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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 44

Prompt: Regret

“Gather your gear. We leave for the Storm Coast in ten minutes.” Blackwall’s eyes jerked up from the griffon he was unenthusiastically working on in time to see Ravena walk out of the barn, her long hair swinging behind her in a braid. Without thinking, he began to arm himself, shrugging into his gambeson and buckling on his heavy cuirass and pauldrons.

“Looks like you’re off the bench and her shit list,” Iron Bull cheerfully drawled, entering the stable with several sacks of supplies and Sera trailing after him. He went to the horses and began to load four mounts up with enough gear to last for at least several weeks, if Blackwall judged the size correctly. “After two months and some change, it’s about damn time.”

“I seriously doubt it,” he answered, checking the sharpness of his blade before buckling its sheath onto his belt. “And if I am, she’s far more forgiving than I deserve.”

“Hey you,” Sera said, reaching into one of her pockets for an apple. She took a big bite of it before offering the rest to her horse. “If I have to go out in the cold and the wet while you act all Woe Is Me, I’m gonna pull that broody beard of yours out by the roots.”

“Is that a threat?” Secretly, Blackwall was gladdened that Sera and Bull were coming along. Had Cassandra or Solas joined them, it might have been a more difficult trip. Well, more difficult than he already suspected it was going to be. He winced. The last time they spoke, Solas had apologized for the harsh words he had for him, yet being in the other’s presence was still awkward. Cassandra refused to speak with him still. The loss of her friendship was sad, just another thing that he had brought upon himself with his lies.

“Oh no,” Sera said, hoisting herself up into the saddle. “That’s a promise.”

Bull scratched at a horse’s neck. “Well, have a good trip,” he told them.

“You’re not coming with us?”

“No,” Dorian drawled, sliding his staff into loops on his saddle specifically designed for such purposes. “I am.” He looked like he wanted to say something else, but before he could, Blackwall caught sight of Ravena coming up towards them.

Maker’s mercy, but she was breathtaking. He hadn’t laid eyes on her for nearly two days after Teyrn Cousland’s departure and hadn’t spoken to her for almost two months since his judgment in the Great Hall. His heart clenched with the memory of her face. She had looked tired, defeated on that day. I did that to her, he thought miserably.

He thought she looked slightly better, even if there were dark circles under her eyes that told him that perhaps she had gotten as much sleep as he had during their time apart, which is to say, hardly any at all. She had a new set of leather armor on, the bits of mail and armor at her arms and shoulders winking in the sunlight. Her hair was still in a thick plait down her back and his fingers itched to touch her.

Of course, that was impossible now. He only had himself to blame. “I see that everyone is here,” she began, her voice crisp and businesslike. “Quick overview: there are reports of darkspawn along the coast. We are going to investigate and see if we can find the source they’re coming up from and block it. There are also a few other side missions to complete, but I’ll fill everyone in once we reach one of the main camps.”

“Sounds like a plan, Boss,” Bull said, holding onto the harness of Ravena’s horse.

Ravena took the reins from him. He stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. “No promises, Bull,” she murmured.

“Not asking for them,” he replied. “Just go out there and kick some ass for me, okay?”

She gave him a slight smile. “You got it.” Settling into the saddle, she gave him a bigger smirk. “Keep the assassins away while I’m gone, will you? I’d hate to hear that they finally got lucky while I was out.”

“Give her some time,” Bull commented, waiting until everyone had already left the stables. “She’ll come around.”

“I’m giving her time,” Blackwall said. “And I’m giving her as much space as she needs.”

Bull snorted. “I said time. I didn’t say anything about space.” He eyed the rest of the group, judging how much time he had before one of them noticed that Blackwall was lagging behind. “I know our boss-lady. Give her enough room and she’ll think you lost interest. Crowd her and it’ll force her to rethink the situation.”

“Or it could push her away.”

“You’ll never know unless you try.” Giving Blackwall’s horse’s flank a parting pat, he grinned. “You’re all right in my book and something tells me that everything will go as it should. Horns up!”

“Right,” Blackwall muttered, spurring his mount so he could catch up to the rest of the group. “Horns up.” Or tits up, depending on how this trip goes.

***

The trip to the Storm Coast was actually pretty uneventful. They made good time, mostly because Ravena only stopped to give the horses a rest when they absolutely needed them. If anyone noticed that they hadn’t gone on their usual lingering breaks, then no one mentioned it. She set a hard pace and they reached their destination in record time.

