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Unraveled

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Alistair wasn’t watching -- he wasn’t -- it was just that Zevran was sitting in his line of sight. Zevran always seemed to be where Alistair couldn’t help but look at him. And then sometimes he’d turn and give Alistair this smile, and then Alistair would get flustered and have to walk away. 

So Alistair wasn’t watching as Zevran combed his hair. He just… happened to see, is all. It was after supper and Zevran sat cross legged in front of the fire, his hair damp. He’d taken advantage of the opportunity to bathe in the nearby stream and now he dug through his pack, eventually producing a comb from the depths. The elf’s placid expression soured quickly as the comb got stuck. Swearing under his breath, Zevran felt around the nape of his neck. He wrestled with the comb another minute, then sighed and fished a dagger from his boot, intending to cut the clump out.

“No!” Alistair realized he’d said it too loud when everyone stopped to look at him. Or maybe it was because he’d gotten half to his feet, reaching out a hand to stop Zevran.

“I assure you, my target is merely this tangle, my friend,” Zevran laughed. He always seemed to be laughing at Alistair.

Rolling his eyes with a huff, Alistair clucked his tongue. “I know that,” he said. “Just… hold on.” He half-crawled over, kneeling behind Zevran. “Let me look?”

Zevran laughed again, but this time it sounded incredulous, not mocking. “It is the pitch of the pine. A lost cause.”

Gingerly, Alistair parted Zevran’s hair. The tangle was large and sticky from sap. “It’s not. Oil will get this out. Just takes a little patience. Here, I’ve got sword oil in my tent, let me just --”

Another laugh, this one self-deprecating. “Allow me,” Zevran said. He rooted in his pack again and pulled out a small vial. “I would rather my head not smell of daggers for the next month.”

Alistair hesitated. “What is it?”

“It is not poison, if that is what you think. It is merely scented oil.”

“Like, perfume?” Alistair took the small bottle and uncorked it, taking a tentative sniff.

From a few feet away, Leliana giggled. She glanced at Alistair and then said something in Orlesian to Zevran, who replied in kind. They both seemed to find the whole thing very amusing.

Alistair’s face burned. “Look, if you don’t want my help, that’s fine, but there’s no need to --” He clopped his mouth shut before he could say no need to laugh at me. It was bad enough that he let it get under his skin at all; no need to admit it out loud. “Forget it,” he grunted, starting to get to his feet.

“Wait,” Zevran said, reaching for Alistair’s wrist. “My apologies. It is rude to speak in such a manner. Orlesian has a turn of phrase that is… difficult to translate. I would welcome your assistance.”

Alistair was pretty sure the bit about the translation was a lie, but the apology part seemed sincere. He glanced at Leliana, who gave him a sunny smile before she stood and busied herself on the far side of the camp.

“Alright,” Alistair said, sinking back down. “Give me the comb, and hold the rest of your hair out of the way,” he said, dribbling a bit of the oil on the knot. “I’ll try to be gentle.”

“I assure you, that is not necessary,” Zevran said, and there was something in the way he said it that made Alistair’s stomach flip over.

zevistair art by @farseerdri on tumblr

Alistair concentrated on the task at hand. “How many languages do you know, anyway?”

“To read and speak, three. To barter in the marketplace, five. To make love, all of them.” His throaty laugh turned into a hiss as Alistair’s hand slipped, pulling his hair sharply.

“Sorry,” Alistair mumbled.

“That is definitely something for which you need not apologize,” Zevran said, shifting his hips.

Alistair didn’t know what to say to that, so he kept quiet. The oil smelled very good, musky and spicy, but not as strong as perfume. It definitely wasn’t sword oil, and it clearly wasn’t for eating. “What is this oil for, anyway? Do you put it on leather or….”

“It is for… ah, the massage,” Zevran said.

“Ohhhh.” Alistair swallowed hard. “Um. Right.” It seemed strange that Zevran would have such a thing with him -- there wasn’t much call for spa treatments out in the wilds, but it was easier to pretend he understood than to talk ask about it further. He definitely didn’t need to be thinking about things like skin and muscles and hands and --

“Tell me,” Zevran said, cutting into Alistair’s thoughts. “Why are you so concerned that I should not cut my hair? And how do you know this secret to remove the pitch of the pine?”

“Oh that,” Alistair shrugged. “When I was a boy, I used to hide up in this huge spruce behind the kennels whenever I got scolded. Which was often.”

“You will forgive that I have difficulty imagining you breaking the rules,” Zevran said.

“I tried to be good, but somehow it went wrong a lot.” Alistair gently teased out a few strands from the knot and combed them to the side. “Isolde -- I mean, the Arlessa -- she was, um, very strict.” His stomach went cold and lumpy, remembering how baffling it was, to see her moods shift from serene to terrifying in the blink of an eye. Usually the blink of Eamon’s eye, specifically.

“Anyway,” he said, “I was hiding because… you know, I don’t even remember. I must’ve done something wrong though. I’d gotten a few big clumps of sap in my hair and all over my face and hands. Isolde was furious about that. She insisted on --” Alistair hesitated. He regretted that he hadn’t told a shorter version of the story. “Um. That I be -- that I be bathed,” he mumbled. Maker, it sounded so benign, and here he was, breaking out in a cold sweat at the memory, fifteen years later. Filthy child, she’d called him, over and over, her voice thick with venom. Or maybe it was just her accent. She’d rubbed his face and hands raw with pumice and harsh lye soap as he shivered in the frigid tub, old enough to be shamed by his nudity but young enough not to know why. By Andraste, he’d completely forgotten about that. Would she remember, when she saw him? They’d be in Redcliffe eventually. He was bound to see her.

Zevran had gone very still. He reached one hand back, squeezing Alistair’s wrist gently. His thumb swiped Alistair’s skin before he pulled away.

The understanding in the gesture made Alistair’s eyes prick with tears. The rest of the words tumbled out in a rush. “Anyway, she couldn’t get the sap out of my hair with soap so she hacked those bits off and I looked like I had mange for a month and all the other children laughed at me and I was sent to sleep in the kennels because I wasn’t presentable enough for the house and the second cook took pity on me and told me if I ever got in the sap again I should rub butter or oil on it and it would come right out, and looks like you’re all done, here’s your comb.” He got to his feet and stumbled away, out of the circle of firelight and into the forest.

“Alistair!” Zevran’s shout seemed very far away. Alistair’s legs felt funny -- rubbery and unsteady. He leaned heavily on a nearby tree, which was a bad choice. The smell of sap enveloped him. Alistair felt ill, the cold sweat now augmented with a sharp dizziness. He crumpled to all fours, heaving the contents of his stomach onto the ground.

Footsteps ran up behind him. Zevran knelt next to Alistair, putting a hand across his shoulders and offering a waterskin.

Alistair took it, washing his mouth out before taking a long drink. He handed it back, not wanting to look at the elf.

Zevran merely rubbed his shoulders. “The first time a memory surfaces can be quite dreadful,” he said. “And monsters can sometimes hide in plain sight, mi pobrecito.”

It was hard to know whether to feel grateful for the understanding or embarrassed that he’d gotten sick remembering something as inconsequential as a bath. Alistair rested back on his haunches. “She’s not a monster,” he said. “Eamon loves her, and he’s a good man.”

Zevran didn’t look convinced. “Is he now,” was all he said.

Alistair was suddenly tired. Eamon was a good man; Alistair clung doggedly to that knowledge, one of the only things he was sure of anymore. His mind began to settle into to old grooves, like water seeking level. “I don’t know what came over me just now. Must’ve had too much cheese at dinner,” he muttered, not meeting Zevran’s gaze. “Anyway it was a long time ago and no harm done. She was just trying to get me clean. I was filthy, after all.”

Zevran spoke rapidly under his breath, shaking his head. He took Alistair by the shoulders. “Alistair. One does not lose the contents of one’s stomach over a memory without warrant. It is possible to earn the love of a good man and yet still be cruel to a child.” He looked intently at Alistair, angrier than Alistair had ever seen him.

Alistair didn’t know what to say. Mostly he just didn’t want to think about it any longer. “Don’t tell the others?”

Zevran’s face softened. “That you ate too much cheese? I am sure they will come to that conclusion without my help. Come. Let us get you away from these trees. The scent will do you no favors.” Zevran helped him to his feet. “When we get back to the others, let me do the talking.”

Well that was easy enough. Still, Alistair was suspicious. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

If Alistair hadn’t been looking right into Zevran’s eyes, he would’ve missed the way they tightened momentarily. Whatever the expression was, it was gone in an instant, the self-assured smile firmly in place. “Because you spared my locks from the knife. Although I would, no doubt, still be as handsome with short hair, I have grown quite fond of the braids. They make such a good handle during love making, I find.”

Groaning, Alistair turned back towards the camp. “Ugh. Forget I asked.”

“Would that I could, cielito,” Zevran murmured from behind him.

“What?”

“Nothing, my friend. Come, let us get back to the others, lest they think I’ve taken advantage of you.” Zevran pulled at his elbow, launching into a bawdy tale that had Alistair’s cheeks burning by the time they got back to camp. As promised, Zevran explained away Alistair’s sudden disappearance in a way that was both vague and believable, all the while ushering him towards his tent.

“Thanks,” Alistair muttered, untying the flaps.

“It is I who should be thanking you. Sleep well.” Zevran squeezed his shoulder.

“Er. You too.” Alistair crawled into his tent, hoping to close himself away from thoughts of the past, or of handsome elves with distracting tattoos. In the enclosed space, however, the smell of the massage oil lingered, and while it was preferable to the scent of pine, it was a long time before Alistair drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The good thing about messing up so often was that Alistair knew when he’d made a mistake, even if he didn’t know what, specifically, he’d done wrong. Usually there was someone all too happy to tell him, in great detail, all of the ways in which he’d fallen short. But then other times, like now, he just had a vague sense of unease. Whatever it was, Alistair had put his foot in it with Zevran.

Maybe Zevran was trying to be subtle about it, but Alistair could feel him watching. By the Maker, it was intolerable. He wished they could go back to like it was before, when Zevran paraded around in front of him, making him blush and stammer. This… whatever it was, was far worse.

Zevran was always just out of his line of sight, which did not sit well with Alistair at all. Neither did the way he would catch Zevran just looking at him, his face impassive. No, not impassive -- thoughtful. Alistair didn’t know what was involved in being an assassin, but he was pretty sure that Zevran had the ability to watch someone without seeming like he was doing it. So this whole thing had to be on purpose. Right?

It couldn’t have been concern -- Zevran was a cold-blooded killer; he said so fifty times a day. He wouldn’t be watching Alistair for that reason. He probably thought --

You know what he thinks, because you showed him. You’re weak and scared and if it wasn’t for Cousland, Duncan’s death would’ve meant nothing.

By the Maker. He never should’ve offered to help the blasted elf with his hair. What had he been thinking? He hadn’t, that was the problem. He just acted, and look where it got him. Alistair stumbled on the path, an unseen pebble throwing his balance. As if summoned, Zevran was at his elbow.

“Careful, my friend. The boots of steel are not good for these afternoon strolls.” Zevran’s voice was light.

Alistair wrenched his arm from Zevran’s grip. “I’m fine,” he grumbled.

“Of course,” Zevran smiled. He walked ahead to join Morrigan.

At least Alistair could see him now. Though, given his bleak mood, he wasn’t sure that was an improvement.

Morrigan was asking him about the Crows, doing that thing she did where it sounded like she was just making conversation when, in fact, she was trying to make the other person sound stupid. Alistair hated that, mainly because it worked on him so often.

Zevran, however, was more adept. When asked about his recruitment, the elf threw his head back and laughed. “Recruitment? My friend, I was bought at the age of eight for three sovereigns. I had little say in the matter. Had it been up to me, I would gladly have stayed in the whorehouse with my mother. At least for a few more years.”

Alistair knew all that already, because he’d asked about it when Zevran joined up. Unlike Alistair, however, Morrigan was not satisfied to let it drop. “Three sovereigns?” she gasped, sarcasm dripping from the words.

“A princely sum, I agree,” Zevran grinned, sounding for all the world like he was happy to be in on Morrigan’s joke, rather than offended.

Morrigan hummed, the way she did, and then she said, “I wonder. What is life like for a man who knows exactly how little he is worth?”

Even though she wasn’t talking to him, Alistair clenched his fists. Not that he’d ever strike Morrigan, of course. Putting aside the fact that it would be wrong, she’d probably just turn into a… a bird or something. A vulture, maybe. A big, flappy, ugly vulture that smells bad.

Zevran shook his head. “I fear you have it wrong. The three sovereigns might have been the worth of a half-starved elven son of a whore, but it was not nothing, you see. It gave me certainty -- no matter what might come, I was always worth at least three gold coins. The challenge became to increase that sum, which I did. Your pity might be better suited to those who have been told they are worth nothing, because there is no bedrock on which to build. Twice nothing is still nothing, as they say.”

Alistair had no idea what that meant, except that it sounded like sums and made his head spin. Of course the humidity might’ve had something to do with that. Or the cloud of mosquitoes that hung all around his face. Or the --

He froze. “Stop! Everyone, hold!” He closed his eyes, tilting his head to one side, swallowing against the saliva that always pooled thick in his throat when he sensed Darkspawn.

Cousland was doing much the same, though clearly with more trouble, still unused to the sensation.

“How many,” Zevran said, daggers already in hand. He looked at Alistair, not at the Warden.

Alistair held up a hand, stilling him. “Seven,” he said. “Does that feel right to you?” he asked Cousland, who nodded. “Moving fast, south by southwest, away from us.” Alistair turned, scanning the landscape. “Probably under that ridge. They don’t appear to be slowing.”

“Is that good or bad?” Leliana asked.

Alistair held up a hand, tilting it back and forth. “If we can sense them, they can sense us. The fact they’re not already headed this way means they’re acting under instruction.”

“An Alpha.” Cousland winced.

“Should we go after them?” Sten asked, as if doubling back to look for an Alpha-led pack of Darkspawn at night was as simple as going to market to buy some cheese.

Cousland considered it, squinting up at the mauve sky.

