My Only Sunshine
The young master pretends at stealth behind a pillar. When it proves inconvenient he steps out, exposes himself. This is not boldness on his part, only ignorance that the column would not have impeded me regardless. I remind myself of his ignorance, and it is a comfort.
The fashionably long sleeves of his robe impair his aim. The lump of melon strikes my cheek instead of square, where it breaks, splatters. The rot is overwhelming, and I am covered with it. I flare my nostrils widely as I breathe. This seems counter to purpose, but I imagine the stench diffuse against the vaster intake of air.
We will be gone soon. I tell myself. My master talks with this one's father, and I will not shame him with my lack of control. I am left at this door for the amusement of the young master. So it must be. I can provide no real guard here, not at a single door when the room beyond has no walls — shutters and screens only, this bleeding arrogance open as a wound to the garden beyond, where any attack may come from the dense greenery which surrounds this place. I was made for rooms exactly like the one at my back, where a magister on his home ground may try to end his allies and enemies both, yet I am here instead while my master is alone beyond the door.
There are eggshells in my hair. Leaf litter at my feet. I do not feel them. The young master pulls back his sleeve. I twitch my chin against the imperative to duck.
The young master had a look in his eye when he first saw me. He looked at his father and he looked at me. There was a sneer there, the younger for the older. I believe he accurately deduced his sire's insistence on my exclusion as being sourced in fear.
Similarly, I believe the young master's current entertainment is calculated to prove himself unafraid and unwary, brighter and bolder than his sire.
Soon he empties his basket of kitchen scraps whole enough to throw. With my lack of reaction frustrating him, the young master demands acknowledgement of the slave to his side.
The slave is old. With eagerness, he speaks bright praise of the young master's skill and ability, his strong arm and excellent sense of humour. The young master basks, pleased, hands on hips and chin smugly raised. When the slave's litany becomes repetitive the young master loses his puff in increments, until he is scowling. The slave has not noticed. The young master smacks the back of the slave's bowed head, firstly to silence him, then secondly for his slowness in providing further ammunition.
Obedient, The slave squats, and scrapes together a lump of fatty meat from the basket of scraps. The slave looks at his handful of grease and maggots, he looks at me, and the tired old throat swallows.
I feel, not sympathy, but an awareness of the slave's hunger. I am better treated than this grey slave, and in truth all of the slaves in my master's house are treated with respect for their skills, provided with more food, better clothing than I have seen elsewhere in Minrathous. My master would be shamed to see any of us look like the skin and bones this old man is, he would be mortified of how the poverty of his slaves reflects on his house should even the night soil slave have a ragged hem on his breeches. But I am not blind, and I have been with my master to the fields, to the canning houses, the mines and the killing fields; this lump of rancid meat and fat is more substantial and more easily obtained than can be garnered from the hours of washing, cleaning, scraping and boiling intestines or marrowless bone that is the only legal obligation towards meat substances that a master must provide to a slave on the two free days they have each year.
Due to the rot, the meat is also less clean than offal. But it is desirable all the same. Because it is better than scrap. Because it was once on a master's plate. The old slave swallows revulsion, hunger, and shame at what he feels. And my throat tightens, never in sympathy for these fools who never learned to climb, but because I am not ignorant.
The young master sees with the eyes of a magister. That is the miracle, always: that there is power behind their corruption and selfishness; that it is a fatal error to assume that because they are flawed and foolish and subject to their degradations, they are not brilliant as well.
The young master turns pleasant in reaction to what he thinks he has seen pass between us. His child's voice is smooth and wheedling. He insists the slave has his fun as well.
The slave can no longer look at me. The eyes show a terror so resigned, he looks like a speechless beast. When he throws, it is limply, and the lump of precious and revolting meat falls short and spreads on the tile, maggots spilling like rice.
The young master laughs loudly and brassily at the slave's incompetence. The slave makes obeisance and gives further praise for the young master's obvious supremacy in all matters. The young master abruptly tires of laughter, and slaps the slave silent. He reprimands the slave for daring to comparing himself to a magister, for making a mess, and for not acting to clean it up immediately.
The slave grovels, yet with genuine gratitude.
That is why what I feel for them is never sympathy. Pity, perhaps. I would put them all out of their misery and feel I had effected a meaningful change on their lives.
