Author's notes: This is a trial run. I'm trying to find out if there is anyone who would be interested in this story, apart from myself. It's a post-game fic, and will be focusing on Merrill and Fenris and my idea of how a working relationship between the two could have come to develop. POVs will be switching between the two.
The idea for this has been sitting in my head since my first (almost... my way up Sundermount was blocked by revenants when trying to complete Merrill's quest in Act 3. I hate revenants. I gave up, started again with a female warrior, and romanced Fenris for the first time... of many... ) playthrough of DA2 with an fHawke rogue, while enjoying Fenris' and Merrill's party banter/fights, and thinking, well, wouldn't it be fun to throw them together and see what happens?
Well. This is what happens when it gets left to me.
As I said: Trial run. The story is about halfway finished, and I know where I want it to go in the end. Input is still very welcome, though. Be it spelling or grammatical mistakes, formating, background or plot holes- please tell me.
And now, on with the show.
Disclaimer: Dragon Age 2 and all of its characters are the intellectual property of Bioware. I own only the plotbunnies.
The guard didn't so much as spare her a second glance.
She was becoming really good at this, Merrill mused. Cut your hair short, smear some dirt in your face and wear dirty, draggled human clothing- and shoes, Creators, how she hated them- and you became no more than another city elf boy, in other words: As good as invisible.
It certainly worked on the humans. The elves would still notice her vallaslin beneath the dirt, but she did not intend to stay long. She only needed news- of the war, or 'revolution' as Anders had been fond of calling it- and a few provisions. A few days at most, and she would be gone, and glad of it- she wrinkled her nose, stepping around a heap of what looked suspiciously like human refuse in the middle of the street. This walled town, small as it was, stank worse than Kirkwall on a summer day after two weeks without rain.
Trudging along the street in her best imitation of a 'young male' walk, trying to keep her head low, while watching the mixed human and elven crowd warily, and that while still keeping an eye on the ground so as not to step into any dog turds or worse (multitasking was also one of those things she was getting really good at), she let the babble of conversation wash over her. A few snatches briefly caught her attention, but when she tuned in on the words, they always turned out to be of little interest. Wheat prices and runaway pigs, one man's marriage and another man's death, the awful name a neighbour next door had given his new child were of little consequence to her.
The name of a tavern, pointed out to a traveller by one of the townspeople, was duly noted, however. No place like a tavern to gather information. And since it was already going on evening, she decided she might as well seek it now. No telling how long it might take her. She didn't have a ball of twine on her, after all...
The tavern turned out to be all she had imagined it to be, and worse. A small, dark one-room building with a sort of kitchen at one end, a fireplace approximately in the middle between rows of benches and trestle tables, and walled-off boxes along both walls that betrayed its origin as a horse stable. Those towards the back had matresses on rickety-looking bedframes and hangings across the front to preserve at least a mite of the illusion of privacy. The ones nearer the doors had straw.
That was were the elves slept, of course.
Merrill noticed some curled-up shapes, wrapped in their cloaks, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted or drunk, a family of elves with three children with staring, blank hungry eyes- the sight gave her heart a wrench- a couple unashamedly moaning off somewhere in the murk. Her ears colored.
A good thing it was too dark for anyone to notice.
Gathering her composure, she adjusted the dagger at her hip- just big and sharp enough to give pause to anyone looking at her, but not enough of a weapon to provoke. (The other two were hidden up the back of her jerkin and down one boot, just like Isabela had shown her, never imagining she might someday need this kind of knowledge.) Her staff she had discarded long ago, with regret, hidden with most of her other belongings of Dalish origin in a cave off the Wounded Coast when she and Hawke and Isabela finally parted ways for good. With the way things were now, it would have been a death warrant to carry a staff openly.
With a suppressed sigh she sat down on one of the benches, far enough away from any of the human patrons so that they couldn't easily take offense at her presence. If anyone of them was looking for a quarrel, that wouldn't nearly be enough, but she hoped to go unremarked if she kept her eyes down and her mouth shut.
The party of rough-looking human men next to her seemed more intent on their on bowls, platters, and talk anyway. That was good, as far as it went. Not even their dogs- scrawny mongrels made up of every race found in the Free Marches and beyond- spared her more than a passing glance. There was no food to be begged off this elf, they could tell.
Well, Merrill- what now? You've come this far. Now is when you have to decide. On, or back?
