The mage just knew her face was as crimson as the rest of her body. “I’m sorry Alistair. Isabela told me she already saw you this morning, so I just assumed you were up on the main deck.”
“No need to apologize dear lady,” he teased. “I rather like the view.”
“Well,” she shot back. “As enamored as you are with the scenery, I suggest you avert your eyes, sera. Unless you prefer I do it for you.
He waved his hands in front of his chest with a laugh. “No, no. There’s no need for violence, especially against me. I’m quite harmless you know.”
Harmless, huh?” she questioned with a skeptical lift of her brow. “I somehow doubt that.” She suddenly came to the realization that he seemed to be in a rather good mood, especially considering where they were going, not to mention the hangover he must have had. “Are you drunk?” she asked.
“Of course not,” he assured her, turning his back. “I’ve only had two shots of rum for the hair of the mababri.”
“So, just a bit tipsy, then?” she asked as she hurriedly finished washing herself.
“Sweetheart, if two shots of rum got me tipsy, I wouldn’t have owed that dwarf so much money.”
She chuckled. “Well, you’re certainly quite chipper for someone who drank more than I did last night. Because I’m here to tell you, I woke up feeling like I was run down by a herd of wild brontos.”
“Actually, I didn’t drink as much as I usually do,” Alistair confessed. “I guess it helped to have such good company.”
Emily felt a fluttering in her stomach, a feeling she had many times over the previous evening, especially when Alistair smiled at her the way he did. “Is that so?” she asked pulling up her boots.
“I’m not sure how you felt about it, considering your only company was me, but I certainly enjoyed it.
“Well,” she jested. “I suppose you were tolerable. But just barely.”
Alistair placed his hand over his heart, feigning a wound. “Ouch. That really hurt. And here I was trying to pay you a compliment.”
“You can turn around now. If you wish,” Emily informed him, running a brush through her hair. “I’m all finished.”
The prince came around to face her and the smile he was wearing dropped. His mouth stood agape as he stared at her. She had chosen to wear a cropped, black leather bodice with a very low-cut décolleté neckline and cap sleeves that laced up the front, paired with a short black leather skirt modeled after the armored skirts of the Ferelden female Dalish and her knee-length black leather boots. Her long dark hair hung loosely down her back, and she was just getting ready to tie it up when she noticed his expression.
She gathered the lengths of her locks in her left hand. “Is something wrong?”
Emily released her grip, allowing her wavy tresses to fall down her left shoulder and over her chest. He crossed the room and stood in front of her, leaving only inches between them. Her skin grew hot as her mind reeled from his close proximity.
“What is it?” she questioned with a nervous laugh. “Did I forget to buckle something?”
Alistair shook his head, reached out his hand and ran the length of her hair through his fingers. His hazel eyes stared into hers with such intensity she forgot to breathe. The scent of fresh spiced rum lingered on his breath when he finally spoke.
“No. I was just wondering why you always tie your hair back.”
She swallowed past a knot in her throat. “It gets in the way during battle. Nothing worse than twirling your staff and getting your hair caught in it. Enemies tend to not take you seriously when you do things like that.”
“Well, I can see how that might be an issue.” He moved a step closer and bent down, his mouth just inches away from her right ear. “But,” he whispered. “I don’t see any enemies on this ship.”
When his soft lips grazed her lobe, Emily’s knees buckle causing her to fall into him. He caught her by the waist and used the opportunity to pull her closer. His hot breath warmed her already burning skin as he nuzzled the side of her face with his scruffy cheek.
“I just wanted to thank you for last night. I haven’t allowed myself to get that close to anyone in a very long time.” He backed away and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I guess I forgot myself again. I just…Being near you.” He exhaled slowly. “Let me try that again,” he said with a nervous grin. “I’m sorry for my behavior last night. We were both intoxicated and things went a bit farther than either of us probably intended for them to. The only things I know about you are what you told me last night and the rumors I’ve heard. I don’t even know if half those are true. Even after what I said last night, I’d still like to get to know you better, Hawke. As a friend. If that’s alright.”
