The Crazy Part
'Like most soft things, perhaps it was motivated by sentiment.'
Zevran flinched. Lax of him to let a stone giant approach without his full awareness. The small dark figure of his focus had long since blurred into the smoke, so he turned away from the gate.
'That is the terrible, the terrifying possibility,' he acknowledged.
Sten shifted, creaking juggernaut. 'She will die with honour.'
The terrible, the terrifying possibility, yes. Thank you.
'I might die also, with honour or otherwise. Such is life when one persists in keeping company with a Grey Warden in the midst of a Blight.'
Zevran strove for lofty irritability and failed. Leliana reached her hand to his shoulder, which he avoided. He crouched to check his boots.
'You two are much alike, Zevran. It would break her heart to see you harmed. She seeks only to spare you the same pain in watching her sacrifice.'
'Our melodramatic bard. She does not need to sacrifice herself. Our Warden has always demonstrated a great respect for life, her own most of all.'
'But the Archdemon.' Leliana bit her lip, a practised expression.
'The Archdemon, yes, the Archdemon, a potent and powerful beast. We have eaten high dragon for lunch twice before.'
The stillness in the air, sudden and uncomfortable, had nothing to do with this part of the fight, this part before the fight, he always found, where fraught stillnesses haunted everyone.
'Oh,' Leliana said. 'So she did not tell you.'
'She has told me a great many things. For example, the colour of your—'
'Warden business, she said last night, but as she told me, so I thought you, at least. That she would tell you.'
'Last night it was very sad,' Shale said. 'It leaked on me. But it did not stain, so I forgave it.'
'A commander should not demoralise the troops with emotional burdens on the eve of battle,' Sten said.
Last night. His Tabris had not called him to bed since leaving Redcliffe, keeping a vigil she did not need to keep after Morrigan left her, for reasons Kallian did not adequately explain beyond the witch's inexplicable sudden lust for Loghain.
I couldn't do it to the man. I took his power, his daughter, his men, claimed his life to my cause, now I was to instruct him to hand over his pride? I might as well have tarred myself for a nug and called myself Vaughan.
Zevran rubbed the seams of his gloves. Tattered from wear.
If she died—
He looked for her again, aware of his desperation from a distance, well beyond the shattered gate, the smoke and the tears.
I love you, Zevran.
Had he called her cruel? He regretted it, even in its truth.
'They come,' Sten said, farsighted. 'They are many.'
'It is enjoyable to stand here waiting for once,' Shale said, 'imagining each of these tainted things just a filthy pigeon coming to roost.'
Zevran laughed. It was expected of him.
He and his Tabris, alike and not alike. Where he laughed, she smirked, but the humour was the same. His leather to her steel, his daggers to her swords, the blood the same whether death came from the front or the flank.
But he had not left her.
Here she had left him.
'In the end lies glory,' Sten muttered, and kissed his sword.
Zevran was afraid. Because it was obvious to him now. Subtract the one from the two, and what was left would be no one.
'No,' Zevran said, with afterthought. 'I am sorry, my friend, but you are wrong. I have dealt death for many purposes proud and petty, and in the end lies nothing but the end.'
Kallian told him his body smelled of nakedness and sun, and a clean salt surf she had seen only once and dreamed of still, wild waves between the warden nightmares. City elf, born for the ocean. He should have smuggled her away to Antiva. She would have fought to stop him.
'Ready yourselves.' Sten settled into stance with uncanny grace. 'Your roles are clear.'
Leliana's arrow already to string, she rubbed an incongruous scuff of dirt on her knee. 'Zevran, I think I should tell you—'
Kallian's eyes, their glance, a smile tremulous with uncommon knowledge.
'It will keep,' Zevran said. He knew in any case. She went to her death as well.
Not his war, fight or country. The darkspawn horde descended.
Into its teeth Zevran roared her name.
This later proved embarrassing, when everyone who had heard him do so decided to survive.
'Basalit-an,' Sten said afterwards, flicking darkspawn blood from his blade, dispassionate. 'Where one has no meaning, he seeks to find it in others. In her way lies honour.'
