Disclaimer: All characters (excluding my stone cold bitch Haltera) belong to Bioware, because my imagination is good, but it ain't THAT good.
As she fell, Merrill couldn't help but wonder what had possessed her to attempt to shove him aside. Yes, she'd seen the ground crumble, and he'd been too distracted to hear her warnings, so she had tried to shove him out of harm's way. Unfortunately, her slight frame had not been enough to move the rock-encased human almost twice her size. He had glanced down at her with a raised eyebrow, before their combined weight had overtaxed the crumbling floor, and they'd both found themselves falling into the cavern below. Oh well, Merrill thought, at least Anders can heal us when we hit the bottom.
Anders groaned, rubbing his aching head as he looked around. He lay on a very uncomfortable pile of rock, and he was fairly sure he'd broken a rib or two. He spotted Merrill lying just behind him, and with a wince, moved to see what he could do for her. She was alive at least, but unconscious, and bleeding from a nasty head wound.
The silly girl must have realised the floor was giving way and tried to help him, he thought. He had heard her shout something moments before they fell, but had ignored her, focusing instead on shooting lightening at the skeletons trying to hack him to pieces. Suddenly, he'd felt her weight hit him, and looked down to see why, raising an eyebrow as she tried to push him, then gave him an apologetic look as the ground gave way.
"Blondie? Daisy? You down there?" Varric's voice drifted down from high above him. Anders looked up to see the silhouette of two heads looking down from the cave above.
"Of course they're down there Varric, it's a blighted hole." Anders heard Haltera snap at the rogue.
"Calm down Hawke, it's a figure of speech." Anders could practically hear Varric rolling his eyes.
"When you two are done bickering, could you toss down some of the spare lyrium potions? Merrill is just a little unconscious." Anders called up in a dry, sarcastic tone.
"Praise the Maker! Give us a moment; I'll pad the bottles so they won't smash." Hawke called, and Anders heard her scamper away.
"I don't suppose we have any rope?" Anders asked hopefully.
"Sorry Blondie." Varric called back. "Hawke and I can head back to Kirkwall and get some, but you two will be stuck down there for at least the night."
"Anders, catch." Haltera ordered as her silhouette joined Varric's once more, and Anders just managed to catch the pack she dropped down before it landed on Merrill. "That pack has some food and all my spare potions in it. Varric and I will be back in the morning with Aveline and Fenris to get you out. Sleep tight." With that sentiment she was gone, already striding towards the cave's entrance.
"'Night Blondie. Take care of Daisy for me." Varric called as he followed her.
Anders took a swig of lyrium, and got to work healing Merrill. He was ravenous by the time he was done, and dug into Hawke's pack for in search of food. The pack turned out to contain a packet of dried beef strips and hard bread, the usual travel rations Hawke carried to keep her going. He was chewing away at a strip of meat, wishing he had something to wash it down with other than lyrium, when Merrill began to stir.
"Oh Creators have mercy, my head!" she groaned.
"Try not to move too quickly," Anders said as he moved to help her sit up, an elfroot potion in hand. "Here, drink this. It should help with the pain." He brought the bottle to her lips, and she drank gratefully. He returned the empty bottle to the pack once she'd finished, and turned back to see her directing a very sorrowful and apologetic look at him.
"I'm so sorry!" The apology burst from her lips as though a dam had breeched within her. "I saw the floor crack, and you couldn't hear me over the battle, I should have dragged you away with vines, or knocked you forward with a rock, not added my own weight, I should have known you were too strong for me to push over and now we're stuck and I'm so sorry!"
"Merrill, it's alright, calm down," he said, hands raised in a calming gesture. "It's my fault, I should have paid more attention when I heard you shout. Hawke and Varric have gone back to Kirkwall to get help; we'll be out of here by morning." Merrill took a deep breath, and finally seemed to calm down.
"Alright then. Do we have anything to eat? I'm rather hungry."
They ate together in companionable silence, the sound of their chewing all that could be heard in the confines of the cavern.
"It's very dark down here." Merrill said mildly once she'd eaten.
"Yes," Anders agreed, pulling his coat tighter around himself as he conjured a wisp of light, leaning back against the wall. "Cold too. Night must have fallen."
"I don't suppose we have anything to burn either?"
"Not unless you know a spell that can set fire to rocks."
"I thought so." Silence returned, sitting opposite each other, Merrill's knees drawn up to her chest to keep warm.
"Do you…do you ever have doubts, Anders?" Merrill asked quietly after a time. "About joining with Justice, I mean."
Anders looked at her in surprise for a long moment, not quite sure what had spurred her question.
"I suppose," he replied at last. "But then I think about all the mages locked in the circle, which will never know freedom until someone makes the necessary sacrifice." Merrill nodded gravely.
"I get like that sometimes. I wonder if maybe I miscalculated, made the wrong choices…but then I think of all the elf children, city and Dalish, that will grow up not knowing where they came from, what it was like to have a home."
"You had a home Merrill." Anders pointed out, remembering a similar point Fenris had once made to her.