Emily straightened her back and cleared her throat. She refused to let him see her disappointment. Her brow furrowed. To the void with disappointment. She was irritated. She had a lot of friends, but none of them ever behaved the way he did. Not even Anders.
At first, she considered ignoring Isabela’s advice, but he deserved her indifference. She took a few steps away from him and flashed her best nonchalant smile. “I could always use another friend, Alistair. And don’t worry about last night. I barely even remember anything after I lost control of my emotions. Speaking of which, I’d appreciate it if you never mention my little outburst to anyone. It’s rather embarrassing, actually.”
Alistair’s brow creased with wounded confusion. “Um. Sure. I can do that. I suppose.”
She gave his cheek a light peck. “Thanks. You’re the best. Now, if you don’t mind, I promised Fenris I’d meet him up top, and he’s probably wondering where I am by now. Maybe we can talk later?”
“Yeah, sounds good,” he agreed. “By the way, you really should wear your hair like that more often. It suits you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said then spun on the balls of her feet to exit the room.
When she was almost to the door, he called out to her. “Hey, before you go. I was wondering something.”
“Yes?” she asked from over her shoulder.
“I know that most of your friends call you Hawke, but would it be alright if I call you Emily?”
The mage pursed her lips and constricted her lids, feigning consideration of his request. After a few moments, she extended a casual shrug. “Sure. If you want to.”
The intensity in the prince’s hazel eyes took her breath away as he stared straight into the depths of her soul. “Alright. I guess I’ll talk to you later then. Emily.”
Fenris paced between the two railings at the stern of the ship. On a normal day, her delay would have evoked impatience, but, for once, he was happy to wait. After mulling over what he wanted to say a hundred times, the right words still failed him. He didn’t have Anders’ flair for flattery or poetry. Reciting romantic prose just wasn’t in him. While in the mountains, he and Hawke held hours long conversations many times, but the thought of revealing his true feelings left him completely at a loss.
When he approached Hawke earlier that morning, he intended to finally confess his love for her, but she told him she wanted to freshen up first. Was it possible she was doing it for his benefit? It was an encouraging proposition, but his nerve was failing him in the interim. The longer he waited, the more doubt crept in. He only hoped his behavior the previous evening gave her an inkling of his feelings for her. Perhaps she would know exactly what he wanted to say, and he wouldn’t be forced to make a grand speech. It would definitely make things a lot easier.
A glance to his left halted the elf in his tracks, and it was several moments before he remembered to breathe. Hawke was absolutely stunning in black leather with dark sable locks hanging loose around her shoulders. Fenris closed his eyes in a bid to will away the stirring in his groin. The conversation would be difficult enough without that added embarrassment.
His lids fluttered open when he felt her soft lips graze his cheek. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting so long. It took me forever to find anything to wear out of the clothes Isabela gave me. She and I have very different tastes.”
“I understand, amica,” he told her, praying she didn’t notice the bulge in his trousers. “You look beautiful, by the way.”
Her brow furrowed with bewilderment. “Um. Thank you.”
Fenris glanced down at his feet. Maker, what if he was wrong? She seemed confused by his compliment.
This is a bad idea.
His brain began pulling him into two different directions. Did his compliment catch her off guard because it was unusual for him to say such a thing, or did she truly have no idea of his true feelings for her? If she didn’t share his affections, he would look like a complete fool if he confessed his affection.
Her lips curved into an expectant smile. “You wanted to talk to me about something?”
No, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tell her. If she didn’t feel the same way, it might ruin their friendship and then he would lose her completely. He had to think of something to say.
“Yes.” He cleared his throat to buy more time. “I…I wanted to speak to you about your decision. About the Divine.”
Hawke shook her head with a morose frown. “Fenris, I told you last night that this is something I have to do.”
“I know,” the warrior agreed. “I was just wondering if you had a plan in place to get through the templars, Seekers and guards to see her. Such a thing will be no easy task.”
“Not yet, I’m afraid. Now that you mention it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Alistair and I to put our heads together and come up with something today.”
