Series: A Feeling of Something
Fandom: Dragon Age 2
Pairing: Mage F!Hawke/Fenris
Genre: Romance, Drama, Humor, Character Study
Length: ~ 2,300
Disclaimer: Much as I love these characters, I do not own them. They belong to all the geniuses over at Bioware, may they always continue to make games that touch my heart.
Summary: It's a complicated dance they weave around each other, but Hawke believes she's starting to pick up the steps.
A/N: This section takes place near the end of Act 1, but doesn't draw directly from any events beyond our knowledge that Hawke took up the task of teaching Fenris to read.
A/N 2: Apparently my plotbunny decided that what was supposed to be a short one-shot was going to develop into a SERIES of one shots. Each of them is stand alone, and can be read in any order. There are at least 4 more tentatively in the works, but I have no idea where this is headed or why XD
First entry into "A Feeling of Something" -- Holding Back the Darkness
Second entry into "A Feeling of Something" -- Trembling in the Aftermath
Fumbling Towards Hope
She has to hold back the automatic shudder as the glass bottle connects with the wall, shattering in a spray of shards that tinkle down to join the debris already littering the floor. Her eyebrow quirks as she stares at the elf that's responsible for the destruction.
Fenris growls, his eyes mere slits as he radiates rage. She'd be worried, except the rage is quite obviously directed at the open tome before him – and no matter how angry he has become, not one item he's thrown has been sent in her direction.
Maybe it'll be better if they try a different passage. She'd gone through the book of Shartan, trying to pick out the easier paragraphs for Fenris to begin with, but there's no avoiding the fact that it was not intended for someone to learn from.
"Try this line," she says, directing Fenris' attention to the beginning of a section she's marked, watching as his eyes follow the movement of her finger on the page.
With a sigh, he visibly tries to clamp down his frustration, focusing on the words on the page. "The…the sss….sw….swi…."
"Venhedis!" he snarls, his clawed hand grasping towards the book – but instead of the precious tome following the wine bottle, Fenris redirects and a candelabra collides with the wall instead.
Using humor to try and lighten the mood, she says, "Well, if your neighbors didn't know this house was occupied they do now. Or they think you're a poltergeist."
His lip curls, but he surprises her as he replies with, "That's an inside wall."
"Oh," she murmurs in response. She should have known he would think of things like that, even in a fit of rage. Turning back to the issue at hand, she can feel a frown forming as she glares at the book. "I think we're going to have to come back to Shartan's words. I swear I saw some of the readers I started with as a child in a stall in Lowtown, I can pick it up for next session –"
"I am not some babe in swaddling who needs picture books," the venom in his voice is palpable, and this time – this time it's directed at her. He stands, rage in every line of his body down to his clenched fists. "If you will not treat me as an adult, then we are done here."
She can't back down in the face of his rage, or the frustration that she knows is the key behind his anger. Pushing the bench back as she gets to her feet, she stands before him tall and proud. "I'm just trying to help."
Her words don't seem to calm him, and her refusal to back down just appears to feed his anger. The lyrium branded into his skin flares to life, bathing them both in a blue glow as an unnatural wind whips her robes against her legs.
But she continues, unafraid in the face of his fury. She knows he'd never hurt her. "You know I don't view you as a child – but all the tricks I can think of aren't helping so far. The only reason I'm even suggesting it is the readers are intended to help people learn. Not children but people. They're designed to build up your skillset, like sword drills – unlike now, where you're expected to run before you can walk." Her words cut straight to the point, using logic to break through his anger.
The blue glow and the wind are snuffed like the flame of a candle, winking out between one moment and the next. He collapses on the bench, slumping forward as blood suffuses his face. Elbows resting on the table, Fenris sinks his head onto his hands.
"I must apologize," he mumbles, not meeting her eyes as she drops boneless to the bench beside him.
"I can understand why you're angry –" she begins, wanting to reach out and brush his shoulder, but knowing it's not a good idea at the moment.
"No, you do not," he interrupts, and there is a shadow of the fury in his voice as one of his gauntleted hands is clenched into a fist. "You cannot. It's not about being treated like a child, it's more than that."
He sighs, and his eyes flicker to her face, a sparkle of green, before looking away once more. "It's about showing a weakness. In Tevinter, weakness is always exploited – especially by those closest to you. Weakness gets you killed. Whenever Danarius saw that I couldn't accomplish something, that I had a failing of some kind…." He shakes his head at the memory.
"I learned to hide them. To bury my inadequacies behind so many layers of hatred and distrust that they never surfaced to betray me. So when I fail here it just brings back all those instincts and I…." His voice trails off, and she can hear him swallow.
Now's the time to reach out to him, and she does. Taking that clenched fist in both of her hands, she gently begins uncurling his fingers. Always, she's afraid that he'll misjudge the proper pressure applied, and those claws of his will end up slicing through his palm like paper. She knows how sharp he keeps them, and why.
"You're not in Tevinter anymore," she murmurs, stalling his protests with a look. "And I'm not looking for every weakness to exploit. I already know you can't read, and have I even once used that knowledge against you?"
He shakes his head, but seems distracted and for a moment she's not quite sure why – until her eyes follow his, and with horror she realizes that her fingers have been stroking the furrows of lyrium that mark his palm.
A rush of heat to her cheeks, and she almost pulls back hands that shake. What stops her is the fact that he hasn't pulled away – that he seems fascinated by her hands on his. No one's ever touched his skin before without almost losing their hand. Her heartbeat quickening, she lets her fingers resume their journey down his palm.