By this time, Zevran was able to laugh. Alive and disbelieving. He was fond of laughing. He kept a grand stockpile of stories to tell of his many humiliations, that everyone thought him worthy of humour; his pride lived in a strange distorted place, as a good assassin's successes were never known and true success stories could never be told.
He laughed, too, when Leliana jumped him from behind as he tried to stealth away, hugging him into the mud with the ferocity of a survivor.
'I owe you, Crow, for taking Marjorlaine's final blow from my hands, for I would have wept had I killed her. One professional to another, I will take your regrets away now before you cause them.'
'But I regret nothing, lovely Leliana.'
'I do not threaten lightly. I will cuff you naked to her father's doorstep if you seek to leave again.'
Leliana's locks could not be picked by such as he, whose talents were in death not devices. And poor, pathetic Cyrion filled Zevran with an awful fear. A kindly, weary old man, hopelessly incompetent, who had starved himself for two decades to keep his daughter robust enough to practice her sword. A paragon of fatherhood.
'Your word, Zevran, or I will tar your reputation as black as your feathers.'
'My word, dear bard, has as little meaning as—'
'As an earring?'
Without possessions, the self ceases to exist. But his twinblade Kalli kept giving him things and shocking him into acceptance, until now he had an abundance of things, and an abundance of sentiment attached, and had to give her something back.
His mouth twisted, involuntary. Poor, pathetic Zevran. Worthy of only laughter.
'I have another, if you wish it.'
Leliana laughed. 'I would rather your word, I think.'
'So I will not go.'
'Then let us go together now to the market square, my roguish brother, and pick up these pieces of Denerim, and perhaps with enough word passed on as to our whereabouts our Kallian will be able to stop her desperate searching of rubble for your corpse.'
This was Ferelden, after all, and so he found a drink too easily. There was little enough else providence in which to source one's cheer.
He slipped away from Leliana, joined a second clean up squadron, found a third barrel of unspoiled ale, completed too much honest labour clearing rubble, and shared a vast Ferelden wake with a third group for the unknown soldiers fallen before disappearing into the shadows. There he perched alone on a barrel and waited for the day's end. All his temporary companions that day would have sworn him the best of friends and most cheerful of men, for he found great amusement in the smallest of things.
This, too, was expected of him, the mocking assassin ever shadowing the hero's right shoulder. Even when she left him behind.
He laughed, even as he missed his mouth and poured half his drink into his crotch.
'There you are.'
Kallian rarely wore a helm. She did not like Dalish craft, and human helms were tailored for human ears. Not once had she complained of the latter. But stand at a woman's side long enough, learn to accept what she did not say, and he would know her as well as his name.
Zevran was afraid of her.
She put it into his hands. The dreaded power. He could leave an imprint of real suffering on her tattooed cheeks, vulnerable as marked. All the pain she felt this far had not been by her choice even if she assumed the burden of guilt unrelenting. But what he could do to her, she could only blame herself for the outcome. She gave this to him, like everything else she gave so freely.
He searched her eyes for the hurt, then looked away before he found it.
'I am here.'
'Are you drunk? You smell drunk.'
'Monstrously. Wynne would disapprove.'
'Good. It sometimes does us good to be disapproved at.'
'I am almost always disapproved at.'
'Zevran, I love you.'
'You may do whatever you like. But if you intend to get a drink, I would also like another.'
'I just thought I should say it without an archdemon over our heads. And you've already got a drink.' She inclined his mug with one finger hooking the rim, peering into the remains.
Then she sucked her finger, unselfconsciously, and he longed for her.
He indicated the wet patch decorating his trousers. 'Alas. I am in need of a contingency plan.'
'Did you just—' Bless her, she went to one knee and inhaled him. 'Ah, it's only ale.'
'Such disappointment?' Her nape had been scrubbed with a washcloth, reddened. There was still dirt. He wanted to touch. His fingers tightened around his mug.
'I've never really seen you lose control. Fake it, yes, but never really.'