Jealousy stabbed at Fenris’s gut at the thought of Hawke and the prince spending time alone together. Why weren’t he and Isabela to be included in making those plans? In Kirkwall, Hawke never made preparations for an important mission without getting input from her companions. Typically, she wouldn’t even plan an unimportant enterprise without asking the opinion of those involved. Was she just trying to find an excuse to be alone with Alistair?
“Isn’t this is something that concerns us all?” he questioned. He tried to hide his annoyance but failed miserably.
“You’re right Fenris. I’m sorry. This is all just very stressful, and I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
He shrugged. “That is. Reasonable. I suppose.”
Several minutes passed in awkward silence before Hawke asked, “Was there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?”
There were a million things Fenris wanted to say to her, starting with an apology for being such a fool. Instead, he choked. His courage withered like a dying vine. “No.”
She knew he was lying. He could see it on her face. “Fenris, please just tell me what’s going on. You’ve been acting strange since we boarded the ship last night.”
“I am still just a bit out of sorts. After being ill for so long, it is difficult to get things back to normal.”
“Alright,” she sighed. “Just remember, if you do need to talk, I’m here for you.”
“Thank you, Hawke.”
She hesitated for a long moment, searching his eyes. Why couldn’t she see it? It would be so much easier that way.
“Well, if that’s it, I think I’m going to go down to the galley for some food. I know I missed breakfast, but maybe I can talk the cook into scrounging up something for me.” She arched a brow. “Would you care to join me?”
Fenris shook his head. “No thank you. I am not hungry at the moment.”
“Suit yourself,” she said then pivoted on her heel. After only two steps, she turned around to face him again. “Okay. I have to know something that’s been driving me absolutely mad for the past four years.”
The warrior was overcome with queasiness as bile rose in his throat. “What is that?”
He tried to make his words sound as casual as he could manage in his condition. It was time, but was he ready? He inhaled a deep breath awaiting her question. Was she was going to ask him why he really walked out on her that night? Why they never talked about it? Either way, the answer was the same. He was a fool. It was a mistake.
This is so much more difficult than I thought. But is it really? She already knows you are a fool. She just needs to hear you admit it.
She folded her arms over her chest and rested her weight on her right leg. “Why do you wear my hair tie around your wrist? I mean, I get it. You don’t want to talk about that night, but I just have to know. Is it some sort of trophy or your way of reminding me how it ended so I would stay away?”
How could she believe either of those things were true? He wasn’t quite sure of the answer himself, but neither of those explanations fit. He was at a loss. He stood there, staring into her brilliant green eyes, wanting so much to tell her what was in his heart but the words wouldn’t come.
Her chest and shoulders rose with a deep breath as she studied the boards beneath her feet. Was she angry? Hurt? It was so hard to tell. His question was answered when she finally met his gaze again.
“You know what?” she whispered, her face marred by pain and disappointment. “Never mind. I don’t think I really want to know.” She turned her back to him and, without so much as a glance in his direction, ended the conversation with, “I’ll talk to you later,” before she walked away.
Fenris wanted to reach out to her, go after her, but his feet were glued to the planks beneath them. Once again, his fear and stupid pride kept him from saying what he wanted her to hear. His chance was lost. He only hoped she would afford him another someday.
After Emily left the cargo hold, Alistair stood there for several minutes questioning his behavior. He intended to apologize to the mage for his wretched behavior and explain his reasons for turning her down. Although he accomplished one of those goals, it didn’t quite turn out the way he planned. He just couldn’t help himself. Seeing her naked definitely caught his attention, but not nearly as much as when he turned around to find her completely dressed and running a brush through her long hair. There was just something so beautiful and vulnerable about her in that moment.
Then, when she let her hair fall to one side, it was simply more than he could take. He had to be near her, to touch her. It took every ounce of his strength not to take her into his arms and become lost in her kisses again. He told himself that what he was feeling was just lust, but, deep down, he knew better. He felt it in his heart. The heart he considered dead for more than seven years began beating again the moment he kissed her. But how was it possible to experience such emotions over someone he knew less than a day?
