Sideline Wednseday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 29


When I woke some time later the fading embers in the grate provided the only meager light in the room. I’d turned in my sleep, pulling my knees to my chest, and Fenris was curled around me, one hand draped over my waist. His breath tickled the fine hairs on the back of my neck and I became acutely aware of his solid presence behind me.

It soothed me that he had come tonight, despite his own reservations. I fought against the hope that it was more than a renewal of our close friendship.

As I stirred, he woke with a start, his body tensing against mine. A moment of silence stretched out before I felt him relax behind me. “Hawke,” he said finally, his relief obvious. I wondered where he had thought he was, what ghosts had haunted his dreams.

As I moved away so that I could turn to face him his hand slid across my back and away. Giving up even that small touch seemed a bad omen but I pushed aside my selfishness. “Are you all right?” I asked, indulging in a rare moment in which I could study his face, still bearing a wrinkle across his cheek where it had lain on my pillow, without making him uncomfortable.

“I am fine,” he answered, one corner of his mouth curling in amused chagrin. “Did I not come here to comfort you?”

“You have,” I sighed. “You can’t know how much.” The months since we’d last been so close loomed between us. I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and continue. “I’ve missed you.”

He sighed deeply, briefly closing those luminous green eyes. “I have missed talking with you, as well.” A small crease appeared between his eyebrows. “I just don’t know how any more. It feels…dishonest to behave as though nothing happened.”

We were wandering into dangerous territory, the pitfalls of our fears and desires littered around us. Fenris was my closest friend before anything else, but I hated to let go of the possibility of more so easily. “Can we talk about it?”

And so we did, lying there in the dim as the sun began coloring the sky. He admitted that continuing what we’d begun could perhaps bring the earliest part of his life back to him, that the brief but profound flash he’d had might be just the first step. To my relief, he’d come to understand that I hadn’t meant to treat his obvious pain lightly. But things weren’t that simple.

He rose and padded over to the hearth, putting distance between us as if to pull back his emotions with his body. “What if it’s all a lie, a trap? Right now I am safe from such manipulation: I don’t remember having a family, being a child. If I seek out those memories, if I recall loving someone, I give Denarius that much more power to draw me in with that person.” He kept his eyes on the remnants of the fire as he spoke.

He stuck on that point and nothing I could say swayed him. He would not leave his heart open because he feared it being used against him. How could I argue differently when he’d lost everything he’d ever had, his entire life, to the magister that pursued him still? How could I say it wouldn’t happen when I so blithely leapt into danger? The pain of losing my family only strengthened his argument. And so I stopped. Fenris kept speaking, trying to convince us both that it was best we get no more involved.

“I’m ashamed at being so weak but...I cannot bear to think of you being hurt because of me.” His head drooped between hunched shoulders. “It is enough that all of you may find yourselves his targets. I'll not help Denarius choose which to use against me first.”

He looked so miserable, drawn into himself that way. He’d just admitted how much he cared about us all, the only friends he could remember having. I longed to go to him, to share the same sort of physical comfort he’d given me. But if it looked like I was trying to manipulate him he’d see me as no better than his long, bitter experience had taught him to expect.

“All right,” I said, instead. He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “I don’t agree but I understand, Fenris.” We stared at one another awkwardly. He’d already spent the night, after all. What would it matter…

Unspoken wishes and regrets filled the space between us. Maker only knows what was going through Fenris’s head. The silence grew and every passing moment weighed more heavily, holding me back from saying more. I could still feel the warmth of him on the bed beneath me.

Finally he looked away, his mouth turned down in sorrow. “I…need to leave,” he said. He dragged his way across the room, looking nearly as unhappy as I felt. I sighed and just watched him go. It took a minute to remember my manners but when I did I dashed out to the railing that overlooked the parlor. He was crossing the room below, head once again hanging, his fingers trailing over my Mabari’s ears as he passed.

“Fenris!” He turned, exasperation showing clearly on his face. He probably thought I was going to try to change his mind. “Thank you,” I called down to him.

A tiny smile replaced his frown. “For my friend? Any time,” he answered. I smiled back as best I could, nodding in acknowledgment of the word. But after he’d left I went back to bed and had myself another good cry.

I didn’t leave the house for a week. Despite Fenris’s reassurance I still believed that I should have seen the threat to my mother. The events of the past weeks replayed themselves in my head as I sought the one moment I should have seen what was happening, the chance I’d missed to stop Quentin. It was a though, if I could just pinpoint my biggest mistake, I could undo my selfishness.

