Author: Jade Sabre
Notes: I wrote this quite a while ago. Perin was actually a gnome bard I was playing with, but I made her a human for the sake of this story. (Of course, that doesn't make her any less disgruntled with me; if Perin were human, she'd fall head over heels for Nevalle, but anyway.) Since writing this I have spent some time lurking around this section of the Pit and realized that, as per the usual for my first fanfic for any fandom, I have managed to commit a large number of NWN 2 fic clichés. winces But there are parts of it I like, and I have another fic being edited right now that's very different, and so I thought, what the heck, let's post it. So I apologize for the clichés and hope you'll forgive me.
Disclaimer: NWN 2 belongs to a variety of companies that I have no part in. If I owned NWN 2, I would have designed it so that my video card supported an actual sky, rather than strange bars of awkwardly-colored light.
Perin Brestol was young—younger than she'd ever admit to most of the people under her command—but that didn't make her stupid. She knew she was naïve with people, and that sometimes she trusted them too much, and that she always thought the best of anyone she met unless they gave her reason to do otherwise (aside from those people who, like Torio Claven, exuded their evil so nonchalantly she couldn't help but hate them).
Bishop was one of those people, like Torio, whose stare she had felt the moment she first stepped, dirty and smelling of salt from days at sea without a bath, across the threshold of the Sunken Flagon. His eyes had followed her every movement, gauging her, and even when he lounged against the wall with his tankard, looking for all the world like his only interest was his ale, she knew he was monitoring her actions, her words, her interactions with her comrades, and maybe even (in weaker moments) her laugh, her smile. She had grown accustomed to the gaze, though it still disturbed some deep, inner part of her, so much so that when Duncan volunteered him to lead her to Luskan she almost said no.
But she'd had no choice, and so she found herself in the company of what appeared to be a stark raving lunatic with no social skills and—if she thought so herself, in a tiny part of her that wasn't always kind to everyone she met—poor taste in women (propositioning Shandra Jerro, of all people). She'd also noticed how immediately protective Casavir was (now there was someone who could never, ever know she was only eighteen—she hated to think what the man would do to himself if he realized he was twice her age), and how even Neeshka, carefree Neeshka, was cautious around him. And she realized that heenjoyed this, enjoyed slinking about in the shadows and curling up with his wolf, watching them all with mocking eyes.
So she decided to treat Bishop as though he were any other member of her troop—decided to at least outwardly trust him too much, and think the best of him, and be friendly and include him in conversations (though he declined to participate). And slowly—she wasn't sure when, or how—but in one moment she realized that her act was starting to become real, that the—the feeling he exuded didn't bother her as much, that she could deal with it and sometimes even not have to pretend she liked him. Oh, he was cold, he was brutal—but at least he was honest. And his honesty, juxtaposed with Casavir's stumbling evasions, grew more and more appealing.
But she knew—she knew—she couldn't trust him. But she didn't want to know, didn't want to believe herself, even told that Malin girl point-blank that she trusted him like she trusted anyone else. And his eyes stayed on her, hungry, and though she never let him close enough to nibble she couldn't deny the rush his gaze gave her, and sometimes she thought that despite her efforts he could tell. And some moments, usually late, watching him sleep from across the fire (though whether he ever slept was debatable), she wondered what it would be like if she showed the rush, and he…returned it. Wondered it would be like to purposefully stumble into him, to feel his fingers linger across her hips as he (let her fall, most likely, but this was a fantasy) steadied her, to whisper instructions to him with her lips against his ear…
She was young, but she wasn't stupid. Yet. The temptation grew stronger as the weeks went by, as she found herself climbing up a ladder a bard was never meant to climb—wandering minstrels have no need for personal keeps, and no time to devote to them—as knights (with their fair hair and their dark, dark eyes) and githzerai and old loremasters directed her movements without so much as a by-your-leave. As far as she could tell, she was the only one who noticed the difference within herself—and what kind of bard would she be if she couldn't act all right towards everyone else? And they still didn't trust Bishop—respected him, yes, knew he would do them right on the battlefield, sure, but trust was too strong a feeling to connect it to the slippery ranger—and so they tended to come between him and her, a wall that could conceal everything but his hungry, hungry eyes.
