AN: Another kinkmeme fill, re-posted here.
Malina knew it was unfair to drag Fenris down to the Black Emporium; he had better things to do than accompany her on simple errands, and he'd always made it very clear that he despised the sinister shop. It was unfair of her, and selfish, but he'd still agreed to come when she'd asked… that had to count for something.
It had been a difficult few months since that night— since he'd walked out with those bleak apologies and that hitch in his voice that broke her heart— and she still felt like a tattered flag caught out in a gale. She'd been confused, furiously angry with him, with herself, and painfully, achingly sad, and then… she didn't even know anymore. Those emotions still simmered under the surface every time she caught him looking at her through the fringe of his hair, or noticed the soft red scarf tied around his wrist. It was a stupid little token, and he wore it constantly, even when the smallest hint that she might dare to touch him made him recoil.
More than five months had passed since he'd allowed her to map every inch of him, from the tips of his delicate ears to the callused soles of his feet. Five months, and she'd not felt even the slightest brush of his skin since. The aversion to her touch he'd slowly overcome in the first three years of their acquaintance had returned, a hundred times worse than before, and every flinch was like a punch to her gut. The fact that he looked guilty about it made her want to scream.
There was something worryingly self-destructive about keeping him close in such circumstances, but Fenris could have retreated just as easily. He had no real obligation to follow her around, and he was the one who'd left in the first place— if keeping distanced was the healthy course, then hecould be the one to finish what he'd started. The day he refused to come along would be the day she stopped asking.
Perhaps on this day, however, they'd both taken their respective mulishness a little too far.
The floorboards creaked under her feet, dangerously spongy in places, and the air was stale and unpleasantly thick with the smell of rot and lyrium. Malina had no intention of dawdling, but she was distracted by the new staves Xenon had acquired—
There was a flash of purple light, so intense it made her eyes burn, a burst of force that nearly made her stagger, and she thought she heard a voice shout, though it was hard to be sure over the sudden ringing in her ears. Blinking back tears, Malina whirled around to face whatever had just happened, crouching defensively with borrowed staff still in hand. Varric and Merrill were both clamouring to their feet, having been thrown back by the energy that accompanied the light, but she didn't see Fenris anywhere, and that was enough to turn her blood instantly to ice.
Xenon, the crazy old bastard, was laughing uproariously; it was not a reassuring sound.
"Fenris?" There were huge black spots still dancing in her vision and her head was throbbing like she'd just taken a maul to the skull, but Malina ignored all of that. The Emporium wasn't a huge shop, and a cautious step around Xenon's perch revealed a pile of familiar armour, crumpled and abandoned. There was no blood, no trace of a body, but there hardly needed to be in this blighted place. Maker have mercy, she should never have brought him—
There was movement nearby, quick and low to the ground, and Malina swung her staff towards it. Sparks crackled along the polished length of wood, and she heard the clinking of Bianca being drawn as well. Whatever it was, partially hidden between some dusty chests and an unmarked barrel, it instantly stopped its skittering.
"Show yourself!" Fury and fear turned her voice into a snarl, and the air around her sizzled. There was absolutely no movement from the small, shadowy figure, and lightning flared, licking over her skin. "Now!"
It could have been anything— probably some kind of hideous demon, if her usual luck held up— but she certainly didn't expect a tiny elven child to scramble out and prostrate at her feet, trembling in unconcealed terror. Long, tapered ears peeked out from a mop of inky hair, but with the child's face pressed against the floor and body hidden under a baggy sack of cloth, Malina couldn't even be sure if it was a boy or a girl.
The child was petrified, that was clear enough, and with a quick glance at Merrill and Varric to make sure their guard stayed up, Malina drew her magic back and slowly lowered the staff. It could be a child, or it could be a trick, but every option would be explored until she knew exactly what had happened and how to fix it.
She would raze this bloody shop to a smoking crater and rend the Veil itself to keep Fenris safe.
Taking a deep breath, Malina dropped into a squat and found her calmest voice. "Shh, it's all right, little one. I'm sorry I scared you." The child cringed, bony fingers digging into the floorboards, but didn't move an inch otherwise. Very cautiously, keeping her senses as finely tuned as possible for the oily shimmer of demonic magic, Malina reached out and touched the child's shoulder.
