The rest of the morning was worse than his nightmares.
Fenris paced in his room restlessly like a caged wolf, wearing a path on the stones in front of the fireplace. It had taken all his self-control not to attack her. The ire pulsing through his veins had taunted him, whispering ideas of how to make the woman pay for using him, for making him trust her.
Her fleeing footsteps had caught his attention and he waited, listening. The sound of the door opening reached his ears a moment later. Go, he thought; get out of here before death comes. At first he felt triumphant, running the traitorous rogue off but at the sound of the door closing something ached in his chest.
She was gone. Blight damn her, Fenris’ tattoos flickered briefly. He should be pleased. That woman, that thing that made him trust was gone, out of his life forever. Somehow that fact didn’t do anything to assuage his anger, if anything it made it worse.
He spun on his heel, glaring out at the room like it was the one that offended him. Her presence was everywhere. On the floor by the hearth, the table where they had shared meals, the bench she used in her previous visits, even his chair, he saw her everywhere.
Anger burning hot, Fenris let out a snarl, turning the table over, unable to get satisfaction as he watched the piece of furniture crash to the ground sending the few items atop it scattering along the stone floor. Kicking over the bench, he raged.
How could he have trusted her?
His chair joined the pile.
How could he have believed she would be different!
Sweeping one of the books off the ground, he ripped it in half, his markings fueling his strength.
What a fool he had been!
The bottles lined up on the wall taunted him with her memory, reminding him of the nights they shared. Grabbing one he threw it toward the opposite side of the room, the sound of shattering glass filled the air. Bottle after bottle, Fenris fumed.
Why had he allowed her close? Why had he let himself befriend her? No one did things for nothing! No one offered help without seeking something in return.
He turned, glowering at the fire in the fireplace, his thoughts whirling madly.
He should have known; he should have known the moment he learned there was magic in her blood that she was deceitful. Magic spoiled everything it touched!
Fenris swung out, punching the wall. “Fasta vass!” Pain radiated up his hand causing his anger to subside for a split second. He stared at his hand; blood was pushing through scrapes on his knuckles. Clenching the offending member into a fist, he dropped it at his side.
Turning to the room, Fenris stared at the mess he had made. He had been a fool to trust her, to believe that she was unlike everyone else he had ever met. She had used him, manipulated him for—instantly his mind stalled.
What had she used him for? The voice that sounded like Varric chimed. She had come into his room at night and sat with him while he slept for what purpose?
As much he loathed admitting it, she was no mage, she could not traipse across the Fade and invade his dreams, to use the information gleaned against him. Did she enjoy seeing him weak, he wondered. Did watching him have nightmares give her the same sick satisfaction it had Hadriana?
But then, Fenris glanced darkly toward the bed, a frown tugging on his face. He hadn’t really had nightmares the last few nights. It wasn’t as though he had none; there had yet to be a night that went by where his sleep was not interrupted by his fears or the memories of what the mages did to him.
His nightmares had been muted, as though lulled into submission granting him—Fenris jerked. Granting him the first restful night of sleep he ever remembered having. For the last three nights he had awoken rested, a tension that he hadn’t realized he carried had eased in him. For three nights he had slept, his nightmares forced away.
She claimed to have been comforting him; that somehow her presence made his sleep easier, calmer. He initially scoffed at the idea. Having people around when he slept did not calm him, it made things worse.
Memories of Danarius, Hadriana, his life as a slave plagued his sleep. Hadriana’s cruelness hounded him now just as much as it had then. Danarius’ cold manipulations, his touch; Fenris shuddered closing his eyes as though to block out the past, unable to control the lyrium that flared to life on his skin again.
Only, for the last three nights he had very little of that; there had been a few scattered nightmares. When she told him of what Gamlen did, he had drunk himself stupid before passing out. Danarius had held him in his dreams, taunting him with the truth. But he hadn’t stayed, at some point during the night Fenris’ dreams bled away and he had slept without fear. Likewise each subsequent night after, no matter the nightmare, something had dulled their hold over him, giving way to…to what? Calm? Peace?
Hawke said he had been soothed by her, that she had only stayed because it somehow had given him reprieve. The idea had seemed idiotic, a bold faced lie that he would have had to be stupid to believe.
Swallowing hard, he thought back on the events that transpired. He had scared her; he realized a moment later. And why not? When he had attacked he had thought an enemy was in the room; if he had not paused, if he had not noticed the blue eyes staring up at him—the thought caused his heart to skip a beat. He had been ready to kill. Even as he threatened her, she seemed more concerned for him than herself.
