Disclaimer: Bioware owns all, I earn nothing.
WARNING: This story hasTWO MEN FALLING IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER AND EXPRESSING SEMI-HEALTHY DESIRE FOR EACH OTHER'S BODIES.If you don't like homoerotic romance PLEASE BACK OFF! If that kind of thing makes you go start praying at the porcelain gods in a hurry, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Please exit quietly using the "Back" button, thank you. Please note that if you decide to continue, we do not supply brain bleach, so bring your bleach brand of choice before your eyes start drifting further. Thank you for your cooperation, and have a nice day.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to SiaLater, Elysium_fic and ambientwhispers for catching my errors and telling me how to tame them.
Of Whoresons and Nobles
They were being followed.
Zevran could feel the prickling of eyes watching them, could see glimpses of shadows where none should be at the edges of his own watchful gaze.
Behind him, he knew Leliana had already drawn her bow, holding it ready for a possible ambush. Even Morrigan was tense and wary, her golden eyes glimmering with suspicion as she muttered dark curses under her breath.
Only the Warden seemed oblivious to all of this as he strode purposefully down the narrow alley; but then again, the Warden had other things on his mind. Since that elven maid, Erlina showed up on Arl Eamon's doorstep, with a plea for rescue by Queen Anora, he had allowed nothing to dissuade him from heading out to fulfill said plea — not because the Queen was asking for his help, but because she was held in the same estate that Howe currently resided in.
"Warden," he murmured, jogging a little to keep up with the ground-eating strides of the Warden's much longer legs. "Are you quite sure this is wise? One does not walk into a dark alley without expecting to be ambushed, yes?"
"This is the fastest way to the Arl of Denerim's estate," the Warden said flatly. "The longer we delay this rescue, the lesser our chances of success."
Success at what? Rescuing the Queen? Or killing Howe? "We need not be in such a hurry to rescue this Queen of yours, surely," he replied. "It's in the Regent's best interests to keep her alive, is it not?"
"Too late to back out," the Warden said. "This path only has one exit, and we're already halfway through."
"What?" Morrigan exclaimed. "Are you saying that we are walking down a path with no route of escape, in a city full of enemies? Are you mad?"
The Warden barely spared her a glance as he lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. "Unless they decide to drop a high dragon on our heads, I doubt that any sort of interruption would be much trouble." He rounded a corner, emerging into a small open courtyard, and was already heading towards the stairway at the other end —
— where glittering spikes awaited, hidden beneath the thick layer of muck and grime that often covered Denerim's back alleys.
Hissing a barely-restrained curse, Zevran reached out and grabbed the Warden's arm, pulling him back. "Stop, Warden, you're walking right into a –"
A lithe, swarthy man stepped out of the shadows at the very top of the stairs. "And so here is the mighty Grey Warden at long last," the man said, grinning broadly. "The Crows send their greetings once again."
... Trap. Zevran felt a cold coil of dread tighten around his chest as he looked up at an all-too-familiar face.
Andraste guide me. I did not want this. Sucking in a breath, he stepped around to stand by the Warden's side, his eyes never leaving the Crow assassin who had ambushed them. "And so they sent you, Taliesen?" he asked. "Or did you volunteer for the job?"
His voice was cold, the voice of one professional assassin speaking to another. His words rang hollow and foreign in his ears; had it been truly so long since he had spoken to another Crow?
"I volunteered, of course." Taliesen's tone was light and mocking, as he had always sounded. He was still smiling, but his eyes were hard and ruthless as he stared down at Zevran. "When I heard that the great Zevran had gone rogue, I simply had to see it for myself."
Zevran's lip curled back in a sneer. "Is that so? Well here I am, in the flesh."
Behind him, he could hear Morrigan and Leliana shifting, carefully moving into positions where their arrows and magic could do the most damage. The Warden remained still and silent, an armour-clad statue, but Zevran could feel the coiled tension in his body, prepared to strike out if the Crows attack.
