Fenris watched her as he drank. Currently Hawke was stretched on her stomach next to the fire. She was supporting herself on her elbows and her legs were bent, crossed at the ankle and in the air, occasionally moving. The book, which she was halfway through by now, was in front of her. Her dinner was in one of her hands and she was slowly eating as she read, every so often turning a page.
She seemed enthralled, completely lost in the pages. Part of him envied her. His inability to read was not something he wanted known but he did wonder what could be in books that seemed to excite her.
He knew that many texts were educational, recordings of lessons learned or knowledge obtained. Sebastian had offered him a copy of Chantry text that was as thick as a brick. Varric was proof enough that some books must be fictional, stories woven for the purpose of entertainment and nothing more.
A soft giggle emanated from her, capturing his attention again. He wondered which one she was reading. Payton hardly seemed like the type to enjoy educational works the way she seemed to appreciate this one. Her scoffing remarks about the Chantry were enough to convince him that this was not an abridged version of the book Sebastian had tried to give him; which, of course, left him with the only other type of book he knew.
Sipping from the bottle of wine in his hand, Fenris wanted to ask her. He wanted to know what was written on those pages; why she had gotten so annoyed with him when she saw him burning a book.
Hawke laughed again.
After the awkwardness in the morning, Fenris was more than relieved to see the two of them fall back into the pattern they were obtaining. He had never thought he would feel comfortable with someone else like he was with her. It was strange but then again he was quickly learning that Hawke broke the mold in almost every expectation.
Rich or poor was trivial to her. She once told him it was the quality of the person she liked not the quantity of their purse. Being rich didn’t make a person above others in her mind; it meant the person had the means to make a difference.
Qunari, dwarf, elf, human, race didn’t seem to matter to her. She treated everyone with the same respect and only became snide if someone was snotty with her friends. If a merchant or noble looked down their nose at her Payton would reply in some sarcastic way, cleverly disguised under flattery or glib comments.
When they met and she refused payment, he had wondered what the catch was. The steely look that entered her eye then was surprising to him as were her words swearing that she would never charge for the fun of removing scum like slavers from the world. Her promise to help him when Danarius came if he wished startled him. The fact she would intentionally confront and kill a magister just to see him stay free baffled Fenris.
It was because of that promise, the truth behind it, that he stayed. Fenris had fully intended on leaving shortly after, perhaps fleeing across the sea to Ferelden now that the Blight had ended. But then Hawke had invaded his life, taking him up on his offer of help almost immediately.
The first conversation they had had been a tense one, where he was certain he offended her multiple times with his clipped responses. However it didn’t deter her for she was back the following day. The first cordial conversation with her happened the second night he was in Kirkwall, when she came to escape the drunken game of Wicked Grace going on at the Hanged Man. She talked to him, asked him questions, probed for an opinion, treated him like he had never been treated before.
Taking another drink from the bottle, Fenris watched her shift, sitting up. Payton Hawke was a woman he had yet to figure out. Some part of that frightened him at a base level, not being able to understand someone meant their actions were unpredictable and that was dangerous for someone on the run but he couldn’t quite bring himself to leave.
As though she realized he was thinking on her, she slid her hair tie into the book, marking her page and then shut it. Looking up at him with eyes sparkling, she grinned. “I feel terribly rude,” she admitted. “Ignoring you like that, I was just in the middle of a chapter,”
Fenris waved it off. “You were reading,” he excused.
Hawke’s smile brightened. “I loved this story when I was a kid,” She said setting the book aside, her fingers trailing on the leather cover. “My father bought me it as a present, saved two years to buy the copy. The lettering on the cover shimmered in gold and every so often there was an illustration,” A dreamy look was on her face. “He had to rebind it three times with how often I read it,”
“What happened to it?” the question was out before he could stop himself.
Her smile fell slightly. “Of all the things Bethany could have grabbed when fleeing Lothering, she grabbed my book, knowing what it meant to me,” she bowed her head. “When we were preparing to,” she stopped, unsure how to communicate the pyre that they built to bid farewell to the dead. “I found it, soaked with her blood,” Payton let out a long breath of air, not quite a sigh but close. “I put it with her before we lit the flames. Seemed right,” Her shoulders gave a little shrug. “A little of me died with her, I guess it was a little symbolic,”
While Fenris could not understand what it would be like to lose family like that, he could comprehend the allegory. “What is it about?”
Blue eyes widened, turning to him with surprise, the spark coming back to them. “You’ve never read it?”
Mutely Fenris shook his head.
“It’s wonderful!” she started. “Have you ever heard of the Black Fox?”
