Part 1: Welcome Home

Fenris and I spent the rest of the day walking, not talking much since he’s the strong silent type and all.

It felt strange for me to be back in Fereldan.  I was born in a town called Lothering that was destroyed at the beginning of the Fifth Blight over ten years ago.  I had fled with my mother Leandra, my bother Carver, and sister Bethany.  We tried to make it across Fereldan to Kirkwall in the Free Marches, but Carver was felled by an ogre just outside Lothering.  Mother never was the same after that.  I think she always blamed me a bit for it.  Like I’m an arch demon and can control things like that…

Then of course my sister was found out to be an apostate and taken to the circle against her will and my mother was kidnapped and killed by a crazed blood mage necromancer using body parts of various women to bring back his dead wife.  Hence why my family reunions tend to be a bit small now.

I had never been to the Kokari Wilds before, but it just felt familiar.  The air smelled the same here, the ground beneath my feet had that same feeling of soft firmness, and Áedán was chasing the squirrels like we had never left and spent almost ten years in a walled-in city where he didn’t have half as much room or freedom to frolic as he does here.

I let my eyes take in the scenery as our long strides ate up the ground.

“Where is he supposed to be hiding again?” Fenris asked from my side, swatting at something winged and bloodsucking that had gotten too close.

“The rumors say he’s set up at the ruins of an old Grey Warden tower outside of Ostagar.”  I eyed the shadows on the ground.  They were getting pretty long in the tooth.

“We’re close, but we’re not going to make it before night fall,” I scanned the landscape.  “We should make camp for the night and start again in the morning.  We should be there before next nightfall.”  Turning to Fenris I handed him my backpack.  “I’ll go hunting with Áedán if you want to find a place to set up shop.”

Fenris took my bag from me, nodded and peeled off  looking for a suitable campsite.  I whistled for Áedán and he came bounding up to me, butt wriggling like it was on fire.  I knelt down in the grass next to him and rubbed him behind his ears.

“Do you like being back home boy?” I asked and got a sloppy kiss in return.  Áedán is a Mabari war hound, a breed highly valued in Fereldan as they were a mark of nobility, and were much sought after world wide as they were also remarkably intelligent.  I swear my damned dog is smart enough to play dumb when it suites him.

I wrestled with Áedán for a minute before I got down to business. “We’re a bit low on meat boy, think you can scare something up?”  I took the happy bark and renewed butt wriggling before he bounded off as a resounding yes.

I adjusted my daggers and hand axes, making sure all was where it should be before I followed him into the brush.

***

While Tanis hunted with Áedán I set up the camp.  It didn’t take me long now, one more thing I was thankful to her for.

Years ago when I finally escaped my now-dead-master, I am ashamed to admit that I was helpless.  I had been ruled, controlled, had every minute of every day either planned or watched.  And despite how much I wanted and yearned for my freedom, at first I was scared as well.  But my master trained me well in battle, so I survived.  But then the slave hunters started coming for me.

As skilled as my master had made me, I knew I couldn’t take them on my own.  So when my travels led me to Kirkwall, I decided to make a stand and enlist some aide from the seedier side of the population and there my path crossed with Tanis Hawke, before she became Champion of Kirkwall.

I was impressed by her from the first.  She took care of the Tevinter slavers following me like she was swatting a fly, and without hesitation stood by me as I went to face my master and the demons he had summoned to defend himself.  Most people would have cast me off after that, but Tanis never turned me away.  Needless to say I was surprised.

I did not approve of her mage companions, or how easily she turned to magic.  I didn’t know at the time that both her father and sister were mages, so both remain …sensitive subjects between us.

But I couldn’t just walk away from her.  She is the first person to stand up for me and with me without any expectation of repayment.  Witty, charming, beautiful, and a skilled warrior she intrigued me so I had to stay.  And as our years in Kirkwall rolled by, she showed herself to be kind and understanding as well.

