Chapter 1: Come To Me (Prologue)
There was no measure of time in the Fade, so when the elf came to Audacity, the spirit hadn't bothered to measure how much time had passed in the mortal realm. Bound inside the cave as he was, there was no change in weather to discern through wind or rain, no snow or lengthening days to notice. To the spirit, the wars that fed him had just ended and he'd been content in a way. He had to be, because there was no going home, no feeding, nothing but the wait, infinite and momentary. Through the nature of his very being there was always more, the gnawing, driving need to consume, but once bound that thought was secondary.
He had taken so many, human and elf alike. Too many - he'd attracted attention. They'd come to banish him eventually, the bravest and most powerful of the mages offering him a last meal after a long period of gluttony. Audacity was trapped in a statue, of all things, by a group of cunning little devils. It meant that someone had to find the mass of stone to find him within it, but once they did, he could return to the and gather strength anew.
Stone moves, but so slowly that a century doesn't make a change that mortal eyes can see. Audacity waited, because time meant nothing to a creature from the Fade, trapped in darkness. He wasn't completely alone the whole time, but only a few stumbled upon him and fewer still tried their hand at his power. All were eventually consumed, some without preamble. None could break the binding, and thus weren't appropriate vessels for him.
On her side of the plane of existence, time had crawled and leaped, as it tended to do. So much time passed that those who'd trapped him in stone were buried and forgotten, and in time, so was the conflict that had raged - the reason he was summoned. It became historical myth, speculation, when once it had been as real as the sunlight glistening on rivers of blood flowing down Sundermount. Generations of lives were lived and lost before Audacity deigned to speak with another seeking aid. He was there, but not just for any little wisp of power.
When she came for him, she was searching for answers about a past that was still recent to his mind. After the scant few that came his way, to be awakened by one so perfect, mighty yet wanting; he knew that she would be all he needed. This was no weakling seeking power, but a woman so deeply connected to the Fade that her very footsteps caused ripples and echoes in the fabric of his reality. Before she even offered her blood, he could feel her. Had he flesh, it might have trembled in anticipation.
She craved knowledge, her hidden desire the power that came from uncovering a history to give her people. Audacity knew the truth but preferred lies, and pulled her wishes from her with little prodding. He had to keep her coming back, a game he'd played with her like for centuries. There was truth threaded through his lies, slivers of it shining through as he tripped her up, dropping tantalizing bits of information into shrouded answers meant to confuse and obscure. When she balked and nearly walked away from their unsealed deal, he showed her the way through her blood and tasted the vastness of her magic in a single drop.
A willing soul was always best, and one drop of her was sweeter than all of the souls of the last war.
Audacity was a spirit - demon to some, but the name didn't matter. Spirits held none of the mortal shame of wanting, and no impatience to hinder plans or upset waiting. She would come back, and when she was weak and desperate, the demon would claim her and walk with her face, see Thedas through her mortal eyes as he feasted.
Chapter 2: Remember The First
The chill breeze of thin air found only on a mountaintop lifted her hair and made her shiver visibly on the day she was warmed by a pair of concerned, intelligent eyes. Merrill gave the human a tentative smile, still unsure about her, but not their shared task. There was never a reason to celebrate a shemlen amongst the people, but from the outset, Hawke seemed like a rare human. The woman before her was intimidatingly tall, but seemed kind and thoughtful as they walked up the mountain together. Her hair was the color of wet straw, dark but broken with highlights the shade of old honey. Her long ponytail tied her hair away from a tanned face with an upturned nose, freckles and a wide mouth that looked like it was made for easy smiles and quick smirks.
Had Merrill only known then - Hawke was the the rarest kind of person. Only the Hero of Ferelden had a soul to match. Merrill might have been a little biased in her assessment, since Mahariel was once one of her clan, but she had a feeling the Hero and Hawke would have gotten along. When she waited at the foot of Sundermount her stomach had filled with dread, disquieted and nervous as she waited for the humans that would lead her into Kirkwall. Before then, her clan had already begun to shut her out and she spent most of her time ignoring their withering looks and arguing with the Keeper. Hawke had led her away from all of that, without too many questions. It had been a strange, surreal experience, and stranger still when she actually became friends with Hawke.
She'd come to the alienage to visit, even after that first request. There had been short jaunts to the Hanged Man, and longer trips to go and fight whatever menace someone was paying enough coin to be rid of. They fought, mostly other things, but once in a while they rowed with each other, and drank. Lady - that was Hawke's first name, but it had taken Merrill the better part of a year to find that out - didn't want to stay in the smelly hovel she shared with her uncle, brother and mother. So they stayed out together, running around Kirkwall and the area surrounding with the occasional trip back up Sundermount. It had been a heady and confusing time for Merrill, because love with a human woman wasn't what she'd been expecting to find in the city.
Hawke was a human mage, who live secretly free from the confines of the Circle of Magi. When they'd met, Merrill hadn't realized how rare it was to be free of the Circle, but she learned quickly after just a short time in Kirkwall. Anders was always marveling at Hawke's ability and her discipline, acquired without the benefit of the Circle instruction, but his praise was also tinged with a little jealousy. He was quick to speak out about the cruelty and injustice of the templars, a life he'd experienced but Hawke had been spared. His stories, even about the more lenient Order in Ferelden, were mostly angry and colored with the shame of someone made to suffer and witness multiple indignities. Even with all he said, he held back much more.