It was difficult. Every time they took a water break, Blackwall would try his damnedest to start up a conversation. She smiled at him and politely spoke in a pleasant tone of voice, but he could tell that her smiles never reached her eyes and that any closeness they once had was gone, especially when she made a point to keep their conversations as brief as possible. Nights were even worse, seeing that Ravena quickly ducked into Dorian’s tent as soon as they set up camp. The mage had a habit of illuminating the interior of their tent with spell wisps, letting Blackwall see two silhouettes sitting close together. The sight of her sitting so cozily with someone else and every so often hearing snatches of animated conversation or laughter made him feel that much more like an outsider kicking himself for throwing away the best thing that had ever happened to him. Then he thought about what might have happened if he had told her the truth right off the bat and he grew even more morose, knowing that a woman like Ravena wouldn’t have given him a second glance had she have known about his past.

“Cheer up, Broody,” Sera had told him one night in the tent they shared, or rather the tent he had set up for himself, but Sera had deemed that he needed her to keep him company. “Things will turn out all right in the end. You’ve got to jump up and down on a board a few times before it breaks, you know.”

He hadn’t known how to respond to that, and Sera had taken his silence as him being sullen, so she decided the best way to get back at him was to stick her ice cold feet up the back of his shirt.

Once they reached the camp closest to the reported darkspawn activities, he had enough. As was their habit, Ravena usually took the lead and he stayed close by to cover her flank while the other two lingered behind to provide cover fire.

“Talk to me, Ravena,” he pleaded. “And I don’t mean what we’ve been doing these past days.”

She slowed down. “Why?” she asked, tilting her head up to look him in the eye. “You have made your feelings for me perfectly clear. While I might still be a little raw about that, I’m trying my best to treat you with some semblance of professional courtesy.”

He stopped her in her tracks by putting both hands on her upper arms. “Maker damn it, I lied.”

Her calm expression finally broke and she sneered at him. “Yes, I am well aware of that.” She tried to shrug out of his grip, but he tightened his hands on her armor.

“No, I lied about not loving you. I thought I was going to the gallows, I didn’t want you mourning someone undeserving of your grief.” He gave her a little shake. “Ravena, I love you. I’ve loved you practically since the moment I saw you. I love you still, please.”

She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it, her lips pressing into a thin line and her eyes tightly closing. He thought that he might have gained some ground when her body swayed towards his, but then she opened her eyes and the flinty glare she shot at him pierced though his armor and hit something vital.

“I don’t believe you,” she said coldly.

“Then why did you bring me here? Why not take someone else if you can’t stand the sight of me?”

“Because, ironically enough, you’re the most experienced warrior I have when it comes to dealing with darkspawn. That is the only reason, nothing more.” She struggled again, this time trying harder to wrestle out of his grasp. “Now let me go.”

His grip loosened and he watched as she stomped away. “Oh, she’s mad,” Sera noted, sidling up to Blackwall.

“Tell me something I didn’t already know,” he told her hopelessly.

She smacked his arm at his tone. “No, no, it’s a good thing. She’s not talking all standoffish businesslady-like to you, yeah? The board’s cracking all right. Give it a couple more good bounces and everything will be right as rain again.”

“I certainly hope you’re right.”

***

The single darkspawn sighting turned into a long afternoon of several darkspawn sightings. Blackwall was grateful that Dorian had been asked to come along: he quickly sealed off entry holes with magic in mere moments where it might have taken Blackwall hours to do the same with brute force. The worst encounter had been on the beach. By the end of it, everyone was completely out of energy. Ravena, in particular, was exhausted. She had fallen to her knees after the last foe had been slain and the hole sealed, her fingers sinking into the wet sand as she braced her weight on her palms. Blackwall would have asked either of their companions to check on her if he hadn’t caught the reddish tinge in the surf that washed over her leg.

“We’re stopping here,” he ordered. “Ravena’s hurt.”

“I’m fine,” she countered, rolling over to her hip to take some pressure off her knee. She tried to put up a stoic front, but she couldn’t stifle a whimper of pain when she went to pull her boot off.

“Bollocks.” He marched over to Dorian, who had elected to carry a pack with some essential gear in it while they traveled the areas between campsites. Before he could ask for bandages, the mage had already whipped out a thick roll along with some healing paste.

“You know, we’ve never really gotten along,” Dorian started, holding the bandages out of Blackwall’s reach.

“Is this really the time for a bonding moment?” Blackwall asked, impatient to get back to Ravena before her injury grew worse.

“Actually, I think this is a prime time for it. As I was saying, we’ve never gotten along well, but I get where you’re coming from. I admire the fact that instead of slinking about in some dark hole for the remainder of your life, you’ve tried your best to make yourself a better man, which is better than most would do. I can even understand your reasoning for telling Ravena the things you did, but now that you’re still very much alive instead of swinging in the breeze, that last tall tale has landed you in a bit of a pickle.”

“Understatement of the year.”

