"The other mage is down," the deep, gravely voice noted with dry detachment on the edge of her consciousness as the world around her faded out.

The next thing she knew she was staring up into brilliant sunlight, lightly shaded by a blobby-shaped thing that resolved itself into the face of Fenris. The pepper-burn of a healing potion and the acid tang of adrenaline lingered on her tongue. Her other senses clocked in a short moment later, the salt-scent of the air, the sound of wind and seagulls... they had been traveling the wounded coast with Hawke, clearing out a knot of bandits at Avaline's request. The number of bandits had been much larger than they had been anticipating, and Merrill's own magic was not as strong as it normally was because she was taking one of her mandatory "breaks" from the blood magic in order to purge her system and keep her magic healthy.

:My, his eyes are very green,: she thought, looking up into them with an almost spellbound fascination.

The eyes of a Shade Spirit were beautiful and terrible, filled with ancient knowledge but devoid of anything resembling empathy or an ability to connect to others. The ever-changing swirls and vortexes of rainbow colors that characterized Thier eyes at close gaze were beautiful, with a pulling fascination that could capture the unwary. Because of exposure to such uncanny dangerous beauty, Merrill always thought that a regular person's eyes looked bland and dull with its single color and lack of mysterious depth. Suddenly she was coming to think she may have been mistaken to dismiss the ordinary so easily. Much like his personality, Fenris' eyes were sharp and a little dark, but full of a tenacious vitality. It really was quite fascinating, she could sort of feel her self start to fall into them, like if she just let go she'd drown in their green depths and discover a treasure there so precious that it would change everything. All she had to do was-

She blinked as if awakening from a semi-trance, and shook her head to clear it of the strange thoughts that had moved into her mind. She was accustomed to strange thoughts, but really there were limits! She figured that Fenris was definitely one of them.

:That last fellow must have hit me on the head harder than I thought,: she said to herself.

It was Fenris after all, proud sword-carrying member of the Mage-haters-for-life clan. As such he was about as likely a source of romance for her as a tree stump. In fact, given the options, Merrill figured she was more likely to woo the tree stump than she was the Tevinter fugitive. Merrill's mind obligingly supplied the image for her silly whimsy, herself and a tree stump inside a Circle of Bonding with Marethari overseeing the vows and tying the ribbon around her hand connecting to an outreaching branch.

:Still easier to imagine than me and him,: Merrill thought with an inward giggle.

((A.N. And still a better love story than Twilight!))

:Oh, but then all of the other trees in the forest would be jealous I suppose,: her thoughts continued on, wending merrily down their usual strange twists and turns. She had an image of herself having to fight an epic battle with every tree in the forest, trying to crowd in on their love. :And there's not a clan big enough in all the world to marry the whole forest... That must be why Elvhen are not supposed to frolic in the woods.:

"Find your feet, witch," he commanded gruffly, interrupting her thoughts. "It is time we were off."

"You alright, Daisy?" Varric called over from where he was carefully working away at the lock of a chest.

"Just fine," she called back reassuringly to her friend as she looked around for her staff.

"Your magic seems as though it was... less effective than usual," Fenris said frankly. "If you are weakened, you should inform the party so that we can adjust our strategy accordingly."

As usual, Merrill wasn't able to tell if he was scolding her or trying to express something akin to concern (well, for Fenris anyway). She'd say probably both, but for Fenris to be concerned for her would probably cause a rift in the fabric of the universe.

"Och, dinna fash yerself!" Merrill snapped, a rare flash of irritation overtaking her. "Yeh ken I'll be after handling my own affairs. I dinna tell ye how tae swing yer sword mon, I dinna naed yer advise on how tae handle my spells!"

"Your accent," he noted.

"Oh!" she startled, dismayed. "So sorry... it just slipped out there. I'll stop talking."