"If you don't let me know where your weaknesses are, I can't help," she says quietly, watching him watch her. "I won't know what's not making it through – what needs improvement. But if you do tell me, we can make them into strengths by working together to find a solution. That's what being a partner is about…awareness of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and helping to build each other up, or knowing how to compensate for them."
His eyes glance to hers at the word partner, and she wonders at her own daring. If he'll read the undercurrent present in her wording, carry away the meaning she was truly intending. She can hope that, maybe someday, he'll take her up on that offer.
"But you do not have any weaknesses for me to assist you with," he points out, his brows furrowing as her fingers still at his pulse point.
With a chuckle, she taps against the beat she can feel under her fingertips. And gladly, she offers up something she's never admitted to anyone else. "I'm deathly afraid of spiders. Especially those huge things we're always running into when we're underground. I hate them. Every time they ambush us, I freeze as I'm trying to hold myself from screaming and running for the nearest exit."
Fenris turns to her, an eyebrow raised in skepticism.
"Honest," she says, resisting the urge to brush that wayward lock of hair out of his eyes, knowing it's simply an excuse to touch him. Instead, she pulls her hands back from his, not wanting to take more than she's already been given. "If you weren't there, already neck-deep in spider guts, I'd never have the courage to start moving again. The way you just charge forward, as if you're not afraid of anything in the world – especially giant killer spiders who really are out to get me – I'm not like that. I depend on your example to remind me of what I want to be like, and without that example I wouldn't be able to do half of what I've accomplished."
His head hangs again, but not before she catches the little half-smile that plays across his lips. "I didn't know I inspired you."
"Every day," she murmurs in reply, the simple truth easy to admit – to him.
Silence between them, warm and welcoming like a spring rain. Then she watches as Fenris gathers himself, reaching forward with a clink of metal to grasp her hand – and turn it, so it rests palm-up on the table. She holds her breath as, soft as feather-down, one of his claws brushes down the pad of her thumb. There's an obvious tremor in his touch, but she hardly notices as she watches wide-eyed and stunned.
"I was not expecting this," Fenris' deep voice intones, striking a chord in her, the usual harshness softened. "When I put down my sickle, slipping my bonds to pick up a sword and stand beside her through the darkest of times, I did not truly understand what revolution she began with a whisper. And now, when I look back on what she has become and where she has led me, I find the knowledge brings me peace. For, after I had seen her, how could I not have followed her into death and beyond?"
After his voice fades away, leaving a pregnant stillness behind, she's left dumbfounded and blindsided. There's a suspicious warm fuzzy feeling originating in her belly and permeating her every nerve, and she has to struggle to force it down. It doesn't mean anything, in fact the words sound oddly familiar, almost as if –
"Wait a second. That's an excerpt from the passage I read you from the book last week!" she cries, not knowing whether she should be offended or touched.
There's laughter in his eyes, as his questing talon finds that ticklish spot in the hollow of her palm, and her fingers twitch unconsciously. "Indeed."
A suspicion springs into existence in her mind, and she drags the book towards her with the hand that doesn't belong to him. Fumbling with the pages, she opens it to the pertinent lines, and then stares up at him with amazement clear on her face. "You recall that, line for line, from hearing it once?"
Now he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, his hand stilling on hers. "The words spoke to me."
"How can you remember it so easily?" Normally, in the face of his discomfort, she'd let him be and step back. But she feels this is important – though she's not quite sure how, yet.
There's a definite wash of color on his cheeks, and the green eyes won't even look in her direction. His hand curls back close to his body, and she already mourns its loss. "A trick I learned when I was with Danarius – when he would tell me a complicated list of instructions only once. I have found that it is just as useful when the subject is much more pleasant to watch."
She waits, impatience burbling within her until with a sigh he finally meets her eyes. "I remember how your lips look when you're speaking," and he glances down at her mouth, making her tongue dart out self-consciously. "As long as I can see them in my mind, I can recall what you said when you spoke to me."
That's it. Excitement makes her break into a grin, and she reaches into the pouch at her side to drag out paper and a pen. "That's where I've been wrong!" she exclaims, hastily writing on the sheet of paper. "I've been teaching you letter by letter, phonetically trying to get the structures across."
He frowns, his claws tapping against the hard wood of the table. "As you've explained before."
"But you don't learn that way," she continues, her smile still in place as she scoots closer to him on the bench – placing her paper in front of him. "No wonder we've been having such a difficult time. You don't learn by hearing things, you're a visual person."
She points towards one of the words she wrote out for him, saying, "This is what the word Fenris looks like. Instead of viewing it letter by letter, and trying to piece it out, see it as a whole. Remember it as it looks, not as it sounds."
His eyes widen as understanding dawns, and he stares at the paper then her in turn. "I think that might help." His words are tentative, as if he doesn't quite want to believe – but they give her hope.
The smile doesn't leave her face as she sketches out more words on the page, naming them as she goes. His head is bowed as he listens intently, his intense focus destroying the remnants of the intimacy that was between them just minutes before. She tucks those moments of closeness near her heart, adding them to her precious store of memories where Fenris has let her past his barriers.
She also holds the words he spoke there, and the way his voice sounded when he whispered them to her. He never says anything without a reason, without thorough understanding. And while she was looking up the passage he spoke, she'd read further – and the next line fills her with a hope she never dared cling to before.
And after I had known her, how could I not love her?