The most pathetic sob imaginable hiccupped out of the child, followed by a string of frantic gibberish. Shushing the little elf as soothingly as she could, Malina was surprised enough to gasp when the slightest pull had the child sitting up in an instant, as though yanked up by invisible strings.
He was a boy, she noticed, though it was sometimes hard to tell with the delicately boned features of very young elves, and was probably four or five years old. His face was scrunched, his eyes squeezed shut as if prepared to be struck, and he whimpered like a beaten dog when she laid one hand against his cheek.
"It's all right," she said again, though she wasn't entirely convinced the boy even spoke Common. The words he'd stuttered out had sounded strangely familiar, but he'd said absolutely nothing she could understand. "We're not going to hurt you."
She brushed her thumb across his cheekbone, humming tunelessly, and after a moment or two, wide eyes began to ease ever so slowly open.
Wide, frightened eyes, glittering in the eerie lamplight. Pale, striking green. Those eyes.
Her headache pulsed, and she couldn't catch her breath. "How— Oh Maker, Fenris—"
They were his eyes, she was entirely certain, and now she could see the strong line of his nose and the shape of his mouth, all rendered in miniature and softened by youth. The baggy sack hanging from his scrawny little form was actually his undershirt, and it took every ounce of self-control she possessed not to grab him into a crushing hug. Somewhere behind her, Varric cursed.
They were his eyes, but there wasn't a flicker of recognition in them, just confusion and fear. It was Fenris, but with dark hair and smooth, unmarked skin… and he didn't know her.
"Xenon," she said evenly, unwilling to let even a hint of her mounting rage leech into her tone. "What in the Void just happened? Can you reverse this?"
"There is nothing for it but time," the disembodied voice rasped almost immediately, still chuckling. "A few days, and your Tevinter should be right as rain. If not… hm, still time, I suppose. Ahem…heh."
Sliding her hand away from Fenris' face, Malina rubbed his arms, trying to reassure. If he was the boy he'd been at five years old, with only the memories and mind of a slave… the thought made her eyes grow gritty and hot. She couldn't start crying now, for Andraste's sake.
Swallowing over the lump in her throat, Malina smiled encouragingly at Fenris even though he was keeping his gaze firmly downcast. "Anyone speak Arcanum?"
Dirty words and the names of various liquors were not exactly what they needed, so Varric had admitted defeat on the Arcanum front. Merrill and Malina didn't even know thatmuch, and whatever languages Xenon might speak didn't matter, as he'd lost interest in them entirely. Still, even without the aid of a common tongue, Fenris didn't struggle at all against being hoisted up onto Malina's hip and carried out of the dingy shop. He was quiet and compliant, eerily so, and Malina spent the entire trip back to Hightown praying silently that this horrible mistake would reverse itself at any moment. Varric and Merrill both walked all the way to the estate, toting Fenris' armour and effects while keeping watch on Malina and her precious package, then left straight away. Varric would tug some strings, reaching out to any of his contacts with an interest in strange magic or the Emporium in particular, and Merrill would consult her books. It felt painfully frustrating, utterly ineffective, but what else could be done?
Orana had never been a bigger blessing— once inside the estate, Malina explained the situation as quickly and simply as she could, then let the young woman take the lead on whatever was necessary to draw Fenris out.
At the first sight of Asher's great slobbery jowls, Fenris had darted off and hidden himself under the writing desk, wrapping his arms around his knees and curling up into a protective ball. Orana knelt beside the desk, and after a few quiet words, she somehow managed to convince the boy that the dog wasn't about to eat him, but hadn't talked him out of his new den. Malina watched, wishing fervently that she'd asked Fenris years ago to teach her some of his language, even just the basics. At least her mother and the Feddics were out for the afternoon; Maker, having to deal with explaining this to her mother, and trying to keep an eye on Sandal with a jumpy little Fenris scurrying about was not what she needed at the moment.