Alistair really, really didn’t think that was a good idea, but he wasn’t calling the shots, either. “We could pick up the pace, put some distance between us,” Alistair suggested diffidently. “It’s getting dark. Wherever they’re going, we won’t be able to catch them. They move too fast at night.”

“I agree,” Zevran said.

Cousland nodded, sighing. “Hate to leave them, but we’re no good to anyone wandering in the dark. Or ambushed. Alright, let’s keep moving. Start looking for a place to camp. Morrigan, will you scout ahead for us?”

Morrigan rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched in a smirk. “As you command,” she drawled, shrugging herself down into the shape of a wolf before loping off.

Alistair no longer flinched when she did that, but he couldn’t hide his scowl. “Ugh, why can’t she do that where we can’t see?”

“And lose the chance to make you frown? That will never happen, my friend.” Zevran clapped him on the shoulder.

Later, when they’d made camp and settled in for the evening, Alistair stared moodily into the fire, gnawing on a strip of dried beef. He was restless, out-of-sorts. Which was rubbish, really -- it wasn’t even a real feeling, was it? Alistair wasn’t good with feelings. He knew when he was happy, or sad, or angry, but anything more complicated than that was hard to pin down.

Zevran settled next to him, sinking easily into a cross-legged position facing Alistair, not the fire. He’d taken most of his armor off and was wearing a cloth and leather tunic and soft boots, leaving his legs bare.

Alistair frowned, both at the unasked-for company and at himself for glancing at Zevran’s thighs. “What do you want?”

“So suspicious, my friend. I came to see if I could entice you into a game?” Zevran produced a pack of cards as if by magic, though Alistair knew it was just sleight-of-hand.

“I don’t play cards,” Alistair grumbled. “The monks didn’t approve of gambling.”

“Of course not. I gather this disapproval also encompassed all sources of joy and laughter?” Zevran smirked, dealing the cards.

The mocking did nothing to lighten Alistair’s mood. He sighed heavily, scrubbing his fingers through his hair. “We had games. Well, game,” he said, stressing the singular. “Chess.”

“Ahh!” Zevran smiled, his eyebrows lifting in approval. “A noble pursuit, to be sure.” He finished dealing the cards, fanning his out in his hand.

Alistair didn’t want to play. Or rather, he wanted to not want to play; he wanted to stew in his own peevishness. “I don’t have any money,” he said.

Zevran didn’t look up from his cards as he spoke. “We do not play for money, my friend. To teach you the rules only is my intention. It is a game of strategy, not chance alone. I think you will enjoy it.”

Grunting in annoyance, Alistair picked up his cards. “Fine,” he sighed. “What am I supposed to do?”

It was hard to hold on to his pique as Zevran taught him the basics of Wicked Grace. There was too much to think about. The rules seemed simple, but remembering which hands beat what was difficult, especially when Zevran started talking about probabilities.

They played a few hands, and it was fine as it went, but Alistair wasn’t sure he saw the appeal. “I thought you said there was strategy involved. This is just a matter of what cards you’re dealt.”

“Ah, that is where the betting comes in. Here, let us play for pebbles and I will demonstrate.” From a pouch on his belt, Zevran pulled out a fist of small river stones. He began to count them out.

“Where did you get those?” Alistair asked.

“From the riverbank,” Zevran answered, continuing to divvy up the rocks.

“I know that,” Alistair objected. “I mean, why are you carrying them around? We haven’t been near the river in three days.”

“Mmm,” Zevran nodded, scooping up one of the piles of stones and putting it in front of Alistair. “I gathered them so that I could teach you to play,” he explained. “Fifty for you, fifty for me. Now. Bets are placed at three intervals, once after the first cards are dealt, once after the cards are discarded, but before the new cards are drawn, and then the third time once the everyone has their final hand. The first bet is --”

“Hang on,” Alistair said, holding up his free hand. He sifted the rocks in his fingers. They were all about the size of beans, glossy and smooth. “You got these for me?”

Zevran laughed, light and gentle. “In that I bent down and picked them up, yes. A colossal effort, truly.”

“And you’ve been walking around with a pocket of rocks for three days?” Alistair squinted in confusion.

“And such a burden it was, my friend. My back aches terribly.” Zevran grinned.

“But… why?”

At that, Zevran looked up at him. He had that thoughtful expression again, and he took a long time to answer. “The journey can be quite tiresome, no? I grow weary of these long nights, and I thought you would find the diversion pleasant.”

Alistair was almost positive that was a lie. Or at least, not the whole truth. He frowned, wondering if it was a trick.

At that, Zevran raised one eyebrow. “If you truly do not wish to play, I will trouble you no further.” There was something in his face that Alistair didn’t recognize, something almost sad, but not quite.

It made Alistair feel awful, whatever it was. “No, it’s fine,” Alistair said. “We can play. How many bets? Three?” Zevran smiled again, and that felt much better to see. At least he wasn’t messing this part up. Probably.

***

“Aargh, shouldn’t I be better at this by now?” Alistair stared hard at the three pebbles he had left, as if it was their fault he was losing. It wasn’t, of course; he was losing because -- “By Andraste, I am pathetic at this.”

Zevran started to answer, but Morrigan chimed in first from just behind him. “Ah! You are perfectly correct, for once! Quick, someone bring him a treat, perhaps he can be persuaded to do it again.”

“Mind your own business,” Alistair grumbled.

Like that was going to happen. Morrigan ignored him. “Why do you continue to play this ridiculous game, night after night?” It wasn’t clear to whom she was speaking.

Zevran answered. “Because it is fun, my good witch. And take comfort, Alistair. You have lost, yes, but this night you held onto your stones for twice as long as the first night. Soon, you will have enough skill that I will be able to teach you to cheat. And then the real fun begins.” He gave Alistair a playful wink.

Morrigan rolled her eyes and wandered away.

Alistair watched her go. “Is this really fun for you?” he asked Zevran. “Must be boring, watching me lose so much.”

“On the contrary. Winning is always enjoyable. Well, almost always,” Zevran added with a tilt of his head. “And I also enjoy the idea that I am corrupting the influence of the monks.”

“Hm.” Alistair wasn’t convinced. “Well, there’s no point in continuing. It’s almost time for me to take first watch.”

Zevran nodded. “As you say.” He scooped all 97 of his pebbles into the little pouch and handed it to Alistair, who added his three stones before tying it closed. For some reason he made Alistair carry the pebbles. “We shall split the burden, you and I,” Zevran had said after the first night. “I shall carry the cards, and you should carry the winnings. A strapping man of yourself should not mind the extra weight.”

That hadn’t made a lot of sense to Alistair; the pouch didn’t even weigh a pound. Not that he minded carrying it. He actually kind of enjoyed it. At least, whenever he reached into his pack and heard the pouch shift, pebbles rattling, he felt a little wash of comfort.

For now, he headed back to the fire, strapping on a leather breastplate, just in case. Most of the others had gone to their tents, and the fire had already been banked. He took up position, facing away from the fire to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

There was a faint glow coming from Zevran’s tent, which caught at the corner of Alistair’s eye. Probably had a lantern going, or a candle. Alistair glanced that way, intending to simply acknowledge the light and turn away, but instead he froze.

Now that the fire had died to embers, the light in the tent was enough to make Zevran’s silhouette visible. He was quite obviously undressing, pulling off one boot, then the other. Then came his tunic, pulled over his shoulders.

Even in silhouette, his body was gorgeous. Alistair knew he should look away; it was wrong to spy on him like this. Especially now that he was pushing down his leggings. The way he was standing, Alistair could clearly see the dangling bulge of his flaccid cock outlined against the tent fabric. It was significant, even in this state.

Please just put on some sleeping clothes, Alistair begged in the silences of his mind. He’d only just managed to stop ogling the elf in the last week or so, and this was not helping. Why did he have to be so Maker-damned handsome, anyway?

Zevran, however, had other ideas. He stretched, arms over his head and then side to side, then bent at the waist to touch the ground. When he straightened, he ran his hands up his thighs and chest, almost caressing himself. Then he dropped one hand to his cock.

Alistair winced, biting his lip. Zevran wasn’t playing with himself, was he? No, surely he was just… scratching. Yes. Scratching an itch; happens to everyone.

He’s definitely not scratching. And you’re watching him; have you no shame? Alistair whimpered slightly, shifting as his own erection flared.

In the tent, Zevran froze, cocking his head.

Maker, he heard you. Of course he did; he’s an elf. You idiot, stop looking at him this instant. Alistair continued to excoriate himself, but didn’t manage to look away.

After a moment, Zevran relaxed, muttering something to himself in Antivan. He shook his head and then settled down to his bedroll.

Surely now he’ll blow out his candle. Any moment now.

Zevran proved remarkably immune to Alistair’s predictions. The faint light continued to shine. Though Zevran was now laying down, the movement of his hand was unmistakable.

Alistair licked his lips. He desperately wanted to touch himself, too, but that was crazy. Anyone could look out of their tents and see… they can’t see anything; it’s dark. Whatever part of his brain that thought came from, it wasn’t helpful. As it was, his hand moved to his crotch, surreptitiously rubbing at the cloth of his trousers.

Inside the tent, Zevran arched his hips, thrusting into his hand.

“Oh Maker,” Alistair whispered. His erection was now painful, and would continue to be for at least a half hour unless he did something about it. After a moment to concentrate -- no, there were no other sounds, no sense of darkspawn -- he turned and scurried off towards the closest copse of trees, limping slightly.

He didn’t bother trying to hide himself fully; once he was in the underbrush he simply stopped with his back to the camp, frantically unlacing his trousers. It took almost nothing before he spilled into the bushes with a few faint grunts.

After a moment to catch his breath, he tucked himself back into his pants and laced up, deeply embarrassed. When he turned, the first thing he noticed was that Zevran’s tent was now dark. Probably he’d finished and had gone to sleep.

As usual, he was wrong. A dark blur caught the corner of his eye, and then Zevran was next to him, shirtless, a dagger in his hand. “I heard something,” Zevran whispered.

“Um. Just me. Needed to, uh, take care of, you know. Um. Nature’s call.”

Zevran didn’t say anything. Instead he took a deep breath, inhaling through his nose. One of his eyebrows shot up. “Well then. I shall return to my tent. Wake me when it is my turn to relieve you.”

Alistair nodded, hoping his blush wasn’t visible in the darkness. How well could elves see at night, anyway?

The moon had risen when Alistair’s watch was over. Alistair scratched the flap of Zevran’s tent. “Zevran, it’s time,” he whispered. When there was no response, he tried again. Finally, he gave up and lifted the flap, praying Zevran had put on a nightshirt, at least.

Zevran had not, in fact, put on a shirt, damn it all. The blanket was draped over his stomach and legs, but his bare chest was very, very visible in the slash of moonlight. The tattoos swirling down his chest were very dark, tracing his musculature in a hypnotic pattern.

“Zev!” Alistair whispered as loudly as he dared.

Zevran snorted in his sleep, but didn’t wake.

“What kind of assassin are you, anyway?” Alistair said under his breath. He reached forward and slid his hand across Zevran’s shoulder, tracing along one of the tattoos, trying not to jostle him too much. His skin was cool to the touch. In this position, Alistair could easily imagine what it would be like to be on top of Zevran. The image combined with the memory of the arching silhouette from earlier, and suddenly his cock was twitching in his pants again. Dammit.

“A very good one,” Zevran answered, peeking one eye open. He yawned. “Though I admit I desire very much to continue my dream. It was quite enticing. Would you like to hear about it?” He grinned, and it was the kind of smile that was not helping Alistair’s pants situation at all.

“What? No. I’m going to get some sleep.”

“Your loss, my friend.” Zevran sat up as Alistair fled.

Once in the solitude of his tent, Alistair was flooded with shame and remorse. By Andraste, he’d spied on Zevran, in what was clearly a very private moment, and then he’d made it so much worse, indulging himself like that. Alistair was pretty sure that touching himself wasn’t actually as bad as the monks made it out to be, and since his joining, it became practically a daily necessity. But to do it like that, thinking about a… well, a colleague, anyway, was wrong. Very wrong. At the very least it was disrespectful to Zevran, even if it wasn’t an outright sin. He sighed. Of course he could find a way to do something wrong when all he had to do was keep watch.

Outside, the wind had picked up, rustling the leaves. Alistair sighed again, hoping the sound was enough to provide cover. He began to whisper the Chant, seeking Andraste’s forgiveness, knowing he didn’t deserve it, but asking all the same.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Alistair felt wretched about what he’d done. He studiously avoided even looking at Zevran as they broke camp. As usual, he could feel Zevran watching him, which just made it all the more uncomfortable, what with the irony and all.

Instead Alistair glanced over at Cousland, who had already packed his tent and was studying a map. Alistair finished up and stood beside him. “What’s next, do you reckon?”

Cousland drew his bottom lip over his top thoughtfully. “Redcliffe,” he said finally.

“What? Redcliffe? You mean -- now?” Alistair could hear that his voice was too high and panicked.

“We need Eamon, and there’s no point in bypassing it to go to Orzammar first,” Cousland said calmly. “I thought you’d be pleased. You grew up there, didn’t you?”

“I mean -- well -- y-yes,” Alistair stammered. “But what about the Circle? That’s the same distance, and we need the mages.”

“True,” Cousland nodded. “But we can get a boat from Redcliffe once we’re done, and reach the Circle without losing much time.”

“Right,” Alistair nodded. “Of course.”

Cousland gave him a nod of approval, his attention already turned to something else. Alistair stood there for a moment, mind completely blank, until he realized he probably looked daft. He turned and almost knocked into Zevran.

“Did I hear our fearless leader say we are headed towards Redcliffe?” Zevran settled his pack on his shoulders.

“Mmm,” Alistair hummed in agreement, not trusting himself to say much more. He kept his gaze firmly fixed on a spot over Zevran’s shoulder.

“I see,” Zevran said, as if Alistair had actually said anything at all.

Before it got more awkward, Zevran wandered off, and Alistair let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. Somehow it didn’t seem like things could get worse than the whole world-ending-Blight thing, and yet clearly, they could.