On, into territory the Dalish clans of the Free Marches wandered, to put herself at their mercy, and the risk of execution? Or back, to the humans and their filthy cities, to live in an even filthier alienage?
Unappealing as those were, they were her only choices, if she didn't want to turn herself over to the Templars, and be killed for an apostate the moment she revealed her magic. There was no other way. She might have tried going back to Ferelden, but as the revolution had begun to spread there, as well, she would probably only get from one scrape into another equally as bad, but with a long ship's journey in between. And she didn't have the money to afford one.
When the elven barmaid finally found her, half an hour later, she was no closer to a decision than she had been all these months of wandering. But she was hungry, and ordered food and drink with a nod, wondering what it was she'd just agreed to eat.
It was: Stew with a lot of grease, no salt, and bits of meat in it that could have been anything from rat to dog, it was impossible to tell. With it went bread that almost broke her teeth and sour ale, closer to vinegar. Merrill sighed and concentrated on not retching it all back up, thinking wistfully of the Hanged Man's fare. That now seemed a feast in comparison.
The Hanged Man.
Not now, she told herself sternly, feeling the familiar lump closing off her throat every time she thought back on that time. She had been constantly embarrassed, annoyed, mortified, or angry at turns- and never had she felt so safe, so welcome. If she could have turned back time to go back to Hawke's getting them in lethal danger every second day, her neverending badgering about her mirror, Isabela's jokes, whether she understood what they were about or not, Varric's stories (the true, the made-up and the rest that were to be found everywhere on the spectrum in between), Anders' attempts to be funny and the pages of half-finished manifestoes he left everywhere he set foot, Fenris' scowling and biting remarks, Carver's shows of storming out on them in a huff...
…. There she was. Now wasn't the time and place to put her head down on the table and burst into tears, though, so she didn't. It was pointless and time-consuming anyway, her clinging to the memories of a companionship unlike any she had ever known among her own people. It was over, Hawke's company broken up and scattered like so many leaves in a gale.
No matter how many times she told herself, though, she couldn't seem to help it. She missed them so much it hurt.
And now she'd started down that road, and unable to turn back, like so many times before, was wondering what she could have done to prevent...
Meredith and Orsino tearing each other to pieces with words when they arrived, the tall human Templar and the slender elven scholar, at one another's throats as usual, but this time, something was different, something was... final...
The glow emanating from the Chantry's windows and doors, bright enough to illuminate all the city, briefly, like a bolt of lightning, stark and intense, and then-
'Anders- what have you done?' Hawke, incredulous, furious like Merrill has never seen her- Hawke, their Champion, poised on the edge of a decision not between right and wrong, but between wrong and wronger- an impossible decision... Hawke, drawing herself up and staring right into Meredith's cold, stone eyes.
"I will not help in the slaughter of innocent mages."
That was the moment when their party of misfits had begun to break apart. Everything that came later was only the consequence of that one decision. She vividly remembered the regret at seeing Fenris' slender, upright form walking away from them through the burning city. Odd that she would regret his leaving, of all people, but not that odd- he had been one of Hawke's companions, after all. It was like seeing an intricate picture starting to fray- even framed anew, it would never be the same.
And it did more than fray...
"This is no dream." Hawke's words, so firm, so strong- but Merrill would never be able to shake the dreamlike feeling coming over her when they left the boat to sprint for The Gallows, dodging holes in the cobbles and rubble from collapsed walls, and bodies, so many bodies- proofs that the fight had preceded them. This could not be true. It couldn't... Hawke would never have allowed things to go this far.
But here she is, leading them right into the fray.
Merrill refuses to believe that the few words their so strong leader exchanges with every member of their party still left are goodbye, that some of them might not come out of this alive. She witnesses the desperate embrace that passes between her and Isabela, watches the pirate queen blink back tears, straighten and draw her daggers to await what was coming.
She sees Varric place Bianca over his shoulder as he looks up to the tall human woman, smile wryly as he says something she is too far away to catch. She sees Aveline nod grimly to whatever Hawke told her. The Captain of the Guard had been not at all sure this is the right path, but is determined to see it through to the bitter end at Hawke's side.
She sees her step up to Anders, who looks partly triumphant at having achieved his goal, partly as if he might be sick any minute. A few tense words, a nod from him, and Hawke turns towards herself.
