dedication: to my parents for letting me chill out on their boat for the last week.
notes: let go — frou frou.
title: up against the lighthouse wall
summary: The witch is sitting in the kitchen. With Hawke. — templar!au coda; Fenris/Merrill, f!Hawke.
The witch is a morning person.
She wakes with the sun. Dawn creeps over the alienage, and as soon as it does, the witch shifts from his arms and rises, careful with every step so as not to wake him, too. Fenris is no kind of morning creature. This is not, has not, ever been in question. He would sleep until noon, if he allowed it of himself.
But it is difficult to rest without her, now that he is so accustomed to it.
Fenris lasts all of a quarter of an hour before the tossing and turning becomes too much, and he drags himself from bed to go after her.
The witch putters around the kitchen, humming to herself, entirely unaware of his presence. She is ever soft-footed as she flits about, the kettle hung over the fire, pale pink dawn filtering down uneven grey through the glass in the roof, and the long dark of her hair hangs loose down her shoulders. Fenris has to stomp down on a sudden swell of affection; it would not do to turn into a complete shambling corpse about her, for all that the entire alienage is aware that there is nothing Fenris would not do, should she ask it of him.
"Good morning," Fenris murmurs through the static prickling over his skin.
The witch looks over her shoulder, and has the gall to beam at him.
(Fenris will never admit how deeply this settles his nerves. The witch makes the world so quiet.)
"Oh!" she says, lit up like a candle at the sight of him. "Oh, Fenris, you're awake! I wasn't expecting t'see you for another hour, at least!"
Fenris makes an assenting noise. She is not so far away that he cannot reach out to wrap his arms around the slim of her shoulders and draw her into his chest; the witch comes easy, and Fenris buries his face in her hair with a contented little sound.
"It is too early, witch," he mutters. "Please return to bed."
"Y'know I can't," says Merrill, overtly cheerful, even though there's true regret in it. "I promise Nyssa I'd take the wee'uns while she went down the coast t'find some embrium. Y'could come along, if y'like?"
The witch's face wrinkles up. "'Til she gets back, anyway."
Fenris grunts. It is not an awful idea; he is tempted, if only because the witch is incredibly amusing when she tries to wrangle the alieange's children. Fenris has never seen so many people laugh at the witch's jokes.
It makes her happy. This, alone, would be enough.
But the bonemeal stores are getting low. Fenris takes a fierce sort of pride in the way that the alienage has begun to grow up in Kirkwall's cracks; less ribs out of sorts, less of the drooping shoulders, less of Minrathous so bitter on his tongue. The witch's home is becoming a healthy one.
And Fenris has a place, here.
(It is not entirely alike the place he carved out for himself at Hawke's side, but it is not entirely unalike, either. It is something unique, all its own. Much like the witch herself, if he is honest.)
More meat never hurt anyone, either.
"I planned to go hunting," Fenris says, slow and quiet, drawing spirals on the witch's shoulders. She goes lax in his grip, the anxiety that trembles through her so much of the time calm beneath his hands. Fenris noses at her temple. "You will be well without me?"
"You don't need t'worry so, Fenris," the witch says. "I can look after myself, y'know—"
"Merrill," Fenris sighs her name out through his nose.
"Of, fine, I know it'll be alright," she says. It sounds a little more even, though, as though she's found a better grip on herself.
Fenris can accept this, for now. He presses his mouth to the top of her head. "I will not be late."
"No," says the witch. She is determined not to worry him, as she always is. Her gaze is very bright, and very clear of tears. Ah, but his witch is so much stronger than she knows; Fenris is not always so good at telling her this. "Y'never really are."
"Do not say hello to Nyssa for me," Fenris instructs. "She is unbearable."
The witch giggles. "You used t'say that about me, too!"
"And I will say it again, should you let her convince you to go walking in the Bone Pit," Fenris grouses. As though the witch has ever been anything but constantly in his thoughts, even when he did not wish her to be.
"I don't know why y'hate it so, there aren't even any dragons there, anymore!"
"The place is cursed, witch. We have been over this," Fenris reminds her. "And you are not unbearable. You are impossible."
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"No," Fenris says, sighs. He kisses the top of her head again, the mess of her braids coming loose; she is going to be his death, and he will welcome her for it. "I think it is not."
"Will it help if I promise t'lock the door?"
Fenris looks down at her. The witch's eyes are wide and brilliantly green in the morning light. New leaves, shone through with sunlight. She is an unreal thing, and she is not aware of it.
