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A Mirror To The Wisest

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The eluvian loomed over Merrill, empty and silent, while she sat on the floor and read.

There were few books in Kirkwall on elven history that weren't written by the Chantry, and hardly any about magic. She had read them all, stolen—borrowed—a few from Anders, and even enlisted Varric's help in purchasing some from Tevinter, but she never found anything substantial about the mirror. Still, she read them again and again, trying to find something new she could try, and took careful notes.

She studied the papers strewn over her lap, trying to piece last week's thoughts together. Aud—that was Audacity. But m? She couldn't remember what that was, and the context was too vague. Mage?

There was a sharp knock at the door. Merrill ignored it.

It was probably Varric, bringing her another week's worth of groceries. Usually, he paid someone to deliver the food to her home, but he would do it himself every so often to say hello and try to get her out of the house. He had even sat with her one day and watched her work with the mirror, but never again after that. He hadn't liked the blood.

Merrill glanced down at her palm. The scar down the middle had already faded; she only knew it was there because she remembered the bite of the knife. It was the same spot she used to speak to Audacity, all those years ago, and where she cut to destroy the barrier on top of Sundermount. She traced the hidden scar with her finger, wondering if she should try and ask her spirit for help again.

It was a thought she had more often, these days.

No, Merrill reminded herself. He had helped before, but she wouldn't ask until she exhausted every other option. She didn't want to owe him anything more.

There was another knock.

Merrill looked up from her notes, frowning.

If she didn't come to the door, Varric would leave the groceries by her door and try again later. She didn't know who else it could be. Hawke still invited her on his adventures, even though she declined every time, but he was at the coast this week with Fenris and Sebastian, retrieving stolen goods from bandits. And the knock was too light to be Aveline. She rapped her knuckles against doors like she carried a battering ram in her fist.

The knocking grew louder. Almost frantic.

Merrill pushed the notes and books off her lap and stood, wincing as her cramped joints cracked. She eyed the front door, trying to ignore the way her head spun. It was probably a group of children, daring each other to knock on the witch's door.

Her neighbors were still suspicious of her. She tried to be polite and kind and remember everyone's names, but she was an outsider, and many didn't understand how she could leave her clan. A disagreement was her usual answer whenever anyone asked, and that never seemed to be enough. If she told them she fled for love, out of anger, or because she wanted adventure, then maybe they would have accepted that. Too late, now. If only she'd met Varric before people started asking. He could have spun a good story.

She had few friends in the alienage. There was Elren and his daughter Lia, the book merchant with the crooked nose, and the old man who allowed her to light his fires on days when his bones ached too much. Arianni had been friendly with her during the first few years, either out of simple compassion or some old loyalty to Marethari, but she returned to their clan after Feynriel left for Tevinter, and Merrill tried to limit her visits to Sundermount. The Keeper's eyes could feel like a slap.

The rest accepted her help when she offered it and passed useful information to Varric and Hawke, which was all Merrill expected. She defended them from would-be burglars and worse, and after everything that happened with Pol, they had marched Hawke out of the alienage and refused to let him back inside until she said so. It wasn't anything like the comfort she used to feel with her clan, but she appreciated how easily they would protect another elf.

If it was children at her door, Merrill could play along. She picked up her staff, readying her thumb over the blade at the tip. At least she didn't have to worry about hiding her magic here. Templars in the alienage only meant more dead elves, mage-blooded or not.

She took a step towards the door. The knock was more of a pound, thumping along to the pressure behind her eyes. She blinked, waiting for the sickly feeling in her belly to pass.

Another knock. Merrill yanked the door open.

"Oh," she said, her voice caught high in her throat.

It was Isabela, looking exactly as she had the day she left Kirkwall. Twin daggers on her back. Sturdy boots. Smelling faintly of salt. Thick necklace hanging from her neck. Blue bandana around her hair, with a few escaped strands tucked behind her ears. Her hair was longer, hanging in messy curls over her shoulders.

"Hello, kitten," said Isabela.

For a moment, Merrill wondered if she was imagining this.

