dedication: to Emily and Sonya, just like every other time
notes: i've been reading a lot of Pablo Neruda. don't look at me like that.
notes2: broken parable — bear's den.
title: certain dark things
summary: A baby. He brings her a baby. — Merrill/Fenris.
Merrill startles from a strange dream coloured melancholy green, Fade-shimmery and sick. For an endless moment, the dreamdark glimmer plays across her skin—throat, knees, knobs of knuckles, a body between your thighs hot and hungry, oh, please, please, please—melding into the rain outside, and she has no idea where she is.
She stumbles out of bed, tangled in the blankets, trailing the dream behind her. Merrill rubs at her eyes; Creators, it's still the middle of the night! Who would—?
Merrill wrenches the door open just before the banging starts again.
She finds Fenris, mouth open as though he's about to wake the entire alienage yelling for her and entirely dripping wet, standing outside. Lightning cracks across the sky, flooding the alienage square with purple-white light. Fenris is haggard in the face, deep dark crags beneath his eyes, folded up beneath a travelling cloak that's certainly seen better days.
They blink at one another.
(Merrill didn't think she was going to see him again. There's no reason for Fenris to be here; Hawke is gone. It feels like it started raining the day after she left, and it hasn't stopped, since. It feels like it's rained without end for the last six months, and Merrill is hollow inside her soul.)
There are a hundred thousand things that Merrill could say.
She says none of them.
She waits, instead. Blinks at him again. The night air bites at her cheeks and her bare knees beneath the ragged him of her sleep shift, cool and wet, and she's awake now, very awake. Her skin prickles.
Fenris's jaw twitches. He inhales sharply, closes his mouth. Opens it again. "Witch," he says, very quietly, "May I—may I come in? Please?"
Merrill doesn't think she's ever heard Fenris say please.
Not to her, anyway.
For a horrible held breath, neither of them moves.
And then Merrill ducks out of the way, and lets him inside.
Fenris slouches further into the hood of his cloak, the darkness beneath the slave auctions at the edge of Asariel's wharf district pressing close. It drags its filmy fingers through his hair, chokes around his throat like a collar. He keeps his hands tucked inside the cloak for fear of the lyrium glow giving him away; he is a darker smudge in a world of shadows, hardly alive.
He can barely breathe over the stench of unwashed bodies and the clinging misery.
But it won't be long, now.
The people trapped here will be long gone when the place burns. And it will burn, and the wharfs will burn, and the sticky-glue tack of the blazebalm will scent his hands for days. The last thing he needed was the purchase orders, and he has them, now. And so this place will burn.
Fenris will see that does.
He slides between bodies, breaking shackles as he goes. It is always the same: Quiet, he murmurs in an ear, and then lyrium flare, and then a held, overwhelmed breath. They set the shackles down together, careful not to make a sound, and then the body leaves.
The space below the slave docks empty slowly.
Fenris remembers what it felt like, to be so close to freedom, and still unable to grab hold. He does not begrudge them their time.
"Quiet," Fenris says, more wind than sound. "I am going to let you free."
The body doesn't move, freezes in place.
"Not me," a girl's voice says. "Him. My brother—he's more important."
When Fenris moves enough to see her face, he thinks he might be. The girl is thin to emaciation in the half-light. The accent sticks in Fenris' craw; he's only heard its ilk from one person, before, and thinking of the witch shreds something tight and throbbing at the top of his throat. It will never be easy. She—the witch—is—
"Please," the girl says. Her eyes are huge in her skull. "Please, he's just a baby."
—not here. Fenris forces himself to focus. The girl offers the bundle again. Her arms shake. Her hands shake, too. She doesn't have long. It's there in her face, the death. Close enough to touch, breathing hot down her neck.
He knows the feeling.
Fenris, before he entirely knows what he's doing, takes it from her.
Oh, Creators, Merrill doesn't know why she let him in.
(She doesn't know a lot of things, really.)
The air between them is strange and—full, like a breath held too long. Merrill busies herself with the hearth; the crackle of fire blooms beneath her hands small and mundane. Magic would be too fast, and Merrill needs a moment to collect herself.
It's not every day that Fenris shows up at her door in the middle of the night, sopping wet or not.
And Merrill isn't very good at these things. Not people in general, but especially not Fenris.
But the flame catches, eventually, and the golden wash of crimson-orange heat paints her home in flickering shadows. They dance along the walls, never staying still, there and then gone.
Be brave, Merrill, she tells herself with a slow breath.
Creators, it feels like there's dried blood crusted beneath her nails, even though she knows there's not. Fenris always makes her insides quake, even though she knows that he doesn't mean to. If he meant to, she probably wouldn't be breathing.
That would be disappointing.
She has to turn 'round to face him, though.
He's dripping soundlessly on the floor, still wearing his cloak. The silly man, he's not even boots. Even Merrill knows that not wearing boots in the rain is liable to get someone sick!