"Yes," he says. Bends to kiss her on the mouth. "It will."
It is going to take half an Age to get the raider blood out of his hair. The witch will fuss; the only consolation is that it is not raider blood in her hair. That would be far worse, as it would mean that he had not been there to prevent her getting raider blood in her hair.
Between the raider trash and the dead deer that Fenris still has not found the opportunity to bleed, it will be a long, difficult journey back into Kirkwall's gates, then all the way home to the witch.
He sighs aloud.
Fasta vass. He'd promised he'd be back before sundown.
She's going to worry.
And Fenris is correct, at least in the summation of time. It is after dark when he finally manages to drag the makeshift sledge back into the city. The blood splatter works in his favour, for once; none wish to engage him, and the sunset dark only enhances the wells beneath his eyes and the scowl on his face, Fenris is a nightmare creature, all the sharp edges of his armour turned to demon claws.
Kirkwakk continues to shiver itself to sleep on tales of Hawke's finesse with a pair of blades. The gangs and the guard leave Fenris well enough alone.
It is late. The alienage is cool and pale blue in the light of the rising moon.
Fenehdis. He will need to wake the witch; the meat cannot go so long in the heat, it will spoil.
(This grates. Fenris does not enjoy disturbing the witch's sleep. He is certain she does not sleep enough, as-is, and she is—it does not do, to wake her when he doesn't need. Fenris cannot sleep without her, anymore, but he would not wish it on Merrill. It is unkind, to be unable to sleep alone.)
But there is a light on, inside their home. A candle, flickering in the window.
Fenris shakes his head, fond.
The door will be left unlocked and he will scold her for it; it is an old ritual between the, that she waits up until he arrives, should he be expected, Merrill will have installed herself at the table with a book, one of the scrap-woven quilts that the alienage women sew spread over her knees. She will perk up and smile, that bright wide thing that splits her face in half, and Fenris will carry her to bed to be sure that she will rest.
She doesn't always, if he is not there to look after her.
And Fenris does not mind looking after his witch.
The candle's flickering brings him to the stoop, raider trash and deep corpse in tow. Fenris pushes open the door just enough to slip inside. Exhaustion itches at the backs of his eyes; it is only the thought of crawling into bed and the warmth of his witch's skin that pushes him forwards. He doesn't even have the energy to fix a scowl in place.
She will see through it, regardless.
the fire is lit. It crackles merrily across the room, a flush of light and heat. Fenris frowns, brow furrowing. It is not like his witch to leave the fire burning so late; she prefers her candlelight and Fenris has come to appreciate it, as well.
Worry is a violent hot wash at the back of his throat. There are no signs of a struggle; he curses his lateness beneath his breath, et stupri stultus, si illa malum est, et pone super ignem mundi—incipiat aliquid quod non potest esse quod factum est—
"Oh! Fenris! You're back!"
Merrill sits at the table, hair loose, skinned down to nothing but a sleep shift. She is pale in the light of the flames but smiling, eyes lit up like lanterns. She is unharmed. She is unharmed. She is—
Sitting with Hawke.
Fenris' knees buckle.
Hawke looks precisely the same as she always has; shorn dark hair, wicked grin, blue eyes bright as the witch's ice magic in a pale, unlined face. Beautiful, by all standards that Fenris has ever known. Her mouth is red, curled fondly as she grins at Fenris' witch.
But—Hawke does not concern him.
Merrill doesn't scramble into standing. Everything about her is drippy with slowness, the tiredness smeared beneath her eyes. Fenris is careful with his witch, gathering her up, painstaking in keeping her skin intact. It is only afterwards that it will strike him that her face is bright with lyrium-glow—he hadn't even been aware.
"Fenris?" the witch says his name softly, high-pitched at the end with her concern. "Are y'alright? You're very—lyrium-ey?"
"I was… worried. I am sorry, I did not mean to be so late," Fenris tells her, quiet and low. It is simpler to assure himself of her wellness. She cannot lie to his hands; she does not try, anymore, and this is better for everyone involved.
But she is whole beneath it.
Fenris breathes easy.
"Aren't you two just darling?"
"Hello, Hawke," Fenris says, as he settles the witch into the crook of his arm.
(Once, he would have balked at the thought of Hawke ssing the quiet care that Fenris knows he cannot help when it comes to the witch. But that was a very long time ago. For all that his witch is still a witch, she is also his. He will never proclaim to own her; the thought is abhorrent. But—belonging. There is, invariably, belonging.)
