Rating: 18+ (non-explicit nudity, sexuality)
Warning: Set during game events. Spoiler warning for up to and including the end of Act II.
Summary: One-shot. Anders' Circle training gives Hawke some rather intimate insight into the school of ice magic.
Author's Note: Written for EasternViolet. A CMDA exchange fic.
A Chance of Frost
Though she would never have admitted it aloud, Hawke missed the winters in Ferelden. She missed snow.
It so seldom snowed in Kirkwall. While it was perfectly true that frequent winter storms lashed the coast with a wild fury, bringing rain and sleet and heavy wind, snow was a very rare and precious gift. Once in a very long while, when the stillness was ripe on warmer days, soft flurries would sift down from the clouds, but these delicate flakes would melt upon contact with stone or skin, leaving no trace but a single spilled drop so very like a tear.
Mostly, though, winter in Kirkwall was cold, cold and dreadfully bleak. It was not the kind of cold that prickled the skin and turned noses pink, but the kind that bit and stung, the kind that went to the bones and stayed there all winter long. And the wind, always the wind, howling across the harbor, smelling of salt and frost.
This winter, her sixth in this damnable city, had come swiftly on the heels of the Qunari uprising, and never in all her years had Hawke known a season so dark and desolate.
The cold drove people into their homes to close their shutters tight. The market all but emptied out, only the most tenacious of merchants braving the frigid temperatures to peddle their bread and wool. Even the drunks in the Hanged Man were sedentary, less prone to their brawling. It was as if Kirkwall had gone into a troubled hibernation.
It was so boring.
To be sure, that was not to say she was not glad of it. She was tired. After all, she'd stuck out her neck for the city and its people, an increasingly common occurrence, and had been begrudgingly rewarded with a title and a lifelong career as Kirkwall's de facto hero, savior, and babysitter. Lovely. Meredith had been livid. Even lovelier.
Oft times she wondered if Meredith would ever learn the truth, and swallow the knowledge that Hawke had stood up for the city only after a favor to an ungrateful pirate with questionable loyalty had gone terribly awry. It was never a thought she dwelt long upon.
Now, months later, the smoke had cleared, the pirate had disappeared, and Hawke was left with a fancy title and a relic she didn't know what to do with. Months without word from Isabela, though others of a more optimistic nature would be quick to point out that the cold had slowed the ships and stopped the caravans.
Still, it hardly mattered. Perhaps Hawke needed a little time, herself.
It had been a quiet and lonely winter, though she could hardly say that the short days were terrible days, even with Mother's absence still so fresh, so tangible it ached.
Daily life had churned down to a nug's pace, which gave ample opportunity to study and practice her spellcraft, and while she wished for books, she knew very well that such dangerous things as grimoires and tomes of magical lore were locked away in the Gallows, where even the mages of the Circle had very restricted access to them.
She'd asked Carver about them once, and he'd gotten so angry over her presumption that he'd stormed from the house and hadn't visited for months – something Mother had never failed to point out every time his name had come up. She'd never ventured to ask again.
So, she got by on what she could scrounge up, studying the almanacs, and the laws of alchemy, herbalist notes scribbled in the margins of botany texts, theories of the natural order written by sunblind surface dwarves a century dead.
She'd spent many hours with Merrill, discussing the ancient magics of the elvhen over tea. She'd spent countless more listening to Varric recite the history of lyrium refinement at her request, all the while speaking with a disinterest she wouldn't have believed he had in him. She'd even needled Fenris over drinks at the Hanged Man, all about the exhibitions of the magisters and the great and terrible power they wielded without shame, stopping her incessant questions only when he'd threatened her quite colorfully in Qunari.
Mostly, though, it was Anders who helped her. Passionate, irascible Anders, a Circle mage who had studied beside other mages, all under the tutelage of learned enchanters. It was so vastly different from the gritty, secretive practicum her father had pieced together for herself and her sister. Though she would never think to question her father's methods – after all, they had served her very well all her life – she could not help but feel her training was incomplete. She knew all of the how and none of the why, and it bothered her.
Anders, as was his custom, did not feel the same way she did. The man was born to be argumentative. He envied her status as a free mage getting by on gumption and a father's sage advice, and it always became a point of contention when she asked after his Circle training.
