Consciousness returned just as the Chantry bells began chiming. Ten bells, Fenris counted, blinking away the sleep. Staring up the ceiling he stretched, a frown on his face. He felt rested. In fact, he thought sitting up, this had be the longest he had slept in ages.
The fire in his hearth was dying, the wood burned to ash. Standing, Fenris grimaced as his foot hit the empty bottles of wine he had discarded. His alcohol tolerance was still quite high but had he really managed to get so drunk he slept straight through the night? The thought seemed silly. He gotten wasted before and still had the restless nights of sleep, plagued by nightmares or light sleep that caused him to wake up at the slightest noise.
Walking over the water basin, he poured fresh water in, splashing it on his face. The storm raged on outside, sounding worse than ever. Turning back to his room, Fenris gathered the empty bottles, lining them along the bookcase he had put all the other bottles he and Hawke had finished. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.
Kneeling in front of the fireplace, Fenris piled wood onto the embers. Automatically he reached for one of the books he had piled off to the side. He was readying to tear a page when he stopped, his mind flashing to Hawke’s face when he tried to burn a page from a book. A smile unintentionally teased his lips. He glanced at the book and then at the fireplace. Unsure why he was doing so, Fenris set the book aside, taking up the flint and steel instead. Sparks flew and smoldered, slowly catching the wood pieces.
Warm flowed from the flames, bathing the room in light. Standing, Fenris walked over to the food cabinet. He wondered as he fetched what would be the meager but filling fare if Hawke was still abed. Setting the food on the table he left the room, intent on inviting her to share the meal.
Fenris stopped in his tracks just outside her room. The door was wide open and she was missing. At first he felt a thrum of hurt, his mind jumping to the conclusion that she had left the estate before he woke. Then he spotted her armor draped over the chair in the room, her daggers crisscrossed on the table, her bag by the desk.
His brow furrowed as he turned around. Where could she be? Returning to his room, Fenris sat down, staring at the hallway pensively. Minutes ticked by and she didn’t appear. Impatience won out and he had to get up again, an unusual feeling of worry brewing in him.
Pacing by the fireplace, his mind raced. Did she go on a walk in the manor and get turned around? Hawke’s sense of direction not bad, he reasoned, but could she have gotten lost? Or worse, in the clearing of the estate did they miss a room and she stumble across it unarmed? Was she lying injured somewhere, a shade moving in for the kill? What if slavers had come and kidnapped her? Fenris was amazed at the number of possibilities his imagination came up with.
It was irrational, he knew but he couldn’t help the pulsing fear that was going through him. All the things that Hawke could have gotten into, all the ways she could have stumbled into trouble…It unnerved him how much the idea of Hawke being hurt bothered him.
Sweeping his sword onto his back, Fenris stormed out of his room. He was sure it was nothing, he’d run into her and fumble for something to say to excuse his panic. She’d laugh with that soft little smile that she seemed to reserve only for him.
He stalled when he stood in the main room, eyes darting to each of the doorways wondering which direction she might have gone. Choosing one at random, Fenris began his search. Other than the thorough search of the place to make sure it was secure, he had little reason to explore and as he looked for Hawke he was coming to the conclusion that this house had far too many rooms that seemed to serve no purpose.
A room meant to be a library devoid of all but a few scattered books with a desk in the center; a parlor that he remembered Varric’s contacts buying furniture from, there was a grand dining room that still smelled of smoke where the abomination had missed his target and set the curtains on fire. He passed another sitting room followed by a door the gardens. Fenris stopped when he reached the servant’s stairs and rooms; tiny cubbies with stacked beds that were too rotted to even consider selling.
Skirting through the narrower passage designed for the servants, Fenris appeared in the kitchen. After a swift check in the buttery and the pantry, he continued his trek. Smaller dining room, a small greeting room, and he was in the foyer. He had made a circle of the lower floor and could not find her.
More determined than ever, Fenris took the stairs two at a time. The two rooms that were in use were the first after the landing; old guest rooms. Taking the hallway that twisted down the right, he spared a look in another ‘guest room’ before continuing. The master bedroom was just as deserted. It was at the end of the hall he noticed light shining under the last door before the servant’s stairs. As he approached he heard a faint off key melody.
Without thinking, Fenris opened the door and the sweet smell of scented soap wafted to him. The room was unlike all the others he had seen as it had been laid with intricate tiling even along the walls, though cracks marred many of the grey squares. In one corner of the room was a fireplace that seemed to be burning out the last of its wood, pot hanging over it in a curious manner, a bucket abandoned near it.
A mirror attached to a table was along the wall with a worn chair in front of it. He saw clothing folded neatly atop the surface. Near that was a decorative screen shielding part of the room from view. In the center of the room, however, was a large silver tub and it was there that the sound was coming from. Fenris froze, unable to comprehend the sight before him.