The templars scared Merrill, though she knew they paid little attention to the elves of the alienage. Like most humans, to them elves were worth scorn or pity but never notice. At times Hawke and her brother Carver were brazen in the face of templar authority, but they were mostly careful to keep what was left of their family together. There was talk of bribes and hiding, but Merrill never really knew much of the outcome. The templars were the spoken reason about why Hawke was going on the Deep Roads Expedition, but there were other reasons, things they couldn't speak of as easily as the magic the Hawke family had always worked to hide.
Their mother, Leandra, wasn't well, and both Lady and Carver were intent on moving her out of Gamlen's house. While Carver scoffed, Lady wanted to help their mother reclaim their family manse and status, feeling that it would help keep her grief at bay in some small measure. Hawke often said that her mother's spirit suffered in Lowtown, and Merrill could completely understand. There were days she woke after dreaming of the trees, her clan, Ferelden, only to find herself sweat-soaked in the alienage, surrounded by dirt and strangers. She missed her old life more than she could effectively express, but all freedom came at a price.
Hawke was focused on their mother and her happiness, but Leandra was not the only one downtrodden by their circumstances. Carver seemed left out, at least to Merrill's eyes, and masked his hurt with harsh remarks about her becoming "Lady" Lady Hawke and how he didn't need dusty old titles to prove his worth. Only once did Hawke talk about taking care of Carver, when he wasn't around and only after Varric's careful prodding. She was afraid his grief would consume him, turn into rage and drive him to drink and fight and fuck with nothing but confusion and empty space in his heart. He needed purpose, but she couldn't give that to him. She did what she could by letting him vent his spleen at her, and keeping him close.
For her part, Hawke never was mean back to her brother, only thoughtful and quiet. Back then, she was kind to almost everyone and did favors for half of Kirkwall, so Merrill didn't think she had earned any special notice from Hawke. Merrill mostly thought of herself as another body in a fight, a friend to drink with, but took her time admiring Hawke whenever she could, especially under the cover of darkness. Lady was simply beautiful, especially with her skin alight from using her powers. Merrill loved nothing more than to watch her fight, except to watch her play cards with Isabela or to just walk out in front of them, leading them onward.
She struggled with her attraction to Hawke, thinking it just a case of falling for the person that helped her. It couldn't be more than that, because Hawke was human, and the People didn't consort like flat-ears did. But Merrill could clearly remember the first moment she realized it was more, the fluttering in her chest that was the first sign that she had already fallen.
They'd been coming from the Chantry, and Merrill making silent note of just how different Lady and Carver looked in the bright light. Carver was wide and all muscles, with black hair and a strong chin. But he stood in shadow where she stood in light, and his features were nearly lost while hers were ethereal and illuminated. The two were bickering, Lady answering his questions with quick, short answers as sunlight threaded gold through her hair, and make the dark freckles on her arms stand out more. They were going back and forth on attending the Chantry services, and how Lady wanted to take their mother, but it was dangerous for a mage.
Hawke held up her hand to stop Carver mid-sentence, stod on her tip toes, leaned over and then ruffled his hair, while he scowled at her. Then she gave him money and told him to go 'have a good time.' since they were done for the day. It diffused the situation with warmth, and he let Varric push him towards the Hanged Man. Merrill had watched Carver go unseeingly, thinking of how Lady had looked wreathed in sunlight as if the being in the Chantry had brought a blessing unto her. The image stayed in her mind, and lulled the elf to sleep that night.
Unexpectedly, Hawke had returned her feelings. Merrill had been certain that she was imagining it the first time Hawke flirted with her, mischief dancing in her eyes and quirking a corner of her mouth as Hawke causally threw out a bad line and let it hang. Merrill remembered the heat that filled her face, and how she'd stammered, making Hawke sound that melodious laugh of hers. It had been wonderful, that one moment, because after that they began to argue.
Like her clan, Hawke didn't understand why Merrill had to use blood magic. She couldn't understand what it was like to be so very lost and disconnected from the past. No human could understand what it was like to be Dalish. In a city, humans lived in slums but not in an alienage, segregating even their poor from the elves. In Hightown, they'd turned their noses up at Hawke and Carver, scurrying away from them as they walked the streets. Their Ferelden accents were mocked, and the word 'thugs' was uttered in their wake more than once. When Merrill went to Hightown, a man propositioned her for sex, calling out that "all knife-ears should want to have a human baby," as she stalked off in disgust and a woman asked her to fetch her dress for a silver. She'd been asked to clean floors, run errands, suffered any number of sexual advances, and walked into as if she didn't exist.
Hawke did not understand, and couldn't. Hawke, a human mage raised with human values, thought that her blood magic would lead her down a path riddled with demons and far from redemption. Lady and her sister Bethany had grown up holding hands in front of their father, swearing they would never use blood magic as he looked down on them, covering their locked hands with one of his own. They played games where Carver slayed the demons and templars alike, and they ran as fast as they could, away to safety. Her whole life had been broken into good and bad, with spirits and demons, blood and lyrium. She was too stubborn to even consider blood magic as a means to an end, but to help the Dalish, Merrill's own life could be sacrificed. It was her choice to make.
