Tempus Libero–Moments of Freedom: One

A/N: I have a few of these I’ve been toying with for a while now. Once in a while, I drag them out and write. Not sure how I feel about them, as Fenris tends to be a difficult character for me to write. I think because he’s one of my favorites, I always worry I will do him a disservice to attempt to delve into his mind. Nevertheless, this is one I finished. Just a short moment of freedom. 

Glancing up from the book spread out before him, his finger still posed at the corner of the page and ready to turn it, Fenris cocked his head toward the hallway where he swore he’d heard a sound. It was almost as though he hadn’t been physically in the room, as if the words that consumed him spirited him away from the drab interior of the mansion and set him down beside Shartan as he rallied his people to stand and fight the at Andraste’s side.

He’d read the story so many times he could nearly call every word to his tongue without even skimming the pages, and yet it still managed to transport him to another time. He blinked, shaking his head a little to free himself from the daydream it inspired, and listened for the sound to make itself known again.

For a moment he actually believed he’d just been hearing things.

Judging from the stubby length of the candles on the table, hours passed since he sat down and let history carry him from the moment. Three apple cores littered stood neatly upright, their crisp white interior browned by hours of exposure to the air. Just looking at them made his stomach rumble emptily, a feeling he still found all too easy to ignore. He no longer needed to. He could eat, drink, dance… whatever he liked whenever the mood struck him, but he often forgot to do those things. Especially when he was reading.

Returning his mind in full to the moment, the hollow air of the mansion stifled his senses, the atmosphere itself growing almost haunted and prickling the sparse white hairs that lined the back of his neck. He lifted a hand on instinct, fingers curling around his neck as if to stop the hairs from rising, but it was no use. Chills rippled through him and his body reacted with an involuntary spasm.

Maybe it was haunted; who was he to say? Sometimes late at night he felt like a little boy again. Alone and scared within walls meant to protect and keep him, ghosts of the past lingered in every shadow. Not literally, of course, though about that he couldn’t always be certain. They shed a lot of blood within those walls when they’d come looking for Danarius almost six years earlier. Perhaps ghosts really did lurk in the darkness.

Spirits did not frighten him, so long as they were quiet. It was the memories that made him shudder, old worries that no amount of quelling seemed able to dispel unless he was with her. But he wasn’t with her, so for the moment he wanted only peace and quiet, and to live once more through the story he’d been reading on a treasured and unexpected day off from the endless fighting. Stretching his back into the chair behind him, he wondered what she was doing, if she was home, if he would see her at all that day…

The noise sounded again, a subtle rapping that would no longer be denied. It was too solid to be otherworldly, a sure signal from the front door downstairs. He heaved himself from the table with a sigh and walked stiffly to the balcony to scrutinize the shadowed foyer.

Not one of his companions ever wasted time with such boundaries. They did not knock. When they arrived to visit, they simply walked right in, sought him out and made themselves at home… Well, all of them except for Anders. The only time the mage ever came around was when he was tagging behind Hawke like a moping puppy, spouting propaganda and zealotry that made her frown and doubt.

Everything about the mage made Fenris angry, but that moping puppy face was the worst of all.

He didn’t know why Hawke listened to Anders, why she kept him around at all. He was a walking time bomb on the verge of exploding. Several times he’d offered to shut the mage up permanently, but she just laughed at him, cast him that shining grin of hers and asked, “What then? Who would you have to argue with, if not our dear, sweet Anders.”

Fenris only narrowed his eyes at her, a tight twitch touching the corners of his mouth before he nodded once and looked away. His life would be the better for lack of condescending and pretentious discourse with a zealot, but he tolerated the mage’s presence because she asked him to, even though he knew she would one day regret not cutting him from her life before he destroyed it with his taint.

Anything she asked of him, he would do without question. He… loved her. A feeling so strange he’d had trouble putting it to words before she whispered it across his lips while they made love. “I love you, Fenris.”

No one had ever said those words to him, not that he remembered anyway. Most of the memories were still lost, and though at times he regretted losing them for the most part he didn’t care. He’d taken the words she said to him all those years ago to heart. He took a breath and looked around and then he made a new life for himself. It took him three years to finally settle into it, but he was coming around and it was all because of her.

She was like fire in his soul, that woman. At times he suspected she lived to make him grind his teeth, and yet he’d have her no other way.

He’d been thinking about her all day, reveling in his day off, yet lamenting the fact that a day off meant he might not get to see her. He could always make the trek to the other end of Hightown, but even as they had resumed their relationship, he didn’t feel comfortable just dropping by without an invitation. She said he was always welcome, no matter the time of day or the reason for his visit. She’d even asked him to take up residence with her, but he just wasn’t ready to let go of that tiny bit of freedom and independence of living on his own.

However, Hawke was not the point—at least not for the moment. Amusing how easily he let his mind get carried away when thoughts of her ran through it. The person outside was all that mattered.  And they were growing more determined to see him open the door.

He could not guess who would dare to knock, and for a moment he fretted that Aveline’s sway with the seneschal finally crumbled. Upon second thought, the rapping upon the wood didn’t seem sufficient enough to denote someone of power attempting to wrench him from the house he’d been squatting in for years. Someone with that kind of purpose would be more urgent and abrupt, he thought.

