“For the last time, no.”
“Will you not listen to reason?”
Ravena crossed her arms over her chest and arched an eyebrow. “You want to talk about reason? Blackwall, look at yourself.”
He huffed as he tried to rise up from the bed. He got so far as to raise himself onto his elbows before he grunted in pain. “I’m fine, woman.”
She sat on the edge of the mattress and gently pushed on his shoulders until he lay back down. “You were grabbed by a giant and thrown against a tree. You have several broken ribs and you’re still recovering from a punctured lung and a concussion. Had we not have had any potions on us, you would have died.”
“Yet I didn’t.”
“You came close.” Seeing him lying pale and unresponsive in a crumpled heap, his armor twisted about him like shredded paper had been the most terrifying experience in her life. Leaning over him, she placed a palm against his heavily bandaged chest and pressed a kiss to his brow. “You need time to heal so that when I do go on a difficult mission, you’ll be ready to come with me. This is easy; we’re just setting up the last few campsites in the Hinterlands we never got around to doing and completing a few odd jobs here and there.”
He scowled. “I don’t like the thought of you going out there without me.”
“I’m taking Cassandra, Solas and Varric with me. You trust them, don’t you?” Tracing her fingers across his frown, she tilted her head. “Believe it or not, I actually got a lot accomplished with those three before we recruited you.”
“It isn’t that I don’t trust them,” he started, reaching up to brush his fingertips across her cheek. “It’s that I’m not there. I can’t protect you from here.”
She bent her head for a kiss. “Dear man,” she murmured, rubbing her nose affectionately against his. “I appreciate that you want to be my protector, but let me be yours right now. Rest and heal, if not for yourself, then for me.”
He sighed, tilting his head up to catch her mouth with his again. “For you, then,” he promised.
“Good. In return, I promise I’ll take you out to Crestwood so we can take on that dragon that’s been terrorizing the area.”
He let out a small huff of laughter. “Perhaps nothing that strenuous,” he told her. Reaching out, he brushed a few stray hairs away from her face. “Be careful out there, Ravena.”
“I will. I’ll see you as soon as I get back.” She gave him one last lingering kiss before leaving the infirmary. On the way out, she spied her brother leaning against the exterior wall.
“He’s a stubborn man,” Raoul commented.
“Yes, he is.”
“Ah well, you’re a stubborn woman, so I’m certain the two of you are well-matched.” He laughed as she shoved at him.
“Keep an eye on him for me,” she asked.
“Both eyes, as often as I’m able. My boss has me busy making ties with half of Antiva at the moment.”
She shrugged. “I wouldn’t have given you the assignment if I hadn’t known you were capable of it. I’m serious though; don’t let him do anything he shouldn’t be doing. Sit on him if you have to.”
“Maker’s breath, the two of you really are well suited for the other. I’m going to be stuck here with a man worrying about your safety while you’re out there fretting about his.” He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “Just be careful, will you?” The last was said with genuine concern, all teasing gone from his voice.
Impulsively, she turned to embrace him. “I will.” She couldn’t help but feel grateful at the way Raoul’s arms tightened around her.
It took Blackwall two weeks to recover enough that the healers weren’t hovering over him any time he tried to get out of bed to take a piss. A week after that they finally deemed him fit enough that he could move out of the infirmary. At hearing the news, he didn’t know who was more relieved, himself or the healers. The need to move about when he hadn’t been able to leave the bed on his own had made him want to crawl the walls.
Maybe it was a good thing Ravena was gone while I was recovering from the worst of it, he thought, knowing that his temper had been shorter than usual while he had been bedridden. He was still grumpy, mostly because he wasn’t back to full strength, even after three weeks’ worth of potions and poultices. The dark purple bruises that had adorned most of his upper body down to the waist were now a sickly looking green and yellow, but he still felt uncomfortable twinges against his ribs when he twisted certain ways.
Perhaps the only good thing about being bedridden for so long had been the fact that he had gotten to know Ravena’s brother better. Raoul had made a point to stop by in the evenings and the two of them would talk or play a game of cards. Sera was often around at that time, so conversations were often loud and sarcastic. At the end of the first visit together, Sera had patted Blackwall’s foot and deemed that Raoul was an okay sort of noble who didn’t have his head stuffed up his arse most of the time, which coming from her was high praise indeed. Blackwall had discovered that he and Raoul had some shared interests, and he had managed to wheedle out a few childhood stories that further confirmed his image of Ravena as a rough and tumble tomboy.
