Copyright Bioware and so forth.
Two things became very clear to Hawke when they found the entrance to the Deep Roads and began the week long descent to their destination.
Firstly, it was bloody awful. He could see why Anders had been reluctant to come with them on the expedition. Darkness surrounded them, crushing them almost as much as rock. The only light other than the torches was the occasional Lyrium vein that had broken through to the massive corridors. The silence was oppressive. Everyone was listening. Even with a Grey Warden amongst them any sound the expedition didn't recognise was thought to possibly be Darkspawn.
The second was the expedition had accounted for everything: food, water, some spare armour, spare weapons, chests for transporting whatever they found back. Everyone had thought of everything.
Everyone except Merrill. Picking herself up off the floor with Aveline's help she was rubbed her forehead, whimpering in pain. She'd fallen over after standing on a sharp rock yet again.
A long suffering sigh drew her gaze and she saw Hawke standing close by with his arms crossed, looking very cross. Varric looked on more sympathetically behind him as again the mage cursed herself for her own lack of foresight. In the forests and grasslands of the surroundings of Kirkwall, and the smooth stone of Kirkwall itself being barefoot wasn't a problem. Even on the smooth Deep Roads it wasn't that much of a problem. The rubble of the collapsed ceilings covering the Deep Roads, or along the side routes the Darkspawn had mined? Very different story.
How Merrill wished she'd thought of shoes. Fenris had; she could see one of his armour clad feet by one of the wagons, and probably one of his sneers too if she looked up. Balancing on a leg and Aveline she picked a rather nasty bit of stone out of her foot while pretending everyone wasn't looking at her again, that Varric's bad tempered brother wasn't glaring at her or (she felt really bad about this) that Hawke wasn't... what would Isabella call that look? Smouldering, she guessed, angrily at her. She tried to console herself with the thought that at least this one didn't seem to have broken the skin like last time, scratching a bit of dried blood off her foot.
Hawke choked down the urge to yell at her. Fenris had thought of wearing some bloody boots, why couldn't she? Well, he knew the answer to that already.
"Your friend's holding us up," snapped Bartrand signalling the group to keep moving. "We're not even a day in and she's slowing us down." Stomping back to the front, he snapped over the sound of the moving group. "And every time she shrieks like a scalded nug she lets the Darkspawn know we're here."
"Anders can sense them remember?" Hawke called back. Batrand either didn't hear or didn't respond. Hawke was looking forward to parting company with the little bastard. Varric was clearly the one in the family who'd got the charm. He looked back to Merrill; she was cautiously putting weight on her foot.
"Come on," Hawke turned to catch up with the group. "Bartrand's right, you're slowing us down."
Eyes downcast, Merrill fell in line.
Come their first break the others (especially Batrand and Hawke) were getting steadily more angry with her. Walking gently over to a nearby a lyrium outcrop she perched herself on a nearby rock and used the light to pop the catch off the jar's lid. Pulling a leg up the elf grimaced at the sight.
Bits of rock were stuck in her skin and the blood from her cuts had soaked up the dust. Which had promptly clung to her when it had dried.
This was one of the reasons why they were getting really mad, apart from her slowing them down and occasionally crying out in pain without warning and making them all jump. It was only her first jar, but some of the stones were so bad she'd begun to eat into their healing poultices to heal the cuts. Anders needed his reserves in case any fighting occurred (and the more serious injuries that always came with them) but their poultices and potions were quite limited. Mainly because Bartrand was stingy no doubt.
She quietly sighed. And she was using them on trivial things because she'd not thought of some boots, Dread-wolf take her. She took a breath soothe her mind. Moping wouldn't help anyone. She needed to get her feet patched up quickly so she wouldn't slow them down even more.
By the time they set up camp for the 'night' Merrill was feeling wretched, quietly limping off around an outcrop in camp to take care of her aching feet with a candle and the healing poultice she'd started using.
Despite her best efforts she kept finding sharp rocks until she'd stood on one sharp rock too many. It was a pretty bad cut too, she could feel it, and her vision blurred with tears of pain and she sat on the floor. At that point though even Varric and Aveline and Isabella were starting to get... well not really angry as far as she could tell, more exasperated. They'd probably get angry later. Hawke had given her that look again before scooping her up with a growl and carried her in his arms without a word. She'd been going to thank him, but the look on his face made the words die in her throat. She'd spent the rest of the time gazing into her lap, the dull throbbing lines in her feet keeping her company.
So... yes, the first day of the expedition and it was already starting to go badly, and all because of her. She'd heard Varric's brother yelling that anyway on the other side of camp.
"We haven't covered half what we were supposed to today because of that stupid girl!"
Varric was trying to soothe his brother's nerves from what she could hear (or at least, the murmuring sounded like soothing noises) when the elder sibling suddenly yelled "What are you doing with that damned thing?"
The dull sound of the some kind of hide armour hitting the ground. It was followed by Hawke's curt "Take it out my cut." His voice had that edge that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, the one that made even the people in Hightown listen to him.
"...fine." Bartrand knew when not to push.
Things went back to quiet murmuring amongst the party as people realised whatever had happened was over, Merrill turning her attention back to her feet. Applying a small dab along where she felt the stinging pain, she stopped when she heard someone coming.
It was Hawke. He had a small bowl of water and a cloth in his hands. Carefully planting it amongst the rubble he knelt down in front of Merrill and without asking for permission, grabbed an ankle. Holding her foot still, he started to gently wash it with the cloth, slowly removing the grime. Merrill watched him breathlessly, painfully aware the tips of her ears were burning. He was gently squeezing her ankle in time to every upward rub, and it felt good, even if it did sting when he rubbed a bruise or a cut.
The water slowly turned from clear to brown to red in the flickering light as he washed away the filth and the blood.