Abruptly, the smile vanished from Taliesen's face, and he looked sombre, almost sad. "You can return with me, Zevran," he said, his voice gentle and cajoling. "I know why you did this, and I don't blame you. It's not too late. Come back and we'll make up a story. Anyone can make a mistake."
Taliesen was looking at him with wide eyes, his expression pleading. Zevran remembered that expression well; it was one Taliesen often wore when he sometimes slipped into Zevran's bed, haunted by nightmares or guilt or the simple despair of knowing that as Crows, they never truly owned their own lives.
It made Zevran's throat tighten to see that familiar expression on a man that he considered a friend, and more.
Then he found his view half-blocked by the bright glow of a silverite pauldron.
"Zevran belongs with me, now." The Warden's voice was a harsh growl as he shifted to stand in front of Zevran.
What Zevran could see of Taliesen's face twisted with mirth as the swarthy human laughed derisively. "You don't even know who you're talking about, do you?" he taunted.
The Warden said nothing. He simply lifted his arm away from his side in a protective, possessive gesture, further shielding Zevran.
The glint of the thin chainmail hidden beneath the heavy, nigh-impenetrable plate caught Zevran's attention, as the raised arm revealed that vulnerable gap at the Warden's armpit.
A very small window of opportunity, for an assassin faced with a heavily-armored foe. Wait till your opponent raises their arm to strike you, and then get close to him, slipping a dagger into that gap and killing him with a decisive stab into their lungs. But your opponent, unless he is a fool, will always be moving, so keep your eyes sharp and your mind aware, so you can find that window, and take it as quickly as you can.
It's not too late.
Yes. It would be easy, so very easy, for him to just close the gap between the Warden and himself, and swiftly thrust a dagger into that spot. It would be a fast, quick kill. Kill the Warden, and he can rejoin the Crows.
He glanced up, saw the Warden looking at him. There was a quiet, expectant look in his eyes, as if he...
Zevran stared back, his eyes narrowing as an unpleasant thought occurred to him... and he made his decision.
Feeling both sad and relieved, he turned his gaze back up to look at Taliesen.
You don't even know who you're talking about, do you?
"And neither do you, Taliesen," he murmured to himself, before raising his voice. "I'm sorry, old friend, but the answer is 'no'. I am not coming back..." His hands had already reached back, drawing the lyrium-etched daggers from the scabbards that were strapped to his back. "... and you should have stayed in Antiva."
Taliesen's eyes widened. In shock or horror, Zevran didn't know. Didn't care, as he darted forward, dashing up the steps, intent only on the kill.
He heard shouting as assassins leaped from their hiding spots, and his companions attacked, bolts of magic and fiery arrows sailing over his head to strike down the lightly-armored warriors racing down the steps. He dodged the flailing arms and the weapons at the end of them as screams of agony rang in his ears, combining with the cacophony of the Warden's battle cries and the clashing of sword against armor. But his eyes, his focus, was only on the man at the very top of those stairs.
At last, he was close enough to see the cold resolve in Taliesen's eyes... and then the fight began in earnest.
He and Taliesen had been partners for years, and with good reason; the two of them were equals in almost every way. They trained together, fought together, ate together, and slept together. Their sparring matches were more like extended dances together, their blades making complex patterns as they thrust and parried.
They had always been careful to avoid hurting each other then.
But not now.
Zevran rarely let the bloodthirsty side of his assassin's mind show; it was too dark, too dangerous to be given free rein, and he had made foolish mistakes from not being careful about controlling it. But now, as his daggers and Taliesen's crossed with the sharp clashing sound of metal scraping against metal, he embraced that darker half of his nature, letting himself fall with it. Into a world no bigger than the blood-and-shit-stained ground beneath his feet, and the wild flashes of deadly metal flying around him.
He and Taliesen were equals when they worked together.
But not now.