Now that he had been released from the healer’s care, he was back in the stables. The first day, just for fun, he attempted to suit up in his full armor. The end result had been him slumping in a chair out of sheer exhaustion, half of his gear still on the table and a fine sheen of sweat on his brow. Sera had found him that way; she had been taking to stealing treats from the kitchens and smuggling them into the infirmary as a way to cheer him up. She hadn’t said anything about his tired state; she just helped him unbuckle what he had gotten into and neatly placed it back on the rack he normally kept his armor on. Then she had produced a rather large block of cheese, a heel of still-warm bread, a chunk of cold roast, and two bottles of mead from the sack she had slung at her hip. He had a suspicion that all the items had been swiped either from the kitchens or from the tavern’s supply room.
Get to eatin’, Beardy, she had told him, helping herself to a large portion of the food. We’re playing cards at the tavern tonight now that you’re up and walkin’ around and I need you to keep an eye on that shifty dwarf, whatsisname, Pebbles or summat. He’s being all sneaky-like with giving me shit hands and taking all my money. I think him and Grime are in on it. Odd sort of fellow, that Grime. Doesn’t say nothin’ but still gets his point across. He’d been too amused by the way her nose had scrunched up that he hadn’t thought to correct both of the Chargers’ names.
He was grateful for the distractions; Ravena had said she anticipated being gone for a month and the last week waiting for her to return had been utter torture. Fully healed and more than rested, Blackwall had filled his time with woodworking projects just to keep his hands busy. A morning exploring the Keep had unearthed entire rooms filled with furniture in need of repair. By Wednesday, he had completely upgraded an entire bedroom set. The finished items had turned out so handsomely that he had claimed them for his own, setting them up in a forgotten room off of the gardens he had stumbled upon earlier. It had taken a little bartering with the merchants to procure a decent mattress and linens. In all, sleeping in his newly acquired nook was worlds better than the straw mattress he had been sleeping on in the hayloft, and he decided after his first night that he’d make the spot his permanent quarters. It might be further away from the barracks for training purposes, but if anything, perhaps the secluded nature of his new room would provide him and Ravena with more privacy than the stable had. Even now, Blackwall could feel his face and the back of his neck heat as he recalled Sera teasing about him getting hay in various nooks and crannies.
Friday had seen Blackwall pacing the ramparts like a caged animal, impatiently going from one end of Skyhold to the next. Cullen had given him reports to deliver, thinking to capitalize on Blackwall’s restlessness, but had quickly retracted the offer when Blackwall had distractedly delivered them to the wrong recruit. Night had fallen without any sign of the party and by late evening Blackwall had retreated to his new garden room, convinced that Ravena would return later than she had first thought. Concern about her welfare had him staring up at the ceiling, but eventually sleep had taken over.
When he woke next, something was tickling his nose. Eyes still closed, he batted at the offending object, only to have his fingers brush against soft hair. Sliding his palm down, he caught the edge of an ear and the feminine curve of a cheek. His eyes snapped open when a hand smoothed over his chest and a contented sigh broke the silence.
“I was wondering when you’d wake up,” Ravena said sleepily, shifting so she could twine a leg around his. She pressed a lazy kiss against his chest before scooting up enough to reach his mouth. “Hello.”
“Hello.” He slung his arm around her and drew her closer. “When did you get back?”
“About two hours ago. I would have gone to look for you first, but…”
He turned on his side so he could face her. “Duty calls. I take it that the three of them requested updates on your trip first?”
She nodded, propping her head on her hand. “The four of them, actually. Raoul said that you were finally given a clean bill of health this week.”
“Thank the Maker. I don’t think I could have handled any more poking and prodding from Sister Gertrude.”
Ravena grinned. “I also have some information from Sister Gertrude that you were a veritable grump while you were out of commission.”
He scoffed. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“She started counting all the times you blasphemed. I think the total count before they said you could leave the infirmary was in the fifties.”
“I couldn’t have been that bad.”
“I believe she said your favorite, or at least most often used, swear was Andraste’s giant flaming...”
“All right, so I was that bad.” He reached out and gingerly traced a fading bruise that curved from her eyebrow to her cheekbone. “What happened?”
She shrugged. “Minor scuffle with a bear.” She winced when he raised his eyebrow. “I got in the way of Solas’ staff as he was casting and he accidentally backhanded me with it. He was very apologetic about it all. In his defense, he was being attacked by a bear at the time.”
“And what of the bear?”