Their first fight wasn't too far off from that first meeting. Perhaps fight wasn't the right word, because later once they got to know each other, they really fought, flinging books and delicate crystal goblets at each other, screaming fit to bring down a house. But the first time was more like a debate, or a lecture. Humans had a strange belief system, because though they claim to redeem their lost, but those so redeemed spend their lives paying for their transgression, making up for them. To go back to her clan, Merrill would simply have to agree with Marethari. She didn't, and that was why she stayed away.
However weird it seemed to her, Hawke believed in their prophet and the Chantry, even if she disagreed with the way the dogma put into practice at times. On a visit to the alienage when she came to ask for Merrill's help, instead of fighting slavers it ended with the two of them sitting across from one another, each talking over the other. Hawke had given her an earnest warning about dangers and corruption and gods Merrill didn't believe in.
As much as she hated fighting with Hawke, and did she ever hate it, that was why she was hidden away in her old house in the alienage instead of in Hightown - she loved the making up. As controlled as she was in all other things, Hawke was uninhibited and passionate when they were alone together. Just thinking of it sent a delicious trill down Merrill's spine, and she enjoyed the feeling for a moment before guilt stamped it out. She had to hurry, before someone came looking for her or Hawke deduced what had taken her away from Hightown near dinner time.
"Alright, I'm ready." Merrill muttered to herself, dragging her mind from recollections. Louder she said "Spirit, show yourself so that we might speak."
Chapter 3: Frustrate Me
The rain outside drizzled constantly from a sky as grey as the stone of Hightown. There was nothing to be done at the moment, the night before they'd raided a shady warehouse down at the docks at Aveline's request and afterward they'd indulged in a day of rest. It was just Lady and Merrill at the house in Hightown, Bodhan serving them stew to chase the chill away. Without much else to do, Merrill read in the library and Hawke mended a set of old robes, between writing a letter to Carver. They were quiet, Merrill content in her task, oblivious to Hawke's gaze.
"Merrill, are you happy here?" Lady asked, careful to keep her voice neutral.
"Yeees." Merrill answered, drawing out the word with her delightful lilting voice. "Yes, of course, Hawke."
"In Kirkwall?" Hawke asked, pressing further.
"Living in the city has been an adjustment, but I find it interesting. But you know how I feel." She said, but then went on. "Sometimes it's like one of Varric's stories if we go out and fight a dragon. But then I listen to Anders's terrible tales when we go to the Gallows or fight a crazy mage. Every so often I understand why Fenris dislikes mages so, the ones here make it hard to see the good side of magic. But I'm happier here than with the clan."
Hawke smiled at the soliloquy, having heard as much before. It only served to make her point clearer.
"Then why do you continue to use blood magic? I saw you last night, during that fight down at the docks. We were very nearly finished fighting, and that pirate was almost dead when you unleashed that ghastly magic on him. Maker, the look on his face. He was dead for sure after that, without even the chance to turn around and see his killer." Hawke said, the condemnation clear in the vividness of her recollection rather than her tone.
"Would you like me to shout an introduction before I finish people off now?" Merrill asked hotly, her eyes narrowed at Hawke.
In return, Hawke got on the offensive. She hated this fight, but had to keep having it. It was her way of disapproving, of imploring. If they'd ever had the ability to talk about Merrill's blood magic without fighting, Hawke couldn't remember it.
They couldn't fight with magic, not that they would ever let it get that far, she hoped. Whatever her own prowess with magic, Merrill had her nearly matched for power, and her arcane Dalish knowledge had traps that Hawke couldn't fathom. The elf was quick too, her spellcasting took less time to rebound than Lady's own magic. Instead it was barbed words, the occasional shattered ornament against the wall or mantle of the fireplace, lingering shrouds of silence, and shouting.
There were days of endless not speaking to each other, of retreats beat hastily to corners that were defined by the others reluctance to go there - Hawke to see Fenris or Anders, Merrill back to the alienage to lick her wounds. It was only once they'd stopped feeling sorry themselves that one would venture to the Hanged Man, a shared spot where they might run into each other. There was always a chance for a renewed bit of fighting there, but Varric had a quelling influence, and an unexpectedly stern rule about rowing in his quarters. A rule he often reminded the others of as well.
In the end, they would always make up, because the two of them so desperately loved each other. To Lady, watching Merrill do forbidden magic was like watching her taunt death unnecessarily, when all Hawke wanted to do was hide from it. Too much had already been taken from her, but no matter what she pleaded or screamed, that was never apparent to Merrill. She stayed single minded in her goal to save the Dalish, and Hawke was similarly focused on her need to save Merrill from herself. Neither one was willing to relent.
"Hawke, I can't, not again."
"What you mean is that you won't listen, again." Lady half-shouted, more in frustration than pure anger, because it wasn't up to Merrill to end this discussion. She hadn't expected Merrill to try to conclude it so soon. The night before, she'd had nightmares. Lady dreamed that Merrill had gotten into bed with her and changed, become an abomination. It was her recurring nightmare, and despite Merrill's reassurances, Hawke always reacted badly to the dream. Without an outlet for the fear that prompted the unconscious imagery or for the shame and anger that burned hot on her cheeks first thing in the morning, she blamed Merrill for making her worry in the first place. Her dreamed fear turned into impotent rage when she regained herself, and she'd been picking this fight all day because of it.
"I'm the one that isn't listening? What is it with you? Why won't you just let this go? You can't control everything! I thought by now you would see that."
"I don't want to control everything. I just want you to be safe."
"I can keep myself safe. I doubt you could say the same." She spat the words out hotly, intending for them to sting.
