He had no other option.
Hand pressed tight against his tattered flesh, he barely felt the ice pelting his exposed skin and head. Even the hot blood gurgling through his fingers and down the black armor didn’t register. He needed to get out of the elements soon, but a ringing reverberated through his skull leaving him impotent before the door. It looked like every other smaller home on the outskirts of Kirkwall; grey door without a family crest upon it, gravel walkups instead of cobbles, and a window box suspended above him. Dead grasses strained off the edge like a brown waterfall stretching for the ground.
He shouldn’t be here.
Pain bashed into his side, his vision searing white like lit lyrium.
Lifting the fist not coated in his own blood, he knocked once. Just once. If it wasn’t heard then it wasn’t meant to be. In truth, he didn’t want her to hear it, to have to speak something to her, to find an excuse or apology. Over the pounding of the storm, it was unlikely that any would hear or see him until it passed.
A disturbingly comforting thought.
To die alone, unknown, after all the chaos sewn in his wake. Nothing more than a thin body discovered frozen to the ground. Perhaps that was what he truly deserved from the Maker’s hand.
Creaking snapped his head up, the fog of death fading as the door pulled back. She looked exactly how he remembered her. Taller than him, taller than most humans he knew, her crimson robe barely made it past her thighs. His hung head caught a pair of slippers in pink that bore a resemblance to nugs wiggling where her feet should be. Some things never changed. Wiping a hand over her striking grey eyes as if in disbelief, Hawke bellowed, “Fenris?”
“Sorry,” he stuttered, his voice stumbling through its usual gravel, “if I’m disturbing you...” Fenris tried to slide back as if he was capable of leaving, as if he wasn’t going to bleed out on her stoop.
Hawke’s brash but tender hand lashed out. Through the freezing ice her warmth pressed against his wrist and tugged him out of the storm.
“Disturbing? You’re not disturbing anything,” Hawke laughed, that familiar bray that trailed his dreams echoing through her house. “Just shocked out of my mind to open my door in the middle of death storm 14 and find you standing there. It’s been, what? Six, seven years since you took to chopping up slavers in Tevinter.”
In the time it took him to say yes, Hawke spit all of that out. She was a constant barrage that couldn’t even be bested by Varric’s crossbow in terms of velocity. For anyone else, Fenris would groan and shuffle deeper inside himself. For Hawke, he clung tighter to the unbendable arm supporting him.
“I need your help,” he said. Perhaps it was the blood trail he left, or the long walk through an ice rain, but Fenris was entranced with Hawke’s eye roll.
“Here I was dead certain you just stopped by for some pie and a chat. Let me think where I left my good broadsword...” She broke off from holding him, no doubt to pick up a rug and find an armory stashed below it. Fenris’ body folded inward and, without anything to support it, he began to sink to the floor. Reacting quickly, Hawke all but scooped her arms around him, holding him up with an awkward hug. “Fenris...?”
“I am injured,” he said, his eyes guiltily drawing down to where his blood soaked into her robe’s arm.
“Maker’s hairy taint,” Hawke cursed. Wrapping her arm around his back, she helped to guide him towards a low table. It took little from the giantess Champion to lift him onto it. “Stay here, my kit’s in the other room,” Hawke said, dashing out. Sounds of rummaging through drawers were punctuated by, “And for the love of Andraste, don’t die or anything.”
He could have. Fenris wasn’t even supposed to be here. A slave master slipped out of their net and while he should have sent any one of his lieutenants, even an entire group after him, he went himself. Foolish. He didn’t need to come. The others would have been better prepared and not walked into such an obvious trap.
But the moment he heard the word Kirkwall his course was set.
Hawke returned, a bag overflowing with bandages and clanking with bottles in her hands. She dropped it onto the table and removed a sash stabbed with various sized needles. “You’re in luck, I just got a fresh sting of catgut cause you can never have too much catgut, right? Can I...?” Her hand gestured towards Fenris’ side and he reached to slip off the breastplate. Exhaustion and blood loss claimed him, his hands thudding to the table.
“Don’t worry, I can get it,” Hawke said, the woman making quick work to pry off the armor he’d worn for nearly two decades now. While she stripped him fast, she was careful to lay it down where it wouldn’t be damaged. Whistling under her breath, Hawke muttered to herself, “Great lich balls, how in the Maker’s name are you still standing?”
