It was pouring rain, more rain than Fenris was sure he had ever seen in his lifetime. The rain had started at some point the previous week and hadn’t stopped; if anything it had gotten worse. His armor was still by the dying remains of the fire, attempting to completely dry from earlier that day when Hawke had dragged him out.
A simple job, Fenris still scoffed remembering the rouge’s words when she asked him to come along. Killing some monsters infesting one of the old mines turned into killing some drakes and a mature dragon. He wasn’t sure if Payton Hawke was clueless enough that she let them run into such creatures or if she knew and enjoyed the shock and horror that crossed their faces when they found the animal. They had been lucky. The rain had upped their odds against the reptile drastically seeing as the fire-breathing monster did not like the wet.
As the days pressed on and she continued asking him for his blade against beasts when that Guard friend of hers was unavailable, he was beginning to wonder if offering his assistance in her ventures had been a mistake, she had a habit of not fully thinking things through.
The sound of someone knocking on the door of the mansion caused Fenris to jerk from his thoughts, sitting up in alarm. His hand stole across the space, wrapping around the hilt of his greatsword. Could Danarius have traveled that swiftly? He had only been in Kirkwall a fortnight; could news of his presence have gotten to Danarius quickly enough that the man returned to Kirkwall?
Rolling to his feet, the elf spared a glance at his armor, knowing it would take far too long to put on. He cursed himself silently; he hadn’t expected to be attacked so soon. For a moment Fenris wondered about running, sneaking out onto the roof and fleeing the way he had planned the first night he stayed. But he planned that with the idea that he would be armored, an armed elf dressed in nothing but a cloth tunic and leather leggings was a target.
The knocking had continued.
Slipping down the stairs, weapon at the ready, he snuck toward the window, hoping he could catch a glimpse of whoever was there. As he got closer to the door, Fenris heard a string of rather imaginative curse words in a familiar tone of voice.
True enough he could see her through the filthy window, looking at the path back to Hightown. He frowned before opening the door, keeping a secure hold on his weapon. If she was here to take him out in this rain at night she better have a damned good reason. When the door swung open Fenris found a smile tug on the corner of his lips. In the few seconds he had taken him to see her, she had given up waiting for him to answer and was currently kneeling, lockpicks in hand, posed to pick the lock on his door.
Arching his brow he stared down at her. “Hawke,” Fenris greeted.
Payton looked up at him and straightened. “You are home,” she hesitated. “Can I come in?” Her hands motioned to the foyer.
Blinking, Fenris stepped aside, flinching when she accidently touched him as she brushed by. Closing the door he turned to face her.
She was drenched. It looked as though she went for a swim and decided to bring half the lake back with her. Her braided hair had strands that seemed to have escaped the hold, sticking to her face and neck. Even in the dim light that shone through the windows he could see water droplets glisten on her eyelashes, framing the sharp blue eyes.
“What are you doing here, Hawke?” The words were far more clipped than he had intended. She didn’t seem to be offended by it, however, she simply ignored it, like every other time when Fenris glowered or complained about a decision she made.
For the first time since he met this irritatingly intriguing woman, she hesitated. “Well,” Payton grimaced, fingering the straps of her backpack. “I kind of moved out of Gamlen’s shack for a while,” Flashing him a grin that Fenris was soon coming to recognize as the one she showed people when she was going to ask them for something, Hawke glanced toward the door leading to the main room. “Can I explain near the fire or something?”
He started to say no, wanting nothing more than to send the rogue on her way but she batted her eyes at him, giving him such a pouting look that he sighed and then nodded. Gesturing for her to lead, Fenris was rewarded by a genuine grin.
Her eyes lingered for a moment on the armor in front of the fireplace, flickering to his body and then back, a faint but shy looking smile tugging on her lips. Plopping down without preamble, Payton abandoned her backpack, scooting as close to the dying fire as she could.
“Here,” Fenris managed to snap from his stupor, realizing that the embers probably provided her little heat. He scooped some of the remains of the cabinet he had broken a few days ago and placed the pieces in the fireplace.
“You’re burning furniture?’
Part of him felt affronted at her tone, feeling as though she was slighting the fact he had little money to spend on firewood. Studiously ignoring her question, he reached for the book he last used to encourage the flames. Tearing a page out of it, he started to crumble the paper when he heard her cry out in an angry tone he had only heard her use in battle.