Hawke watches them, a queer little smile stretched across her face. She is so very fond, that brilliant blue gaze flickering back and forth between them as though she has never seen either of them before in her life, but also can't believe how pleased she is to see them.
Fenris gets the horrible sense that Hawke is feeling nostalgic.
There are few worse things to be, in Kirkwall. Nostalgia is dangerous enough on its own, but Hawke…
Hawke is Hawke.
She is family.
And perhaps she expects this of them, now. She tips her head at the empty seats at the table, tapping her fingers against the edge of the wicked grin. It is less an order, and more an invitation. A return to a time when things were not so complicated, and when they were not all so alone.
"No Wicked Graced?" Fenris crooks an eyebrow.
Hawke laughs. "Without Bela? She'll kill me."
"I still don't understand how four serpents is better than two songs?" Merrill says. She is hopeless at Wicked Grace. It will never stop being amusing, he thinks.
"Better that you don't, kitten."
It should not surprise Fenris that Hawke did not come alone. Anywhere Hawke goes, Isabela is never far behind; Fenris cannot imagine them any other way. She stands in the doorway to the kitchen with a pot of just-steaming something and three cups, hip popped out to the side as though she's standing on a rollicking deck.
"I just never know what t'do?"
"You're fine, Merrill," says Hawke. "As long as you're not playing the Carta's halls, I don't think it matters very much."
"But I always lose," grumbles the witch. She huffs out irritation into Fenris' collarbone, a sure sign that she's getting cranky with the lack of sleep. "And Varric won't tell me where they are, so I wouldn't know where t'go, anyway?"
"Remind me to thank him for that," Hawke says to Isabela under her breath. Fenris privately agrees. He does not want to think about how much trouble the witch could get into, if she were allowed into the Merchants' Guild's gambling rooms; it makes his head throb.
The witch makes a very put-out sort of sound.
"Are you staying?" Fenris finds himself asking. He glances down at the top of the witch's dark head; if Hawke and Isabela remain much longer, he will not have the chance to sort out her hair. And he knows, he knows that he will resent them for it. It will not be their fault, and he will resent them for it, regardless.
But fixing his witch's braids every evening is a ritual, and it is one that Fenris is loathe to give up. He does not enjoy the thin unhappy noises that Merrill is so prone to when she leaves her hair loose; it does not do to miss it.
Even for Hawke, Fenris cannot.
"Varric's palatial suite at the Hanged Man is my palatial suite at the Hanged Man," Hawke chuckles very softly, oddly, like an echo. "And you two don't have the room."
Isabela pours. Wild-apple cider, hot and spiced the way his witch likes, though likely not as sweet as Fenris would prefer it. Merrill settles into it with a happy little wiggle, curling against him as though she belongs there.
(She does belong there, too, although Fenris will never admit this to anyone else.)
Isabela sips her drink and smiles just a little, says nothing of it. But Isabela was always kinder than humans gave her credit for; it is Hawke who pushes the third cup into Fenris' hands and goes to steal Isabela's, instead.
Hawke shows she cares in the strangest ways.
"Oh, no, it's fine!" pipes up the witch. She blinks rapidly at Hawke and Isabela, shaking her head a little. Something like panic, Fenris thinks, and tightens his grip. Breathe, little witch. "Please, y'ought t'stay, it's late!"
"Kitten, you've only one bed!" Isabela laughs.
"We can share?"
"No," says Fenris, cutting that off before it goes anywhere else. "Absolutely not."
"Hawke," he says, despairingly. "Please."
Hawke, because she is awful, flutters her eyelashes. "What, you don't want to share Merrill's tiny, tiny bed with us? Or is it Merrill you don't want to share?"
Fenris scowls at her. Both, he wants to say, but does not.
Isabela has the grace to surreptitiously jab her elbow into Hawke's side. She does it so quickly that if Fenris weren't watching for it, he would have missed it; the witch is not paying attention, mumbling to herself about finding extra blankets that the moths haven't eaten clean through, and he is thankful, because Hawke's pirate also has the gall to wink at him.
They are both terrible, Fenris decides, and scowls some more.
"Don't worry about it, Kitten," Isabela says, very fondly, belying Hawke's wince. "We'll be fine."
"But I—I don't want you t'go?"
Hawke and Isabela glance at one another. Fenris closes his eyes for a split-second longer than a standard blink. They have been away too long; they have forgotten that the witch does not enjoy being alone.
