The way they always handled enemy mages was simple enough. The others would invariably all be caught up in the press of oncoming melee while the opposing spellcaster stood back and wrecked havoc from afar... an annoying situation, to be sure, and one that would require a dangerous press forward to solve under normal circumstances.
But the enemy mage usually only had a few spells worth of time before Zevran would slip out of hiding behind them and slide poison-coated blades into their ribs through cloth robes. Darkspawn, human, or elf... the results were the same, and the concentrated deathroot made the rest of the kill almost easy; just the way a poisoner preferred it.
The rest of the party hardly had to worry about enemy spellcasters with Zevran on the job; he'd become something of an expert in quickly dispatching them.
And this time was no exception.
The scarlet that spilled outwards was strangely vivid; strangely hot on his hands; more than he could ever remember it being any other time, and the world moved slowly as his target dropped to its knees, sliding free of Zevran's green-tinged blades with a familiar, wet sound, and the sensation of steel scraping rib. Blood flowed from his target's lips as it twisted to look at him, although that only made its terrible wounds worse, and Zevran had eyes only for that beautiful red upon pale lips and chin... and throat...
Almost automatically, he moved to slide the edge of one weapon beneath that jaw. It was the natural end to these things, as normal to him as breathing--
His dagger began to cut, and then... did nothing. The shimmer and rush of a force-field sprung up around his target, forcing his weapon away, and Zevran finally tore his gaze upwards, above the display of crimson blood, to meet the frozen-in-time stare of lyrium-blue eyes through the curtain of visibly-flowing energy.
The soft, almost-inaudible whisper that he didn't even realize he was hearing turned into a frustrated shriek, and Zevran reeled as the world seemed to grab him in a giant fist and squeeze, the energy draining from his body, burning up as fuel--
And then the world went from red, to grey, to black.
And it stayed that way, for a while.
- - - - -
It wasn't the first time that he had regained consciousness in such a manner; disoriented and firmly restrained, but it had been a long time, and Zevran reflexively yanked at his ropes before he could contain the impulse. Knowing that his wakefulness was obvious now, he went ahead and cracked his eyes open, finding himself face-to-face with Jethro, his Warden's very large war hound.
Jethro barked, once, and bounded away. Zevran winced, and wished he could raise his hands to cover his ears at the noise. He gave his bonds another yank, finding that he'd been all but mummified in rope to a... board of some sort, it seemed. He was still armored beneath. It was an utterly in-elegant way to restrain someone, but effective.
Wynne stepped into view, the mage staring down at him with stern calculation.
"What is...?" he started to question, but then he remembered the red, the blue, the shock, the... Zevran felt his eyes widen, "Wynne! Tell me that the Warden lives," he struggled in the cocoon of rope, desperate to get up, to pace, to prowl, to find the other man and see for himself that he hadn't--
"He does," the old woman confirmed, leaning down over him. The board he was strapped to was on a bed, it seemed. A funny way of keeping track of his nearly-mummified body, but perhaps it was for convenience as much as anything. Much easier to check on bindings, or to pick him up and move him, if he wasn't on the floor. "Are you yourself again, Zevran?"
"I... I think so?" Zevran hated how uncertain he sounded for a moment. How could he tell if he was himself? He felt like himself... but he'd felt like himself when his blades had sunk into the Warden's back, too. How could he ever be sure, now? Of himself; of his target? It was incredibly unsettling, more than anything else he could immediately put his finger on, and it left him staring with wide eyes up at the elderly mage.
Apparently something about his dumbstruck look served in his favor, because she huffed out an irritated sigh. "Sten? Kindly keep an eye on him once you cut him loose, just to be sure."
Sten's grunt of agreement and sudden looming form -- with a knife in hand, no less -- was enough to make Zevran start. "No, no, I think I should stay tied up for just a while longer, just to be sure!"
"Well, he certainly sounds like himself," Alistair quipped from across the room, causing Zevran to lift his head to look at the Warden. He was seated at the room's small table, carving a bit of cheese off of a block with a belt-knife. "Wanting to stay tied up, and all."
"You have no idea," Zevran managed dryly, scoring the small victory of making Alistair's cheeks color a little before he became distracted by the yank of ropes across his armor and the slicing of them just a bit too close to skin for comfort. Their methods of making sure he couldn't go rampaging around like a mad-man lacked a certain... elegance, to be sure.