Hawke was in the bathtub, her back to the door, singing. Her long hair was wet making the dark brown strands appear black and twisted in a sloppy bun atop her head, secured with what looked like a decorative clip. His eyes trailed down her slender neck, tracing a path to her bareback until the tub blocked his view.
“Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but lady greensleeves,” she sang unabashedly.
Fenris’ heart quickened as he watched her rub a bar of soap along her arm that was stretching out. His eyes followed the hand as it moved up her neck and then dipped down her front, out of sight.
“I have been ready at your hand,” The soap bar was now skating along her other arm leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. “To grant whatever you would crave,” Something stirred in him as she moved the soap, inadvertently imaging his hand tracing her body in its stead. “I have both wagered life and land,” White bubbles were now covering her arms like sleeves as she rescrubbed the appendages. “Your love and good-will for to have,”
Her hand cupped the water and rubbed it down her arms and splashing it along her neck. A few drops of water trickled down her back tantalizingly.
“Greensleeves was all my joy,” Hawke hummed. “Greensleeves was my delight. Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but—oh shoot,” she stopped mid verse to the sound to something that made a soft plopping noise. Her hands dove into the tub searching for something in the water.
Heat rushed to his face and Fenris suddenly ducked his head, realizing how he had been spying. Turning sharply with the intent to leave before she noticed him there, Fenris was horrified at himself. How could he do such a thing? He managed to close the door most of the way but stilled when he heard her voice.
For a moment he hesitated, wanting nothing more than to shut the door and run back to his room, pretend like he hadn’t been caught watching her. Even as he thought it, Fenris put the shameful plan aside. It was bad enough observing her in such an intimate way but acting the coward, and after what Gamlen put her through, he refused. Keeping his head bowed, eyes on the ground, he pushed the door open again, allowing her to see him.
“What are you doing here?” The sound of water shifting made him flinch. “Is something wrong?” if possible the concern in her voice made his guilt worse.
Giving a weak shake of his head, Fenris did not what to say. He was embarrassed over his worry when she was ‘missing’; mortified that he spied on her, afraid of her reaction, unnerved at his; too many emotions for him to process at once.
“Are you all right?”
Without meaning to, Fenris looked up. She had turned around in the tub, a sheet pulled over her front for modesty. The tips of his ears burned as he realized he could see curve of her body outlined by the fabric.
His eyes shot to meet hers before lowering to the floor. “I apologize,” he whispered, flinching and hunching his shoulders.
Half of him expected her to shoot a spell at him like Hadriana or Danarius, make his markings burn for his audacity. But she wasn’t a mage and he had never seen her have the vindictiveness they had. Even so, he hated how afraid he was that she would be rightfully angry.
There was a tense silence after his words and he stood there, vacillating fearfully, unsure if he should stay or flee.
“Could you turn around?” Hawke finally spoke. “I’m a little,” she paused, the hints of humor tinting her voice. “Underdressed,”
“I…of course,” Fenris immediately turned his back to the room, fixing his gaze on the stone wall. He could hear her move behind him.
Water made a rushing sound as she must have stood. Her feet made soft padding sounds as she walked; the sound of material rustling. Suddenly he heard a squeak of alarm. On instinct he turned and in a split second lunged forward. Her foot had tangled in the tail of the sheet she was using as a towel and she had tripped.
Her hand unconsciously fisted around his shirt as he helped her stay balanced. Fenris forced himself to stare straight into her eyes, determined not to offend her any more. He could feel her body against his with the proximity. It terrified and enticed him; knowing that if not for the sheet, Hawke would be naked.
“You can let go of me now,” she gave him a smile. Unwillingly, Fenris relaxed his grip and took a step back. “Thank you for the rescue,” One of her hands was holding the sheet up, insuring it did not fall.
He watched her duck behind the screen. Abruptly he turned back around, taking a stance in the doorway again. He knew he should leave; walk away and wait for her in his room but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
Fenris was berating himself for his stupidity. How could he have gotten so worried over her absence? She was an adult and a strong woman, easily able to take care of herself. Then to spy on her! After what she had just gone through with Gamlen, how could he do that? Nothing could excuse that behavior.
“I’m decent,” she announced.
Taking it as an invitation to turn around, Fenris looked at her. She had come out from behind the screen, clothed in the same tan-gray pants as before his eyes were unintentionally drawn to her shirt. It had no sleeves and appeared more undergarment than actual covering, hanging to her waistline and the top dipping so he could see the swell of her breasts. The fabric was sticking to her skin slightly, curving with her figure.
Her hands were on her hair, removing the pin and shaking loose the strands. Unable to help himself, Fenris watched the locks fall. Hawke fluidly gathered the hair to one side and picked up a smaller towel, gently squeezing the excess water from the tresses, all the while staring at him.