The name sounded vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place it. He told her such.
Hawke playfully looked as though he committed a horrible crime. “The Black Fox was really Lord Remi Vascal,” she began. “He’s often described as a dashing thief and rogue,”
He raised his eyebrows at that, wondering if that was where her talent had been inspired. With a mage for a father and sister, warrior for a brother, and gentile woman for mother a rogue’s talents seemed lost in the mix.
“He robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, often coming head to head with this tyrannical lord of Val Chevin.” She explained animatedly. “He’d put on a mask and appear in public purposefully disrupting the lord’s plans. It got so bad that the lord put a bounty on his life, cursing the man with the cunning of a fox, which is where his name came about.”
The simple delight that was on her face as she described the story entranced him.
“There’s this bounty hunter that takes the job, Karolis. He was good at his job, never caring who he brought in, whether the charges were true or false, all he cared about was doing his duty.”
Fenris shifted. When he was a slave it was much the same, if Danarius told him to do something he would do it without question.
“Karolis hunts down the Black Fox, catching up to him again and again but Remi’s cunning and skill always manages to gain the upper hand and he escapes. The game of cat and mouse is played for a while until Karolis has a change of heart,”
“What changed?” Fenris blurted by accident.
Hawke didn’t seem to mind. “Depends on the version of the story, to be honest,” she admitted. “In this one, he saw the people Remi was helping and how much he made a difference. The next time he came across the Black Fox, Karolis offers to join him.”
Foolish, Fenris thought idly, if the rogue allowed the bounty hunter to do so. At any moment the bounty hunter could turn on him and collect what would be a substantial reward.
“They spent years terrorizing the lord’s men, foiling his tax collectors, making the lord look a fool.” The concept seemed to amuse her. “More join his group over the years, including a woman with whom a romance ensues,”
“Of course, what would a story be without a good romance,” Fenris mocked, repeating the words he had heard Varric say to her one night at the Hanged Man.
She childishly stuck her tongue out at him. “Some stories work just fine without romance,” Payton retorted.
“I’m sure Varric would object most strenuously,”
Huffing, she pouted. “Varric can shove it,”
Payton’s face scrunched up in a way Fenris found rather cute, her freckles standing out. “Most romances have girls as these wishy-washy creatures that need to be rescued,” She shook her head. “No, give me Andraste without the hero worship, a woman who escaped from hell and fought back,” Her cheeks flushed as though she just realized the similarities between him and Andraste. “Or Ser Aveline, of course not dying would be nice,”
“You do realize that neither of those are romance stories,” Fenris pointed out. He was surprised to see a blush flood across her cheeks.
“Not the way I told it when I was younger,”
He arched his brows, anticipating, knowing that she would tell him if he waited long enough. True enough Hawke shifted, looking down.
“You’ve heard of Shartan, right?”
Mutely he nodded, the name was taboo in some circles in Tevinter but every slave knew of the elf that joined Andraste’s rebellion.
“I liked him when I was younger. He was like Andraste,” a small smile played on her lips. “Strong, willing to fight for what he believed in,” Payton was fiddling with strands of her hair. “He encouraged the elves to rise up, fight for freedom,”
A small suspicion began to grow in his mind as where her story was going to go.
Chewing on her lip, she continued. “When I was a kid I made up this elaborate story where Shartan and Andraste meet on the battlefield, fighting the Tevinters. With the help of the army each of them raised, they were victorious. She would invite him to join her camp, elves and humans mingling, their cause the same.”
Her smile quirked to the side as she spoke sheepishly embarrassed. “I envisioned this whole forbidden romance between them. When Shartan hears of Maferath betrayal he led a force trying to save her.” A dreamy look of longing was clear in her eyes. “The love he felt for her was so strong that he would brave anything for her, even if she was never his,”
Fenris gazed quietly at her.
Abruptly Payton shook her head and he was mesmerized at the movement her long hair made in the firelight. “Sometimes I would pretend they escaped, Maferath dies and they live happily ever after,”
She bowed her head, looking at her hands. “Carver hated that version, told me if I was going to change the story of Andraste I should keep her as the hero she was. So I made up a different ending. Shartan is captured in his attempt to rescue her and murdered before her eyes. Andraste accepts her fate after that and goes to the stake ready to die,”
The two of them fall silent, each lost in their own thoughts.
The idea of Andraste falling in love with an elf would be sacrilege to most, he’d wager. He smiled picturing Sebastian’s face if Hawke ever shared her version of the revered woman’s story. The Chantry Brother would probably die of shock.