Sebastian came to visit, his calm assurance in the good intentions of the Maker unconvincing but a reminder that the Maker had more important things to do than to punish me. Even Anders came to check on me, a reversal of our normal roles. Eventually my grief and guilt receded enough to let me see how weak I was being. I put them away, finally, and allowed myself to sleep.

When I came down the next morning I found not one but two of my friends waiting for me. Isabela looked up from rifling through the things on my writing desk and Aveline cut off her conversation with my dog about training recruits as I came down the stairs.

“Good, you’re up,” she said, nodding briskly to the Mabari before she turned to me. The dog nodded back and went to lay by the fire. Bela opened her mouth to speak but Aveline kept going right over her. “I have a situation with the Qunari. The Arishok seems to respect you and it’s crucial that we resolve this without making things worse. Everyone is on edge enough as it is.”

“I’m going to die!” Isabela shouted when the Captain of the Guard paused for breath. We both looked at her, not taking her usual theatrics too seriously but surprised that she’d be so dramatic with such a small audience. ”There,” she continued, sounding satisfied, “that got your attention, didn’t it? Real problem, right here.” She waved her arms about and pointed at herself. Something big must be affecting her normally excellent acting ability.

I remembered my promise: protect them all. Aveline and Isabela bickered about whose problem was more pressing as I considered which faced more immediate danger. The ship-less pirate roused me from my contemplation by suggesting that her problem might have some bearing on the Qunari issue. Aveline and I both stared as she shifted uncomfortably.

“Look, all I’m saying is that the artifact might have some…connection.” She refused to look at either of us. “An even if it didn’t we’ve only got this one shot at getting it back. I get it for Castillon, he doesn’t kill me, and then we go talk to the Arishok. Everybody’s happy.”

We never had talked about her refusal to enter the Qunari compound. “So you’ll come to the compound with us after we get the artifact?” I asked her. Suspicion showed clearly in my voice, and Aveline looked even more sharply at her. Bela nodded vigorously, giving us her widest, most innocent eyes. They didn’t fool me for a moment. Knowing how freely she lied made me suspect it even when she was telling the truth, however.

“You’re going to trust her,” Aveline said incredulously. “After she’s lied to us for years, while she still won’t tell us what the hell she stole, you’re going to trust her.” She looked as hurt as she did angry. She and Bela had been good friends for a long time, their strong personalities and utterly opposed ideas of right and wrong leading to clashes both affectionate and furious.

“I wouldn’t,” Isabela retorted, “but in this case I happen to be telling the truth.”

“Fine,” I said. “We'll get the artifact and then go see the Arishok.” Bela stuck her tongue out at Aveline and I thought the straight-laced guard captain might actually backhand her for a moment. Then she sighed resignedly, shaking her head but raising no more objections.

We set a time to meet and I shooed them out of the house. Orana and Sandal had been avoiding me the whole time I’d been meandering about the house in a daze and I thought I’d better find them to put both their minds at ease. After what they’d been through they tended to be easily upset by changes in routine. I spend the afternoon accepting their condolences and reassuring them that I wasn’t about to abandon the family mansion just because I was the sole family member in it.

In truth I hadn’t really thought about it before Sandal asked. I’d grown comfortable in the place, if not in Hightown in general, and it seemed more trouble than it was worth to sell it now. But what a waste to have all of those rooms sitting empty. The living situations of at least three of my friends could use some improvement and the idea of moving in a scruffy apostate and a half-nude pirate entertained me quite a bit. Somehow I doubted Fenris would consider moving in with us, particularly as he still harbored a hope that Denarius would come for him yet.

Bodahn took a typical, more-direct approach. “It’s good to see you up and about,” he said that afternoon. “Your mother would want you to go on, I’m sure.” A kindly smile crumpled his round face and set the elaborate brains of his red-brown beard wagging. He really was a darling, whether he often got the wrong end of the stick or not.

Looking back I think he thought of all of us as his grown children, needing gentle guidance from time to time but making him proud when we managed to find our own way to the right decisions. When he spoke of King Alistair and the Warden Commander he used the same tone he did when he told me about Merrill’s latest visit in my absence or commented on Aveline’s reforms to the city guard. How many dwarves saw the sort of adventure he had—and lived to tell the tale—much less found another wild crew to bring him vicarious excitement?

Whatever the reason, his warm regard helped me to set aside my wallowing and prepare to plunge anew into the maelstrom that Kirkwall was fast becoming. Events moved so quickly over the next twenty-four hours that I hardly had time to consider my own concerns.

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