The young master stands alone now. He idles from his false sanctuary behind the columns, kicking the kitchen crate with him as if it were a ball. He stands before me and smiles, and wrinkles his nose at the stench. He continues on, carrying the crate up the stairs. When he reaches the balconette he pauses to gasp for air. I speculate he has never carried a crate before, even empty. Then the remnants are upended, leaves and other detritus too small for a proper projectile crumbling into the monument of filth around me.
I do not look up. I do not close my eyes.
After a pause, comes a rustle of robes both brocade and silk. The slide of a braided fastener against itself, skin on skin. The sounds of a magister exposing himself intimately are familiar to me. The thin stream of urine arcs over the balconette, too far at first, finding my shoulder then my scalp next, remaining on target until the final few drops.
The young master groans, shakes vigorously from the sound of his jewellery chiming, and departs.
The elderly slave reappears with cloths, a metal dish of steaming water, and a basket lined with cabbage leaves and soil for absorption, and commences collecting the spoils of the young master's boredom. He does not look at me nor venture close. His hand trembles when he gets too close to broaching that invisible boundary of which we are both aware. The filth around my feet remains untouched.
I am untouched.
Eventually the slave leaves. After some hours, I feel something else I should not be feeling; but this, rather, fills me with excitement. The pull of my master's power comes from the room beyond. I count my breaths in anticipation. My master comes through the door on the sixth exhalation, rubbing the blood from his palms. Shaking his head sorrowfully, he laments the circumstance which conspired to lose him another old friend. His eyebrows climb when he spots the filth and degradation inflicted on my person; shock and sorrow.
But there is always a bright side in the gain of certain spoil, he tells me.
There is a wife somewhere in the mansion. I may have her, if I want, for a time. I must make it quite clear that I am a slave, that I am the magister Danarius' slave, and that she is now mine in every way that a body may be claimed. Let her live to tell another the tale, that is all the restraint my master asks of me.
My master looks at me. And I look at him. I do not think of some middling age magistressa, of breaking her bones one by one as I enter her. I do not think of how to measure in her eyes the violence I inflict against the scale of Tevinter cruelty. I think instead of the young master, the boy with the brassy hair and boldness, the momentary spark of cunning and brilliance I saw through his corruption. Together all these things will make him dangerous.
I am more dangerous.
I do not mumble. I ask clearly if the boy will be inheriting now. If my master will be pleased for this, a vulnerable, impressionable youngster taking his father's seat of power in the senate, or if my master has other plans for the house, wealth and influence of his deceased enemy...
My master uses his own sleeve to wipe my face, his features softening in affection. I burn inside with shame for the circumstances which have caused him to soil his robes. He must never let me from his side again. He touches me. Only he touches me.
The boy is unimportant, he tells me. To him, I may do whatever I want, so long as what is left is known to have been done by a slave.
I am capable of doing much when I am permitted to want.
I go through the house, and where the slaves do not run from me I kill them. Where they run, I let them go. Let them talk of me. The rest of Minrathous has already begun their stories. When the house is empty of all those who do not matter, I go to where the boy is hiding in the wardrobe of his bedroom, itself larger than the quarters of ten slaves together. His magic sparks and swells and slides from my skin. He cannot touch me. I am inspirational, my master tells me often. The terror on the boy's face is inspired.
I embrace him with my body covered with the blood and wealth of his household. I kiss this redheaded boy-man while he howls. I spit in his mouth. I enter him. I inhabit him, the ghost inside his weak body and his weak magic. When I end, I end his life from the inside out.
Then I go to look for his mother the magistressa, who my master wishes to live.
For this reason, for her, I feel sympathy. Life is not a gift Danarius gives freely.
Fenris wakes screaming. He wakes, trying to tear the false memories from his skull, his eyes from their sockets, his hair from his head. Trying, because his wrists are held beside the bed. His lyrium is unpredictable now but it answers his will often enough; the metal I use to bind him was once a saarabas collar. These things he cannot escape.
I have spent many days, spaced apart, trying to wheedle further information from my brother on the lyrium dementia which affects aging templars. But there is only so much I can gain from Carver, only so many times I will risk our sanctuary by venturing from it; I cannot trust a templar, not even my brother. The world has changed too much.
But Carver is a dead end, has always been. I already know the solution to Fenris' illness.