Eventually, Orana turned back to her, offering a weak version of her usual deferential smile. "I didn't say anything about the accident, mistress, just as you bade me. He doesn't remember anything except home, being a slave in a big house with his Mama and his little sister. He said his name is Leto." A name, and a family it seemed Hadriana might not have been lying about after all— Malina hoped Fenris would remember at least some of that when the spell wore off, but she would commit all of it to memory regardless. If there was any good at all to be found in this debacle, it would be the chance for him to gain back even a small portion of his past.
Orana shifted, ducking her head and twisting her fingers in her skirt. "I told him not to be scared, that it's safe here and that you are a very kind mistress. I… I hope that's all right."
"That's wonderful, Orana." She called up a warm smile of her own. "Thank you. Can you ask him if he's hungry, or if he would like anything else? And does he speak any Common at all?"
More Arcanum chattered back and forth, with Fenris— Leto— inching closer to his fellow elf. He still seemed unwilling to make any sort of eye contact with Malina, but at least he wasn't trembling anymore.
Orana shook her head, reaching out to pat Leto on the knee. "He only knows a little Common. If you speak slowly and just use little words, he might understand, but he can't really answer. He's hungry too, but he doesn't want me to say because it's not dark yet, and he's not allowed to eat until after sunset when his Mama's work is done. His master is very strict about such things."
At the word "hungry," Leto's eyes grew impossibly wide, and he shuffled back deeper under the desk. Orana said something else to him, but there was no reply.
Malina pushed herself away from the wall, where she'd been trying to look as harmless as a human mage could to a Tevinter slave child. "I'll go fetch some things from the larder. Will you stay with him, please? Try to calm him down?"
As much as the idea of sitting idle while food was fetched made Orana fidget, she seemed to understand that Leto was her responsibility for the moment. A nod, and then she was back to murmuring in Arcanum.
It had taken some nudging, but Leto eventually crawled out from his hiding place long enough to snatch up some cheese and bread. He ate more ravenously than Carver used to, which would have been amusing if it wasn't so heartbreaking, but he utterly demolished the food without making any of the mess of an average child. There wasn't a single crumb left, and his pink tongue was darting out to lick his fingers until not even the smell remained. If she weren't certain he'd make himself sick, Malina would have set him loose in the larder without hesitation, and the Blight could take the grocery bill.
The day was wearing on, Leto's eyes were beginning to droop against the pull of exhaustion, and her mother would be returning soon— Malina considered her options carefully. It might be easier to leave him with Orana, perhaps even less stressful for him, but she couldn't bear the thought of foisting him off, or if she was entirely honest, the thought of letting him out of her sight for more than a minute. He was just so small and fragile, entirely unlike the capable, prickly man she knew and loved dearly, but yet so exactly Fenris that it made her stomach ache.
"Orana," she said quietly, leaning into Asher's warm bulk as the four of them sat around the empty plates and mugs of their impromptu picnic in the great room. Leto had begun glancing at the mabari with curiosity rather than wild-eyed horror, but he still wouldn't look at her. "Will you ask him if he'd like to rest now? I'm worried that if he stays down here, he'll be overwhelmed again when Mother comes home."
"Yes, mistress." When Orana relayed the question, Leto squirmed, rubbing one hand over his reddening eyes. His answer was brief, shaky with the promise of tears, and whatever was said made Orana press her hand against her lips, drawing in a sharp breath. Malina was floundering in ignorance, and trying very hard to rein in her frustration— she wasn't irritated with anyone but herself and that useless fart Xenon.
"Oh, mistress," Orana whispered, and now there were tears glittering on her cheeks to match the ones welling up in Leto's eyes. "He… he misses his Mama. I'm sorry, I don't mean to, I just—" The young woman— the girl, truly— began scrubbing harshly at her face, but Malina reached out and took hold of her wrist before she could do any damage.
"My father died a decade ago," she said, letting the old ache well up in her chest, colouring her words with the shades of grief she usually kept tightly locked away. "And I miss him every day. It still hurts, and I don't know if it ever stops, but it becomes bearable. I promise."
For a moment, her mind wasn't on Fenris or Leto, but on the broken wisp of a girl who suddenly threw herself forward into an awkward embrace. Malina held her loosely, rubbing her back, but Orana drew back just as quickly as she'd pounced.
