Author: Heath Wingwhit PM
Merrill is slowly settling into a life with Hawke when Mahariel reappears. Merrill x m!Hawke, Merrill x f!MaharielRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Merrill & Mahariel - Chapters: 2 - Words: 13,780 - Reviews: 19 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 18 - Updated: 02-08-12 - Published: 02-07-12 - id: 7814117
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Snippetcentric is fucking brilliant. Does everyone know this already? If you don't, go read her stuff. What's worse (*seethes with jealousy*) is that she's a crazy good artist too. Anyway, she did this number: http :/ snippetcentric . /post/17040233523/ f-mahariel-merrill-slash-at-your-own-pleasure (connect them, damn you ) and I proceeded to lose my shit and write thirteen pages. For the alternative ending, read Snippet's story (soon forthcoming). This is not my finest writing but I've had fun with this!
edit: Thanks to the allusive man for some edits! Also, italicized and underlined equals elven.
Merrill feels as if she has been sleeping for the past six years and has suddenly awakened. Her mouth is dry. Mahariel…! After so many years. Alive. Here. In front of her. She's taller… Merrill's fingers grasp the ebony tendrils of Mahariel's hair. It's silken, longer than she remembers. Mahariel's bright green eyes are clearer, lighter than her own even if she now wears a haunted expression that Merrill has never known before.
"Merrill…" Mahariel smiles, somewhat bashfully. She takes Merrill's shoulders and gives her a gentle shake. "You're crying."
Merrill shakes her head. No, she isn't crying. Why would she be crying? She's happy. She can't remember ever being so happy. Mahariel wipes the tears from Merrill's cheeks. "I thought I'd never see you again. You just disappeared… You were just—you were just gone—" The word lodges in her throat.
"I can't remember the last time I saw you cry. Has it been so long?" Her brow crinkles thoughtfully. Merrill doesn't tell Mahariel that Mahariel wasn't conscious when she last cried near her. "I've thought about you."
"You stopped the Blight," Merrill says suddenly. Yes. Yes, that's why Merrill hadn't seen her. That's why she started all of this with the Eluvian. For her. To save her. "I just wanted to save you. The Eluvian… You've been gone all these years…!" she accuses.
"You still ramble the way that you do." Mahariel continues to brush away the tears from Merrill's cheeks. "I have missed so much of you."
Merrill can't tell if it's Mahariel's fingers that are scorching or her tears. "I dreamed of you for years. I risked everything for you. The clan and Marethari… you were the only one that mattered to me. You were the only reason I breathed…" and now she's breathless. Mahariel cups her face now. Merrill remembers her long silences, how she could stare through her and see everything. Merrill's heart is tight and strained. How can it all come back so quickly? It has felt like a lifetime without her. Mahariel brings her face close to hers. Merrill feels the warmth of her breath and knows what's going to happen. She ducks her chin. "I can't."
Mahariel doesn't retreat right away. She doesn't say anything. "Do you stay here?"
"I have someone. I have someone who is wonderful and good." Merrill's cheeks burn hotly. Why is she explaining? She feels like she's betraying someone but she can't tell who. Her heart is suddenly unsure. "But that isn't what you asked…"
Mahariel goes to look through a stack of books that are littered on one of the tables in front of the fireplace. "Why do you live here? In this place?"
"You can't just barge back into my life. Well, I don't know if you actually barged so much as sneaked back in. You always had that way about you, your soft footsteps and always being where I never expected. I could never find you when I wanted to. You always had to find me. Sometimes it felt like you made me wait too long. It always felt like too long."
"Do you mind if I stay here?" she sets her daggers down on the table.
Merrill looks at Mahariel, conflicted. Mahariel can't stay here. This is her home or non-home. It'd be strange. What would Hawke think…? No, she ought to spend more time in Hightown. Hawke would like that… Oh, Creators, all of this is terribly confusing.
"I'd rather not draw anyone's attention," Mahariel goes on. "That 'Hero of Ferelden' business makes it hard to lay low. Do you know how many people ask for my autograph now? Even shems. It's so stupid." She keeps her back to her. "It took too long to get back here."
"To Kirkwall? I didn't know you'd been here before."