Part of him liked her version of the story; somehow a romance between two people who fought tirelessly for freedom was very appealing to him. Fenris had never given much thought to romance; that sort of intimacy would require a closeness that he had never had with anyone.
Unintentionally his eyes shot to the woman in front of him. Except Hawke, a soft voice that sounded entirely too much like Varric for his liking stated.
Restlessly Payton rolled over on the bed again. For the life of her she could not sleep, her thoughts refusing to let her be. Sitting up, she scooted to the edge of the featherbed. The fire in her hearth was still burning nicely, providing warmth. Outside the storm crashed, rain pelting the windows, wind howling, thunder rumbling; turbulent, much like her thoughts.
What possessed her to tell him that story?
She rubbed her head, burying her fingers into her hair. As she retold the story, Payton had quickly became aware exactly how much her childhood fantasy reminded her of Fenris. Shartan’s persona in her tale depicted a strong warrior, brooding and introspective, a man who fought for freedom with every fiber of his being.
Her mind was unfolding, quickly showing her points where they had acclimated to each other the way she had always imagined her Andraste and Shartan to do. Maker, she cursed silently closing her eyes. She could not do that to him. The last thing Fenris needed was her falling for him. His life was complicated enough.
Payton stood, deciding she obviously wasn’t going to get any sleep. Heading over to the desk, she searched for her journal. Confusion came over her when she found it was missing. Turning to her bag she searched the contents twice over before dumping the bag out. Metal case with extra graphite, her sketching book, emergency rations, whetstone for her daggers, canteen, first aide pouch, her hands spread out the mess.
Suddenly she remembered and then grimaced. She had been working, or attempting to work on who to bring to the Deep Roads while she waited for Fenris to return that morning. Now she remembered perfectly; when he came back she put her journal down on the table in order to wrap him in a blanket. She must have left it there.
Biting her lip she debated for a moment before giving her head a firm shake. No, she’ll just continue reading the book on the Black Fox. Turning, Payton took two steps away from the desk and stopped.
The book was in Fenris’ room, by the fire, where she left it.
Looking up, Payton silently questioned if the Maker was screwing with her on purpose.
Blowing a strand of hair out of her face, she contemplated what to do. Her eyes drifted to her sketching diary, briefly considering seeing if she could draw until she got sleepy. Sighing, she finally dismissed the idea. She was too wound to sketch anything; either she went to Fenris’ room to get one or both of the books or she sat there twiddling her thumbs, praying for sleep to come.
Decision made, she crept from her room again. Just like the night before Fenris’ door shut but not latched. Pushing it open she slipped in, heading toward the table where she left her journal. Payton had just collected it when she looked toward his bed.
He was on the mattress, blanket tangled around his waist. Abruptly he turned over, curling in a tighter ball, his breathing heavy. Around his bed, just like before, were bottles that she did not remember seeing earlier. A quick count made her draw in a sharp breath. Six bottles, did he serious drink six bottles of wine himself?
Without meaning to Payton walked over to him, her journal forgotten on the table. As she got closer she could see his face contorted in a dark look, fear and pain written on those features. Swallowing hard, her heart went out to him.
Was he always plagued with such nightmares?
Chewing on her lower lip, Payton remembered the first time Templars almost caught her family. She had been young, maybe six, and watched her father kill two of them. One came up behind her and grabbed her, threatening her life if her father did not give up. The speed in which her father killed that one was terrifying to her as a child. For weeks she had nightmares. Her father would stay up, comforting her.
During those weeks his constant reassurance was what she had needed. He didn’t hide from her the truth of his actions. When Bethany had her first display of magic, she remembered her resolve even as a child. She had gone to her father and announced she would protect Bethany the way he did her.
Despite her mother’s objections, her father said he was proud of her. Strength comes in the moments when no one is watching, he would say to her. A hero is someone who does the right thing even when it is hard. They do what is needed despite fear. Being a hero doesn’t mean not being afraid, her father told her, it meant that some things were more important than that fear.
Payton looked at Fenris. What was the right thing? She had stayed the night before because of the moments respite she seemed to give his sleep. He had listened to her, did not judge her and that comforted her. It was what she had needed. What did he need?
Her hand ghosted out on its own volition. Fenris recoiled at her touch, even in sleep fearful that it would harm him. Brushing her fingers through his hair, Payton watched his face unclench and he leaned into her touch.
Closing her eyes, she felt her heart ache. Leaving him to weather his nightmares alone could not even be considered. Payton wanted nothing more than to erase that pain lining his face, convince him that nothing will hurt him any longer; not while she was there.
Maker’s breath, she cursed looking down at him. She was falling for him.
