Skin burning under Rahlen’s lips, Fenlin’s lips parted in a silent gasp, her fingers digging into his shoulders through his thin shirt. No words or sounds came from her throat, but surely he could taste the racing of her pulse, feel the hitching breaths where her chest crushed against his. Twisting, he rolled her onto her back, pressing her down into the mossy cot where he’d been recovering. Where she used to sleep. This was a dream. It had to be, she wasn’t this bold. Someone like him wouldn’t notice her. But the sweet ache in her belly and the feel of his hand cupping her face made her not want to wake. Even if she knew this was stupid.
Art by Picchar
Her foot hit something that gave way, and shockingly cold water poured down onto both of them. The tarp collapsed, slipping pooled rain directly onto both of them. Fen’s yelp was silent but heartfelt and Rahlen hissed sharply, pulling back and gasping for air.
The water loosened the webbing on Fen’s hair, or they’d been distracted long enough for the web to degrade. Either way, as they yanked back in shock at the cold, Rahlen’s hand came free.
Spell broken, Fen’s face immediately turned hot. Mythal’s mercy what was she doing? THINKING? This was the dumbest of all things she’d ever done. Scrambling to her feet, she hurried to fix the tarp, but the mossy bed was already wet, and the fire was out. The tarp itself had a scorch mark on it now and the camp was a mess.
“Here, let me help,” Rahlen said, trying to get up to his feet. “Maker, I’m sorry I-”
Fen shook her head angrily and jabbed a finger at herself. ‘My mistake. My huge dumb mistake because apparently I can’t learn from my mother’s mistakes’. It was a very intense jab of her finger. Very eloquent. Whether or not the man understood all the frustration and embarrassment wasn’t something Fen wanted to think about. Neither was the way she could still taste his lips on hers, or the way her heart was still thudding hard in her chest.
After a few moments of trying and failing to get the camp set up again, Fen threw up her hands and gave in. There wasn’t much point. They were still short on supplies and without dry shelter, staying out on the coast wasn’t a good idea.
“Hey, are you okay?” Rahlen asked, and Fen jumped as she felt fingers brush over the back of her hand. She snatched it to her chest, worrying that if she left it in his reach, she’d fall back towards him and this time they’d be in the rain completely, nothing to shock her out of her dumb decisions. “Bear?” He asked, and his face was concerned and Fen gulped down cold air.
She nodded jerkily, then motioned to him, the camp, her and pointed inland.
“We need to go?” He asked, confused. His cheeks were flushed and Fen tried to not pay too much attention to the way he was half sprawled on the moss. But she wanted to. She’d never felt this want for someone before, if she hadn’t been caring for him since he nearly drowned, Fen would have suspected he was a desire demon. Could people be half-demon? If so, Fen was pretty sure that’s what he was.
She crouched, starting to pack up the essentials for their trip.
“How are we going to leave?” He asked, and Fen looked up to see him frowning, staring down at his hurt leg. “I can’t walk, I’ll just slow you down. If you go- I can stay here. I’ll fix the tarp somehow.”
Fen blinked, then squinted at him. No, he was not going to stay here. Why would he stay here? That was dumb. He’d die of exposure if something else didn’t get to him first. She thought about trying to gesture, to get that thought across, but it was too complicated. Instead she shook her head firmly, and held her hands up to her head to make bear ears, then pointed at her back with her thumb.
“You… sure you-” he said hesitantly, “Want me to ride you? I mean, I would happily in other circumstances but you seemed a bit flustered and upset just now,“ he said, arching his eyebrows.
Why would being flustered have anything to do with him riding her? Wait. Oh gods. Fenlin clapped her hands to her face and groaned silently. She nodded, ears bright red and giving away the embarrassment of realizing what he’d meant. She took a steadying breath, shoving the memory of his lips and hands to the back of her mind, and nodded.
Yes, she’d be fine. Just, once the furious blushing stopped, or she’d start turning the rain into steam upon contact with her face. The sooner they got into the village, the better. He could meet up with some humans and sort out what he’d do and she could run off into the wilderness and hide and pretend she was okay with herself. At least seagulls didn’t judge her for having unreasonable feelings for waterlogged humans.