"To you." She unclasps the cloak that clings to her shoulders and drapes it over a chair. "You've said you no longer live here, really? You live with this… Hawke? Would you mind if I stayed for a little while?" It's the second time she's asked. The answer is no. As if sensing the thought, Mahariel carries on. "I'll try not to overly linger. This alienage may not be the worst I've seen but it's still depressing."
"It's been my home for years now. But you're right. It isn't like before with our people." That had been different. They had all been close. They would all cloister together around a fireplace and tell stories, share meals, walk together, hunt together. Mahariel used to read to her, when they were little girls. As they'd gotten older, their nights had not remained so innocent. She remembers how quickly their hearts had beaten. She sets aside the scrolls that she has been dropping since spotting Mahariel. They don't matter anymore.
"Why are you here?" Mahariel asks with some confusion, with a hint of minor agitation. "Why aren't you with our clan? You deserve better than this life with these shems and flat ears."
"You can still talk that way? Didn't you stop the archdemon with some shems?" Merrill crosses her arms. "Anyway, I know a few now… and they're not so bad. They don't scare me like they used to. It's so silly that they ever used to…You can stay here…" she says quietly. Oh. That's the opposite of what she'd meant to say, isn't it?
Mahariel doesn't immediately turn to face her. Mahariel raises a hand to her forehead but when she turns around she smiles. "Ma serannas." It is so good to hear her language on a familiar tongue again. Merrill had not known how she'd missed it. "I promise to be out of your way soon. The good news is that no one cares so much for me here," her smile is momentarily melancholy, "so maybe I can do a little exploring before I move on."
"When will you go?" Merrill asks desperately. She has only just returned to her. It would be terrible if she were to leave so quickly. "You'll tell me before you leave, won't you? You can't go again. You can't just leave again without saying goodbye." She takes a few short steps towards her. "You have no idea how hard it was for me."
"It wasn't exactly easy for me."
"And you were alone all these years?"
Mahariel narrows her eyebrows. "When do I get to meet this Hawke of yours?" Merrill hates how she can sidestep questions. She'd feel much better about it if she just confirmed her suspicions of having moved on long ago. "You live in Hightown. Really? With all that cold stone? How do you stand it?"
"Just fine," Merrill says, a cross between chilly and indignant. "Your feet get used to the cold after a while," she adds, "and I'm not always there. Just… just usually. The neighbors don't talk so much anymore. Not after the chat Varric and Isabela had with them. They always do nice things for me." Mahariel narrows her eyebrows gently, her expression curious. Merrill wonders if she knows them. No, that'd be silly. "It's not like before when I only had you. I have friends now. Well, two. Three if you count Aveline. I always count her but she doesn't always count me. She has a grudge against blood mages—"
"Blood mages, Merrill?" Mahariel looks at her sharply.
Merrill bites her lip. Mahariel knows full well what the clan's stance is on blood magic. How can Merrill tell her that the only reason she delved into it was to save her? Mahariel wouldn't understand. She shouldn't have to. She was never supposed to find out. Merrill wonders if her entire life has been invalidated. "I have to go. Hawke is waiting for me. If I'm here too long—he'll get suspicious… and come looking for me and find me and you and think—not that… there's anything to think. He'd think you were rather pretty, actually. You've always been so much prettier than me…"
"You've always said that but I've never agreed," she says softly. "I'm hungry. I think… I think I'll go to the market. I have a few coppers and it's been a few days since I had anything in my stomach." Merrill finds herself apologizing for the absence of food but Mahariel only shakes her head. She grabs her daggers and sheathes one on her back, the other at her slim waist. Mahariel's body is so different from Hawke's. Neither is bad. They're just different… Mahariel catches Merrill's worried expression but smiles. "Don't worry, I'm not planning on starving. Or misbehaving." Mahariel retrieves the cloak from the back of the chair and pulls the hood over her head. She walks to the door. Merrill thinks she will walk past her but she stops in front of her. "I took so long to get to you. Are you happy here? In this… Kirkwall? I hear how they talk about mages here and you're an 'apostate'. That Knight-Commander Meredith sounds awful."
"She is," Merrill says with a grim smile. "But I have Hawke. Hawke would never let anything happen to me. If it wasn't for Hawke… I don't know," she mutters quietly, embarrassed again. Why is Mahariel back? Why is Mahariel back now? "But I can take care of myself, too," Merrill adds quickly. "I've gotten stronger. If Hawke weren't here…" she thinks. "After you left I had to learn to take care of myself. Marethari helped too," the last is said so softly she doubts Mahariel could have heard it.