Then she was on both knees, blowing air low and constant, a cool pressure chilling his wet inner thighs. Her mouth was sudden, hot in contrast on the cool wet fabric, sucking him dry.
'I do not think this is wise,' Zevran said with care. 'I have not washed these trousers since before the battle, and darkspawn blood is deadly.'
Insouciant, Kallian rolled her eyes at him.
Zevran examined in a close, interested way Kallian's filthy hair, of which every strand was perfect. Hand shaking, he cupped his palm soft and warm around her skull.
A great shudder of tension left her spine. A soft moan, heat licking along his leg. She choked, and pulled away and said, 'Arainai? If you run away now, I swear I'll—'
She killed an archdemon, she raised and led an army, she crowned a dwarven king and a human queen, she knelt and put her mouth on his thigh in an alley.
'We should stop this,' he said.
'I don't want to stop.'
'It wouldn't do anyone in Ferelden good to see their hero mouthing a dirty elf through wet trousers in an alley.'
'They can kiss my equally dirty elf arse and don't start me on wet trousers. Zev, can we talk—'
'No,' he said blithely. 'No, darling. You do not do this to me now.'
'Whatever you are doing.'
'Zev, I'm sorry. Whatever I did, I'm sorry.'
Then his fear roared in his skull, and he was laughing, lightly. She did not even know. 'You lied to me.'
'Oh,' Kallian said. 'That.'
'I was unaccountably hurt. This was very surprising to me, you can imagine.'
'Who talked? Was it Leliana? I bet it was Leliana.'
'I— who else did you tell?'
'Um.' She looked shifty. 'Everyone? You know me and secrets.'
'You told everyone a Warden would have to die to end the Archdemon. But you did not tell me, who has been your lover all this long road. Then you left me behind, so I would not ever know you went to your probable death.'
Kallian's brow furrowed. 'You could just get angry at me instead of trying to cut and run.'
'Angry?' He shook his head, rueful. Even the small tail freeing his eyes had unravelled, flyaway strands catching in his lashes. 'I do not get angry with women. I cannot get angry with women.'
'Why not? And don't call me a woman. Cunt aside, I'm barely anything to do with being a woman.'
'You are my woman, and I will call you and your cunt whatever I want. I think Katina is a lovely name. Will she come if I call her?'
Kallian's eyes flashed, an unreadable emotion, dark lips parting to a quick flick of her tongue, a quirk to the corner. 'Katina might well do whatever you want her to. So long as you don't go adopting her name as your warcry. I might get jealous.'
Zevran looked away. 'Now you are embarrassing me.'
'You are impossible to embarrass.'
'Do not think me without a heart, because I—' He stumbled, cursed inwardly, closed his eyes. He pitched his half-empty mug across the alley, fitful. She had brought him to this. Again.
'Are you doing the weird thing?' Kallian was resigned, shoulders slumping. But not afraid. Not heartbroken. Not worried. 'I'm sorry I left you behind, Zevran. Katina is very sorry. She complained the whole time. But we're never going to stay permanently joined at the hip. We'd need toilet breaks, at least. I think I have to do Deep Roads things for the Wardens now...now we're still alive, and damned if I'm risking you to the taint more than I have to. You know I'll leave you behind, and you'll leave me behind. You know we'll lie to each other. It's not that, so what is it, Zev?'
'I am not angry. Nor am I acting strange again. I am yours, truly.'
'You are angry. Why else would you do this to me? I know you tried to run. I found a body at the gates, a body, a blonde elf, with, burned, with your gloves on it for the love of the Maker, I gave you those gloves, why would you do that to me unless you were angry?' She raked his bare hands, growling, hurt boiling through her palms, no need to search. Then she was angry: 'Why would you do this to me?'
He was terrified.
'I am not angry,' he said.
There were fierce stars in her gaze, and her fingers ripping through his hair, pulling his head back hard. He did not remember how he came to stand or crush her like this, his body a rageful cage holding her against the smoke-marred wall, with violence trembling in his arms.
'Arainai. Back off.'