Fenris turned his back to the bed, scowling at the fireplace. The more he thought about it, the more his anger at Hawke vanished. There had been truth to her words; she genuinely wanted to help. And he spat it right back in her face.
He had lashed out at her without thinking, blaming the one thing that always seemed to screw up his life, charging even this problem on magic. He had essentially told her that he wished she had never been born.
Unintentionally, he stalled. Did he really wish that? His anger was bleeding away, the blind rage he had felt disappearing into something else. Did he really wish that she had never been born?
Somehow, despite it all, he did not think so. The idea of a world without Hawke was not a pleasant one.
Snarling, Fenris swept out the room, trying to stop from thinking. He hadn’t even made it to the stairs before he stopped; looking toward her room—no, the dark voice corrected snidely, at the room he had let her use.
Three days she had been there. Three days she had stayed with him. Three days of her grace, her wit, her unobtrusive caring. Three days where his memories did not torment him. Three days where his thoughts were free, his opinions wanted. Three days where the pain in his past did not haunt him.
Fenris remembered mocking her, challenging that she had no idea what pain was. Incensed at the very idea she could possibly have something to compare. What did she know of pain?
But he was wrong.
She did understand pain.
He didn’t remember his own family, not after the ritual. Fenris had no idea who his father was, whether he had any siblings, even if they were still alive. Until now, he had never given it much thought. He stood there, trying to imagine what it would be like learning as a child that you might have to kill your own father or preparing for the possibility that you might have to kill your younger sister.
He could not.
His feet moved on their own volition. Fenris stood in the doorway staring into her room. Embers that had burned in the fireplace were black, leaving the room cold, void of the warmth she always seemed to bring. The mattress was on the floor where she had had him position it, the blanket in a lump on the end of it. The table was overturned.
Something ached in his chest as he stared at the lifeless space. Fenris turned, intending to leave, trying to block whatever emotion that was trying to worm its way out of him, when a flash of red caught his eye.
Kneeling, he righted the table. A card circled by a loose red ribbon sat on the floor. Picking it up, Fenris fingered the ribbon. He had been surprised the night before when he saw she used a ribbon to hold her cards together; most just used a tin or scrap of leather. A blush had stolen across her face and she confessed that it was a keepsake.
On inquiry she had revealed that the ribbon had been given to her father as a secret message, a way to let her father know that Leandra loved him and was willing to wait for him, to run away with him. Her father had kept it for years and she had loved hearing the story of how he felt when finding it; how filled with hope he had been at the passive declaration of love. When her father died, she had told Fenris she found it in his things and ended up keeping it as a reminder of how love could persevere, through the hardest times or impossible odds.
Fisting it into his palm, Fenris glanced at the card. The Angel of Truth stared back jeering at him.
Growling, he got to his feet, going back into his room. What had this woman done to him? She occupied his every thought it seemed.
He began to pace again. Fenris had no doubt that she would take him at his word and not come back. In that split second, he decided he should leave too. There was nothing for him here in Kirkwall; not if—
Fenris paused, stunned at how his mind automatically finished the sentence. Not if Hawke was not there with him. Desperately he tried to rephrase it. Not if he could not count on Hawke; not if he no longer had Hawke’s help, not if—nothing worked! Everything circled back to Hawke. There was nothing for him in Kirkwall if Hawke was not there.
That realization unnerved him.
Hawke. Payton Hawke. That blasted rogue with the amazing smile and blue eyes that looked at him like no one ever had. The only person who willingly tried to spend time with him; the only person who asked for his opinion and actually wanted it; the only person who cared about what he thought; the only person he trusted to help him battle Danarius.
And he treated her like a traitor.
No, Varric’s voice in his head was solemn.
He treated her like a mage.
The intense need to find her coursed through him. He had to find her, stop her, talk to her before she left for the Deep Roads. A new pulse of fear added to the one he was already feeling. Hawke was heading to forage through the Deep Roads. All that she had to do was talk with the dwarf and then she would be gone.
How quickly could a group of the size of Bartrand’s venture pack up and leave?
Fenris struggled into his armor. He had to stop her; he didn’t mean the words he had said. She couldn’t leave without knowing. Part way through fastening his second gauntlet he froze.
That he was sorry? It seemed insufficient. He had snapped at her in his fit of anger that mages should be killed at birth; thoughtlessly forgetting that not only her sister but her father held magic.
“Of course in your world, I never would have been born.”
The words cut him like a knife. He had not meant that. The idea of a world without her, even one where he had never met her was hard to fathom anymore. She had become a part of his life in ways he hadn’t realized; she, with her open smiles and expressive looks; she who chose to befriend him; she who made him think beyond his past and present, she who encouraged him to look toward the future.