"We're not leaving yet, Merrill," says Hawke. She reaches across the table to tap the witch's hands, fingers gentle. "We'll be here a while yet, sweetheart, I've got things to sort out with Guild."
"For Varric?" asks the witch.
"And for my mother," Hawke says this with the very put-upon air of an eldest child indebted. Her mouth quirks up at the end, though, and she laces their hands like an old habit. The fire crackles, throwing the shadows over Hawke's face into high relief. She looks—tired. More tired than Fenris has ever seen her look. "At least a fortnight. It's good to be home."
The witch's eyebrows draw together; not concern, misery. Fenris has an irrational urge to rub his thumb between them, to smooth her unhappiness away. It does not suit her, and it makes his teeth itch.
"But then you'll go north? To the Wardens? What if y'don't come back, Hawke?"
This catches his attention.
Wardens? For the love of—
"What," says Fenris, flatly.
Hawke waves him off, still concentrated on the witch in his arms. "I'll tell you in the morning, it's a long story," she says. "But I promise, Merrill, we'll be fine. I won't be going alone."
"Only because I wouldn't let you go alone, sweet thing," Isabela cuts in. It is sharper than she likely intended; Fenris can see the clench in Isabela's jaw, too tight. "Kitten makes a decent point. Don't lie."
"I would never," Hawke says, which is a lie.
"You would," says Fenris.
"Not about this," says Hawke, strange and quiet and unlike herself. Something darts across her face, too fast for Fenris to recognize. Hawke and Isabela have been gone too long, but Fenris—Fenris, too, has been away. They are family in all things, the witch's clan-without-a-clan, but there are holes in the weave. "Not when it matters."
Hawke shakes away the melancholy as though it had never been. Her mouth curls. "Besides, I promised Bethy! No dying, at least until tomorrow morning!"
There is more to it, Fenris knows. Hawke is never so blithe as when there is not more to it.
But it is late, and the night has gone on too long.
(There is, Fenris remembers, still a dead deer he requires the witch to freeze.)
"What are we going t'do?" the witch perks up, a little. "Tomorrow, I mean."
"Hat shopping, Kitten, what else?" Isabela laughs. "And heckling Big Girl, if we get the chance. Hawke can take Fenris to the coast to kill things, if they don't want to come."
"We don't," says Hawke, fluttering her lashes again.
"As though we do not kill enough as it is," says Fenris.
"Oh," says the witch. She tips her head back, blinking widely, to catch his gaze. "Does that mean y'want t'come with us? I think you'd look good in a hat. A big one, with a funny brim!"
"Oooh, yes, with feathers—" starts Isabela.
"I do not enjoy hats the way you do, witch," Fenris says. It is much simpler to pretend that Isabela has said nothing at all. "I will go with Hawke."
Merrill smiles, at this. "You'll be alright, then. You'll keep her out of trouble!"
Someone must keep you out of trouble, as well, Fenris thinks, but—in truth, Isabela worries for the witch near as much as Fenris does himself. She will be well in the pirate's care, even if he is not there to be sure of it.
Hawke gasps, offended. She splays a hand over her heart. "I don't know what you're talking about, I'd never get us into trouble!"
"Trouble's what you do best, sweet thing."
"And you love it—"
Fenris is fervently glad that he can ignore this. Their banter washes over him like seawater, clean, bitter-bright. It feels like an old home, one that he'd not even known he'd missed. It is strange, but there is something of contentment here, with the witch snoozing in his lap and Hawke and Isabela squabbling as though they'd never left.
And yet, for all of these things, the witch is drooping against his shoulder.
It is far past time she should be asleep.
"I am taking the witch to bed, now," Fenris says, loudly. "She must rest."
"Y'need t'sleep, too," mumbles the witch into his shoulder, but this is not a protest, merely a statement of fact. Fenris carries her weight like a feather; she does not eat enough, he has been after her for this before, she does not take care of herself when he is gone—
"We'll clean up," Hawke says. She's smiling, a true thing, and when she jerks her head in the direction of their sleep-space, there is nothing begrudging in it.
It is nothing, to hoist the witch up off the ground.
"Lock the door," Fenris says, over his shoulder. "Ignore the dead animal outside."
He doesn't bother to wait for a reply, shouldering his way into their bedroom. Hawke and Isabela will make themselves scarce, or they will not; it is not up to Fenris. Distantly, there is a clatter of tankard against tabletop, the slow murmur of voices. He pays this no mind. Getting the witch settled into bed consumes all of his focus.
"Witch?" Fenris asks, so softly, once he has managed to get her into their nest of blankets. "Are you still awake?"
