A hint of blood still seeps from the angry wound that runs across his forearm. It's not the worst wound Kallian has seen lately, but it's ugly enough to concern her and it marks the first time Zevran has fallen in battle since she spared his life and let him join them. He doesn't flinch when she presses her wet cloth to it, and she suspects that it's only because the Antivan Crows go through this enough.
Being in camp means they have the luxury of showing injuries the extra attention they couldn't otherwise, and once she's cleaned the wound, she dabs warmed elfroot paste onto it. "How are you feeling?"
His gaze shifts to her face and lingers there. "Well, shall we review?"
Though one corner of her mouth turns upward, she knows he's not pausing long enough to allow her a word. Without raising her eyes to meet his, she continues to use up the rest of the paste.
"At the end of a particularly fierce battle with a wandering tribe of darkspawn, an angry ogre burst out of the forest and chose me as the victim it would take down with it. He picked me up in one giant hand, and I don't mind telling you that it was some of the worst pain of my life," he goes on, his tone just casual enough to seem disconnected from the admission itself. "But our lovely healer revived me, and we have soldiered back to the safety of our charming camp, where I am being tended to by the most beautiful of Grey Wardens. Perhaps I am being optimistic again, but I think I could be worse off than I am now, yes?"
"Speaking of our lovely healer and being worse off," Kallian interjects, fishing in her pack and coming up with a bandage to wrap around his arm, "Wynne would be much better at this than I am."
"As remarkable a woman as our Wynne is, she is not the one I asked for help."
She doesn't need to lift her eyes away from her work to look him in the face again. His smile clings to every word that leaves his lips.
"Is that a problem?"
A laugh catches in her throat, and she shakes her head. "Only for you if this gets infected."
"Ah, but we live dangerously, you and I." Once the bandage is secure on his arm, he leans against the tree behind him. For a fleeting moment she thinks he means to grab her wrist, but he only crosses his arms loosely over his chest. "I'll take my chances."
Her own smile is reluctant, but she doesn't begrudge him for coaxing it from her. "Get some rest, Zevran." Shouldering her pack, she rises tiredly to her feet again. "We have a long day ahead of us."
"I shall try my best, Grey Warden. Do I have permission to go to your tent should I have trouble sleeping?" He shakes his head sadly for her benefit. "Because I often do, you know."
Over her shoulder, she raises her eyebrows. "I wouldn't if I were you. I could be startled awake and think you were there to try to fulfill your contract."
"Are we not past that yet?" He quickly covers his heart with his hand, all mock reproach. "You wound me far more than any darkspawn could."
The idea makes her smile sharpen with that very brand of teasing that can only go hand-in-hand with hidden seriousness. "Then it would probably serve you well to remember that."
His eyes flash as though he's been challenged. "You Fereldan women can be so fiery. I like it."
As she walks away -- not looking back this time -- she has to shake her head.
Every step of her way back to her tent, he watches.
On the road to the Brecilian Forest, Shale demonstrates that golems have no knowledge of tact, conversationally stating for all to hear that it -- she? -- notices the painted elf seeks the attention of the Grey Warden.
"It does," Zevran acknowledges, equal parts unabashed and amused.
Kallian initially has the desperate urge to crack a joke about Zevran jockeying for Alistair's attention, but she knows she is the one Shale refers to that way. Alistair is a secondary Warden at best in Shale's eyes, and even Wynne and Zevran call her warden more often than they refer to her by name.
There are some reasons she has to like it -- who ever would have imagined her with a title of any sort before now? -- and some reasons she has to hate it.
Her identity is smothered by the role she's been forced into.
Later, while they are all browsing the goods of a disgruntled dwarf they met on the road, Zevran positions himself directly across from her. She can feel the heavy weight of his eyes for a full minute before she looks up at him. "You have my attention," she tells him pointedly, very aware of their lack of privacy.
"At the moment, Grey Warden, it seems I do." His smile speaks volumes about how pleased he is with himself, but he doesn't look inclined to share anything else.