Tanis defended me from Tevinter slavers, helped me kill my former master and his apprentice, encouraged me to find my family and my past, she taught me to read…to love…and took me back after I left her.  Is it any wonder I fell in love with her?

I never thought I had a chance at first, I saw the looks she was giving that damned apostate Anders in the beginning.  I was so sure they would be the ones to end up together and now I worry what their past might do to her when we find him.

Or more accurately what I might do to him.

A rustling beyond the firelight made me look up, hand reaching for my sword before the image of Tanis and Áedán registered.  Tanis carried a brace of rabbits in one hand, dirt was smudged on her cheek, and a smile on her face lit up her violet eyes.  Áedán looked equally pleased with himself, acting like he has taken down a dragon on his own rather than a few over sized rodents.

“Found us some dinner!” she exclaimed as she knelt by me in front of the fire and started skinning the rabbits.  Áedán whined and looked sadly at his mistress. “Oh fine you glutton,” she sighed, tossing him one.

Áedán snapped it out of mid air and trotted off to the other side of the fire where he noisily started snacking on his meal.

“He wolfs down two of them on the run and wants a third,” Tanis said to me without looking up. “He’s as big as an ox but you’d think I never fed him with the way he eats!”

Making quick work of the two remaining hares, she spitted them and set them over the fire.  The night was still early, the sun having set not too long ago so the sky was a deep blue of dusk rather than the black of night.  The firelight glinted off her weapons and armor, turning her white hair -a match to mine- luminescent.  Looking over at me, reclining against a convenient rock with my arm over me knee, her brow creased in puzzlement.

“I know you like to play things close to the chest Fenris, but you’re acting like you did when we first met.  All quiet and broody.  What’s wrong?”

I scrubbed my face with my hand, organizing my thoughts before leaning forward.

“I’m worried about you Tani,” I said, calling her a nickname she insisted I give her.  Hawke’s too formal and Tanis is too boring, she had said one night after we had made love.  I’d like it if you called me Tani.  Turns out it was something her sister called her when they were children.

She looked into the fire, avoiding my gaze.  “I’m fine,” she said.  But the stubborn, tense set of her jaw told me otherwise.  I knew she was worried about finding Anders, and I knew she wouldn’t turn aside.  She needed answers.

“I know you’re not okay Tani, you won’t be until you find him.  I don’t know what to say to make this better, I’m not even sure there’s anything I could say.  But I do know one thing.”

She had finally turned away from the fire and was watching me.

“You can’t kill him.”

Her eyes widened at my words.  I don’t think she had ever let herself admit it, but after living with it so long myself, I can recognize it in others.  As much as she wanted answers, she wanted vengeance more.  And I knew I couldn’t let her do it.

“You thought you loved him,” I explained, ignoring the ache in my heart at those words. “He deceived you.  He killed so many people in the name of his…whatever he thought it was.” I waved my hand like it didn’t matter, then looked her in the eyes.

“You’re not like him.  He was you’re friend, your comrade, he would have been your lover instead of me.  And I know it would kill a part of you if you do.  A part that-” I faltered as I looked away from her briefly.

“I part of you that I don’t want you to lose,” I finished.  There were tears in her eyes when I looked back, and I forged ahead.  “When we find him, ask what you will.  Get the answers you not only need, but deserve.  But if you decide he deserves to die for what he’s done, let me do it.”

Tanis was silent, tears glistening in her eyes before she wiped them away.  “I think I liked you better when you were dark and broody,” she said with a half smile and a sniff.  “Not all sweet and sentimental.”

I smiled back at her, reached over and stroked her cheek.  “You taught me too well.”

Then quicker than she could register, I grabbed the front of her leather armor.  Eyes widening in shock, she let out a squawk of surprise as I pulled her across my body and rolled her under me.  Bracing myself on my arms above her I grinned down at her.

“Now let me show you what else you’ve taught me,” I whispered in her ear as I ground my hips against hers.  A thrill went through me as she wrapped herself around me and I heard her throaty laugh in my ear.

Part 3: For What We Could Have Been

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