Zevran had never understood the purpose of vows. No, scratch that – it was not entirely true. He understood, but only if the purpose was for the pleasure of breaking them. That was something he understood quite well – there was nothing quite like the lure of the forbidden to add a thrill to the otherwise familiar.
And of course some might argue he was more familiar with vows than he claimed, for what was an assassin's contract but a form of vow? So and so to be killed, often by the specified date and sometimes in the specified manner, for such a price and the assassin's life as forfeit in case of failure. But that sort of vow was business and entirely necessary. No one would hire an assassin (or, for that matter, a mercenary) who did not guarantee his work.
Zevran glanced over his shoulder at the chantry behind them and shook his head. Whatever one might argue about the similarities between contracts and vows, this vow of celibacy that Alistair was set on was madness. Why should the Maker care about such things? Where, after all, did these urges come from, if not from the Maker? Which (at least, if you asked Zevran) meant that failing to indulge them was likely more sinful than the alternative, whatever the Chantry might say on the matter.
Alistair had clearly spent too many years with the Templars and not nearly enough with Zevran, for this argument swayed him not at all. Ah, well. Zevran had known what Alistair was like when he had chosen to follow him on his journeys. If he'd fancied Alistair might be a bit more pliable, more easily persuaded with the right inducements, then that was his mistake. He could hardly be blamed for wishful thinking.
Which did not mean he would not continue to attempt to persuade him otherwise, until the vow was made and even after. Zevran had made a life of accepting the things he could not change; it was far wiser than the alternative (and more likely to lead to a longer and happier life). But he was not convinced this fell into that category.
And so it was that even as Alistair got to his feet and headed toward the chantry, following the Sister he'd glimpsed heading there as well, Zevran was arguing.
“It all seems like nonsense to me,” he was saying. “How can a dragon tell whether one has been blessed by the Maker or not? And why would it care?”
Alistair sighed in the manner of a man who thought this a particularly stupid question. “It is not the dragon who cares.”
“That's what I'm saying,” Zevran agreed. “It is you who cares. So this blessing makes no difference at all.”
“It's the Maker who cares,” Alistair said, raising one hand to knock on the chantry door. He intended to make it a quiet knock – gentle, even – but it still boomed loudly, echoing throughout the whole building. The door, no doubt a little warped by time and weather, trembled in its frame.
The building wasn't large; it couldn't take the sister long to answer their knock. But Zevran saw no reason to let that stop him. “The Maker doesn't care. We have never needed any blessings before.”
The sister opened the door on this line, which perhaps explained the glare she gave them both. She clung to the door a little protectively, though it seemed unlikely this small, isolated chantry had much worth stealing.
“We've come for a blessing,” Alistair said in that respectful tone he assumed around those he regarded as his betters, in faith or rank or what have you. It made Zevran wince internally – didn't he know that merely invited them to look down on him? He might as well have rolled over on his back, paws in the air.
The sister must have agreed, for she seemed to draw courage from it. She opened the door a little wider, stepping through it to stand on the threshold before them, despite their obvious weaponry.
Clearly this situation could not be allowed to continue. “We've come to slay a dragon. He is the one who believes the blessing necessary. Me, I do not see why, unless the dragon is allergic to the smell of incense.”
He got a glare for his troubles, which he answered with a smirk. The sister turned soulful eyes up to Alistair. Had the doorway been larger, she might have turned her back to Zevran, a gesture he could have told her was most ill-advised. “It is wise of you to say so. The people here know the monster can only be slain by one with the Maker's blessing, yet many have tried to go without – tried and failed.”
Zevran rolled his eyes. Not every kill was simple and straightforward, but he'd yet to encounter one that required that particular element. “We've killed dragons before without your blessing.”
Alistair placed one hand on Zevran's shoulder and squeezed – not hard, but enough to make his point. “Please forgive my friend. He sometimes forgets his manners.”
“I never forget them. I simply do not always choose to use them.”
The sister ignored this, giving all her attention to Alistair. “Of course. A small donation is customary."
Alistair nodded and dug out some coins, then added more until the sister's face changed from disapproval to a smile. He seemed a bit taken aback by her openly mercenary attitude, but Zevran found it reassuring. At last, something about this that made sense! He'd known there must be something in this for the chantry.
The sister took the coins and nodded. “This is a place of peace. Please leave your weaponry at the door.”
Alistair removed his sword readily enough. Zevran, however, began with merely the two blades he wore most openly and only began adding the rest when Alistair, who had plenty of reasons to know better by now, glared at him. The process took some time and the sister's eyebrows slowly climbed as the number of weapons he produced increased.
“Are you quite finished?”
