The snow was falling in earnest for a week before Zevran began sneezing, but he had started complaining about the cold an entire month before the first flake fell, and for good reason. Ferelden winters are harsh; the muddy ground freezes solid early in the season, making foot travel as unpleasant as the sloshing summers, the ground unyielding under Zevran’s boot and Theron’s makeshift leather wraps.
Theron went back to wearing the distinctive armor of a Dalish soon after the blight ended, taking on a feral look that Zevran, while not expecting of him, found undeniably stunning. He wore horn ornaments in his hair, and thick, hard-worked leather armor of tunic and leggings, stitched together with thick cord on visible seams, studded with tooth and bone. When the weather became poor, he donned a cloak with fluffy fur lining the collar and hood, somehow procuring one for Zevran when he complained about the unfairness of only one of them having the ability to stay warm. He did not complain, however, about sleeping tight together in the tent at night, both cloaks draped over them, and waking with Theron still there, enjoying the heat rather than wandering off on his own in the morning as he often did.
But that was hardly enough to make up for the drop in temperature that killed what greenery was left after the harvest season, taking Zevran’s good spirits along with it. He was sullen as Theron led them over the Frostback Mountains, promising a rest in The Dales when they found it. By the time they did, Zevran was coughing violently, but not so violently that he could not manage to curse Ferelden weather whilst doing so.
He had a fever by the time they reached The Dales, and spent two days lying in the tent, racked with chills while Theron took care of him. The third night, he began to have fever dreams, seeing Antiva when he closed his eyes, smelling fish chowder and tanning leather, and feeling Taliesin’s fingertips on his skin.
There was a ceiling above him when he woke, not the soft leather of the tent, but sturdy wooden slats, from which there hung a dozen small jars, a tiny candle flickering in each one. He sat up slowly, a throbbing fullness in his head as he did.He was, as far as he could tell, laying on the floor of a small windowless room that was entirely made of highly polished wood, carvings of deer with intricate horns gracing the lower half of the walls. Near the foot of his bed, if it could be called that—it felt like a couple of bedrolls, or maybe a mean mattress laid out on the floor—was an earthenware brazier, a small fire crackling quietly within.
A door that he had not noticed pulled open, a square of swirling blizzard coming into his view, the sheer white hurting his eyes. Theron appeared then, blocking out the snow as he pulled the door shut behind him, a wool scarf around his neck, and his dark hair dotted with snow, the patterns like constellations on a red night sky. Theron smiled at him as he latched the door, setting a hammered copper cauldron carefully atop the brazier before pulling off his scarf and hanging it on a hook made of horn next to the door. Theron then crawled, which seemed easier, given the low ceilings of the room, across Zevran’s bed, laying down next to him on the thick furs and pressing his cold nose and lips to his cheek.
“About time you woke up,” he said, his voice calm and sweet, reflecting shades of sleepy pillow talk and private confessions, whispered with delicate significance into tapered ears. “When you get sick, you really put some effort into it.” Theron wrapped a fond arm around Zevran’s stomach, resting there with him comfortably, the light dusting of snow on his hair making it damp.
“Cruel as always.” Zevran cleared his throat, wincing at the rawness of it. “I am dying and you mock me,” he said, petulant as Theron sat up and chuckled, moving to a small niche and picking up a mug.
“You are not dying. You are ill, but no worse than I have ever been. I was ill often as a child, you know.” As Theron spoke, the scent of peppermint and camphor began to fill the air of the small room, and he crossed to the brazier, dipping the mug into the cauldron to fill it, then wiping it clean with a cloth before bringing it to Zevran. “Here, this will make your throat feel better.”
“Where are we?” Zevran took the warm mug and sat up further, resting his back against the wooden wall behind him, settling in before putting the cup to his lips and wrinkling his nose as the pungent odor of elfroot rising from it.