Some years ago, before Fenris' sharp deterioration, we were in a market in Antiva when I caught sight of an unforgettable profile. The hair was much different — the hairline had receded without forgiveness, though the tail persisted to great lengths and with a full beard as if to compensate — but you could not hide that nose short of multiple breaks. He had always been too vain to go so far. That I did offer to break it for him, repeatedly, before we parted ways after Kirkwall, goes without saying. I left Fenris well supplied for his steady drinking and tracked my old companion to a feral den. He was moving on, without doubt; I had seen as he walked, the soles of his boots were thin as parchment, patched as many times over as the coat.
He was unsurprised to see me, as if the years and his actions had not intervened. He complained about the quality of reagents these days, the price of accommodation, attempted to wheedle out of me a contribution to his endless selflessness, and we did not talk about the war. But through it all his eyes were dull, deadened; the eyes of a Tranquil. He lived a life full of the manufactured symbols of freedom, unable to remember what it was he truly sought. His spirit had left him, or become him, and all that was left was not even disappointment; the absence of disappointment. Remembering those dead eyes now remind me more than ever how much pain Fenris is in, at war with himself; Fenris' eyes are a different novel every time he parts his lids, each time ending in tragedy.
What was I to do? When Anders passed Danarius' papers along, a bitter twist to his mouth not even with the backwards enjoyment a person might gain from mocking another, he did so entirely unprompted. Indeed, I had not even mentioned Fenris' slowly increasing incapacity to one he had so disliked. Anders had been in hiding in Tevinter for some years and a perverse curiosity — in the days when he still felt curiosity, I assumed — prompted him to track down Danarius' research. You might need these soon, he told me, and smiled without pleasure.
I did not touch Danarius' research for a long time. But neither did I destroy the papers, a guilty abstinence, and Fenris continued to sicken. Not his body — though if it had been only his body, I could have managed that with some dignity for him. His mind lost the boundaries he had so painstakingly constructed. The way he began to leer when a type of bright eyed youth walked by us, the increasing inappropriateness of his behaviour, the lack of impulse control in one who used to be so controlled. He would forget to eat, feeling no hunger, then on presentation of food partake until vomiting, lunging greedily for sweets and fatty parts, for salt in quantities I boggled at him. When he drank, he would rapidly reach a snapping point where suddenly I would no longer be sitting next to my beloved, cynical companion but a violent, sick stranger, prone to wild and vicious diatribes against whatever had currently offended him. Through our usual travels, he lost track of landmarks, of the ability to orient when on a simple walk through a town away from our inn; simultaneously he became convinced he was hunting for someone, someone he had to humiliate and kill, searching through our current cityscape for landmarks which only existed in his memory, becoming inevitably lost and sharply frustrated by his confusion.
It was unsurprising, his hunter delusion, but still worrying on how sure he was that this was his purpose. And how convincing he could be! In those early days, to my sadness I believed in his fantasy; he was careful to hide the most of his confusion behind his usual stoicism, behind the trust we had built between us where I had learned to listen to his instincts. Therefore it was a long time for me to believe he was sickening. Those days, of abrupt movings-on and wild chases through the dark towards non existent enemies, were the better days. Easier to indulge his fantasy than to combat it, to agree completely.
Later, when my suspicions could no longer be denied, I would pretend to believe and offer actions and suggestions which would 'further his goal' while secretly trying to get him to a safe place. Even that tactic only worked for a time. Even lost in his mind Fenris was not a fool, and he grew intensely suspicious of my mollification methods.
There were the times when his paranoia was paramount, and he sought to escape me, believing me an enemy purposefully keeping him from his goal.
That all of this chaos and confusion would descend to deadly action was unmistakable. I could not trust him out of my sight when he sometimes thought to attack strangers guilty of only a sidelong glance. Yet my constant hovering did little but exacerbate the matter.
Despite all of that, he was still mostly himself. On better days, after accepting that he could no longer hide his deterioration, he spoke of his fear, of his unhappiness, he spoke of ending himself or of me leaving him to his madness. He spoke of his belief that he would hurt me if I did not go. If I did not let him go. He clutched at the sheets because he was too afraid to touch me. I tried to comfort him with my ability to handle everything; had I not proven myself already?
