When Fenris’ fingers plunged into Varania’s chest and reemerged full of pulsing red flesh, Merrill’s eyes flicked away.
She wasn’t afraid of blood, of viscera, of a heart still fluttering desperately in a callous and calloused hand. She would have plenty of time to be morbidly fascinated later.
Instead, she turned her gaze towards Fenris’ shuttered and stone-hewn face, and then to Elijah Hawke’s — Elijah, whose shoulders reflexively curled inward and whose hand shot towards his own chest, as if he’d been the one divested of his still-beating organ.
She watched his eyes — wounded eyes, betrayed eyes. Eyes that stayed locked on Fenris as if determined to watch the illusion crumble.
Even after he’d spat his cold, terse words and left, Elijah’s eyes still followed him, his hand still hovering over his own heart.
"I am afraid," Eli said, only once, but Merrill held onto those words the way she held onto everything — tightly, and zealously.
She watched Fenris like Hawke should have, and in turn, Fenris watched her. A silent battle of wills.
Fenris raised his hand, dripping with blood, before her eyes.
Merrill raised the earth, raised the dead, before his.
The cold war broke when Fenris could no longer keep his mouth shut, a mouth that had been shut too long already. In fear of losing what was so hard-won, he resorted to invective.
"Poisonous," he called her. "Bloodthirsty. Obsessed." None of them sounded half as vitriolic as "mage".
'Don't you hurt him,' was all she would say in return, silently, with a glare, and a step towards Elijah’s coveted side.
"I thought you just didn’t like each other," he’d said, visibly baffled, and Merrill could have wept at his genuine surprise. "You were fighting over me?"
"Not just you,” Merrill was quick to correct, chin lifting. “Not in that sense.
We both saw what he did to his own sister, Elijah. How much can he possibly value you?”
Elijah’s endearingly baffled look sharpened, his frown deepening. A chill rolled off him, and Merrill swallowed.
"You yourself said you were afraid of him!" she blurted out, confused. Her heart fluttered, a bird in a cage (a life in a hand).
"No, I didn’t. I said I was afraid."
"Of what, then, if not him?"
"Not ‘of’. For.”
On the day he held Varania’s life in his hand, he stumbled out of the caves and breathed air he didn’t deserve to breathe, felt a life in his chest he didn’t deserve to live, and the blood on his hands stood as stark judgement.
He found a pool of standing water, plunged his hand into it — gorge rising as he remembered doing the same to her chest — but the blood did not run off cleanly or quickly. It sank into the lines in his palm, seeped into the chinks in his armour, the smell rising into his nostrils and nesting there, the pain worming into his heart and burrowing there.
In Varania’s eyes had been pain, but also sorrow, and love he didn’t deserve — a ghost of which was reflected in Elijah’s eyes.
He didn’t have to look into them to know. Eli wore his heart on his—…
The analogy only made him sicker.
He would not vomit; he swallowed the sickness and let it boil in his belly, let it cramp, let it flush him with fever.
Sickness, for the sick one.
"I am afraid," Elijah had murmured, his hand fluttering towards his chest again, thinking of hearts, and how easily broken they are, long before they can be loved.