The hunger in his eyes stayed her own feelings but a little—and feelings they were, and she couldn't deny them, and she knew she knew she knew she wasn't changing him, but at the same time she was starting to wonder if she could, if she was, if something wasn't different—if the bite in his words wasn't quite so sharp, the edge to his smile a little softer, especially when he looked at her. He never spoke much to the others but maybe his words were a little more cordial now—maybe, maybe, but maybe isn't proof, she told herself. She had to have some kind of proof before she could even think about beginning to consider smiling back him (though some days she slipped and did before she could think about it, and she never paused long enough to look and see his reaction).
She found it in the maze under the ruins of Avanthr, in a dusty crate barely held together with rusted nails and rotting wood. It took her a moment to place it, but she was a knower and namer of trinkets and treasure alike. This item in particular wasn't one she knew from encounter, but from reading, or perhaps from her foster father's lap. Not that she had ever been sat on Daeghun's lap and read to, or that he ever told her stories of his adventuring days, but as she had proved to him her earnest determination to learn he had started telling her of the things that adventurers encountered, monsters and treasures and fey people and how best to deal with all of them and what they did. Between his stories and the libraries she'd since been able to access, she'd acquired knowledge of almost anything in the world, except perhaps the very rarest of ancient artifacts.
This didn't fall into the latter category, though it wasn't a common item by any means. She studied it, crouching next to the crate while the others inspected the rest of the room (or, in some cases, tried to keep Neeshka from inspecting all the good stuff first), turning the necklace over in her hands. The instant the talisman dangling from the chain turned over she knew exactly what this was—there was no mistaking the distinctive shape, nor the cold feeling that ran straight to her gut as she stared at it, thinking of what to do.
"Well, that was a complete waste of time," Neeshka complained, coming back to her leader. "Not even a trap or something for me to work with. Didyou find anything?"
"I…" Perin thought, running possibilities through her head. "Yes, I did," she said, coming back to the moment and straightening.
"Well?" Shandra said, her face in its perpetual expression, a mixture of fear, disdain, and "why the hell did I sign up for this?"
She didn't answer immediately, looking between Shandra and Zhjaeve and Khelgar and Neeshka, then back at what she held in her hands. "It's nothing you can use," she told them. "We'll just take it back to the Keep and see what Uncus can give us."
"Valuable?" Neeshka persisted.
Satisfied, the others' attention wandered towards which potentially-ghast-infested room they should explore next. Perin tucked the necklace into one of her inner pockets and solved the question by leading them through the next door they found.
A few days later they had returned to the Keep, too laden with loot to continue their pressing quest with the Ritual of Purification (something Perin hadnever read about, revealing a grievous gap in her knowledge of Illefarn history). Perin left Neeshka to deal with Uncus for the time being and went looking for her other companions to gather them and tell them what they'd been missing while cooped up in the Keep (Zhjaeve had insisted on a small party in the ruins, to lessen their chances of detection, though Perin thought it would be nice to have a larger one when facing those ogres, or the thrice-cursed balenorn). She still wasn't entirely sure of the building's layout past the library and found herself heading down a hall she didn't recognize in the west wing when she heard voices. Pausing to orient herself, she realized she must be near the large room that Casavir favored, probably due to its proximity to the chapel she had installed on his request.
She kept walking until she was able to distinguish the voices she was hearing—coming from an open door a little farther down—and realized it was Bishop and Casavir, arguing about something. She crept closer, silently cursing whoever had let them alone together and hoping to hear the cause of their debate in order to figure out how to fix it without offending anyone or, worse, losing Bishop's respect (a job she found herself constantly performing whenever the two came into contact, and an exhausting one at that).
And then she realized they were talking about her.
She stopped dead, and almost turned and fled, but part of her wanted as many details of the story she was in as she could get, and another part desperately wanted to know what the two men thought of her, though this was a low-down a way to get it. So she leaned against the wall, and listened.