"Fenris? D'you want a towel?"
"I am fine," he says.
"Er, are you sure, because you're rather wet—"
"It is no concern, witch," Fenris says.
She's about to open her mouth to argue, when it occurs to her that there's something wrong with his expression. Merrill hasn't ever seen reverence in Fenris' face before. She didn't think she'd know it if she saw it, but there's no other word for the quiet, awe-stricken look on his face as he so carefully unwraps his cloak from his shoulders and allows it to drop in a crumpled heap on the floor.
All of the air disappears from the room.
Fenris is holding a baby.
The babe is brown-skinned and dark-haired, and sleeping more soundly than Merrill has ever seen a babe sleep in her life. So small, too, teeny-tiny hands and toes and long pointed ears that need to be grown into, the way Merrill had had to grow into her own ears, the way that everyone she'd grown up with had had to grow into their own ears, all gangly and silly and not knowing where the limbs go—
"Oh," Merrill breathes.
Well, she's very awake, now!
Fenris hasn't moved. The rain is the only sound, dripping plink-plink into the bucket in the corner where the shoddy roof patch leaks anyway, drumming against the shutters, pattering against the stone outside. Merrill suspects he's not quite sure what to do. Not that she blames him!
She doesn't really know what to do, either. She twines her fingers in knots behind her back, and waits.
"I am—" Fenris starts, stops, clenches his jaw. "I do not mean to intrude, witch."
"I think we're well past that, Fenris," Merrill says, lightly, trying not to smile at him. It probably won't help if she smiles, even though she wants to! It's a very funny sight, isn't it, Fenris all hunched up around a baby as though he's never held one before.
(It occurs to her belatedly that he might not have. It sobers her, some.)
"Y'might as well come sit," Merrill says. The kettle whistles over the fire. "I didn't know you were coming home. Was it a very long journey?"
"It was not," he says.
"Oh, that's not so bad then, is it," she nods, more to herself than him. "D'you want some tea? Isabela gave it t'me before she and Hawke left, I'm quite fond of it—"
"Witch," Fenris cuts her off, at last. "I have a baby."
"Yes, Fenris, I can see that, I do have eyes," Merrill says. "Y'didn't answer the question. Tea?"
Merrill pours the tea, and it's very quiet between them for a long moment. Her tongue is thick in her mouth; she was never very good at this, never very good at people, and especially never very good at Fenris. They always butted heads, even when she didn't mean for them to!
And she wants to say it's very strange that he's sitting here, now, with the rain outside and the babe still in his arms, dripping water into a puddle on the floor.
"I don't have a crib," Merrill says. "But we can probably put him down on my bed, if y'want t'stay. It'll be better. He'll be dry, at least?"
Fenris nods, jerky as anything, but he doesn't move until Merrill tips her head towards her bedroom. He just stands there and drips forlornly, instead.
"Over there, Fenris," Merrill takes pity on him. "I s'pose you wouldn't know, would you."
"I would not," Fenris agrees. "I have not been in your bedroom before, witch."
"It would be very odd if you had done?"
Fenris makes a tiny noise that might be choked-off amusement. He used to make that sound all the time, when Hawke would say something that he thought was funny but didn't want anyone to know he thought it funny. Merrill ducks her head into her shoulders to hide away her own little smile. He's very honest, Fenris, and always when he doesn't mean to be.
Merrill's bedroom is clean. Or—well, there are no cobwebs, anyway, and she hasn't enough clothes to leave them lying about. The nest of blankets that she curls into after the sun goes down is smoothed over, for once. A breath she didn't know she was holding slides out of her chest.
Fenris moves around her on silent feet. The babe doesn't wake even when he's laid down on her sheets; doesn't even yawn. She hasn't ever seen Fenris so gentle in her life. He's so slow, and so careful, the bitterness she's so used to from him nowhere to be found.
Merrill hovers in the doorway feeling like someone's knifed her between the ribs, and she doesn't know why.
Creators, she shouldn't be watching this. It's so private.
Merrill slips away before Fenris looks up. She can give him that; a moment to himself like the shard of a broken mirror.
(She is suddenly, fervently glad that Aveline had convinced her to throw the mirror-frame away. The thought of it around such a little'un—oh, Creators, no. No, no, no.)
The fire looks like it could use another log. Merrill busies herself with it again, and then settles down on a chair close enough that the wash of light and heat blocks out whatever anxiety the waiting might give her.
And she doesn't have to wait long.
Fenris pulls the close that Merrill uses for a door closed behind it. It won't cut the sound of voices hardly at all; muffled, maybe a little, but not enough. He drops into the chair on the other side of the side, and closes his eyes for a second longer than a standard blink.
They'll just have to be quiet, then.