"As long as you're safe I don't care who's bloody keeping you that way." She reaches out again to touch her. Merrill thinks it's habit. Mahariel catches herself this time. She pulls her hand away. She doesn't touch her. Merrill is grateful. She is. "Well… I'll just get going. Don't worry about a key. I'm pretty good with a lock but all you need is a good jiggle to get your door open."
"Is that—" Merrill stammers, her face flushed again, "was that—…" Dirty…?
Mahariel laughs. "You really don't change, do you? I'm going to go before your Hawke fellow shows up and I challenge him to some terribly Orlesian duel for your hand. Orlesians…" she says with a sigh of irritation, then she smiles again, fondly. "Dareth shiral, Merrill. No matter what… I'm only happy to see you again." She bows her head courteously to her and leaves.
Merrill doesn't move. So many years have passed. She has moved on. She has Hawke now. He is good to her. He is kind to her when so many others aren't. How can she feel this way? Is she a terrible person? She's a terrible person. She wants to cry. She hurries and bumbles around the small home, gathering some scrolls and books, dropping some and scurrying to pick them up again. She's nearly out the door when she stops and goes to the table. There's a piece of parchment buried beneath all the books or in one of them. She's sure of it. She finds it eventually on the floor by the fireplace folded into the shape of a bird. Hawke had taught her how to do this. For a week all she'd done was make paper birds.
She unfolds this one and stretches it flat on the table trying to straighten the creases and failing. She picks up a quill. She should leave. She dips the quill into the inkwell and waits so long to start writing that the ink has dried by the time she sets it to the paper. She dips it in the ink again and starts anew.
Stay as long as you like. Like I said, I don't really live here anymore and this will be a good excuse to not come here anymore. But I'll visit. I'll visit often. You should meet Hawke. Unless you don't want to. But you should. He's well known in Kirkwall. How are the two most significant people of my life so important? The only people that want to have tea with me are rats. Not that rats are people. Not unless they're under a spell. There are spells for that. I've seen a few. Some better than others. I'm rambling again. I bet you haven't missed that about me.
Merrill stops abruptly when she hears a sudden, loud noise. The front door swings open. It's Hawke. Merrill's heart leaps to her throat. She doesn't know why she turns the piece of parchment over but she does. "Hawke! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so long."
"I thought the rats might have carried you away," he says with an impish grin. "What do you say my burly arms help you carry those books back?" he takes the ones that rest on the table. "These weigh more than you do."
"I don't think they do—otherwise, how could I have—oh. Yes. Yes. Sarcasm. Saaaarcasm. It's still very strange, you know." Merrill says, guiltily watching him pick up books. She doesn't know why she feels guilty. There's no reason to feel guilty. Mahariel is out of her life (though not literally) and Hawke is here. He doesn't have his massive sword with him today and Merrill is grateful.
"Just give it another twenty years and you might get the hang of it." Hawke says. "Maybe it'd help if I started listing the emotion of intent of my words at the beginning of every sentence. Sarcasm: I do love me some dusty, old books. Do you really need all of these? Don't I have enough at home?" He looks at the leather bound volumes, squinting his brown eyes to read the title. "This is all in elven. Any good dirty stories in there? Are you hiding them from me?"
"No," she says sadly, "but Isabela has written a few scandalous ones," she says with a small smile, "not at all accurate but very titillating. I always feel dirty using that word. Titillating." Hawke laughs and kisses her.
Merrill quickly ushers them out of the home.
There isn't enough mud in Kirkwall. There's too much stone. It's like a giant prison. Mahariel misses grass. She's unused to these high buildings; they remind her of haunted forts. There are too many Chantry sisters. She thinks of Leliana. She wonders what happened to her. It's been so long. Everything feels as if it was in another lifetime. Kirkwall is not home.
She doesn't know how Merrill can live here. Is there some charm about it that she's missing? She's been happily ignored in Lowtown though on occasion a stray dwarf or elf will approach her with some sketchy details about a job that sounds even sketchier. Mahariel has declined.
There is no longer a blight though there are darkspawn. Her blood tingles still, sensing them no matter how far they may be. For years she has wandered and traversed many countries. It took her too long to find her way back. Some crisis seemed to always stall her and grey warden that she is there is never a shortage of darkspawn to fight. It's her calling. So she's told.