"No, I had a family, a clan, but I didn't have a home. Nowhere was safe to stay too long, there is nowhere my people can go where they are not looked on as little more than intelligent beasts, to be tamed or destroyed."
"Something mages and elves have in common." Anders said quietly. "But is dealing with demons really worth what knowledge you might get from that mirror?"
"I don't know, is giving your body to a fade spirit really worth what you might be able to do for the mages?" Merrill shot back hotly. "I know what I am, Anders, and I know the risks. But you said so yourself, freedom will only come if someone is willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I choose to make that sacrifice."
"It's not quite the same," Anders said, raising a hand to silence her as she opened her mouth to argue further. "But I get what you're trying to say. I suppose I can understand your position, even if I do think blood magic isn't the answer."
"Thank you." The smile she gave him over the tops of her knees was radiant. "It's nice to know someone understands. I feel so very alone sometimes." A shiver wracked her small frame, and her teeth began to chatter. Anders sighed, and began unbuttoning the front of his coat.
"Come here. We can't have you catching your death down here." He gestured her over, and she moved to his side, not quite sure what he wanted. He huffed, and pulled her onto his lap, wrapping them both inside his coat. She cuddled up against his chest, blushing furiously even as she savoured the warmth his body provided. She wiggled about a little, getting comfortable, until Anders suddenly cried out in shock.
"Oh I'm sorry Anders, are you hurt? I didn't know!"
"Yes, my ribs," Anders lied hurriedly, although in truth he'd healed them while Merrill was unconscious. "Just, sit still and try to get some sleep. Goodnight Merrill."
"Goodnight Anders." She rested her head on his chest, noting that his heart was beating very fast. It must be a human trait, she thought. Anders leant his head back against the wall, trying very hard to ignore how her grinding against his lap had affected him.
Merrill woke several hours later, tucked up against Anders' chest, the feel of his slow, rhythmic breathing oddly comforting. She raised her head to watch him sleep, noting how carefree he looked, all stress gone from his features. His hair had fallen from it's tie in the fall, and his golden hair framed his face, matching the colour of his perpetual scruff. She'd always wondered what it felt like, and raised a hand to lightly trace a finger along his jaw. It felt rough and prickly, yet petting it was strangely soothing. Anders twitched slightly in his sleep, mumbling something in a language she didn't know. She suppressed a giggle as she thought of how adorable he was when he slept, reminding her of a ginger cat curled up in the sun. She wondered if he would purr if she scratched his chin.
His eyelids flittered, and Merrill became very aware of how close their faces were, almost nose to nose, and she could feel the brush of his breath against her lips. She swallowed and tucked her head back against his chest, trying to ignore her own blush. He shifted slightly below her, the rhythm of his breathing changing as he returned from the Fade. He rubbed a hand to his eyes, before gently shaking her shoulder.
"Merrill, time to wake up," he said softly, and Merrill bit her lip at the feel of his breath against her ear. She groaned theatrically, as though only just waking, untucking her body from it's cramped position to stretch.
"Merrill!" Anders cried again, as she inadvertently ground against him. This time Merrill felt the effect she was having on him, and stared at the other mage in shock.
"Sorry, that happens to a lot of males in the morning." Anders explained apologetically.
"Oh. So that's…normal then?" she asked, looking very unsure of the situation.
"Yes," he asserted, feeling very awkward.
"Would you mind getting off me?"
"Oh. Oh! Yes, sorry," she said as she scrambled out of his lap. She instantly lamented the loss of his warmth, but there was little she could do about it. "Shall I toast some of the bread for breakfast?" she asked, anxious for something to occupy herself with.
"Yes," Anders said gratefully. "Here, I'll cut it for you." They worked busily, using magic to make toasted sandwiches of the last of the meat and bread. Once eaten, there was little for them to do besides wait in silence.
Anders found himself arguing internally with Justice, who complained they were wasting time, conveniently ignoring the fact that they were trapped. His thoughts drifted to the cave's other occupant, and Justice began listing ways in Merrill might be used to help their cause. That sparked further argument, with Anders completely unaware of Merrill watching his expressions change with rapt fascination.
"She's a person, not a tool!" Anders snapped hotly, belated aware he'd said it out loud.
"Are you too arguing about Hawke?" Merrill enquired.
"Er, how did you figure that?" he asked, avoiding the question.
"She's the only woman I can think of that would have the influence Justice might want. I certainly wouldn't want to side against her." Anders snorted.
"Aside from Bethany, I'd say you're the only person who might survive siding against her. You're the only person I've ever actually seen her make the effort to be nice to."
"Really? I have noticed she is very …harsh when dealing with most people. Is she really nicer to me than everyone else?"
"Well, there is Fenris, but put two powerful warriors both angry at the world in the same room, and if they don't kill each other they're bound to get along like a house on fire. From what I've seen, she hates mages, and yet she adores you." Merrill laughed at that.
"She doesn't hate mages, Anders, if she did neither of us would be alive. She just doesn't trust people, that's all, mages included."
"So why does she trust you?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm not sure," she said with a shrug. "Probably because I mostly only use blood magic when she asks, with her keeping an eye on me."