When they moved out, Alistair was beyond relieved when Cousland suggested that he take up the rear with Leliana, which was both tactically sound and got Alistair as far away from Zevran as possible. Plus, he liked Leliana. The “ex-bard” thing was a little weird, but at least she smiled sometimes and never turned into a mongoose or anything.

Though, what with everything on his mind, he hardly noticed her as they marched. His mind pinged between his guilt over the night before and his growing dread of being in Redcliffe again. Though, it would be nice to see Eamon. Wouldn’t it? He wasn’t sure, anymore. He wasn’t sure of anything.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Leliana said.

“What? Oh. It’s nothing,” Alistair sighed. “I never understood that phrase,” he mused.

“That’s because you think your thoughts don’t have value,” Leliana said. “But you are wrong.” She smiled warmly. “All creatures of the Maker are worthy.”

“Well, there you go,” Alistair said. “Who would pay a penny for a wrong thought?”

Leliana laughed, shaking her head. “I concede to your logic, twisted as it is.”

There was a pause as they trudged along. “Leliana, you… you pray a lot, right?” Alistair blurted out.

“Every day,” she said.

“Does it… work?” Alistair asked.

“It brings me peace,” she said. “Perhaps you should try it.”

“I do,” he said, frustration twisting his voice into a whine. “I pray and pray, and I never feel any better, and nothing ever changes. Maybe I’m… maybe I’m just doing it wrong,” he finished, hanging his head. “Who am I kidding, of course I’m doing it wrong, I must be. When do I ever get anything right, eh?”

“Alistair.” Leliana stopped, putting a hand on his shoulder. “There is no wrong way to appeal to the Maker. All he asks is that we sing the Chant with faith in our hearts.” She raised an eyebrow. “What are you praying for, anyway?”

Alistair rubbed the back of his neck. “Forgiveness?” Sympathy washed over Leliana’s face, and it made Alistair feel awful. Well, more awful, anyway. He looked away. Why had he said anything in the first place?

Leliana tilted her head. “Perhaps you are praying for the wrong thing, then. Have you considered that what you see as a transgression is not, in fact, a sin? If there is nothing to forgive, asking for forgiveness will be a fruitless effort.”

With a humorless laugh, Alistair shook his head. “I’m pretty sure I’ve sinned.” He couldn’t help but glance up the road at Zevran, walking beside Cousland several dozen yards ahead.

Leliana sighed. She patted his shoulder one more time. “You are a good man, and the Maker loves you,” she said. “But you are correct. You have sinned. What you did to the lamb for supper last night is unforgivable. Food should have flavor and texture, not boiled to grey mush.”

Alistair saw that she was biting back a grin. “Psh. Spoken like a true Orlesian. What’s next, you’re going to convince me to add spices to things? What are spices, anyway? Are they just weak poisons or what?”

Laughing, Leliana began to march once more, trading barbs with him about Ferelden food. And if Alistair didn’t feel any better, he didn’t feel any worse, either.

Cousland called the march to a halt in late afternoon. They were about five miles outside Redcliffe, and though they could have made it if they pushed, as Sten pointed out, Cousland stood firm. “Showing up at a castle after dark won’t endear us to the Arl, believe me. If he’s as ill as the rumors make him out to be, it’d be an insult to show up in the dead of night and expect a warm welcome. Plus, we have no idea what we’re walking into. I want to reconnoiter in the village first.”

Alistair slumped in relief. When he realized Zevran saw him, he tried to pass the motion off as an attempt to shrug out of his pack. This, of course, backfired, leaving him tangled in the straps and squirming. He pitched his tent as quickly as he could, then plucked Leliana’s elbow. “I’m, er, going to go bathe,” he said quietly. “Let Cousland know? I’ll be just over that hillock,” he said, gesturing with his chin. “Pretty sure there’s a stream that leads to the lake.”

“Of course,” Leliana smiled. “Do you want company?”

“No!” Alistair spluttered reflexively, realizing too late that Leliana’s eyes were dancing with mirth. “Ugh,” he huffed. “Not funny,” he grumbled, giving her a too-hard scowl to let her know it was, in fact, funny.

Alistair’s instincts were correct; he heard running water just ahead. It was weird, being here. Everything was almost familiar, the intervening years since his departure making everything seem like he was remembering it from a dream. He didn’t know there was a stream as much as he felt it -- half-remembered fragments of memory which aligned over the contours of Cousland’s map.

The stream was shallow and merry, burbling over a rocky pebble bed. Pretty, but not ideal for bathing. Well, it wasn’t as if he was in a hurry. Alistair began shifting the rocks at the widest point, making a dam. The minnows didn’t like that one bit, scuttling to and fro in the now-murky water. “Look, I’ll put them back, I promise,” he said. “I just need to -- hey now, none of that, you’re fine, I’m not going to hurt you.” The last speech was for an agitated crayfish that had been hiding under a stone and now waved its tiny pincers at him.

Sitting back on his haunches, Alistair waited for the water to clear. He could feel the weight of worry and fear about tomorrow weighing on him -- it felt like the pressure before a big storm -- but he did his best to ignore it, watching the silt in the newly-formed pool settle to the bottom. Once he could see the streambed, he stripped, then waded in. The water only came up to his knees, but if he sat, he could manage a semblance of a bath.

The water was cool, but not frigid. After a day’s march, it was a welcome sensation. He splashed half-heartedly, not really paying attention. He wasn’t particularly dirty, after all. He just wanted to be alone. Alistair’s mind wandered, unable to focus, but it wasn’t unpleasant.

He flexed his toes against the pebbles at the bottom of the stream. The late afternoon sun glinted on the stones, making them look like little jewels, amber and onyx rather than smoky quartz and granite, the rare crystals of all-white quartz shining like diamonds. Something about that seemed important, a thought just beyond Alistair’s reach. Eventually, his feet got cold and he gave up on trying to chase it down. If it was important, he’d think of it later.

Back in the camp, the others were going about their business -- Sten was sharpening his sword, Cousland was poring over his map, Morrigan was scowling in a creepy way, and Leliana was tending the fire, since it was her turn to cook.

It took a moment for Zevran’s absence to register. Alistair was still looking around in confusion when the elf emerged from his tent. Automatically, Alistair looked away, pretending he hadn’t been looking for Zevran. He headed to his own tent, more out of a desire to avoid interaction than anything else. He hid inside for several minutes, fretting. Finally, there was nothing for it; if nothing else, Alistair was starving, and whatever Leliana was making smelled delicious.

When he ducked under the flap of his tent, the first thing Alistair saw was Leliana standing over the fire, having a hushed conversation with Zevran. It looked serious, almost like an argument, but whatever they were saying, it was in Orlesian. On second glance, he could see it wasn’t exactly an argument. Leliana was frowning suspiciously, true, but Zevran seemed to be asking for something, something Leliana was refusing, shaking her head. For a moment Alistair worried they were talking about him, but he pushed the thought from his mind. They weren’t even looking at him. Stupid to think they were talking about Alistair; it wasn’t like the sun revolved around him, right?

Dinner went quickly, thanks to the stories traded around the fire by the others. As soon as Alistair’s spoon scraped the bottom of his bowl, he got up, intending to retreat back to his tent once more. He half expected Zevran to call out after him for a game of cards, as he had every night that week.

But Zevran remained silent, staring into the fire moodily. Leliana was watching him, a faint hint of a frown on her face. She raised her gaze to Alistair. “Are you going to bed so soon, Alistair? It’s hardly dark.” Though she was looking at him, he got the feeling her words were meant for someone else.

“Um,” Alistair hesitated, not knowing what was going on. As usual. “Big day tomorrow, should get some sleep.”

Leliana smiled, but it was one of those wistful ones, which was weird. “Sleep well. Maker watch over you.”

He didn’t sleep well, of course. Darkspawn dreams didn’t care whether the Maker was watching or not. But he managed to cobble together enough sleep that he felt reasonably rested the next morning. He clambered out of his tent much earlier than usual, the pre-dawn sky pale and shimmering.

Sten was up already -- no surprise, as he had second watch. Zevran was also awake, which Alistair did not expect -- usually the elf crawled out of his tent right before breakfast. He was on the far side of the camp, doing some sort of acrobatic exercises. Shirtless acrobatic exercises.

Zevran lunged and tumbled and sprang about, a dagger in each hand. Alistair hadn’t really watched Zevran in action -- hard to stop and stare when there are darkspawn or bandits or werewolves attacking. His fighting style was so much more beautiful than Alistair had imagined, almost like a dance. It was mesmerizing.

Dumbfounded, Alistair just stood there, watching the muscles in Zevran’s back and arms and stomach flex and shift. It was just so beautiful, like seeing art come to life. Alistair’s heart was doing this soaring thing, which was weird because at the same time his gut felt all cold and heavy.

Because as beautiful as Zevran was -- as graceful and lithe -- Alistair knew he himself would never be any of those things. Oh, Alistair could fight, sure. But his fighting style had more in common with chopping wood or hefting bags of grain than with ballet. He had no idea what his muscles looked like under his armor when he fought, but given his fondness for cheese and buttered bread, Alistair was pretty sure they weren’t beautiful, if they were visible at all.

Zevran took three running strides before tucking into a forward roll, the daggers in his hands flying towards a young tree as he tumbled. They sank deep into the trunk with enough force to shake the leaves, handles lined up neatly one over the other.

Blinking, Alistair tried to rouse himself, lest he be caught staring. Too late.

Zevran turned, wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. Suddenly all the beauty took on an edge, becoming something else. Something that made Alistair swallow hard, lest he whimper audibly.

Zevran’s face was difficult to read. He wasn’t leering or smirking or even smiling. He looked Alistair down and up, holding his gaze for just a second before turning away and heading back to his own tent. With a jolt, Alistair realized he recognized Zevran’s expression. It was guilt, or at least, something close to it. Which made no sense. What did he have to feel guilty about?

Alistair didn’t have time to dwell on it -- Cousland had emerged from his tent, yawning hugely and scratching his chest. “You’re up early,” he said, another yawn catching on the last word.

“So are you. So is… everyone,” Alistair stammered, glancing at Zevran’s tent.

Cousland followed his line of sight. “The Crow might as well be a rooster. He’s always up this early, training.”

“What, really?”

Nodding, Cousland stumbled over to the campfire. He shook the kettle, then poured himself a mug of strong black tea. “As far as I can tell,” he said. “He always trains and then goes back to his tent. I think he meditates or something? Who knows. Great enticement to get up early though,” Cousland winked. “Lovely view.”

“Oh, er.” Alistair hurried to busy himself with some porridge. He felt all weird again, and now he was blushing to boot.

Cousland grinned and jabbed him with an elbow. “Oh, come now. Pretty sure I’ve seen you looking.”

Alistair frowned at his porridge. “Pretty sure he can hear you,” he grumbled. The tent was only a few feet away, and voices carried in camp, especially at this time of day.

Snorting, Cousland shrugged. “It’s not like I’m telling any secrets.”

Alistair wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but he let it drop. Something in his chest was thumping and stuttering, though whether it was his heart or his stomach he couldn’t tell. Suddenly he couldn’t stop thinking about Zevran and Cousland being… together. And naked. And doing things. Doing all kinds of things together and naked, things Alistair would probably never get to do and by the Maker he felt terrible. Like he wanted to cry or shout or hit things or just run away and climb a tree.

He concentrated on eating, on the mechanics of spoonful after spoonful of porridge. He didn’t even particularly taste it, which was probably good -- Sten had made it, and he was stingy with the salt and honey.

Alistair was so on edge that he could almost feel it when Zevran re-emerged from the tent, as if the motion at the corner of his eye and the sound of the elf’s greeting to the others was a physical sensation, a shivering ache that flitted across his skin. He kept his eyes trained on the ground.

Spoon in bowl. Spoon in mouth. Don’t think about him. Don’t think about Redcliffe. Don’t think at all. Across the fire, Alistair saw Zevran’s boots and heard the clink of the ladle against the porridge pot. Spoon in bowl. The boots disappeared from his view. Spoon in mouth.

The boots did not reappear. Alistair shoveled the rest of his porridge into his face and leapt up before he’d finished swallowing the last bite. He cleaned the bowl in the wash bucket next to the fire, then scurried to his tent to begin packing up.

This he took his time with. Leliana and Morrigan were still eating, after all, and there was no particular hurry. Assuming there were no bandits on the road, they’d be in Redcliffe before mid-morning. Alistair took extra time to fold his tent, coiling the ropes with extra care. He emptied his pack completely for good measure, spreading all of his things out on the ground and turning his bag inside-out, shaking out the dust of the road.

Cousland came up behind him. “Ooh, good idea,” he nodded, clapping him on the back. “Oh! That reminds me. Hold on, be right back.” He grabbed his own pack and began rifling through it. “I’m sure it’s in here… Ah! Here it is.” He held out a small statuette made of onyx. “I found it in the forest. Thought you’d like it.”

Alistair blinked in surprise. “For… me? Wow! This is… wow, thank you so much! Maker, it’s been ages since anyone’s gotten me a gift, I don’t know what to say.”

“What, really?” Cousland laughed. “I mean it’s not much of a gift, I just picked it up off the ground, you know.”

“No, it’s… it’s great. Wow. Really.” Alistair knew he should probably shut up. “Thank you,” he said one last time.

“No problem,” Cousland said again, clapping him on the shoulder. He was grinning widely, holding Alistair’s gaze, and his touch on Alistair’s arm lingered for a second before he walked away.

Alistair was also grinning, though his was more on the “idiotic” range of the scale than Cousland’s handsome, winning smile. He hefted the statuette in his palm one more time, examining it.

When he looked up, Zevran was watching him. This time he did not look guilty, but he didn’t look happy, either. He simply nodded once, like Alistair had told him something.

Weird. Still, it wasn’t enough to completely take the shine off the elation of Cousland’s gift. Alistair finished packing. As he was putting all of his little personal items in the bottom of his bag, the pouch of pebbles spilled open. Grunting in frustration, Alistair knelt to pick them out of the grass one by one.