Emily said she didn’t recall much about the previous evening, but he knew from experience she couldn’t have been that intoxicated. Had it meant so little to her? Maybe he was reading more into what happened between them than he should. At the same time, the look in her eyes just before she left him that morning was unmistakable. She tried to hide her feelings with a guise of indifference, but he saw through the facade rather easily. No, there was something there. He just wondered why she thought it necessary to lie to him.
His head was pounding and trying to figure everything out was only making it worse. Although he employed his usual cure for a hangover, it did little to ease his suffering that morning. Maybe it was time to join the living. The rum wasn’t helping anyway and he was tired of thinking. With a few final gulps, he finished off the bottle in his hand then made his way to the upper deck.
When he emerged from the hatchway, he spotted Emily at the back of the ship talking to the silver-haired elf, and his stomach lurched. Maker help him, he was actually jealous. But why? Why would he be jealous of her talking to a friend? A male friend? A male friend who obviously cared deeply for her?
Get it together, Alistair. This isn’t real. These feelings you’re having aren’t real. They can’t be.
“And how are you this morning?”
Alistair turned his head to find Isabela standing next to him wearing a sly grin. His gaze moved to the dark-haired mage standing at the back of the ship. He considered lying to the pirate, but he realized it wouldn’t do him a bit of good. Isabela’s stock and trade was chicanery, and she knew a lie when she smelled one.
“I’ve been better,” he confessed.
“After everything you drank last night, I can see why.”
The prince chuckled. “That was a slow night, trust me.”
“So, what’s with the long face then?” she pried. It was clear she was aware of exactly what was wrong, but for some reason, she wanted him to vocalize it. “Did you have some wild oats that needed to be sown and couldn’t find a field to plant them in?”
Alistair arched his brow. “Wow, that’s one void of an analogy.”
“It’s a talent,” she shrugged. “So is that the problem?”
His gaze drifted toward Emily again. “Not exactly. So what’s the deal with those two anyway? I asked Emily last night, and the only answer I got was ‘It’s complicated’.”
“Emily, huh?” the pirate smirked.
The prince exhaled an exasperated breath. “Yeah. Just answer the damned question.”
“Alright, but you have to swear you won’t say a word about it to Hawke. If you do, she’ll know I told you. She already has plenty enough reasons to be pissed at me, and I’m not in a hurry to give her more.”
He clapped a fist to his heart. “You have my word.”
She jerked her head toward the door to her cabin. “Why don’t we go somewhere a bit more private? That way, I don’t have to worry about Hawke catching us talking about her.”
Upon reaching the captain’s quarters, the pirate shut the door behind her then strode to a small cabinet in the corner. After pulling a bottle of wine and two mugs from the shelves, she pointed to a small round wooden table with two chairs.
“Have a seat, your Highness.” I take it you’ll be joining me for a drink, then?”
“Do you have to ask?” he replied as he sat.
Isabela gave a chuckle as she placed both mugs on the table and plunked the bottle down in the center before claiming the other chair. After emptying her cup and refilling it, she sat forward and placed her elbows on the table. With her hands clasped together, she rested her chin on her knuckles and stared down at his wrapped finger.
“Lucas told me he helped you wrap that last night. You ought to get Anion to heal it. He fixed up a couple of my crew this morning. From what I hear, he’s not bad.”
Alistair observed the broken digit. “I might have to do that later.” After another drink from his mug, he raised a brow. “Anyway, you were going to tell me about Emily and Fenris?”
The pirate gulped down what was left of her cup and heaved a sigh. “I guess I should start by telling you a little bit about Fenris. Before he met Hawke, he was a slave to a Tevinter magister. You know those markings all over his skin?”
Alistair set his mug down on the table. “I was wondering about those. At first, I thought they were just tattoos, but they’re raised.”
“It’s lyrium, embedded into his skin. His old master did it through some sort of ritual.”
“Wait,” the prince interrupted. “He has lyrium under his skin? For what purpose?”
The pirate arced her left brow. “Because it gives him some very unique skills. With those markings, he can actually reach into a man’s chest and crush his heart without leaving a hole. I’ve seen it firsthand a few times. It’s amazing.”