"Tell me when all this is over." As if she really believed there would be a chance. Merrill tries to draw strength from that thought, but all that is left is dread, and the desperate wish to wake up from this nightmare. She clutches her staff in sweaty hands, sending a silent prayer to the Creators, and prepares to meet the foe.
Never would she have expected to see who approached them in front of the line of Templars. No, that wasn't true. She had expected it. She simply did not want it to be true.
"So we meet again, Fenris." Hawke smiles, a bitter, humorless smile.
"Someone has to stop this madness." He holds his sword in one hand, looking so calm, so calm...
"And that would be you, I guess?"
Hawke sighs, closing her eyes, and for a fleeting moment, the agony of it all shines through. Here is a woman trying not to show how she is being torn to pieces. Merrill could have wept. "I don't want to do this, Fenris."
His face is impassive, lyrium-veined stone. "Neither do I. But we'll do it anyway. Because this had to happen, and you know it." A brief flash of smile, full of hate- full of regret. "I really thought you were different. More fool me, I guess."
After that, there are no more words.
No one interfered, neither the Templars waiting in stoic, faceless lines, nor anyone of their own. As Fenris had said: It had to happen, and they knew it. It had been inevitable from the moment Hawke made her choice.
But it tore her apart to see it. The fight was brief, but brutal. Neither held back with anything, and in the end, it was the elf ending up in a crumpled heap on the floor, his sword broken to shards, armor shattered by the force of Hawke's last blow.
Merrill did weep, then, and tears clouded her gaze as she summoned her magic to throw earth and lightning down on the Templars' heads. Not blood magic. Never again, after what it had taken from her. And even if that hadn't been enough to drive it home, seeing Orsino... change... driven mad, or else finally driven over the edge, by the bloodshed... never would she forget the sight.
By the time everything was over, Kirkwall lay in ruins, the Knight Commander was dead, and the Champion and all her companions outcast.
They ran; they hid; one by one, the company broke apart. Last, Isabela and Hawke decided to try and take back the pirate's ship still moored in Kirkwall, and Merrill went her own ways. Without goal, without a place to turn to, homeless, friendless and lost. She kept nothing from that time but the knives, and bittersweet memories.
She blinked back to reality and noticed that her stew had partly begun to congeal in the bowl. A sigh left her lips. As if it hadn't been inedible from the start...
A furtive look around reassured her that, apparently, no one had noticed her zoning out. Or if they had, with any luck, they would have construed it into reluctance to eat the poor excuse for food served in this hovel. Which wasn't entirely improbable.
The word got her attention. It had issued somewhere from the middle of the knot of men sitting not too far from her. She dipped the spoon into her bowl again and pricked up her ears.
"...you sure? They're like flamin' vermin after all. Crawlin' about everywhere, not to be squashed.", was the next thing she caught. Nothing important after all, seemingly...
Or not. The next speaker's words nearly made her gasp.
"How many bloody elves with bloody lyrium tattoos have yer seen runnin' around lately? I tell yer, that's the same one they say was doggin' her bloody steps down in Kirkwall."
A hubbub arose at that. Only "...dangerous..." ..."s'posed to be dead... " "... flamin' giant sword..." filtered through. Merrill felt faint, but she managed to put her spoon down without dropping it, or pushing the bowl over.
"... say he did s'port the Templars, didn't they?", was next. One of the men snorted at that.
"They musta forgotten 'bout it then, 'coz last I heard, there was a price on 'is head, and not a measly one."
"But how are we to..."- "Andraste's tits, haven't we been over this all already...?"- "He's up in them mountains, dogs oughta be able to sniff'im out, no big deal." And on and on.
Merrill picked up her mug to steady her shaking hands, hiding behind the rim as she surveyed the self-proclaimed hunting party. They were still only a heap of scrawny, badly-armed peasants.
Fenris, if it was him, would tear them to pieces.
She ought to tell them what a fool's errand this was, ought to warn them they were courting certain death, but how, without giving herself away? She had no illusions whether or not one of Hawke's former companions would be just as good as any other to them. They'd pocket her, or try to, just as gladly. And if it came to that, she could tear them to pieces... and doom herself while she was at it. No.
But... she bit her lip. She couldn't just let them run to their deaths.
What matter?, a small voice within her whispered. They're only Shems- stupid, cruel Shems who wouldn't hesitate to kill one of your own. Why help them?
-No. I won't have this blood on my hands. Because it will be, if I don't prevent them from doing this.
She was so tired of death...