"Thank you, mistress," she mumbled, wiping gently at a fresh wave of tears, then cleared her throat and spoke to Leto again. The boy was staring at the pair of them, mouth slightly agape, and Malina hoped that was a good sign. He stayed silent, and Orana repeated her words again, her tone a bit sharper. Finally, Leto blinked and nodded.
Her foot was asleep, it turned out, which meant her plan to avoid sudden movements didn't require much effort at all. Malina unfolded her legs and dragged herself upright, stretching a small kink out of her back and trying to subtly wiggle out the pins and needles dancing from her toes to her ankle. When she held out a hand towards Leto, purposely keeping her fingers loose and undemanding, the boy only cringed a little.
"Please," she said, and if she guessed correctly, Orana repeated the word in Arcanum right after. "Come to rest?"
He was looking at her hand as if it might be a viper, which was a step up from looking as though it was most definitely a viper, and an angry one too. It was a bit sad just how familiar that expression was, even on a young boy's face… it was not the first time Fenris had stared at her just like that, though it had been quite a while.
When he reached up, his whole arm quivering ever so slightly, Malina kept excruciatingly still. She felt the ghost of his touch, little fingers hovering just a hairsbreadth from hers, but she made absolutely no move to initiate the contact. When he finally brushed against her skin, she pressed his knuckles very lightly with her thumb and tried to catch his eye with a hopeful smile. "Thank you, Leto."
He frowned, a sour little moue, and it was such a Fenris-like scowl that she didn't know whether to laugh or break down bawling. Maker have mercy, she needed to fix this soon.
They'd just made it into her bedroom, with Leto still holding her hand very tentatively, when the sounds of commotion downstairs made him clutch her fingers tighter and step closer to her skirt. It sounded like her mother and the dwarves, and Malina fought not to curse, even if Leto wouldn't have understood.
"Please tell him it's all right," she said to Orana, gently squeezing Leto's fingers in return, and the young woman rhymed off another string of Arcanum. The boy relaxed slightly, and if Malina had blinked, she would have missed his gaze flicker up towards her face for just an instant.
"Maker's breath!" Her mother's voice carried from the room below, shrill with annoyance, and Leto cringed. "Why is the dog pushing plates around the floor?"
Praying for an ounce of patience, with her nerves already frayed nearly to breaking and the thought of Fenris being stuck like this a terrible, gnawing dread in the back of her mind, Malina took a deep breath and motioned for Orana. "Will you stay with him for a few minutes while I go speak with Mother? I'll… I'll have to explain this to her, somehow."
Malina wasn't sure what it said about her usual activities when there was an accident with some strange spell, and Fenris is a little boy didn't earn her much more than some concerned fretting regarding his wellbeing. No shrieking about magic; no hysterical questioning. It probably shouldn't have been so surprising, but Malina forgot on occasion just how steeped in magic her mother had been long ago, when Father and Bethany had been alive and life had been… well, not exactly easywith three apostates in the family, but not quite so complicated.
"It's not terribly late yet; I'll go back out to the tailor right away," her mother was saying, though at this point the woman seemed to be speaking mostly to herself. "He'll need some proper clothing, and you have enough to worry about already, darling. That poor boy, terrified out of his wits…"
Ah yes, fussing— always an effective way for Leandra Hawke to distract herself from worrisome situations. Life wasn't so bizarre that her mother had become entirely nonchalant, and somehow, Malina felt a bit relieved by that.
So that was how she ended up back in her bedroom much sooner than she'd anticipated, pulling one of her more comfortable chairs over towards the fire. Leto was already tucked into bed, though he was keeping himself confined to one small corner up by the pillows, with only his glittering eyes and the tufting mess of his hair peeking out from the blankets.
"Thank you again, Orana," she said as she gathered a change of clothes for herself out of the wardrobe. Ducking behind the privacy screen, Malina made very quick work of stripping out of her robes in favour of a nightdress and a knitted shawl. Decking herself out in silk and embroidered Amell crests did not seem like the most prudent way to put Leto at ease— she couldn't hide her magic after the episode in the Emporium, but she would try and distance herself in any way possible from hints of magister.