She has grown tired of darkspawn and the dark and the smell of dirt. She has missed the sky and the sun and fresh air. She has missed the friends that helped her stop the Blight. She has missed Merrill. She spots her in a Hightown market now. Excitement grips her. Her stomach does flips. She goes over and is too close to stop when Merrill spots her. The man beside her, whom Mahariel suspected to be a random customer, talks to Merrill. Merrill doesn't respond right away. She blinks and then says something to him that makes his face go confused like. Mahariel thinks that shems look that way a good deal of the time.
Is this Merrill's Hawke? He's so hairy. She will never understand shem and dwarven males obsession with facial hair and being unkempt. At least Alistair was appropriately smooth faced even if at times he was a bit of a coward, not to mention something of a dunce. She wonders if the King of Ferelden thinks of her anymore. She wonders if this Hawke deserves Merrill. She must love him if she lives with him. Mahariel had been stupid to think Merrill could ever love anyone else. This was a mistake.
Mahariel is suddenly shy. Would it be rude to approach them? The last thing she wants is for Merrill to feel awkward. She picks up a dagger at a stand beside them. "How much for this?" she asks despite her lack of interest. It has a gold hilt and a cutting edge. No one makes a dagger or bow like the Dalish. She nearly tells him so but bites her tongue. He tells her the price, his small blue eyes scrutinizing her to the point where she blushes. He misinterprets her red face as guilt.
"Can't afford it. I knew it. You're not from around these parts, are you?" The merchant asks. "You a Dale? The accent gives it away. Keep your hands to yourself, knife-ear. I'm watching you."
Mahariel grits her jaw. She turns to the man, eyes narrowed, dagger still in hand when Merrill's oaf speaks up. "Is that how you treat an attractive woman trying to buy one of your shitty, overpriced blades? Forgive him," he turns to Mahariel, "believe it or not, the one thing nobles or traders in Hightown can't afford are manners."
"It doesn't matter," Mahariel says quickly, setting the blade down. She looks at the man. Taller than her, much taller than Merrill. Bearded or no, he is handsome and appears lively enough. His eyes dance mischievously though she notices that his smile is somewhat strained. "But thank you." She adds for Merrill's sake more than for his.
"Hawke," Merrill says at last. "This is… an old friend… Mahariel." She sticks closely to him. Mahariel is sure that Merrill doesn't mean it but her close proximity to him, the refusal to leave his side makes it seem as if Merrill is afraid of her. Mahariel is disheartened.
Hawke says Mahariel's name, sounding it out as if he doesn't like the taste of it. "Sounds familiar… Wait. You're not…?"
"No," Mahariel says quickly. She doesn't want anyone to overhear the conversation. She doesn't want anyone to know where she is. What she'd like is some peace and quiet and anonymity. She suspects there are people looking for her. "I'm not that one. I'm sure someone like that has their fair share of places to go. Much better than this stone city."
"This is my city now," Hawke says, "mind your words."
"Aren't you Fereldan?" Mahariel asks. Isn't he as much of a Fereldan as she and Merrill are? His accent (like her own, she's sure) is a dead giveaway. "This isn't your city."
"It is now. I've grown rather attached. There's something to be said about stone and chains. Not to mention the stench of persecution. They leave that part out of the pamphlets. No one really wants to give away why people never leave."
He's a jokester. Another Alistair. Lovely. Mahariel's smile is small and polite. "I see."
"Hawke uses a lot of sarcasm," Merrill explains helpfully to Mahariel. Mahariel wonders what Merrill would think of Morrigan. "I didn't understand it very well in the beginning myself but all these years later I sometimes know what he's talking about. Sometimes he's funny."
"Sometimes?" Hawke asks. "You wound me, Merrill. I'd say I'm funny a great deal more than 'sometimes'."
Mahariel wonders if this jester is serious about Merrill or if she's only another game to him. Or maybe life will make the decision for him about Merrill's place in his life. It won't be the first time she'll have seen it happen. Mahariel wants to leave. Hawke looks at her expectantly but she has nothing to give. All that she wants is to take. Merrill goes between staring at her to looking at anything but. Merrill had left a letter but has not visited. It's been four days. Mahariel has tried not to take it personally but has not been able to numb the hurt. Mahariel nods at them both and starts away, unsure of why she's in Kirkwall given how things have turned out.