Hawke said he was paranoid, and she agreed it was with good reason—considering everything he’d been through—but it was time to let go of his fears. To relax and maybe let down his guard a little.

She had no idea how difficult that was for him to do. What she asked was comparable in his mind to asking Anders to willingly accept being made tranquil. Letting down his guard was weakness, weakness was death.

Once a slave, always a slave.

Letting go of the hatred and resentment seemed impossible. He allowed it to fuel him, to push him in battle until he became an unstoppable, lyrium-fueled force so dangerous even he didn’t know who he was. It frightened him sometimes. He’d only ever told Hawke that simple truth, but if he let go of his rage, what would become of… him?

“Danarius is dead,” she whispered, stroking fingers through his hair as he rested his head upon her breast. “You are free, Fenris. No one is coming for you. And if they did, they would have to come through me.”

He wondered if she had the power to stave off the seneschal.

He was free. They would expect him to pay taxes.

Most days he didn’t know what to do with that freedom. So he followed her. Fought beside her and protected her. Found himself in predicaments he didn’t always agree with because of her, but couldn’t imagine his life without for the same reason. She took him to the strangest places, invited him to join her in the oddest battles against people he should have had no quarrel with. Unwavering in his loyalty, steadfast in his devotion, he’d destroy anyone who opposed her. Even though he knew that before all was said and done, he’d probably have to fight for people he had no love for whatsoever. Tension between the mages and templars clenched tighter than a fist about to punch through a brick wall, and eventually there would be no more toeing the line.

Hawke would have to choose, and no matter that choice, he would stand beside her. See it through to the end.

Sometimes he liked to tell himself she would choose rightly, that the mage who mutilated and destroyed her mother was proof enough that mages in general could not, should not be trusted, but her father had been an apostate. Her little sister, Bethany, was a mage. Fenris liked the girl. He even visited her sometimes, brought Bethany news of her sister when Hawke refused to make time to say hello. He understood why Hawke did not visit her sister, but it made the girl quite sad. She reminded him of someone else, he realized, a little girl with bright red hair and brilliant green eyes not unlike his own. Varania—the sister who betrayed him and gave him back his name.

He wanted that name about as much as he wanted the lyrium brands upon his skin. Leto… It was not who he was. Sometimes he didn’t know who he was, so he remained Fenris because in the end the wolf became a savage beast and tore out the throat of the one who tried to tame and rule him.

But when all of that was over, what then? He didn’t know where they would go when the world came crumbling down around their shoulders, and it would eventually. It was the way of things. A battering ram couldn’t keep slamming into the keep without eventually deteriorating the stone.

He only knew they would go wherever they needed to go together. She wanted him with her. Beside her.

Forever, she said.

An odd feeling, that. Having someone who wanted him around, not because of what he could do for her, but because she enjoyed his… company. She claimed to need him in soft, mewling whimpers across his lips while stirring memory and pain and then taking it all away and replacing it with something so unfamiliar he almost didn’t know what to do with it.

She loved him. And though he didn’t deem to know the first thing about the emotion itself, some part of him knew he loved her too. Thoughts of living without her terrified him, more than any of his fears of Danarius, and that was saying something. Danarius had been a living nightmare, one that haunted his waking moments, as well as his sleep. Even dead, that memory still woke him gasping in the dead of night, sweat dripping down his back, heart racing in his chest, mind spinning wildly as he tried to grasp at the threads of the moment and weave himself back into the tapestry of it. Only when she reached for him, gentle hand stroking down his back as she welcomed him into her arms and comforted him, did the world make sense again.

He loved her.

The mere memory of that personal and silent confession wrought the barest hint of a smile from his lips, but before he could revel in his awareness of it, the persistent knock at the door rose again, and with reluctance he finally descended the stairs.

Once more thoughts of her had overrun his mind.

Before he’d met her, he’d had very little trouble focusing. Afterward, however… Well, that was another story entirely. It seemed the only time he was able to focus now was when he was with her. He would have to remedy the distraction, break down and pay her a visit, even if the very thought of being the one who reached out and confessed to needing her made him look weak.

Passing through the main hall and into the foyer, he hesitated at the door before finally prompting himself to reach for it.

There was a child standing on the other side. His torn shirt, mussed blonde hair and dirt-smudged cheeks suggested he’d come all the way from Lowtown, but why?

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“Are you Messere Fenris?”

“I am no messere, young one.” He was a slave; stripped of title and purpose. No… that wasn’t right. He was not a slave anymore, but he was still no noble lord deserving of respect. He didn’t know what, or even who he was, and part of him was sure it didn’t even matter in the end.

“I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that, Messere. I just was told to give this scrap of paper to the elven lord of this manor.” The urchin held out a meticulously rolled scroll of parchment, certainly not a scrap at all, tied with a bright red ribbon that fluttered absently in the breeze. “I didn’t even know nobody lived here. It doesn’t really look like it, does it?”

“No,” he deemed. “I suppose it does not.”