Sliding onto the mattress hesitantly, she settled against the wall the way she had done the night before. Her hand immediately began running through his hair, lightly tracing her fingers across his scalp. Visibly he relaxed.
What was she doing, she wondered. How could she fancy him?
Payton felt him shift and she froze, terrified that he was waking. He didn’t.
It wasn’t that she had an objection to him; quite the opposite, in point of fact. Fenris had many things about him that she admired. His drive to fight for freedom, his passion, his veiled wit, she enjoyed these things about him.
Many of the others in her group found him broody and standoffish but she had noticed that, with the exception of the mages and Isabela, he would only act that way if he didn’t understand something. She had come to recognize the look he got when exposed to something unfamiliar to him; it was akin to guarded curiosity. He was also incredibly defensive about what he didn’t know, as though somehow ignorance was embarrassing.
Holding back a small laugh, Payton connected it to the look he had given her earlier, while she had been naked. He hadn’t known what to do and ended up making an embarrassing situation horribly awkward.
She loved the way his brow would furrow when he was trying to puzzle something through on his own. The tips of his mouth would turn up and his eyes gained a soft innocence to them that she could safely say was rarely there.
Part of her knew that she confused him. He would gaze at her with the same look as though she was a problem he could work through. Never let it be said that she didn’t enjoy keeping people on their toes, it was somehow endearing the way he tried to understand her. When he couldn’t he would just look at her with quiet contemplation.
Payton closed her eyes. She could remember the first time she saw him smile; his low chuckle at her unabashed flirting. The more she got to know him, the more she found herself craving those moments where she could make him laugh.
Her hand stilled. What was she doing? Fenris had enough problems in his life without her adding more.
Looking down at the elf, she bit her lip. Slowly she brushed her hand through his hair again. He had led such a hard life so far. All memories of any family he had burned away with the lyrium; abuse at the hands of his ‘master’, the constant fear of being recaptured after he managed to escape.
Studying his face, she wondered what he dreamed about. Was he being haunted by his life as a slave? What horrid things did that Blight-damned magister do to him? Did the fear he might one day be recaptured trouble him even in sleep? Would he ever rest peacefully before that man was dead?
A thought occurred to her. If his memories could be stolen once could it be done again? The idea sickened her. What if what caused his memories to disappear had nothing to do with the lyrium? What if Danarius had purposefully erased Fenris’ past to make him more pliable, to forcibly mold him into the perfect slave?
Not that it worked, she thanked the Maker. If it did the Tevinter Imperium would have taken over Thedas again, this time wiping the mind of any who dared oppose. Some might revolt despite it; there would always be a few whose core could not be changed and they would be quickly made an example of.
What were people but a sum of their memories, their experiences?
Fenris had rallied beyond that. Having no memories before the lyrium, no memories before Danarius, he still rebelled. He broke free from the bonds of slavery and ran.
Payton wondered what caused the change. Something changed in the ‘relationship’, she’d wager. Something had to have triggered his sudden need for freedom.
She had seen it in his eyes on the few instances he spoke of his past. He had been an obedient slave, eager to please. Danarius was all he had known. She knew something dark laid there, that something more than hard labor and physical abuse (or magical) was there. It would be easy not to think about it; to pretend that it didn’t affect her.
But it did.
Maker help her, it did. Payton burned inside; the injustice of it all. Other countries had to know that some of the slaves in Tevinter were captured outside the Imperium’s boarders. She had encountered nests of slavers in Kirkwall—one now very dead group had holed up in the Amell estate. Slavers operated out of every country and the leaders did little to stop it other than issue edicts.
How did that help people like Fenris? Outlawing slavery but still allowing bounty hunters to drag escaped slaves back was no solution.
After meeting Fenris she had gone to Aveline and Varric separately, wishing to learn as much as possible about how to keep the newest member of her group of misfits safe. She had been disgusted to learn that if Fenris was caught, Danarius could make a legal case that Fenris was in possession of stolen property, namely himself, and Kirkwall would be forced to hand him over. Varric had little help to offer other than saying if the Deep Roads panned out they both would have enough money to pay off the main hunter factions to keep Fenris safe for a little while.
The idea that Danarius could walk into the city and take Fenris caused her blood to boil. She had always been fiercely protective of her friends and she didn’t care if the man was a magister or the high king. Silently, Payton swore to the Maker. She would help Fenris kill Danarius if it was the last thing she did. She was no Andraste; no war would be rallied in her name, no march for freedom against tyrannical oppressors. But if she did could be remembered for one thing it would be that.
Helping Fenris secure his freedom would be enough for her.