Merrill gives him a minute. She's never been much good at waiting for other people to say things—she tends to blurt words out, off her tongue and out into the air before she really knows what she's said—but she bites down on her lip hard enough to hurt.
"I would not be averse to a towel now, witch, if the offer remains," Fenris says, finally.
"Oh!" Merrill says. She's up like a shot, halfway to the cubboard before she realizes that she's between guilty and frantically glad that he'd said something before she had done. "I'm so sorry, I should have—"
"Stop worrying so much," he says. "You did not know."
Merrill clutches the towel to her chest. Patched and ratty, but clean. It's better than most other things she owns; it's still mostly in one piece!
"Here," she says, and has the decency to look away as he goes about the damp business of getting dry. She thinks her ears are burning. She's not entirely sure.
It's a long time later that a sigh leaves him, and Merrill allows herself to look up. He's looking a bit fluffy, but she's not going to tell him that. She'd rather not have her head bitten off, even if she's only just teasing. Merrill manages a smile, instead. "Oh, that's much better, isn't it?"
"I—" Fenris starts, and then ruthlessly chokes whatever else he was about to say off. His shoulders go a little stiff. "Thank you, Merrill."
"I think that's what friends are s'posed t'do, Fenris," Merrill says, and doesn't point out that they certainly are not friends, and that he'd just said her name, and that there is a baby sleeping in her bed.
He doesn't point it out, either, which is more of a relief than she'd thought it would be.
"I'm surprised he didn't wake up," Merrill says. She looks at her hands. Oh, Mythal. Speaking to fill silence, just like always. "The rain must have been cold. He sleeps through everything, doesn't he?"
Fenris inclines his head a fraction of an inch. "I do not understand it."
"You barely sleep at all," Merrill points out.
As much as Fenris clearly wants to argue with this, he can't. She well knows it, too; Hawke used to get on him for the not-sleeping, and Isabela did, and Varric still does when he remembers that he should. Fenris' jaw twitches, and Merrill can only smile largely at him.
"I feel I am being insulted," Fenris says, but it's not as flat as it could be. He crooks an eyebrow at her.
"Is it an insult if it's true?"
"Oh," she says. "Well then, yes, I s'pose you are, a little. Where did you find him?"
She doesn't expect the sudden, violent stiffening to his limbs. Fenris turns almost painfully still, still as stone, the colour leaching out of his face until he's ashen beneath the dark pallor of his skin.
"He was—" he says, halts and swallows. "Tevinter is no place for a child. He was entrusted to me."
This, Merrill thinks, was probably a very difficult thing for Fenris to come to terms with. No place for an elvhen child, certainly, and she doesn't have to hear it to know that he means it. Entrusting is very much like given, isn't it, and he'd have a hard time with being given someone, even if that someone is only a baby. He's so small! No, Fenris wouldn't like that at all.
Merrill wants to reach out and touch his shoulder, but she thinks it's likely better that she doesn't. He won't appreciate it, even if he did bring the baby to her in the first place.
But a baby is one thing.
Comfort is another.
"Why me, then?" Merrill asks. She won't argue about Tevinter. He knows that story much better than she does, after all.
Fenris is more out of sorts about this question than Merrill had expected him to be. He shifts into a crow's shrug, uncomfortable in the movement, all shadows and shards. But he doesn't flinch from the asking. "I was told—Dalish, from the south."
Merrill's eyes flash. "Did they say which clan?"
"Oh," says Merrill, and knows in her heart that that wee'un's clan is long dead. She looks at her hands, milk-white knuckles and knobs. "We might be able t'find them at an Arlathvhen, but…"
"I do not think they are alive to find, witch," Fenris says, too quiet.
"I didn't think they would be," Merrill tells him, very softly. A brittle little smile quirks itself across her mouth without her express permission. "No one would leave a babe like that, not if they didn't have to."
Fenris looks at her through the part in his fringe. He has very nice eyes, Merrill thinks, idly. Brilliant and green and clear, even in the gloom. Like sunlight through full-grown leaves in the deepest depths of the forest, where no one living ever walks.
They look at each other for a very long time. The silence grows like a weed.
There's only the rain and the crackle of the fire between them.
"I s'pose y'ought t'stay, then," Merrill says. "You shouldn't have t'do it all alone."
He's still looking at her, searching her face, trying to peel away her vallaslin from her skin and find the bones underneath. It squirms in Merrill's stomach, though she doesn't know why. It feels so much like a flaying, but nothing like a flaying at all.
Creators, she's glad for the dying of the fire. It hides things better than she can, herself.
If this is a dream, it's the strangest dream that Merrill's ever had. Times slips away like sand, and she doesn't know what to do with her hands. Knobs and knuckles and knees, a body between her thighs.
Again, again, again.
"Yes," Fenris says, after what feels like a long time. He stares at her without any emotion at all. "I suppose I should."