He would not remember the details later; the bloodlust had engulfed his mind and left him little space to think about anything more than this one fight for survival. But he would remember that Taliesen seemed slow and clumsy to him, when in his memories Taliesen was always fast and light on his feet. He would remember that each movement of his former friend seemed ridiculously easy to predict, even though he remembered that one of the reasons he loved to spar against Taliesen was his ability to be unpredictable in a fight.
Taliesen, he realized, was no longer his equal, but lesser. A weakling who was almost unworthy of his time.
His heart soared with glee at the ease of the fight, even as it plummeted to form a cold, hard lump at the base of his belly.
Taliesen was tiring; Zevran could hear the harsh, panting breaths, could see the sheet of sweat glimmering over the sun-bronzed skin. Each strike at him grew more and more careless. More and more desperate.
He ducked, dodged, danced away from the flashing blades with the ease of a master assassin against a raw trainee. He simply bided his time until Taliesen reached too far, and he struck.
Zevran was sure that his face mirrored Taliesen's shocked expression as Zevran's blade sank deep into the side of his neck.
Blood rushed out, warm and red, over his blade and his arm, before he wrenched his dagger free.
Taliesen made no move to stop the bleeding. He simply dropped to his knees, his daggers falling to clatter beside him, his expression still shocked, his eyes still fixed on Zevran's. Zevran could see his own eyes reflected in them, and he knew that they were cold, merciless; the eyes of a killer.
Then Taliesen fell forward on his face, and he was gone.
Zevran let out a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding, and the haze of bloodlust thinned enough that he heard the shouts behind him, and the explosive burst of a stray fireball.
Strange how the other assassins had ignored his fight with Taliesen, but he decided that it was simply because the Warden posed too much of a threat to them, and that the bounty on the Warden's head simply made him the more valuable target.
Not that they were having much luck against him, he noted as he quietly stabbed a pair of luckless fools at the edge of the chaos surrounding the Warden. He cut a bloody swath through the men and women who tried to swarm him, a bringer of gloriously violent death. Assassins, as a rule, were generally poor fighters, and the almost painfully easy way the Warden overwhelmed them in close combat proved it. With Morrigan and Leliana's help, defeating the rest of them was a ridiculously easy task.
Zevran even felt a little shame for his profession as he sank a blade into the last man's gut and up to his lungs, before leaving the man to die, choking on his own blood.
The alley was eerily silent after the brief chaos that had erupted. Zevran half-expected the guard to show up, but he wasn't really surprised that not a single soul seemed to have noticed the noise.
He turned his gaze up to the top of the stairs, to where Taliesen still lay. His blood had begun to run down the steps, forming little waterfalls. It was an almost pretty sight.
… knowing Taliesen, the ones most likely to have eyes and ears near this alley had their palms greased with silver, if they were not simply disposed of. Taliesen had always been the cautious one, preferring to strike from the shadows rather than take any unnecessary risk...
"Zevran?" the Warden murmured, his voice close.
Zevran looked away and found the Warden standing near, holding his helmet under one arm. His expression was calm, almost relieved; he wasn't even sweating more than usual. Zevran held the Warden's gaze for a moment, before looking up at Taliesen again, knowing the Warden's eyes would follow his.
"And there it is," he murmured, just loud enough so only the Warden could hear him. "Taliesen is dead, and I am free of the Crows."
Free. The word tasted strange in his mouth, but it rolled out from his tongue with unexpected ease. Was this how freedom felt? He didn't know if the mixture of guilt and regret and strange excitement churning in his gut was "freedom", but he supposed it would do.
He turned back towards the Warden. "They will assume that I am dead along with Taliesen. So long as I do not make my presence known to them"—and no one tells them of my presence, he added silently—"they will not seek me out."
The Warden had been studying Taliesen's body as Zevran spoke, his expression impassive; at his last words, piercing eyes turned to meet his. "That's a good thing, right?"
Zevran couldn't help but smile a little mischievously. "A very good thing. It is, in fact, what I had hoped for ever since you decided not to kill me." A filthy lie; judging from the Warden's raised eyebrow and quirked lips, it wasn't a very convincing one either.