Taking the forgotten poultice jar from her hand, he placed it next to the small bowl and it's now filthy cloth. Scooping some with a pair of fingers, he took a foot in his hand again, and slowly rubbed the mixture into her wounds. Tensing at the familiar tingling stinging sensation of it working Merrill forced herself to relax, enjoying the dimming pain and Hawk's hands kneading her flesh. He kept gently rubbing her feet before he took one in both hands, slowly rubbing the arch of her foot with his thumbs with a firm pressure. Eyes lidded with pleasure she could hear his heavy breathing as he concentrated, eyes fixed on her feet as he made her squirm. Suddenly he stood, towering over her with an unflinching gaze that made her nervous.
"Try not to repeat today," he muttered, stalking away with his bowl in hand.
Merrill watched him go. She would never understand him. One minute he was nice, then he was rude then... She sighed. Even though all she couldn't quite make out what it was, Varric had begun a story, he had his 'Story Voice' on. Not wanting to miss it, she hurried to join them. Sitting with the others listening to Varric's story, she forgot the troubles of the day and felt herself smile for the first time since entering the Deep Roads.
Hawke sat on a nearby rock facing away from them. Ignoring them, doing something with a suit of hide armour piled in front of him. When they were went to their bedrolls, the fire growing dim, he was still hunched over the armour, candle by his knee, fiddling with strips of leather too, a wickedly sharp dagger lying by his side.
When she opened her eyes the fire seemed a bit brighter. Blinking the traces of her sleep away Merrill wasn't sure where she was for a moment before the elf saw all the stone. Grimacing at the memory and the inevitable repetition of events today (along with Hawke getting angry with her) she started to get up, wondering who'd started (or kept) the fire going.
She didn't get three paces before she trod on another rock and with a yelp fell flat on her front. At least she hadn't bit her tongue this time. Whimpering at the throbbing ache in her elbows, knees and palms she blinked back the tears to see a familiar pair of shins. Following them up she felt her blood freeze as Hawke glowered at her with tired bloodshot eyes. Without warning he reached down, grabbed her by the elbow and wrenched her back up to standing, dragging her away from where the rest of the sleeping, back to where she'd healed her feet last night. As tried to keep up with his unrelenting grip and long strides, she whimpered quietly in fear.
Forcing her to sit she scooted back in dread at what he was going to do. Swallowing, she nervously murmured his name. He ignored her.
"What are you doing?"
"Sorting out your feet Merrill," he muttered back.
He must have got a bad night's sleep and with all his family's hopes resting on this expedition and her constantly slowing them down he was going to... kneel down at her feet again, and gently unbuckle the straps holding her chainmail in place. She blinked in confusion.
She didn't understand. Once he'd got one shin exposed he worked on the other one, flipping the chainmail up onto her lap once again. Her shins exposed, he brought his other hand up from his side and into her view. Merrill's hand flew to her face and she felt her heart melt.
In Hawke's hand... was a pair of thick sandals.
"Hawke, you... you..." she could feel her eyes watering, realising what he'd wanted that hide armour for. Blinking back the tears, she suddenly understood why he looked so tired. "You've.. you've been making these all night!" she gasped.
He nodded wearily as he slipped the first one onto her foot. "You couldn't go on like that Merrill. These aren't perfect, but they'll work." She gave him a warm smile. Hawke hadn't been getting angry. He'd been getting upset.
"Hawke?" she almost whispered, self consciousness flooding her. "I... I've never worn a pair of shoes before."
He gave her a tired smile. "You'll get used to them, don't worry."
They felt strange, but the leather straps running between her toes felt... nice. And the way it firmly held the thick soles to her feet made her stomach tingle slightly, like it wa-
Hawke moved to work the long straps up her leg. Slowly crossing over the skin, the cool stripes quickly warmed to her body, a nice sensation against the cold of the Deep Roads. Hawkes fingertips were stroking her skin as he pulled the leather tight across her leg and the tingle in her stomach grew the higher they went. He suddenly grabbed her calve and pulled her closer to him, working on her other the same way. Once he was done, his hands lingered a moment longer than they should before he pulled the chainmail back down and refastened the buckles, hands lingering, stroking the back of her legs.
Gazing down gently, Merrill's smile was glowing. "Thank you so much Hawke." Suddenly unable to meet her gaze, Hawke nodded. "Next time bring some damned boots," he muttered half-heartedly, lacking any real resentment. "I'll remember," she promised with a small giggle. "I might need some help getting these on, until I get used to them."
The human nodded at the unasked question as he stood. "I'll help."
A familiar voice ruined the moment.
"Awww, how sweet," Varric smirked. "I see you dragging Daisy off with a murderous look only to find out you're giving up being an adventurer for a cobbler."
Hawke went rigid. Even in the dim light of the candle Merrill could see Hawke blushing furiously. Sensing the immanent explosion (Hawke was grumpy at the best of times, let alone when sleep deprived) she stood.
"Thank you Hawke, truly," she quietly murmured to him before she scampered past an amused Varric. When a rock push ineffectually at the bottom of the hide sandals she giggled happily. Everything was going to be all right.
"Not One. Fucking. Word. Varric!" echoed around the (now awake) camp.
Nearly everything anyway.
Remember when I mentioned in Grumpy I had some stuff brewing? This wasn't one of them. This is what happens when you see an adorable comic (Deep Descent) that makes you want to write something based off it, and get permission from the artist (~PolymorphicGirl) to do so. Seriously, search it on deviantart. I ended up deviating (dohohohoh) from her comic quite a bit (such as using a blank slate Hawke) and her artwork is lovely and distinctive so it's well worth seeing. And her other stuff is great too.
Anyway, enough gushing from me, bugger off and look it up if you haven't already.
As always, please leave a review because they help motivate me when I get inspired.