“HEY!” The book was wrenched from his grasp, the page tugged from his hand. “How could you!” Payton looked as though he had kicked her mabari. “Burning a book,” she said it as though he had committed a great crime.
Books were just another piece of furniture left by the previous owner. His face twisted into a scowl, readying to bark out a reply when he saw the look on her face. Her fingertips were tracing the letters that pressed into the leather on the cover with reverence.
Understanding came across him a moment later. Hawke was an educated woman who had to abandon her life when the Blight came; when she left Ferelden she only had her family and the clothes on her back. Books to her seemed to give her fond memories, giving her eyes a sad longing look to them.
A feeling of inferiority swept across him as Fenris looked at her. What could possibly be housed in books to cause such respect? Bowing his head, Fenris looked away, trying to hide his expression.
“Sorry,” she offered quietly. “I just,” Hawke let out sigh, the book dropping to her lap. “I’ve had a bad day,” Payton looked to the side, gazing at the wood as it smoldered, the embers trying to catch it on fire.
Sitting back, Fenris settled in, unsure if he should sit on the chair he usually occupied when she visited or if he should say on the floor beside her. The silence between them was not as awkward as he thought it could be. She was staring at the fireplace, a dark look crossing her face, her fingers still tracing the lettering.
“You mentioned,” Fenris found himself talking unexpectedly. Payton looked at him, setting the book and the page aside so she could bring her knees up to her chest. “That you moved out of your uncle’s house,”
If anything the look on her face got heavier, her arms tightening their hold on her legs. For the first time since he met her, she seemed unusually small and vulnerable. “Yeah,” Hawke bit her lip. “It was a little…sudden,” the word was laced with bitterness.
“And you came here because?”
At first it seemed like she wasn’t going to answer, her eyes turning back to the flickering flames of the fireplace. “To ask a favor,” she finally said. “Can I,” Payton hesitated, her eyes found his and he was surprised to see the fear in them. “Stay here for a little while?”
Fenris blinked, his mind turning rapidly with questions. “Why here?” was the first query he settled on. “Why not with the guard you are friends with? Why don’t you go to that elven blood mage girl or to the abomination?”
“Aveline sleeps in the barracks, she won’t get her own lodging until she finishes training for Captain,” Payton responded softly. “Merrill lives too close to,” An unmistakably hard look entered her eye. “My family,” Fenris frowned, wondering the cause of such an angry look. “Anders would never let me stay there, he’d turn me over to my brother before I could even dry off. It was here or the Chantry,” she reasoned. “Not much of a choice to honest,”
He didn’t know why her words put him off so much. It wasn’t as though he ever invited anyone over. Fenris had purposefully kept to himself as much as possible, only visiting the Hanged Man when the dwarf or Hawke harangued him into going. They were the only two people who ever sought out his company beyond the jobs, invading his home to drag him out to drink or play Wicked Grace with the group. Occasionally Hawke would walk him back and they would share a bottle of wine and talk but that had only happened a few times.
Suddenly her flustered voice broke through his thoughts. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, I’ll just go.” Payton was shifting, reaching for her pack.
Fenris looked at her and then something on her pale white leg caught his attention. The brown leather skirt of her armor rode up when she moved, revealing something that stilled his blood. “Hawke,” he growled, his mind racing at how she could have gotten the bruises forming on her leg that looked suspiciously like finger marks.
Payton glanced at him and then followed his gaze. Her cheeks flushed and she covered the bruises with her hand. She started to get up, obviously intending to leave but Fenris couldn’t help but stop her. He had seen bruises like that before all too often while he was a slave. Something in him felt furious, how dare someone attack Hawke like that.
“It’s nothing,” she tried to pull away from him but he held her fast. With a huff, Payton sat back down, pushing the wet strands of hair out of her eyes. “Would you believe I ran into the edge of a blunted table?” She paused as though realizing there was more than one mark. “Multiple times?”
He said nothing, holding her eyes with a look of steel. While Fenris had yet to determine how good of a liar the rogue was, it was painfully clear that she wasn’t even trying to deceive him; almost as though she had conceded that she had to tell him.
“Gamlen came home a little drunker than usual,” Her head was bowed, words soft. “It’s nothing, Fenris.”
Without meaning to his marks flickered, something in his gut turning. Would family really do such a horrid thing? He wanted nothing more than to march to Lowtown and kill Gamlen for daring to touch her like that. Payton had moved again, readying to leave, really believing that he would throw her out just like that.