He hadn't even realized he'd stood up on his wobbly legs until he was halfway out the room's door, and he halted. "Ah, where is the Warden? I would like to see him."
Sten, looming only a few paces behind the assassin, pointed down the hall. Zevran ignored the nervous twinge in his gut at walking around unarmed, and padded down the hallway as indicated, slipping quickly into another room. His guess was immediately shown to be correct, unless Shale was making a habit of standing passively in random people's rooms. Obviously a watch had been set up over the injured Warden, and just as well. Darkspawn were hardly the only threat in their path.
There were also Crows. Like myself, perhaps?
Perhaps, but that was why Sten was following silently in his wake. He had no doubt that the qunari would react fast enough to stop him from doing anything... stupid to his 'kadan'.
"Ah, Shale, I am surprised that this isn't too dull for you," he quipped -- albeit quietly -- glancing at the bed the golem stood beside. The room was half-dark, but his eyes adjusted quickly to such things, and Tannusen Surana was a pale-skinned man with even paler hair; quite easy to spot in the dark, even with blankets pulled up nearly to his chin. Said blankets made it hard to assess his condition, though the slight rise and fall of breathing was reassuring to actually see for himself.
"It twitches in its sleep," Shale sounded almost amused by the fact, in that extremely dry way of hers, "and mutters... gibberish. Did you know this? Far more entertaining than the painted elf's sighing."
"Coming from nearly anyone else, my sturdy and observant friend, that would be--" Zevran paused mid-step at the large hand on his shoulder. Sten was tugging on the leash, so to speak. He wasn't going to be allowed any closer to the Warden's side. "...Ah." It took effort to not visibly deflate at the reminder that he was the reason the elven mage was in bed, breathing so shallowly, his skin paler than even Zevran was used to seeing...
It was startling to realize that those vivid blue eyes had slit open, just a little, completely unannounced. "Let him go, Sten," the Warden's voice was quieter than usual, too quiet for its usual purring quality to turn it into velvet. He just sounded... like someone in bed who had nearly died.
"If he is still mad," Sten cautioned, "he could make another attempt."
"He's not," Tannu murmured, glittering slits of blue staring at Zevran in the half-light. That blue had pierced the red fog like a knife. Like my knives through his ribs...
"Sten is correct, my Warden," Zevran spoke around the ash in his mouth, and he retreated from the bed and the two giants, sinking into a chair at the room's empty table. Where was his composure?
It had been so easy, the slide of those poisoned knives. Like any other mage. Like any other man. How many had he killed? Another instant and... and Zevran could have killed him. Almost had. If the Warden hadn't been such an excellent combat-healer, if the mage's reflexes had been off, his force-field too late...
And now, how could he be sure that he wouldn't try again?
He couldn't be sure. Not really. He hadn't even been aware that he was under control the first time, and it took so little to do something so utterly irreversible. "Zevran," the Warden's voice pulled him from his brooding -- him, brooding! -- and made the Antivan look back up from the surface of the table. Shale and Sten were gone. When had that happened?
"My Warden, I..." Zevran took a deep breath, steeling himself, "you should dismiss me. I have attacked you a second time, despite my oath, and--"
"Zevran," the mage's voice was still too quiet to purr, but not so weak as to not carry a subtle order, "come here."
"I don't think that would be wise," Zevran looked at the table again, but only briefly, his gaze torn back up again at the sound of shifting fabric. Tannusen was pushing the thick and heavy blankets off himself with visible effort, revealing an upper torso that was wrapped in layer after layer of intricately-wound bandages. Zevran knew that beneath the cloth strips was the twin marks of his newest treachery. He could imagine them vividly, front and back, where both of his blades had punched through the mage's rib-cage...
"If you refuse to come to me, I will crawl over there if I must," the other elf was visibly drained from the simple exertion of pushing the layers of blanets down, but his eyes gleamed with that strange determination of his. Capable of uniting armies and all that had entailed so far... there was little doubt that he would make good on his promise, though he would surely re-open his wounds in the process.