Hawke let go of her restraint and gave a hard, scathing laugh. "Oh, if that's so, then why stay here with me? Or did you have another reason for being in Kirkwall? I'd hate to keep you if you're so busy." The statement couldn't have dripped with more acid if it had been uttered by the seneschal. Merrill stiffened visibly, gratifying Hawke.
"Don't you remember before, when I asked you not to try and save me? You said everything would be alright, but I told you what would happen. I suppose I should have suspected that you wouldn't want me like I was, but only the me that you could fix."
"If I could fix you we wouldn't be having this discussion."
"Do you like fighting all the time? All this tumult? Do you need attention that much? Are Varric's stories and the legend of the Champion not enough for you?"
Hawke said nothing, and Merrill took the chance to go on.
"I can't do this any other way, but you're the one who won't listen when I say it. This is important to my people, not that I expect a shemlen to care about the People."
"Can't or won't, Merrill? Because you do have a choice you know." Hawke wasn't sure what they were talking about anymore, but she was up in Merrill's face, standing too close for comfort and breathing heavy.
"Well, I won't fight anymore. Not tonight." She muttered, and was out of the door before Lady could turn around to watch her leave.
Hawke sat in silence, somewhat disappointed. There was usually more, a swell and then a break before one of them walked away. But this time Merrill had seemed tired and unwilling. Still, it hadn't stopped her from leaving. At the moment, Hawke would have rather been alone than to think about Merrill and the hazy image of an abomination in her head.
She'd apologize in a few days, when she got lonely again. Time apart had a way of helping her overlook the many problems she had with Merrill's choices. This was how it went for them, more often than not.
Chapter 4: Sex, LIes and Blood Magic
Hawke's mouth was sealed over hers and Merrill closed her eyes, surrendering her anger to the convincing silence of their kiss. She didn't care what they'd argued about, because it always boiled down to the same thing in the end. Blood magic. It only mattered that they were making up now.
Their spats happened so often that Merrill was able to push past it in her mind most of the time. They loved each other, but Hawke's love came with her vociferous concerns about her magic.
There were new cuts on her arms, and Merrill was careful not to let Lady's hands get too far in their endeavor to undress. Her hands brushed the other set away, eagerness guarding her secret, the application of misdirection keeping Hawke from noticing. More than once before, new scars had attracted unwanted attention and stopped their make up sessions. This time, Merrill didn't think it would, because Lady's kiss was ravenous, her tongue hot and delicious in Merrill's mouth. She obviously had a need that override her desire to lecture.
Merrill returned the kiss in kind, her hands under Hawke's robe, busy busy, pinching and rubbing, fingers working through fabric and clothes she wanted to take off. Her hands couldn't decide what was more urgent, teasing the hard tips of Hawke's breasts or baring them, and stupidly tried to do both in a hurry. She'd missed her. They always did this, spent time apart - sometimes Hawke even left Kirkwall, went out to the Wounded Coast and didn't take her along. Merrill would mope, find Hawke and apologize, or the other way around.
This time it was Hawke that came to her, and they were in the alienage. Lady had her pressed up against the dirty wall, pinned by her mouth, by hands that knew exactly where her all her buckles were and had unfastened most of them. It wasn't going to be sweet between them, not like if she'd gone back to the estate and waited to apologize with teary eyes. This was rutting, as urgent as they'd been angry, hard and rough - the illicit currency of regret between the two of them.
She was sure that Lady regretted the fight, but they were so used to using it as a way to say what should have been open between them, neither one knew how not to fight anymore. Their communication had unraveled to the point that they could no longer simply talk about their concerns and problems, and always wound up yelling.
Lady's mouth was at her neck, sucking the sensitive skin into hard red circles that everyone would see later. Merrill's breastband was already pushed down to her waist, and Hawke moved from her neck down to her pale pink nipples, capturing one in her mouth and suckling it so hard Merrill hissed in pain laced pleasure.
Hawke's impatience made her frantic with want, quick hands removing Lady's armor and staff, letting them all fall to floor. She wore the robes of a Champion now, and for a second Merrill missed her old ones, the corset with the cut-outs on the shoulders that showed off her freckled skin. But these were grand and powerful, and more importantly, already on their way off.
Merrill grabbed Lady's long ponytail and pulled on it until her head was tiled upward, letting the hair fastener slip through her fingers to the floor. The tip of Merrill's tongue traveled the length of Hawke's elongated neck, up to her chin until their lips met in another hard kiss. She let go, watching the hair fall across Lady's shoulders as a growl turned to a gasp in Merrill's throat. Lady's teeth dragged across her skin, leaving little bites along the sides of her breasts, the curves of her stomach and hips, all while twisting and tweaking Merrill's nipples.
Her apologies always started off the same way. "I'm sorry for fighting, but I won't stop trying to save you." If she ever stopped saying those words, if one day Hawke decided that she was no longer worth saving, Merrill would have been devastated. She was vaguely aware that the apology was happening then, from between her breasts as Lady's hand dusted over the juncture of her legs, teasing and never entering.
"Just kiss me." Merrill insisted, and Lady obliged, tongue running over her teeth, teasing before it touched her own. Pushing Lady's smallclothes aside, Merrill dropped to her knees. Her hand slipped between Hawke's legs to be greeted by wetness. Hawke sighed as Merrill pressed her tongue to her slit and pushed a finger inside of her. The first climax would be quick and violent, Hawke standing over her, riding her face.