“I’d ask again if anything was wrong,” she started speaking. “But with your lack of answer previously, I’ll assume not.” Fenris bowed his head, words caught in his throat. “Did you just wake up?”
Part of him almost wished she would go ahead and yell at him, the idle conversation was driving him mad. Realizing she was waiting for an answer, Fenris gave a clipped nod. Her eyes were on his sword and then his distinct lack of a chest plate.
“The only thing I can guess is that you either decided that being a pervert was a good idea, and if that’s the case I’ll have to hurt you,” Hawke’s tone was steely. “Or,” Her voice lightened. “You found me missing, thought I somehow got into danger wandering this huge house and came dashing to my rescue.” A wry smile was on her lips. “I’d like it to be the second, to be honest.”
Fenris did the only thing it seemed he could and nodded again.
“We cleared this estate,” Hawke said quietly. “There is no danger here,”
Something burned within him. How could she stand there acting as though what he did didn’t matter?
“Besides,” A soft smile was spreading on her lips. “I wouldn’t leave without telling you first.” She quirked her eyebrow at him; a playful spark returning to her eyes. “Maker help us if you thought I simply vanished. You might storm every bathing room in Kirkwall,”
He flinched; heat rising to his face as he finally connected what room this was.
“Well,” she shifted, tossing the towel over to the table. Her hands twisted the long damp locks of hair up and she secured it with the clip. “To end this incredibly awkward moment, I have to empty the tub,” Hawke gestured to the soapy water in the bath. “Unless you wish to help, I’ll be there in a little bit. I spotted some food holed up in the larder, did you know about it?”
His mind was taking far too long to process what she was saying.
“Some of it has spoiled,” she was walking over to the bucket near the dying fire. “But I wasn’t sure if you knew about it,”
Mutely Fenris shook his head. She skimmed the water in the tub, lifting the now full bucket up. Payton walked over to the lone window in the room and opened it. The sounds of the still raging storm echoed on the walls. He watched her peer out for a moment before lifting the bucket and dumping the water out.
Realizing he was still there watching her when she poured out a third bucket, Fenris jerked. Spinning around he walked away, leaving the door open as he half fled. A string of curses offered themselves up in his mind.
How could he have stood there, watching her? He rebuked himself. What sort of sordid demon had been conjured to force him to do such a thing? How could a demon of desire slip unnoticed into the manor to entice him thus? How dare she summon one! Did she do it to mock him? What sort of sick amusement did she glean from forcing such emotions on him?
Fenris had buckled his armor and he was pacing in front of the fireplace before it dawned on him. Hawke wasn’t a mage. There was no lyrium deposits around save for the ones burned into his flesh. She had no way of summoning a demon. Confusion mingled with fear ran through him.
Why had he reacted that way then? Why had he been unable to move, captivated at the sight of her flesh? What was the cause of the increase of his heart rate? The warm nerves spreading from his stomach? Why had he been so terrified at how she would respond? As a rogue she could hardly hurt him seriously; at best she could try and outmatch his speed to get the first attack in. Why, after only two weeks, did he care what she thought?
Turbulent thoughts raged in him. He had to get out of there. Fenris was running by the time he reached the front door. Rain poured down on him, drenching him before he had even reached the Chantry.
What was it about this woman that drew his attention? Why did he count on her for aide? Why did he put up with her antics? She had proven herself foolish more than once; mages freed, Templars deceived. An abomination traveled with her as a friend. The Dalish maleficar was allowed to live. Hawke drove him mad!
He would point out the foolhardy notion that either of the mages could behave, how idiotic it was to believe that they could remain controlled free from the circle. She would just smile at him. That infuriating smile that communicated with more than words!
Hawke claimed she understood; that she knew the hazards. What would she know of magic and the dangers it had? They would bicker back and forth for hours until it was time to part ways where she would give him a genuine smile and thank him; saying he had given her lots to think about. The rogue was thoughtless in her risks.
How could she understand? His thoughts spat bitterly. What experience did she have with mages? Had she never considered that every mage could turn into an abomination at any moment? Did she never see the evil they possessed?
Perhaps she had already been influenced by a demon. Fenris disliked the thought. It would explain her constant siding with mages; keeping mages free of the Circle would leave them easy prey.
What if she really was being controlled by a demon? It would have to be a demon of desire, his mind justified. How much of the woman that enraptured him was the demon? Did the Hawke he knew even exist?
“FENRIS!” the voice caused him to jerk, reaching for his weapon.
Spinning Fenris blinked, water dripping into his eyes. He spotted the dwarf leaning against the doorway of a Lowtown shop—Fenris looked around sharply. He had walked all the way to Lowtown?