'I am not angry,' he said, unmoving. 'I was afraid you would die. I am an assassin, and as such I am the exact opposite of a bodyguard. But in that opposition I know every trick, every flaw in any a guard plan, and no better a bodyguard could be made than one who has been an assassin. When you left me behind, you made me nothing. Neither assassin or bodyguard, or even friend.'
Kallian growled. 'You're saying I shamed you, so off you go slinking like a struck dog? Half the stories you tell, you're the clumsiest, least successful assassin in Thedas any which way. You have no shame. So put me down and tell me what the problem is, Zev, or I will kick you in the balls.'
'Katina would be displeased with you, if you do.'
'I warned you—'
He stepped back deftly, raised his knee to block as her foot scuffed dirt, and Kallian took advantage of the space between them and punched him in the eye.
He slapped her almost without thought, having barely recovered from the recoil.
A moment, another moment, the potential. Then the violence which was their trade burned through thought. Kallian shifted her weight to strike him again. He hooked her ankle before she could, bringing her down. Yet she embraced him with her unexpected speed, pulling him with her and turning.
Zevran stayed on top through luck, no weight advantage between them. Her fists arrowed into his small ribs, dull pain through muddy leather. He forced his thigh between hers, his forearm across her throat, the only acceptable vulnerability. He tried to grab at least one of her death-dealing arms with his free one.
He leaned into her, and watched, distantly, as her rosebud mouth opened, gaping for air.
Kallian hooked her leg high, heel into his ribs, held his wrist tightly, and flipped him full into the wall.
At last she was on top of him, knee firm against his groin, grinding his wrists into the mud.
'Is this what it takes, to get you to talk? Threaten your most precious part?'
He took a breath as deep as he could, then said, 'You see now. When I get angry with my women, I kill them. I have never felt so angry at a woman as I felt at you, when Leliana told me what you had done. I should not love you. Let us simply be friends.'
The flat serenity of her expression astounded him.
'Don't you dare make this about that other woman. I said it was awful when you told me, and it was awful, but that was her. Not me.'
'I have done it before,' he shouted. 'I always kill—'
'Do you think you're alone?' Kallian released his wrists, grabbed his collar and shook him, Fereldan mad mabari. 'I gutted a child because I hated his stupid noble bitch of a mother, who had never known a hard day in her life. I wanted her to hurt forever, knowing she'd nearly brought down a nation because of her petty idiocy. I wanted that child dead to hurt her. Nothing more. I didn't even think twice about it. Not even when he cried as I shoved the blade home—'
Her head bowed, forehead touching his.
'When I went through Vaughan's place. It's obvious architecture. Main pathways, main halls. Where was he going to be? But I went through every single room in that place. I killed every man just for serving him. I killed the servants, and half of them were— elves. I killed the bloody dogs, and their puppies too. Fuck the families, the brats and poor widowed mothers that they were working to feed. They were there, and I was angry, and I killed them all because they took my Shianni. Because they touched me. There was nothing in me but rage.' Her hands were flat on his chest now, pushing, pulsing. 'I don't want sympathy. As if I'd get it from you. It's been and done, and I did it. No regrets, Crow. Never any regrets. But just don't think you've got the monopoly on murderous rage. Nothing you do will make me fear you more than I fear myself.'
He accepted the reprimand.
She closed her eyes against his silence, her eyelids contemptuous.
Then something wet and warm kissed his aching cheek. He was not untouched. An emotion as deep as fear.
'I'm sorry,' Zevran said. 'You are right, of course. My murderous, twinblade Kalli.'
She laughed soundlessly, or wept, shoulders convulsing.
'Anyway, you just got extremely angry with me then, Arainai. I'm still alive.'
He should not love her. He could not love her enough.
'I consider myself lucky to also be so, my hero.'
Her lips touched his bruised cheek. Hands gentling on his chest, sliding down his aching sides. He found her waist, where metal surrendered to leather mesh, and settled his hands just above the flare of her hips.
'Next time we could get angry with less bruises, if you like.'