He didn’t answer, only grunted. Not that she was looking for a response. Fenris didn’t need to see the wound to know it was bad. He was there when the blade trap swung towards him. Spinning on his feet, his sword flew to dice it apart but he wasn’t quick enough and a single tooth off a giant saw crushed deep into his side. If he died here, then...it seemed the better answer than anywhere in Tevinter.
But Hawke wasn’t about to let that happen. She dipped a rag in some bottle, then pressed the ointment tight to the wound. It hissed in anger, pain radiating up through Fenris’ skin and bone until it knocked against his brain. He wanted to scream, to curse in every language he’d learned, but something stayed his voice.
Soft and barely even breaking above a whisper, Hawke began to sing. She hummed some of the words, losing the melody while running her warm fingers against his skin. “Up from the ground, ten darkspawn rose. Save your mother. Save your father. Run around, run around, down another goes.” She whistled and sang the tune as if it was nothing more than another bawdy song for the tavern, her face almost jolly while threading a needle.
Fenris bit on his lip, not from his flesh being knit together with string but the memories in his brain being strung like a lute. While he lay back on the table, the silly song rumbling in his baritone, he drifted back to the first time he had to ask Hawke for her healing touch.
Beating a fist into the flimsy door, Fenris glanced around the squalor of Lowtown. A woman had tried to proposition him twice even as he left a clear trail of blood in his wake. Perhaps she was low on her quota for the month. This was embarrassing; a minor matter that he wished could be fixed on his own, but... What were the chances this woman would even help again. She assisted in his chase for Danarius, but that was for coin, which was all anyone ran on here. Why would she help now?
Fenris lifted his fist, about to knock one last time, when the door rattled open and that angular face opened wide in surprise. With skin darker than his own, she stood out against the paler sorts in Kirkwall, though a lot of that could also be due to the imposing height. Hawke turned her pointed chin down, her puffy lips pulled back into a smile.
Why was that woman always smiling?
“Hey, it’s you. The elf from the alienage. Well, the special elf from the alienage. Not ‘special’ special, more the glowy fisty kind of special. Though, I guess you were originally from Tevinter so...”
“Yes,” he interrupted, growing tired of the blood sloshing against his backside, “It is me, Fenris.”
“I know. I’m good with names. Also punching things. What do you need? The naming or the punching?” She lifted her fist and pretended to attack the air.
Scowling, he said, “Neither. I require your help with a small matter.”
“Sure,” she shrugged, then blinked a moment as he froze up. “Oh, sorry, come in. Everyone in Ferelden was always barging in wherever they felt like it. I don’t think we ever closed the door in Lothering unless it was raining or it was stink bug season.” Her constant spray of words kept up even as she stepped aside to let him into her hovel.
He didn’t know much about the random woman Anso found beyond her name and skill in matters less than savory, but as Fenris gazed around the dilapidated shack he felt a moment of pity. Barely large enough to support one person and supposedly it held four. Yet she never complained about it, at least that he ever heard. The woman was almost always smiles and laughs. It was maddening.
Limping into the middle room, Fenris drew a hand down behind himself and felt the familiar wet and sticky stain he’d tried to stymie himself five times. Hawke crossed her arms and tipped her head while staring down at him, “So, what seems to be the problem?”
“I...” It was difficult to speak with her always staring the way she did. The woman was more of a presence than the ten foot tall statues in the Gallows. She sucked up all the air in the room without trying, her piercing grey eyes biting through his skin as if she could plunge down to his marrow. “I am injured, in a place I cannot tend to.”
“Okay,” Hawke nodded, then she flinched. “You want me to fix it up? Uh, have you tried any healers? They’re rather known for fixing people up.”
“No!” Fenris shouted, unable to hide the revulsion at what he’d have to expose of himself to a mage. “I don’t have the coin to afford one,” he explained instead, then blanched. If he had no coin for a healer, then what would he pay her? Surely she was about to realize that fact and toss him out.
“We happen to know a healer that doesn’t charge...” at his glare, Hawke held up her hands and a slow chuckle broke, “all right. Forget I said anything. Where is it?”
“It...” Take him, but a blush rampaged up his skin at having to voice the fact. Why couldn’t Hawke be a man? That would make this all much simpler. No, instead he had those grey storm eyes peering down at him, her lips drawn into a full smile while she leaned back and forth upon a curvy hip. It was a simple pose, nothing feminine to it, but Fenris’ lip zipped up tighter.
