know why I asked you here, Riese." The prince met her gaze, hoping to see something there - a flicker of affection or remembrance - something - but her blue eyes were as empty as the ocean horizon.
"You need my help with Anders. But it isn't him, Sebastian. Anders died. He died trying to do the right thing, in the end."
The prince frowned. That wasn't at all what had happened. There were some accounts of Anders dying but these were false, mere fairy tales. "Don't lie for him Hawke. You're better than that. I deserve the truth from you."
The mage sighed, brows drawing together with focus as she chewed at her bottom lip. She often did that when worrying over a problem, and seeing it now brought back many memories of their time in Kirkwall. Something shifted in him, cracked. A hardness giving way.
"I'm not lying," Riese said finally. "I saw him die trying to protect me from a templar attack when the circle went mad. It was awful." The pain in her voice was real, as present and sharp as a knife to the back. "I couldn't help him. It was too quick, and I was exhausted. But you aren't completely wrong . . . it is him, in a way, still out there . . ."
Sebastian wasn't sure if he should respond. He took a drink of water instead. Hawke went on, explaining what she knew and how she knew it. The prince felt ambivalent about her dream; speaking to the demon Justice seemed a bit too convenient. But there was nothing about her to suggest deceit. She was painfully frank, even in her detailed account of leaving Fenris behind. The wound there was still raw, but she laid it open for him anyhow.
"The merchants asked me to travel with them after the bandit raid, so I did. It was pretty quiet after that, just a lot of walking . . ." Hawke trailed off, letting silence fill the space between them again. The prince was hesitant to reply. She seemed genuine, and so much of her knowledge supported his own findings.
It didn't really matter if Anders died in Kirkwall or not, Sebastian decided. The only thing that mattered was that an apostate, working with Tevinter magisters, was stirring a violent rebellion. And that apostate just happened to wear the face of a murderer. If Anders was now only an abomination, his mind gone or subjugated to a demon, that made the act of killing him mercifully just. Good and right, the prince nodded.
Riese was watching him, he realized. He'd been sitting there lost in thought as if he was alone. The mage wore a slight grin, the first real expression on her face other than sadness since they met up. "I'm sorry, Hawke." Sebastian stood.
"About forgetting I was here?" She tilted her head to look up at him.
"For everything. I shouldna let my temper get the better of me. I shoulda been there with you when Meredith fell. When Anders . . . died. Maybe none of this woulda happened. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's good to see you Hawke." The prince shrugged, reluctant to say more. He had a lot of regrets, and seeing Hawke miserable only made him feel worse.
"It's alright." She got to her feet slowly. "You did what you did and now we're here." Riese sighed heavily, "I should sleep. I'm exhausted. I want to cry. I miss Fenris and I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing. I don't even know if I'm making sense."
Sebastian pulled her to him and gave her a hug, the feeling warm and familiar. Hawke tensed for a moment and then relaxed in his brotherly embrace. "It will be alright, Riese. Fenris will . . . he'll come around. We can go looking for him after, if you want. For the rest - it's the past. We should let it stay there." That was a piece of advice he could stand to take, the prince thought.
"I don't know," Hawke replied, extracting herself from his arms.
The prince nodded, "I shouldna sent spies and assassins . . . threatening you. It was wrong. And I'm sorry for it. I hope you can forgive me. I spent a lot of time being angry. I forgot what a friend you've always been for me. It's not you that - that killed Elthina. It was Anders. Ya shouldna let him go, but . . . I think I understand." And he did, in a way. Hawke didn't like passing judgement, especially on friends. Even now, she was reluctant to judge him despite the fact that he was responsible for her current situation.
"I think you mean it." Riese sighed, running a hand over her face. "It's too much right now. I need to rest."
"Of course. I won't keep you. There's a room two doors down from this one you can sleep in. I'll make sure you aren't bothered." Sebastian gave her a courtly bow and opened the door. "We'll talk in the morning."
"Good night, Sebastian."
He watched her walk away, shoulders slumped, head down. He stood staring at the closed door, thinking. Hawke looked so hopeless. He knew leaving Fenris behind hurt her deeply, and it didn't help any that they were on a mission to kill an old friend. Or close enough. He wished there were something he could do to ease her pain, give her hope.
The prince closed his door realizing the answer wouldn't come to him anytime soon. It left him melancholy. Sebastian longed for the old days back when they could sit together at the Hanged Man over a beer and laugh . . .
Too much had changed to ever have that time back, but maybe the future would hold something better.