“The next room.” Fenris blurted a little too sharply and a bit too fast. She stilled. “It has a bed and a fireplace if I remember correctly,” Hawke looked at him with an unreadable expression on her normally animated face. “Stay as long as you need,”
Her eyes shut, shoulders sagging. The relief that flooded her face caused a warm feeling to spread through him. “I’ll just go there now,” Payton said choppily. “Get out of your way,” The rogue was on her feet and by the door before Fenris could react, reminding him how quickly she could move. She paused, looking back. “Thank you, Fenris.”
Slipping into the room he had offered her, Payton dropped her pack to the floor and leaned against the wall. Closing her eyes she tilted her head back, thanking the Maker that Fenris let her stay. She really hated the Chantry and going back to the shack was not an option, not tonight.
Flexing her hands into a fist, Payton couldn’t help but wince. Unbuckling the straps, she eased the bracer off, dropping it and her glove aside onto a dusty table. A grimace passed her face when she saw the bruise that was forming on the minor swelled joint. Her mind flashed to earlier that night, her struggle, how her wrist had slammed against the post of the bed, aggravating the injury she had obtained earlier that day fighting the stupid dragon.
Giving her head a firm shake, she turned to the room. A bed or more specifically a mattress was in the corner of the room leaning against the wall. It was clear that this room once was a guest room of some sort but most of the furnishing had been striped. Hawke vaguely wondered if he had burned them or sold them but brushed the thought away.
Payton walked toward the mattress, deciding the first thing to make the room livable was to put the bed on the ground and drag it closer to the fireplace so she could stay warm. It was heavier than she thought as she tugged it. Using the wall as support she inched it along, primarily using only one hand as the other gave an angry throb of pain each time she tried to use it.
Halfway down the wall the mattress started tilting the other way. “No,” she squeaked, trying to stop it from toppling over. A short burst of agony from her wrist caused her to reflexively drop the mattress. “Ow,” Payton hissed, leaping back before the mattress hit the floor with a thud.
“You could have asked for help.” The deep brogue caused goosebumps to run down her arms but the words made her to shoot him a petulant glare.
Clutching the aching arm to her chest, she counted backward from three, trying to push the pain away. Fenris walked toward her; setting the wood he carried by the grate of the fireplace. He was staring at her again. Payton tried to ignore it, releasing her hand and making to grab the mattress to pull it on the floor.
His hand suddenly tangled with hers, lifting the injured wrist up so he could see it better. She wasn’t sure if the blush that spread on her face was from embarrassment over the sprained joint or because she liked him touching her.
For a moment he merely looked at it, a multitude of emotions flashing across his face, the primary one being anger before his eyes settled on looking at her in the eye. “Why haven’t you reported him to Aveline?”
Her own bubble of anger and frustration mixed with shame colored her. “Nothing happened,” Payton insisted.
The arch of his brow almost amused her, as though he was saying in one look ‘pull the other one, it has bells.’
Sighing she bowed her head. “Really, I stopped him before he could do anything,” Stopped him seemed somewhat of an understatement as she had nearly taken a few of his fingers off when she managed to get hold one of her knives.
Fenris peered at her in that intense way he looked at everything, as though he was trying to get a read on her, ascertain if she was telling the truth or if he trusted her word enough to believe her. It was almost endearing.
Suddenly, as though he just realized he was touching her, Fenris released her hand. His own head bowed, hiding behind the strands of shock white hair. “Perhaps you should see about starting a fire, I will position the mattress where you wish.”
Hawke blinked, surprised at his offer but thankful nonetheless. Stepping aside, she watched him move forward, unintentionally appreciating the way his lack of armor accented his muscular physique. Sharply shaking her head, Payton quickly turned to the fireplace, pleased to see it was cleaned out and ready.
“If you could just pull it a few feet from the fireplace that’d be fine,” she asked kneeling down to put the kindling in. Taking the dusty flint, it took Payton a few tries to get the spark to catch.
Wordlessly he positioned the bed with an ease that she envied. Like Carver he was undoubtedly stronger than she and, while she had struggled with the mattress, he was able to tug it into place with a few sharp yanks.
“I shall see if I can find a blanket,” Fenris said heading toward the door and disappearing before she had a chance to thank him.