"There's a party tonight," Hawke calls out to her, "at my place. You may know it by the egg on the door by the local hooligans. You can't miss it, it's rather big and fetching if I do say so myself. Merrill will be there and one other elf, a broody bastard but handsome enough. If you're wanting for company."
"He isn't," Merrill protests. "She isn't." Mahariel hears a small amount of swearing from her lips. She stops curiously and looks back at them. Merrill winces. "Isabela will be there and Varric and Aveline. Hawke will too, but I suppose that was obvious, maybe some others, too," she says sourly, "and me. Hawke already said that."
"It bears repeating. I will throw you a party every night if it will get you away from that bloody mirror," Hawke says. Merrill frowns lightly at his words and looks at neither Hawke nor Mahariel. Mahariel waits. "Have you seen that blasted mirror of hers?" Hawke asks her. Mahariel has seen the 'blasted mirror'. She has wanted to talk to Merrill about it but hasn't had the opportunity. Mahariel shrugs. She is not fond of talking to shemlen strangers about Dalish relics. "Regardless, there is a party tonight and wine will flow. By that I do mean wine and not blood, though that has been known to happen on occasion. Any friend of Merrill is a friend of mine and I do so love to see her happy." All three of their faces grow rosy at the confession. Mahariel wants to echo his sentiment but can't make herself despite how strongly she agrees with it. "Will we see you there?" Hawke asks.
"That's kind of you… but I'm not one for parties," she tells him. "Are you?" she asks Merrill, switching to their native tongue. Hawke's face shifts into confusion again, "I'm not here to tell you what to do. But why do you have that thing in your home? In your room? It's dangerous." Merrill's cheeks flush again. Mahariel's anger wanes. She remembers taking pleasure in watching Merrill blush so many years ago. She can't think of anyone else who has ever made her so weak-kneed. Has she romanticized the past? The taint had changed everything for them. If it wasn't for that or Duncan, wouldn't they still be together? Is she naïve?
"I don't want to talk about that now. Here. I don't want to talk in elven around Hawke. It's rude."
"What?" Hawke jumps in, looking between the two of them. "I know I heard my name in there. What are you saying, Merrill? Good things, I hope?"
"Enjoy your party," Mahariel says to the both of them. She doesn't spare them another glance. The sky and sun aren't as bright as she remembers. Shouldn't they appear brighter after so much time in the Dark Roads? Has she invented everything? She has accepted that she has lost Merrill's love. To think that she's lost her friendship as well is too much to bear.
Merrill sneaks away on the seventh round of shots. It's only laughter that follows her out the door. She gets lost. She doesn't have her twine. The sky is too black, chilly and starless. It takes hours to make it to the alienage. Any alcohol that had sustained her is well out of her system by the time she reaches her home. She's cold, her fingertips numb. She sees a glow from the fireplace beneath the front door and rattles the knob a few times, finding the knob turn in her hand, exactly as Mahariel had said it would. Merrill feels a keen sense of satisfaction for breaking and entering into her home.
Mahariel sits on the rug in front of the fireplace, flipping through a book. There's a bottle of wine beside her and a poor wooden cup. She wears an oversized shirt that's far too large for her. The sleeves are too long, the neckline dips enticingly low. She doesn't wear pants. Merrill is mesmerized. Mahariel is more of a woman than she was the last time she saw her.
Mahariel looks at her and blinks, quickly standing and looking around for anything to grab onto. She takes the cloak and wraps it around her shoulders. It doesn't hide her beauty. "Merrill." She takes a step back despite Merrill not being close. "It's so late. Did Hawke walk you here?"
Merrill rubs her hands together, blowing warm air into them. "You didn't come to the party." She goes to stand in front of the fireplace. Mahariel doesn't move further away though Merrill has begun to consider it.
"I didn't say I was coming."
"I know. But… but I had hoped…" she bites her lip and stretches her hands closer to the fire. Mahariel watches her worriedly and exits the living room. She returns seconds later with a blanket that Merrill recognizes from her bed and wraps it around Merrill's shoulders. A moment later Merrill realizes that Mahariel has quickly slipped into a pair of pants. She is as slender as ever. Merrill wonders if she's still half as acrobatic. Oh. Was that a bad thought…? It isn't bad to be flexible. Oh, Creators. That was a bad thought. What was she thinking coming down here at this time of night? "If you don't mind, I don't want to talk about… the mirror or… or any of that."