There is no sound save for her sudden breath, slow and easy. She nuzzles into the palm of his hand when he touches her cheek, a dark lock of hair caught in her mouth. Eyes closed, and dreaming.
Ah, Fenris thinks, unaccountably fond.
His witch is already asleep.
"No," Fenris says, when the witch begins to move. "We are still asleep."
"That's what you always say?"
"And I am always correct," Fenris mutters into her shoulder. It would be so easy to ignore the rest of the world; they ought to leave Hawke to her own devices, and go back to sleep. Isabela can find the witch a hat another day, when the sun is not so bright.
For now, Fenris wishes to sleep for another several hours with the witch tucked beneath his arm, just as she is.
And he would have, too, save for the fact that Hawke is atrocious human being.
There is an unholy bangbangbang at the witch's door.
"Make it stop, witch," Fenris groans into her skin.
"It's Hawke, Fenris," the witch says. "I don't think she knows how?"
This is, unfortunately, true.
Because Hawke does not know how to stop. Hawke did not know how to stop when she set the entire city on fire; Hawke would not know how to stop if it would save her life. Fenris groans again. He ducks beneath the threadbare sheets.
Perhaps if he hides, Hawke will leave them be.
But this is far too much to hope for.
The witch pads from their bed to fetch Hawke—or, more likely, too keep her from waking the entire alienage and causing a city-wide incident. Kirkwall has not forgotten her Champion.
And it would be too much to hope that Hawke would have learned in the intervening months to keep her head down.
Fenris drags himself from bed.
He will get no more rest, today.
And from there, it's into his armour, gulping down a cup of thin tea that does little to warm him from the inside out while Hawke and Isabela tease the witch for her knobbly knees—Fenris' lip curls, as he rather likes the witch's knobbly knees—and allowing himself to be dragged out the front door by the Champion of Kirkwall.
He does, however, make a point to tuck one of the witch's braids behind her ear, fingers gentle. Fenris knows that he cannot promise that he will return by sundown—there is no telling, with Hawke—but this is enough.
His hands in the witch's hair is enough.
Kirkwall is hardly awake. The sun has barely risen above the horizon.
Fenris resents his friends very intensely, for this. "We could not have waited until the world is awake?"
"Still so grumpy," Hawke says, very fondly.
"Only when I am dragged from my rest, Hawke."
Hawke laughs, and does not bother to answer him. She swings herself back into Kirkwall as though she never left; the Wounded Coast path opens before them with a gurgle and hiss of sand and surf.
The Champion throws herself down it the same way she'd throw down a Darktown thug: fast, vicious, joyfully alive.
Fenris huffs, and follows her.
His feet know the path better than he does. He does not need to look where he walks, anymore, if he ever had to at all. But it is easier, watching the wave of seagrass in the sunshine and salt wind, to think about the particular shade of the witch's eyes when she is sleep-warm and content.
And Hawke should know this.
"I am not going to hurt her," Fenris says, very quietly, once the silence between them has gone on too long.
Hawke looks up from prodding the raiders they've just finished offing with her boot—no crest, she'd muttered, Maker, I hope it's not slavers again—lips pursed. "Sorry? Who?"
"The witch," says Fenris. And for further clarification, although he has no idea of whom else Hawke might think he speaks, "Merrill."
"Oh, yes, that," sighs Hawke. She flicks her hair out of her face, shades her eyes against the sun rising over the Waking Sea shining. She squints at him beneath her fingers. "Bela wanted me to talk about something, but I don't remember what it was. You do know Merrill loves you, yes?"
Deliberate obtuseness is below him. Fenris nods, very slowly.
"We have not spoken of it," he says, haltingly. "But—yes, Hawke. I am aware."
"Oh, thank the Maker," says Hawke. The relief is palpable in her voice; if Fenris did not know that Hawke still struggles, even after all of these years, to be any sort of solemn, he might think her flippant. She shakes her head. "I thought I was going to have to talk you through it, and then have you run off on us anyway!"
If it had not been so long since the beginning, Fenris would have agree. He knows himself; if the witch had been the one to force the issue, he would still be in Minrathous's underbelly, blood and lyrium on his hands.
But the witch did not force the issue.
She waited, instead.
Fenris does not have the words to make Hawke understand. Perhaps the words themselves do not exist: kadan, he finds himself thinking, when the witch is sufficiently close to sleep and tucked beneath his chin, vhenan, amata. Witch. I will let nothing hurt you. You have been hurt enough.
