Tale of the Stranger (or How I Met Selena Hawke)

Chapter 25

I swallowed hard and girded my loins. I had always wondered what that really meant, but I got it now. It wasn't fun. Standing at Fenris' doorstep, lesson books in hand, I was scared to death of what was about to happen. Would he be cold? Angry? Would he even be here, what with the hole in his roof and the snows coming down.

Finally I gathered my courage and knocked. And waited.

Knocked again. And waited.

After an interminable time I reached down and tried the knob, surprised that it turned so easy in my hand. I pushed the door open and the squeak I had come to expect was gone. What the hell?

Inside was dark, cold enough that my breath plumed through the air. He hadn't cleaned, bodies still littered the nooks and crannies, but for some reason Fenris had oiled the squeak that let him know when someone had entered the house. That was not a good sign.

“Fenris?” I called, carefully making my way through the grand foyer and up the stairs to the room he used as his. “Fenris, it's Selena. Are you home?” I heard a slight shuffling from further into the room and entered with trepidation.

It was just as cold here as the rest of the house. Colder even, as the hole in the roof was letting in a drift of snow in the centre of the floor. The hearth had obviously not been lit in some time and the floor seemed to be littered with more wine bottles than were normal. Though normal was still a fair number.

The shuffling had come from the bed, a mound of blankets that was visibly shivering. With that many blankets, the form underneath had to be having almost convulsions from the cold.

I sighed, placing the lesson books on the long table at which Fenris took his meals and set about getting a fire started. Over the last few months I had become adept at the use of flint and steel to light tinder, though I would give my right arm for a lighter some days.

Once the tinder had caught and the fire was burning brightly I turned to the room. First I found every bowl, urn and bucket I could throughout the house and scooped up as much of the snow as I could and placed the receptacle near the fire. Fresh water was fresh water, after all. I then used my booted feet to push as much as was left out into the hall, away from the door. I hadn't found a broom in my searching, so the dirt and cobwebs would just have to wait. The bottles, on the other hand, got packed up in some salvaged wooden crates and set near the front entry. I would refill them from the casks at Hawke's estate and return them.

And now, the moment I had been putting off. I approached the bed with trepidation, uncertain of my welcome. “Fenris? I'm going to pull the blankets down now. Just a little, so I can see your face. All right?”

There was no answer, just another shudder. I screwed up my resolve and slowly pulled the blankets back. Fingers reached out and snatched at my wrist, biting into the skin. Thankfully, he wasn't wearing his gauntlets.

His head slithered slowly from the coverings, hair damp with sweat, skin paler than usual and flushed as though too warm, though he still shivered with the cold. “What are you doing here?” he whispered hoarsely.

“I came for our reading lesson, Fenris. But you're sick,” I exclaimed, laying my other hand upon his brow. He was hot with fever and his eyes closed with a groan as I touched him. My first thought was to run and fetch Anders, but Fenris would never allow the mage to heal him, so I decided to wait. Do my best to care for the elf myself and only go to Anders as a last resort.

It took some doing but I managed to pry my wrist from Fenris' fingers and went to where I had left the lesson books, pulling out parchment, quill and ink. After writing out a quick note I fairly flew to the front entry, ripped open the door and whistled. In short order, one of the many children I had begun paying to run errands and messages for me arrived, a young girl in blond pigtails, swimming in an oversized coat. I handed her the note, sending her to Hawke's for Bodahn to pack together some spare clothing and Orana to scrounge some foodstuffs. Fenris had little here at the mansion- except wine of course.

Upstairs again, I found a piece of torn rag that wasn't too dirty and wet it with the melting snow near the fire, bringing it to the bed and laying it across Fenris' brow. He moaned at the sensation but did not open his eyes. Oh, this is so not good. What I wouldn't give for some NyQuil right about now.

Bodahn and Sandal came, laden down with packs and baskets filled to the brim and I thanked them profusely as they helped me bring everything upstairs. Bodahn asked about fetching Anders but I assured him that if things got worse I would do just that. In the meantime, for him to let everyone know where I was and that I would return as soon as Fenris was better. He nodded with a customary 'very good, messere' and took his son back out into the winter streets.

I sighed and slid a chair from the hearth closer to the bed, arranging some cold chicken, cheese and a couple of Orana's amazing chocolate tarts on a plate on the small bedside table, as well as a cup of water from the rapidly melting snow for each of us. Finally, with the room warming from the fire, I shucked my thick coat and settled in the chair, one of the books I brought with me resting in my lap.

I had brought one of Varric's serials, Hard in Hightown, to read together on a lark, to maybe break the ice if things were too tense between us. Now I opened it to the beginning, reading aloud. Whether he really heard me or not didn't matter. The silence needed to be filled.

“What are you doing here, mage?”

“Bodahn told me she was here and that you were sick.”

“I will live.”

“Oh sure you will. As long as you get your ass out of this rat infested dump and into somewhere warm, without snow in the middle of your bedroom.”

“I will...think on it.”

“See that you do. I don't want her getting sick, too, sleeping in chairs in freezing rooms trying to take care of your ungrateful ass.”

I guess I fell asleep reading, or at least that's what the crick in my back was telling me. Not to mention the sight of Fenris sitting up, sipping on the now tepid cup of water. The blankets were still pulled up to his neck, his fingers barely visible over the edge, tipping the cup to his lips. His eyes were closed, almost savouring the liquid as he would his fine wines.

His eyes flashed open, deep green slightly glassy, but so much more aware and I couldn't help but smile. It didn't matter what had happened between us before. Fenris was doing better, was going to thrive, and that was all that really mattered in the end.

“Why are you here?”

Okay, maybe not. Jesus, does he ever sound pissed. I held up the book still lying in my lap. “Reading lesson.”

He grunted and struggled to put the cup back on the table. When it nearly slipped from his grasp I scooped it up and set it gently. The elf scowled, whether at me or the cup I wasn't sure. “I did not expect you to continue,” he stated softly.

“I know, but I thought I would at least give you the choice.”

This threw him. His eyes widened and he opened his mouth momentarily in shock. “My choice?”

I smiled and lifted my fingers to brush across his cheek. He no longer felt quite as warm, much to my relief. “Yes, Fenris. Your choice. Your choice whether or not to continue your lessons. Your choice whether or not you wish to remain here or come back to Hawke's with me. Your choice whether or not to...see me. Always your choice.”

He stared at me, flabbergasted as I smiled at him. “No...no one has ever given me a choice before.”

“Oh, you've chosen many times, Fenris. I just don't think you realized it. You chose to come to Kirkwall as you ran. You chose to stay with Hawke, even though your perceived debt to him has been paid a thousand times over. You choose whether or not to go to the Hanged Man on Wicked Grace night. You chose...well, we both know what you chose.”

We sat quietly, listening to the fire crackle in the hearth, the soft patter of snowfall against the window, against the floor, our own heartbeats. Suddenly, Fenris began struggling with the myriad of blankets heaped upon his torso, swearing under his breath as he did.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to help, though more likely making it more difficult for him to escape his woollen bondage.

“I am making a choice. I will accompany you to Hawke's and stay there until this place might become habitable again.” he grumbled. “P-please help me with a pack?”

I couldn't help but smile. Here he was, sweating and weak, fumbling with blankets unable to pack his own bag, but he was consciously making his first real freedom.

My heart swelled with pride.

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