She could feel the dull ache of hunger twisting in her belly, and she couldn't remember the last time she ate or slept. Hallucinating—yes, yes, that could happen. She had spent many sleepless nights in this house, staring at the mirror and seeing Tamlen's shadow flicker behind the glass. Hearing the Keeper's lecture. That awful dip in her head, like when she stood on top of Sundermount, wind whipping across her skin, and peered at her clan below.

She hadn't realized she missed Isabela that much.

"Merrill," said Isabela, chuckling. Her eyes crinkled with her smile. "Are you in there?"

Real. Yes. Real. She hadn't thought—hadn't expected—hadn't even imagined that Isabela would return. Hoped, but she always hoped for good things. They just never happened.

"You're back," said Merrill, after a moment. The words felt clumsy on her tongue. She swallowed, trying to ignore the nervous flutter in her belly. "You're—when did you—?"

"Today," Isabela cut in. She flattened her palm against the doorframe and leaned into it, still smiling. There were new freckles over her shoulders. "Just now."

"Now?" Merrill echoed, and Isabela nodded. Oh. She'd come here, to Merrill's home, before meeting anyone else. Before Hawke. "I didn't know."

Isabela shrugged. She glanced around the street, where a group of children were playing a game that involved marking lines in the dirt. "Are you going to invite me in?"

"Right," said Merrill quickly. She should have done that when she opened the door, but she'd been distracted. She stepped to the side, beckoning Isabela into her home.

Isabela stepped over the threshold, murmuring, "I missed you," as she bent down to kiss Merrill's cheek.

That was something she often did—greeting people with kisses or hugs, or slinging an arm around their shoulder. It didn't mean anything. She did that with Aveline once, kissing both cheeks and talking in a thick Orlesian accent until Aveline fixed her with a hard look that made them both laugh.

Still, Merrill's skin felt warm where Isabela's lips had touched. She touched her cheek, smiling.

Isabela was walking in a slow circle in the middle of the room, gazing at the walls and occasionally looking into the bedroom. She had done that on her first visit, too, before she dragged Merrill into the Hanged Man and introduced her to the rest of Hawke's friends. The first night away from her clan hadn't ended until long after sunrise the next morning, when she finally stumbled home and made a nest of blankets on the floor because she didn't have any furniture yet.

Merrill still couldn't smell whiskey without feeling queasy.

She had been so nervous to come to Kirkwall, especially after Hawke's cold words to her at Sundermount, but Isabela had befriended her within days. That made everything easier; she hadn't been frightened to wander the city, meet new people, or work odd jobs for Hawke. Isabela was always kind, even when she teased, and Merrill was grateful to call her a friend. More, on the occasional nights they spent together. She never felt lonely with Isabela around.

Until she left, anyway.

"I missed you, too," said Merrill quietly. She pulled the door shut and leaned her staff against it. "Were you at sea?"

"For a little while."

That wasn't much of an answer, but Merrill expected that. If Isabela didn't want to share the details, she wouldn't.

Isabela glanced into the bedroom. "Still working on your mirror?"

"Yes," Merrill answered, and swiftly changed the subject back to Isabela. "Are you really back?"

"I'm standing here, aren't I," said Isabela. She turned around, peering at the shelves next to the fireplace. "Do you have anything to drink? It was a long walk from the docks."

"Yes, of course." Merrill hurried across the room. "I have—"

She stopped. The shelves were empty, except for a crust of bread. Empty water jugs. When was the last time Varric stopped by? Too long.

"Nothing," Merrill admitted. A distant part of her was embarrassed. "I'm sorry."

"It's fine," said Isabela, shrugging. She rested her palms on the table and leaned back, slouching. "If I go out and buy you food, will you let me stay here tonight?"

Merrill's gut told her yes, since having Isabela back in Kirkwall was something she had wanted since the Qunari tried to take the city, but she swallowed the word and hesitated. Isabela still had a room at the Hanged Man—Varric continued to pay the rent, either out of habit or in the hopes that she would return—and she had many friends in Kirkwall beyond Hawke's circle. She didn't have to stay here, in a cramped house in the slums.