But Hawke has not been away so long that she will not understand, and so Fenris tries.
"She is—" and still, he must stop, must pause; the breadth of what his witch makes him feel is impossible, impossible, "—I do not wish to see her unhappy, Hawke."
"None of us do, Fenris! We all love her, you know," Hawke says. "Oh, you might want to pull out that sword, we've company 'round the bend!"
Somehow, Fenris cannot say that he is surprised.
Hawke falls on the raiders like something wild, the bright screech of metal-against-metal loud in Fenris' ears. Morning sunrise spills over the Wounded Coast pale gold, blood splatter across his face already. It is a marvel to watch Hawke work; she makes mince of the raiders, daggers a flash, and Fenris hardly has to do a thing.
Fenris has forgotten what it is like to have Hawke watching his back.
The fight is over in barely two minutes. Fenris wipes his blade clean, grimacing. The witch will be worried; there is blood in his hair, again. He mutters darkly under his breath, witch and apologies and I did not mean for this. No amount of coin will make up for the look on her face when she attempts to patch him up.
And his witch always does attempt it, even when she should not.
"Oh," says Hawke. She cocks her head at him, mouth curling strangely, smiling as though sucking on a sweet. "Fenris, you do love our little flower, don't you?"
Fenris has to fight not to deny this. Clenches his jaw. "Those words should be for the witch, Hawke. I would not have her think—"
"But you do."
He breathes out slowly. "Yes. Do not tell her."
"Never," grins Hawke. "It's not my surprise to ruin! But you will tell her, won't you? Bela will be so disappointed if you don't. She might cry!"
Hawke goes very gentle, the way Fenris has only ever seen her turn around her younger siblings and their children. There is something in it that he cannot pick apart; the witch is better, at this, for all that she is much worse at being at person. "I think you two suit each other. And you've stopped trying to run off, haven't you?"
"I did not wish to stay," Fenris says, very quietly. And he did not; without Hawke, Kirkwall was a tomb. But the witch—the witch is something else. "And I did not, always. I could not."
"And yet, here you are?"
"And yet, here I am."
Fenris does not tell Hawke about all the times he nearly did not return. When he'd woken to find the witch curled into his side, sleeping so deeply she was hardly breathing. When he'd come around a corner to find her blinking at a blushing alienage boy, holding a flower. When he'd told his witch that he would not, could not, always stay.
It lives inside of him like illness, eating at the backs of his eyes. Fenris is aware that he harms her by being so close; it is a background truth that he does not like to acknowledge, because should he acknowledge it, he would have to leave her. It would be kinder.
But Fenris cannot abide the thought of being parted from her, now.
He reaches for his witch, always.
Hawke looks at him with cool, unjudgmental eyes. She keeps her face very neutral, none of the vicious joy that Fenris knows she is capable of risen to the surface. She studies him for a very long moment where she says nothing at all.
"What will you do if she wants to leave?"
"I would let her go," Fenris says. "What else?"
"It's not that funny, Hawke."
"Don't lie to yourself," she says, reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. "It is that funny, Fenris! You've a crush! On Merrill!"
"It is more than a crush, I think," Fenris mutters beneath a renewed round of Hawke's cackling. He supposed he should be relieved that Hawke is taking this as well as she is. He would prefer to return to the city before he gets any more blood in his hair, and truly, he is anxious to return to the witch.
There is no telling what nonsense Isabela is filling her head with.
(Hats, Fenris thinks. It is always the hats.)
Hawke chuckles for a long time. It is even longer than she is silent; they move without sound over the shoreline, only the ravens cawing and the waves crashing to fill their ears. The Waking Sea still bears the scars of their time here.
The bones have not yet all washed away.
Fenris does not expect it when Hawke sighs.
"I'm glad you're looking after each other," she says. "I wouldn't trust it to anyone else."
"You will leave, then."
"I don't think I've a choice in the matter," Hawke shakes her head. Metal clinks as she moves. "Wardens, Maker, it's Anders all over again, except Carver's involved."
Fenris tries not to think about the number of daggers Hawke carries on her person. He also tries not to think about Anders, as that line of thought will only annoy him. The Wardens, however, are something else. "An explanation would not go amiss."
"He's been made Warden-Commander of Orlais. Not the best idea on their part, I must admit," Hawke says, very light. "Rather a lot of darkspawn and blood magic, if I'm honest. And not even Merrill's sort of blood magic, the real kind."
"Ah," says Fenris. "Magisters."