It took forever. They weren’t very big, after all -- little crystals of white quartz, worn matte by the water. Something about that jogged Alistair’s memory. The stones from the stream yesterday, there was something about them… Maker, what was it?

Shaking his head helplessly, Alistair tied the pouch closed with a double knot, not even sure why he was bothering. Zevran hadn’t wanted to play cards last night, and everything was all weird anyway. Maybe they wouldn’t play again. Still, he stowed the pouch carefully in his bag, nestled next to the statuette of the demon.

Alistair and Leliana led the march that morning, leaving before the others had fully finished breaking camp. It made sense -- Alistair knew the terrain, and Leliana could get a head start on getting information from the village.

They marched in silence for a few minutes. “Do you feel more at peace this morning?” Leliana asked, ducking under a low branch.

Alistair hazarded a guess. “Er. Maybe?” That just made Leliana laugh, and then he laughed in turn. Though he did feel better, didn’t he? Cousland’s gift had cut through a lot of the weirdness, got him out of his head a little. He had been rather self-absorbed and moody lately, which was rubbish. What was done was done. Alistair knew he made a mistake the other night, but he needed to just get over it. It wasn’t as if Zevran knew what Alistair did, after all.

Right. No more worrying about Zevran. Whatever had happened, Alistair had gotten it out of his system and there was no point in brooding about it any further. He stood a little straighter, buoyed with newfound confidence. He felt so confident, in fact, that his brain thought it would be a good thing to ask Leliana, “So, what were you arguing about with Zevran last night?”

Leliana didn’t answer right away. “We weren’t arguing,” she said, looking straight ahead. “He asked me for information, which I declined to give him.”

“Oh.” It was clear to Alistair that Leliana wasn’t thrilled by whatever Zevran had asked for. “Like, spy-stuff? About Cousland?”

“Oh no no. I believe Zevran will honor his word in that regard. No, he… overheard part of a conversation I had with someone and wanted me to tell him more. I believe what was told to me was in confidence. It’s as simple as that,” she said. Leliana looked at him directly. “His hearing is quite good.”

“Er, is it?” All of Alistair’s confidence shriveled up. Oh Maker, he heard me the other night. He knows. He knows what I did.

“There is little that escapes his notice,” Leliana said, looking at him hard.

Alistair was horrified. By Andraste, did Leliana know as well? If Zevran did know, he wouldn’t have said anything to her, would he? Please let her not know. Alistair began to blabber in his panic. “Well, that’s… good, right? For an assassin? And doing… assassinating? Glad he’s on our side. Oh look, I remember this fencepost. Saw a toad on it when I was nine. It looked like bird poo with eyes and legs. Amazing what Mother Nature can do.” Alistair hurried over to the fence, looking all around as if the toad would still be there eleven years later. “Well, no sign of it now. Probably for the best, wouldn’t want to give Morrigan ideas.”

Leliana laughed. And maybe the Maker did answer prayers after all, because Leliana changed the subject, and they didn’t talk about Zevran again.

Chapter Text

Fighting undead was nothing like fighting Darkspawn. In a lot of ways, it was worse, or at least Alistair thought so. Technically, the shambling hordes in Redcliffe Village were relatively easy to cut down. They weren’t wearing much in the way of armor, and most didn’t have weapons to speak of. Plus they didn’t move very well. They were a threat to the unarmed villagers, absolutely, but for the Wardens and their comrades, the biggest danger was exhaustion.

The hard part was, Alistair could’ve known any of them. Maybe all of them. Not that he could actually recognize any of the faces, thank the Maker. He’d been gone too long. Alistair couldn’t help but think of the villagers, who no doubt did recognize their friends and family in the mindless corpses.

He gritted his teeth, cleaving clean through the body of what had been an older woman. Maker, what if that had been Nila, the second cook? The one who had snuck him bits of cheese and heels of bread? No, it couldn’t have been her, surely. Alistair sagged with more than fatigue, the tip of his claymore dragging on the ground.

Behind him, Sten shouted his name. Alistair turned as another walking corpse stumbled at him. He raised his sword too slow, and the thing was almost on him. Not that it would be likely to do much damage, given his armor, but still. Before that happened, the creature stiffened, then slithered to the ground, inert.

Crouched behind it was Zevran, panting slightly, daggers dripping rust brown clumps of what used to be blood. “Are you alright, my friend?”

Alistair nodded, looking around. The worst seemed to be over, and the sun was coming up. “You?”

“I would say never better, but that would be a lie,” Zevran said, squatting to clean his blades, driving them into a patch of earth not yet sullied by blood or worse, then wiping the daggers on the grass.

Alistair was too exhausted to think of anything to say. Maker, it was like a waking nightmare. With the stress of fighting all night without any sleep, plus just being back in Redcliffe, nothing felt real.

There was no time to rest, though. Cousland was gathering them up to go talk to Bann Teagan, and hopefully get into the castle. Alistair followed along, shaking with fatigue.

By the time Alistair caught up to the others, Teagan was telling Cousland about a secret entrance through the mill. Cousland looked ready to argue about it, but then Teagan gasped, “Maker’s breath!” He pointed towards the castle.

The Arlessa was running down towards them, her skirts tripping her up in her haste. “Teagan,” she managed, stumbling to a halt with her hands on her knees to catch her breath.

Alistair’s tether to reality was starting to slip. Exhaustion gave everything a gloss of unreality. Isolde looked the same, but…. not the same. Alistair remembered her as being old, or at least, an adult. But now she looked to be thirty, at the most. In fact, she’d barely aged at all. How had he been so frightened of her? It slowly occurred to him that, when he was at the castle, she couldn’t have been much older than he was now.

She was saying something about a great evil, something about Arl Eamon and her son… Alistair was having difficulty following. After pleading for Teagan with her, Isolde straightened, looking out at the rest of them. Her eyes swept over Alistair, snagging so briefly that he wasn’t sure it had happened at all. Perhaps she didn’t recognize him? He couldn’t decide whether that was a relief or an insult.

Zevran casually took a few steps forward, as if to get closer to the conversation, putting himself squarely between Isolde and Alistair. He crossed his arms, putting all his weight on one hip.

He was close to Alistair, closer than he needed to be. Something about that seemed strange. In the wired haze of his exhaustion, Alistair’s attention got caught on Zevran’s hair. It was messy, strands escaping the braids and tangling together. Alistair’s fingers itched to comb it, which was ridiculous. Cousland was having an important conversation, and here he was getting distracted by Zevran’s hair.

And then suddenly Isolde was heading back to the bridge, Teagan at her heels. Alistair forced himself to pay attention.

“Come on,” Cousland said. “We’ll go in the mill and rest. If there is anyone watching from the castle, that won’t be too suspicious, not after fighting all night. Plus we can’t do anything in the state we’re in. We’ll sleep for a few hours and then use the passage. Hopefully that’ll buy Teagan some time to create a diversion.”

There wasn’t much room inside the mill. They were all beyond tired, bumbling about to bed down amidst the grain sacks. Alistair unbuckled his breastplate, eyes already closed, as Cousland asked Sten to wake them in six hours. The Qunari had the knack to wake himself at regular intervals, which was handy, because otherwise Alistair probably would’ve slept for a whole day.

Cuirass off, Alistair practically crumpled to the floor, not bothering to remove the rest of his armor. He tucked his head onto his pack, curled on his side on the bare wood, and was asleep in seconds.

He awoke a moment later, as Sten jostled his foot. Alistair grumbled, curling into a tighter ball, assuming he was in the way.

When it happened again, Alistair realized several things at once. First, he was drooling, which meant he’d been asleep for some time. Second, he was drooling on something, something warm and leathery.

He got one eyelid open. The thing he was drooling on was Zevran’s calf, which he was cradling like a child’s stuffed toy. Alistair must’ve grabbed it at some point while he slept.

Sten grunted, kicking the sole of his boot. “Wake, Warden. It is time.”

Alistair scrambled to sit up, wiping his face. The motion roused Zevran as well. He jerked his legs away from Alistair.

Both of them started to apologize at the same time. “Sorry, sorry --” “No, it is my fault, friend, I kick in my sleep --” “No but your boots --” “It is no matter, please do not concern yourself --”

Cousland cut through it by snorting derisively at them. Morrigan had apparently used his thigh as a pillow, with Leliana propped up against the witch’s back, and yet they weren’t falling over themselves to apologize to each other. It was very crowded, after all.

They all stretched and began to strap on their gear, shaking off their too-brief sleep. “Alistair, do you know anything about this passage? Like where it comes out?” Cousland asked, buckling his sword-belt.

“No,” Alistair shook his head glumly.

“Damn,” Cousland said, wincing. “Nothing for it. Let’s move out.”

If they were hoping for a reprieve from fighting, they didn’t get it. The tunnel emptied out into the dungeons. Here, more corpses roamed the corridors, only these were armed and armored, having been guards when they were alive. Plus there were demons. Or at least, Alistair assumed they were demons. Morrigan called them “shades” but they seemed like demons to Alistair.

After fighting through two waves of the creatures, Cousland retreated to a semi-defensible space in the armory. “We’ll never get to the courtyard at this rate. Ideas?”

“If we find the source that’s in control, the shades and corpses will be neutralized as well,” Morrigan said.

Alistair huffed in frustration. “We might have to fight through a hundred undead to find it, though.”

“I know that,” Morrigan snapped. “The Warden asked for ideas, and that is one idea.” She held a rag to a cut on her forehead.

“Send the assassin to sneak to the courtyard,” Sten rumbled. “Open the gates and let the Bann’s men in.”

“Ah, though I will happily offer my services in that regard,” Zevran coughed diffidently, “my skill in sneaking is most effective on the living. These shades sense us through other methods than eyes or ears, and I cannot deceive them.”

“Is there a shortcut or something?” Cousland asked Alistair.

Alistair bit his lip. “I don’t think so? I only really know how to get to the courtyard from the kennels. Hang on, there’s an idea.”

Morrigan scoffed. “What, are you proposing we hide in your old bedroom?”

“Let him speak,” Zevran said.

“Well, I’m no kennelmaster, but if the mabari are still alive, we could set them loose,” Alistair suggested.

“Won’t they simply attack us?” Leliana asked.

Alistair tilted his hand back and forth. “Prooobably not? They’re much more likely to attack a demon than a person. I remember some of the commands. Maybe I could… I don’t know….” The longer he thought about it, the stupider it sounded.

“Dogs,” Morrigan said flatly. “You’re suggesting dogs.”

“I have fought these mabari,” Sten said. “They are fearsome, and no mere lapdog.”

Cousland nodded. “It’s better than trying to bash our way out,” he said. “Lead the way,” he said to Alistair.

Luck was apparently on their side, because the way to the kennels was clear. Alistair paused outside the door, the sound of panicked barks clearly audible through the thick wood. “Well, they’re alive, at any rate,” he said.

Alistair cracked the door. When nothing rushed at him, he opened it further. The smell of urine and dog feces was eye-wateringly strong; no one had been in to clean in several days. The dogs were frantic, hurling themselves at their cages.

“It’s alright,” Alistair said. “They’re locked in.” He opened the door wide and walked in. Moving slowly and carefully, he filled a large bucket of water at the cistern.

Behind him, Morrigan covered her nose with her hand. “What are you doing?”

“They’re panicked and confused,” Alistair said, speaking calmly. “I’m going to sluice out the floors. It would be the first thing we’d do in the morning. It should help calm them.” The bucket was on wheels; he pushed it to the center of the room and dumped it out, spinning it slightly so the water swished across the floor. It sheeted across the flagstones under the cages, carrying the waste into drains built into the corners.

The dogs lapped eagerly at the shallow runnels, attempting to drink.

“Oh, the poor things have been starved,” Leliana cooed.

“I should feed and water them,” Alistair said. “These troughs hold enough water for two days, so they’ve gone without for at least a day. These are bone dry.”

“How long will that take?” Cousland asked, peering distractedly up and down the halls.

“About ten minutes,” Alistair said. “If I feed them too fast, they’ll get bloat.”

“Shades at every corner, and he worries the dogs will get a bellyache.” Morrigan rolled her eyes.

“If these dogs can save us from the demons, I will gladly wait for their stomachs to settle,” Zevran said.

“They’re not in terrible shape, all things considered.” Alistair said. “Their eyes are clear and their coats are still shiny, so it’s probably only been a few days since someone checked on them.”

Even after all these years, the ritual was deeply ingrained: refill the bucket, then empty it into the long trough that ran along the front of the pens. The yelping ceased as the dogs drank gratefully.

It was oddly comforting, watching them. For a moment he could almost believe it wasn’t the middle of a blight, or that the castle had been overrun with demons.

Thank the Maker, there was still some dry meal tucked away in the cupboard. Fresh meat would have been better, but then again, not forcing the mabari to fight demons would’ve been best of all.  Alistair grabbed a sack of the kibble and began shaking it into the dogs’ bowls.

One of the mabari, an older bitch with a distinctive splotch of white fur under her chin, whined when he came around, her nubby tail wagging. “No, it can’t be. I know this one,” Alistair said, crouching in front of the cage. “I think, anyway. Sasha?” Alistair said.

The mabari perked up at her name, giving a happy bark.

“By the Maker, it is her!” Alistair stuck his hand through the bars, heedless of the danger. “She was just a pup when I left.” The dog licked his palm enthusiastically for a moment before going back to her food.

Lost in memory, Alistair continued to pet the dog as she ate. Sasha had been the runt -- usually the smallest pup was given to one of the Arl’s friends or allies. But the kennelmaster had declared that the white patch was good luck, and moreover, that Alistair should help train her. At the time it seemed a huge responsibility, though thinking back on it, her “training” involved a lot of playing and cuddling and not much in the way of anything else.

“Maker, I never thought I’d see her again,” Alistair said. It was overwhelming. Alistair laughed helplessly, even as his eyes welled up. He murmured the sort of nonsense one says to dogs, patting her neck and scritching her ears.

“Are we good? Are they done?” Cousland’s terse questions cut into the interlude.

“What? Oh, yes. Yes, right….” Alistair stood, quickly wiping his eyes before he turned around. He reached for the latch of Sasha’s cage.