But she had come here. Maybe she didn't want to see anyone else yet. She hadn't even gone to see Hawke, who would have given her a nicer place to stay and all the sovereigns in his pockets if she asked.

Merrill glanced at Isabela's boots, which were damp. She said that she'd just come from the docks. Maybe she didn't want to bump into any guardsmen who might be looking for a pirate, fresh off the seas. They wouldn't come to the alienage unless they had to.

"What did you steal this time?" Merrill asked.

It was meant to be a joke. She understood why Isabela had taken the Qunari tome, and why she hadn't said anything until it was too late. She wished that none of it had happened, but she still understood, and she had forgiven Isabela for that long before today.

Isabela flinched, her fingers tightening on the table, but to Merrill's relief, the tension was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"Nothing, really," said Isabela, shrugging. "Jewels. Furs. Smuggled goods and papers. I've already sold most of it, so you don't have to give me any coin."

"You don't—" Merrill tried, but Isabela was already shaking her head.

"I will, and you don't have to come with me. I can tell you're busy," said Isabela, glancing at the mirror. Merrill braced herself for a lecture, already hearing Varric's voice in her head, but Isabela went on, "We'll eat hot food and drink cheap wine. You can tell me what I've—what I've missed."

Merrill remembered watching the city rebuild, brick by brick, while the alienage suffered through months of more disease and starvation. Anders had left the safety of Darktown to help the quarantined elves, but only a few survived. That had not been a good year.

Isabela wouldn't be interested in that. She would want the disasters that always happened with Hawke's jobs, or Aveline's latest arrests, or Varric's new serial. Not the bad things. Not the ones that made her feel guilty.

"A lot," said Merrill. She wouldn't tell Isabela until she asked.

"I have a few more dirty stories for you," Isabela added. Her eyes flicked towards the bedroom. Anticipation warmed Merrill's skin. "Maybe I can tempt you away from your mirror for a night."

The anticipation vanished, as though she had been dunked in a bucket of cold water. Merrill scowled. "You sound like Varric."

"Didn't think he fancied elves."

"Isabela," said Merrill, in her best imitation of the Keeper's stern tone. Isabela just laughed. "You can stay if you want to, but you won't be very comfortable. My bed is lumpy."

"Yes," said Isabela, almost fondly, and that single word held so much promise that Merrill ached from it. "I remember."

She pushed herself away from the table and strode across the room, pausing to kiss Merrill's cheek again. She lingered for a second—waiting?—and Merrill took that time to turn and embrace her. There was a quiet huff of surprise, and then Isabela hummed and wrapped her arms around Merrill's shoulders.

"You're supposed to hug people when you haven't seen them in a long time," said Merrill, her voice muffled in Isabela's neck. She tightened her arms around Isabela's back, careful to avoid the daggers.

"Well, I did kiss you," Isabela pointed out. She punctuated that with a brief kiss to the top of Merrill's head. "Three times."

"I like hugs, too," Merrill murmured. She closed her eyes, listening to Isabela breathe.

Kirkwall had felt empty without her challenging people to drinking contests at the Hanged Man, joining Hawke on his adventures, or pickpocketing her way through Hightown. Quieter, too. Merrill had carried the weight of her absence since the moment she left, along with the tiniest piece of hope that she might return.

And she had.

They stood like that for a long moment, embracing in the dim light.

"I'll be back before dark," said Isabela quietly. Her arms slipped away.

Merrill understood and stepped back, wincing when her wrist caught on a dagger. She watched Isabela walk to the door.

"Promise?" Merrill asked, because she had to be certain.

"Yes, love," said Isabela, and she smiled, and she was gone.

Silence rang in Merrill's ears. Her head was spinning again. She wondered if she had imagined the entire conversation.

But there were damp bootprints on the floor, and her hair was mussed where Isabela had kissed it. That was real. Isabela was coming back this time.

There was nothing Merrill could do until then, except work.

She forced all thoughts of Isabela out of her mind and settled onto the floor in her bedroom. She gathered her notes and journal into her lap and curled her fingers at the candles until the flames grew brighter, spilling more light over the paper.