And so it was that she did not ask for his help when she decided she would try to make it snow.
In theory, it was undeniably clever. She'd heard tell of the mages of Kinloch, and their prowess over the elements of air and earth, fire and ice. Right down to the division of the primal school, it was different, and Hawke was nothing if not curious. In her present state, her first winter without Mother in that dreadful big estate, missing her thatched-house home miserably, giving herself the gift of a little happiness and cheer seemed to be the right – nay, the only course of action.
To summon an ice storm, to freeze a foe, to control the power of wind and snow, a true and chaotic mana-fed blizzard.
The only problem, it was a spell she did not know. Still, when better to learn?
She waited for the perfect time with infinite patience. Endlessly cold, starry nights were out of the question, when the warmth of the world was lost to the vastness of the sky and the land shivered and froze. No, she needed an overcast night sky, insulated and utterly still, and so she waited, and studied.
Then, finally, the perfect afternoon came along a week after First Day, when the iron-bellied clouds rolled in to hide the sunset with gloom. That night, after the house had gone quiet and the fire in the great parlor had burned down to embers, Hawke wrapped herself in a heavy wool cloak and stole out to the kitchen garden at the rear of the estate.
The garden was little more than a tiny walled courtyard, but it had always served her well enough for a practice yard – the walls had the scorch marks to prove it. The yard was always put to good use. Orana had prepared the gardens when the temperature had begun to drop, and Bodahn had been after Hawke to build a glass hothouse, but she had not the heart to tell him she could not afford the space. There were no windows of other estates looking down on her little patch of solitude, no prying eyes. It was her place to practice, where she might trip up or fail outright, ever on a quest to be the mage of talent and control her father had always wanted her to be.
Perhaps this would bring her one step closer to that faded dream.
Hawke sighed, and put away thoughts of her father. She focused more on the cold flagstones beneath her soft-soled boots. She pulled on her gloves, her fingertips already turned to ice. Despite the cloud cover, the night was bitter cold, and in no time at all, she was shivering. Clouds of her breath danced and dissipated in the still air. She pulled her hood up over her dark hair and looked around, first at the walls surrounding her and then to the sky above her, soft and grey and starless, and with a resolute twist of her mouth, she took her staff in hand.
At first, she only tossed a few ice spells at the hay bales stacked against the far wall, the magic spreading from her hands through the staff with ease. Whether it was channeling the cold to take hold from within, or layering the ground with leaping spikes of hoarfrost, these came to her without thought, her hand frozen to her staff as her connection and focus strengthened.
When she stopped casting and her racing heart slowed, when she took a deep breath and saw what her command of the cold had done, she couldn't help but smile and be proud. But it was familiar, and easy to accomplish. To attempt a spell she'd only heard tell of and never seen – Merrill would applaud her spirit, Aveline would shrug and wave her off, and Fenris would call her reckless, but she had to try, didn't she?
She knocked the butt of her staff against the ground, working up her courage. If she attempted this, she might very well encase herself in a block of ice, or shatter the stonework, or wake up the household, or Maker only knew what else. She was not so much of a fool to think that magic, even something as simple as the primals, should be taken as lightly as all that.
"All right, Marian," she muttered to herself, "try not to give yourself frostbite, eh?"
And so she raised her staff high and called out to the frayed edges of the Fade – and nothing happened.
Again and again, nothing, but for a few scattered blasts of dissipating cold, and a single gust of wind that whipped her cloak and robes around her ankles. Her woolen stockings had done little against the unfortunate draft.
Complete and utter failure.
Her heart sank. Try as she might, no matter how she filled her head with thoughts of drifting snow and howling wind and driving ice, she could not summon the smallest of storms. Dejected, she set her staff aside and slumped down onto the bench.
It was only then that she saw Anders leaning casually against the wall by the door. He crossed his arms over his chest, smirking.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm picking daisies, what are you doing?" She returned his smirk with a smile.
"I'm watching – well, I don't quite know what I'm watching, but it's rather amusing," he said.
"I do try," she said, and frowned. "I didn't know you were coming tonight."
"I hadn't planned on it," he said. He pushed away from the wall and she stood from her bench and they met in an embrace at the center of the courtyard. His cloak was rough-spun and weathered, and it felt scratchy and comforting against her cheek.