It was a little more challenging with her elven servant still calling her mistress,but at least this hadn't happened months before when Orana was still bowing and scraping at every opportunity. "I am glad I can be helpful, mistress. I'm…" Shifting from foot to foot, Orana plucked at the hem of her shirt, and Malina settled back into her chair patiently. "I'm sorry this happened. Messere Fenris is always very kind to me when he visits. I hope it's fixed soon."
Maker bless her, the girl meant well, which was probably why the sentiment set Malina's eyes prickling so fiercely. Stamping down the crushing sadness, she shifted her gaze to the book in her lap— it was just a silly adventure novel she'd been reading, grabbed from her bedside table. A treatise on weird transformational magic would have been preferable, but that wasn't the sort of thing she had on hand.
"Me too," she said quietly, scratching at the edge of the book's cover with one thumbnail. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Orana dip into a relatively shallow curtsy, and then the young woman excused herself with a final reminder that she'd be downstairs, should she be needed for anything. The door closed with a click, and Malina cracked the book open to the bit of ribbon she'd been using as a marker.
She could feel the weight of a suspicious stare levelled in her direction, but she kept her attention on the book, letting her eyes scan over pages without seeing. She had no concentration for tales, but she didn't want Leto to think she was going to watch over him like a vulture all night either.
Eventually, she heard utter silence turn to snuffling breaths, and glanced over to see Leto's face lax in sleep, with his arms wrapped tight around her pillow.
Sometime between a short bout of weeping into her sleeve to muffle the sound, and going over and over her plans for the next few days (depending, of course, on what Varric and Merrill turned up), Malina must have fallen asleep. The fire was burned down to bright coals when her eyes opened again; there had been an age of desperate dreams between one blink and the next.
She hadn't meant to fall asleep, damn it all, and she'd dreamt of warm skin, alight with graceful patterns of ethereal blue. When she woke, there were pale green eyes peering at her from the shadows, barely a handbreadth from her elbow. Fenris— Leto scrambled back into the dark almost immediately, his feet scuffling across the floor with none of the steady grace that had once ruled all the movements of his muscles, or would one day, or whatever the truth of this spell meant. Was this her Fenris, regressed and trapped inside a child's body, or was this somehow truly Leto, exactly the child he had been?
The boy fled towards the bed like a startled hare, diving into the narrow space between the mattress and the floor rather than burrowing back under the covers. Oh, that was just perfect.
"Leto, wait—" She felt like jelly, still horribly groggy, but she managed to pull herself to her feet without too much trouble. Racing over and kneeling beside the bed seemed like it would be a mistake; instead, she scrubbed a hand over her face and bent to add a log to the fire. There was absolutely no movement from under the mattress.
Very slowly, Malina padded over and sat with her back against the bedpost, getting down to floor level without crowding the boy too much. She didn't say anything right away, straining to listen, but she couldn't even hear him breathing. After a few long moments of that, she sighed softly.
"Leto," she said, keeping her diction very clear. "Please, come rest."
More silence greeted her, but Malina was determined to wait. The floor was hard and cold against her bum, and she could only imagine how unpleasant it would be for a scrawny little boy accustomed to the heat of Seheron. If she didn't think it would've just terrified him further, she'd have pulled the blankets off the bed and stuffed them under for him.
Silence, stillness, and the exhaustion of the day were gaining on her, and she started nodding off again, but the call of the Fade was a bit easier to stave off while shivering on the floor. Then, just when she started to consider how inherently unfair it was that bloody pigheadedness was apparently Fenris' natural state of being, no matter his age, there was a shuffling sound on the other side of the bed, then the rustle of blankets moving.
She waited, giving him a chance to settle in, then stretched out her aching legs and crawled back towards the chair.
The next day was better. Leto seemed less likely to shatter into a million pieces as the hours wore on, though sudden moves still sent him scuttling into any hiding place he could find. He ate just as voraciously, changed into his new clothes without argument, and was more like a ghost than a little boy, but at least he didn't look absolutely scared stiff at every moment.