Mahariel's brief gaze is wary. "What should we talk about?" she adjusts the blanket more carefully around Merrill's shoulders. "Careful not to trip into the fireplace." Mahariel smiles though Merrill knows that she isn't teasing. "Oh, I got you a few plants," she tells Merrill, leading her around to the various bookcases and tables. Plants with long vines and thick leaves are on display. Merrill has always watered Hawke's plants but never thought to get any of her own. It seems silly now that she hadn't thought of it. "It's the least I can do for you. This one used to grow by the campground, remember?"
"I remember." Merrill smiles. Yes, she remembers. In the mountains it grows wildly. There was more than one occasion in which the vine snared her ankle and she fell over. She remembers a few cuts and bruises that were gained. There was another time when Mahariel had caught her before she'd fallen. Her touch had been electric. Merrill shakes the thoughts away. "I was so clumsy. I still am. Everyone said that the First would die long before Marethari did. There are still people who say that," she says.
"Have you seen her recently?"
Merrill shrugs. "We're not close."
"I don't believe that." Mahariel says. No. Mahariel wouldn't know. Mahariel has been absent the last few years. She doesn't know how her absence triggered the disconnect between herself and Marethari. "Marethari loves you. She loves you most."
"Marethari doesn't love me." She takes a breath and gains the courage to look at Mahariel. Mahariel looks into the fireplace. Her hair looks auburn in the glow of the flames. Merrill is struck again by how beautiful she is. Mahariel looks at her. Merrill loses all thoughts. For several moments Merrill is made only of memories. At night they shared a small tent. Mahariel lay beside her, gently stroking her face. You are the First. You are my first. You will always be first. Mahariel's mouth had tasted as sweet as her words. Merrill's heart overflowed. She'd been innocent enough to think that nothing could ever change.
Merrill absently wonders if she could taste the darkspawn taint on Mahariel's lips now. What does death taste like? Bitter? Like dirt, maybe? Would they still be together if not for everything that had happened? Does Mahariel ever think of things like that? Does she remember picking up a stick from the forest and chasing the wolf that had trapped Merrill against the base of a tree away? Could the Hero of Fereldan ever love a simple, stupid woman like her? Mahariel hadn't been so worldly then. Now she can likely have her choice of anyone. Not that it matters. None of it matters (no matter how long it had mattered to her). She has Hawke now. "If she did, she doesn't anymore."
"As if anyone could stop loving you." Mahariel says earnestly.
Merrill bites her tongue. How often has she dreamed those words? How often had she thought of Mahariel saying them again? "What do you think of Hawke?" Merrill asks. "He asked about you tonight."
"What did you tell him?" Mahariel waits for Merrill to respond. She doesn't remember what she told him. She only knows how quickly her heart had pumped at the mention of Mahariel. She only remembers looking at the doorway all evening waiting for her to come in. "Hawke sounds like a jester. He's handsome. Does he treat you well? He must treat you well." She stares into the fire again. Merrill is silent. "Do you need your place back?" Merrill shakes her head absently. "You don't want to talk about the mirror. Do you usually wander Lowtown so late at night?"
"Only when I get lost or am fighting bandits. I fight bandits now."
"They look to be in good supply no matter where in Thedas you go. Did you try to talk it over with them first?"
"In the beginning."
"Yes, that sounds like you. I've changed my mind, you know." Mahariel takes a seat on one of the benches by the table. Merrill sits beside her. "About the alienage. It's my favorite place in Kirkwall. At least there's wood here. And the vhenedhal. No one really talks to each other. I've noticed that. I can't imagine living here, though. I'd go mad with loneliness. Has it been difficult for you?"
"It was a little. But when it got particularly bad I'd read and focus on… Focus on what I wanted. What I still want," she mutters. "It's better now that I have friends and…" she tapers away. She doesn't know how to speak with Mahariel looking at her. Did she betray Mahariel? No. It's been years. Years of silence. Mahariel must have moved on. Mahariel must love someone else. It wouldn't make sense otherwise. It would all have been a mistake otherwise. If she'd known, she could have waited. She could have waited forever. She would have waited forever. Oh, Creators, what is this? She's overwhelmed with sadness.