"Now tell me, what were you doing?" he asked. "Are you practicing a new spell?"
She grinned up at him. "Was it that obvious?"
"Well, normally people don't wave their arms around like that unless they are casting magics or having some sort of fit."
"Is that so?" said Hawke, scowling.
"I am a healer, I do know these things."
While she was not convinced, she was not so insulted as to ignore an opportunity that had presented itself so fortuitously. "If you must know," she said, giving him her most charming and impossibly disarming smile. "I was trying to make it snow."
"You – why? How?"
Anders searched her face for sign of another ruse, and she hated to disappoint him, but she tried her very best to look the honest sort. "Hawke –" he began.
Too eager now, she cut him off. "I was trained by my father, who taught me the magic of the Marches," she said, giving her shoulders a shrug. "But in Ferelden, the mages of the Circle are taught differently, aren't they?"
"Yes," he said slowly, and his eyes narrowed. He was beginning to get that cornered look he so often got when pressed about his past, for she had always been abrupt and less than subtle and had seen this look more often than she liked.
She decided to take a step back – figuratively, that was. Physically, she stayed put right where she was in the warm safety of his loose embrace.
"Our first year in Kirkwall," she said softly, "Carver spoke a little to me of his time at Ostagar."
Anders raised a curious eyebrow.
"He was drunk," she explained, and understanding, he nodded for her to continue. "He told of a Circle mage who had fought among them. He said the mage had summoned an ice storm, and –" She frowned, and sighed, and shook her head. "Never mind, I'm sorry. This is stupid."
"It's hardly stupid," Anders said, not unkindly, and for that she gave him a grateful smile.
"No, it is. Saying it aloud, I see it now. Hear it, I mean," she said, and put her hands over her face.
"I know the spell you speak of," he said. "It's a powerful spell, and it requires a great deal of energy from the caster." He pulled her in a little closer, resting his chin against her temple. "In the Circle, you are taught the basic principle of all schools of magic, just as your father taught you, but without study, it is only with skill and experience that you learn the application of actually casting spells. A spell of that level would take months of study to wield with confidence in battle."
"You can quit trying to make me feel better," she said, and laughed.
"I never learned to cast it myself, but I can teach you what I do know about its application," he said. His arms tightened about her. "It's not much, but it might give you a starting point for your study."
Hawke grinned, and kissed his lips. "Would you?"
"It won't quite be the snow you want," he said, his voice too sad and his face too serious.
She put her gloved hands on his cheeks, and kissed him again for good measure. That got a tiny smile out of him, but he let her go in the next instant, all business as he layered the folds of her cloak back over her shoulders, exposing her arms and the front of her robes.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"It all begins with the cold itself. Have you ever known true cold, Hawke?" he asked her as he smoothed his hands down the curve of her shoulders one final time. He took a step back – a literal step back, of course – and gave her a scrutinizing look-over from head to toe and back again.
"No," she said without hesitation. She'd been well cared for as a child, even in the uncertain years before her father had settled them in Lothering. Their first winter there, a boy in the village had once fallen through the lake ice – near enough to the shore as to find his sure footing, but he'd received a good dunking, soaked through and turned blue.
No, thank her lucky stars, she did not know true cold.
"The enchanters of Ferelden teach that the primal school is a balance of the four elements," he explained, and she rolled her eyes at the lecture in basic theory. "At the beginning of each lesson, my teacher would have the templars douse us with buckets of ice water, so that we might know the cold. To better understand and channel its power."
She made a face, still thinking of the village boy. "You're making that up."
"I wish I were, love," he said, and he gave her a fleeting half smile. "Whatever you might say about the poor instruction, I won't deny that it was effective. He taught us a good deal, and I'm sure a great deal more to those who continued to study with him."
"What did he do when it was time to learn about fire properties?"
That earned her a grin. "You don't want to know."
After all this banter, still he had made no move, but even in the span of a minute or two, she'd begun to feel the creep of the chill night through her heavy winter robes.
"So, are you going to dump ice water over my head, then?" she asked, her new-found chill making her impatient.
"No," he said, and held out his hand. Eagerly, she reached out her own. Without a word, he tugged off her glove. He took a moment to run his bare fingers over hers, but it was the cold that got to her first, spreading over her knuckles with needled touch. Anders then reached for her other hand, and when he had both of her gloves, he tucked them into his belt.