"Be glad you weren't there. You'd have hated it," Hawke says, grinning at him out of the corner of her mouth. "They all wore terrible robes, it was atrocious. My eyes burned."
"And what does that have to do with Wardens?"
"Blood-thralls, Fadewalking, the ancient darkspawn that we killed in the Vimmarks," says Hawke, very blithe.
"Not the best night you've had, Hawke?"
"Bela wasn't even there to make me laugh! It was horrible," she tells him. "And I had to leave Varric with the Inquisitor, even though he was miserable. Maker, I don't know why everyone thinks the desert is so interesting, it's a nightmare. Sand in your joints!"
Only Hawke would put it like that.
Only Hawke would make it quite so light.
Fenris swings his sword up over his shoulder, chuckling low in his throat. It is good that she is home, for however long she remains. He has not laughed so easily in a very long time, and the witch is always more content when she is not alone.
Kirkwall is not the same without Marian Hawke.
Again, Fenris can't say that he's all that surprised.
"What a tit!"
"You encouraged him too often, Hawke, you're going to have to blame yourself for this. Ooh, do you think he still shines his armour like that?"
"It was very shiny."
Fenris sighs into the witch's shoulder. She is small in his arms, peering down at the table in the Hanged Man with far too much interest for someone who will not be part of it.
Aveline rubs her temples. "You can't stay, Hawke. He means this, and I'm barely keeping this place together as it is. We're not prepared for an invasion."
"You'd make a very good Viscount, Aveline," Hawke says graciously. "This is well-done, did you know?"
"Don't tell Bran that, he'll get a stupid idea into his head," Aveline says darkly.
"I don't understand," says the witch. She shifts against Fenris's chest, frowning a little. "Why's Sebastian doing this? He doesn't have to, does he?"
"Because he's forgotten how ridiculous we are, Kitten."
"I don't think we're ridiculous?"
"We'll leave, then," says Hawke, ignoring the witch and Isabela entirely. She looks hard at Aveline for a very long time. "It'll be enough."
"No, Aveline, think. He's only found teeth because Bela and I are here," Hawke says. This is the most reasonable thing Fenris has heard her say all day. He hates it, regardless. "He'll slink back off to Starkhaven once we're gone, you know he will."
"It would be best."
"But you've only been here a day," the witch says. Fenris can hear the sudden panic, tight in her throat. The witch trembles, just a little. Just enough. He clenches his teeth. "Y'can't leave yet!"
"Oh, Merrill," says Hawke, at the same time Isabela says, "Oh, Kitten."
But they do not reach to take her from Fenris, and he is glad for this. The witch remains where she is, tucked into the crook of his body, where she belongs. But it is hard to hold, when he can feel the vibration to her frame.
"I knew you'd have t'leave, but I didn't think it would be so soon," the witch swallows.
Fenris will not be able to calm her down until they are alone, and there is no telling when that will be. He will not be able to rub the jitters out, will not be able to pin her against a wall with hips and hands and mouth. They must wait it out.
But for all of it, he can hear the witch's protests loud and clear:
She does not want to be alone.
Fenris cannot blame her for it. He would take her home, simply to remove the sudden tightening of grief from her shoulders.
"Do you wish to leave?" he asks her, low into her ear, too quietly for any of the other women at the table to hear. Fenris ignores the way that Aveline pinches the bridge of her nose and the look that Hawke and Isabela exchange; it is not their business, what words he and his witch trade.
"Maybe later," the witch whispers in reply. She takes a shuddering breath.
Maybe later cannot come soon enough, Fenris reflects.
But the walk back to the alienage is awfully, terribly silent, when it finally does.
Fenris does not disturb it. The witch does not have her head in the clouds for once; she concentrates on the stones in front of her, the slim of her shoulders hunched up around her ears.
He hates this more than he knew he could.
But soon they are home. The claustrophobic hang of the alienage closes in around them, and Fenris finds himself breathing a sigh of relief. He had hated this place, once, had hated the way his own had allowed themselves to be caged.
He does not think it so, anymore.
(He cannot think it is, when he has watched the alienage children follow their parents in their planting rituals; when he has watched them cluster around the witch with wide eyes late at night, begging for another story; when he has woken to find extra blankets left on the stoop because the alienage looks after their strange witch of a Keeper when she cannot look after herself. Not when he has found tendrils growing up through the cracks in Kirkwall's stone. Not when he has learned.)
Fenris herds the witch all the way home.