Mahariel takes a few moments. "I know you say that you aren't here often. But you can give the plants away when I go or take them with you to Hightown. I've left them for you to name."
Merrill's mood lightens. Merrill had taken to naming the plants wherever their clan set up camp. Mahariel made a joke of going around to various plants and using mistaken names. Merrill had thought she'd done it to irritate her but now she wonders if she genuinely tried to remember. "Are you going to tease me about that again?"
Merrill is mildly disappointed. She looks at her again and wonders whose shirt it is that she wears. Not that it matters. It can't matter. She can't think of Mahariel in that way. Forbidding the thought from surfacing makes it instantly appear. She thinks of Mahariel with some man or woman and feels a similar pain in her heart, one that she had forced into submission what feels like not very long ago. "What was it like to defeat the Archdemon?"
"Painful. I had bruises for weeks." She emits another faint smile. "But that was the easy part." Merrill remembers when the black lines, black veins had crowded Mahariel's face, hiding the vallaslin as the blight sickness took her. It pained Merrill to breathe. "All grey wardens have nightmares. I thought they'd go away when the Archdemon was killed but they haven't. The nightmares aren't the worst of it."
"What is?" Merrill asks. Mahariel doesn't look at her. "Is it true that you don't have much time as a grey warden? That you only get thirty years or so? Or—or is it that you only get to thirty years of age? I forget. That always confused me," she says shakily, "that's why it was so important to work quickly—because of that."
"To work quickly?" Mahariel asks. Merrill doesn't speak. "Thirty years isn't bad. Anyone can die at anytime. Thirty years is short for a Dalish," she admits. "I used to worry about it. I don't anymore."
"But you can't die." No. Not after everything. Why has she been wasting her time in Hightown? Why hasn't she been working on the mirror? Besides regaining their history, she could find a way to purify Mahariel's blood, to save her. It's what had started everything to begin with. How has she been so selfish? Should she have stayed with her people? "You can't."
Mahariel draws a breath. "Anyone can die," she says.
"I don't want you to die."
"I don't want you to have a lover." Mahariel laughs softly. "Which one of us is more unreasonable, I wonder?" she stands and runs a hand through her hair. "Sorry. That was rude. I'm going to sleep in the tub and you take the bed." Merrill shakes her head. "I insist. The tub is a dream after all that rocky, muddy, Fereldan ground. Really. And I'm your guest. I've inconvenienced you enough already."
"You haven't been an inconvenience." Merrill imagines kissing her. She closes her eyes but the mental image only manifests more clearly. "I should go back to Hightown."
"There's the party and… everyone's probably drunk which means I have to make sure that no one does anything really stupid. I'm usually the one doing the very stupid things but not with alcohol. Just—in every other way." She heads towards the door.
"Let me walk you if you're insistent."
Merrill shakes her head firmly. She can't spend another moment with Mahariel. It's difficult to be near her. "N—no! It's okay."
"It isn't okay." Mahariel undoes the cloak around her shoulders. She gently pulls the blanket away from Merrill, despite how tightly the smaller woman holds it by her fingertips. Mahariel sets the cloak down carefully over her shoulders. "I'm going with you. No complaints." She grabs the drawstrings to the cloak and pulls it carefully so it sits more snugly on Merrill before clasping it close. "I'm not sending you out by yourself in the snow, in this place, at this time of night. If something happened to you I'd never forgive myself."
"You don't have to do that." Isn't this the conversation she used to have with her so many years ago? Mahariel never listened. Mahariel had always been oblivious to how the other clan members looked at her. Merrill kept waiting for the day that Mahariel would realize that she could do better. "I've lived here for years, you know."
"It doesn't make it any less dangerous. Let me do this, Merrill. I know that you're established here and that everything is different. I didn't expect for things to work out this way." She smooths the fabric of the cloak over Merrill's shoulders gently but doesn't look at her. "I suppose it doesn't matter anymore. You're happy. That's what matters." Merrill can't remember when she's ever heard Mahariel sound so sad. Mahariel is still adjusting the cloak when Merrill cups her face. Mahariel goes still. Her face heats beneath Merrill's fingers. Air is scarce.
Mahariel lowers her eyes, closing them briefly before pulling away. "Let's get you back to Hightown."