“Wait!” Morrigan shouted. “Should we not test to make certain they won’t attack?”

“Andraste’s tits, get on with it,” Cousland sighed impatiently. “We’re sitting ducks out here.”

“I will volunteer,” Zevran said. “Come friend, let us see if these dogs of yours hunger for the flesh of the living.” He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

Alistair nodded. “Well, here goes nothing, I suppose.” He unhooked the latch, opening Sasha’s cage door a few inches. “There we go. Easy, Sasha, let’s just --”

In a flash, the door slammed open all the way and one hundred and eighty pounds of dog sprang out, pinning Alistair to the floor. Even as he fell, Alistair knew this wasn’t an attack; it was play. Were it serious, the mabari would’ve gone for his hamstrings or his throat, leading with her teeth, not her paws.  Alistair heard Zevran leap to the top of the cage, hissing in surprise.

“It’s fine!” Alistair shouted, terrified that Zevran was about to sink an dagger into the dog. “She’s just saying hello!”

Sasha licked his face enthusiastically, whining and snuffling, her huge body vibrating with happiness.

“Okay, okay girl, yes, I love you too, I need to get up,” Alistair spluttered. This did absolutely nothing to shift the dog, and he wracked his brain to remember the proper commands, even as he giggled. “H-heel!”

At once, Sasha relented, her body still quivering with excitement. Alistair got to his feet. “Well, that was enthusiastic.” He gave the command to sit, and Sasha dropped to her haunches immediately. Best of all, the other dogs did, too, inside their cages.

“A good sign,” Zevran said. His voice sounded funny, kind of shaky, and he hadn’t moved from his perch.

“You alright?”

“Fine,” Zevran said, which Alistair suspected was a lie.

“Are you scared of dogs?” Alistair asked, baffled.

“I am… unfamiliar with dogs,” Zevran clarified, eyes darting around the cages.

“Then why did you volunteer?”

Zevran paused. “Perhaps I underestimated how fast these mabari could move.”

Alistair resisted the urge to laugh. He commanded Sasha back into her cage, though he left the door open. “Stay,” he said. The dog sat, tongue lolling out.

Alistair helped Zevran down from the top of the cage, Sasha watching with curiosity. In fact, all of the mabari were quiet now, their eyes trained on the elf.

“I will admit I do not enjoy the way these dogs are looking at me,” Zevran said. “Eamon did not train them to hunt elves, perchance?”

“What? Maker, don’t even joke about that,” Alistair said, grimacing. “Wait, you’re not joking, are you?”

Zevran’s eyebrow quirked. “I take it you have not visited any of the larger alienages.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Worse, my friend. Whatever your wholesome imagination is conjuring right now probably does not even scratch the surface.”

Alistair didn’t want to think about that, especially not right now. “They probably can smell whatever poisons you’re carrying, is all. Try not to make prolonged eye contact.”

Zevran tilted his head in acknowledgement. “At the very least, I will make a tasty meal for these magnificent creatures.”

“Don’t worry. You’re doing great,” Alistair said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s have her give you a sniff. Sasha, come.” He pointed to the floor in front of them.

Zevran tensed as the dog trotted up, sitting obediently.

“Try to relax,” Alistair murmured.

Zevran’s laugh was strangled. “Usually it is I who says that. And under much different circumstances.”

Alistair blushed, ignoring the remark. But at the same time, it was comforting to hear Zevran flirt so outrageously, kind of like it had been a few weeks ago before Alistair messed up and everything got weird. “Alright, here’s the real test.”

“This is not the real test??”

Biting his lip against an inappropriate jag of laughter, Alistair put his free hand flat on the center of Zevran’s chest. Alistair was surprised to discover Zevran was shaking. “Protect,” Alistair said, looking at Sasha.

The dog tilted her head, tongue lolling out.

“Are you quite sure they have had enough to eat?” Zevran’s voice was higher than normal.

Alistair turned, intending to offer reassurance, but he still had his hand on Zevran’s chest. “It’s….” With a shock, Alistair realized just how close they were, especially when Zevran turned his head as well, his eyes wide with apprehension. “It’ll be alright,” Alistair murmured. “I promise I won’t let them hurt you.”

He knew, as he said the words, that he couldn’t possibly guarantee that. But Alistair couldn’t stop himself from saying it anyway. He wanted it to be true.

Of course, that wasn’t all Alistair wanted. Even as the urge hit him to lean just a little further and kiss Zevran, a wave of shame and despair crashed into him a second later. It would be wrong, taking advantage of the elf when he was afraid, and plus Alistair was pretty sure Zevran wouldn’t want to kiss him anyway. He’d probably rather kiss someone who knew what they were doing. Like Cousland, probably. Or maybe Zevran did want to kiss Alistair, but if that was true then he probably wanted to kiss everyone, and Alistair wasn’t sure he liked that idea, either. He'd never kissed anyone before, at least, not seriously; maybe one day he’d be able to be casual about it, but not yet.

“I’ll just… open the other cages,” Alistair said, his voice breaking slightly. He made no effort to move, however.

Zevran nodded, the movement jerky. His heart was thudding under Alistair’s hand.

They stood like that, staring at each other, until Sasha whined, pawing at the flagstones.

Clearing his throat as he pulled away, Alistair began opening the cages. The dogs were more obedient than Sasha had been, sitting in their cages until he gave them the command to come out. Then he offered his palm for them to sniff, before ordering the dogs to sit with Sasha.

When it was all done, a dozen dogs sat, all looking expectantly at Alistair.

“Well, that’s good, anyway,” Alistair said, putting his hands on his hips. “Looks like they’ll obey my commands, at least. Let’s see if this works,” he said, hand on the doorknob.

“I have a feeling it will,” Zevran said. “This is a good plan, my friend. I hope we succeed.”

The compliment sent a bloom of warmth to Alistair’s cheeks. “Oh. Er. Me too,” he said. “And -- thanks.”

It wasn’t easy -- of course, nothing was ever easy, was it? -- but with a pack of mabari at their backs, they managed to get to the courtyard. The Bann’s men evened up the score, once Leliana got the gate open. At the very least, the fighting was straightforward. With a last pat to Sasha’s neck, Alistair let one of Teagan’s men lead the mabari down to the village for safekeeping.

Everything got weird again once they went into the main hall. Teagan was dancing madly, Isolde was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the cause of all of it turned out to be a little boy. Except it wasn’t just any little boy, it was Eamon’s son -- a mage and an abomination. There was a brief scuffle with the guards and Teagan, and somehow in all of that Connor regained control of himself.

Alistair hung back as Cousland discussed options with Teagan and Isolde. They argued a long time, with Teagan going so far as to have the dungeons searched for some other mage, someone who could help or something.

Isolde insisted that her son was innocent, pleading with all of them for his life as they waited. She looked out at all of them, her eyes red and puffy and ringed with dark circles. “Please, you must spare him. Alistair, he is your kin, certainly that means something?”

Alistair clenched his jaw, flinching at the sound of his name. So she did recognize him. He looked away, not trusting himself to answer.

Next to him, Zevran shifted his weight, coming to rest standing halfway in front of Alistair. Alistair hadn’t even realized the elf was nearby.

“I do not think this demon will concern itself with the wellbeing of his father’s sister’s husband’s bastard, so why should we do the same?” Zevran said. “Such a tenuous line, so easy to ignore, is it not?”

Isolde’s eyes flashed with anger, quickly turning to panic when Sten and Morrigan chimed in to agree.

Cousland chewed on his bottom lip. “Let’s just see if this Jowan fellow has anything to say before we run around cutting down little children, alright?”

Even though he hadn’t realized Zevran was there a moment ago, now Alistair was excruciatingly aware of how close the elf was standing. Like… like they were related. Or something. After spending weeks trying to be as far away from Zevran as possible, the proximity was jarring. And he’d done it earlier, too, back out by the mill. It was strange.

Before Alistair could puzzle it out, the mysterious Jowan appeared. There was yet another discussion, and finally it was decided that they would try to get help from the Circle. Sten and Zevran would stay behind, in case Connor had a relapse.

It was nearing midnight by the time the decision was made. Isolde offered them dinner and use of the guest wing. Seemed risky to Alistair, but then again, he wasn’t in charge. And the prospect of a hot meal and proper bed did sound appealing.

The appeal wore off rapidly once they sat down to eat. It wasn’t the food; several of the cooks and staff had been spared, probably because the demon wanted to be waited on hand and foot. So the food was good, the kind of proper Ferelden meal that Alistair usually enjoyed: hot stew, mashed potatoes, jam tarts.

But it was hard to enjoy as they sat with Isolde and Teagan. Isolde was clearly beyond exhausted, operating solely on the habits ingrained after a lifetime of being in court. “I am sorry I cannot offer you more,” she apologized. “We have not had fresh supplies in many days.”

“Well, hopefully, we’ll be able to change that,” Cousland said, giving her a terse smile and a nod.

“I pray to the Maker that it is so,” she said.

“Have no fear, my lady. We will not fail you,” Leliana said. “Andraste herself is by our side.”

“Indeed,” Zevran agreed, helping himself to an apple. He began to slice it with one of his daggers, leaning back casually in his chair. “We have made it this far, have we not? It was clearly the work of Andraste that Alistair was with us. Had it not been for his ability to control the mabari, we may not have made it out of the dungeons at all. It is good you gave him the honor of… what is the word? Training with the kennelmaster at such a young age.”

Isolde’s fork clattered to her plate. She dropped her hands to her lap, though the tension in her arms made it clear she was twisting her napkin.

As the silence stretched on, Alistair’s face burned. He felt sick and hot and his vision went funny, like he was in a tunnel. Cousland said something about the kennels in Highever, a story about being allergic to dogs, shifting the conversation to safer ground.

Alistair knew he couldn’t just get up and leave without making things worse. He continued to eat mechanically, not tasting anything.

Finally, Cousland pushed his own plate away, saying something about an early start. They all got up, heading to the guest wing.

Alistair was shaking by the time they got to their rooms. He flung his pack on the floor and sat on the side of the bed. The strange sick feeling had coalesced into something he could recognize: anger. Not just a generalized sense of being mad, but anger at someone specific.

There was a quiet knock. Alistair roused himself. “What?”

Zevran poked his head inside. “I came to --”

“How could you do that?” Alistair yelled, leaping off the bed. “What gives you the right to say such things?”

Blinking rapidly, Zevran flinched. He came all of the way into the room and shut the door behind him. “You are angry with me.”

“You’re bloody well right I am! How could you throw the -- the thing about the dogs back in my face? You’re no better than me.” He knew he wasn’t making sense, but he didn’t care. “I told you that in --” Alistair cut himself off. He’d told Zevran some things in confidence, yes, but it was common knowledge that he’d slept in the kennels; it was a regular joke around the campfire. But that was different. This was… Alistair didn’t know what this was, only that he was angry. “You’ve no right to make a fool of me in front of -- of the others.” He stopped short of saying in front of her , and suddenly his anger got all twisted and he felt sick again. He sat back down, rubbing at his face.

Zevran hadn’t moved. He looked very small, over by the door. “That --” His voice caught, and he cleared his throat. “That was never my intention. I offer my most humble and sincere apologies, my friend. I only meant….” He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “It does not matter what my intention was, only that I hurt you. I am sorry. I will trouble you no further.”

Alistair didn’t say anything. He nodded begrudgingly, not looking at Zevran. After a brief pause, the assassin slipped out.

Alistair heaved a sigh. Yelling at Zevran had been spectacularly unsatisfying. He felt absolutely miserable. A thousand times worse than he had a moment ago, easily. That didn’t seem quite fair -- wasn’t getting things off your chest supposed to help? Though if Zevran’s face was anything to go by, he felt bad too.

Alistair hadn’t expected that. He hadn’t really been expecting anything, but he was surprised that Zevran didn’t at least try to defend himself. That meant Alistair was right to be angry, didn’t it? Proved his point, or something? So then why did it feel as if Alistair had done something wrong?

Nothing made sense. Not being here in the guest wing, a room more opulent than anything he’d ever been allowed when he lived here; not seeing Isolde doting over her son; not Zevran’s reaction to his anger.

Alistair had a sudden intense desire to slip back down to the kennels and pet Sasha. At least she’d be happy to see him. She’d stuck by his side all through the fighting. It was the most grounded he’d felt in days. But of course, the dogs were no longer in the castle, were they? They were in the village, where it was safe, not in this horrible place.

Cursing under his breath, Alistair kicked his pack. This was a mistake, as the contents spilled all over the floor. He stomped around, trying to gather everything up, and managed to dump the entire pouch of pebbles on the flagstones, scattering them everywhere.

With a strangled scream of frustration, Alistair began gathering them up, one by one. How had the knot come loose again? It took forever -- they were just the size to slip between the cracks and gaps in the floor.

He should just leave them -- they weren’t worth anything, after all, and it wasn’t like he needed them anymore. Still, more out of habit than anything, Alistair continued to pick the rocks up and put them back in the pouch.

After a moment or two, his mind began to wander, even as he grumbled to himself. He remembered the streambed from two days ago, how nice it had been, the sun glinting on the water and on the stones. Little ones, just like… just like these.

Blinking in realization, Alistair reared back onto his haunches. There hadn’t been many quartz pebbles in the stream. And yet, Zevran had gathered a hundred of them, all the same size. How long had that taken? Must’ve been a very long time, hunched over and wet, slogging around in the muck, and for what? Just to teach Alistair a game? He could’ve just grabbed a handful of whatever and called it a day. Why would he go to such lengths?

Mind churning as he searched for answers, Alistair remembered just how close Zevran had been earlier. It had felt familiar in a specific way, kind of like… like…. Struggling, Alistair inhaled sharply when he remembered what it felt like. It felt the same as when the Sasha had stayed by him in the fighting earlier. It felt protective.

“Oh no,” he whispered. He still didn’t know why Zevran had spent so long picking up rocks, but Alistair was pretty sure he’d misunderstood what had happened at dinner. Maker, Zevran had been trying to shame Isolde, not Alistair.