A brief note arrived from Varric, late in the afternoon. He hadn't been able to track down a single solid lead, but there were a few strings he hadn't pulled yet, including some Circle contacts. He'd let Anders and Isabela know what was going on as well, just in case. He assured her again that he had all his resources focused on this; they would get her elf back.
Malina read the note a dozen times, breathing deeply. Don't worry, my friend. We'll get your elf back. V.
She wasn't sure if it was comforting or alarming that Varric didn't fall back on humour.
At this point, she was only sure of one thing: Xenon had one week. Nothing for it but time was only going to protect that batty son of a bitch for so long.
Time. If Fenris was not himself again, whole and grown, in one week's time, she would be returning to the Black Emporium, and Xenon would need more than some potent wards and a runic golem to keep his desiccated ass in one piece.
The second night began the same as the first, with her in the chair and Leto clinging to her pillow like a barnacle. This time, falling asleep was a much more deliberate choice, though she hadn't quite found the right position to avoid a crick in her neck, and she dreamt of a rich, gravelly voice murmuring strange words against her ear.
A tugging on her shawl woke her, but this time the boy didn't run. The firelight reflected in those eyes, green and gleaming like peridots, and Malina felt something cold settle in the pit of her stomach. She missed his face.
Leto was staring somewhere in the vicinity of her knees, chewing on his bottom lip. His hand was still tangled in the edge of her shawl, trembling. There was something dark clutched in his other hand, and her heart started hammering when she recognised her red scarf— Maker have mercy, when had he picked that up?
"Pl-please," he stammered, in a tiny voice that was more breath than sound. "Dream."
Malina lifted her own hand, moving carefully, and touched his wrist. It was incredibly gratifying when he didn't flinch. "Dream," she repeated. "Did you have a bad dream, Leto? Scary dream?" The boy's dark brow furrowed and he gave a jerking nod.
It was a huge risk, but the boy had come to her— Malina let her hand slide up to cup his bony elbow where it peeked out of the sleeve of his nightshirt. He was pebbled in gooseflesh, holding her scarf against his cheek.
"You are safe," she murmured, injecting as much comfort into her tone as she could. Even if her words didn't make sense to him, she hoped he understood her meaning. "I promise you're safe. Come on, little one."
She stood, and before she could think better of it, she bent and opened her arms to him. For the very first time, the boy's gaze flickered to meet hers and didn't immediately shift away. He stared at her, still and unblinking, and for the barest fraction of an instant, Malina thought she saw a glimmer of recognition. It was gone so quickly she was half-convinced she'd imagined it, but it was a shred of hope to cling to, there in the dark.
Leto stepped forward haltingly, paused, then closed the gap in one great rush, looping his arms around her neck and pressing close. His little body was wound as tense as a bowstring, and Malina swallowed back the beginning of a sob as she hugged him as tight as she dared.
He felt light as a bird when she scooped him up, carrying him back over to the bed. She hadn't really taken the opportunity to notice during their near-run from the Emporium to Hightown; avoiding the thugs in the Undercity and getting Fenris somewhere safe had been her primary concerns. Fenris, the grown man, was slender but not slight, a solid form of dense, tightly trimmed muscle, while Leto the boy was a painfully skinny little whelp.
A whelp stricken with nightmares, she reminded herself, and dug through memories of how Hawke children had been soothed, so many years ago. Rubbing one hand slowly over his back, she settled herself down to sit against the headboard, humming the slow melody of a lullaby she vaguely recalled her father singing when he tucked them into bed. It had words, something about lambs and poesies, but she couldn't remember much more than the warm rumble of his voice.
By the fourth day, Leto was an entirely different boy. Watching him chase Asher all over the house, a bolt of squealing giggles and the thunder of mabari paws, Malina felt a strange pang of guilt. There was a part of her that enjoyed having Leto scampering around, or sitting on her lap while she read him the children's books she'd been planning to somehow convince Fenris he should simply try, on the small chance they might be able to practice his reading with less frustration. It was much easier to follow the simple stories and brightly coloured lithographs with this lad than it was to struggle through squinty, cramped lines of text with a proud man who baulked and snapped whenever he began to feel foolish. It wasn't a fair comparison— Leto wasn't trying to learn to read, and she wasn't trying to teach— but the thought lingered, nonetheless.