She stands there, testing the heft of a longsword in one hand, and meets his eyes expectantly. "You wish to speak?"
His smile widens into a grin that bares teeth. "Speaking was not exactly what I had in mind, I admit, but if you truly dislike my staring I may make the attempt to stop."
"I'll just be over there under that tree," Alistair offers dryly from behind her. "To keep myself from getting any unresolved tension all over my brand new armor."
Zevran is unapologetic.
She turns away from him, but she smiles.
"I have something for you."
Sitting on a tree stump, he perks up visibly and offers her his most amused grin. "Ah, is this another of your gifts, Grey Warden?"
With a small smile of her own on her face, she stands in front of him, her hands behind her back.
"You have a way of making your companions feel most appreciated. Even the ones you so adamantly hold at arm's length." At the sight of her lips pursing in disapproval, he holds both hands out, palms up. "Make no mistake: I await your favor."
Making every effort not to fall for his trap, she straightens her shoulders. "This one comes with a condition. You have to agree to it beforehand."
His eyebrows arch questioningly. "You have me intrigued, my dear. Shall I hear it now, or am I just being teased?"
"I'd like you to call me Kallian."
It's possible she's never seen him taken off guard before, but there is no masking the surprise that flickers so quickly across his features.
"Kallian," he repeats, as though he had no inkling that she had a real name at all. She knows he did; nothing in their camp seems to stay a secret for long. "Very well. I shall do my best."
She finally drops the pair of handsome fur-lined Dalish-made gloves -- so like the ones he'd once described his mother owning -- into his waiting hands. His slow-dawning reaction is worth every suspicious glance she weathered among the elves of the forest.
"I have a question, if I may."
From Zevran, a statement like that is a highly dangerous thing, but in the relative quiet of camp, resting under the tree nearest her tent, Kallian nods in an open invitation she fully realizes she could end up regretting. Questions are only fair, though, and she's usually the one asking them.
All efficient grace, he lowers himself onto the grass beside her, brushing dirt off the boots she gave him. There is no leer in his eyes, no teasing smirk on his lips. He wasn't this serious even as he was offering advice on her backstab or showing her how to brew poisons for her blades and teaching her where best to strike for each to work to its fullest potential.
"What do you intend to do with me when this is over?"
Surprised, she gives him a sidelong look. It's true that their deal ended with him telling her that he was her man without reservation until she chose to release him from his oath of loyalty. They both know that isn't likely to happen before the archdemon is killed. They may not even both survive it all, although she almost can't imagine someone with his deadly combination of skill and sheer blind luck not pulling through.
She shrugs her shoulders and answers candidly. "You'll be free to go if you wish to."
They may owe each other their lives by that point, but the score set in stone when he tried to kill her for Loghain and she spared his life in the hope that he would prove useful will then be even.
He peers at her. "And if I don't, what then?"
Surprise makes it to her face a second time, as much as she tries to hide it. She hesitates for a moment, suddenly unsure of what to say. "I could always use a friend."
"Not more than friends?"
The telltale flush she feels creep into her cheeks is unexpected, something usually reserved for only his most daringly uninhibited lines, and she's grateful that they're not closer to the campfire. His hair shines golden in the dim light it catches; the markings on his face are elegantly exotic. He looks Dalish but moves through any city with the ease of an elf born and raised in one. He speaks with an accent she'd never heard before meeting him, but he shares the lithe build and pointed ears common to all like herself. He is her equal as a rogue, her tutor as an assassin.
It doesn't matter that he's too outspoken, that he's a killer who had a contract with her enemy, that he's the son of a whore. In her eyes, he represents some of the best of all the worlds she knows.
She hasn't made many plans for the future -- at least not beyond ending the Blight -- since the day she left the alienage with Duncan, but tonight she allows herself not to disregard it completely. "We'll have to see, won't we?"
His eyes shine. "So we will."
It sounds like a promise.