But I was overconfident in my ability to both restrain and comfort him. Overconfident of how much affection he felt for me. A confrontation ended with his fist through my chest. I called his name, I begged him, and if I had expected some knowing horror to fill his eyes, if I had expected him to snap out of his murderous rage as soon as he recognised me, to weep and beg forgiveness for his behaviour, it did not occur. He nearly killed me, and when he let me fall to the floor he said my name, contemptuously, and spat on me. He knew precisely who I was. He declared himself free of any mage's touch and left.
That night, from a Chantry sickbed, I wrote to Varric to allocate some funds to hunters, to bring Fenris back to me. Alive. Alive and in good condition. The words made me weep writing them, as if he were a dog. How did one ask to hire only gentle hunters when the target they were hunting was not gentle? People would die as a consequence of my deficiencies. Fenris was unstable, he was dangerous. He was deluded, and he could not be expected to act without the bounds of civilised behaviour when he did not recognise civilisation, much less his own behaviour. The fault was my own.
Being only a two day boat trip away, Carver visited me during my recovery time. This was where I first had the idea to question him about templar deterioration. He told me, chillingly enough, that it was true that in some cases templars would descend to savagery or sexual deviancy, to abuse, but that it was not a random descent. Those templars who had been at their core honest and true, rarely descended to such behaviour when lyrium destroyed their boundaries. Only those with violence in their histories, sexual predators and sadists, would lose their ability to hide their darkness.
Lyrium insanity destroyed the mask. It did not recreate the man.
Learning this inspired me to purpose. While I recovered from Fenris' attack, I read Danarius' research papers. The mind of the magister was an ordered place, quantified, calculating, very collected. I swung from mild interest in his results and utter horror that this kind of passionless science had been inflicted on the body of a living being, on my beloved. Eventually, I arrived at a solution which would stabilise the lyrium running through Fenris' body, which even now darkened his skin as spreading mercury. As a consequence, this action would restore his mind to a healthy state.
For a mage such as myself, a blood mage, true, but a free man, it was a solution both simple and repellent to me. Thus when Fenris was returned to me, spitting and animal, I bound him instead with saarabas metal, resistant to his phasing. Tried to protect him, to talk him back to himself. I slept beside him with my body warming his, even if his arms were bound. Times were that he did not need to be bound, and he loved me, and I loved him back. He did not weep often, then; but slept. The battles he fought were against himself.
The descent was fast; now most times he wakes screaming.
I tell myself Fenris' memories of his actions are false. That they are delusions born of the lyrium poisoning. He tells me of what he dreams — remembers — in a detail which makes me ill. Sometimes he speaks with a terrifying glee. Other times he weeps, dry sobs; his body is drying up. I do not know what rends me more, when he cries or when he exults. The longer this goes on, the more detailed his memories become, until it seems he lives more wholly in what used to be the life that he has now.
They must be false. Misremembered. Seen through a filter of self-blame and guilt, the lyrium toxicity befuddling. Fenris may have done such things as a weapon, or seen them, but that was not him. He is not a weapon, has not been for a long time. That he reacts even in his madness with such guilt, such horror, is surely the clearest sign that he is not what he was. But there is no way to speak this logic to him through the sickness. He calls Danarius' name, begging for succor or shouting accusations; perhaps more terrifying are the moments when he cannot recall the name, and asks me to remind him. Who owns him, who commands him, who can end this for him.
Should I tell him my own name? I do not know. This can only get worse for him. For us. I lie beside his fighting, sleeping body and feel it as he hardens in his sleep, as his hips roll to a familiar rhythm, when his brands light and he ends as he kills some demon of a memory; but when I look up his eyes are open, his lips curl and it is not an expression I have seen on his face before.
He does not see me in the renewing dark. He chuckles happily, rounded out by a contented sigh.
Call it nostalgia; I have not often been prey to such. Some weeks out of that mudpile of a village where I saw him again, I found myself staring into the dying coals of my firepot, remembering years of heated argument, of passion. Years of yearning, unfulfilled, perhaps the more powerful for that it was never more than a dream. Years, also, of trying so very hard to convince the elf, unsure of who our performance was for.
That I once contained such desire, such excess of energy to expend on a pointless thing, is like remembering a book once read. The main events I can recall, but not the reasons why. I have spent too many years hiding, surviving. If this is freedom, perhaps in the end I deserved it.