Alistair ran out into the hallway. At the last second, he remembered to knock, rather than burst into Zevran’s room unannounced.

There was a long pause. “I do not wish to be disturbed,” Zevran said finally.

Of course he doesn’t. Alistair almost turned away. “It’s -- it’s me,” he said. “Um, Alistair. I -- I’m sorry for yelling. I just… I wanted to tell you that. Before we leave.”

The door opened before he finished. Zevran’s expression was wary. He’d taken his hair out of the braids and combed it; it was loose and wavy against his cheeks. Alistair wanted to touch it.

“You have no reason to apologize,” Zevran said. “I should not have said anything to the Arlessa.” His lips twitched in a salute to a smile. “It would not be the first time my tongue has gotten me into trouble.”

“No, I -- I just… I didn’t know what you were trying to do and I lashed out and that was wrong,” Alistair said, dipping his head.

Zevran regarded him a moment longer, then held the door wide. “Come in. Let us not have this conversation in the hallway,” he said.

Alistair ducked into the room. Unlike Alistair, Zevran had unpacked; his armor hung on the stand in the corner and he’d put all his bottles and personal items out on the dresser, lined up neatly.

Zevran padded over to the side table. “Brandy?” He lifted a decanter, shaking it slightly.

“You brought your own brandy?”

Zevran laughed. “Oh no no. Though I would happily offer some of my own if I had any to share. This was left for us. Is there not a service in your room?”

“I didn’t notice,” Alistair admitted.

“Understandable.” Zevran poured the drink into two tumblers. “It is not bad,” he said. “Nothing compared to Antivan brandy, of course, but beggars cannot be choosers, as they say. Please, my friend, sit.” He nodded at the chair in the corner, himself sitting cross-legged on the center of the bed.

Dutifully, Alistair sat. Unsure of what he should say, he took a swig of the brandy, coughing at the burn.

Zevran didn’t seem overly eager to fill the silence. Instead he drank, looking thoughtfully at Alistair.

It was getting to be uncomfortable, so Alistair spoke up. “I really am sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry, that was wrong. I didn’t know what you were trying to do -- I’m so stupid, I just thought --”

“Alistair, I beg you, please stop. You were right to be angry with me. I presumed too much. You did not ask for me to advocate on your behalf. You do not need me to advocate on your behalf. You are perfectly capable in that regard.”

Alistair choked on his brandy. “I’m sorry, have you met me? I’m not capable of anything of the sort. When I joined the Templars they called me Allen for the first six months and I never said anything. If they hadn’t gone back to look at my entry paperwork they might’ve never gotten it right.”

That made Zevran laugh, and Alistair felt the knot in his stomach loosen for the first time since they’d arrived in Redcliffe. “I am glad that the name did not stick, my friend. I much prefer Alistair.” He smiled, leaning forward to refill their drinks, and the knot in Alistair’s tummy unclenched further.

Drinking brandy was probably a bad idea, Alistair knew. They had to get up early, and there was no guarantee that Connor wouldn’t turn back into a demon at any moment. Still, Alistair found himself accepting another drink, this time clinking glasses with Zevran. “Seriously though, thank you for, um. Saying something.”

“You deserve no less,” Zevran said. “I admit, I was not inclined to look kindly on this Arlessa. Perhaps I was looking for an excuse to ‘say something’ to her.”

“She’s so much younger than I remember,” Alistair blurted, staring into his cup.

“As young as you are now, no? And her son is the age you were when you left?” Zevran leaned back, resting his weight on one arm. “The parallels are quite striking. And yet you have dealt with the situation with equanimity.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Alistair tried for a laugh, but it came out all nervous.

“In my estimation, yes.”

Alistair didn’t know what to say to that. He looked around the room. “You unpacked,” he said.

“I did. When I am an honored guest, I try to act like it. Even if it is for one night only. One never knows when one will be invited again.”

“Are all these poisons?” Alistair peered at the tiny bottles.

“Oh no. Only half. The others are entirely safe, I assure you.”

“But… which are which?” Alistair asked.

Zevran winked in reply.

Leaning over in his chair, Alistair looked over the dressing table at all of the vials. There were about a dozen, all told; some were squat and dark, some thin and ethereal, one or two were made of metal or pottery rather than glass. Swaying slightly under the dizzying influence of the brandy, Alistair plucked one from the group. “This is the one we used on your hair,” he said, bringing it to his nose. The smell of musk and spice was familiar. “There’s almost none left,” he said. “Maker, I’m sorry -- I hope I didn’t use too much getting the knot out.” At the time, he didn’t think he’d used an excessive amount, and the bottle had been nearly full.

Zevran winced, but not in pain -- more like he was embarrassed or trying not to laugh. He wiped his face. “It is of no consequence, friend. I will buy more. It is a common thing.”

“Is it? That’s good,” Alistair said, putting it back. “I’d hate to think I wasted anything fancy.” His line of sight fell onto a small ingot of gold, placed in the exact center of a folded silk handkerchief. It seemed out of place among all the other things.

“A gift,” Zevran said. “From Cousland.”

“Ohhhh, right,” Alistair nodded, only now realizing that maybe being nosy about Zevran’s possessions wasn’t exactly good manners, even if everything was on display. He continued to nod absently, even as his mind began to wonder about the value of the gift, and whether that had anything to do with how much Cousland liked Zevran, and possibly for why there was so little oil left in the bottle. He’d thought it was something used to soften skin, but it now occurred to Alistair that maybe there were other uses for it, uses that made him blush a deep crimson.

Alistair sat straight up in his chair, not meeting Zevran’s eyes. He should probably leave. Frantically, he tried to think of an excuse.

“You yourself have also been the recipient of Cousland’s generosity, have you not? He gave you something the other day,” Zevran said, helping himself to more brandy.

“Oh, that was just… nothing. Nothing, really, just a… a figurine. Nothing valuable or anything. Part of a chess set. I, um, I quite like chess,” Alistair stammered. He drank the rest of his brandy in one gulp.

“So you have said,” Zevran nodded. “The Warden is quite perceptive, no? He has the knack of the politician, to see what his friends will fancy.” Zevran smiled, wry and somehow sad.

“And… is this the kind of thing you like?” Alistair’s eyes were drawn back to the ingot, despite his intention. It looked like it was worth at least ten sovereigns. Maker’s breath, that was a lot of money. Even if he wanted to give Zevran something, he’d never hope to be able to afford something like that. He scrunched his eyes shut. He shouldn’t be thinking about giving Zevran anything at all, not if Cousland was… Alistair huffed. This was not something he should be thinking about. It was none of his business.

Zevran shrugged one shoulder. “I fancy things that are beautiful, and things that are strong.” He took a sip of brandy, looking at Alistair over the glass. “What kinds of things do you fancy, my friend?”

Alistair wasn’t sure what that look meant, only that it made him panic. “Um. I… don’t actually know, I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever gotten a lot of gifts. I used to have a locket that they said my mother gave me as a baby, but I lost it here in the castle, got angry at Eamon when I had to leave and I threw it, which was a stupid thing to do, and um, other than that no one’s really ever given me much of anything except --” Dumbfounded, he stopped babbling for a moment. “You gave me something,” he said. “You picked out all of those tiny rocks. Why did you do that? Or -- or, was that just something you did anyway, in case you found someone to play cards with? Right, of course it was, silly of me, you didn’t do that for me, I know that.” He leapt to his feet, swaying slightly as all the brandy he’d drunk rushed to his head.

“Alistair, cielito, be careful,” Zevran said, springing to his feet gracefully, putting a steadying hand on Alistair’s arm. “And they may be mere worthless pebbles, but I meant them for you alone.”

Zevran was standing close again, his hand still on Alistair’s arm. “Oh,” Alistair said, blinking stupidly. “That was… nice of you. I didn’t get you anything,” he frowned. Dimly, he knew he sounded like an idiot, but he was too distracted by the brandy and Zevran’s proximity to be coherent. He really, really wanted to kiss Zevran.

No. He shouldn’t. For one thing, he had no idea how such things were done. Alistair realized that Zevran probably knew exactly what to do. And whatever that thing was, Zevran wasn’t doing it right now. He was just standing there, looking at Alistair’s mouth. Probably thinking about how unattractive Alistair’s lips were, all chapped from biting them too much. And sometimes he got little red bumps where he shaved, and that had to be gross. Which meant Zevran probably didn’t want to kiss him, right? “I should… I should go,” Alistair murmured. “Let you, um, get some sleep.”

At once, Zevran dropped his hand and stepped away. “Tomorrow is likely to be a long day,” he nodded.

Alistair nodded as well, already backing up towards the door. He stumbled on the chair slightly, sending the chair leg skidding across the floor with a loud honking sound. “Yes. Anyway. Thanks for the, um, brandy. Sleep well.” With that, he fled back to his own room.

Once inside, Alistair leaned his back against the closed door, rubbing his face with his hands. It could’ve gone better, but it could’ve gone much worse, he decided. At least Zevran knew he wasn’t angry at him.

He looked around the room. Funny how lifeless it seemed, compared to Zevran’s, even though they were essentially identical. Sure enough, there was a brandy service on the side table; how had Alistair missed that? He hefted the square bottle in his hand, wondering how he could have missed something so obvious. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, and probably not the last, either. He sighed, setting the bottle back down, and got ready for bed.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, why does it have to be more demons?” Alistair grumbled, hacking through the body of an abomination.

Beside him, Sasha barked, dodging to the side as a shade erupted from the floor in front of them.

“I know, I know,” Alistair shouted.

“Will you cease this endless prattle?” Morrigan shouldered past him, blasting the enemies with ice.

The room now clear of enemies, the party stopped to catch their breath. “It’s not prattle, it’s communication,” Alistair sniffed.

“I think it’s cute,” Leliana said. “I used to talk to my pet nug, Ser Nugglesworth, all the time.”

“Sasha is not a pet,” Alistair objected. “She’s a mabari, and a fearsome warrior, aren’t you, sweetness?”

Sasha barked happily, waggling her tail nub.

“I cannot believe you invoked the Right of Conscription on a dog,” Morrigan said.

“Why not?” Cousland shrugged, grinning. “Not like Eamon’s going hunting anytime soon. Plus he’s not going to miss just one dog, right?”

Cousland had casually issued the order, phrased as a ‘request’ to Teagan, as they geared up to leave Redcliffe. Alistair practically ran to the stables to get Sasha, giddy with happiness. The dog was sitting at attention, apart from the others, almost as if she was waiting for him.

“And look how much good she’s done for us already,” Alistair cooed.

“Pray tell, can we postpone her promotion to Knight of the Order after we rid this pathetic Circle of the demons?” Morrigan snipped.

The Circle of Magi was, in all respects, a nightmare. Literally: they ended up wandering around the Fade, which was all kinds of creepy. Between that and the experience in Redcliffe Castle, they’d worked out a crude strategy for dealing with the demons and abominations, but it was still exhausting. At least they’d managed to pick up a healer among the mages they’d freed, a kindly older lady named Wynne that was very good at keeping them alive. So that was a plus.

Uldred, the possessed mage apparently causing all of this destruction, was at the very top of the tower. Wasn’t that always the way? Why couldn’t enemies be in the middle, for once? Or right on the ground level? Worse, Uldred wanted to talk. He went on and on, blathering about mages and the Chantry and power.

Mid-tirade, Cousland rolled his eyes and turned to Morrigan. “Is it just me or do all these demons sound the same?” Cousland sighed.

“Indeed,” Morrigan smirked. “No imagination whatsoever.”

Uldred, or whatever demon was wearing his form, actually stamped his foot and pouted. At that, Leliana giggled, which made Alistair laugh, which made Sasha yip.

“Stop it at once!” Uldred bellowed.

With a great show of weariness, Cousland rubbed his temple with his fingertips. “Oh, for the love of -- now!” Cousland shouted the last word, the signal they’d planned. Morrigan cast the Litany of Adralla, Uldred and the abominations were momentarily frozen in place, and after that it was child’s play, really. At least, compared to being in the Fade it seemed easy enough.

Afterwards, the First Enchanter was more than happy to provide the aid they requested, and Wynne decided to come along as well. When all was said and done, they were able to board the ship back to Redcliffe as the sun went down. Everyone went immediately to their hammocks; they’d be back at the castle by the morning.

Alistair was tired, no doubt about it, but he was also restless. He was eager to return to Redcliffe, and there was no point in pretending it wasn’t because of Zevran. Rolling to his side, Alistair curled into a ball. He probably shouldn’t be thinking about Zevran at all. Especially not if Cousland was giving him gifts. Of course, now that Alistair was paying attention, he realized that Cousland gave gifts to all of them. Still, he’d given Zevran a bar of solid gold. Gold was valuable, far more so than a castoff figurine from a chess set, or a statue of Andraste, or a gross old book, or anything he gave the others. That must mean Cousland liked Zevran the most, right?

Cousland certainly looked at Zevran a lot. Of course Cousland looked at Morrigan a lot, too, though maybe that was different. Maybe he was watching to make sure she didn’t turn into a huge spider or something.

Alistair huffed in frustration. This was stupid, the whole thing. He needed to stop thinking about Zevran so much. Realizing he wasn’t going to sleep anytime soon, he rolled out of his hammock and made his way above deck.

Surprisingly, Leliana was awake as well, standing in the prow of the ship. Alistair joined her.

“You’re up, too?”

Leliana nodded. “Just wanted a few minutes of fresh air. The cabin is stuffy, and smells of fish.”

Alistair hummed thoughtfully. “Well, the cargo hold is also stuffy, and smells like Cousland’s feet.”

Leliana laughed at that. Alistair liked making her laugh. They looked out at the water for a few minutes.

“Is there something on your mind, Alistair?” Leliana asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“You drum your fingers when you are nervous. It is how Zevran always wins at Wicked Grace. He knows when you are bluffing.”

“Do I?” Alistair asked, looking at his own hands in wonder. “I had no idea.”

“You do. Although you have not played with Zevran in quite some time. Why is that, I wonder?”