He watched her another long moment, again that appraising look-over, and stepped forward to gently lower her hood. The night's cold whispered upon her neck, growing bolder by the minute.
"It's the knowledge of true cold that's the key to its mastery," he said, putting his hands firmly on her shoulders to coax her into turning around, so that her back was to his chest, and she could see the hay bales stacked at the far end of the courtyard, the traces of her ice spells still glistening in the torchlight.
"Cold is when your skin burns," he said, and then his arm was around her, pulling at the first of the clasps that held her robes closed, just above her left breast. She knew her robes were as familiar to him as his own; he had undressed her countless times, but never like this. "Cold is when you feel that ache in your fingers and your toes."
"You wouldn't dare," she said, laughing breathlessly, but he already gave a tug at the second clasp, near to the bottom of her ribcage. The fabric sagged, and she felt a caress of night air against her skin, and shivered – and not, she guessed, from the cold.
"Your bones shake," he said, the third clasp at her waist undone by his quick fingers, "and your jaw quakes." He paused then, brushing icy fingers along her skin as he pulled her hair out of the way and pressed a light kiss to the nape of her neck. She let out a sharp exhale, giving up the warmth of her mouth to the cold night in a puff of fog.
"It sears your lungs," he continued, heedless. His other hand, the sneaky one, was creeping across her abdomen to the final clasp of her robes, holding the whole of it closed at her right hip. "Steals your breath."
She cringed. "Oh please, please don't," she said, unashamed of her begging.
The sneaky hand slipped inside her robes, fingers playing delicately at her waist. She was more than chilled, every inch of her skin broken out into gooseflesh. Maker above, she hadn't been the one to start this torment, had she?
"Are you cold yet, Hawke?" he asked, lips against her neck, leaving a trail of warmth that never lingered, only grew colder as his attention moved elsewhere.
"What do you think?" she asked, and immediately regretted her sass as he moved his hand from her waist to her breast, finding her unbound and bare. As his cold fingertips ran over her skin, she gasped, and when he pinched her lightly, she muttered a dark obscenity.
"I'd say you are at that," he said, and gently bit her neck.
"You are a cruel, unfeeling –"
Anders pulled his hand out from beneath her robes, taking care of the final clasp as he went. Slowly, he peeled her robes open, exposing her to the cold winter night.
"The cold takes all of you, Hawke," he said, returning his hands to her bare stomach, pinning her robes back with his wrists. "It doesn't matter how protected against it you think you are."
"Watch, Hawke," he said, and held a hand up before her. She watched as the pale frost grew over his fingertips, evidence of his command over the magic in his blood, no less than hers but control was a moot point for her at this juncture, and she knew she was lost. His hand returned to her, burning with cold as it ran up between her breasts. And the other –
Her knees buckled, and she leaned heavily against him. "You wouldn't dare," she said again, weaker, meeker, and she let her head fall back against his
shoulder, closing her eyes as the frost in his fingertips ignited her skin, and the desire that lurked beneath. Despite the strength she thought she had, the willpower she thought she possessed, she cried out when he pressed a firm hand between her legs.
"You have to give yourself over to it," he whispered, his voice hoarse in her ear, and she could feel him against her, the want in him, cold be damned. The hand between her legs tightened. She bit her lip against the urge to cry out again. Her cheeks prickled painfully, her fingertips were beginning to throb, yet all she could focus on was his touch of frost. "Will you give yourself over to the cold, love?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes," was all she could manage. Her knees had long since resumed their shaking.
"Good," he said, and very suddenly, his hands abandoned their amorous attentions. He spun her around again, and as easy as one, two, three, four, had buttoned her robes closed, and she was left with her mouth agape and her body in an unbearable state. "You did well for your first lesson, Hawke. You're a fast learner."
"Cruel," she sputtered, her teeth chattering uncontrollably. "Unfeeling."
He grinned at her, but she could not deny the tremble in his hands as he pulled her hood over her hair once more, smoothing it away from her face. He was looking at her quite strangely, eyes unreadable. "Hardly," he said, and there was something thrilling to the heavy hush in his voice. He leaned down to kiss her deeply. "Now comes the fun part. Let's go inside and get you warm."