Blowing a strand of hair out of her eye, Payton turned to her bag, removing her other bracer and glove as she went. She was more than relieved to see the items inside had remained dry; staying in soaking wet armor for hours was not comfortable. Sitting down on an unadorned chair, she worked at the buckles and laces of her boots. She had managed to remove one of the knee-high shoes by the time Fenris reappeared.
He hesitated in the doorway and Payton was instantly aware that she was flashing him a rather long stretch of her leg. Normally she would take it in stride, traveling with men as well as fighting to be one of them had dulled her modesty but so soon after what Gamlen tried to do she found a pulse of fear run through her.
As though somehow sensing her discomfort, Fenris moved, tearing his eyes away from her and walking forward, the blanket held out almost as an offering. “This is all I could locate,” he said formally.
Payton took the blanket with a grateful smile. “I wouldn’t say no to some of that wine you have,” she tried to ask without asking.
There was a spark of amusement in his mossy green eyes and he gave her a small smile that caused warmth to spread through her gut. He gave a sharp nod and swept out. Payton closed her eyes, trying to ignore how much she liked seeing that smile on his face.
With a firm shake of her head, she removed her other boot, placing both near the hearth. Shutting the door, Payton quickly discarded her armor, laying the pieces on the grate or stone near the fire. The linen pants felt somewhat odd if she was to be honest; so often she was in her leather armor that cloth was a nice but strange change. Similarly the white long sleeve tunic was pleasantly dry and airy on her skin.
She opened the door and offered Fenris a smile as he came up the stairs carrying a few bottles in his hands. Payton came to his aid, taking two of the bottles from him and following him to his room. Like before, she made herself comfortable on the floor by the fire, forgoing her usual seat on the bench.
Fenris watched her, an amused and slightly bewildered look on his face.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Payton said conspiratorially as she worked the cork out of one of the bottles. “I hate sitting on benches. Chairs I don’t mind,” the cork gave way with a soft pop. “But even then I prefer the floor,” she set the cork aside. “Easier to get up in a hurry,” Her mind flashed darkly to Gamlen. She had been sitting on the bed making notes in her journal about the plans for the Deep Roads when he had come in.
Fenris watched her take a long sip from the bottle. She swallowed and held it out for him. After placing the other bottles along the mantle, Fenris took the open bottle and sat down next to her, leaning his back against the chair he normally sat in. “I suppose the ability to get up in a hurry would depend how armored you are,”
Payton looked at him quizzically.
“I imagine your friend Aveline would find getting up from the floor in a hurry quite a feat,” Fenris offered the bottle back to her after drinking.
A soft giggle bubbled out from her lips. “True,” she agreed taking another swig. “She hates sitting on the floor even when she’s not in armor.” Letting out a full laugh, Payton grinned. “She got stuck once,” Wagging her eyebrows at Fenris, she admitted only to herself how much she loved the soft look that came across his face. “I kid you not,” she took a drink. “She sat down to talk to a kid on the docks just after we arrived in Kirkwall. When the kid ran off, she tried to get up but couldn’t. Her damned armor wouldn’t let her. Full armor, plate,” Payton made a face. “I hate plate armor,”
He accepted the bottle from her. “As a rogue plate armor would be impractical,”
“Ugh, can you imagine trying to sneak up on someone in plate armor?” Hawke smiled at the image in her head. “Terrible,” Fenris handed her the now half empty bottle. “What is this stuff?” she asked looking at the seal on the bottle for some indication of what was within before taking another drink. “It’s not bad,”
For the last couple times she had visited the two of them had experimented with trying the various wines the previous owner had left in the cellar. The wine from the Anderfels was not very good and, if she was being honest and comparing it to the others she had tasted, neither was the Ferelden wine.
“Antivan,” he responded when he looked at the seal.
“I don’t know how you can remember all the different seals,” Payton said shaking her head. “Dwarves, elves, Ferelden, Orlesian, too many symbols to keep track of,” She happily finished the bottle, only slightly ashamed at how quickly they went through it. The buzz in the back of her mind and warmth spreading from her stomach out was pleasant though.
Sensing she wanted more, Fenris handed her another bottle. “Orlesian,” he answered before she could even ask.
Fumbling with the cork, Payton wondered if the alcohol in the first bottle was getting to her more than she thought. Wordlessly he helped, handing her the open bottle and watching as she took a sip. This time she savored the taste, allowing it to flood her senses.
“Can wine be considered sweet?” she asked after swallowing. She was rewarded with his deep chuckle that sent a shiver down her spine.
“I’ve never heard wine described like that,” he admitted.