“Well, either you can tell me, I can strip all your clothes off and look myself, or I just wrap you up in every bandage I own Nevarran dead style.”
“My backside,” he spat out. “It is upon my backside. A trio of bandits in the dead of night in a dark alley.”
She didn’t laugh at him, only dropped a hand out of the cross over her chest, and scratched her chin. “Don’t tell me, little bastard nicked you from behind like the cowards they are. Shits here are masters at shivs but won’t take ya head on. It’s all, stab stab, slit your hamstrings like.” Caring little for the fact they were indoors, Hawke spat upon the floor to seal her thoughts on the Free Marcher muggers.
“Come on,” she tipped her head, “there’s a back room where you can lay down and I’ll take a look. Got some bandages in this place courtesy of Aveline thinking I’m always gonna crack my skull open.”
Hawke’s hand moved to wrap around Fenris but he yanked it away fast. She barely blinked at his reaction, her chapped fingers shoving open a plywood door. An even more pathetic room than the first lay ahead of him. Half of a fire puffed out acrid smoke while a stand of rusted pans waited beside. Stretched across a pair of no doubt stolen cinderblocks was a piece of wood that appeared to have once been the hull of a ship. With a wave of her hand, Hawke knocked off what’d been on their kitchen table and smiled.
“This’ll have to do, sorry it’s not any cleaner. The maid only comes in on Tuesday.”
There was a great chance he’d catch some blood disease merely by laying upon that rotted piece of wood, but... Fenris’ hand cupped the ass cheek that’d been weeping for over a day now. He had no other option. Scurrying with all the lagging dignity he had, he pressed his stomach upon the table and stretched out. Hawke stood at the front beside his face and stared down in concentration.
“You’re, uh, gonna have to take the pants part off. Unless you want me to sew them to your skin.”
Fenheedis! The woman was beyond maddening. Trying to shake off the unnerving feeling squatting in his gut, Fenris unbolted the latch upon his trousers and slowly trailed them down to expose himself to the elements...and her. Hawke clipped back to his backside, a finger tapping against her lips until she vanished out of his periphery.
“Not great. The wound, I mean. The rest is...you sure you don’t want a healer?” she asked.
“Yes,” Fenris screwed up his eyes, wishing this was all over. He’d thought about burrowing into a bottle of wine before attempting the task of asking for her help but feared it would only speed up his bleeding.
“Okay, gonna have to use the needle though. It’s deep. Not surprised you’re having troubles.” He felt a bag land upon the table beside him followed by sounds of rummaging. Gritting his teeth, Fenris screwed up his courage not for the bite of a needle but the breeze lancing against such an intimate part of him. No one had seen so much of him since... Fenris had no idea. Even in the depths of summer when he was forced to bathe in streams on his quest for vengeance he kept a shirt on, unable and unwilling to face the lyrium etched into his skin. The idea of letting anyone else see stirred up his blood until it ran hot.
“This might sting a bit, or a lot. Sorry, not a lot of numbing draughts here to take away the pain,” Hawke’s voice trilled from behind, the smile never wavering. “Gamlen might have something, though there’s a good chance you’ll shed those silver locks if you drink it.”
“Stitch it up,” Fenris ordered, then he winced at the bite in his voice. “Please.”
“Okay,” Hawke didn’t waver from his venom, always cheery. Something warm pressed against the top of his tailbone and Fenris flinched away from it. His body shifted almost uncontrollably from her. “You’re gonna need to hold still, unless you want a wicked scar. Though it’d be hard to charm free drinks with that one, unless you’re really trying to charm the ladies with it.”
“I...” Fenris gritted his teeth, trying to calm the pounding below his skin, “I will.”
Before he could find a foothold, the hand returned, pressing even tighter to his skin. Agony, as if the flesh was burning, ripped through him. Still, Fenris clung tight to the table; his fingernails clawing apart the cheap wood while the hand rested almost chastely on his ass.
“Um...” Hawke’s voice showed the first sign of trepidation since he entered her home, “you’re glowing.”
“What?” Fenris stared down at himself to find the lyrium lit up across his skin brighter than any beacon.
“If you don’t want me to do this...” Hawke stumbled away, the hand lifting from his skin.
