Kieren’s feet seemed to grow heavier with each step that he took. This was a place that he had never expected to return to, except in his nightmares. This part of the Brecilian Forest looked much as it had three years ago, when Kieren had last been here—not surprising seeing how timeless the forest was. But it seemed almost unfair for it to appear unchanged after everything that had happened.
He had left Finn and Ariane back in the camp, this was not something he wanted to share with his new companions. He had only ever told one person the entire truth about what had happened in these ruins and had no intention of discussing it with people he barely knew. In truth, he would have left Zevran behind as well, but he knew without even asking that the Antivan would not leave his side.
Once inside the ruins it was not as bad as he had feared it might be. He had fought far too many abominations and ghouls since becoming a Grey Warden to be much affected by the tainted elves they encountered. It was easy for him to go into battle mode and effectively switch off his brain while slaying the creatures.
Afterwards, when he and Zevran had dispatched all of them, the icy dread had closed around his heart once again. He looked around the hallway and he could almost hear Tamlen’s laughter as Kieren told him how he’d gotten out of his duties so they could go hunting together, and he could almost feel Tamlen’s lips on his as he pulled him into a fierce kiss.
Into the next hallway and past the statue that Tamlen had been so fascinated with. And there before him stood The Door. His breathing grew ragged and he found himself unable to move. Suddenly the room was too small, the walls too close.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying desperately to block out the thoughts swimming through his mind. He had been so sure that he had moved beyond this. When he had killed the ghoul that Tamlen had become the grief had been like a knife in his heart. But he had accepted Alistair’s words of comfort, buried the body—without the proper ceremony unfortunately—and spent the night wrapped in the warmth of Zevran’s arms.
After that night his heart had begun mending. Finally knowing what had happened to Tamlen, as horrible as the truth was, had helped to bring him peace. Or so he thought. Entering this place was bringing everything back to him, and he wasn’t sure if he had the strength to face it. In this place, in this moment he didn’t feel like the Warden Commander, Hero of Ferelden. Instead, he felt like the foolish da’len he had been the last time he had come to this place.
No longer able to put the moment off Kieren took a deep breath and placed his hands on the cool stone. Slowly, slowly he pushed the door open and he and Zevran stepped inside the chamber.
And then his fortitude failed. There before him were the stone steps, and at the top that damned mirror—broken but still recognizable.
A low howl echoed around the room and it was a few seconds before he realized the sound was coming from him. Dropping to his knees he cradled his head in his hands, no longer able to stop the onslaught of tears. He could see himself and Tamlen at the top of the stairs, hear himself goading Tamlen into exploring further. He had let Tamlen move forward, let him touch the mirror. Creators forgive him, it was his fault. His fault, his fault, his—
“Fault. My fault, my fault!” Kieren wailed. He was sobbing, choking on the stale air of the chamber. His heart was constricting with pain, and all he could hear was the rush of blood in his ears. He didn’t notice right away that Zevran had wrapped his arms around him. And when he did he snarled at him, pushed him away. He did not deserve to be comforted.
His breath hitching and his head swimming, he saw the broken fragments of the mirror laying around the stairs and remembered why they had come to this accursed place to begin with. Not trusting himself to stand, he crawled forward and picked up one of the larger pieces.
All of his guilt, his anger, his grief welled up inside of him as he held the shard in his hand. He didn’t realize how tight he’d been holding it until he saw blood dripping from his tightened fist.
Suddenly Zevran was by his side again, gripping his shoulders, not allowing Kieren to shrug him off. There was true fear in Zevran’s eyes, something Kieren had not seen since the night before the siege in Denerim. Zevran had been afraid then that he might lose his lover in the coming battle against the Archdemon. Perhaps he feared the same thing now. Kieren couldn’t blame him—he felt as if he was losing himself.
“Amore,” Zevran was trying to pry the broken shard from Kieren’s hand. “Do not go into that darkness. Come back to me, please.”
Kieren allowed Zevran to take the piece of mirror from his hand, but silently balked when the other man tried to apply a health poultice. Zevran didn’t let him pull away, however, and he felt the familiar tingling in his hand as the wound began to close. Without healing magic there would be a scar, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
He sat there for several long minutes, curled up inside himself, seeing and hearing nothing. Slowly he began coming back from wherever it was his mind had escaped to and found himself in Zevran’s arms, much as he had been the night he had ended Tamlen’s suffering.
Zevran was gently stroking his face, whispering soothing words in Antivan. He tightened his arms when Kieren buried his face in Zevran’s neck and began crying once again, his body shaking with grief. His tears were silent this time, but just as anguished as before.
Eventually he stopped shaking and the tears slackened off. “I’m sorry lethallin,” he whispered.
Zevran pulled back and looked at Kieren, frowning. “You have nothing to apologize for, amore.”
Kieren wiped at his eyes and shook his head. “I thought…I thought I had made peace with what had happened,” He took a deep, shuddering breath, “I was wrong.”
Zevran sighed, and hugged him close once again. “Your heart suffered a grievous wound that day, tesoro mio, it is not something that will heal quickly. And some wounds never heal.”
Kieren allowed himself to relax into Zevran’s arms, accepting the comfort that his lover offered. “I wish that we could have buried him properly,” he whispered, “what if he didn’t find his way through the Veil?”
Zevran shushed him. “Do not think such things, amore. You did what you were able to, and I am sure it was enough to help him through his journey.”
Kieren shut his eyes at that, trying to hold back the tears. “I hope you are right.”
“Ah, but I am always right,” Zevran chuckled lightly, “have you not learned this by now?”
Kieren smiled weakly. “I am slow in my lessons, it seems.”
Finally calmed, Kieren stood and reached out a hand to Zevran. Kieren squeezed his hand lightly. “Ma serannas, Lethallin.”
Zevran smiled and tucked a strand of Kieren’s hair back behind his ear. “I am here for you, amore,” he said quietly, “always.”
Kieren nodded, grateful now that Zevran had insisted he come along. Once again, Zevran had proven to be Kieren’s strength—it was what he loved most about the Antivan.
Taking a deep breath he ascended the stairs toward the mirror while Zevran wrapped the shard of mirror in a cloth that they had brought. Kieren reached out his hand and ran his finger along the mirror’s frame. “Emma abelath, Tamlen,” he whispered before returning to his lover’s side.
Kieren grasped Zevran’s hand and they walked towards the door. He knew that he would likely return here again many times in his dreams, but perhaps someday he would truly be able to make peace with that. Until then, he took solace in the knowledge that Zevran would keep his word and always be there for him.