Alistair gave a low whistle. “Wow.”
“Anyway, this ritual caused Fenris to lose all his memories up until it happened, so he had no clue who he was before that. After years of serving the magister, he ran away, but his master wasn’t too keen on losing such a valuable slave. So, he sent hunters after Fenris. Chased him all over Thedas.
“When Fenris came to Kirkwall, Hawke took him under her protection. In the beginning we all thought they were going to kill each other. Fenris hated anything to do with magic, and since Hawke’s a mage, you can just imagine the kind of tension that caused. And it didn’t help that she was constantly breaking up arguments between Fenris and Anders. They were always at each other’s throats about magic.”
“Anders? You mean her fiancée’ that died?” he asked. “Was he a mage too?”
Isabela nodded. “Yes, Anders was a mage. A healer, actually. But he wasn’t just a mage, he decided to make it his personal mission to be the champion of mage’s rights.”
It suddenly dawned on Alistair who Anders was. “He was the one who blew up the Chantry, wasn’t he?”
The pirate answered with a morose nod. “Yes, that was Anders.”
“Did Emily have anything to do with that? Did she know what he had planned?”
“No, not that she was aware of anyhow,” she answered. “She knew he was up to something, but he wouldn’t tell her what. That was a really bad time for Hawke. Anders had all but disappeared from her life for those last five or six months. Even when he was there physically, he wasn’t really there. She was devastated when he moved out, but for anyone who didn’t know her like we did, they would’ve never realized it. I don’t know how Hawke kept it all together, but she managed just like she always does.”
Although he was curious about Anders, the healer was dead. At that moment, the presence of the elf concerned Alistair more. He had to get Isabela back on track.
“So, what about Fenris?”
“Well, for three years, Hawke and Anders went back and forth. You could tell they cared about each other, but he kept pushing her away because of his…circumstances.”
“Circumstances?” the prince asked. He had to admit, her words piqued his curiosity a bit.
Isabela waggled her head. “No, I won’t tell you about that. I’m sure that, sooner or later, you’ll find out, even if Hawke doesn’t tell you, but I won’t be the one to reveal it. I don’t want to tell you anything that might make you think badly of her, and I’m afraid that might. She needs the chance to explain all of that to you herself.”
Alistair couldn’t help but wonder how he could be upset with Emily for something Anders did. For the moment, however, he decided to put it out of his mind. Isabela didn’t want to tell him, and he wasn’t sure he was quite ready to find out.
“As I was saying,” she continued. “While Hawke was getting more and more frustrated with Anders’ rejection, something began to change in her relationship with Fenris. They started arguing less and talking more. They still had their differences, of course, and Fenris was as broody as ever, but you could tell they were starting to get along better. Fenris still hated anything to do with magic, but he began looking past her gift.
“Then, one night, he and Hawke ended up sleeping together. Hawke told me that she let him know she was a virgin before anything happened, and she said he was really gentle about the whole thing, but she made a virgin mistake. She told him she loved him. She said when she woke up in the middle of the night, he was completely dressed and trying to get out the door.”
Alistair cringed. “Ouch. Did he say anything?”
The pirate’s brows knitted together in a rueful expression. “Yeah, he told her it was a mistake.”
Alistair blinked against the tears stinging his eyes. It was a good thing Fenris wasn’t anywhere near him because he would have cold clocked that stupid elf. He couldn’t even imagine how Emily must have felt the night that happened.
“And she still considers that asshole a friend?”
The pirate’s brown eyes were glistening when she lifted her shoulder with a shrug. “That’s just how Hawke is. I’ve never met anyone like her. Half of us betrayed her in one way or another, including me, but she never hesitated to forgive us.”
“I just don’t understand that,” Alistair admitted. “How could anyone look past something like that?”
Isabela sighed. “Hawke’s been through a lot and she’s lost a lot. She watched every member of her family die within just a few years. I think that may be why she holds onto her friends so tightly.”