“Perhaps not the year. I was thinking Understatement of the Month instead. But I digress.” He handed Blackwall the supplies and leaned in close. “She still loves you, you know. She’s been hurt in the past, so naturally she has difficulty trusting people once she deems that they’ve deceived her. You’ll have to excuse her for lashing out in a manner best befitting a sullen teenager; she never got the chance to act that phase out when she was younger.”

Blackwall ran his free hand over his face as realization struck home. “Maker’s breath. Her family left her with the Chantry against her will.”

“And then a Templar left her heartbroken for some nameless tart. She told me all about him as well. Well, I came to my own conclusions while she drunkenly sobbed semi-incoherently over my shoulder whilst pouring her heart out about how she has horrendous taste in men who make habits of leaving her.” He arched his eyebrow pointedly. “I happen to agree with her on that point.”

“I didn’t…”

“Yes, you did. And with a hastily written note to boot, which I guess is only marginally better than just vanishing into thin air. And yes, I told you about her being so miserable over you that she resorted to drinking herself into a stupor to pour salt in the wound. I couldn’t let her drink alone, so I’m also blaming you for the hellacious hangover I had the next morning. I should probably apologize for whatever I might have done that night, everything was a blur.”

“You tried to punch me in the face.”

“Ah. Well, in that case, I don’t apologize for the attempt because I had good reason: Ravena is a dear friend. I hurt when she hurts and all that rot.” He shook his head. “Venhedis, this whole wounded love thing is not for the faint of heart.”

“No,” Blackwall agreed, turning around to head back to Ravena. “It isn’t.”

Ravena had moved a little further away from the water’s edge. She had already managed to take her right boot off, but was struggling with rolling her pant leg over her shin.

“Look, I understand why you don’t want me helping you and I completely deserve your scorn,” he began, kneeling in the sand at her feet. “I’m the bastard who hurt you. Believe me, if I could have avoided it, I would have. It’s one of my biggest regrets when it comes to us.”

“You could have avoided it by telling me the truth in the beginning,” she countered, ineffectively batting away his hands when he tried to help her. She snorted dismissively. “If that man hadn’t ever been captured, you would have gone on letting everyone believe you were someone else for the rest of your life.”

He ignored her hands and gently rolled her pant leg up to her knee, wincing at the sluggishly bleeding gash he found across her calf. “I would have, yes.”

Call me Thom,” she spat. “If you never wanted me to know, then why ask me to call you by your given name?” Giving up on fighting him, she merely sat back on her elbows and frowned.

“Because,” he said, twisting open the jar and applying a generous amount of healing paste to her calf. “I wanted the time between us to be between us. I didn’t want you calling out another man’s name when I made love to you.” He finished bandaging her up and carefully rolled down her pant leg. “It was selfish of me, but I at least wanted that to call my own, even if I was too cowardly to tell you the rest. I’m sorry about that.”

“I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry I wasn’t someone you could have trusted enough to tell everything to,” she said quietly, her eyes downcast. She pushed some hair that had escaped her braid out of her eye and sighed. “You don’t deserve how childishly I’ve been acting. I’m…I’m not very good at dealing with failed relationships.”

He helped her with her boot. “It isn’t failed if we’re both willing to try again. I know that I am; the biggest question is if you are.”

Ravena swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. “I’m afraid to,” she confessed. “I’m afraid that if I put myself out there with you and something like this happens again…it nearly killed me the first time. I don’t know if I could recover from a second time.”

“Ravena, I…”

She shook her head. “No. We don’t know what the future holds. Don’t make me promises you don’t know if you can keep. What I can ask you to promise me is that even if this doesn’t work out, that there won’t be any more lies between us.” She struggled to her feet, allowing Blackwall to pull her up by her hands. He considered it a good sign when she didn’t let go of his hands once she was standing.

“Done. There won’t be any lies. If you want to know anything, just ask. I’ll be as open of a book as I know how to be.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “No more lies; no big ones, no lies by omission. Not even the little ones: if Josephine and Vivienne stuff me into a ridiculously hideous dress for some occasion or another, you tell me how awful the color is and how enormous it makes my backside look.”

The corner of his mouth quirked upwards. “I promise.” He took a step closer to her until there was hardly any room between them. Tightening his hold on her hands, he looked her in the eye. “But telling the truth goes both ways. I might have lied about who I was, but I never once lied about how I felt about you. Right now, I’m just a man standing before you, his heart laid bare. It is up to you to decide what to do with it. Tell me honestly, do you still love me? Do I have any chance at this?”

Her lips trembled as she gave him a small, hopeful smile. “Yes. I never stopped loving you.”