"Wait, Hawke ASKS you to use blood magic?" Anders asked incredulously. She nodded, her large, earnest eyes not comprehending his surprise. He ground his teeth in frustration, although he knew he really shouldn't be surprised. Hawke shared Merrill's view that blood magic could be used responsibly. Anders swore he would never understand that woman as long as he lived.
"Do you hear that?" Merrill asked suddenly, cocking her head to one side. Anders sat very still, ears straining, until the sound of footsteps reached them. They both looked up, and Anders almost wanted to cheer when he saw Fenris peering down into their hole.
"You two awake down there?" They heard Varric's voice call as his head joined Fenris'. "Rescue has arrived."
"Varric!" Merrill called up excitedly.
"Good to hear you're up and about Daisy." Varric responded, relief clear in his tone. "We'll have you out of there in no time." A rope began to descend down the shaft, and as they waited, Merrill turned to Anders.
"Could we be friends now, Anders? I've always wanted another mage for a friend, and you were so very understanding last night -,"
"Yes Merrill," He cut off her babbling, reaching for the rope with a chuckle. "We can be friends."
As they made their way back to Kirkwall, Anders fell back to talk with Hawke.
"What do you want, Anders?" she asked in a bored voice, giving him an irritated look. Anders' eyes narrowed as he matched her look.
"Merrill said that you ask her to use blood magic. Is it true?"
"Yes, Anders. What's your point?"
"You are aware that the more she uses it, the more she exposes herself to the demon's influence?"
"And should she succumb to it, I'll take steps. Is that all?"
"No," Anders said defiantly. "I've known you for years now, and you don't truly trust anybody outside of your mother and sister, mages least of all. And yet you trust Merrill, a blood mage." Haltera snorted.
"You know, I always thought it was funny that Merrill was the only thing you and Fenris ever agreed on. You both look at her and see your own worst experiences with magic. I trust Merrill, because aside from the blood magic, the woman is a complete innocent. She has always been forthcoming about what she is, she never lies, never deceives, and if you truly knew me you would know that I respect that," she replied, and then looked at him sideways suspiciously. "Why does it matter to you that I ask her to use blood magic?"
"She's a fellow mage," Anders replied with a shrug. "So many in Kirkwall are lost to the demons as it is. I'd rather not lose a friend to them too." Haltera looked surprised, and almost approving.
"Huh. Glad to see you little impromptu sleepover helped you to see sense. I never thought I'd see you count a blood mage as a friend."
"Yes, well you're right," he admitted with a shrug. "Once you look past the magic, she really is an innocent. As her friend, I might be able to help her keep that innocence." Haltera rolled her eyes.
"If it makes you feel any better, I only ever call on Merrill's blood magic as a last resort, so it only happens once in a blue moon. Now stop pestering me."
It was midmorning the next day when Merrill arrived at Anders' clinic in Darktown. He saw her enter, and called a surprised greeting before he returned to examining a heavily pregnant young woman. It was a busy day, and he forgot she was there until he turned to go in search of burn salve, only to find the pot being offered to him by a smiling elf. He took it with a muttered thanks, giving instructions on it's use to his patient before turning back to her.
"What brings you down here Merrill?" he asked, absently brushing dirt off his coat. She looked up at him shyly.
"I'd like to help, if I can. I've finished my errands for today, and you seem to be terribly busy, and I was taught a little healing, not the magical kind, the normal kind, and Varric says it's good for me to leave the house every once in a while and I brought us some lunch and I'll just stop talking now." Anders couldn't help but smile at the adorable elf.
"Oh course you can help, it's always nice to have a few volunteers."
He was soon lost in his healing again as the afternoon brought the injured from an accident at the docks. Merrill turned out to be an excellent triage nurse, judging what needed immediate attention and what could wait, bandaging and treating minor wounds while Anders saved lives with complex surgeries. Every time he felt himself reaching exhaustion, a small lyrium potion would be silently left at his side before he even saw her do it.
Evening came, and Anders felt about ready to collapse as he doused the lanterns at the door, having finally treated all the injured workers.
"Thank you so much for today, Merrill," he said fervently as he sat down inside. "I don't think I could have saved so many today without you."
"Oh, that's very kind of you Anders, but you really should eat something," she replied, looking concerned. "I'm sorry, but I gave our lunch away to some children. Do you have any food here?" He looked at her blankly.
"You know, I actually have no idea if I do or not," he said sheepishly.
"Oh well, you'll just have to have dinner at my house then," she said cheerfully as she dragged him out of his chair and out the door.
"Wait, what?" he spluttered, fighting through his exhaustion.
"You haven't eaten all day, aside from lyrium, and you don't have any food of your own. I can't very well let my friend starve, can I?"
"Well, a home cooked meal does sound good," Anders relented, silently telling Justice to shut up, he couldn't free the mages on an empty stomach, and he knew from experience that Merrill was a fine cook. The spirit grumbled, but grudgingly admitted that Merrill's blueberry muffins were a worthy distraction.