It went badly, as their conversations usually went—Bishop scored some harsh points about duty and honor with Casavir, who point-blank admitted he had "feelings" for her, probably walking straight into the ranger's trap while also completely failing to mount an offensive of his own. Perin winced and knew she could never give a hint that she had heard this conversation—trying to salve Casavir's pride would only make Bishop mock him more, while trying to talk Bishop down…
But she did have to talk to him. So she waited until it sounded as if he were winding down in his berating and then retraced her steps back away from the room until she went back around a corner and couldn't hear them anymore. Minutes later, Casavir came around the corner, as close to storming around as the paladin ever got—brow more furrowed than normal, chiseled jaw clenched, steps falling a little heavier. She watched him go by without noticing her—something Bishop would never have done—then pushed herself off the wall and went back the way she had come.
She found the ranger smirking to himself in a side chamber that served no purpose she could distinguish, other than to hold a few chairs and a potted plant. He turned a half-second before she stepped into the room and said, "Ah, the fearless leader has returned," in that low, mocking drawl of his that sent shivers down her spine and warmed the pit of her stomach all at once.
"Sure looks that way. Sorry to disappoint you," was what she said, matching his disdain with her own teasing, sounding happier than she was.
He shrugged and said, "Maybe next time. I take it you're gathering the troops?"
"Yeah," she said. "But," she said as he started to leave, making him stop and glance down at her, and for a moment she didn't know what she was going to say (for the first time in months). "I wanted to show you something I found, first. Before we find the others."
"Oh?" he said, turning and leaning against the door—she knew he could easily step into the doorway and block her, that his crossed arms had enough power to break her neck without thinking about it, that there were a thousand ways this could go and she wasn't quite sure which one was right. "That's exciting. Does it involve the shape you have under that robe?"
"Don't worry, I will."
"—it's this." She pulled the necklace out of her pocket and dangled it before him. He reached out and took it in one gloved hand, holding it with the talisman in his hand and the chain hanging down. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she asked, "Do you know what it is?"
"Hm…" he said, considering it, and then his gaze darted to her. "No idea. But why are you asking me? You're the know-it-all."
"I was just wondering," she said. "Take off that stupid amulet of will and put this one on."
He was still staring hard at her. "This isn't going to choke me, is it?" he asked, though he moved to do as she requested.
"Yes. I ordered a necklace of assassin vines especially for you," she said, pouring as much sarcasm into her voice as she could muster, clenching her fists to hide the fact that she was shaking as she watched him. A lazy, mocking half-smile appeared in response as he let the amulet slide from his neck—she resisted the urge to reach up and catch it, to run her fingers across the bulge of his voice box—and slipped it into a pocket of his own. And then—and then—he reached up and clasped the talisman around his neck in one smooth motion.
"How does it look?" he asked, mocking, sarcastic, but strangely smooth—his eyes narrowed as new understandings came to his mind—and for a moment, Perin couldn't speak. She could only stare at it—the chain was long enough to let it hang between his collarbones, and it would slip beneath his armor easily enough, and none of the others would have to know that their ranger was wearing a talisman of pure evil oh gods pure evil.
"Perfect," she said, almost gasping for breath and trying to hide it from his eyes that already saw too much and were always hungry. "Keep it safe and don't take it off." Pragmatically, that was the best course—such talismen made the wearers wiser, something she knew a ranger would need, and more attractive, which she didn't need but she figured couldn't hurt the rest of the world.
But oh she wished he hadn't been able to put it on in the first place.
"Whatever you say." He looked down at it, considering. "Does it do anything?"
"Nothing you shouldn't have already noticed," she told him, feeling her fragile façade beginning to crack, the shame and the fear and the sadness threatening to break through the dam of her composure. "Tell the others I'll be in my suite if they're not satisfied with Khelgar's version of the events."
"You mean a blow-by-blow depiction of every battle you faced? Riveting," he said, rolling his eyes even as she turned to go. "But if youmust be 'in your room'…" He laughed, a harsh sound that hurt her ears, and suddenly caught her hand. She turned back to him and he bent and kissed her knuckles, mocking her in what was his more good-natured fashion, saying, "I won't tell anyone, my lady."
She pulled her hand away the second he released it, not before, and turned before he could see her quivering lip, and left before he could hear her stifled sniffles, and closed the door to her room before anyone could know she sobbing into her pillow for a man she couldn't love and all the people who would suffer because she did.