Varric was eyeing him. “Decided to go for a swim?” he gestured to the heavy rainfall.
The feeling of being very wet came across Fenris as he realized he was drenched; his hair plastered to his forehead. He hadn’t even noticed.
“You look like you’re getting in some serious brooding time,” Varric sounded amused.
“I don’t brood,” Fenris objected.
The dwarf laughed. “Friend,” Varric straightened his stance. “If your brooding were any more impressive, women would swoon as you passed. They’d have broody babies in your honor,”
Fenris glared at him.
“What are you doing out in this weather, elf?” Varric grunted as he took a step into the rain, looking up the sky affronted when he became wet.
“What are you?” Fenris deflected.
“I happen to have a perfectly legitimate reason,” he responded cheerily. “But I’m not the one storming through the streets like someone kicked your puppy,”
He looked at the dwarf. Kicked his puppy?
“Walk with me, elf,” Varric directed.
Fenris glared at him, he hated being ordered what to do.
“I have another stop to make and I like the company,” he excused in a light tone.
Having nothing better to do, Fenris walked alongside him. His mind had slowed its violent flood of questions and thoughts. Now all he seemed to be able to think on was how Hawke could have engrained herself so quickly into his life.
“Carver was in the Hanged Man the other night, drunk off his ass.” The dwarf chatted about nonsense next to him.
He barely paid attention, his thoughts still circling Hawke.
“Wish you had been there, elf. It was beautiful.”
She was unlike any woman Fenris had ever met.
“He lost half his money during Wicked Grace because he was too busy talking,”
Her open honesty was unnerving and her sharp wit mingled with free opinions was almost pleasant.
“I think I learned more about Hawke’s past from him last night than I ever did from her,” Varric let out a laugh. “Should have tried it ages ago,”
She treated him like no one ever had before: like he mattered.
“He told this one story about Hawke and Bethany,”
Hawke treated him like she honestly cared about his thoughts.
“Apparently when they were younger, they got into this fight,”
The rogue treated him like a friend.
“Bethany got so mad she accidentally lit Hawke’s hair on fire,” Varric barked out chortling as though it was the funniest thing ever.
Fenris raised his brow at the dwarf before something hit him. “How does one accidentally light hair on fire?”
“With magic, of course,” Varric said off handedly. “Kids are never good at controlling their powers when they are angry. It’s why the Circles can find them,” He brushed off the explanation. “So anyway, Carver said that Hawke looked terrible, her hair was singed so badly that she looked bald. Apparently anytime someone mentioned it she would—“
“Magic?” Fenris repeated.
Varric paused and looked at him. “Bethany was a mage.”
The words repeated themselves in his mind.
“You didn’t know? Hawke’s father and sister were both mages. Girl’s got magic in her blood, let me tell you.” Varric whistled. “Whether she’s a mage or not, I’ve never seen someone fight like her.”
Fenris tuned the rest of Varric’s story out. Hawke was daughter and sister to a mage? Her voice echoed in his head, reminding him of the conversations he had had with her. She had commented knowing what it was like to always be waiting for an attack, understand how it felt to constantly be moving from place to place. Lothering, he remembered her confessing, had been the longest her family stayed in one place since the twins were born.
Like lightning his mind was connecting the dots, hearing her words in his head again; seeing where she alluded to knowing the dangers of magic. Her tight unreadable look the first time he had said ‘what does magic touch that it doesn’t spoil.’
“Elf, you have got to learn some manners. That was a very funny story I just told you,” Varric complained in his own amused way.
Fenris looked at him, suddenly feeling like he owed Hawke another apology.
The dwarf shook his head, stopping in front of a building that had the heavy smell of bread wafting from it. “I’m sure Michael wouldn’t mind you coming in to warm up,” Varric gestured him in.
Warmth caused goosebumps to race down Fenris’ arms as he stepped inside. Varric shut the door and greeted the baker loudly. Awkwardly, Fenris stood to the side, a puddle of water dripping at his feet while Varric talked to the man.
Hawke still plagued his thoughts. The bubble of shame had come back over him, his guilt poking at him once more. Spying on her while she bathed, the tips of his ears burned. She hadn’t seemed mad at him, even though she had every right to be. His worry, fear, that she would be angry was strange. Maybe this was what it was like to have a friend?
Suddenly Varric was in front of him, pushing a bag into his hand. “Go home, elf. Get out of this dreadful weather.”
Fenris looked at the leather sack confused.
“I don’t expect you’ve had fresh bread very often.” Varric offered as way of explanation. “Now get home and eat it before it cools off,”
Silently and automatically, Fenris turned to obey. It was foolish of him to have run out shortly after he had burst in on her because she had disappeared without a word. If she was angry with him, he only could hope it would pass. He liked her company, whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not.