"Aneth ara," Merrill murmured. The mirror had no reply.

When the usual enchantments failed, she had started speaking around the mirror in the hopes that a word or phrase might unlock it. Nothing had worked so far, but she held onto the hope that it would.

So much of the language was gone, abandoned to time, and what remained was spoken differently by every clan. Pronunciation, spelling—some even conjugated verbs differently, which made the old tales harder to tell at the Arlathvhen. Everyone followed a similar rhythm, though, so Merrill always tried to match that. If she spoke the words incorrectly, at least she would have the same cadence.

"Ma serannas," Merrill told the mirror. She wrote the phrase in her notes.

What if—

"Aravas," said Merrill, loud enough that the sound of her voice rang sharply in her own ears. "Aval'var. Shiral? Enasalin…"

A stale loaf of bread landed in Merrill's lap. She jerked in surprise, yelping, and slapped a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound.

"Surprise," said Isabela, chuckling. She grunted, and then something heavy landed on the table. "I got…let's see. More bread, since it was half-priced. Some vegetables. There wasn't much left, so they're all small."

Merrill looked at her notes, trying to remember what she had been doing with the mirror. Speaking to it? No, Isabela would have teased her about that—another cleansing! Yes. Reaching into the world around the mirror, pulling back its skin, and letting her magic do its work. That had been her plan for tonight.

"Do you know that butcher? The one with the thick scar on his knuckles."

"Ellis," Merrill answered. A friend of Varric's. He frequently gave her discounts on cheap cuts of meat.

"Yeah, him. Recognized me." Bottles clinked together, followed by something soft hitting the table. "He sends his best."

The floorboards creaked. Merrill tore her eyes away from the mirror and glanced over her shoulder. She spotted Isabela with a handful of carrots in one hand and a dagger in the other.

"Elgar'nan," Merrill muttered. She pushed herself to her feet and gave the mirror one last look before she poked her head out into the main room, still clutching the loaf of bread in her hand. "Are you cooking?"

Isabela started to peel one of the carrots, nodding. There were carrots, onions, and potatoes on the table, and the meat looked like it could be beef.

"Stew?" Merrill guessed.

"The Fereldan way," said Isabela. She tossed the peeled carrot to the side and picked up another. "I can't ruin that. All you do is throw everything in the pot and make sure the fire's hot, right?"

"Right," said Merrill, a little too brightly to hide her hesitation. Isabela wasn't much of a cook. Odd that someone so talented with a blade could manage to chop potatoes the wrong way, but she had seen Isabela attempt to make a meal, and the result was never very edible. "More or less, I suppose."

"If it tastes like shit, we'll give it to the dogs," Isabela replied, shrugging. She pointed at Merrill with a carrot. "Until then, get some rest. You look ill."

"I'm not," Merrill protested. She tore a chunk of crust from the bread and chewed it, watching Isabela peel carrots. "I just haven't been outside very much."

Isabela stopped peeling and tilted her head to the side, glancing over Merrill's shoulder. "I can guess why."

"Yes," said Merrill firmly. She tore another piece of bread, twisting it between her fingers. "It's important to me."

There was almost nothing left of her people that hadn't been taken by someone else, destroyed, or forgotten. All she wanted was something small. A fragment of knowledge from the generations that came before her. And if it was something that could explain why they had lost everything, that would be even better.

She hoped Isabela wouldn't ask her to elaborate. She was tired of explaining this to everyone.

"I know," said Isabela quietly. She returned to her carrots. "Any luck?"

Merrill shrugged. With all the hours—the days, weeks, months—she had spent in this house with the mirror, trying to coax some reaction from it, all she knew was what didn't work.

"That bad?"

"I don't know," Merrill admitted. "I wish I had the Arulin'Holm."

A tool, carried by her clan since before the Dales fell, still in the hands of a petty, foolish man—

No. Hawke was neither of those things. He was just stubborn, and he didn't want to change. He didn't like her magic, but he didn't tell her to stop, and that was better than Fenris's furious silence or Anders's lectures. He acknowledged her talents, even when he looked squeamish about it, and he trusted her. That was more than she expected from him.