Distrust instantly fizzled through him, irritating the lyrium brands upon his skin and making them bristle painfully until they were just a breath away from glowing soft and blue beneath the clouded afternoon daylight.

“By whom were you commissioned to deliver this… letter?”

His unflinching gaze did not disturb the child. Without a stutter he lifted his head with pride and proclaimed, “The Champion of Kirkwall. Messere Hawke.” he explained.

“Hawke.”

Of course. The Amell family seal was right there, stamped in the wax upon the parchment. Relaxation loosened his shoulders and the muscles in his back, but the flaring of lyrium through his blood did not so easily retract.

“Thank you for this.” He stared for a moment at the paper the boy still held toward him, and then he reluctantly reached for it. He fished a silver from the pouch on his belt and handed it over to the child for his efforts, and then he sent him on his way before retreating into his dilapidated mansion and closing the door to the outside world again.

He should have felt relieved that it was not the seneschal, or Aveline come to remind him once again that he could not stay in that rundown house forever, but the parchment in his hand made him nervous.

Not because he worried about what the words inscribed upon it might detail, but there was an insecurity within him that festered over his inadequacy as a reader.

For the last five years, Hawke had been teaching him to read, and she would beg to differ that he was anything but an adept and accomplished student. Even after he’d broken her heart, she remained committed to the cause, taking time nearly every single day to read with him until their roles reversed and it was him reading, rather insecurely still, to her.

She praised how quickly he learned the words, the once-unfamiliar and mind-boggling etchings falling into sensible lines until they formed amazing sentences and paragraphs upon the pages before him.

Reading was freedom unlike any he’d ever experienced before.

To say he enjoyed it would be inadequate. It became a guilty pleasure he shared with no one, save for Hawke, who sometimes—after they became lovers again—asked him to read to her while they lay twined together in the middle of her bed during the deep hours of the long, cold night.

It brought him more pleasure than he could ever properly express. Pride, accomplishment, joy. A sense of purpose in that he brought her comfort.

Haunted by so much death she had no control over—her mother, Carver, her father… She had trouble sleeping sometimes and longed for him to talk her through the night. Being a man of few words, Fenris often didn’t know what to say to appease her restlessness, so she began bringing piles of books into the bedroom and leaving them on the bedside table. She would pull something out for him to read, then rest her head atop his sheet-covered thigh as he leaned back against the headboard and thumbed through the pages.

Eyes closed, she simply listened as he tried to make the words flow fluidly into streams. Sometimes the gentle caress of her finger tracing thoughtful patterns across his knee distracted him, but for the most part she let the sound of his voice carry her away until she got lost in the words just the way he did while reading them. Other times she fell asleep with her head in his lap. Stroking fingers through her soft, black hair, he simply watched her for hours, memorized the details of her face until he could call to mind the image of her with perfect clarity when he tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.

Occasionally, he kept reading aloud, even though he knew she wasn’t really listening anymore, because he feared she might wake to silence and feel afraid.

Something about that time with her was more comfort to him than anything else he’d ever known.

It was true freedom.

So it was an odd thing that he experienced an inexplicable pang of terror while holding that parchment. He wasn’t afraid it was bad news. With Hawke, bad news was to be expected. The meaning of the words themselves did not frighten him. He feared upon unrolling the paper he would find them jumbled and unreadable again. That she’d needed to tell him something important, but he would not know what that was because everything he’d learned over the last few years would disappear and he would be illiterate and helpless again.

It was an irrational fear, considering he’d been reading in the study upstairs just moments before the knock rose at his door, but it gripped him nonetheless.

What if he’d dreamed that blissful time and place in which he was educated? What if all memory of her thoughtful lessons were little more than some fantasy he dreamed up? What if he wasn’t… free?

He hesitated breaking the seal, feeling like a coward with shaking hand. Tilting his head downward, white hair fell across his cheek and then he cracked the wax. It crumbled in his hand, dropping in red flakes upon the floor at his feet. Stretching and unraveling the scrolled parchment, the strangest sense of relief flooded him as the familiarity of their meaning flashed through him.

Dinner. My house. 7:30. I’d tell you to bring wine, but I have it on good authority the last bottle of Agrigio is long gone.

–Hawke

He chuckled. An unexpected lightness rumbled through his chest. They’d finished that bottle off years ago, the two of them, while he told her the story of his escape.

He’d opened himself up to her in ways he never had with anyone else, realizing with grave certainty for the first time in his life he was capable of feeling something other than hatred. And then he broke her heart, or at least he’d tried to, anyway, some small part of him believing he didn’t deserve her or her love, that if he let go of his hate, he wouldn’t know who he was anymore.

She’d stood beside him anyway, forgiven him and welcomed him back into her arms when he was finally ready to try letting go of his anger.

A rare, lingering smile curled his lips as the parchment rolled back in upon itself in his slack hand. He didn’t need to think of an excuse to pay her a visit now. He had an invitation; 7:30 was only a few hours away, but it would feel like a lifetime.

About erica

Erica North is the fanfiction pseudonym for fantasy/romance author Jennifer Melzer.
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