That morning I lingered, unable to summon the energy to rouse. In the mid-afternoon, a cohort of hunters burst into my campground. They were courteous, relatively speaking, and I was disinclined to kill them. They called me an old man, and perhaps I was. One who needed his gnarled old walking staff to stand.
Their question was simple. Had I seen an elf, white hair, olive skin, white brands but mottled skin, poisoning. There had been a sighting in the last village, a demon they had called him; all had been well, a simple traveller purchasing goods, until suddenly a negotiation with the dwarven vendor turned sour. It ended it blood. I could have warned them everything with Fenris ended in blood. And for a Fenris without his master? Uncontrolled, untethered, unleashed? Ah, Hawke never learned.
I told the hunters I had never heard of such a thing, an elf accusing a dwarf merchant of theft? It only happened every time an elf spoke to a dwarf. I chuckled at the joke; the hunters exchanged glances and did not. We continued along our separate ways.
Another six months I travelled, until the onset of winter drove me back into civilisation. I am not poor; what do I spend my coin on? For some reason, this time I was longing for silk against my skin, for a proper bath. The proprietress looked at me askance until I produced my aged sovereigns. She still looked at me askance, but I was not paying for her smiles. I did pay for a tailor; if in my rapidly approaching old age I was inclined to shift from vagrancy to conceal myself, perhaps evoking my wealth would serve. Any dwarven bank would release me my funds, a careful series of codewords and conspiracies established between Varric and myself in those years when I thought of a future after Kirkwall.
After all these years, it would let Varric know I was alive. Perhaps the hunters would come again, or perhaps nothing. Likewise, the thought evoked nothing in me, not even anticipation. It was only a thought, tugging at a thread which was not yet ready to unravel. Silk used to mean more to me than this, but the reasons why were lacking.
I found them that evening, descending to the dining room. Hawke, resplendent in his preference of red and black silk, trimmed with fur; his magnificence had always lent itself to bulk, and the prodigious spread beneath the silk might have robbed the mage of grace but never grandeur. His beard was sleek and groomed, the wavy dark hair a length to match, touched in only the most dignified of ways with grey at the ears.
And Fenris, startlingly, not in his armour. The linen of his shirt was thin enough the colour of his skin showed through, warm and burnished, the shifting muscles and blades of shoulders; there were fine details blurring into the borders, hints of lace, ribbons, the heel of a well-turned boot as if he had adopted Ferelden custom despite his northern origin.
Somewhere over the years he had found a barber he trusted with blades near his neck; immaculately groomed, the grey hair sheared close to show the shape of his skull. The eyes were exposed and somehow so much the younger seeming for it. The sheen of his nails caught the light as he gestured through his speaking.
As I stood, incapable of comprehension, Hawke said something to which Fenris threw back his head and laughed freely, the sound low and warm. The manicured hand descended to Hawke's forearm and touched, caressed. Hawke cupped his hand over Fenris' and looked at the elf as if this bright, free thing were all that stood between him and a death by drowning.
I went over. Interrupted perhaps a little rudely; Hawke looked at me with mirrors for eyes, while Fenris merely looked blank. Gentle and polite, Fenris asked if he might help me with something, serah?
I could not come up with words to respond. Hawke spoke for me instead. He introduced me to Fenris as his old associate from Kirkwall. Then he introduced Fenris to me, by another name.
Let it never cross my lips.
It was not a game. Not a trace of recognition crossed Fenris' face. He dipped his head graciously as any princeling and greeted me. He offered warmly the seat across the table and an invitation to stay for the meal; in deference to my solitude he separated the press of his leather-clad thigh against Hawke's from beneath the table and reseated his chair with some distance between them.
Fenris held the conversation. Fenris, this stranger. Who listened politely and intently when my commentary dragged into what even I recognised as whining complaints; when Hawke's eyes glazed over at my monotony, Fenris nodding and intent and making noises encouraging me to continue. The meal was flavourless to my mouth and I complained even about that, helpless but to sit back and watch myself, incapable of restraint.
Fenris did not contradict me. He nodded and suggested that perhaps the right wine as accompaniment would bring life back into the pedestrian offering. Hawke laughed as if choking. Rolling his eyes in affectionate exasperation, Fenris stroked him between the shoulders as he passed, moving to catch and speak to a waiter, evidently insisting on access to the wine cellar.