This boy, who had begun to reach for her hand without prompting, who squirmed and smiled when she ruffled her fingers through his hair, and who now called her Lina amid strings of badly broken Common and chattering Arcanum… this boy was sweet, and clever, and altogether loveable.
The guilt prodded her again, making her stomach twist. It wasn't that she'd lost any of her determination to undo the spell; if anything, every moment of peering down into devastatingly familiar eyes in a child's face made her rile against this useless waiting all the more. She knew he constantly had her scarf tucked into a pocket or held in his little fist like a security blanket, but she had no idea what to make of that, except that the sight of it made her want to storm into the Undercity and tear that husk of a mage limb from limb, or just start weeping.
There were no demons or maleficars to fight, no puzzle to solve or lost book to find— it was infuriating.
This was far too similar to the feeling of the floor opening up in a yawning chasm under her feet, and she'd already suffered enough of that when he'd walked out. All I wanted was to be happy, just for a little while. Forgive me. She hadn't thought she could ever miss him more than she had at that moment, sitting alone on the edge of her bed. This sweet, clever, lovable little boy was proving her wrong.
There was an almighty crash from the library, and the ruckus was more than enough to shake Malina loose from her spiral into misery. Dropping the letters she had been mindlessly sorting through, she ran towards the source of the sound, ignoring her mother's alarmed question from upstairs. There was no wailing or cries of an injured child, but the silence simply made the icy fear tear through her even worse.
Nothing was out of place on the first floor, and Malina bounded up the stairs three at a time, only to find a very embarrassed mabari cowering beside an overturned table, the remains of an unfortunate potted plant, and a battlefield of scattered miscellany. Two bottles of what had been very fine brandy were now in pieces, and the liquor was already soaking the pages of Anders' manifesto, a new draft he'd asked her to look over weeks before. What she didn't see was Leto.
"Leto," she called, a little calmer at the absence of blood. "Are you hurt, sweetheart?" Behind her, footsteps and a gasp heralded her mother's arrival. Asher folded one paw over his nose, whining.
"Oh, Maker have mercy—" Stepping carefully around a honey-brown puddle, her mother used the toe of her slipper to push one of the larger shards of pottery back towards the centre of the mess. She sounded worried, not cross at all, and a small, immature voice in the back of Malina's head groused about grandmotherly doting. "What— Is Leto all right? Where is he, darling?"
"Hiding, no doubt." She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Asher, stop blubbering and show me where Leto's gone. Gently, please."
The hound kept his head lowered apologetically, but did as he was bid, standing slowly and padding over to one of the cabinets lining the far wall. He didn't even bother to pretend he had to sniff out his partner in crime, moving directly to the last cabinet on the right and nosing pitifully at its doors. Malina considered waiting for Orana, just to forestall any miscommunications, but the girl might not have even heard the crash from where she was taking in the laundry from the back garden.
No, she and Leto had developed a rapport, despite speaking mostly through gesture and guesswork. She could do this without scaring him… she just needed to be cautious, or risk undoing four days of hard work.
She breathed deeply, falling back on the calming exercises her father had taught her and Bethany to try and centre themselves. "Mother, will you please go fetch me some rags and a bucket to clean this mess? We've got a mire of brandy flavoured mud, and it's going to start seeping down the stairs."
The idea of such a sticky, filthy swamp tracking farther through the estate was enough to send her mother into a tizzy, which served its purpose of emptying the library for at least a few moments. Malina waited for her mother's voice— calling a little frantically for Bodahn— to disappear off in the direction of the kitchen before she approached the cabinet. Asher whimpered, and she shooed him away.
She knocked very lightly on the cabinet door, but much as she'd expected, there was no sound from inside. Very slowly, she opened the door just a crack; in the sliver of light, she could only make out a pair of socks on tiny feet, leading into slim legs that disappeared under a pile of folded linens.
"Leto," she whispered, and the socks didn't even twitch. "You're scaring me by hiding. Please come out." After a moment of waiting, the linens shifted and a mop of dark hair appeared, tousled up in all directions. Wide, guilty eyes followed, and when Leto realised he was being watched, he sunk lower in his camouflage, though he didn't hide his face again.