"Oh, you haven't stolen it from him yet?" Isabela asked. "I thought you would have by now."

"No," Merrill answered. She had thought about it, but decided not to. Hawke hadn't even blinked when she told him she considered stealing it. "He said I should have asked you for help."

"If you want it, you have it."

Merrill shook her head. The Arulin'Holm was in Hawke's hands because the Keeper had given it to him. She still respected the old ways, even if she disagreed with this particular one.

"Good," Isabela muttered. She swept the carrot peels into a bowl. "If we broke in, we'd have to go in through the cellar, and he's enchanted everything in those passages. And then we'd cook on the inside, because that man likes his fire."

"The front door isn't an option?"

"Only if you want to do it the boring way."


"Boring," Isabela repeated. She nodded at the bedroom. "Sleep, Merrill. You need it. That mirror will still be here when you wake up."

It would, which meant she didn't have an excuse not to work on it. Merrill opened her mouth, ready to argue, and yawned before she could even start speaking.

"Told you," said Isabela, sweetly smug.

Merrill closed her eyes and sighed, pressing her fingertips into her temple. She was tired, and she did need to rest. She knew that. She'd been ignoring it. The past few days were a blur. She had probably spent it in front of the eluvian, doing the same thing over and over again. It wouldn't be the first time.

"Fine," Merrill told her palm. Isabela hummed. "Will you?" She opened her eyes and placed the bread on the table, away from Isabela's knife. "Be here, I mean."

Isabela glanced up from the vegetables. She offered Merrill a warm smile. "I'm not going anywhere."

That was all Merrill hoped to hear. She matched Isabela's grin, wide enough that her cheeks ached.

Isabela. Back in Kirkwall. It felt good. Right. And she was here, in Merrill's home, offering to help like she hadn't ever been gone.

"Good," said Merrill, and that wasn't enough, was it? But Isabela returned to her vegetables and Merrill's head started to hurt again, so she added, "I'm really glad you're here," and turned towards her bedroom.

She nudged the books and notes into an almost organized pile in front of the mirror before she got into bed, tugging the blankets up to her chin. The eluvian glared from the shadows. She tried not to think about it, if only for a few hours.

It didn't take long before she drifted off to sleep, listening to the sound of the knife against the table.

Hours later, Merrill awoke with a start to darkness and the distinct smell of onions.

Out of habit, she pulled fire into her palm and peered around her room. Her books and notes were still on the floor, and the light reflected oddly off the mirror. The fireplace still burned brightly. When she craned her neck, she could see her staff leaning against the door.

There was something nearby. A presence. Merrill uncurled her fingers, encouraging the flames to grow, and spotted Isabela at the foot of her bed.

She was leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest, head hanging low enough that her chin bumped against her chest. Her legs dangled off the end of the bed, and she snored faintly. It sounded like she was in a deep sleep.

When Merrill reached for her, she jerked awake and swore.

"Fucking—" Isabela gasped, sweeping her hand in a broad stroke through the air. She hissed when her fingers cut through the flames. "Don't surprise me."

"Sorry," Merrill murmured. She allowed the flames to disappear from her palm slowly, so their eyes would adjust to the faint darkness. "Is that better?"

Isabela rubbed at her eyes. "Yes, thank you."

"How long was I asleep?"

"Hour. Maybe more," Isabela answered, halfway through swallowing a yawn. She rolled her shoulders back and tilted her head from side to side until her neck cracked. "I don't know."

She glanced down at Merrill, smiling. It was a familiar sight, and it was so good to see it again that Merrill couldn't help but smile back.

"What?" Merrill asked. She nudged Isabela's thigh with her foot.

"I was just thinking," said Isabela, as she caught Merrill's foot and gently shoved it off to the side, "about the first time I was in bed with you."

That was years ago. A few nights in Isabela's room at the Hanged Man, because there was a bad rat problem in the alienage and the smell of the poisons people used made Merrill dizzy.