His mouth hurt abominably. 'I would like that very much.'
Kallian caught him by the chin and kissed him, arm snaking around his waist. His split lip stung. Blood coiled from her into him, salty and warm.
'I am perplexed,' he said against her lips.
'It's a novelty. Let me enjoy it.'
'At what I could have done in my life to deserve your embrace. Apart from being—'
She shuddered. 'Ridiculously awesome? I don't know. You survived. You took a risk. You wore a bloody short leather kilt and you have phenomenal thighs. Might as well ask what I did to deserve you.'
'What you did? What haven't you done, for Ferelden—'
'Arainai, hero-worshipping a Grey Warden? No more stories, Zev. I'm an elf girl on the stocky side, and as good as I might look as an option when you're flat on your back with my sword at your throat, I do not have nearly so phenomenal a pair of thighs.'
'I thought you were a youth until you spoke,' he admitted.
Because he had not been untouched that day either, by the adrenaline of defeat, the bitten nails and shapely calves, the impressive shoulders. The spine which did not bend, the unbelievable grace of a warrior who fought like a rogue.
Because he had not been untouched, recognising already the survivor's spirit, seeing the future in her eyes when she quirked her lips at his daring. He had long since been a cup emptied even of poison, and without meaning the vessel which remained was without worth.
'Then you met Katina. Best of both worlds, eh, Zev?'
'Katina was a wonderful surprise, yes.'
'To me, too.' Kallian chewed her lip, then reached her hand between them. 'He doesn't have a name, does he?'
On his back in Fereldan dirt, mud trickling down between his collar and his skin. The hero's hand on his cock and unwilling to let go.
'Of course not. That would be ridiculous. He is all Zevran.' He rolled his own name with relish.
'But perhaps one day, should you deign to see my Antiva, I shall show you my apartment and introduce you to Fossa and Kitfox, and Katina shall be surprised to discover herself some new loves to embrace.'
'I— Do I want to know? I don't want to know.'
'Of course you do. You have such a great burning curiosity inside you, I can feel it.'
'Deep, deep inside, where even fingers cannot reach to scratch—'
'Elves,' growled a familiar voice. 'Now they can't even wait to pitch a tent. I thought you two were bad before.'
'Oghren!' Zevran said, delighted. 'He also lives! Did we all survive?'
Kallian scrambled to her feet, offering a hand to help Zevran rise.
Then did not relinquish her hold.
He tightened his bare hand around hers, foolishly.
'Do you know what I really want right now, Oghren?' Kallian fixed their vagrant dwarf with a steely stare.
The dwarf huffed through his moustache, eying their twined fingers with suspicion. 'It better not be a threesome.'
'Drinks! The rest of this place is celebrating, now I want to, too, before Anora's men come and find me—'
Oghren brightened. 'Now drinks, I can do!'
'Mine will require a small lace umbrella in it,' Zevran added. 'And a slice of orange.'
'What? Do you have any idea how long it's going to take me to find an orange—'
'Yes,' Kallian said. 'An extremely long time. Please, Oghren. We're dying of thirst, here.'
'Oh, I get it. Far be it from me to kick down your tent pole. I know when I'm not wanted. You could just tell me to piss off.'
'But that would be rude,' Zevran said. 'And I am also partial to garnish.'
'Elf,' Oghren said in disgust, 'why don't you just bend over and ask for it like a real man would?'
'When the circumstances are appropriate.'
'Ugh. Can somebody please tell me which one of you is the girl? Because I don't reckon Alistair knew what he was talking about.'
They looked at each other for some time, because the rest did not matter.
'Oghren is gone,' Zevran noted, at last. 'I believe the hero was about to ravage the filthy elf who dared strike her cheek in his great fear.'
'Zevran,' Kallian said. Her finger pressed his cheekbone gently, where he could feel the shiner blooming like a flower. 'I'm here. I'm alive.'
'Against all expectation. Even your own.'
Then Zevran held her against the wall again, gentle hands making her arch against him, her thighs around his waist, her lips bloody and warm.
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