There would be time for gentleness later, for apologies that would inevitably be uttered solely to be broken. Lady would whisper it into her hair, into her stomach while she looked hopefully up into Merrill's eyes, from between her legs as she made Merrill writhe with pleasure. Sex had always been their refuge, and this time was no different. Together, they fell back together, without acknowledging why they'd fallen apart.
Chapter 5: Shared and Secret
Merrill would never ever admit it to Lady, but sometimes, she loved the power that came when she called upon her blood. There was a moment at the beginning, where it surged and flowed freely through her, the life that bound the world together within her and for the briefest span of time, it rolled unchecked through her. It was the breathless, heated sensation that faded that second the knife left her skin and the spell was set in motion.
There was a speck of unconstrained power, and it excited her more than the thought of almost anything else. Anything that had to do with magic, anyway.
Lady was so certain, so convinced of the evil of blood magic that she simply didn't want to comprehend the reasons why Merrill didn't regret using it. In her life, there had been loving guidance by her father, a trainer and teacher to whom she was no burden. Questions of home and past didn't plague her, though Hawke and her family had their own hardships. By contrast, Merrill's life had been nothing but duty since she'd joined the Sabrae clan. Her parents were just hazy faces from the last Arlathvhen, Marethari the stern mother figure imposed into her life. There was much teaching and a distant sense that the Keeper cared for her, but the way Merrill felt about Marethari didn't come close to the way Hawke revered her father.
And there was the very obvious point that Hawke never liked to acknowledge. Had she asked for help from her father, she would have gotten it. The Keeper was not interested in restoring any part of Dalish history that brought pain the present, no matter what may be gained in return. There would have been no denials for Hawke, as there so often wasn't.
Whatever endeavor she set out to do, she did it. Results varied, but they were largely satisfactory. She went to the Deep Roads to find a way to keep the templars from her doorstep and she came back with enough riches to buy the lost prestige of her family. There were failures, effort that fell short, too many loved ones gone. They left their mark on Lady too, like the scars that crisscrossed her wrists of Merrill's own making, but Hawke's were invisible.
It was a morning when she was running errands and Hawke was busy at the Keep. With no Viscount, she often went in to lend aid, though it vexed the seneschal. Merrill checked on her plants, and then decided to make her way to Darktown. She and Anders didn't dislike each other, but he wasn't always welcoming to her presence. She thought she understood him though, even with all his pamphlets and glowing blue righteous Justice. He needed a friend, or at least more than he had.
Sometimes Anders just wanted to yell. She went to help, to visit and drop off a clipping of elfroot she'd potted with him in mind. He occasionally let her come in, with empty jars or rolls of bandages, things she could find or make to aid his work. But inevitably, just like every fight with Hawke, it would wind up being a warning or cautionary sermon.
He of all people should have understood how she felt - he'd felt it too.
"I see that your arms are healing. Hawke was upset when she came down here last." He said upon taking the elfroot from her.
She nearly regretted coming, because the look in his eye said he already had words prepared for her. But the plant was ready and besides, she'd made up with Hawke for the time being. Merrill gave him a steely look. "Stay out of it, Anders."
"I can't stand by and let you do this. You're hurting yourself and Hawke. You know this is dangerous." He began, but was stopped by a woman stumbling through the door of his clinic.
Immediately he became his professional self. In an instant, he was by her side and helping her onto a bed. The woman, clearly homeless and heavy with child, looked like the pain was unbearable. Sweat shone across the whole of her body, though she was shivering. She'd barely said anything, but whatever she whispered to Anders was punctuated by groans of pain and once, a long whine.
Merrill didn't need instruction. She was next to Anders, their fledgling disagreement forgotten. They never fought when they were busy, she was always a willing extra pair of hands for him. While she couldn't heal, she could make people sleep when there was too much pain, and was adept at things like trying to turn a babe from her time with her clan. Elven births were often easier than the few human ones she'd seen, but not without their own difficulties. She thought that her assistance in his clinic was one of the few reasons why he didn't completely write her off.
There was more than that, but both of them were loathe to speak of it, especially without the lubrication of drink on her part. They had spirits and love for Hawke in common, waking dreams of the Fade and a need for power and freedom. So rare was it that they touched on these topics, the one time they had was the only time Merrill ever remembered him coming to her house in the alienage alone, walking her home from the Hanged Man to finish their discussion. It had been years ago, before Hawke asked her to move in.
"When you first joined with Justice, how did it feel?" She'd asked him, sitting on her floor.
He thought for a moment. "Powerful, righteous. Like every part of me was on fire, but most alive than I'd ever been. It was almost too much, gaining his perspective on everything, eons of existence and experience filling my head at once." He looked away and closed his eyes to bring back the memory. "But it was amazing, magic like I'd never felt. I could see the world stitched together."
"I understand." She'd said, and this time, he didn't yell at her.
"Perhaps you do." Anders gave her a measured look. "Hawke wouldn't like to know that."
Merrill simply shrugged. "I'm sure she wouldn't be interested. She looks for the 'how' and not the 'why or what'."
"You're more perceptive than people think."
"And you're much nicer." Merrill countered, making him laugh. It was memorable because she almost never heard him laugh anymore, let alone was the cause of it.
Another moan, this time more desperate and ragged, caught their collective attention. There was no time for bickering anymore, as she stood next to Anders. They were so alike, yet so far apart, and she couldn't help but lament that fact.