Now everyone was starting at her. She didn't feel like explaining to them the recent and increasing irritability she'd been developing over the last several months during her regular periods of "fasting." To do blood magic correctly and not to succumb to it meant being very careful, keeping a strict regimen, and above all maintaining ironclad control. Merrill had been consumed by her progress with the mirror the last few days.. or had they been weeks? She was starting to loose track of time.

:Time... and other things...: she thought with a guilty flush.

If she was going to court the dangers of blood magic and not turn out like Fenris repeatedly said she would at every opportunity (belaboring the point really) she needed to be vigilant. She had slipped this last week or so, the progress she was making on the mirror had pushed everything else to the background in importance. She didn't sleep much, but it seemed that she didn't really need to sleep as much anymore. She lost track of day or night, and left her work reluctantly and only to do the bare minimum to keep up her body. It was only when she'd run out of her last scrap of food and her stomach was twisting in agony that Merrill had come out of her semi-trancelike state and awoken fully to her condition.

The mess of her quarters and the fact that she could tell by looking at her body that she'd dropped a lot of weight had felt like a shock of cold water, one that had a chill that lingered even now. She was slipping. She couldn't afford to slip, not with a Fade Spirit involved in the mix. Feeding her body had been the first step, and she had resolved at that moment that a good long fast from the blood magic to reassert her control over herself was in order. Hawke's mission could not have come at a better time. Left to herself, the mirror called her with its unfinished state, silently reprimanding her for not working harder to aid her people and recover thier lost history. Cutting herself off from the extra boost of power that blood magic gave her was becoming much harder than it had ever been.

"Can I help you?" she prompted as Fenris crossed his arms over his breastplate and stared down at her in disapproval.

"You've lost weight, witch."

"Why Fenris, that almost sounded like concern," she said, feeling just a mite uncharitable in the face of his thinly-veiled disdain for her. "Is the sky about to fall do you think? Maybe the Fade will open up and we'll all be invaded by six-foot fluffy, tap-dancing bunnies?"

"I will not be sidetracked by your comments, and no-one is laughing," he said in reply as he paced around her. She looked up at him from where she sat on the sandy ground in exasperation.

"That sing acapella," she finished firmly. After all, the notion was too good a one not to share.

In reply Fenris crouched down in front of her and raked his eagle-eyed gaze over her, scowling in concentration as he took in every feature minutely, searching for something, probably signs that she was loosing hr grip on her blood magic. That was when it happened.

Merrill met his clear, green gaze for a moment and suddenly the world shifted. The spirit part of her thumped like a large drum, pulsing in resonance to... to him. A strange electric hot-cold wave washed over her and the spirit-part of her, the part that was made of fire and magic and soul stretched beyond its cage of flesh and reached, trying to form the connection to the other part of itself that it recognized, that part that it needed to be complete. And she could feel him, the essence of him reaching back toward her. For just an instant she saw him soften, his face taking on a strange vulnerability that was completely at odds with everything she knew of his snarky, snarling independence. Merrill's own natural inclination to reach out, to soothe and nurture, tried to assert itself but then in a flash she was reminded of all she would loose, all her people would loose, if it happened. The price of her magic belonged to her and her alone, but a soulbond caused a connection in which everything was shared. If it was allowed to form she would have to give up everything; her mirror, her Bargain with the spirit, all she had worked for. In a panic, Merrill yanked her essence back and stuffed it back inside of herself by resorting to an old mage-trick to bring about instant calm, then broke the connection of their gaze... by yelping like something had bit her and scrambling away from him in a blind panic.

"Are you okay?" Hawke called over from where he was currently sifting through a pile of rubble in hopes of finding something worth keeping. Merrill had darted to the other side of the camp as though Fenris had just tried to light her on fire.

"I, uh, yes! Yes. I just, um... thought I saw something..." she said distractedly, gulping in deep breaths and trying to calm her racing heart.