He is careful to lock the door behind him. It would be easier if the witch were see-through as glass, but she is not; she is a person, and she is his person, and he does not know how to even begin to attempt to fix it.
"Witch," Fenris murmurs. She stands with her arms wrapped around herself, so small in the vastness of their home. There is something sharp in his throat like broken glass, and he can barely breathe. He would like it if she would smile, again. "What must I do?"
"Oh," says the witch. She shakes herself of the melancholy as she shakes her head. It brightens her, some, but not enough; when she smiles, it hardly reaches her eyes. "Oh, Fenris, it's not—there's nothing, don't you see? It's not your fault."
"I am aware, witch," he says. "But…"
"But you are upset."
"Y'know, I—I always wanted t'have friends like other people did," the witch says. "And when I met Hawke, I got to! Hawke, and Varric, and Isabela, and Bethany—and you, too, I s'pose—" She breaks off to shrug, smiles a little ruefully. "I missed Hawke and Isabela, and I miss Varric, and I miss Bethany, too. All the time. I'm not very good at loneliness, Fenris."
She is terrible at loneliness. Fenris does not say this, even though it is true.
"You should not have to be good at loneliness, witch," he says, instead. This is true, as well. "You are not meant for it."
"No one is, I don't think," she says.
It strikes Fenris that the witch is very wise, often when she does not mean to be. He is very careful when he touches her shoulder. "Witch…"
Merrill shrugs. "But I'll be alright. If y'go with Hawke when she leaves—"
"I will not," Fenris cuts in. The thought is repulsive. To leave her here, only to go north? For what? He will not leave her for Tevinter. He will not leave her for anything, even Hawke.
"—but if y'do, I'll be alone, and I have t'be alright with that."
"Witch," Fenris says.
"I want t'go to Skyhold, Fenris."
"Oh," the witch says, blinking. "I wasn't going t'tell you that. Not yet, anyway. Can you pretend I didn't say it?"
"Why would you—" Fenris bites the words off, half a frustrated snarl in his throat. "What would possess you, witch?! Why?!"
"I, um, don't think you're trying t'be funny, Fenris, but I—I think that was quite funny?"
"Because Hawke's right! Does that make y'feel better? Hawke's right, I don't want t'be alone, and you'll go off t'Tevinter because you've said y'will, and I—" the witch inhales very sharply, as though she is about to burst into tears, but never entirely makes it all the way there, "—and at least if I go, there'll be Varric and Bethany and the twins and it won't—it won't be so bad?"
"Witch, may I touch you?"
"Why'd y'always—" the witch shakes herself. She beings again. "Yes, if you want. But y'only ask when I'm upset. Why?"
"Because I was not always granted the same luxury," says Fenris. It is not a dagger between the ribs the way it used to be, to confess this to her. He gathers her to him carefully, as carefully as the witch has ever tried to be. She comes easy, the soft dark of her hair smooth like warm oil beneath his chin.
"I didn't know," the witch says.
Fenris pulls her in close. "I did not expect you to."
The witch allows this for long seconds that Fenris did not assume he would have. Her skin smells of rainwater and vhenadahl bark, and she is warm and soft and he cares for this witch more than he knew he could. He would cut off his own hands before he hurts her intentionally again.
(Fenris scowls to himself. Love. He hates it when Hawke is correct.)
But it ends, as all good things do in Fenris' experience, and the witch eventually pulls away.
There is nothing common about her, he thinks. She is very fair, the thinly-inked lines of her vallaslin still so stark. He has touched them before, traced them down her shoulders and over her hips; they fascinate him, as all parts of the witch do. The hollows beneath the bright green of her eyes. The hollow beneath her throat. The softness of her mouth, slightly parted around his name.
"Would you come with me, Fenris?"
"If you wish it, witch."
"I do," she says. And then softer, again, her fingers knotted into the cuff of his shirt. "I do."
And Fenris—Fenris has never enjoyed mountains, but the witch would have him go, and he can deny her nothing. Nothing. Not if it means she will stop looking as though someone has cut her insides out and left her to bleed.
His witch deserves more than this.
And later, when the fire is banked and the witch is sleeping at his side, Fenris will think about going where the light is. He has spent his life searching for shackles cracked open; he has spent his life trying to escape, and then trying to settle, and then trying to find himself once again. Freedom, that is the word.
But there is freedom in this, too. Fenris closes his eyes, and pulls her in close. She allows it, and allows him, and the bruises from his mouth along her collarbone stay as they are.
There is freedom in it.
There is freedom in choosing the witch.