“I… don’t… think he wants to play with me, anymore,” Alistair mumbled. He wasn’t entirely sure whether Leliana was alluding to something else, and not, in fact, a card game. She was Orlesian, after all.

Leliana tilted her head to the side, her eyes suffused with a far-too-innocent gleam. “Are you sure?”

“Y-yes?” Alistair hunched his shoulders, not quite a shrug. “I, um, think he’d rather play with Cousland.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Leliana said, shaking her head. “What even gives you such an idea?”

“Well… he got Zevran a gift. An expensive gift.”

Leliana laughed. “So? Cousland gives gifts to us all. It is his way of showing support.”

“I know, but….”

“I am quite sure that Zevran would enjoy another game of cards. You should ask him.”

“Hmmm.” Alistair hummed skeptically, but let it drop. He caught himself drumming his fingers and whipped his hand away from the railing, making Leliana giggle. “Look, you’re good with secrets, right?” he asked.

“Of course,” she smiled. “I never reveal a secret told to me in confidence.”

“Well…. I, um, found myself wondering something lately. Not about, um, anyone in particular, just… wondering, you know.”

“Mm-hmm?” Leliana was smirking and enjoying this far too much for Alistair’s liking, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

“So, purely hypothetically, of course, how does one know if-if it’s alright to kiss someone? Maker, why did I even ask that. Forget I said anything. I don’t exist. Good night.” He turned to go, but Leliana caught him by the arm.

She was laughing, but not in a mean-spirited way. “Would it make you feel better to know I asked the same question once?”

“Did you really?”

Leliana nodded. “Oh yes. But that is a story for another time. The simplest answer is, just ask.”

“What, just say, ‘Can I kiss you’?” Alistair scrunched his face up in disbelief.

“You might have better luck with ‘may I’, but yes.”

“What if they say no?”

Grinning, Leliana shrugged. “What if they do? As one who has been the recipient of many unasked-for attempted kisses, I guarantee it is far more respectful to give the other person an option.”

Alistair nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose that makes sense.” He made a face. “I’ll probably mess it up somehow.”

“Oh? I thought this was hypothetical.”

“It is!” Alistair blurted. “Totally, absolutely in the realm of imagination.”

Leliana grinned again. “The trick is to know whether someone is likely to say yes before you ask.”

“And… how does one know that?” Why did his voice have to go squeaky now, of all times?

“Here. I will show you. I assure you, everything I do is for demonstration only. You know that, yes? I will not actually kiss you. You are like a brother to me.” She grabbed his arms and turned him so they were face to face.

“Um, okay?” Alistair felt a little weird about it, but at the same time, he was relieved for the help.

Leliana shook herself out, rolling her head on her neck, as if getting ready to sing or something. “Alright, it’s like… this.” She looked up at him, and it was… wow, it was totally different from the way she normally looked at him. Alistair recoiled, frowning.

Immediately, she burst into giggles. “Stop that,” she said. “I cannot pretend when you make such faces.”

“Sorry,” Alistair mumbled.

“I will try one more time.” After a second to compose herself, Leliana did it again. Her eyes were wide and sparkly, and she was leaning up and in, looking into his eyes, and then she tilted her head just the slightest bit, gazing down at his mouth, and then back into his eyes again.

“Oh no,” Alistair whispered.

Instantly, Leliana sank back on her heels, dispelling whatever magic she’d wrought. She grinned. “Do you see?”

Alistair nodded, swallowing hard. It was much the way Zevran had looked at him, back at the castle. Wasn’t it? Maybe Alistair had just imagined it. He had been a bit drunk. Though maybe… maybe Zevran did want to kiss him? Then, confound it all, why hadn’t he?

Leliana was looking at him funny. “You look more confused now than before.”

“I am,” he groaned.

Laughing, Leliana reached to her tiptoes and gave him a kiss, for real, on the cheek. “Try not to think too much. I’m off to bed.”

***

It was downright creepy, watching Morrigan just lay there and sleep, knowing she was fighting a demon in the Fade. They were back in Redcliffe, trying to sort out the business with Connor. Cousland hadn’t wanted her to go into the Fade -- he’d tried to convince Irving to do it -- but Morrigan had pulled him aside to ‘discuss’ it. It hadn’t looked much like a discussion to Alistair. It looked like an argument, with Cousland almost pleading at the end, and Morrigan all haughty with her arms crossed.

Frankly, Alistair wasn’t sure why Cousland didn’t want her to do it. Alistair didn’t really know much about mages, but Morrigan seemed quite strong to him, plus she’d already fought a bunch of demons. And anyway Irving was kind of old.

So into the Fade Morrigan went, laying on a cot next to the sleeping Connor, while the rest of them waited. Cousland was a wreck, more nervous than Alistair had ever seen him: he paced, gnawing on his cuticles. The rest of them began to relax as the time ticked on, until finally Sten just up and sat down on the floor. Everyone but Cousland followed suit.

After four hours, Morrigan came to with a huge gasp, convulsing into a sitting position. Cousland was next to her in a heartbeat, arm around her shoulders, shouting for water and aid.

“It is done,” Morrigan panted. “The child is safe. Until the next time he falls victim to the temptation of a demon, at least.”

“Thank the Maker,” Cousland sighed, though to Alistair it seemed like he was more relieved about Morrigan than about Connor.

It was harder to watch Isolde fall to pieces over her son, showering him with kisses and hugs. Alistair winced, seeing it. She was warm and maternal and loving, utterly different than Alistair remembered. Looking at her now, it was hard to picture her being as cold and clinical as Alistair thought she was. Maybe… maybe he was remembering wrong?

He started to feel weird. “I’m just going to stretch my legs,” he said to Leliana. “I’ll be by the stables.”

Leliana nodded absently, her attention on the others as Alistair slipped out.

He was hoping to be alone, and it seemed he might get his wish; the stables were largely empty, save a lone farrier trimming the horses’ hooves. Alistair wandered behind the building, where the wall of the castle met the stone face of the mountain. The old pine tree Alistair used to climb was still standing, its roots gnarled where it grasped the grudging soil between the rocks.

“Ah, there you are.”

It was Zevran, smiling down at him. He lounged at the crotch of two branches, one foot hanging down lazily. How had he gotten there before Alistair? Alistair could’ve sworn Zevran was in the hall when he left.

Alistair clambered up the trunk. It was harder than when he was ten -- he was a hundred pounds heavier and wearing armor -- and he was out of breath by the time he found his favorite spot.

It was a good place. The rock face was near enough that he could lean his back against it, and he could see out over the whole village and the lake. From this distance, there was no way to know how many people had died in the last week.

Once he was settled, Alistair looked over at Zevran. They hadn’t had a chance to talk since getting back from the Circle. “How did you know I’d come here?”

“The little birds, they come home to roost, even once they grow big and strong,” Zevran said.

“Oh.” For a second Alistair thought Zevran meant something literally to do with birds, but then Alistair realized he’d mentioned hiding in a pine tree, that one night when Zevran let him comb his hair. “Right.”

They sat there for a few moments, not speaking. Automatically, Alistair began to pick flakes off the tree trunk and throw them. He could throw them a lot farther than he could as a child, which was strangely satisfying. “It’s weird,” he said finally.

“I suspected it would be so,” Zevran agreed.

That was reassuring in itself; at least Zevran wasn’t trying to convince him everything was fine. “I think… I think maybe I remembered things wrong,” Alistair admitted. “Maybe I… maybe things weren’t the way I thought. I was just a kid, after all.”

“That is highly doubtful, pobrecito,” Zevran said, matter-of-factly. “You do not seem one to tell the tales of great height.”

“What? Oh, tall tales . I mean, I didn’t think so, but….” Alistair squinted out at the horizon.

“A woman can be young and scared and alone in a foreign land, married to a man with much power but wielding little of her own, and take out her fear and insecurity on a young child who is also alone and scared. And yet that same woman may grow up to be a doting mother. The two things are quite possible.” Zevran picked at his fingernails with the tip of a dagger.

It was hard to argue with that. “How old are you, anyway?” Alistair asked. “All this wisdom, are you secretly seventy years old or something?”

Zevran laughed. “I am twenty-five,” he said.

“What? Really? I thought you were at least ten years older than me,” Alistair said. “At least.”

Zevran raised his eyebrows, though he was smiling. “I am not sure I am flattered by that remark, cielito.”

“I mean… where did you learn all this stuff, anyway? How do you know so much about people?”

Zevran shrugged. “The life of an assassin is not very wholesome, but it provides many lessons. A good assassin learns those lessons early and well. A bad one dies.”

Alistair let that sink in for a moment. He still wasn’t quite sure why Zevran had waited for him, why he was being so protective. Dimly, he’d supposed it was because Zevran considered him a friend -- he certainly called Alistair ‘friend’ often enough. But he called him other things, too, things in Antivan. “What does that mean, po-bre-cito?” He butchered the pronunciation, stumbling over the word.

Zevran’s easy smile faded. “Did I call you that?”

“Yes. And the other thing -- seal-ito?”

Almost imperceptibly, Zevran’s brows knitted together, as if he only now realized what he’d been saying. “Ah. They are… how do I say it. Terms of endearment.”

“But what do they mean?”

Zevran cleared his throat, shifting in discomfort. “Cielo means the sky of blue, the heavens above,” he said, gesturing upward. “-Ito is how it is made into a name. A little form of the word.” He held up his forefinger and thumb an inch apart.

Calling someone Little Blue Sky didn’t make a lot of sense to Alistair, but at least it didn’t sound bad. “And the other?”

Zevran licked his lips. “Ah. It is… difficult to translate. Pobre is… one who is not rich.”

Alistair stared hard at him. “You mean ‘poor’. ‘Poor little one’.”

“I… would not put it like that, exactly.”

If the rock hadn’t been behind Alistair’s back, he might’ve lost his balance as he went dizzy with shame. Maker’s breath, is that what Zevran thought of him? Some poor little baby that needed coddling? Of course it is. Have you even shown an ounce of maturity since you met him?

Suddenly everything made a lot more sense. Alistair’s cheeks burned, thinking about… about all of it. About Zevran hearing him in the woods (probably thought you couldn’t control yourself, because you can’t), about how protective Zevran was around Isolde (because you’re too big of a baby to defend yourself), about how Zevran hadn’t kissed him (he was probably scared that you were going to try, because who wants to kiss a child?)

“Well. Lots to do. Best be getting back,” Alistair said, sliding down, his limbs feeling as wooden as the tree.

“Alistair, wait,” Zevran called. “It is not what you think.”

Alistair just shook his head, waving him off without turning around. He knew, on some level, that walking away proved Zevran was exactly right: it was childish to run when things got uncomfortable. Alistair didn’t care. The damage was done, wasn’t it? Why bother trying to change things now?

On the way back, he ran into Cousland. “Ah, there you are. We’ll be staying the night again, probably tomorrow too. The Arlessa said she’ll have dinner sent to the guest wing -- she wants time with Connor.”

“Right, of course,” Alistair nodded.

“I think we’ll give it one more day to rest after, what do you think? Wynne says Eamon’s stable for now, and I want us in top form before head for Orzammar.”

“Makes sense.”

“Good, good. Hey, I was thinking after dinner, I might head into the village, give the inn some custom. We’ve got all this coin from those bandits, might as well put it back into the local economy, right? You in?” He winked broadly and tapped the side of his nose.

“Um, sure, why not?” Alistair said.

“Great! It’ll be good to blow off some steam. Leliana and Morrigan are coming, too, and Sten. Wynne I’m not sure about, but Zevran will probably join us. He knows a good time when he sees it.” With another wink, he clapped Alistair on the shoulder and walked off, whistling a jaunty tune.

“I’m sure he does,” Alistair sighed.

Alistair was dreading seeing Zevran at dinner, but the elf never showed up. Leliana, thankfully, asked his whereabouts.

“Went to the village, said he needed an alchemist,” Cousland said, passing a bowl of roasted turnips. “Said he’d meet us at the inn.”

Alistair relaxed. He’d have to deal with the situation at some point, but he wasn’t sure how. It was easy to avoid thinking about it, though. Dinner was pleasant enough -- Wynne turned out to be a hoot, keeping up with Morrigan’s barbs and Cousland’s jokes alike. After they were done eating, they headed to their respective rooms to get ready to go to the inn.

“Oh, meant to give you this,” Cousland said to Alistair in the hallway. He dropped a pendant into Alistair’s palm.

It took a moment to register. “This… this was my mother’s,” Alistair gasped. “I thought I’d lost it. I did lose it. Where did you find it?”

Cousland shrugged. “I didn’t. Zevran found it while we were at the Circle. Said it’d be better if I gave it to you, that you wouldn’t want a gift from him.”

Alistair continued to blink in shock, staring at the necklace.

“What’s going on with you two, anyway?” Cousland asked.

“What? Nothing! Nothing,” Alistair said. “Why?”

Cousland laughed and shrugged. “Just asking. Thought maybe the two of you….” He tilted his head back and forth, waggling his eyebrows.

“No! Maker, no,” Alistair spluttered. “I mean, I thought you, um, had, er, something going on with him?”

Cousland roared with laughter, slapping him on the shoulder. “No. He’s, ah, not my type, even if he is pretty.” He winked.

“What, because he’s an elf?”

“What? No, Maker, that has nothing to do with it. Let’s just say we have… incompatible tastes, and leave it at that, eh? Anyway. I’m gonna go get a clean doublet. Think this one still smells like ichor.” Cousland gave his sleeve a tentative sniff and made a face.

Alistair did the same, changing into his nicest clothing. Might as well, right? He went ahead and washed his face and ran a comb through his hair, and made sure he didn’t have any spinach in his teeth. Lastly he put on the pendant. Where on earth had Zevran found it? Maker, what if he stole it? No, he wouldn’t. Would he?

The problem remained of what to say to Zevran. Alistair was pretty sure he’d behaved badly, again, but at the same time, he was deeply embarrassed to know how Zevran thought of him. He went back and forth about it as they all walked down to the inn, deep in thought while the others chatted and laughed.

Alistair braced himself as he walked into the Gull and Lantern, but it was for naught. Zevran wasn’t there. Unconcerned, Cousland got them a table. The barkeep was only too happy to see them, especially since Cousland had bought all the ale for the village’s militia a week prior.