“But of course. Don't let me delay you.” Zevran accompanied the words with a slow smile – one that was even partially genuine. Despite their travels together, even Alistair didn't know all of his weapons and he'd managed to retain a few, most notably the spike he wore under a braid in his hair. Should his larger and more pious companion be mistaken about this, it could be in his hand in less than a second. He always found that sort of thing reassuring, far more so than incense and candles and words, however righteously intoned.
He smirked a little when the sister told them to kneel, giving Alistair a knowing look as they both followed the command. Alistair didn't react beyond a slight flush and, for once, Zevran did not add a comment to prompt a further reaction. It was enough to know that Alistair had seen and followed his line of thought, vow or no vow.
Zevran paid little attention to the blessing itself; he let his eyes wander to distract himself from the discomfort of the hard floor beneath his knees. Sadly, there was little to see: the chantry was nearly empty and the sister's robes so loose that little could be seen of the body beneath. He was glad when it was over, albeit a trifle disappointed that no one burst through the door to ambush them and prevent Alistair from going through with this ridiculous idea.
Alas, it was not to be. Properly blessed, however unwillingly, Zevran again refused to offer a donation, instead busying himself with the process of secreting away all his weaponry while Alistair inquired about the dragon.
That night, he allowed Alistair to set up their tent while he tended to the fire. It was their usual arrangement, but Zevran regretted it once he took a closer look. “Separate bedrolls? Truly? We haven't had separate bedrolls since we began traveling together.” He crossed his arms over his chest and regarded Alistair with his best skeptical look.
For his part, Alistair had the grace to look uncomfortable. “You know what we just promised,” he replied, but he didn't quite look at Zevran as he said it.
“Yes,” Zevran agreed cheerfully. “And promises are made to be broken.”
“Not promises to the Maker.” Alistair set his jaw stubbornly.
“Who better? Does not the Maker believe in forgiveness?” Zevran asked lightly, but he already knew this line of argument wouldn't work. He sat next to Alistair with a resigned air and commenced digging in his pack for his rations.
One bite of those rations once they'd been found and he shook his head with a disappointed sigh. Rations kept one from starving, but they weren't made to be tasty. “Dragons and blessings are all very well, but we should have better spent our time hunting a rabbit, or perhaps a deer. Blessings, I find, are not particularly filling.”
“This might help.” Alistair tossed him the wineskin and he took a drink. It did help, a little, but it had never been particularly good quality wine and being carried around for days hadn't improved it much. It was a better meal than some nights had been in their travels (a few times, when the weather had taken them by surprise, they'd had to go without entirely), but not a particularly enjoyable one.
Zevran glanced at the bedrolls again, then back at Alistair. “I'm flattered you find me so irresistible that you do not trust yourself to keep your vow if you share my bed.” He handed Alistair the wineskin, making sure their fingers brushed before he let it go. “But I confess I find it short-sighted. What if I get cold?”
Alistair rolled his eyes and took a drink. “It's nearly summer.”
“And tomorrow, we fight a dragon. I could die and then you would regret passing on our last night together.” Zevran leered at Alistair, completely comfortable speaking of his own hypothetical death. He had accepted its inevitability quite some time ago; why should it bother him now? He hadn't truly expected to live even this long.
Alistair, however, looked vaguely horrified. “You're not going to die.”
Zevran just laughed. “I do not intend to. But life is an uncertain thing and dragons do not die so easily.”
Alistair took another drink and shook his head, his blond hair gleaming in the firelight. “Remind me why I decided to travel with you again?”
Zevran spread his hands eloquently, then parted his legs a bit more as well. It was dark now, but the fire gave enough light and he knew Alistair was watching. “As I said, I am irresistible.” He paused before adding, “And you did not wish to be king.”
Alistair shuddered at the thought. “I'll agree with you on that part.”
“You agree with me on all of it,” Zevran smirked. “The accommodations would be much more pleasant, but your life would not be your own. Out here, you make your own destiny. And, of course, you choose your own charming companion.”
“Right,” Alistair agreed. “But we're still keeping the separate bedrolls. It's only one night.”
Zevran sighed, a little more dramatically than strictly necessary. “One day, I shall finally convince you to leave the Templar behind.” He stood and stretched, taking his time about it, but when Alistair didn't budge, he shrugged and headed into the tent. As he had been told, it was only for one night. He didn't have to like it – and he didn't – but it would hardly be the first time he went to his bed alone.
He was already in his bedroll when he heard Alistair's reply to his final comment. “You already have.”
The next day dawned bright and sunny, though the trees provided enough shade that it wasn't too terribly hot. Not for Zevran, at least, though he couldn't speak for Alistair in his heavier armor.
“Had a lovely night alone, I take it?” he asked, one pale eyebrow raised meaningfully. “Regretting your choices yet?”
“Only that I didn't gag you when I had the chance.”
