Trembling in the Aftermath
She's numb, but under the surface she can feel the blood oozing, the great gaping wound in her chest. She wants to scream, wants to give in to the anguish and the anger and the frustration boiling just beneath the surface.
But all that floats within reach is a single thought – how dare he. It burns bright in her heart, and she clutches it to her as proof she's still alive. Better to feel the anger than be lost in the emptiness waiting to consume her whole.
Swallowing, she clenches her fist so hard she can feel her nails dig into flesh, leaving sharp pinpricks of pain. What right does Gamlen have to come into her home, to blame her for what that monster had done – to blame it on all mages, everywhere as if the actions of one are the actions of all. As if she is just like the man who tortured and murdered her mother, as if it was her hands that wielded the taint of blood magic. Simply because she'd tried to say that all mages are not the same. That they're just people and as people they have the same capacity for strengths and weaknesses as all others. As she'd tried to explain to Fenris on long nights of drinking and banter, before….
Another stab of pain, this one still so fresh no matter how much time passes. A bitter smile as she remembers all the times she had to reassure mother that yes she knows what she is doing, that she'd seen everything Fenris kept hidden under the surface in fear of being hurt, used. Mother still doesn't understand why she's so broken, how since that night –
Mother. Mother will never smile again, will never give her advice or stand by her side. That thing she had held in her arms had spoken in mother's voice, had whispered things only a mother would say. She's grateful she got her chance to say goodbye, but at what cost? Will she ever be able to think of mother and not see her as she was in those last moments, what she had been turned into?
The tingle of magic shivering across the skin of her clenched fist, and she opens eyes she doesn't remember closing to stare down in horror. She'd called it to her, all unknowing, and it makes her heart stop cold. Maybe they're right. Maybe it is the magic that is at fault, and those that wield it and can never fully understand it. A flare of fear in her heart, and her eyes search the room desperately.
For what, she can't quite be sure. There's no one here, no one to ask, no comfort to be sought. She's alone with her broken heart. Gamlen will never understand her, Carver has turned away. Mother and Bethany, both lost to her forever.
Of her companions, Varric and Isabela would try to cheer her up, not having any other way to ease her pain. Aveline – well, she'd seen what was in Aveline's eyes, and she did not want pity. The mage demanded so much of her, there's no hope that he has any room in his heart to give. And Merrill is too young, has not lost enough to understand. There is the chantry, and Sebastian, who knows the pain of having his family ripped away from him – but she cannot find solace in faith as he can.
And Fenris…Fenris is forever out of her reach.
She snuffs the power with a thought, closing her eyes to turn her focus inward. If there's no one she can turn to, she will have to fumble through this herself.
A creak of leather, and she is no longer alone. Unbelieving, she stares at the one person she needs above all else.
"I don't know what to say…" he murmurs softly, his deep voice somehow filling the room. "But I am here."
The tears that wouldn't come before rush to the surface now, and she has to struggle to hold them back. She surprises herself by asking the one thing she's truly afraid of, the one truth she's been circling around all night, since Gamlen's words sliced her to the bone. "Am I to blame for not saving her?"
He seems surprised for a moment at the question, but then slowly pads over on bare, silent feet to stand before her. "I could say no, but would that help?"
Several tears escape, trickling down her cheeks as she stares up at him. And she shakes her head, knowing he speaks the truth.
"You are looking for forgiveness, but I am not the one who can give it to you." His words are soft, and there is regret in his eyes.
Not even an arm's length between them, and she wants – so badly – to close that space. All she wants is to be held. But she's not sure what's allowed, how much he's offering with his presence. And she will not impose her sorrow on this man that means so much to her.
No matter how much it costs her to hold it in.
Wiping the tears from her cheeks with trembling fingers, she lowers her eyes. "Then who is?"
How could she? Why would she? She can't – and a choking sob escapes, as she folds in on herself. Strong arms wrap around her, warmth that she clings to with what strength is left in her body as the tears and the sorrow and the regret finally find release.
"Fenris," she chokes out between sobs, "I should have been there, I could have stopped him before…."
His hand strokes her hair as he replies, "What would you have done, that you weren't already? We were searching, and we had the entire city guard for assistance."
Her mind easily supplies the answer. "I should have stayed home, should have seen the flowers and known what they meant, stopped her from leaving to begin with."
"You did not know what was to come." Such softness in his voice, such conviction. So unlike the answer Gamlen gave to the same question. "There was no way you could guard her, night and day, with never a suspicion of impending harm. You did all within your power to save her, and she knew that. You know that."
She shakes her head fiercely as she burrows into his chest. His tone turns even softer as he slips from language to language, offering simple comfort instead of answers to tangled questions. And holding her close, gentle as blown glass, as the tears fall.
Until she's spent, so exhausted she can't even cling to him anymore. She trembles as a kiss is pressed into the crown of her head, and he asks, "What do you need?"
So many things she wants to say. She needs her mother back, she needs her home back – she needs him.
But instead, all that comes out is, "Please stay. Just for tonight." She can't stand the thought of being alone with her memories, her regrets, even if his words have begun to ease that ache in her heart.
He tenses in her arms, as if suddenly aware of their position, and where they are.
"Not for…that," she hurries to add, her fingers plucking at his jerkin. "I just want you to hold me."
Her heart breaks still further as he backs up and turns away. She lifts a hand to pull him back, but it hovers trembling behind him, empty. Too far.
Instead of walking through the door, and out of her life, he moves to her bureau and she can hear the soft clink and shift of leather and buckles being undone. Piece by piece, he lays his armor there, removing each segment until he's left in his tunic and breeches.
Only then does he turn back to her, something unreadable in his eyes as he settles on the bed. His scarred hands reach up and draw her down with him, and she follows gladly to nestle against his chest.
The soft litany begins again as he draws the covers over both of them, and he cradles her close as she falls into exhausted slumber.
When she awakens to the sunlight pouring across her face, she is alone. It's not unexpected, but the sorrow inside her deepens as she rises to meet the day. She has duties to perform, people that depend on her, and these do not disappear in the face of her own personal tragedy. It will have to be enough that she received the gift of a night to mourn.
Sometime later, when she's walking past a table on the way out the door, she catches sight of a slip of parchment. It's held in place by the bottle of wine Fenris gifted her so many years ago, kept to have a reminder of him in her home.
With trembling fingers she reaches out, unbelieving, to brush the curled edge of the vellum. She knows how much it cost him to write this, can picture in her mind the furrow of concentration and frustration that appears between his brows when he painstakingly bleeds out the words. Reading is coming easier to him now, but as the shaky uncertain scrawl on the page testifies, writing has not. His fingers, which are so dexterous and skillful with a blade, struggle when wielding a pen.
A knot forms in her throat as her fingers trace what he wanted – so much – for her to see. She remembers the passage from the book of Shartan, and it's Fenris' careful voice reciting the words that she hears in her mind.
Those that came before, who are no longer at my side but held in the hand of the Maker, they are not truly gone. For through our struggles their strengths, their joys and their tears have made their mark upon me. And as long as I live, so shall they.
With the faint beginnings of a smile, she folds the precious note and hides it inside her robes – above the beating of her heart.