Reluctantly, Zevran stood up and slowly paced to the side of Tannusen's bed. He watched as some of the tension seemed to drain out of the mage as he did so, and hesitantly reached to tug the covers back over that bandaged torso. A hand around his wrist made him freeze in place, holding his breath. What if... whatever it was was just waiting for a moment such as this? He was still terribly dangerous without weaponry, a simple sharp twist of Tannusen's head with just such force, a crack he would feel more than hear, and then--
"Stop," Tannusen murmured, and drew Zevran closer with surprising strength. The assassin found himself bracing himself over the other man, his feet still on the floor but his body forced into leaning over the bed. "Your guilt is written all over your face, Zevran. Stop that."
"I..." Zevran swallowed. His mouth felt dry. "I am still a danger to you, Warden."
"And so am I," Tannu countered softly, his tiny smile plainly visible in the half-dark. "Get on the bed, Zevran."
When he hesitated, Zevran felt himself being suddenly pulled forward by the belts at his waist, until he was face to face with the mage, nearly within kissing range, on his hands and knees over the injured man. He stared in dismay at the mark still visible across Tannusen's throat, the shallow cut already scabbed and half-healed where he had begun to slice. For an instant, he saw another elf in Tannusen's place, someone else's knife poised to slice on Zevran's orders...
"You were controlled by a blood mage, Zevran," the mage stated. "Surely you've realized this?"
"I... but..." Zevran managed to pull back enough to sit back on his knees and shins, well aware that he was straddling Tannusen's thighs through the blankets. He was fully armored, all but looming over the wounded man, and it hardly mattered that said wounded man had forced the dynamic on him. His Warden was not the sanest man he had ever known.
Fingers under his chin forced him to meet Tannusen's eyes, the mage looking suddenly tired, his head resting on a pillow with his long hair splayed out around him from his movements. "You were... very briefly... thralled," Tannusen continued, the vivid blue of his eyes boring into Zevran's vision, "do you understand? That mage grabbed you because you were the closest. If it's anyone's fault, Zevran, it's mine for not sensing his blood magic faster and calling you back. My poor tactics is what got me stabbed. Not you."
"They were my blades that sank into your back," Zevran argued, hearing how his own tone had gone cold and harsh at the challenge. "I felt your ribs scrape against steel, the punch through your lungs..."
"So did I," Tannusen's chuckle was low and deep and terribly dark, under the circumstances. And still, that eerie little smile. Zevran had gotten used to the often-pleasant expression of his savior, in nearly any context -- appropriate or otherwise -- but it seemed jarring all over again, right here and now after he had nearly killed him. "Zevran, you are blaming yourself for something you did at a blood mage's order. And you're doing it in front of a thrall."
"You were a thrall, yes, but--" Zevran knew, in some corner of his mind, that he was being a little... irrational, but he still felt that he was right. Tannusen had only attacked the group in the fight against Uldred briefly, and nothing even approaching fatally.
"No buts," the seriousness of Tannu's expression penetrated Zevran's fog of guilt. He had stopped smiling again. "Zevran, you remember... when we fought my Master? If circumstances had been different, if we had captured you, do you doubt that I would have done anything my Master wished?"
The back of one pale hand caressed Zevran's cheek. The mage's skin felt cold.
"I would have tortured you on his whim, Zevran Arainai. I would have killed you at a whisper from him. Done... things to your corpse, if he wished it. Every secret you have ever told me, I would have laid at his feet, with no hesitation or remorse. Do you understand? You were enthralled, briefly. If that's your fault, then..." the mage took a deep breath, his face briefly filled with the strangest expression. Longing? "If I could bring him back, I would do it. If I ever meet him in the Fade... I may not come back. Don't you see? That's what blood magic does."
Zevran merely stared, feeling a little as though he'd been punched in the stomach. "No... wonder you are so oddly accepting," he heard himself say. His own past as a Crow, the things he'd been made to do and learn to enjoy, just to survive--
"You have been controlled all your life, Zev," Tannusen murmured, "this was just another type, that's all. It's not your fault."
This put it into context that he could truly understand. He'd simply been made into that mage's tool, however briefly. It was a role he was familiar enough with, even if he usually retained his... sense of what he was doing. There was always the choice to refuse and die, as a Crow, but there hadn't even been that much under the mage's sway. It cast a chilling light on the little he knew of his Warden's own... conditioning. Shorter-term than his though it may have been, Zevran could at least still claim to own his own soul, battered and torn though it was.
