Reward or Punishment

Merrill hung back by the clinic's entrance when Haltera went to confront Anders. Sebastian followed her lead, observing the young mage's reactions intently as she cringed during the screaming match and gasped when Anders suggested he leave. The exiled prince placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, smiling down sympathetically when she looked up at him in surprise. She flashed him a grateful smile, even as her thoughts churned uneasily.

Elgar'nan, I can't believe I did that! Justice could have killed me!She thought to herself. Her hands still shook slightly from their harrowing exchange in the caverns below the Gallows. At the time she had been so sure, so certain that her Anders would never willingly hurt her. The realisation that she thought of him as hers had shocked her slightly, but in retrospect, it really shouldn't have. She spent as much time as she could in the human mage's presence, her wandering feet always somehow finding their way to Darktown, as though drawn by an unseen force. She wondered what her clan would think of the way she looked at the older mage, admiring his selflessness and drive, as well as the way the light made his golden hair shine, or the way his shoulders filled out his shirt. He was so different to all the other men she had met, not slight and delicate-looking like elves, but not scary or intimidating like most human men. To her, he had become a symbol of warmth and safety, and dare she even think it, affection. She had never been any good at reading people, and she had dared not act on her feelings, for fear they were not shared.

Relief flooded her as Hawke scoffed at Anders' offer to leave, mocking his conviction to expertly goad him into staying. She shoved Ser Alrik's letter into his hands and turned and left, a dutiful Sebastian following. Merrill quietly closed the door behind them, leaving her alone in the clinic with stunned mage.

Anders stared down at the parchment he clutched, the proof that the Tranquil Solution had never been a true threat. Relieved as he was by this news, a new dread filled his being. Mages(Merrill) were safe from Ser Alrik, but not from him. He knew exactly how close he had come to killing her today, and that knowledge shook him to his very core. He had finally realised just how dangerous he was, even to those he sought to free.

"Anders?" He heard her ask tentatively from behind him.

"You shouldn't be here Merrill," he stated quietly without turning. He didn't deserve to even look at her.

"I'm…sorry?" Merrill was confused by his statement. She'd always been welcome at the clinic before. She moved around to force him to face her.

"I almost killed you!" he cried in anguish, and Merrill could now see the horror and pain in his eyes. His hands gripped her shoulders and he forced himself to look her dead in the eye. "I'm not safe for you to be around, Merrill. I could hurt you. And that might kill me as surely as the Templars." He prayed she would understand, and stay away. It would be torture, only seeing her when they both accompanied Hawke, but he would do it. He would do anything to keep this sweet elf safe.

"Oh, I get it now!" Merrill suddenly said brightly. Anders let himself sigh in relief. "You're trying to run away from your problems again." Anders froze at the statement, stunned.

"What?" he managed to ask.

"I've noticed this about you," she said sagely, stepping away from him to move the kettle over the fire. "Most problems you try to fix. I think it's probably a part of your nature, being a healer." She added tea to the kettle. "But if you don't know how to fix it or handle it, you get scared, and run away. You didn't know how to handle being in the circle without Karl, so you ran away. You didn't know how the wardens would react to your merge with Justice, so you ran away. And now," She paused to pour them both a steaming cup of tea. "You're afraid of losing control around me." She said it simply, knowing it to be fact. She sipped at her tea. "But you can't run away. Hawke pointed out that you're too committed here. But you can," She handed him his mug. "Push me away. Is that everything, or did I miss something?"

"Merrill, I…" His eyes caste down, and he looked almost ashamed. "I don't know how else to fix this." The admittance was difficult, and he was surprised to hear her giggle.

"Don't be silly Anders. There's nothing to fix. You already proved today that you're strong enough to stop Justice from doing something truly horrible."

"I almost killed you and that girl!"

"But you didn't. You stopped yourself." She paused for a moment, her pale cheeks blushing pink. "I'm glad to know you care so much."

"Well, ah, yes I, I value you as a, ah, friend, and ah…" Anders stuttered, blushing harder than Merrill. He raised the mug to his lips as though attempting to hide behind it.

"Oh." Anders didn't miss the disappointed note.

You Are Lying. Justice rumbled from the back of his brain.

"Quiet you!" Anders muttered. Merrill looked at him quizzically.

Lying Is Unjust.

"Yes, I know, I'm trying to protect her!"

She Is Strong. She Does Not Need Protection. Stop Lying.

"I'm not lying!"

You Are Not Speaking The Truth.

"I care about her, alright? Happy now?"

She is.

Anders suddenly remembered the audience to his one-sided argument. Merrill was smiling shyly at him.

"So you do care about me?" He sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Yes. I do, and I shouldn't." Merrill cocked one delicate eyebrow.

"Why not?"

"I'm dangerous, Merrill. And I am far too old for you."

"Really? How old are you?"

"I'm twenty eight," he replied with a grimace.

"Oh that's good. I thought maybe I had got it really wrong and you were fifty or something like that." Anders snorted.

"I'll be lucking if I see fifty. Which is another reason I shouldn't ca-"

Anders was cut off when Merrill suddenly grabbed his lapels and pulled his mouth down to hers. A floodgate burst within him, and he pulled her lithe body against his, kissing her with all the passion and longing he had held in check for so long. Both their mugs of tea had fallen to the ground, forgotten. With one hand fisted in his hair, Merrill greedily took all he had to give, an electric current of excitement flooding through her as he plundered her delicate mouth. She revelled in the feel of his lips against hers, the taste of him making her giddy as his expert tongue danced its way around her mouth. The sensations were overwhelming, unlike anything she had experienced, and she hungered for what more he could show her. Both were a mess when they finally parted, his hair loose and hers soundly tousled, panting for breath and blushing. Anders gently cupped her cheek, resting his forehead against hers.

"I've tried to resist Merrill," he admitted breathlessly. "But I am only a man."

"Then stop resisting," Merrill replied simply. She took a step back. "Take some time to think about it, and then come to my house tonight. If you decide you truly don't want this…I understand." On that note, she left, the sound of the clinic door shutting behind her echoing through the empty clinic.

Anders sat down heavily onto a nearby crate, still shaking slightly from their powerful kiss.

"Bloody Maker!" he swore. "I swear, you bastard, I can't tell if you're punishing or rewarding me."

A/N: So…this is kind of short, but I intended it to be a sort of preamble to the next chapter, so…fuck it, they finally kissed, I'm happy and I hope you are too. And it would appear my version of Merrill likes to take charge.