Biting her lip, Payton looked up from her journal for the fifth time in the last five minutes. Her eyes hovered to the hallway outside the door, hoping that Fenris would come through the door now. She had been on her way to his room when she saw him burst out in full armor and ghost down the stairs. The look on his face was one of tortured contemplation.
Grimacing she lowered the book to her lap. When she saw the door trying to close while she was bathing her first reaction had been fear. Was there some danger that had happened in the time it had taken her to carry water up, heat it, and bathe? Was Fenris seeking her for aide against slavers that arrived while she was indisposed? Fighting starker with nothing but a small dagger she always kept on her person was not something she had wanted to do.
She remembered the look on his face when he gawked at her. He was mortified, embarrassed at his actions. Payton fingered the edge of the book pensively. The look on his face was fearful; his shoulders had been hunched like he expected to be hurt.
When he rescued her from falling because of that stupid sheet, she realized he was staring at her with a childlike fear, as though he didn’t quite understand what he was looking at. His awkward staring and jerky movements were almost endearing.
Obviously, by his absence, the invasion of her privacy bothered him much more than it seemed to be bothering her. Going from traveling with the army to the close quarters on the ship to Kirkwall and from the pitch tents in the Gallows to Gamlen’s hovel, Payton had long since grown used to someone barging in heedlessly; whether it be immature men trying to sneak a peek or her brother forgetting to knock.
The look on Fenris’ face had been far different from the boyish soldiers cawing loudly at her or the moaning blush Carver had as he quickly left. No one had ever looked at her like Fenris had; as though her body was something to be revered.
Payton knew she wasn’t the most feminine looking, her body was mostly lean muscle and compared to Isabela her bosom was nonexistent. Despite the fact he had intruded, she had felt her heart quicken when she saw him admiring her.
Chewing on her lower lip, she stared at the fire. When she woke in the morning she had thanked the Maker that Fenris was still sound asleep. His head and migrated closer to her, resting near her leg. Her hand was tangled in his hair, the white strands soft between her fingers. There had been a peaceful look on his face, the lines of pain or brooding thought that so often tugged on his face had been gone.
Sneaking out of the room and back to her own had been easier than she thought; though she did have to go back to fetch the firewood she had tried to take the night before. Far too antsy to write in her journal, Payton had wandered the house.
It was mostly as she remembered it, though more than a few pieces of furniture appeared to be missing. The only thing that surprised her was when she found food in the kitchen. Fenris kept his food in a cabinet in his room; she had just assumed that he had emptied the pantry of everything. Now she wondered if he kept his food there to have it close at hand in the event he would have to make a quick escape.
The amount of wine and ale in the buttery made her understand how he never seemed to run out. An alcove had been cut away in the room, making it into a mini room of itself. The walls were covered, floor to ceiling, with wine racks. Hundreds of bottles, some dusty, some wiped clean were neatly arranged. The wine they had drunk over the last two weeks seemed to have barely made a dent in the supply.
Along the back wall of this alcove was a glass case that had been broken. In it on one of the two shelves she had spotted bottles bearing a remarkable similarity to the bottle Fenris called Agreggio Pavali before smashing it against the wall on her first visit. The other bottles in the cabinet seemed very ornate and she had reasoned they were most likely the expensive showy wines the merchant had owned.
Finding the bathing room had been accidental. For the life of her, Payton couldn’t remember seeing it when they cleared out the mansion with Fenris. Most of the shades that had been left isolated themselves downstairs.
Coming across soap, really honest to goodness soap had excited her more than she wanted to admit. The last time she had a bath with soap was before her father died. It may have been foolish but she couldn’t help but bathe.
Her favorite scent when she was younger was mint that she would often press into soap bars. This soap was soft smelling, lilies, musk mixed with lavender and something she couldn’t quite place. It was sweet but pleasant, like lying in a meadow near some wild flowers.
Should she go and look for him, she wondered. He had been gone for what felt like ages though she was certain was probably closer to thirty minutes. Payton knew the elf could take care of himself and valued his independence, rebuking aid most of the time as though the offer was insulting. He equated self-sufficiency as freedom, she reasoned and she supposed to a certain extent it was.
Standing apart from people had probably kept him safe in the past; less chance of a person betraying him, Payton reckoned. It must be horrible having the threat that at any moment someone could swoop in and take away the freedom he fought so hard for. She longed for him to understand that no one in their group would let slavers take him. He had become a part of the very screwed up family of friends Payton had been piecing together.
The sound of someone clearing their throat pulled her from her thoughts. Fenris stood soaking wet in the doorway looking hesitant and very nervous. Payton felt a smile tug on her lips. He looked like a drowned cat, his hair plastered to his face and cheeks, his tapered ears showing through more than ever.