So that is where I sit now, staring at Hawke while Hawke stares at me, the ruins of a meal between us. I have always borne suspicions he was - is - a blood mage, but Hawke was skilled at hiding long before I had even dreamed of my first escape from the Circle. His father, the blood mage also, teaching skills to conceal, ways to adapt, to hide.
Hawke breaks first. He tells me to stop looking at him so. What else did I expect him to do, after I handed over Danarius' research? What were my intentions, dropping that particular bomb?
His demand is flawed. Intentions? I hardly remember ever having one. My mind is in shards, wrapped in a blanket which frays daily, destroyed by that which it conceals. Who I am to speak of intentions? Perhaps I thought it would initiate a fight between them; they had never seen eye to eye. Perhaps it was a trace morbid humour. Perhaps I was simply weary of carrying another burden which reminded me of before. Only to spark with nostalgia on relieving myself of it.
I ask Hawke why he did it.
Hawke tells me he was desperate.
I liken his actions to that I have always deplored of mages in desperation.
He reminds me I am not one to talk.
I tell him my hypocrisy does not negate truth of his.
He tells me the truth is that Fenris is now happy, and that is all that matters to him. All that can matter to him. He knows he has gone too far. There was nothing else to be done.
I tell him, that is not Fenris.
I am shaking. I do not know why. I still feel nothing, but I hear my voice stretch, distort, as if around the shape of something I cannot see.
But the elf has returned. He pours me wine; he demonstrates an elegant turn of wrist, the sleeve pulled back just slightly to bare the graceful bone. I thank him, and sip; Hawke does the same, and praises Fenris effusively for his excellent taste. Fenris leans into the praise and warms.
The wine is a ruddy Antivan, rough enough to burn my throat. Cheap enough to stain my fingers when my hand shakes on the glass. There is no expertise in its selection. The wine is a farce.
I swallow, hard.
Then I want to laugh. I want to laugh until I scream. There are years of laughter and screaming in there. There are threads, and they are snapping like bowstrings, like stitches, the frayed patches fraying; beneath I see the glint of glass. That was me. That is me. It is too dangerous to feel all that, and I remind myself I cannot dare.
But Fenris looks at me and smiles, and I want to die for all I have done.
The other mage disturbs me.
I cannot let Hawke know his friend provokes this feeling in me, of unease. Hawke has done so much for me. He has told me who I was, the illness I suffered which required reconstruction as a cure. He used my old name until I could no longer bear to hear it and asked for another, one which did not make my mind twist like a snake. I am neither stupid nor naive, and I know that he grieved when I asked him to rename me.
I simply could not stand being called like a dog, by a dog's name. I could not stand the thought that it was Hawke who called me so, for many years. He grieved, but he accepted my request.
Those were the early days, when I loved him as I loved nothing before, quite literally. We passed many soft names between each other then, testing them for suitability; his darling, his precious, words from a language which tickled at me, rising easily to my tongue. His sunshine. His reason. Lux solis aeterna.
I am eternal. There was no pain. I was reborn, blank and willing, into arms which loved me already and forgave me for being incapable of being what I used to be. Last time perhaps I was born into pain and fled into pain, and lived and died in pain. Last time I lost my old name and was given a new one; this time I have made a new name. In moments of introspection, I wonder if this has occurred to me a hundred times before; if it will occur a hundred times again.
Hawke is solid, real. More than the ephemera of thoughts, imagined dreams. I live to make him happy; he has made me happy. In the dark I hold him, beloved.
After, I leave him to sleep. Curiosity, perhaps. I discover that I am motivated by more than Hawke.
The other mage gasps and shies away from me when I wake him. He looks at me with revulsion in his eyes.
I ask him if he knew me before. He tells me yes, and calls me Fenris. I tell him I choose not respond to a dog's name any more.
His eyes widen; he flinches again.
He tells me he hated me, and I hated him. That without Hawke, perhaps we would have killed each other. He rambles; his face moves through countless expressions, all in excess of each other, as if he has never felt before. He clings to my wrists. His fingers drill my bone. He averts his eyes, then looks at me in desperation. He tells me that once, he begged Hawke to kill him for an evil act he committed — evil, but necessary, he believes. Death would be atonement. But Hawke would not let him atone, and made him live as one dead instead. It was an awful fate, one he would be spared of, this time.
Disturbed, I tell him that I bear him no malice, irrespective; I am here only for curiosity. I would listen to any stories he has to tell, if he cares to tell them.