Shrugging, and mentally making a note to practice his false face more often, he went on, "I suppose it would be possible for me to leave now, if I wished. I could go far away, somewhere where the Crows would never find me." His tone was deliberately light and carefree; his mind, however, was not. He had been watching the Warden carefully when he said those words, and he saw the little flash of uncertainty and hurt, before it was hidden again beneath that too-grim mask. His breath hitched, the barely acknowledged thought floated past, Don't send me away, don't send me away!
And that decided the matter of where he would be spending his freedom. Or was it more chains? Velvet wrapped, perhaps, but chains, nonetheless. "... I think, however, that I could also stay here. I made an oath to help you, after all. And saving the world seems a worthy task to see through to the end, yes?"
This time, the Warden didn't mask his reaction very well; his eyes widened, and his jaw dropped, briefly, before he blinked and looked away, his hand running through his hair. "I..." The lump at the Warden's throat bobbed as he visibly swallowed. "... I would be glad to have you stay." Zevran quietly let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The words were spoken very quickly and softly, while the Warden continued to inspect a distant wall as if it was the most interesting thing in the entire world.
Zevran was grateful for that, at least. If the Warden had actually been looking at him, he might have seen the smile that had briefly stretched across Zevran's face.
He wants me to stay.
He should feel threatened, or even frightened. Yet he felt as if he had suddenly hurdled over some unexpected, insurmountable obstacle that he had been struggling against for years. He felt as if he had somehow won. That he had triumphed. He felt like he could single-handedly take on every Crow Master in Antiva all at once, and defeat every one of them.
An unlikely thing, but it was good to imagine it, even for a while. And considering that the Warden had turned away from the wall and was now watching him intently, he was clearly expecting some kind of answer from Zevran. "Then stay I shall. I'm with you until the very end."
The Warden stared at him, one eyebrow slightly raised, his eyes narrowed. His mouth was already to curve into a familiar, unmistakable grin. Only then did Zevran realize what he had said, and what it might have sounded like. "... provided that you do not tire of me first," he added quickly, mentally cursing at the Warden's perverse ability to take his words and twisting them to suit the Warden's own needs. "Or I die. Or you die. But there you go."
The Warden laughed softly, shaking his head. "If you say so, Zevran," he said.
A light, girlish giggle saved Zevran from having to think of a reply to that. "Oh, just look at you two." Leliana giggled again, her hand coming up to hide her mouth. "You two are simply too adorable."
"Yes, yes, standing around talking about unimportant things in the middle of an alley littered with rubbish and corpses." Morrigan's drawl was dripping with scorn. "I can't believe we're wasting time here in this filthy alley while you two make sheep's eyes at each other."
"Well, I think it's sweet," Leliana said.
Morrigan opened her mouth, clearly prepared to argue, but the Warden let out a long-suffering sigh and dryly said, "I do believe the two of you have better things to do than to watch something that's strictly none of your business. We do need enough coin to survive, after all, and whatever valuables that these poor men and women are carrying aren't going to magically appear in our own pockets."
Morrigan gave the Warden a long, narrow-eyed glare, but to Zevran's relief and amusement, she made a sound not unlike a boiling teakettle, spun sharply on her heels, and all but stomped off towards the corpse that was furthest from them in the alley. Apparently, even the witch knew when to obey the Warden's commands. After giving the Warden a rather unsure smile, Leliana hurried off after Morrigan, possibly so that she could calm the other woman down.
Zevran shook his head, not understanding Leliana's inability to realize how futile it was to make Morrigan not angry. An attempt to put out a forest fire with a tear would have taken less effort.
A hand lightly touched his shoulder, reminding him that there were other concerns besides the antics of two strange women. "Do you need help dealing with Taliesen's body?" the Warden murmured.
Zevran looked up at the Warden, saw the concern in his eyes, before he looked up at where Taliesen's body lay, thought... "I think I'll check the body myself." He gave the Warden a mirthless, tight-lipped smile. "He is my kill, after all. You need not dirty your hands with him."