Chapter 6: Because We Love You
"Seriously, Hawke, put the mug down." Varric frowned at his inebriated friend as she shook her head vigorously, but stopped when she lost her balance.
"I am fine. I can get home." Hawke slurred.
It wasn't like her to drink herself into stinking excess, but she hadn't been herself since her mother died. Things must have been rocky with Merrill again, because Lady Hawke usually preferred to drink her way through Hightown's finest wine cellar instead of enjoying the mysterious ale of the Hanged Man. She only really came down to Lowtown to play cards and call on the others.
But this day she'd wanted company and he appeared to be the one obligated to provide it. He didn't mind, truly, but he didn't like to see her this way. It was too...unlike her and unsettling for him. Hawke had too many ghosts to be a particularly happy drunk.
"Now, what kind of friend would I be if I let you leave here a stumbling mess?" Varric asked in a mocking tone, in order to hide his exasperation. "Daisy would never forgive me if something happened to you on the way home."
At the mention of "Daisy", Hawke snorted into her drink. So there was trouble on the rocky shoal of paradise once again. Varric grabbed a pen to write that one down, Hawke hardly noticing that he'd left the table.
"I'm Champion. No one would attack me." She was saying, shaking her head. "Maker forgive me. My parents would have been horrified if they'd known I'd been consorting with a blood mage."
"I'd say you've been more than consorting, since she lives at your house." Varric said.
Another snort, this one louder. "Only when she isn't running off to that cursed mirror. It doesn't even reflect anything, but I can't get her away from it. Not Marethari's words, my keeping that aru..arlulin-hold, no that's not right...aruler..." Hawke trailed off mid-rant, trying to form the elvhen word on her thick tongue. Varric shook his head at her.
"You know what you need, Hawke? Time away from Kirkwall. Our last trip to that Grey Warden prison in the mountains doesn't exactly count."
To say that Hawke looked skeptical was to say that dwarves were 'a little short'. He was just about the set the scene for her when Sebastian came sauntering through his door. Varric was surprised to see him that evening. No one else was around - Isabela and Fenris conspicuous in their shared absence, but less so than Merrill.
Most of the time, Choir Boy came down to graciously lose playing Wicked Grace. He was better than he let on, and Varric suspected he lost on purpose, so not to have to explain a full purse of crowns to the Grand Cleric. He'd probably wind up donating them to the Chantry in any case, so letting Anders take him for hand after hand was close to the same thing. He won enough to make it look convincing, like he could have a good night where he didn't lose all the coins Hawke pressed into his hands after they'd done a job. However much he won, he still managed to lose it over a space of time, sometimes one night, sometimes a week or two. If that was all luck on his part, Varric would shave his chest.
"There's no one else here tonight, Choir Boy." Varric informed him. "And I'm just here to babysit Hawke while she drinks herself stupid."
Hawke sputtered in offense, her ale sloshing around precariously, but Varric just chuckled. "Real convincing there."
That night, whatever he said Hawke stoically ignored. She would alternate between staring morosely into her drink, slurring on about Daisy or simply bitching about the world. He gave up after a while, deciding to just let her get it off her chest. Part of him realized that Hawke had probably expected Merrill to come, and the longer she waited without a sign of her, the lower she got.
In the end, it was Sebastian who helped more than he could. All he'd been able to do was slow down the flow of ale to her mug by signalling to Norah and then letting Hawke blame her when she didn't come around as quickly to collect for refills.
"Hawke, you've always been kind to me, even when we disagree. You always tell me when your beliefs diverge from my own, but you never try to force me to around to your point of view. I respect that you accept me as I am, and my ability to be open to change. Why can't you do that for Merrill? Is your lover not deserving of the same respect you accord me?" Sebastian asked. It probably wasn't the best question for drunk Hawke, but he got her attention.
Lady fumed, her lips thinning out dangerously as she gave Sebastian a look that reminded Varric too much of Aveline's perfected 'Captain of the Guard glare'. He saw that look too often. "Because you know as well as I do that blood magic is dangerous. She could die Sebastian. Become a demon and do Maker knows what and then...and then..." She trailed off, unable to say it. Then the city would call on the Champion.
"You can lose someone just as easily by holding too close." He said sagely.
"That is of no comfort if something happens."
"But would there be any comfort for that? If it is the tip of a blade and not a demon, would you rest easier?" Sebastian shook his head and went on. "You must accept that what you are afraid of is not just the magic, but the decision to place herself in danger. You feel what we all feel when we care, and the helplessness when we can't save everything. Letting go of your hubris is a good start."
"I will think on this." Lady said softly, trying to keep the words in her mind before the drink forced it out. With an effort, she pushed the mug away and sipped from the tankard of water Varric had placed near her earlier and she'd ignored. She hadn't thought of it as hubris before, but he was correct she wasn't listening. And she was afraid.
Varric hummed quietly, polishing Bianca in the corner and admiring Sebastian's ability to cut straight to the heart of the problem while sounding like a concerned priest. Probably because he was one, but still, he'd done what Varric couldn't. All of those arguments with the Grand Cleric had paid off, because sometimes the boy had a way with words.
The afternoon night was hard and grey over Lowtown, the weather warm and overcast at the same time. A storm would come, but this one would be milder, she could tell by the winds. Isabela smiled gently at Merrill, who was dithering at the market stall next to her. Despite looking over most of the goods, the elf was listless and Isabela knew she wasn't truly seeing the objects she kept picking up and putting back down.