He gathered her in his arms and held her tightly. “I thought I had lost you,” he whispered, his voice breaking as he pressed his face against her hair. He pulled back only enough to stare down at her, his head bent for a kiss. She seemed to read what he was intending on doing, because she turned her face at the very last second, his lips scoring her cheek instead.

“Forgive me for being cautious,” she said, stepping back from him. “I jumped in headfirst the first time; I want to take this slower.”

“Of course, whatever you need.”

She bit her lip. Reaching out, she tentatively touched her fingers to the side of his face. “Thank you.” Impulsively, she moved in and pressed a lingering kiss to his whiskered cheek, the corner of her mouth catching his. “But not too slow,” she whispered.

Reaching down, he captured her hand and brought it to his lips. “I can do that, my lady.” His heart flipped at the faint pink blush that dusted her cheeks at the gesture.

“I’m still mad at you, you know.”

“You have every right to be.” He held onto her hand a little tighter. “And I’m going to do my damndest to atone.”

“Don’t bury yourself in guilt, Thom,” she quietly told him. Ravena gave him a smile over her shoulder as she walked away, her limp barely noticeable. “Perhaps I want you to work for me a bit more this time around.” The last was said with the familiar flirtatious tone he had so desperately missed hearing. He stared after her, his heart full of hope for the first time since this all started.

“Well done,” Dorian commented, crossing his arms and giving Blackwall a nod of approval. “Now we can get back to the matter of stopping Corypheus without all the added dramatic entanglements.”

“I told you it was a good plan to get him to come with us,” Sera added, elbowing Dorian in the side hard enough to make the man stagger, a triumphant smile splitting her face.

“I’m just glad my persuasive talents are that good. Ravena is more stubborn than I imagined.”

Blackwall looked at both of them. “Wait. You two were the reason I came along? Ravena said…”

“That you had the most experience fighting darkspawn. Yes, that was my doing, with a sizeable bit of help from the Iron Bull. You’re welcome, by the way.” Dorian leaned in. “It may come as a surprise, but we were rooting for you.”

Sera rubbed her hands together. “Can’t wait to get back to Skyhold and tell Bull! Gonna spend my part of the pot on…”

“There was a betting pool on us?”

Dorian rolled his eyes. “Please. Varric lives with us. Of course there was a betting pool. Sera, the Iron Bull and I might have teamed up to make sure that we received the most advantageous portions of the wagers, but truly, we had both of your best interests at heart.”

Blackwall thought their advice from the past few days over. If not for their interference, both he and Ravena would have been miserable for a longer period of time. “And I thank you for that,” he told them.

“Good. Now that you’ve got the girl…”

“I haven’t won her yet.”

Dorian waved his hand dismissively. “Trifling detail, yet you might want to actually try courting Ravena this time around instead. A lady likes to be lavished with gifts and affection every now and again, you know.” He sobered. “But as I was saying, now that you’ve gotten into her good graces again, don’t screw it up. She’s the closest thing that I have to a sister and as a necromancer, I have a vast knowledge of spells that can rot off certain bits of manly anatomy, if you get my drift.”

Blackwall involuntarily swallowed. “You can’t actually do that, can you?”

“Care to try me?”

“No, no. Point taken.” Sighing, he glanced down at his boots. “The only problem is that I don’t know how to be with her as Thom Rainier.”

Sera made a rude noise at his left. “Load of pish, that is. You love her, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“And you want to be with her, yeah?”

“Sera…”

“My point is, you love her and she loves you. It doesn’t matter if you’re Blackwall or Todd Reynard or…”

“Thom.”

“Todd, Tim, Thom, whatever. Look, she doesn’t care if you’re the bleedin’ king of Nevarra. All that matters is that you’re you. I’d bet good money you weren’t spending all that time before thinkin’ oh, what would Warden Blackwall do if he had a woman between the sheets, all soft and warm and…” Sera drifted off, a dreamy look on her face. “Moany.” She cleared her throat and visibly shook herself out of whatever daydream that had glassed her eyes over. “Just be you.”

“You know, between all that rambling, Sera makes a good point.”

She looked smug. “I have my moments.”

Dorian began to walk faster to avoid any elbows the elf was likely to jab in his direction. “At any case, she fell in love with you. How did you go about that anyway?” He held out his palms at Blackwall’s glower. “Purely academic question, I assure you.”

“I don’t know. I just…” Blackwall shrugged. “Followed my gut.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“I concur.” Dorian clapped his hand over Blackwall’s shoulder. “I’m sure that between the two of you, things will work out on their own.”

Blackwall watched the two of them follow after Ravena before he himself quickened his pace until he was back at his customary post at her side. Ravena gave him a sideways glance out of the corner of her eye and shifted just a hair towards him until their arms brushed as they walked.

He couldn’t help but smile. Sera was right after all: everything was going to turn out fine.

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