The only member of his family that Alistair ever met was his half-sister Goldanna, and she was nothing but a money grubbing bitch. He never even met his brother Cailan. He had seen the king when he was at Ostagar, but they never actually spoke. But to know your family and lose them all. He was beginning to question why Emily didn’t drink more.
“After Fenris walked out on her that night,” the pirate continued. “Hawke was completely miserable. I’d never seen her like that. In typical Hawke fashion, she tried to pretend everything was normal, but we all knew there was something wrong, and Fenris just disappeared for a good week, maybe more. It was probably for the best because when I finally got the truth out of her, I would’ve gutted the bastard myself if he’d been around.
“So I did the next best thing. I told Anders. It worked too because it finally gave him the kick in the ass he needed to quit jerking her around and just go for it. And he did it right. He told her he loved her, and he couldn’t live without her for another moment. He moved in a few days later and spent the next three and a half years making her happier than I’d ever seen her. They were really good for each other. At least for a while.”
Isabela went silent, leaving Alistair to process all the information she gave him about Emily and how ashamed he was for how he mishandled his own heartbreak. For seven years, he wallowed in self-pity and hadn’t endured half of what she had experienced. Yet, she somehow managed to pick herself up and keep going. That realization cemented his belief that he wasn’t good enough for her and never could be, but, at the same time, it also made him care for and respect her more.
“And where did that leave Fenris?” the prince asked.
“Fenris never apologized to Hawke for what he did. As far as I know, they’ve never even talked about it. He just pretended like none of it ever happened, but he wasn’t the same after that. You could see it written all over his face. For fuck’s sake, you still can. He loves her, but he’s never told her. And even though Hawke forgave him, I don’t think she’ll ever be able to trust him with her heart again.”
Before Alistair could say another word, the door to Isabela’s cabin burst open and the large deckhand who found him in the hold was standing before them. “Captain!” he shouted. “Cortes says he needs you on deck right away. We’re about to be overtaken by the mother of all storms.”
Emily knew what Fenris wanted to talk about when he asked to speak to her that morning. Given his behavior the previous evening, she was almost certain he wanted to address the night they spent together all those years ago, perhaps even confess feelings for her that ran deeper than friendship. That notion finally forced the mage to look deep within her heart to sort out her own feelings.
Fenris became her rock following Anders’ death. He would do anything to protect her and keep her safe, even up to following her into the Void if need be. On top of that, he was the only one alive who knew more about her than Isabela, and she was closer to him than she was to anyone else. She also couldn’t deny that she was still physically attracted to the elf.
On the other hand, he was stubborn, prone to violent and sudden mood swings, and hated magic. Worst of all, he was a complete coward when it came to dealing with his own emotions. Emily feared, if she gave him another chance, he would run again when his feelings became too overwhelming. If he did, she wasn’t sure she would be able to forgive him a second time. Even if she could, things would never be the same between them again.
Then, there was Alistair. The prince stirred emotions in her she’d never felt before. As much as she had loved and adored Anders, she had to admit, there was a chemistry between her and Alistair she never experienced with anyone else. At the same time, the prince made it abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship with the occasional benefit. Emily was more than willing to be Alistair’s friend, but it wasn’t in her to carry on a casual sexual relationship. She knew it would always be more to her than him, and that would eventually break her heart.
As she made her way up the ladder to exit onto the main deck, she made a decision. If Fenris got up the nerve to finally apologize and explain himself, if he actually told her how he really felt, she would put her fears aside and give him another chance.
Unfortunately, their conversation went exactly the way she expected. He apologized for his behavior, blaming his actions on his previous illness. Maybe it was the truth, maybe she read more into it than what was really there. Either way, she was tired of playing games. If he wouldn’t tell her on his own, she intended to drag the truth out of him. When she asked him about the ribbon he kept tied around his wrist, she expected him to deny the harsh reasons she gave. Instead, he said absolutely nothing, leaving her to question if she was closer to the truth than she ever wanted to believe.
As she walked away from him, Emily closed her heart to that chapter of her life forever. His silence was all the response she needed to realize there was no chance for a romantic relationship between them. As much as it saddened her, she needed more than he would ever be capable of giving her.