“Ooh, kinky. If you're sure you're quite done being pious, I may even let you.”
As if to make up for this suggested future period of enforced silence, Zevran kept up a steady stream of chatter as they made their way around the lake. Alistair was quieter, often answering in monosyllables, though whether he was saving his breath or simply not yet really awake was difficult to tell. It hardly mattered; Zevran had plenty of practice at keeping the conversation going all by himself.
For a path to the lair of a monstrous beast, the way was surprisingly easy going – well-marked and mostly flat. When they neared the location the sister had described, it also began to be scattered with small objects, clear evidence of those who had come here before them.
“No bones, though,” Zevran observed. “Do you think it eats them, too?”
Alistair started to reply when he paused mid-word, body tensing before he was able to shout a warning.
The first arrow went wide, if only barely, and then the fight was on. While Alistair busied himself providing a tempting and heavily-armored target, Zevran slunk off into the trees, picking enemies off one by one. It wasn't fast work and he would have preferred a better ground for it, but it was effective. Several had fallen by either his blades or Alistair's before an unfamiliar voice called for them to stop.
Had he been with a fellow Crow, Zevran would have ignored it. They were winning and this was no doubt a ploy to catch them off guard. But Alistair had inconvenient ideas about honor, so he emerged from the trees to stand at his side.
“Do you perhaps wish to surrender?” Zevran asked. “You seem a bit over-matched.”
“It is you who should surrender,” one of their attackers said, stepping forward to meet them. “We are the bandits known as the Chosen Few. I'm certain you have heard of us.”
Zevran shrugged and let his disdain for this declaration show in his expression. Fancy name or not, he saw no reason to surrender to mere bandits. If that was all they wanted, this conversation was a waste of time. “And we are former companions of the Grey Warden who ended the Blight. Surely you've heard of it, even in a backwater like this.”
The other man snorted. “As if two heroes like that would be here, taking on jobs like this,” he scoffed.
“It's quite true,” Alistair insisted, but even his obvious sincerity made no difference. Not that Zevran expected it would. Had they been the type to be swayed by honesty, they would not be bandits.
More threats and barbs were exchanged, but the end was inevitable. It was all quite disappointingly predictable.
When all the bandits were either fled or dispatched, Zevran began picking through their gear. It would be a shame to let it go to waste. “A dragon,” he observed, nudging one body with his foot until it flopped over and exposed the belt pouch, “would have offered more of a challenge.”
Alistair was still standing there, his sword unsheathed and bloody. “I'm an idiot,” he said, to no one in particular.
“You often are,” Zevran agreed, adding the coins from the pouch to his own.
“I should have known this was a trap. The sister who gave us the blessing yesterday got the prayer wrong.”
Zevran sat back on his heels and gave Alistair a look. “And after all your talk of vows and promises to the Maker, you didn't even notice? I must have been more distracting than I thought.”
“She must be part of the scheme,” Alistair mused, ignoring the remark as he often did when he lacked a good reply. “She tells the others when and who to expect.”
“Then she made a mistake this time,” Zevran observed. “She should have taken us more seriously.”
“With your antics yesterday, I'm not surprised she didn't.” Alistair looked thoughtful. “Still, they had a sort of honor, at least for bandits. They didn't attack us in our sleep.”
“And very foolish of them that they did not,” Zevran agreed. “Much better for us, however. I should hate to have been caught in such an embarrassingly chaste state.”
Alistair rolled his eyes and waited for Zevran to finish looting the bodies before leading the way back to the chantry. The day that had dawned so sunny had clouded over and it began to rain before they were halfway there. Under the circumstances, Zevran was rather relieved to find the place empty. The armor that had been so pleasantly light before tended to chafe when wet.
“At least it's more shelter than the tent,” Alistair observed once a thorough search revealed not even a hint of where the erstwhile sister might have gone.
“Ah, yes. A night under a solid roof - was that what we came here for?" Zevran glanced at Alistair long enough to see that he looked properly chastened before letting it go. It had perhaps been a little foolish, but had the rumors been true, it would have been worth the trip. "Still, you find us the most interesting adventures,” Zevran commented, sitting on a somewhat dusty pew and beginning to ease off his boots.
Alistair was still looking a little abashed, despite the implied forgiveness. “Sorry. I know it's probably not what you were expecting.”
Zevran tilted his head to the side a little and considered. “No, I'd say it's pretty much exactly what I was expecting. Bad food, incompetent ambushes, sleeping on the hard ground – and, of course, you.”
Alistair's face still turned the most delightful shade of red when he was embarrassed. “So you're not angry?”
A slow smile spread across Zevran's face as he stepped closer, sliding his arms around Alistair's waist and tilting his head back for a kiss. “Oh, I believe you can make it up to me.”