"There you are." She smiled, opening the door wider and wiggling her fingers in a silly wave. "Thank you, love."
He blinked, pulling an arm free of the linens to scrub at the tear tracks on his face, but otherwise didn't move. There was a certain furrow to his brow that she recognised— he was trying to think of the word he wanted in Common. Finally, just when she was about to stop him from knuckling at his eye, he spoke.
"Sorry." She dared to reach out then, taking his fist in one hand while she brushed his hair away from his face with the other. "Sorry... sad. Sorry."
Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss against his forehead, then pulled him into a hug when he started burrowing towards her. "Hush, love. It's all right."
Very early in the morning on the sixth day— early enough that there was no sunlight creeping under her bedroom door, and the house was still silent in sleep— Malina woke with a start at the feeling of something hard being pulled from under her cheek. Her skin from her jaw to the corner of her eye was aching, but it was the feeling of a too-large body in bed beside her that sent her scrambling back across the mattress.
"Lina, no— wait—" Maker, she knew that voice, that gorgeous, deep timbre, but it was too late. Her heart leap up into her throat as the world fell away, and all the air in her body rushed out of her lungs when she hit the floor. Her bum and lower back cracked against stone, sending lightning up her spine, and her legs were tangled in the sheets, trapping her with her feet still caught up in bed. Oh Andraste's flaming sword and pyre, she'd never felt so graceful.
The nightdress twisted around her thighs was barely preserving her modesty, which was a meagre comfort when Fenris' head appeared, peering over the edge of the bed. "Are you all right?"
There were several answers she could have given to that question, but all of them tried to escape at once, cramming together in her throat. It was probably for the best, anyway— at least half of those answers were probably ridiculous.
"Fine," she managed, sitting up with a groan as her back howled in protest. Before she could work up the gumption to kick her feet free, Malina found herself being scooped up by a pair of startlingly strong arms, and deposited gently on the mattress right beside a very adult, very shirtless elf.
Her hands opened, then clenched as she fought the urge to cup his face— his face. Even if she hadn't had the wind knocked out of her, Malina wasn't entirely convinced she'd be any more articulate just then.
Then the very last thing she'd been expecting happened: Fenris reached out and rubbed his callused fingers against her cheek.
"You fell asleep on the book," he said, his tone quiet and shockingly gentle. "You… you read to me, and the sound of your voice kept the nightmares away. You cared for me, like a mother with a child. I remember." She had no words, just tightness in her chest and heat welling up in her eyes, but Fenris wasn't finished.
He paused, tilting his head to study her, and tucked a few locks of hair behind her ear. When he leaned in, his movements smooth and quick just as they should have been, she gasped a surprised breath that her lungs could ill-afford. That may have been why she was suddenly so light-headed, but his mouth pressed against hers while his hand cradled her jaw could have had something to do with it as well.
He was kissing her, more tenderly than she'd ever considered possible from him, maybe from anyone, and Malina prayed desperately that this was not another excruciating dream. Then he pulled back, resting his forehead against hers and letting his breath ghost across her moist lips. It was… if it was a dream, she just prayed she wouldn't wake up yet.
"Lina—" Her name was a rumble from deep in his chest, sending her shivering. "Thank you. I expected you to hate me after… after I left, but you are forever proving me wrong." Sometime during the kiss, she'd closed her eyes, but the brush of his thumb along her cheekbone made her open them again.
The lines on his chin shimmered faintly, drawing her gaze down his throat where her eyes might be able to focus. There were tattered remains of what had been a child's nightclothes strewn around him, and with his hand still warm on her face, she couldn't hold back any longer. Reaching out, she pressed her palm against his collarbone, letting her fingers curl against the crook of his neck. Maker's breath, he was so solid and real.
"I'm sorry," he said, his words vibrating against her hand, but the quake they caused shuddered all the way down into her heart. "For being such a coward. For leaving." He kissed her again, briefly on the corner of her mouth, and when she pulled him closer, she felt his lips curl into a crooked smile.
"And," he murmured, while his free arm slid around her back, trailing a slow burn of want and care and Fenris. "I'm sorry about your plant."