The moment the contact broke, he was able to control himself, the glow fading along with his powers. “Wait,” Fenris croaked, whipping his head around. For the first time since meeting her, he didn’t find a smile upon Hawke’s lips. She was staring at her fingers as if they’d committed some horrible atrocity she couldn’t understand.
“I...do not enjoy being touched,” Fenris tried to explain, the burr in his stomach expanding. Why wasn’t she smiling? She was always smiling. “Any and all, but, I would like your help. Please.”
Hawke’s face rose and she nodded once, those sheer cheekbones lifting to reform her smile. Its return lightened Fenris, if only because he couldn’t be at blame for dousing it. “I can try to sew it up without touching you much, but the flesh will need to be pushed together.”
Nodding, Fenris returned to glaring at the door, “I shall control myself. Do your best.”
A pinprick bit into his skin, but no hand pressed against him. The first stitch popped into place, realigning what the bandits severed, but there were a good dozen or so more to go. If there was a mirror and he could see what was going on, then he could prepare himself. Instead, it was a guessing game, leaving him on edge for the next stab through his already bruised and battered flesh. Out of nowhere, Hawke began to sing, the melody a simple tune and Hawke’s voice more impressive for its volume than tone. She was not a woman one would ever call dainty.
“Up from the ground, ten darkspawn rose. Grab your sword. Grab your hoe. Run around, run around, down another goes. Up from the ground, nine darkspawn rose...” Hawke’s song faded a moment as he heard teeth biting into string. “Do you know that song, Fenris?”
“No,” he answered, uncertain if she was even listening. Flexing his fingers out, he tried to find anything else to distract himself.
“We learned it in the village. I can’t remember which one, further north than Lothering long before we settled there. A kid was always on and on about how the big, scary darkspawn were gonna gobble us up. Or maybe it was one of the farmers pissed we swiped his apples.”
She kept up her babble even while the needle broke his skin. Every attempt by Fenris to focus and prepare for the jab was broken apart by the incessant speaking and then more song. He couldn’t even hear his internal thoughts over Hawke’s singing.
“Up from the ground, eight darkspawn rose. Save your mother. Save your father...” something brushed over his skin, and he clenched his teeth. “Come on, at least sing along with me,” Hawke ordered.
“I do not know it,” Fenris gasped. Did she not realize that bare assed and stretched across a filthy table while being stitched back together was not the time for anyone to wish to sing an insipid song about darkspawn?
“It’s easy. See, first there are ten darkspawn, then nine, then eight and so on and so forth,” Hawke’s voice wandered up and down in thought. “Think it was a song to teach us about counting? I hated those.”
“I don’t understand.” Despite the pain searing through his skin and a rising fear he might damage Hawke or her possessions if he lost control something in her tone drew his curiosity.
“Teaching songs, like ‘hey kids, let’s go over the letters of the alphabet but set it to music so you’ll yap it out like a trained mabari.’ Or ‘noun noun verb verbing adjective noun!’ Maker, my mother loved those. She could be a real grammarspawn sometimes.”
“I never heard any of those,” Fenris whispered, his voice fading into his stomach. It dipped so low he doubted Hawke even heard him.
“Well, I’ll have to teach you the next time you need a quick sew up,” she chuckled, sliding around to his face.
“You’re done?” Fenris peered over his shoulder to find a small knot of catgut gleaming upon the crest of his asscheek. He had barely felt her hands upon him, those confusing words drawing his full attention instead of... Unaware of the elf staring in surprise, Hawke was busy wiping her hands clean off on a towel. She appeared to all the world like a simple minded but kind hearted ruffian. More biceps than brains as people would say. Fenris didn’t look much past the surface because he had no need to. And yet she was the first person to ever touch him without leaving any pain behind.
“It’ll sting for a few days, need to take the stitches out in a week or so, ifn’ I remember right. Been a few years since I had to knot up myself,” Hawke cracked a smile and drew a finger across her arm. “Took a blade here.”
“From the darkspawn?”
“Nah, was my shit weasel brother,” she smiled wide, but her eyes wavered at the edges as if tears wanted to spring free. “He was always swinging wide when he shoulda kept it tight.”
Despite his ass remaining exposed to the world, Fenris began to reach over to try and console Hawke. His fingers were nearly upon her forearm when he realized he had no idea what to do. He’d never even felt the urge to comfort someone before. Panic setting in, he was saved by the sound of the front door opening.
“Love, we’re back,” an elder woman’s voice called from the living room.