Making his choice to stop worrying about one incident, no matter how recent or damning, he forced his guilt into a dark corner where it would hopefully be forgotten, and began unbuckling his armor. If Zevran was remaining in bed with the injured man, he wasn't going to add the press of hardened leather to the mage's list of discomforts.
"Is this what it was like for you, then?" The question slipped out before he could think better of it, pulling the bulk of his loosened armor off over his head.
"...I am an actual thrall, Zevran," Tannusen sounded much more patient than Zevran may have been in his place. "The more you're controlled by blood magic, the easier it becomes for it to influence you. A blood mage barely has to touch me with his power to have me kneeling at his feet, mindless with the need to please him..." Something in Zevran's stare must have been telling indeed, because the mage chuckled softly and slid a hand behind Zevran's neck, pulling the partially-armored man down to lay against his bandaged side.
"Now you see why it's so laughable that Ferelden is relying on me to do much of anything," the mage murmured, "when I am so easily defeated by nearly any maleficar out there. Not only defeated, but made a pawn for. The stronger my power grows, the more dangerous I am to everyone around me..."
"Mm," Zevran settled against the Warden's side, and traced his fingers over the taut bandages over his ribs, testing to see how healed Tannusen was beneath them. He knew of only one sure-fire way to distract the other elf from his brooding... and himself as well, for that matter. "All this talk of you on your knees, my Warden. I almost wish I was a mage myself."
"You hardly need to thrall me to have me on my knees, Zev," the other elf murmured, flinching a little at the press against unseen wounds. Still quite injured, then. Zevran smoothed his hand over the area in silent apology, and then stripped the rest of his armor off before pushing the remaining blankets over the other elf out of his way.
Bare, pale skin almost glowed in the half-light of the room, a little paler than usual from blood loss. Zevran didn't miss the slight shiver that went through the other man -- there was a good reason to keep someone in his condition warm, and so the Antivan slid into the bed properly and pulled the thick layers of blankets over them both.
But that wasn't to say he intended to behave. Tannusen, oblivious to his plans, shifted with a soft hiss of pain onto his side and threw an arm over Zevran's waist, likely intending to settle in and slip back into the realm of the sleeping.
His thigh between the Warden's, rubbing gently as he rolled his hips, challenged that plan rather quickly.
"Tell me more about you on your knees for me," Zevran chuckled under Tannusen's stare, sliding close to catch and nibble at the mage's lower lip, his fingers tracing over that bandaged chest, avoiding the places that had made his Warden tense up with pain before. He knew precisely where he'd run the man through; it had been a few precious seconds short of a perfect kill.
But there was no dwelling on that while the mage's breath caught against Zevran's lips, his legs shifting to give Zevran the best access in their position, the arm over Zevran's waist tightening a little. "Any time," Tannusen's soft voice wasn't nearly as velvety as usual, too quiet with his still-damaged lungs. "Any where."
"Hm, truly?" Zevran smirked at the thought, his fingers working to fold and roll and shift the bandages just a little upward and downward, exposing a nipple to be pinched and tugged, and then its twin, "I will have to file that away for later, I think. What about in front of an audience?"
"Ah..." it was obviously hard for the injured man to respond, between the thigh rubbing against hardening flesh and Zevran's fingers... "A thrall wouldn't question..."
That response earned the mage a harder pinch, and Zevran marveled at the thought. The first time he had dominated his Warden, the very mention of sharing him with any other had made the other man tense until he'd promised otherwise. Alistair hardly counted, harmless and familiar as he was. Zevran had no doubt that Tannusen would be a nervous wreck for such an experience, but the idea that he was even willing to entertain it...
After I nearly murdered him... The thought came unbidden, though Zevran shoved it away again. His lingering guilt had no place here.
A final twisting pinch and the scrape of his short nails, and Zevran disengaged, sliding away and rolling onto his stomach to reach his armor on the floor beside the bed and retrieve a hidden vial of oil from his belt. The stare he could feel burning into the back of his head encouraged his quick return to the Warden, this time backing himself up against Tannusen's front, arching his back to rub his ass just like so against the other elf's nicely-hardened cock.
After having run Tannusen through, he thought it appropriate that he be the one impaled, so to speak, even if he was obviously having to take control for the injured man.