Payton watched him drink from the bottle. “Orlesian wine is strange,” she decided after her second sip. She took another drink before setting the bottle aside. “The texture of it is so,” Quirking her lips she thought for a moment. “Smooth, velvety,”
“I’m sure the Orlesians would enjoy the compliment but tell you that unless it tastes of despair it is worthless,”
She made a face, pulling her braid over her shoulder. “Are you serious? Who would want something that tastes of despair?” Payton tugged the blue-dyed leather strap that secured her hair out. “Isn’t despair an emotion? Can you taste an emotion?” Deftly unbraiding her hair, she rambled on. “Besides, if you can taste emotion wouldn’t you want to taste something better like, happiness or excitement?” She shook her head, enjoying the feel of her loose hair. “I mean I suppose I could understand a self-loathing taste, sometimes people really just drink to hate themselves but despair sound silly,”
Drinking a long sip, she smiled to herself as her brain continued the train of thought silently. Orlesians were weird. Payton paused when she started to take another drink. Fenris was staring at her. She blinked. He wasn’t staring at her he was staring at her hair. Understanding dawned a second later; he had never seen her hair in anything but the single braid that she often twisted up on itself; in fact most of her companions beside Aveline had never seen her hair down.
“I promise my hair won’t come alive and attack,” she mused, smiling to herself when she saw the tips of his ears turn pink. “Most people don’t realize how long it is since I always keep it up and away from my face,”
“I apologize for staring,”
Shrugging, Payton scooted away from him and then laid down, her hair haloing around her providing a damp but comfy cushion against the wooden floorboards. “I forget sometimes how few people in Kirkwall have seen me as anything but a mercenary. Growing up, mother loved trying to make me look like a proper girl, not that it succeeded,”
“Dresses,” she wrinkled her nose. “Skirts, ribbons, she tried it all. Took her until I was ten to realize that it didn’t matter how she dressed me up, I was still going out to play with swords anyway.”
Fenris laughed. “I have a hard time imaging you in such clothing, Hawke.”
Rising up on her elbows she looked at him. “I can be girly if I have to be,” Goosebumps ran down her arms when his green eyes danced over her with mirth. “What; don’t believe me?” Payton shot him a playful pout taking the bottle and drinking. “Thank you for the libations, good ser. It was so kind of thee to take me in, be a dear and remove the dead body from the foyer, it brings down the atmosphere so.” She was unable to hold the snotty enunciation when the look of incredulous disbelief crossed Fenris’ face. Payton laughed, falling back down and staring at the ceiling.
“That accent was ridiculous,”
Giggling, she enjoyed the warm giddy feeling that was spreading through her thanks to the wine. “Thank you, thank you,” she mocked. With a heavy sigh, her jollity bled away. “I’m just not the daughter mother wanted. Bethany was closer. She enjoyed the dresses and she was gentile, made me look like a blundering oaf,” Payton bit her lip. “Sometimes I wonder if mother wished I died instead of Bethany.” Huffing, she sat up and took the bottle. “I know Carver does,” she muttered.
His brow was furrowed at her and she wondered if he would say what he was obviously thinking. The first couple of visits she had made, he would sit looking at her the way he was now but refused to speak unless she dragged it out of him; remnants, she supposed, from the years he spent as a slave.
“From what I’ve seen,” Fenris said finally. “Your brother cares for you a great deal,”
“In his own way, I guess. He’d be much happier if I wasn’t around.” She took a long swig, barely tasting the wine before swallowing. “That way he could shine outside my shadow,” Payton bit. “Apparently he gets lost in it,” Her mind absurdly pictured Carver literally getting lost in her shadow. Giving her head a shake, she moaned. “I think I drank too fast,”
Fenris eyed the nearly empty bottle in her hand and the one she had downed before that but wisely said nothing. Rubbing her head with her hand, Payton stretched, idly wondering how the wine could have affected her so quickly.
“I think I should go to bed before I pass out.” She pushed herself up, wincing when she applied too much pressure to her wrist. Payton teetered before steadying herself. “Next time, drink slower.” Blinking she realized that Fenris was standing now, when did he stand up? “Thanks for the wine,” She winked at him. “And the room,”
He shifted uncomfortably.
“Good night, Fenris.” Payton whispered before staggering off to the bed he had helped her set up. Haphazardly wrapping herself in the blanket he found, she was asleep before she hit the mattress.