“You still here, Sis?” another much younger voice asked. “If she’s going to head out to make more coin, she should leave a note.”
Hawke smiled at Fenris, “My mother and sister, I’ll go and talk to ’em while you get yer drawers back on.” Her grin didn’t waver a moment at the idiocy before her. Cracking the door open a sliver, Hawke oozed out to obscure him. She greeted her mother by asking what all they got up to that day, then proceeded to tell them there was a guest in the other room.
“What sort of guest?” her mother asked straight away. Did Hawke often bring various men home? Fenris snarled at himself for wondering. He had no reason to care. Scurrying quickly, he hitched up his pants and moved to knot back on the belt.
Hawke chuckled and without any hint of subterfuge bellowed, “A friend who needed help.”
Friend? No one had called Fenris that in as long as he could remember. They barely knew each other beyond a few exchanged words. “He got nicked and I stitched him up, no problem.”
“He’s hurt? Perhaps I could help,” the sister’s voice broke. Fenris remembered her from the night. Bethany. She was the exact opposite of Hawke in every way. A soft, pliant voice to match her dainty form. While Hawke towered above nearly everyone, Bethany skirted below chins, her curves softened by the mage robes.
“Ah,” Hawke seemed to intercept her sister, “no need, Bethy. He’s good.”
“Good? After the assistance of your healing skills? Remember when father would pound his face into his palms every time you attempted to use spit?”
Fenris’ eyes shot open wide and he tried to spin around to look, as if that would reveal any spittle clinging to his wound.
“I was ten,” Hawke shouted, “and learning. Look...” Sounds of people scuttling closer to the door drew Fenris nearer as well. In a whisper that he thought Hawke incapable of, she said, “it’s the elf from the alienage that then turned into a Hightown job. The one who’s not too keen on mages.”
“Oh,” Bethany’s effervescent tone froze, “him.”
“And the wound wasn’t in a very, um, polite place on his body.”
“Polite? What are you talking about?” she gasped. Hawke couldn’t possibly tell her the full of it. Bethany seemed to be a very sheltered girl who’d most likely blush herself to death at hearing such crass things.
“It’s on his bum,” Hawke said in the same voice that sang the song about darkspawn.
For the love of the Maker! Fenris smacked his forehead against the door, which neither of the women noticed.
Bethany squealed at the impropriety of it, then whispered, “His..bottom? You, you got to see his bottom area?”
“Yeah,” Hawke spoke slowly as if she was afraid her sister wouldn’t understand, “Kinda had to, not a lot of people want their doctor to stitch ’em up blind. Touched it to.”
“How was it?” the sister pried in a voice that sounded as if it was escaping from behind her fingers.
Laying his ear tight to the door, Fenris held his breath. This was foolish. It didn’t matter what her opinion was, merely that she was willing to assist him. He should throw open the door and leave.
“It’s a good one,” Hawke said with such clarity he felt his legs twitch. “Nice and firm, high up too. Shame he hides it behind all the pointy bits.”
“Do, the uh,” Bethany giggled a moment, “tattoos go all the way down?”
Blood rushed through Fenris’ ears, a foreign sensation prickling against the lyrium tattoos upon his skin. It was almost as if they were itching, but no amount of scratching could dim the horrible feeling. Trying to stave off any more of the uncomfortable sting, Fenris yanked open the door. Bethany’s big brown eyes opened in shock, but Hawke only smiled wide.
“Hey, you’re up. Good to see I didn’t accidentally chop off a leg,” she said the last sentence at her sister who was too busy burying her face in her hands to answer back.
“How much do you require for payment?” Fenris spat out, unable to stare up at her save through the fringe of his hair.
“Payment?” Hawke snorted. “Don’t be silly. Friends don’t pay.”
There it was again. Friend. She couldn’t be serious. It was either some trap, or perhaps she was trying to save face in front of her mother. A way to excuse this unknown man laying bare assed upon their kitchen table. Nodding, Fenris slid towards the front door, doing his best to keep his backside out of sight of the three women. Out the open door, he paused and glanced back inside. “Thank you for your help. If you ever have need, you know where to find me.”
“Sure,” Hawke smiled, a hand waving to him, “and Fenris...you can come by anytime you want. You don’t even have to have been stabbed.”
His head bouncing, Fenris slammed the door. Through the thundering of blood in his ears, Hawke’s voice echoed two words like the waves pounding against rocks: friend and firm.