“Beautiful weather for a stroll, don’t you think?” she teased, thunder crashing perfectly on key to illustrate her point. He blinked sluggishly as though he didn’t understand the joke. Shaking her head, Payton stood, placing the book on the table as she went. “Come over to the fire, Fenris. You’re soaked to the bone,”
Picking up a blanket as she went she walked toward him, all too aware of how he flinched when she got close. Tentatively she touched his arm, watching his face twist into panic, clearly wanting to pull away but seemingly incapable to. Flinging the blanket over his shoulders, she took a step away from him; alarmed that she might have caused this timidity in him. Did he think she would hurt him?
Something unreadable passed his face as he looked at the blanket, uncertainty clear. Motioning toward the fireplace, Payton was relieved to see him obey. The last thing she wanted to see was Fenris come down ill. Odds were if he did, he would suffer it out rather than go to Anders for healing magic.
Absently she added more wood to the fireplace, trying to encourage the flames to give him more heat. He was standing, water dripping onto the floor, watching her with that strange gaze he always had.
“Sit, dry off,” she instructed ducking out of his room for her blanket.
When she had been out in the storm the rainwater had been frigid. Ferelden often had cold weather and storms so she was used to it but to the Free Marches this weather was dangerous; illness spreading due to the cold and wet. Pausing she grabbed the mug she had brought to her room with the kettle from the kitchen. There was no cider to heat or milk but a warm cup of water could do wonders.
Payton stilled in his doorway, arms full, a smile stealing across her face. He had removed his armor, each piece positioned neatly in front of the fireplace. He, surprisingly, was on the floor, his greatsword near him. The blanket was wrapped around his shoulders and he seemed to be staring at the flames emotionlessly.
“Here,” she said snapping out of her revere.
She tried not to notice when he flinched again as she put the second blanket on his shoulders. Working in silence, feeling his eyes follow her, she scooped water into the kettle and carefully positioned it on the rod hanging above the flames so that it would heat. Turning, hoping to find something else for her to do until he spoke she spotted a bag on the table that hadn’t been there before.
“What’s this?” a voice in the back of her mind that sounded remarkably like her mother, scolded her, saying it was none of her business. Pushing it aside, she picked up the bag and held it up for inspection.
“I ran into Varric,” he gave as way of explaining.
Opening the bag, the smell of bread was released into the room. Closing her eyes she inhaled. “Oh these smell divine,” Payton smiled when she opened her eyes, realizing Fenris was staring at her again. “Can we split a loaf?” she gave her best impression of puppy dog eyes which caused the corners of his mouth to turn up in a half smile. “You have no idea how good fresh bread can be,” she tried to entice him.
“So he said,”
Taking it as permission, Payton grinned and plopped on the floor in front of him. Taking the top loaf she reveled in the warmth it spread. Breaking it in half she immediately offered him the larger piece. His green eyes flickered from each piece, surprise barely hidden within their depths. Hesitantly, he took his half.
Pinching the bread between her fingers, Payton ripped off a piece and popped it into her mouth. Her eyes closed, rolling in the back of her head. Herb bread, Varric had given him garlic herb bread. It was heavenly. Pulling another piece off, she lost herself to the flavor for a moment. It had been nearly three years since she had last had fresh bread that wasn’t made from barley or rye. Flour was expensive and her family lacked the funds.
Half way through putting another piece in her mouth Payton froze. Fenris was watching her, his own bread untouched in his hand. He seemed fascinated. A blush burned across her cheeks, Maker if she had been making the moaning sounds she used to when eating fresh bread she would die of embarrassment right there.
“Good bread,” she said lightly.
“Indeed,” He was smiling.
Payton watched him move to eat. He, like her, pulled a piece off and took a bite. It was amazing to watch his face as he discovered the flavors. She couldn’t help but laugh when he yanked another piece off and ate it in quick succession. The meal, if a loaf of bread and dried meat she fetched from the table could be called a meal, was eaten in silence.
The water was heated in no time and she insisted he drink at least one cup. He indulged her, cupping the mug in his hands, seemingly trying to hide his enjoyment of the warmth it offered. The tension was rising between them when the food was finished, much to her chagrin. His shoulders had gone from relaxed to slowly hunching over, his eyebrows furrowing as he brooded.
“I’m not mad,” Payton said watching him jerk, his eyes looking at her with mistrust. “About earlier, I mean,” she knew she probably didn’t have to elaborate but she did anyway. “I know it was unintentional to walk in on me bathing,”
His head bowed, the white hair (which was now mostly dry) dipping into his eyes, shielding the mossy green orbs from view. After a long stretch of quiet he finally spoke. “I must confess hearing you sing was unexpected,”
She blinked. Moaning, she buried her face in her hands. “You heard me sing!” In the midst of worrying that something horrible had happened and realizing he had been watching her, the fact she was singing had completely escaped her. “Maker,” Playfully she tried to look threatening. “Don’t you dare tell anyone,”
Fenris arched his brow at her quizzically.