But Tannusen's hand settled on Zevran's hip, and the mage bit down on the back of his neck, and Zevran gave a throaty moan. Perhaps he didn't have to take complete control, after all.
The light grip on Zevran's hip slackened only a few minutes later, as Zevran reached back between them with slickened fingers to open himself up. Fingers around his wrist stilled the motion, and he blinked into the half-darkness as he felt Tannusen roll with a soft sigh onto his back.
"...Sorry Zev," Tannu murmured, releasing his wrist, "I don't think I can. I want to, but..."
Zevran twisted beneath the blankets to look at the Warden, certain for a moment that this was the rejection he'd been waiting for -- but no. Tannusen looked too pale, too... fragile. The slightest shiver went through the mage even as Zevran watched, and he pulled the blankets back up to his chin.
"I..." Zevran was at a loss. They resolved everything with sex. It was the only way either of them seemed to know how to handle much of anything. Tannusen had seemed able mere seconds ago, but...
"You look worried," the Warden said very quietly.
"Do I not have sufficient cause?" Zevran asked, sliding closer, the mage obligingly moved his arm out of the way. His skin was too cool beneath the blankets, and Zevran pressed full-body against Tannusen's side. The injured man relaxed a little, easily felt through their contact.
"I'm just so tired," Tannusen murmured softly, "I was worried about this... conversation. I was worried about you; I know that mage drained you for power at the end... I haven't been resting very well..."
"But you are still interested?" Zevran quickly found a way to change the subject from his Warden... worrying about him of all people. He shifted further, putting his weight on his knees and an elbow as he straddled one of Tannusen's thighs, avoiding putting any pressure on the other man's injured torso as he stole a slow, careful kiss.
"...I just don't think I could get us to the end," Tannusen's voice was barely audible, even this close, his bottom lip trapped gently by Zevran's teeth.
"Shhh, you do not have to get us anywhere," the Antivan chuckled, shifting further over the mage, wrapping nimble fingers as well as he could around both of them and stroking slowly. Beneath him, Tannusen's eyes half-lidded and he managed a weak roll of his hips against Zevran's in obvious approval. It wasn't long before his hands settled on Zevran's shoulders, too weak to grip tightly but still... touching.
Zevran's pace was leisurely and Tannusen's strength was limited, but eventually Zevran's patience won out. Eventually, the other man began to tense, and Zevran lifted his head from that pale-skinned neck to watch the mage's face, quickening his strokes to push them both over the edge--
A hand tangled in Zevran's hair, pulling him down for another kiss as they both came undone against one another, some tiny part of Zevran's brain still managing to keep his weight off the bandage-wrapped man beneath him, his other hand fisting hard in the bedding as they jerked and strained against his grip, spilling heat between their bodies, slickening his grip further for those last few hard strokes.
Tannusen was a panting mess beneath him, a soft sound of pain escaping his lips before he could stop it. Zevran brushed his cheek against the other elf's, not entirely sure why he made the gesture but... "You are not in too much pain?"
"Just... from the strain," Tannusen shuddered slightly as Zevran pushed away onto his knees, unfortunately taking the blankets with him as he sat up. He quickly grabbed a far corner of the bedding to wipe up their mess with and then settled back down again, blankets and all. The mage immediately relaxed again with the returned warmth, and curled his arm around Zevran's back.
"You're not... running off now, right?" Tannu's voice was still quiet, his quick breathing too shallow as though it hurt. It probably did. Zevran felt a brief lance of guilt at pushing the issue, but reminded himself that Tannusen had complained of tiredness, not of pain. It certainly couldn't be half as bad as his threatened crawl across the room would have been...
"No," Zevran shook his head, hooking one leg over Tannusen's under the blankets. The added contact made the mage relax further. "I said that you should dismiss me, not that I would run away on my own, no? And now you have corrected me, and so I shall stay."
"Hn," was Tannusen's reply, the mage seeming half-asleep already. "Good. You're... warm, Zev. You know that?"
"Rest, my Warden," Zevran chuckled quietly, not inclined to move. He yawned and tugged the blankets up a bit further over both of their shoulders, watching the strain slowly ease from the Warden's features. Even as dangerous as they both were, perhaps there was enough in these moments to make up for it.