The Warden's eyes narrowed a little at that remark, but he nodded. "As you wish." The hand on his shoulder squeezed briefly before dropping away. "Don't take too long; the Queen's life is still in danger, and we have yet to rescue her."
Zevran inclined his head, and turned, heading up the stairs –
The questioning tone made him stop and turn around. The Warden was silent for a moment, frowning down at the ground as he tugged at his hair, before he sighed and looked up at Zevran. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. Killing him must have been difficult."
Many months ago, Zevran might have nodded, saying that he agreed with the Warden. But now...
He felt his lips purse in a tight line as he shook his head. "He wanted you to die. I would have never allowed it."
He saw the Warden blink, but he turned around and quickly bounded up the steps, seemingly intent on getting to Taliesen's body.
He didn't want the Warden to see the sudden surge of rage that made his lips curl back in a fierce snarl.
The white-hot anger that blazed through him now startled and puzzled him. But the very idea of his Warden dying, or even harmed by another Crow... He'd make the streets of Antiva run red with blood if that ever happened.
He'd dropped to his knees beside Taliesen's body, but the haze of rage in his mind had distracted him from doing any more than stare, unseeing, at Taliesen's face. He exhaled through his teeth, his breath escaping in a long hiss, forcing the rage to the back of his mind. Now was not the time for him to be thinking about where the anger came from, or why the anger existed in the first place.
Muttering vile curses under his breath, he began to methodically search Taliesen's pockets. As he'd expected, Taliesen carried very few possessions with him; there was nothing on him that tied him to the Crows. He would have a few tattoos inked on his skin that showed his true profession, but the marks were a Crow secret and no outsider would have recognized him. The only clues hinting that he was no normal mercenary were the bottles of poison strapped to his belt, but such poisons were not exactly rare, and easy enough to brew with the right recipe and ingredients.
Vaguely disappointed at the lack of valuables, he grabbed the poisons for himself, and upturned the worn, battered purse he found hooked on Taliesen's belt over his hand, emptying the few copper pieces it carried into his palm before dropping it on the ground...
The odd clink the purse made as it hit the cobblestones did not escape his notice.
Zevran frowned, glanced at the purse. The thing was made entirely of leather; it could not possibly have made any sort of metallic noise. But the sound was unmistakable, if very faint.
Picking up the purse again, he re-inspected it. This time he carefully ran his hand along its sides, and found a side that felt a little bulkier than the rest, heard that clinking sound again. Of course. "A hidden pocket. Clever." Smiling slightly, he took out a knife and lightly sliced through the leather, revealing that there was indeed a hidden pocket sewn into the side of the purse, containing a few silver pieces and...
He blinked as the glint of worn gold winked up at him.
Holding his breath, not daring to believe his eyes, he reached into the pocket, and lifted up the gold earring hidden amongst the silver coins.
He stared at the piece of jewelry he now held delicately in his fingers. The earring was a finely made thing, gold wire twisted into a teardrop shape, the widest part of the earring holding a single, perfectly round, inky-black pearl. It was the sort of jewelry that the more fashionable (and wealthy) men in Antiva liked to wear; small and simple enough to be worn everyday, but clearly valuable enough to be a strong statement of the bearer's wealth.
It was an earring that he remembered very well.
He had taken the earring as part of his first successful mission together with Taliesen, he remembered. Their Master at the time had allowed them to keep the earring, if only because it was too distinctive to be sold off. Zevran use to wear it always, as a mark of his success and because Taliesen said it looked good on him. He had left his earring beside Taliesen's bed, right after he took that suicidal contract to kill the Wardens and just before he departed for the harsh, cold lands of Ferelden. It had pained him to leave behind one of the very few things he could truly call his own, but it was the most effective way of leaving a wordless message that he would never be returning to Antiva.