“The last thing I need is Varric latching onto the idea I can sing. He’ll have me charging into battles like a bard,” Running her hand through her damp hair, she shook her head. “That dwarf spews bullshit like its air to him. I doubt he could tell the full truth if he tried,”
Something flickered across his face. His gaze had intensified into one she had dubbed his ‘thinking about whether to ask a question’ face. Patiently she waited. It had taken her several talks with him to finally convince him that he could and should say what he was thinking; that he didn’t need permission to speak let alone voice his opinion or ask her a question. She wasn’t offended easily and the idea that he could do so was laughable.
“He told me that your sister once burned your hair,”
Payton’s jaw dropped. How in Thedas did the dwarf know—Carver, of course. She huffed rolling her eyes. “Carver loves that story, the little snot.” Shaking her head, she rolled her eyes. “Bethany and I had gotten in to a fight,” Wrinkling her nose she paused. “For the life of me I can’t remember what it was about,”
It was odd, she thought. Back when it happened the fight seemed so important; they had spent hours bickering about it until Bethany snapped.
“Father had been teaching her how to conjure fire earlier in the week and she still hadn’t gotten the hang of it,” Absently, Payton ran her hand through her hair, a habit she had gotten into after her hair grew back. “I said something particularly mean to her and she gave me this look, I swear it was the perfect imitation of the look mother gives me.
“Anyway, out of nowhere fire bursts into life on the edge of my braids,” She laughed, the memory had become one that bonded her and Bethany. “She was screaming, which just caused the fire to flare more,” Payton grinned. “I grabbed a knife off the kitchen counter and chopped off my hair. The braids fell to the floor and sizzled into ash a few moments later,”
Fingering her hair, she tilted her head. “Bethany was mortified; terrified at what her magic did. And then mother came in and saw my hair,” It had been a split second decision to lie for her sister, their mother was already uncomfortable knowing her youngest daughter had magic. “When I told her I was tired of long hair she hit the roof. Acted like I shaved my head to be honest,”
Wrinkling her nose at the mental picture of her with a shaved head, she laughed. “I mean, it wasn’t as though my hair was as short as some of the fighting women you see, it was,” she held her hand up to measure. “Chin length or so. I was in trouble for weeks.”
Payton smiled at him. “We told father the truth, of course. Bethany worked so hard to make sure she could control her magic after that, promising never to lose it like that again.” Carver had threatened to tell mother the truth for ages, she remembered but both sisters closed rank on him and bullied him into silence. “For years I kept it short, a private little joke for me to torment my mother with. Every year Bethany would ask me to grow it out again but I wouldn’t, not to spite her or anything but to annoy mother.”
When Bethany died Payton felt part of herself get lost; building a makeshift pyre for her sister and Wesley without ceremony was painful. The blame her mother had heaped on her had been worse. All she could do was throw herself into protecting her family and Aveline.
It was easier than she had expected with the witch making them a path through the darkspawn. With the added help, they faced little opposition in getting to Gwaren safely. By the time they reached Kirkwall her hair had grown past her shoulders and she couldn’t bring herself to cut it.
Blinking back the tears that seemed to have found their way to her eyes she looked at Fenris. There was something curious on his face, an expression she couldn’t quite place. Something occurred to her so suddenly she felt like she was falling.
Had he known she had magic in her blood?
She had never kept it a secret from anyone. Shame about having had an apostate for a father and sister was not an emotion she felt. It was simply a fact. But Fenris hated magic, with a burning loathing that could accurately be called frightening.
The first time he spat out what seemed to be a favorite phrase of his, what does magic touch that it doesn’t spoil, they had been sharing a bottle of wine alone. She had been hurt but said nothing, knowing what magic had done to him, she excused it. Magic could be used for great evil and while she would never go as far as saying it spoiled everything it touched (especially since that would condemn her as well) she knew the dangers of mages and what magic could do unchecked. When he said it in front of Carver and Varric she had watched the dwarf readying to object, offended for her but Carver had brushed it off like it was nothing; her brother’s own dislike for what magic had done to their family clear.
If Fenris didn’t know she had magic in her blood before, he did now. Would it change anything? Would he hold her at a distance again the way he did everyone? The thought sadden her. She had come to rely on his clipped wit and rebukes. He was a good balance to her group and a good friend.
“You didn’t know that Bethany and my father were mages did you?” Payton asked.
The look in his eyes said it all.