"You said you liked having pretty girls in your bed," said Merrill. She could still picture the way Isabela elbowed the door shut and leaned against it, folding her arms across her chest. The twist of her mouth to hide her smile. How the tavern reeked of spilled beer and old cheese.

Isabela chuckled. She shifted, tucking one leg under the other as she turned to face Merrill. "And you asked me to show you what I did with pretty girls."

It had been an easy question—a bed, a locked room, and a beautiful women who wouldn't shame her for asking. Isabela had laughed and told her not to joke, so Merrill had put on her best serious face and asked again.

"I did," said Merrill. She shifted, untangling the blankets around her legs. "Would you like to remind me?"

"Did you miss me that much?"

Honesty was best, so Merrill said, "Yes."

Isabela shifted onto her knees and straddled Merrill's legs, fitting her hands over her thighs. Slowly, she slid her palms up—only a light brush of her fingers over the blankets—until she placed her hands on the bed beside Merrill's head. She leaned down, dropping a small kiss to Merrill's forehead.

"Properly," Merrill told her, like she had that first night, and Isabela chuckled and kissed her.

A real kiss. Isabela's mouth warm and soft against hers, followed by a low moan. Merrill touched Isabela's knees, slipping her fingers underneath the tunic. She wondered if Isabela would object to sitting on her face after only a kiss.

Skin-deep, Isabela had told her, more than once. A little bit of fun. Me? There's never anything real—and yet she had been the one at Merrill's door, most nights. She liked to watch Merrill fall asleep. She told Merrill she was beautiful. They had a lot of really good sex.

Merrill didn't know how human courting worked, but it had always felt like a relationship.

That's not me, Isabela had said when Merrill mentioned it, her face hard and pinched. I don't do that.

So they didn't, but they continued to see each other naked more often than not, which was great. Merrill liked sex, and sex with Isabela was fantastic. Not putting a name to their affair felt nice, too. There were no rules she was expected to know.

And if Isabela decided she wanted a relationship, that wouldn't change what was already between them. Merrill would go where Isabela let her follow.

"I missed you," Merrill murmured. She inched her fingers higher up Isabela's thigh, the tunic's fabric dragging roughly across her fingers. "Why did you come back?"

Isabela stilled. It was an abrupt change, and the silence between them felt like a wall. Merrill withdrew her hands and waited.

"Because," said Isabela slowly, as she lowered herself onto the bed beside Merrill and propped herself up on her elbow. She flattened her palm against Merrill's belly, tracing small circles with her fingers through the blanket. "I wanted to."

Her hand moved higher, brushing over Merrill's breasts. She began to trace the vallaslin with her index finger.

"And for Hawke, the bastard. He'll be smug when he knows I'm back."

Merrill didn't doubt that for a moment, but Hawke adored Isabela. There would be endless teasing for months, with a lot of if you'd listened and you should have told me, and they would still be close friends after.

"Varric, too," Isabela added. She dragged her fingers along Merrill's cheek, following the line of her jaw. "He still owes me coin, you know. And Aveline needs someone to yell at who will yell back."

Merrill shrugged. Sometimes, she wasn't certain Isabela and Aveline were friends at all. The things they spat at each other. Hawke always said it was no worse than what he and Carver used to argue about, and even Sebastian seemed unfazed by it. She couldn't imagine hearing those kinds of words from someone in her clan.

Well. She used to, anyway.

Isabela pressed her fingernails into one of the lines across Merrill's cheek. "Fenris is still pining, isn't he."

It wasn't a question, and it didn't need to be. Fenris was always pining. Merrill nodded, thinking of the red scarf he still kept tied around his wrist.

"Poor thing," said Isabela, tutting. She brushed Merrill's hair off her forehead. "Who's left? Anders and Sebastian. Well, those two deserve a good kick up the arse every so often, and they like it when I do it."

She held Merrill's cheek in her palm, smiling.

"And you, kitten," said Isabela. She moved closer. It was another one of those soft kisses, barely more than their lips brushing together. "I always liked you."