The idea of a world without her was bleak.
No one was home when Payton arrived. She was more than grateful; even if it was only for a little while, the idea of seeing her family right now was not a very pleasant prospect. Dropping her pack on the desk, she thumbed through the letters that had arrived since she had been gone.
Walking to the room she shared with her mother, she worked on removing her gloves. There was much she needed to do. Pouring water from a pitcher into the wash basin, Payton splashed it on her face, taking in a deep breath. She raised her eyes to the foggy looking glass and frowned at the woman staring back at her.
Two blue eyes looked back, the slightest hint of tears staining the black lashes. Skin lightly tanned with the smallest hint of freckles due to sun exposure was pale. Long dark brown locks hung down over her shoulders, only half secured back in the hawk clip she had.
The woman looking back at her looked tired, vulnerable, sad.
She had almost forgotten what she looked like with her hair down. Other than a quick curtsy brush or the occasional wash, she hadn’t worn her hair down since it started growing. She had only done it now because…
Fresh pain rippled through her. Swallowing hard, Payton almost yanked the clip from her hair, tossing it on the vanity as though it had offended her. Her hair cascaded into her face in gentle waves. Picking up the comb that was missing several teeth, she pulled it through her hair, working out the knots.
“Perhaps you should wear it down more often,” Fenris’ voice caused her to jerk, almost expecting to find him in the room with her. Scolding herself, Payton winced as she tugged a little too hard on a knot. “Long hair suits you,”
She dropped the comb down. Gazing at her reflection, she tried to push her emotions away. A thought fluttered across her mind to cut it, chop off the locks. No one cared about it anyhow. Fenris wasn’t there to give her those shy smiles. Reaching for the dagger in her boot, Payton gathered a fistful of her hair.
Putting the edge to the strands she paused, not quite able to do it. She hadn’t grown her hair to be admired. She had grown it as a passive tribute to her sister’s memory. No matter what she felt now that fact remained the same.
Setting the dagger down, she closed her eyes. She had to get control of herself. Fenris wanted nothing to do with her; understood, grow up and move on; getting weak and weepy about it won’t change facts.
Burying her emotions into a tight box, Payton moved, she had things to do. Turning to the trunk she gave it a good sharp yank, tugging it out from the corner. Prying two of the floorboards up, she pulled out the hidden contents. It may be Gamlen’s shack, but the man had no idea how many nooks one could hide things in.
Kicking the trunk back into place, Payton turned to the items.
Varric had given her the new chest piece week ago stating he happened across it and hoped it would fit. She knew he was lying; she recognized the crafter’s mark. He had had it made for her. He had noticed that her armor was falling apart and had more patches holding it together than anything else.
The vest was dark leather, secured in the front with a crisscross cinch. It was good quality, thicker than the armor she currently had but still pliable as to allow swift movements. Boots, solid sturdy boots had stunned her. She herself had chosen the design and commissioned them, had even gone in for measurements but ended up canceling the order when Gamlen took the first of the proceeds and spent it on a failed bet while at the Hanged Man.
Shoving a chair against the door, Payton pulled off the white tunic shirt she was wearing, grimacing at the cut sleeve that had her blood staining it. That would teach her to wear something with sleeves, she shook her head. Washing the gash on her arm best she could, she deftly wrapped it in a bandage, tying it off in a knot.
Payton shrugged into a sleeveless top and quickly fastened the leather vest over it. It was slightly tighter than her old armor but she reckoned that had more to do with age and use than improper sizing. Insuring the white top provided her with some level of modesty, she changed out of the causal linen pants into ones made of a stiffer material. It wasn’t as free in movement but protected against attack more.
She pulled on her new boots, reveling in the comfort the black shoes provided. They came up to her knee, fitting perfectly. She walked the short space from wall to wall, bending, testing the mobility. Pleased, she quickly slid her dagger into the sheath that had been woven into the boot. Strapping another dagger in a holster on her thigh, Payton stood.
First things first, she began planning as she braided her hair. She had to go to Varric and subsequently Bartrand to tell them the money was raised and ready. After that she would have to make sure her mother was taken care of while they were gone, a few coins floated down Varric’s chain of spies and she would be satisfied. Winding the braid around and twisting it under, she secured it firmly. She needed to contact the rest of the group, deciding who was going was the next largest objective.
A loud bang caused her to automatically reach for one of the knives only to relax at the deafening shout of: “SISTER!”
Nudging the chair out of the way, she sat on the edge of the bed, picking up the new bracers and running her finger over the design of the rearing hawk pressed on the leather. Predictably, Carver threw open the door to the bedroom without bothering to knock first, her bag with daggers attached in his hand.