He used to hate me, he says. Now there is only an intense, sickening pity. He says he looks at me and wants to vomit.
This hurts me. I am wounded. I take great pains with my appearance, as it makes Hawke happy to look upon me, and I am happy to see the light in his eyes. What have I done, to be so repulsive to this stranger?
He moans. No. Not me. Hawke.
He laughs. He covers his face: evil, necessary, atonement.
Then his face is slack with sorrow, and he speaks no more.
I pat the madman on the back and leave him to his hurt.
In the clearing there is a beautiful scene; a crystal clear bend of stream, the fall of a willow, sunlight on the water. Birds are singing. My beloved pauses to delight in the grasses that grow, the flowers which spill from the trees, drifting blossoms. Fish flick up through the water, break the rippling surface, fall back. He looks at me beseechingly and I agree with the unspoken query. We set down our burdens to appreciate the beauty around us. Those burdens are few, now. He no longer carries a sword. His days of living to kill, of finding thrill in that alone, they are gone.
He cradles flowers in his palms. Offers them to me without shyness. An openness which could so easily become a wound.
The brands are dull but clean beneath his skin as I undress him. His lids flutter under my tongue, his lips parting. I kiss the flex of his belly. His knees spread for me. Beneath him, my robe crimps with our shared weight, softens with dew and sweat. His fingers dig into the dirt beyond.
After, he weaves a crown of flowers, wears it with a lopsided grin. Creates a second, smaller crown and bestows it upon my quiescent flesh, which cannot help but twitch at the brush of his fingers. The chuckle which spills from him at his daring is the sneaky laugh of a boy. The second time it is he upon me, and I never cease to wonder that this body can be the same, but the eyes. The face. All new. The old used to long for force, a body which leaned into mine and ached to ache. This one is firm, sure, but he winces too easily, does not like to be split, does not rise to roughness. He does not thrust to make me feel it, him; he is, in some ways, a more selfish lover. There is a rhythm which is, again, boyish. Certain in its uncertainty.
I wonder if Danarius thought this way, once. Same, but different. A devotion which is not compelled, but which comes only because it is natural, to long for the touch of your Maker.
The sky thickens and stretches with time. I know for what I wait. I kiss his hands, his shoulders. He curls against me and drowses.
When Anders comes, there is a trace of the old Anders there, the strength of will. Unflinching and brave. No one could have called him weak, not even Fenris; never to his face. The gnarled staff lights with his power. His eyes are burnished with agony, rent open. I saw when he awoke to himself, whatever distance and despite he constructed after Kirkwall tearing open at the table he shared with me, and with what I had become.
Perhaps even Anders believed in Varric's tales of me. Does not, now. I am not a hero.
I could have given Anders this mercy, once. It would have been a mercy. For Fenris, too. But I am too selfish for mercy, and had preferred that Anders lived in suffering so that I would not have to bear the guilt of my incapability. Now here he is, stronger than I ever was.
I meet his eyes. I do not fight it.
Ah, but it hurts. Not the blow. It hurts that I am weak. I was not capable of saving any of them. I have always had demons whispering in my ear; they laugh.
Beside me, my sunshine wakes with a scream, his unstained hands quickly bloody. He has never seen so much blood before. Never seen a battle before. I intended for his life to have everything his last life did not. After this, perhaps, he will run, and time and experience will rebuild me into a monster in his eyes, and he will find a would-be figure of legend in another crumbling city and speak the name Hawke with as much vitriol as he ever said Danarius. That he will be disgusted at the child's name we bequeathed him together, and will be too ashamed to admit to his new companions that he chose it for himself. That he will horrify himself, and will never know that it was this I wished to spare him.
He screams as I am dying, hopeless and torn. The construct of this life mazed with cracks. No — that is his lyrium, tearing open to the power that was always his. His skin is surface only, sundering. He screams, but this time it is the agony of his lyrium burgeoning to life, dead substance bonding to his heartbeat, to his will, as he reaches for the power to react in an animal instinct.
He runs at Anders.
Anders dies more quickly than I do, a spray of blood which falls as unregarded as the body.
Then my beloved returns to me, weeping, bloody fingers reaching for my face, my chin.
Fenris, I try to say.
His eyes go cold.
Don't call me that, he whines.
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