“Varric and Cassandra are going to play stone, parchment, scissors to see who gets to keep the skin. Cassandra said something about using it to make a warmer coat for trips into Emprise du Lion we need to start thinking of making. Varric said he needs it as a rug to lounge on when he gets writer’s block.” She grinned. “I might have told everyone that I supported Cassandra’s practical use of it, but in all honesty, I’m rooting for Varric. He said he gets his best intentionally-bad erotica ideas when surrounded by the same cheesy accessories he writes about. Right now he’s co-authoring a long-distance novella with his pirate friend Isabela that he won’t let me read until it’s finished. All he says is that the prose has gotten even more purple than usual and he’s running out of metaphors for the term member. He said there’s flowering and weeping involved as well.”
Blackwall blinked, trying to get the mental image out of his head. “Do I even want to know?”
“He told me that if his friend out-writes him, he’s going to see if Bull and Sera want to collaborate on a chapter or two. Apparently it’s even better than Swords and Shields, which he’s also been dropping hints to in an effort to get Cassandra to just give him the damn bear skin.”
He laughed. “He really wants a bearskin rug that badly?”
“Nope. The best part is that when I asked him what he really wanted it for, he replied that he wanted to use it to make Cassandra a warmer coat for the trips to Emprise du Lion. He just wanted to irritate her, especially since he had to run around to avoid the bear cubs that had been trailing after the bear we took on. They were definitely not happy to see their mama under attack.”
“Now that sounds more like him.” Blackwall ran the backs of his fingers against her cheek, smiling at her when she leaned into his touch. “It’s good to have you back.”
“It’s good to be back.” She settled against him, her head pillowed on his shoulder. “It felt odd not having you out there with me.”
“I’m certain that the tent was quieter at night without my snoring.”
She snorted. “Cassandra tends to mumble. Apparently Varric still manages to vex her in her sleep because she kept on muttering damn dwarf every so often.” She lifted her head and looked around his newly claimed room. “This is a nice place.”
“You like it?”
“It’s very secluded. Took me forever to hunt you down. I’m surprised that the sisters haven’t claimed this wing for themselves.”
“I think they’re trying. It’s a little ways away from where they established the Chantry, but I saw one or two workmen clearing out some nearby rooms.” He turned to lie on his back, his arm still wrapped around Ravena’s shoulder. “At least it doesn’t smell like the stables.”
“Oh? Are you thinking of making a permanent change of residence?” She burrowed closer, sighing contentedly. This is what she had missed for the past month: the closeness, the ability to relax and talk to someone about nothing in particular. While she and many of her friends kidded around and freely showed affection, no one held her in the familiar way that Blackwall did and it wasn’t until she had him back in her reach that she had realized just how starved for touch she had been.
“As a matter of fact, I was thinking of it. I like the space; it’s far away from prying eyes and ears that hear things they shouldn’t.”
Ravena groaned and buried her face against his chest. “Please tell me that Cabot isn’t telling everyone what he heard. Maker’s breath, we get too noisy in the hayloft one time and we never hear the end of it.”
“Actually, my lady, I can recall a handful of other times we…” Blackwall tensed and nearly sat up. “Wait, Cabot? I was talking about Sera.”
She groaned again. “Sera too? Well, at least that explains the whole finding hay in my bedroll after the last time.” Ravena peeked up at him and smirked. “According to Cabot, there have been reports of things going bump in the night and strange noises coming from the barn. We’ve been spooking the horses.”
He ran his free hand over his face. “Maker’s balls.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Walking her fingers over his chest, her smirk widened. “I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or smug.”
“Smug. I’m definitely going with smug.” Grinning, he rolled them over until Ravena’s back hit the mattress. “I am one lucky bastard,” he told her, his lips skating over the line of her throat.
She hummed her agreement. “I am quite the catch,” she teased, twining her fingers in his hair.
“You’ll not hear any arguments from me.” His fingers began to deftly undo the toggles on her tunic. “Care to see just how secluded our new spot is?”
The next morning, Ravena was touring the Chantry gardens to check in with the Inquisition’s herbalists. One of the sisters stopped her to quietly ask if something could be done to move repairs to that portion of the Keep forward on the schedule. The young sister complained that she had been kept up most of the night, the sound of the wind moaning and groaning as it whipped through the various holes in the surrounding structures sounding almost human in tone. Ravena had felt a blush creep across her cheeks and down her throat when the sister described a particularly loud shriek that had woken the poor girl up after she had finally drifted off.
Face still hot, she left the Chantry and went in search of a mason. There had to be some way to sound-proof a room.