"You aren't your normal sparkly self, kitten."
"Oh?" Merrill answered, not turning her head to look at Isabela.
"That's right, and I know why."
"Isabela, it's not that I don't appreciate..." Merrill started swiftly, launching into the same speech she'd given Varric.
"Yes, it's because you haven't petted the litter of kittens that Sebastian's been taking care of at the Chantry. Didn't the most Shiny Brother in all of Kirkwall tell you? He found them two days ago, all mewling and needing milk, but he hasn't seen the mother around."
Even in her current state, a litter of kittens was alluring. It cast a flicker of life over Merrill's otherwise sad face, and gave Isabela enough encouragement to press on. A few more minutes and Merrill would want nothing more than to drop what she was doing and run to Hightown.
"I hear he feeds them with a bottle, because they haven't weened yet."
Merrill concentrated on counting out her coins to hand to the stallkeep. She was so busy ignoring Isabela, she wasn't sure what she'd bought. The pirate smirked, her lips suppressing a laugh. She wasn't sure what Merrill would do with what looked like a polished stone toe, but then again, she wasn't going to poke at her unnecessarily. Her questions had to be pointed and few to make any sort of indent today.
When she spoke again, it was to speculate loudly about the kittens. "I wonder if he plays with them. That would be a sight, Sebastian surrounded by tiny kittens, sitting in the Chantry gardens. I hope he does it shirtless."
A smile flitted across Merrill's face, and Isabela caught sight of it. They both shared an obtuse sort of attraction to Sebastian, like the way one admires any beautiful but unobtainable thing. To Merrill, he might as well have been a star shining in the sky for all she could get to him and so often he was eclipsed by Hawke's light in her eyes. To Isabela, he was a challenge that she indulged in from time to time, trying to tempt him back towards lost years and old antics.
The thought of him shirtless, in the Chantry gardens, playing with kittens was so absurd that the more Isabela thought of it, the funnier it got. She could make it happen.
"Perhaps they all nap in the sun, snuggled around Sebastian for warmth, like he's their mother." Merrill said as they walked towards another shop.
"I'd like to see that." Isabela said, thinking of Sebastian alone in the sun, without the hindrance of cats or clothes.
This was Isabela's favorite corner of the city, between Lowtown and Hightown where there was a mix of both sides. Dressmakers and milliners shared court with junk merchants and prostitutes more expensive than outside the Hanged Man, but not worthy of working the Rose. There was even a bar that she frequented, when she wanted to get away from her usual setting. Merrill had come here many times with her, in an effort to cheer her up after the whole thing with the Qunari. It was comforting, to both of them.
She eyed the dressmaker and the tavern, but in the end decided against both. Those were the things that cheered her up, not Merrill. Isabela was just about to make up something else about Sebastian training the kittens to do tricks when Merrill said, "I wish I could have a cat the way Hawke has her dog."
The woman sounded so forlorn, it made Isabela's heart ache a little. But she wasn't about to show it, so she snorted and replied, "That dog is too smart for his own good. And he cheats at Diamondback."
Merrill's bubbling giggle burst from her, clearing the clouds from her face, if not the ones overhead. At least, Isabela thought, she'd made Merrill laugh and brought her friend some joy.
Chapter 7: In Need Of Assistance
"I need your help." Merrill said. She wasn't exactly gracious about it, but then again, they were standing in her house in the alienage in front of the mirror, which was just a fight waiting to happen.
She'd disappeared from the estate for days, only to call Hawke here. They'd fought again, and she needed time to think. Lady hadn't wanted to apologize this, but Merrill didn't come home for nearly a week, instead inviting her here by note.
"Since you wouldn't give me the arulin-holm, I can't get this mirror to work." She explained. "And the spirit says he saw the forging of it. I need to ask him questions, but he won't answer me."
There was worry in her voice when she spoke of the demon, and that alarmed Hawke more than anything. "Are you actually worried about this demon?"
"It's a powerful spirit, Hawke. If there's no answer to a summons, it's not good."
"But if it's not answering, how do we find it?"
"The spirit was bound on Sundermount. If we go there, I can converse with him again. But, this is dangerous. I need you with me in case...in case I cannot resist him. We've bargained before, and he knows my weaknesses."
Lady frowned at Merrill, but was silent for a long moment. "You can't ask me this!" She said, her voice coming out sharper than she'd intended. "It's too much, Merrill. I love you. I don't think I can do this." Her voice wavered.
Merrill was asking Hawke to kill her if she became possessed. After all the death she'd already seen and dealt, after Bethany and the ogre, her mother and Quentin, and her father, so far in the past. All that was lost, and only she remained. It was her old fear, haunting her once again, but this time with a twist - she would actually consent to kill Merrill. The thought of defending herself was abhorrent enough, but willingly affirm to be the person that dealt the blow, to play templar and harrowing after all this time - it brought tears to her eyes.
"I don't need another condemnation, I know exactly how you feel." Merrill said hotly, readying for a fight. Normally, her anger would ignite Hawke's own, but this time, she only felt tired.
"I haven't said a word like htat. Just that I don't know if I can." Hawke replied. The words were still sharp but weary instead of confrontational.
"Just tell me you'll do what needs to be done, whatever it is." Merrill urged.
