dedication: to anna, who wanted this out of me like a month ago. ily.
notes: second person present tense is meant for DA fic honestly
notes2: alternate title: sad elves in love: the movie
title: cold dust girl
summary: What do you know about the Dalish? — Mahariel/Tamlen, Mahariel/Zevran.
"You don't understand," you tell him quietly, hugging your knees to your chest. "I thought I'd—but I guess not."
He settles beside you, silent as a knife in the dark, even his breathing masked by the crackle-pop of the fire. This, you suppose, is the best analogy there could be for everything he is: the Crows were thorough in their teachings. He is so very quiet, and he looks at you, and he waits.
(It is the hallmark of a good assassin, being able to wait without making a sound. You know this only because he taught you, and your blood races through your veins, humming a song both tainted and sick.)
"What do you know about the Dalish?" you ask, resignation clogging your throat. Maybe it is that he is also an elf, and the kin of species makes you honest. Maybe it is that you cannot explain this part of yourself to Alistair, because Alistair is good and naïve to the ways of the world, still. Maybe it is something else entire. You don't know. You trust your gut, regardless.
Zevran tilts his head, and the fire turns his hair burnished gold. "My mother was Dalish," he says, a glint of teeth like wolf fangs behind his lips. "But I do not know much about her."
You press your thumbnail to your mouth, and bite down. It's such a bad habit, but you don't stop, can't stop, not when Tamlen—
"Warden," he says.
"I'm alright, Zevran," you say, and try for a smile. It's weak, but still better than nothing. "I just—please understand, this isn't easy for me."
"You knew him," he says, without preamble. You appreciate this; there is no pretence with this man, for all that he carries more knives on his person than there are stars in the sky.
"Yes," and it comes out a murmur, an ocean squall, a sigh as the world passes away.
"Who was he?" he asks, and you're not even surprised when the tale is already bubbling up in your throat. It's going to be a halting thing, a story kept locked up tight in the furiously burning place deep inside of your ribs where your clan lives, where you keep your mother's name. He looks…hesitant, that's what it is, before he speaks again. "You do not have to tell me, if you do not wish."
"No," you say, "I do."
You understand, after all. Corrupt politicians. Fish chowder. Home.
"His name was Tamlen. He was my—my chosen. Before. We were going to be—" you breathe in deep through your nose, because this is hard, and these words have been yours alone since Duncan first took you from the Brecilian Forest all those months ago to save your life.
Zevran doesn't say a thing, just looks at you, expecting nothing.
Another breath. Your eyes slide closed.
"First you must understand. The Dalish are—we are proud, Zevran, we are proud of who we are and what we stand for. We are fiercely proud of our history. And the clans, despite everything, they're not united. There is war, always. It is not an easy life."
You think of the trees, the great old birchs and the sylvanwoods, and the ironoak with its bark strong and flexible beneath your hands, and how the sunlight filtered down through the leaves to dapple along the ground green and gold. You were a hunter, a clean good shot that you clan valued for your mercy as much as anything else. Killing was for animals, and you were not. There is a serenity to killing the Dalish way that no shem nor dwarf nor flat-ear will ever understand. It's all part of the cycle of the world, may the Creators be your guide, and it honed you into something able to survive this long.
"Tamlen was my brother, and my friend, and I loved him like fire. We knew we were meant to be together, long before we even knew what being together meant."
You're telling this all wrong.
"I'm telling this all wrong," you say, laugh a little. It's a bitter sharp thing, all ash in your mouth. You feel like you're chewing on broken glass. "Let me start over."
Zevran simply inclines his head as you try to remember how Paivel told it. You try to remember his voice, but it's gone, Creators, it's gone, what else have you lost to this damned shemlen land?
It took away your family, and now it takes your memories. Fen'Harel take them all.
This story is going to be your death. So instead, you start the way you'd start if it were to the little ones, and hope that will be enough.
"Children are a blessing, to the Dalish. Our clans are not large, and every birth is celebrated. Tamlen was born three days before I was," and here, your voice catches, thick with grief and saltwater, "and I'm told it was a revel, because there hadn't been a double birth in decades. We—we grew up together, you must understand. I have no memory of my parents. I don't know what my mother's voice sounded like. But it never mattered. I had Tamlen, and the clan, and the Keeper. They looked after me. We learned to build fires and carve bows and we listened to the old stories and we did it all… all of it, together. We were never apart."
The night air is cold against your skin, violet-dark outside of the circle of the firelight. You've shed your armour and your leathers, and you're down to nothing but your smallclothes and an old shirt that you'd almost forgotten about.
You can't wear Tamlen's blood on you. Not tonight. Not ever.
"I loved him," you say, softly, sadly. "I wish we'd never gone to that cave. It was so unwise, and if we hadn't, he'd still be alive, and I wouldn't have just—have just—"
You tremble. You can't even breathe. For a minute you sit there, on the cold ground, and just let yourself shake to pieces. Tamlen, smiling. Tamlen, running a finger through dirt on your cheek. Tamlen, gently pulling your bloody hands away from your mouth. Tamlen, cleaning up the first shem you ever killed. Tamlen. Tamlen.
Oh, you think, stupid with it. Oh, Creators.
"Do you blame yourself?" Zevran asks, out of nowhere.
You startle so badly you about fall over—you'd completely forgotten he was sitting next to you, caught up in the story as you were. You blink owlishly as you come back to yourself, let the grief settle back into itself.
"Yes," you say, because it's true. You could have tried harder. You could have stopped him, you know it, you do.
"Ahh," he says, "but my darling, the Blight would still be a problem. Without you, would your Grey Warden have survived?"
"My—? Oh, you mean Alistair," you say, and catch a glimpse of flailing arms and high-pitched wailing. Morrigan's talking circles around him again, her arms crossed over her chest, and your heart sort of wibbles at the sight of them. All your soft reds and greys contract, and they are your family now. They're all you've got.
You look at Zevran, at his pale hair and his paler eyes, and you think: maybe.
You don't answer the question, though, because it's rhetorical and you both know it. The Grey Wardens died at Ostagar in the muck and the mire, and if you hadn't been there, Alistair would be dead, too.
"Thank you," you say. "For listening."
For a second, his fingers curl beneath your chin, tip your face up and you realize, bemusedly, that he's very close. He's also almost grinning, and it's awful, and you want to hit him and you also never want him to move away. He fills up the whole world, so completely irreverent about everything, death and dismemberment and Antivan Crow alike.
"I just killed the first person I was ever in love with, Zevran," you say, almost mildly. There are tear tracks on your cheeks.
"And you will kill others, too," he says, gravely. "Everyone must kill the ones they love."
"I wish it weren't true," you tell him.
"As do I," says Zevran. "Now, are you coming to bed, or shall I—?"
You shove him off, because of course you do. The night is still cold, and your knees are still dirty—there's still dried blood on your skin. On your hands. It's gone brown, but you can still see the darkspawn taint in it. It swirls across your palms like ink.
You fight valiantly not to throw up.
(It's inside you, too. Creators.)
Your tent is across the clearing. It's so far, and you're so tired, and you want—
You want Tamlen.
You have always only ever wanted Tamlen.
You are crawling into Zevran's tent before you realize what you're doing. It's not a terrible thing, because the others are asleep or, in Alistair and Morrigan's case, squawking at each other which might be flirting, you don't know these days, and the firelight leaks through the thin tent walls and everything is gold.
"Don't say a word," you tell him, through your teeth.
He laughs, and opens the covers.