:Mythal preserve me! It cannot be, it simply cannot!: she thought in a terrified panic. :By the sacred bones of my Ancestors, this is... it just can't be!:

Oh she recognized it of course. She was First to a Keeper, she knew the old lore better than any other Dalish would or could. Many of the ancient elves fondest stories and legends had centered around the Vi'shai Anah, the soul-bonded mates. She was a follower of the Goddess Mythal herself, had Her valaslin markings tattooed over her face as a reminder of her devotion, and it was said that the soul-bond was a direct gift of the Goddess to both reward and protect her Chosen. Merrill could not imagine what about her or him could possibly have alerted the attention of the non-existant Goddess, or why she might single them out for the (dubious) honor.

:Dubious and unwelcome honor!:

Merrill peeked back over at Fenris who had risen back to his feet and was now attending to the grim task of ensuring that all of those bandits they had killed were truly dead and not faking it; he was methodically spearing the tip of his longsword point-first, down through their throats, delivering instant death if any still lived and ensuring those dead stayed that way. He didn't take enjoyment in the task, but he didn't seem particularly affected by it either, it always made Merrill feel more than a little ill to watch him. He didn't have any expression at all aside of his usual, frowny face.

:Mythal preserve me!: Merrill repeated to herself, a fresh wave of panic overtaking her. :Not that I've ever questioned Her infinite wisdom but... Fenris?! No, there must be some mistake. My magic might be acting up. Or maybe we're close to a thin spot in the veil. Or... or maybe I've had too much sun, or not enough exercise or... or anything. Please, please please don't let this be real. Not that I dislike him but... but he's so mean, and... bad tempered and I'm afraid he'd rip my heart out.:

In more ways than the literal sense, though he was one of the only people she'd ever seen who could manage it.

"Are you sure you're okay Daisy?" Varric asked as he walked over to her.

"I! Oh! Um, just, j-just fine, really! Oh my, that salt-sea air is really doing me wonders, it feels so nice to get out of the house!"

She just knew that Varricc wasn't convinced by her forced cheer.

"It's just that, you do look pale," he pursued.

"And skinny," Hawke chimed in.

"Nothing that a warm meal and a day out..." Merrill paused, a notion occurring to her.

There was only one person in the whole wide world that Merrill could trust with something like this. Her teacher would know! Keeper Marethari would be able to tell her that this was all some kind of weird hallucination brought on by too little sleep and too much blood magic, if she just lay off the mirror a while everything would go back to normal and she wouldn't have to be soul-bonded to a grumpy mage-hater. Not that she didn't respect Fenris (despite his unfortunate personality). He was a fine warrior, the way he could cleave his way through enemies, his strong arms swinging his blade, muscles rippling, so manly and supple-

"Noooo!" Merrill slapped her cheeks with both hands and shook her head violently to erase the traitorous thoughts already trying to creep their way in.

"Um..." Hawke said. "We've known each other a long time now, and I can say that you're acting stranger than usual."

"You're right!" Merrill agreed, an epiphany born of desperation dawning on her. "Hawke! You're right, we have known each other a long time! It's been years at least... if it we going to be that, surely it would have happened long before now. It's not just something that pops up out of the blue. Och, sure an' yer a lifesaver! I don't know what I was thinking."

"I don't either Merrill, but that's nothing new for me," he replied, sounding amused.

"Are we done here?" Fenris demanded in a bored tone.

She leaped to her feet and hurried off back down the way they had come, relief flooding her and the call of her mirror beckoning to her over the distance. She ignored the three way glance the other men in her party exchanged behind her back.

:It's so silly! The very idea is ridiculous,: she told herself as they hurried back to Kirkwall. :It absolutely can't be a soulbond. If it were a soulbond it would have happened the instant we first met. All the stories say so, well almost all of them anyway. There is that one... well, Valen was never a credited bard anyway so he doesn't count. I definitely don't have a Goddess-bound connection to mister grouchy-gauntlets back there!:

That was her story and she was sticking to it.