“We’re in an aravel.” Theron stretched out in front of Zevran, slipping off a pair of proper doeskin boots and putting his feet near the brazier, wriggling the cold stiffness out of his toes. “We camped near a clan who lost most of their hunters in the blight. I offered to help them hunt in return for an aravel and provisions. So far I’ve only been able to find rabbit, but there will be stew for a few days from that.” Absently, Theron reached up to untie the bun in his hair, placing the horn ornament on a small shelf carved into the wall and combing out the whole long mess of it with his fingers. “I would rather we not spend the entire winter here, but we have somewhere to stay warm for the time being.”
“No small feat in Ferelden.” Zevran scoffed, making a face at the mug after drinking from it.
“We’re no longer in Ferelden, we’ve been in The Dales for over a week now.”
“I thought the Dalish were driven out of The Dales centuries ago,” said Zevran, finishing the tea, pointedly showing Theron that the mug was empty before putting it at his side.
“We travel,” said Theron simply, crawling back up to crouch near Zevran, putting the back of his hand on his damp forehead, his brow furrowed in concentration. “You still feel warm, but I think the worst has passed.” Brushing a stray lock of hair out of Zevran’s face, Theron smiled, then leaned in to kiss his forehead.
“You can be as sweet as you want, it does not change the fact that it is your fault that I’m sick.” Zevran put an arm around Theron anyway, moving to the side as he lifted the thick blankets and wormed underneath them. “And do not put your cold feet on me again.” Theron only chuckled and slid an arm around Zevran’s chest, resting his head on his shoulder as Zevran laid back down and covered them up.
“You’ll be well again soon.” Theron squirmed in closer when Zevran wrapped his arm around his back, tugging him near. “Until then, whatever you need, just ask.”
“Whatever I need, or whatever I want?”
“Whatever you need, within reason.”
“Reason is such a depressing thing.” Zevran worked his hand under Theron’s shirt, running it up the warm skin of his back, tracing the bumps of his spine with practiced fingers. “I can think of so many things that would be better without it.”
“We’re not having sex,” Theron said firmly. “You were delirious with fever just hours ago.” Theron kissed his shoulder, ignoring Zevran’s dramatic sigh, then slid his hand down Zevran’s side. “When you’re better, I’m yours without question. Use that as incentive.” Zevran chuckled lightly, turning his head and coughing hard into his opposite shoulder when the urge arose.
He was silent for so long that Theron moved to leave, thinking he had fallen asleep, but Zevran’s grip tightened when Theron attempted to sit up. “Stay, mi amor,” Zevran said softly, and Theron settled back at his side, kissing his temple, then his cheek, before nuzzling into his neck and resting there. “So we are in a Dalish landship?” Theron made a small affirmative noise. “Warmer than where I grew up, at least.”
“Sometimes it is a pity when things end,” said Theron, his lips quite firm against Zevran’s neck. “Childhood is not one of those things.”
“Perhaps.” Zevran sounded dubious, but he agreed more than he let on, just like he cared, and loved, and needed much more than he would ever let on. He pressed his lips to Theron’s hair then, while staring at the ceiling and the tiny, flickering candles, and drifted off into a dream, a sweet one this time, of growing up as a Dalish elf, feral and free, spending hours chasing a darling, redheaded boy to corner him behind aravels and kiss him dearly, with love in his eyes and on his lips.
He woke again, only briefly, just long enough to confirm that Theron was still there, dozing next to him. Sleepily, he pushed his bangs out of his eyes and murmured love to him in Antivan, feeling odd regret for the dream that slipped away when his eyes opened, but letting it go willingly, knowing in that deep place that they had come to meet and fall in love due to strange circumstances, and that wishing for more was a futile waste. Theron shifted, and Zevran whispered those words again, thinking that someday, he would tell him what they meant, yet knowing that somehow, Theron already knew.
When he closed his eyes again, he took refuge in both the shelter of the aravel and that of Theron’s presence, feeling powerfully fortunate to have both.