“What were you thinking, leaving this out where mother could see? Blood all over it,” he tossed it at her feet.
Payton glanced and realized there was blood on her bag as well as still staining her daggers. She hadn’t thought to clean them after she was attacked in the morning. “She’d get over it,”
“You disappear for three days and that’s all you have to say?” he demanded.
The cuffs of her fingerless gloves tucked under the bracers perfectly; holding them in place as she tied and buckled them. “What do you want me to say?”
“How about apologize?”
She stood giving him a passing glance before walking out of the room.
“You had mother worried sick!”
Payton didn’t respond, climbing on the table and pulling herself up to the mini loft. Moving a few of the food supplies they stored, she pulled back another floorboard and retrieved the coin purse within.
Carver let out a long sigh. “Sister,” his tone was softer. “Sister, please,” she wavered before heading toward another one of her hiding spots. “I’m sorry for what I said,” It strained him to speak. “I know you would not sneak out to the Deep Roads without me,”
Swinging down after salvaging another small pouch, Payton pulled the desk out. Sliding her finger into the knot on the wall she pulled the board out a little and twisted it to the side. Three more purses were safely hidden.
“It’s fine, Carver.” She said emotionlessly, replacing the board and table. Two more hiding spots, Payton counted.
“Damn it, no it’s not!” irritation colored his voice. “Gamlen told us what happened,”
She blinked, a mild amount of surprise filling her. Gamlen was a coward, owning up to something like that took guts she didn’t think he had.
“I don’t think he meant to, tell us I mean,” Carver ventured quietly, a solemn look in his eyes. “He had the Maker of all hangovers the following morning and began moaning about what he did, how could he do such a thing,” Despite herself, she flinched, looking away. “If it helps I broke his nose,”
Without meaning to she snorted, biting back a chuckle. That was the brother she knew; bitter every step of the way until someone hurt her.
“Mother ordered him to dry out, swore up and down that if he ever came back smelling of alcohol she’d bring him up on charges,” Carver tried to comfort in his own way. “If attacking you didn’t stick, she had plenty of evidence that he stole the property and wealth of nobility. That alone would condemn him for quite a long time,”
Setting the final pouches on the table, Payton went for her belt. Canteen strapped toward the back, medicinal pouch on her hip, a small pocket for smoke bombs within easy reach, she had to make sure she remembered to restock both before leaving.
“Where were you?” Carver asked watching her. “Mother’s nerves gave out and I’ve been looking for you since yesterday.”
She arched her brow at him; while finding her quickly would have been a challenge, it shouldn’t have been that hard for him to track her down.
“Okay so I spent most of my time in the Hanged Man.” He admitted sheepishly. “I figured if you wanted to be found, you’d just come back. You can take care of yourself just fine, I didn’t see the need to worry,” His blue eyes flickered to the bandage on her arm, uncertainty crossing his face for a split second. “Are you all right?”
Shrugging, she fetched her daggers. “Just a few idiots this morning deciding that today was a good day to die,” Wiping them clean, Payton finally stopped moving. “The money for the trip is ready,”
“You going to the dwarf?”
Nodding, Payton secured the coins to her belt. “I have a few other things I need to do as well. I’ll need everyone to meet me at the Hanged Man tonight after evening meal,” She fished a piece of scrap paper out and jotted a quick note for her mother. “Would you like to join me in my talks with Varric and Bartrand, play messenger boy, or piss off and meet up later?”
“Piss off, to be honest,” Carver said with a chuckle. “No, I’ll come with you. That way if we run into mother I can tell her I found you,”
“You weren’t even looking,”
Carver spun in a circle and then grinned. “I found you,” he declared.
Rolling her eyes, she punched his arm. “Wonderful, you’d make a perfect mabari. Poor Mutt will be so disappointed you bumped him from tracker,”
“He didn’t do so great of a job in finding you either,” Carver pointed out as she headed for the door.
Giving him a glib smile, she winked. “I told him to stay with mother and keep her safe. Until I tell him otherwise, that’s the only order he’s going to follow,”
Carver’s jaw dropped and his mouth moved like he was trying to form words. Finally he huffed, an irritated look crossing his face. “Damn dog, too smart for his own good I tell you,” he stalked out of the shack.
Payton paused for a brief moment, hand on the knob, mind flashing to when she left Fenris’; his words echoing. “Don’t bother coming back,” Her hand shook. Blinking rapidly, she gave her head a firm shake. Carver was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. She had things to do.
Taking a deep breath, she quickly buried the emotion stirring in her chest. She could do this; pretend like there was nothing wrong.