“Maker,” she closed her eyes. “Fenris I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret, I swear.” Her heart pounded in her chest. “I thought everyone knew,”
He only put up with the mages in her group because of her. If he pulled away from her because of her heritage—would he even stay? The idea of losing him as a friend was almost painful.
“For what it’s worth,” His voice caused her to open her eyes and look at him. There was a softness to his face. “Long hair suits you,”
Payton blinked, her mind taking forever to process what he said. The nervousness she felt was bleeding away and a blush crept across her cheeks at the flattery. Throwing her head back she shook it, causing her long locks to move about in bouncing swirls. His eyes followed the movement, a small smile on his lips.
“You think so?” she teased, fishing for compliments.
His green eyes sparkled as though he knew exactly what she was doing. “Yes,” he said with a smile. “Perhaps you should wear it down more often,”
Laughing, she leaned back, using her hands to support her. “It’d be dreadfully annoying in battle. Even when my hair was short I made sure it stayed out of my face, the last thing I needed was to be blinded by hair when attacking darkspawn,”
“It becomes you,” he said simply.
Her face flushed and she couldn’t help but smile. No one ever told her that she looked good; looks were inconsequential when it came to her. The only thing people ever noticed about her was how she fought—or occasionally her sarcastic wit. Not even her mother noticed the way she looked anymore.
Thunder crashed outside causing her to look toward the window. If not for the storm she would probably have been out traipsing along the coast again, finishing up a few more jobs so that she could leave some extra money behind for her mother.
It had to have been raining for a week by now. At first it wasn’t all that bad, there were worse rains in Ferelden and she happily continued working. Unfortunately the weather had grown steadily worse and the last job she had gone on had them stumbling across a mature dragon.
If running from an angry fire-breathing beast wasn’t bad enough, the rain had made the gravel unstable and more than once she had to pick herself up off the ground, mud coating her due to her unexpected fall. The only good thing about the rain that day was by the time they had gotten back to Kirkwall it had washed away all the mud, blood, and dirt.
Back in Ferelden if the weather got this bad her mother would set to baking; if they were lucky she had honey to sweeten the bread. Her parents had made it special for them on the days they were trapped inside; turning the main meal into a ‘camp out’ in front of the hearth. Eating sweet rolls and even occasionally meat under a makeshift blanket fort while her father made up a new adventure story to entertain them was one of her fondest memories.
Carver would often get in trouble for knocking over furniture as he played, trying to catch his sisters in a game of chase. Other times he would be content to practice sword movements with a wooden training sword he had made. Bethany would almost always be near the fire under a blanket reading or practicing her magic. Payton, on the other hand, enjoyed helping her mother make the bread. If she wasn’t doing that she would be on the floor near Bethany, sketching or writing.
Her brow furrowed and she looked at Fenris, curiosity sparking. “I’ve got to ask,” He looked at her. “It’s something we’re all wondering, I’m sure.” Fenris arched a brow. “What do you do in this gigantic house all day?”
A look of mischief danced across his face and he smiled at her. “Dance, of course,”
“I go from room to room, choreographing routines,”
Payton laughed, trying to picture it. “I suppose that explains your grace on the battlefield,”
His rich chuckle gave her goosebumps. “When you’re not on jobs what do you do?”
“Acrobatics,” she shot back an equally witty response. “I find a large open space and practice throwing myself into the air and doing summersaults before I hit the ground,” Payton enjoyed the smile that spread on his lips.
Looking at the fire, she fell silent, thinking. It had been ages since she did not have something to do or somewhere to be. An errand for Varric, a favor for Aveline, a job to raise funds, ever since her work with the Red Iron ended she had been constantly busy doing one thing or another.
Turning her attention back to him, she was a little amused when she found him staring at her. “I see you have left your book burning days behind,” she nodded toward the books he had moved away from the fireplace.
The tips of his ears turned pink. “If you wish them, they are yours,”
Payton felt excitement bubble in her. “Really?” she asked looking to the books and then back. “Are you sure?”
Before he even had the chance to answer, she pounced on the pile, searching through the covers to see what they were about. Spotting a book at the bottom she remembered reading back in Ferelden she pulled it out. Running her fingers over the engraved title she flipped it open and was pleased to see it undamaged.
As she turned back to him she stalled. There was a look of bewildered amusement on his face. Realizing what she must have looked like, Payton nervously tucked her hair behind her ear, holding the book tightly to her chest.
Fenris stood, dropping the blankets to the ground so that they could dry. “I shall let your enjoy your books,” he said quietly.
“And I’ll let you get to that dancing,”He shared a smile, picking up his sword before heading out of the room and she heard his footsteps fade until he must have been in the great room. Payton immediately settled on the floor, her back leaning against Fenris’ chair and opened the book, barely able to wait to lose herself in the story.