Zevran glanced at Taliesen's dead, unseeing eyes. He could only think of one reason why his fellow Crow brought the earring with him; the other man clearly expected Zevran to come back to the Crows with him.
Taliesen, you fool.
Blinking away the unexpected stinging in his eyes, he pocketed away the coins and the earring. No matter; their partnership had severed the moment Zevran left Antiva, seeking his own death. And now Taliesen was dead.
"Zevran!" The Warden called. "If you're done, we should leave this place before the guardsmen get here."
"I'm done!" he shouted back over his shoulder. Looking at Taliesen again, he let out a sigh, and gently closed Taliesen's eyes. "Be at peace, my friend," he murmured under his breath as he got to his feet. "And if the Maker does exist... may you find your place beside Him, wherever He may be."
With those words, he turned his back on Taliesen – the last tie to his past with the Crows – and to his Warden.
To his future.
The Warden's expression was quietly concerned as Zevran approached him, but he said nothing when they both headed away towards the other end of the alley. Zevran was grateful for the silence; it allowed him to think.
To feel. To let this strange feeling of elation and relief and quiet fear, this... freedom infuse him, become part of him.
He felt a rueful smile cross his face. It was strange and not a little intimidating to imagine that he was free of the Crows at last, when he had thought that he would be fated to die as one. He'd spent so many years caged by his heritage as a bastard and his upbringing as an assassin for so long... with Taliesen out of the way, the Crows had no real hold over him. Ignatio still knew he lived, but the sly old fox wasn't likely to support any Master who decided to hunt him down and finish him off. Although the old man wouldn't help Zevran either; Ignatio was far too pragmatic and self-serving to take any side except his own.
He was both free of the Crows, and unable to rely on them any longer. Truly free and yet truly alone. A frightening set of thoughts. But it was better than living under the constant threat of being killed, of being harmed... and he doubted that he would ever be truly alone, not after what he'd been through for these past few years. Leliana was the closest thing to a true friend he had ever known, and even though they might disapprove of his general behaviour, he never doubted that Alistair and Wynne wouldn't hesitate to help him, being the bleeding-hearts they were. He travelled in strange company nowadays, yes, but they were good company.
And for all of that, he only had one handsome Fereldan to thank.
His handsome Fereldan.
He glanced up at the Warden, studied the austere planes of the other man's profile. There was little doubt that he was indebted to the man. Again. Possibly forever this time. A part of him still winced at the idea, but he found that he didn't mind it as much as he thought he would. A frightening thought, that he would allow himself to be indebted in this way... but there was little he could do about it, except thank the Warden for his freedom.
He frowned to himself, realizing that he had no idea what the Warden would accept in thanks. Words felt too mundane, yet he doubted he had anything material that was worthy enough to give the Warden.
What would the Warden want from him, really?
The Warden's voice, smug with arrogance but soft with tenderness, suddenly echoed in his mind: "Everything that you are willing to give, and everything that I can take."
As when he had first heard them, the memory of those words made his face heat with something he would never call 'embarrassment', even to himself.
But it did give him a clue to what the Warden might want. Sentiment. Silly as it seemed, the Warden did seem like the sort of man who would appreciate the thought behind a gift more than the value of the gift itself. Zevran grimaced. That... narrowed his options quite a bit. He was sure he could find a perfectly fine gift at a shop like the Wonders of Thedas, but it wouldn't be the right gift. Not for this. Not for the Warden.
The Warden was turning his head, his eyes searching their surroundings as they continued to make their way through the maze of Denerim's dark, dank alleys. At certain angles, Zevran could see the hint of a small dent in the Warden's earlobe.
He remembered that story of how the Warden came to have pierced ears. How, apparently, he had been a very sickly child when he was young, and his "fussy and overbearing" mother had, on the suggest of his Nan, pierced his ears and hung silver horn-shaped earrings as "a ward against the evil eye". The Warden stopped wearing them when he grew old enough to think for himself, but the piercings never fully closed. Zevran remembered the wistfulness and deep, sorrowful regret in the Warden's voice; the clear sign that, despite the many months since losing his family, and even after that confrontation with his father's shade before Andraste's sacred ashes, the Warden still longed to have even a small reminder of his family with him, even though they may be "embarrassing bits of metal".