Rahlen wasn’t sure if he should sit upright on Fen’s back, or sort of… lie down to spread the weight out better. He settled for leaning partly onto his hands that held on by her shoulders.
He didn’t really understand the silent elf. One moment she’d been practically purring under his lips, the next she was shoving him (literally) away and scowling. At first he’d thought that he’d pushed too far, and the thought of that was horrible. He’d asked, apologised, but as far as she could tell him, her problem wasn’t with him, it was with her.
Did she have a partner? What did the Dalish call those anyways? Husband? Wife? One of each? Maybe that was it. He wouldn’t press her for anything she didn’t want, but Bear would hardly be the first time Rahlen had to be discreet with a lover. Orlais had been… interesting to be sure.
Something was still bugging him about Bear though, and Rahlen wasn’t able to let it go. He couldn’t figure her out. Why help him and go through such lengths to make sure he was alright after he’d almost disemboweled her? Rahlen glanced guiltily towards the scabbed slash on her side at the thought. Was she going to try to get a ransom from his parents? If she was aiming for one, maybe that was why she was reluctant earlier. Though she hadn’t showed any kind of duplicity that wasn’t directed at her own wants and desires.
Rahlen shifted on the bear’s back, careful not to think too much about the soft golden skin or the way she’d smelled like wilderness and sea salt or-
“So are you able to make any kind of vocalizations as a bear?” Rahlen asked, focusing on the present instead of the recent past.
Bear huffed, shaking her head side to side and sending water droplets up into his face. Rahlen sputtered, and Bear huffed again in a way that he was sure was laughter. Slowing her steps, Bear lifted her head up and sniffed at the air, letting her massive head swing from one side to the other. Changing direction slightly, Bear plodded along through scrub that was getting progressively thicker. Rahlen watched a cluster of burrs get snagged into her fur, and wondered if he should pull them out. As he thought, Bear walked them through a whole thicket of burrdock.
He’d wait, Rahlen thought. Maybe they’d come off as she shifted back to human. If they didn’t he could always offer to help get them out of her hair. If she’d let him, that was how things had gotten out of hand the first time after all.
Lost in thought, Rahlen came back to himself as Bear stopped and wiggled her shoulder blades to get his attention. Blinking, the Prince looked around. They were in the rolling grasslands of the coastlands now, and ahead was a telltale plume of smoke rising from a small village.
“Oh! We’re here already?” Rahlen asked, and started to swing his leg around to dismount. Sudden pain flared, and he grunted, falling to the ground as the injured muscle refused to cooperate. He grimaced, clutching his thigh. The pain was already fading though, a good sign. It let him realise how close a giant bear’s head was to him, nose sniffing with soft huffs of concern. He reached up to steady himself on Bear’s shoulder and got back onto his feet.
“Sorry, I thought that it would have been more healed by now,” Rahlen muttered. He could feel the reproach just rolling off the elf-bear. She was right, that had been dumb. But in his defence, it had felt alright the entire time he’d been riding on her back.
The furry shoulder dissolved into magic and coalesced back into the small elf whose hair was thick with twigs and burrs. Looping his arm around her shoulders and holding onto his waist, she tried to help him walk. And if she’d been a half foot taller, it would have been a huge help. Short as she was, Rahlen still had to do much of the work himself, leaning on the small woman only when he had to.
“Tell me if I’m too heavy,” he said, glancing down at her. Bear blinked, and shook her head once. Not too heavy. He caught her looking a little too long, and smirked as she frowned and looked away. Her ears gave her away, already flushed bright at their tips. Maybe she’d come around, Rahlen thought. But it was up to her, it wasn’t as though he’d ever had a difficult time finding a companion, after all.
Glancing up at the village that they were slowly approaching, Rahlen recognized the flag flying from the Chantry’s spire. Two laurels crossed each other on a blue background.
It was his mother’s. The Cousland’s.
“Are… we in Highever?” He asked, staring at the wet flag that flapped half-heartedly in the breeze. Under his arm, he felt the elf nod once, then shrug.
Thank the maker, he was closer to home than he’d ever thought.