"That's nice," Merrill murmured against her mouth. She shifted onto her side. Their knees knocked together. "It's good to be liked, isn't it?"

Isabela hummed. The sound made Merrill's lips tingle.

"You're a sweet girl, Merrill," said Isabela quietly. She thumbed at Merrill's cheek. "You deserve—"

"Don't," Merrill interrupted. The word sounded hollow, pitched low in her throat. "Don't tell me what I deserve. And don't say it's someone better than you." She turned into Isabela's hand, kissing her fingertips, and thought about those fingers between her thighs. A shiver darted up her spine. "You're very kind to worry about me. But you shouldn't think about yourself like that."

Isabela's eyes fell to the small space that separated them. She nodded, still rubbing her thumb along Merrill's cheek.

"I want," she said, and then, "I don't," and then, "Shit."

"It's all right," Merrill told her. "We don't have to talk."

She didn't catch the implication until she spoke, but Isabela seemed to miss it, too.

"I want," said Isabela again. She pulled her hand away and closed her eyes, turning her face towards the bed. "I don't know. I don't know."

Merrill touched her shoulder, tracing the new freckles with her fingernails. She waited for Isabela to speak.

Finally, Isabela told the pillow, "I don't know what I'm going to do."

"About what?"

"Being back."

"You already are. All you have to do is stay."

"Just like that? Like I wasn't gone?" Isabela made a small sound, like laughter, but most of it was masked by a snort. She opened her eyes, peering up at Merrill through the dark. "That's what I was going to do. I thought you'd have something better."

"Sorry," said Merrill. She kissed a path from Isabela's shoulder to her neck, grinning when Isabela sighed and tipped her head back. "It'll be fine. I promise."

Isabela slung her arm around Merrill's back and yanked her closer, sighing. "If you say so."

It was nice to lie there and embrace, breathing the same air. Merrill could feel Isabela's chest rise and fall against hers, half a second behind her own.

In that quiet moment, she remembered the eluvian.

It was still there, hiding in the shadows. She felt guilty for not thinking of it sooner, like she had abandoned it for a new friend. As though it had feelings. Like it was real.

If it was

Isabela shifted, stroking Merrill's hip absently.

No. It was just a mirror. It had magical properties, but it didn't breathe or love or eat or speak. It was just there, for Merrill to obsess over. How many days had she spent in this house with her books and her notes, desperately hoping for any new discovery? Too many.

She glanced at the untidy clutter in front of the mirror. All that work, and she had nothing to show for it. She couldn't even remember what her notes meant anymore.

Aud for Audacity, sp for spell, m for—

Mirror, mage, Marethari, maiden, maim, mighty, mind—

Merrill forced herself to stop. Thinking in circles brought nothing but frustration, and she wanted to give all her attention to Isabela.

"Question for you," said Isabela. "How're you with runes?"

"Better." The Keeper hadn't focused on them, but runes were part of the standard Circle curriculum, so she had learned by observing Hawke and Anders. "Why?"

Isabela's fingers curled over Merrill's hip. A small question. "Well, if we can't avoid Hawke's fire runes, maybe you could throw a frost one on top."

"That's not how runes work," said Merrill. She took Isabela's hand and guided it between her thighs. An answer.

"Well, give me a better idea, then."

"I could…try and dismantle them by hand," Merrill offered. Isabela hummed, pressing two fingers against her through her underclothes. She arched into the touch, a moan caught in her throat. "I can't promise that I won't destroy whatever else is in the cellar, but I could try."

"That's the spirit," said Isabela, gleeful with pride. "There's trip wires, too." She hooked her fingers into Merrill's underclothes, tugging them down. "And bombs, rigged to pressure plates." She shifted backwards and held onto Merrill's thighs, nudging them apart. "And—"

"Stop talking, please."

"Better uses for my tongue?"

"If you would oblige me."

"Oblige," Isabela repeated, in a low drawl. "What kind of shit has Varric been writing lately?"

"It's very good!" Merrill insisted. "You should read it."

"I'll borrow your copy in the morning," Isabela said, and they didn't get out of bed until mid-afternoon.