For the first few hours of their stay, Orzammar is rich with intrigue. While the structure of the castes strikes an all too familiar chord, Kallian has never seen anything like its vast halls and carved stone and intricate architecture.
But she's also never seen anything quite like the cutthroat politics of its nobles as they fight over the kingship. By the time she's asked to go into the Deep Roads, she's quietly seething, telling her party that no obvious leads will end in their departure with or without the dwarves agreeing to honor the treaty.
She allows Oghren to join them, keeps him buoyant with the liquor they find, listens -- almost smiling -- to the insults he and Zevran hurl at each other, and treats him as an equal member of the party. Yet deep down inside she finds she has no more faith in his ability to steer them to Branka than she has in her own ability to accomplish everything Duncan would say needs to be done.
When they find Branka's journal, she doesn't know whether to be elated that she's a step closer to her goal or disappointed that they have a lead to take them in deeper. Wynne's counsel is kind, if not always asked for, and Zevran's frank flirtation becomes something that by turns grates on her frayed nerves and makes her feel more alive than anything else in the dark and dangerous enclosed tunnels they travel.
Her bedroll moves inches closer to him every time she has a chance for a few hours of sleep.
She will never come back here, she tells herself. Not even thirty years from now, when the taint overcomes her and the dreams Alistair warned her about become too much to bear. She will not return. She will not die here.
Torchlight flickers along their path; Oghren acts as though he can practically smell Branka on the stale air, and Zevran leans in to whisper in her ear that if Branka smells anything like their fine dwarven companion they should all be able to.
Faintly, she hears a female voice chanting something that almost sounds like a rhyme she knew as a child.
The words she can make out are far less pleasant. She exchanges a wearied but wary look with Zevran, and in response he brings out a small vial of smoky blue liquid and dips the blade of his dagger into it.
For her benefit, he flashes a smile. "Shall we compete for points?"
The first night back on the surface after the crowning of Orzammar's new king, she slinks away from camp and sits on the bank of the nearby river and loses all hint of composure for the first time since Ostagar.
Her tears are fierce, hot against her cheeks. She's angry at the darkspawn, at the now-dead Branka, at the dwarves, at the humans, at her fellow elves. She's angry at Vaughan even though he's dead, she's angry at Duncan for saving her life and then getting killed, she's angry at Loghain for the needless suffering caused by his betrayal, she's angry at Alistair for being the bearer of news she doesn't want to hear.
She will never be able to forget the broodmother.
When she feels arms encircling her, she resists. She pushes, shoulders straight, and turns her body away, unwilling to face another person with tears streaming down her cheeks.
But he persists, and he continues to until her head buries willingly against his shoulder.
The scent of leather floods her nose; her tears flare up again before they finally subside.
She stifles the lingering urge to sniffle. "I don't want to ever talk about this."
To her surprise, his chest rumbles against her in an audibly relieved laugh. "I am happy to hear it. For a moment I was afraid you wanted to talk about your feelings."
She comes closer to smiling than she has in days.
After two days of sunshine on the road back to Redcliffe, two days of the relative normalcy of life on the surface, two days of Zevran being as good as his word about never once mentioning the Deep Roads or her tears by the river, she approaches him in camp, her heart trapped in her throat.
"I'm turning in early."
He meets her eyes and nods. "A fine idea, my dear. A tired Kallian is an unhappy Kallian."
The lack of innuendo, of blatant flirtation, makes her hesitate. He arches both eyebrows at her.
Her nails bite into her palm. "I thought you may be interested in joining me."
The suggestion earns far more than just the reaction she expected; surprise, desire, curiosity, and mischief all take their turn flitting across his features.
"Oh?" Under it all, he can't pretend he isn't self-satisfied. He reaches for her, runs a slender finger around the pointed tip of her ear. "Is there something in your tent that needs assassinating?"
Never before has she been happier to hear him up to his usual tricks, and never before has she played along so meaningfully.
They turn in early. Sated, sweat-slick, and entangled, they fall asleep late.