Quite suddenly, without really thinking about it, he closed his hand around the Warden's wrist, stopping him. Before the Warden could react, his other hand reached into his pocket, pulled out the gold-and-pearl earring, and pressed it into the Warden's palm. "Here... it seemed an appropriate moment to give you this."
The Warden stared at him for a while, before spending a much longer time studying the delicate earring in his hand.
"... Jewelry, huh?" The Warden frowned. "Not very... manly."
The complete bafflement of the Warden's tone made Zevran smile; both with amusement, and with relief. At least there wasn't any outright rejection; he wasn't sure he could take the humiliation. "No? I've worn it for years, myself, though perhaps standards are a little different in the north? I acquired it on my very first job with the Crows," Zevran explained. "A Rivaini merchant prince, and he was wearing a single, jeweled earring when I killed him." He smirked. "In fact, that's about all he was wearing." Simple, concise, and truthful without giving too much away. Let the Warden come to his own conclusions about what had happened. "I thought it was beautiful and took it to mark the occasion. I've kept it since..." His throat felt too tight; he swallowed slightly, and went on: "... and I'd like you to have it."
Somewhere at the back of his mind, a voice protested, very loudly, that giving that earring – one of his most precious possessions – to the Warden was a bad, bad idea, but he determinedly shoved that voice away and told it to shut up. If there was anyone he knew who deserved earring more than he, he reasoned, that person would be the Warden.
An image of the Warden wearing the earring, his earring, and nothing else bloomed in his mind, and he suppressed a shiver as an unmistakably possessive feeling rushed through him.
The need to claim, to take the Warden as his. More disconcertingly, he felt an equally strong need for the Warden to do the same to him.
He suddenly understood the fierce, almost savage intent that seemed to make the Warden's eyes glow in the heat of passion, that drove the Warden to pleasure Zevran until he was boneless and mindless with it.
The Warden had been silent while Zevran mentally wrestled with this revelation, and the emotions that came with it. "... This is a bit out of the blue, isn't it?"
Zevran blinked. Raised his eyes to meet the Warden's.
Found himself pinned down by a sharp, narrow-eyed stare.
Not anger, he realized, after a moment's panic. This was the Warden's quiet, probing look; the one he used when he was trying to determine the intentions of the person on the receiving end of that unnerving stare. Long, elegant fingers were slowly rolling, caressing over the earring as the Warden studied him.
It was when he saw the Warden's lips curve slightly that Zevran realised what sort of strange conclusion the Warden had come to regarding this gift. His stomach contracted as he wondered if, perhaps, his eyes or his voice gave too much away.
Showed the Warden too much of what he'd rather keep hidden.
Zevran shrugged, glancing away from the Warden; it was easier to withstand that stare when he did not have to look back at it. "Don't get the wrong idea about it. You killed Taliesen. As far as the Crows will be concerned, I died with him. That means I'm free, at least for now." He huffed a breath, and forced as much blatant cheeriness into his voice as he could. "Feel free to sell it, or wear it... or whatever you'd like." I'd be really happy if you chose to wear it, however. "It's really the least I could give you in return."
The Warden made a humming sound, still wearing that smug little smile, still gently fondling – there was something strangely possessive about the way his thumb ran over the pearl, with too much intent behind the movements to simply call it touching – the earring. "So..." The Warden raised a brow. "... not a token of affection, then?"
"I..." … Braska.
Some part of him squirmed, literally squirmed at the thought that the Warden saw through his actions, and therefore him, so easily. He mentally shuddered, suddenly realizing that he should have thought through this silly idea of giving away his earring. But he forced himself to keep his face blank, to look up and meet the Warden's expectant stare. "... look, just..." He shook his head. "Just take it. It's meant a lot to me, but so have..." … you become, for me. He bit his tongue, quietly swearing at the near slip, and corrected himself, "... so has what you've done." He took a deep breath, trying to compose himself while emotions churned in the pit of his belly. "Please, just take it."