It would be the right thing to do, ironically. All of these years, Hawke thought she was doing 'the right thing'. Guided by her moral compass and fighting her way up, everything she did was the best decision she could make at the time.
But that had grown perverted in some measure. It became like bashing her head against a wall in hopes of moving the wall. The anger she had for Merrill and her stubborn persistence hadn't started out that way at all, it had just been Lady trying to do right by someone she cared about. It had been falling in love and letting her know that she loved her despite this huge difference they had.
But frustration, long-seated fear and self-loathing sunk into her. The more alone she got, the more she feared it. No longer was she guided by 'doing the right thing', but by protecting herself. It was defense first, protecting herself and what was hers at all costs. It was selfish and rooted partially in her grief; it was the reason why she clung steadfast to the lessons of her father when he'd been dead and gone for a decade. She could still hear his voice in her head, remembered his lessons and thought of him. He'd been her hero, strong and steadfast, but Lady was ashamed to wonder what he might think of his little girl now. Everyone thought her a leader, but without him, she'd gotten lost.
"You know you can count on me." Lady said, meaning the words as a promise she'd never been able to make before.
"Ma vhenan." Merrill whispered, taking Hawke's hand in hers and squeezing it. "Thank you."
The trip up the mountain was undertaken in silence so dense, not even Varric tried to talk through it. They were all thinking the worst, though no one wanted to voice it. Merrill kept shooting her glances that wavered between anxious and worried, while Aveline said nothing, her mouth pressed into a grim line.
There were things she should have said to Merrill before they left, words that caught in her throat like flies in honey. Lady absolutely couldn't get them out, no matter how she tried. They'd wound up leaving right away, because Hawke didn't want to have time to think about exactly what might happen, lest she lose her resolve.
Merrill knew what she'd asked, and her last words as they started up Sundermount was one of thanks, to all of them. It was a grave sound of soft finality, as if she couldn't start up the path without saying it but it was hard to get the words out. A long look lingered on Lady, and she closed her eyes to let it wash over her, then nodded back at Merrill. Their relationship was often confused and angry, but this was an act of pure love.
Chapter 8: You Were Right
They didn't speak after Merrill put her staff through the Eluvian. Neither of them uttered a word after that conversation in her old house, because silence was better. It was just the two of them, walking through Lowtown towards the bridge to Hightown with life going on around them too loudly.
It was the middle of the day but Merrill wanted to sleep. She wanted to lay on the silk sheets and forget the last few nights, or preferably, the last few years. All the fights with Hawke, and then it came down to this - to nothing. She had even less than she had when she got that mirror to Kirkwall, because then she had a belief and hope that she could help her people. Now she had nothing but wasted time to show for her efforts.
She'd heard Tamlen, Pol, all of her clan, the sound of the Keeper's last breath - even Fenris and Anders as they heaped more guilt on her once she was back in Kirkwall. Their voices echoed in her head and no matter what she did, nothing would drown them out. Words swirled around her, condemnations, warnings, lamentations - until they pooled in the deep crimson around the body of Marethari.
Belatedly she wondered who would lead her clan now? Who would take care of them, now that she and Marethari were gone? Hahren Paivel and Master Ilen? But there had been others with the gift of magic, just none at her level of training. Maybe Marethari had taken another apprentice after Merrill left. For the first time since she'd come to Kirkwall, that thought made her hopeful instead of bitter. The clan would be fine - they had each other, but she wasn't sure of her own status.
There was nothing left to say, but Merrill was still angry. The feeling was nothing new, but this time it felt naked. She was exposed, as if she'd never actually thought of how it might feel to come back from Sundermount alive and have to deal with the consequences.
"We're here." Hawke announced in a quiet voice. Merrill hadn't even noticed that they stood outside the Amell estate, or even that they'd stopped walking. It was as if she were in a waking nightmare, surrounded by bodies and broken glass. These bodies were living, milling around Hightown, but as soon as she closed her eyes, she'd see the faces of the dead again.
They went inside without more words, but when she failed to move from the front room, Lady ushered her further into the house. Whisked away from Bodhan's concerned gaze, they sat in the library together, Merrill barely aware of her surroundings.
"What now?" Hawke asked. It was one of the questions Merrill had been asking herself, but she didn't have an answer for it. She shrugged instead, the gesture adequate but not quite enough.
She let the silence surround them, hoping that the words would come to her if she just gave them space. The opportunity, if it had been taken correctly could bring the two of them closer, she knew that. But Merrill just didn't know what to say and Hawke seemed equally at a loss. They sat in the estate, in the same room but silent, unable to bridge the gap between them.
Perhaps they needed more time, but Merrill knew it was running out. She thought that it was over, that they would eventually go to bed and not speak and remain like strangers to each other until they got into a fight, because neither one of them knew what to say to the other. It occurred to her that without the mirror and blood magic, they had nothing to fight about and that made her feel oddly sad and empty.
Before it could swallow her, cover her in abstract sadness and real grief, Hawke came over to where she sat and wrapped her arms around Merrill. It was a fierce hug, hard and protective, ameliorating and understanding. It was a Hawke hug, and it was the little thing needed to push Merrill to tears. They were healing tears, bitter salt and truth, and possibly the first real conversation between them in years.
"Things will get better. I'll always be here for you, ma vhenan." Lady whispered, the elven clumsy in her unfamiliar mouth. Merrill sobbed harder, because it was true. She and Hawke belonged to each other, like night follows day and day follows night.