Some Ned ultrafluff, because the guy hasn't been getting any recently, and this is not about to change any time soon. Be warned to clean your teeth afterwards, or you risk a couple of cavities.

A night at Redcliffe, after the return from the Korcari Wilds and the fight with Flemeth.

While the Candle Burns

One of the two remaining candles in the candlestick sizzles and goes out in a pool of molten wax; the other pertains, it’s soft light tingeing Morrigan’s skin golden against the dark blankets.

Ned lies without a move, listening to Morrigan’s breath slowing down as she is falling fast asleep. Only then he turns his head to look at her, as she is lying with his arm for a pillow, curled in her usual position, with her back to him. Sometimes, she sleeps like a child, with her hands clasped under her cheek; more often than not, just like now, the Witch of the Wilds is embracing herself in her sleep.

Slowly, Ned turns to his side and raises his head to see her profile: the eyelashes casting a shadow on her cheek, her lips, relaxed and slightly parted. Pushing aside the strands of raven hair, he moves closer to put his arm over her. Morrigan shifts slightly – towards him, not away. That makes his heart jump and he resists the urge to embrace her more firmly, so as not to wake her.

With Morrigan, one may never be cautious enough, like when luring a wild deer closer: one false move and it is gone.

The close contact causes a stir in his groin but he ignores it; making love to Morrigan is easily arranged, whereas little intimate moments are much rarer and he cherishes them more.

A pale scar mars the creamy perfection of Morrigan’s shoulder: a mark of a hurlock which got too close. Ned’s own arm, in comparison, sports many more, and will likely obtain a further share before this is all over. The newest acquisition is still reddish, though with Wynne’s skill, it will probably fade soon and stop bothering him. The skin is still somewhat tight and sensitive to the touch but even so, he can consider himself lucky: the drakeskin armour probably saved his life, and definitely spared him the worst of Flemeth’s fire. The burns, though, didn’t hurt half as badly as the realisation that Morrigan still doesn’t fully trust him.

Why? he ponders, watching her softened features. Why didn’t you tell me? Didn’t you trust me to stay true to my word if I learned? Or were you afraid that the others might refuse to follow?

Not that Flemeth’s shapeshifting came totally out of blue; he had suspected something like that ever since their miraculous rescue from the Tower of Ishal; ever since the Circle Tower and mages turning into demons.

And Morrigan did say repeatedly that Flemeth’s powers were great and many; did warn him to expect almost anything…

The way her eyes flickered and avoided his every now and then told him there was more to it than she was saying – yet, it would have made a huge difference if she had told.

“Did the Swamp Witch tell you to expect this?” Sten asked, spitting at Flemeth’s lifeless dragon form, all his body emanating disgust.

“She said to expect anything,” Ned replied then, hoping that the strain in his voice would be accounted to the treatment he was just receiving from a rather dishevelled and huffy Wynne.

No-one pressed the issue then, but later, Alistair slipped into his tent and sat on his heels just next to Ned. “She didn’t tell you, did she?” he asked calmly, and nodded when Ned failed to deny that immediately.

A couple of months ago, Ned would have expected him to start yelling; now, Alistair only rolled his eyes and muttered “And I am supposed to be the idiot here.” Then he gave Ned his characteristic grin. “Well, we live, and she is lucky to be at Redcliffe, because I will lose the steam before we get there. – Oh, and when we do, make sure you tell her how close you were to getting roasted.

I definitely deserved to get the worst burns. If it had been anyone else… I should have pressed her more when I knew she wasn’t entirely honest in this.

Yet, he didn’t, and he didn’t oblige with Alistair’s request, either – the guilty look she was trying to mask disarmed him; that and the relief that radiated from her every move, every word.

The relief to have him back – him, not the grimoire.

And he only hopes that he is not fooling himself into seeing something that is not really there.

Yet, how could I be fooling myself when the very proof of the change is here, in my arms?

Was it… very bad?” she asked later, in bed, as she gently ran her hand over the scars, and he understood that this was the closest she would get to ‘I’m sorry’; take it or leave it.

And so he took her hand in his and kissed it. “Not really. I had rather expected something demon-wise, like with Uldred, but a dragon wasn’t such a terribly big deal, after all. We had killed one before, hadn’t we.”

He is not sure if she understood that this meant ‘I forgive you’, but they didn’t speak about it any more and made love instead, and the pain within remained together with the memory of the burning flames.

After all this time, after all we have been through, she still doesn’t trust me.

Will she, ever?

Still mistrustful, still looking for a hook attached, still expecting to be asked for a payment.

Yet, the way her eyelashes fluttered and she blushed and looked aside when he told her he did it for her and wanted nothing… for a moment, she looked at him with her eyes wide open, as if not comprehending fully what he was saying – or comprehending but fearing to believe.

I agreed to kill Flemeth because she was a threat to you… and for what she did to you, I killed her gladly.

Laying his head, Ned breathes a light kiss on Morrigan’s nape, his lips forming the words he cannot say aloud so as not to scare her off.

Patient. I must be patient just a little longer. She will learn to trust me, eventually, and then I will tell her that I love her.

Then, she might tell me what I think she means when she is watching me and does not know that I know.

In the flickering light of the last candle, he closes his eyes and allows himself to dream: of her eyes, watching him without wariness; of her lips, smiling without mockery.

Sleep does not claim him easily in the feather bed of Eamon’s best guestroom; after the months on the road, he has become unaccustomed to such softness. He presses his cheek to Morrigan’s hair, inhaling the scent which is so unmistakably hers: the sweet-smelling herbs, like a lime-tree in spring, laden with honey, and the freshness of rain and morning dew. For a little while, he lets his thoughts stray even further: to a quiet house, and the woman with laughing golden eyes, a golden-eyed boy on her lap…

Foolish, naïve dreams, for a Warden to dream, yet so sweet and serene that he wishes to indulge in them a little longer, savour them for a few more moments while he can… at least while the candle still burns.

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