The Warden's eyes had widened, briefly, at that slip, but as he spoke they'd narrowed again. He wasn't smiling, however, and his hand had clenched tightly around the earring.
A long moment of fraught silence passed as they stared at each other. Eventually the Warden sighed, his hand relaxing. His other hand reached out, took one of Zevran's, raising that hand so the palm was open. Zevran stared, not daring to move, wondering what the Warden was thinking this time.
The Warden flicked a glance at him, lips thinning in a white line. Then, with a shake of his head, he pressed the earring into Zevran's palm, and curled his fingers over it.
"I'll only take it if it means something."
The words were quiet, but firm, with a very definite tone of finality to it. It took effort for Zevran to not gape at the Warden like a landed fish.
The Warden didn't say anything else; he simply stared back, eyes narrowed into dangerous, flinty shards, jaw set like stone.
Wildly, Zevran searched the Warden's eyes, his face, for signs of something, anything that indicated that he didn't really want to give the earring back. But every line of the Warden's face told him that he'd done something wrong, somewhere, and that the Warden's words were as final as they had sounded.
Zevran dragged in a breath, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut. The Warden had rejected him.
Completely, utterly, rejected him.
He'd made offers before, of course, had proposed things to others. He'd suffered rejection before.
But not like this. He couldn't remember it hurting like this.
His other hand, the one not holding the earring, clenched into a fist. Suppressing the urge to break the Warden's jaw took a fair bit of effort.
"You are a very frustrating man to deal with, do you know that?" His voice was sharp with anger. That was fine; anger he could deal with. Better than the pain. "We pick up every other bit of treasure we come across, but not this. You don't want the earring? You don't get the earring." He shoved the earring down into his pocket. "Very simple."
The Warden's face had blackened with a frown that grew darker with each word Zevran said; by the time Zevran put the earring away, there was a tic flickering beneath one of the Warden's eyes. But he still said nothing.
Likely felt nothing, Zevran thought.
Spitting angrily at the side of the alley, he turned and started walking off towards the other end of the alley, where they'd been heading to earlier. He kept his head high, his shoulders straight.
Showed the Warden that he did not care.
A lie, a filthy lie, but it was better than turning around to grovel, to beg the Warden to... what, forgive him? To take him back?
No, if Zevran had to suffer this, it would be with his dignity and pride intact.
He saw Leliana and Morrigan up ahead, where the two had stopped after they'd realized that the Warden and Zevran were distracted. Leliana was watching him, a question in her eyes and likely waiting on the tip of her tongue. Morrigan was studying him, quietly, coldly, with the predatory cunning that he knew she always had. The light in her gold eyes was almost gleeful.
No doubt the witch felt some sadistic joy over his humiliation. Maker knows that the woman had unnatural tastes.
Leliana reached out as he passed by, her hand falling in a comforting sort of way over his shoulder. He shrugged it off, ignoring her gasp of surprise and hurt. He didn't want the comfort. Nor did he want the pity that was so clear in her earnest blue gaze.
He heard Morrigan chuckle, menacingly, but he couldn't bring himself to turn around and savage her. He just kept his eyes on the ground, focused on putting one foot before the other.
Felt the fury fade.
Only to be replaced by a cold emptiness. One that grew with each step he took away from the man that he cared for so very much.
And wondered, where, in dealing with that man, he had gone so terribly, horribly wrong.
~ to be continued~
The author may or may not have been affected by Valve time when making this story. She apologises for the long waits, and would like to reiterate she has not and WILL NOT quit this story, regardless of how long it takes to finish.
The author would also like to thank any loyal readers still following for being patient (or good at pretending to be patient), and that she hopes that they will stick around for more chapters in the far future.