Not that any of them could pay for a drink now. Once word was out that Cousland was back, and had saved Eamon’s son and his wife from a ‘terrible evil’, people came out of the woodwork to ply them with food and drink.

It was nice, as far as it went -- Leliana got up and sang, and Cousland danced with Wynne and then with Morrigan. Sten did not dance, but he gladly ate an entire plate of shortbread biscuits someone offered him, apparently not realizing they were meant to share.

As fun as it was, Alistair was having difficulty enjoying it, though. No one else seemed to care that Zevran wasn’t there. Of course, Alistair knew better than to worry -- Zevran could take care of himself -- but all of the tension he’d been storing up had nowhere to go. When the serving girl came around with more ale, Alistair plucked her elbow. “Er, you haven’t seen an elf here tonight have you? Blonde, with markings on his face?” He drew an invisible line on his cheek.

“I have,” she grinned. “A handsome devil, that one. Could charm the plums from the trees. He left just as you lot arrived, slipped out back. Said he had business up at t’castle.” She cocked her head toward the rear of the building.

“Oh. Um. Thanks,” Alistair said, confused.

Leliana took a break, sitting on the bench next to Alistair. “You look like you have a headache,” she said.

“No, I’m fine.”

She frowned shaking her head. “Are you quite sure? I’m almost certain you have a headache and you should go back to the castle. We are likely to be here quite a while. It would be good for you to get some rest.”

“Ohhh,” Alistair nodded, catching on. “You saw me talking to the server, didn’t you?”

She gave him a sunny smile. “Go. You look exhausted. I will tell the others.”

Alistair did as he was told. It seemed to take forever to get up the hill, like the castle had moved further away. He still had no idea what he would say to Zevran, or if it could even be salvaged between them.

Still, there was a light coming from under Zevran’s door, so he knocked gently. “Um. It’s Alistair,” he said. “I just wanted to….” When there was no response, he sighed, resting his forehead on the wood. “Right. Silly of me. I’ll just. Leave you be.”

“Alistair?” The voice came from behind him.

Alistair whipped around. Zevran was at the entrance to the dining room, holding a plate of food in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. His hair was down and he was barefoot, wearing only a tunic and loose trousers that came to his knees. “Why are you not with the others?”

“I… Leliana said I had a headache?”

Zevran blinked once, then started to laugh. “Did she, now? Well in that case, a loud inn will do you no favors. Would you like to join me? I have not yet eaten. They have brought fruit and cheese and sweets, if you like.”

“Did they?” Alistair perked up. “Um. Maybe I’ll just grab an apple, then.”

That was his intention, anyway. Faced with the temptation of a cheese platter, however, Alistair quickly revised his plan.

Zevran grinned broadly but said nothing when Alistair sat next to him, plate laden with a bit of everything.

“It’s the… being a Warden. You get more stamina and the ability to sense darkspawn, but you also get hungrier, even if you can go longer without food. It’s weird,” Alistair explained.

“More stamina, eh? I can think of some situations where that would come in handy.”

Alistair flushed. The question that had been haunting him all evening came tumbling out. “Why did -- why did you have Cousland give this to me?” He gestured at the pendant.

Zevran’s eyes flickered to the necklace as he took a sip of wine. “He told you I found it. Braska,” he swore under his breath. He turned his attention to his dinner. “I asked him to give it to you because I have given you no reason to trust my motives, nor my judgement. I thought it would be better for you to believe that it came from Cousland. So that your affection for him might take its natural course.”

“What? What affection? What are you talking about?”

Zevran raised an eyebrow. “You do not need to spare my feelings.”

“What feelings? Look, Zevran, I know you see me as no more than a child, and that’s… well that’s…” He didn’t want to say that’s fine, because it hurt to think about, even now. “But I hope we could be friends, anyway.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Zevran clenched his fist and relaxed it again. “No, no, Alistair. I do not see you as a child. And I do not want to be your friend.”

Alistair’s stomach dropped through the floor. “You… don’t? Oh, um. I thought. Nevermind. Right. Sorry.” He tried to stand.

Swearing in Antivan, Zevran caught Alistair’s wrist. “I mean to say, I do not wish to be your friend only.” As Alistair slowly settled back into the chair, Zevran went on. “I wish for much more than that.”

“Oh.”

Zevran removed his hand. “I understand that such things are not, shall we say, in the cards for me. I tried to tempt you and caused you to suffer, and for that, I bear the terrible guilt. You are too good for the likes of me, this I have always known. And --”

Alistair’s mind was still stuck on the first thing. “I don’t want Cousland,” Alistair blurted out. “I mean. I thought -- Maker until today I thought you did.”

Zevran squinted at him in confusion. “What?”

“Well I see how he looks at you, and he gave you such an expensive gift, and, I don’t know,” Alistair trailed off, sighing in frustration. “How could you possibly think I was attracted to Cousland, after --” He cut himself off before he said that night in the woods , blushing deeply.

“He gave to you the gift of the chess piece, after you mentioned it only in passing, did he not? And however he looks at me, I assure you, he looks at you tenfold,” Zevran said.

“What? Really?” Alistair face scrunched up in disbelief. “Well anyway, we’re both wrong. Morrigan was practically in his lap at the tavern.”

Zevran’s eyebrows shot to his hairline. “No! You are joking.”

Laughing despite himself, Alistair shook his head. “I swear. He had his arm around her waist and he was doing that thing with his thumb, you know, rubbing it up and down.”

Slapping the table, Zevran grinned broadly. “I never would have believed it. Do you think -- no, I must not say it.”

“What?” Alistair crinkled his nose.

“Do you think she would change into another form? While they --”

Howling “noooooo”, Alistair clapped his hands over his ears. Zevran dissolved into laughter, rocking back and forth in his chair.

It took a long time for them to calm down, partly because Zevran kept saying the names of different animals, each more outlandish than the last. When he said “nuggalope”, Alistair actually put his hand over Zevran’s mouth to shush him, both of them quivering with laughter.

That lasted exactly as long as it took Alistair’s brain to register that his fingers were touching Zevran’s mouth. His eyes tightened, unsure of which impulse he should obey. After a long moment where they just looked at each other, Alistair slowly started to draw his hand away.

Zevran caught his wrist again, holding Alistair’s hand in place a fraction of an inch from his face. Tentatively, he kissed Alistair’s fingertips, light and chaste.

Alistair shuddered, gasping quietly.

Zevran gently turned his hand, repeating the kiss on his palm.

“I --” Alistair’s voice broke, and he started over. “I don’t want to be friends, either.”

At that, Zevran’s eyes closed, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He pressed Alistair’s hand to his cheek, nuzzling at it. “Are you quite sure, cielito? I am not… I am not a good man.”

“I don’t believe that,” Alistair said. “And yes. Yes I’m sure. I want --” Biting his lip, he leaned toward Zevran. “I want you to kiss me,” he said finally.

“Then I shall kiss you,” Zevran said. He let go of Alistair’s wrist and leaned in, resting his fingertips on the line of Alistair’s jaw. He closed half the distance and paused.

Throwing caution to the wind, Alistair leaned forward too, his breath quick and shallow, until he could feel Zevran’s lips against his own.

Even knowing it was going to happen, Alistair was momentarily paralyzed, only remembering that he should be kissing back after a few seconds. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he tried to do what Zevran did.

It was more awkward than Alistair expected. There were noses and teeth, and he wasn’t sure if he should keep his eyes open or closed. Plus he was shaking. Maker, he was terrible at this. Zevran would surely change his mind once he realized Alistair didn’t know what he was doing.

“You are trembling,” Zevran whispered, and even through Alistair’s rising panic, the feeling of Zevran’s breath on his lips made something inside his stomach go all melty.

“I-I’m sorry. I’ve never -- um. I’m doing it wrong, aren’t I?”

Zevran reached up and cradled Alistair’s face, pulling away enough to look at him. “No, cielito, you do nothing wrong. Have you truly never kissed a man?”

“I’ve never kissed anyone,” Alistair admitted.

The corner of Zevran’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “I hope it was worth the wait.”

“Well, um, we could try again, and I could see? Just to be sure.”

Zevran laughed, pulling him into a hug. That was awkward too; they were all twisted. But when he put his lips close to Alistair’s ear and said, “We can try as much as you like,” Alistair found that he didn’t care that much.

Zevran pulled away a moment later. “We should go elsewhere, though. The others will be back soon, no doubt.”

“Right,” Alistair nodded shakily. He looked regretfully at his still-full plate, wondering if he could save it for later.

Zevran stood, grabbing his own dinner and napkin. “Bring it along. Do not tell me you intend to waste such a snack.”

“Oh! Oh good, I’d hate to leave it,” Alistair said, relieved.

Zevran smirked. “Plus you will need that energy, for your Warden stamina.”

Alistair swallowed hard but followed Zevran down the hallway, wondering what he was getting himself into.

 

Chapter Text

The answer to “what am I getting into” turned out to be less than Alistair was expecting. For one thing, they didn’t get back to kissing right away. First Zevran moved around a bunch of furniture, dragging the wooden chair so that it was by the fireplace, then putting the food and wine on the seat to form a makeshift table. All the pillows and cushions in the room were then piled onto the rug in front of the fire.

“There. Not quite a picnic, but it will do,” Zevran nodded in satisfaction, hands on his hips. He reached for Alistair’s arm, pulling him to sit on the cushions.

“Oh, um. This is nice,” Alistair said, settling awkwardly. For some reason he thought the bed would play a larger role, and there wouldn’t be so much cheese involved. Not that he was complaining about the snacks, anyway. When Zevran casually reached over and helped himself to a slice of bread, Alistair gave a mental shrug and dug in.

“Much more comfortable than the stuffy dining room, no?” Zevran leaned back on his elbows, smiling briefly at Alistair before turning his attention to the fire. He wiggled his toes contentedly.

Alistair forgot he was chewing, poleaxed by just how beautiful Zevran was like this: relaxed and happy, the fire bathing him in golden light. He caught himself before Zevran could see him staring like a cow, and washed the mouthful down with some wine. Not too big a mouthful, though. The last thing he needed was to lose what little wits he had and make a fool of himself.

“So, tell me of your adventure in the Circle,” Zevran said.

“Ugh,” Alistair said, shuddering. “Demons, the Fade, abominations. You know. Typical Thursday.”

Zevran snorted with laughter. “I thought Thursdays were meant for Darkspawn?”

“No that’s Sundays through Tuesdays. Wednesday is ‘Bloodthirsty Bandits’, Thursday and Friday are ‘Demons and Their Ilk’, and Saturday is ‘Giant Spiders’.”

“Ah, how silly of me,” Zevran nodded sagely. He sipped his wine and went back to contemplating the fire.

At the lull in conversation, Alistair turned his attention back to the snacks, since it seemed like the kissing was going to have to wait. He’d gotten himself a cream-topped jam tart, thinking he’d be eating be at the table with a knife and fork. They were delicious, but crumbly, and just a little bit too big to eat in one bite.

Still, Zevran was looking at the fire, so maybe he could risk it. Alistair popped the entire thing in his mouth, just as Zevran turned to ask him something.

Alistair froze, eyes wide and cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk.

Zevran started laughing again, and even though Alistair knew he was laughing with him and not at him, it was still embarrassing. Alistair struggled to swallow it all, casting about for his napkin.

“The tarts, they are delicious, no? Though not the neatest of desserts.” Zevran smiled as he handed Alistair a napkin.

“Sorry,” he mumbled once his mouth was clear.

“For what? I am glad you have found something to enjoy in this place,” Zevran said, reaching for the wine bottle. “If life has taught me anything, it is to take what pleasure one may find, be it a sweet bite or a fire, a bottle of wine, and handsome company.” At that, he raised his glass in Alistair’s direction.

Alistair returned the gesture, inwardly trying to stave off his rising confusion before it tipped over into actual panic. Did that mean Zevran didn’t want to get back to the kissing at all? Maybe Alistair had misunderstood what was happening? That was likely. “It is nice to be warm and clean and dry,” he said, stalling. “I’ve been in my armor so long that I feel weird without it, though. Like my arms don’t weigh the right amount.”

“Strapping so much metal to one’s body can be quite problematic. I much prefer leather, if things are to be strapped to my person.” Zevran continued to grin as he said it, though he was looking at the fire again. “So many possibilities.”

Swallowing hard, Alistair gulped his wine. He wasn’t quite sure what Zevran was trying to imply, but it was clear it was meant to be dirty. A lot of what Zevran said was like that. And Alistair understood next to none of the references.

There was just so much he didn’t know. Maybe it was good that they hadn’t gone back to the kissing right away; the sooner they did, the sooner Zevran would find out exactly how little Alistair knew. In fact, maybe --

“Ah. I seem to have made you uncomfortable,” Zevran said.

Alistair blinked in confusion to find that Zevran was looking at him, and what’s more, he wasn’t grinning. In fact he looked concerned, which really didn’t bode well on the “more kissing” front.

“What? No, no, I-I’m not,” Alistair said, tripping over the words.

Zevran licked his lips, though it wasn’t sensual; it was more like he was nervous. “I assure you, I….” He trailed off, expression oddly vulnerable as he stared at Alistair. “I have no desire to place upon you the pressure.” He smiled then, or tried to, half his mouth curving up in a fleeting motion. “I did not ask you here with any notions of how the evening should proceed.”

Alistair floundered; he had no idea what was happening. “D-didn’t you?” His voice cracked and he looked away. Maker, he really was bad at this; he’d hoped for -- well, he’d hadn’t dared to hope for much, even if every cell in his body vibrated with need. But now it looked like Zevran didn’t even want to do anything at all. Disappointment and embarrassment fought for space in Alistair’s chest.

Zevran gnawed at his bottom lip, looking worried. “I think perhaps for the moment, we should speak plain.”

When he paused, Alistair nodded, dreading what was coming next. “Perhaps you’re right.”

“I desire a good many things. I fear that -- ah, how can I say it -- should the full scope of my desires become known, it would place a burden on you. And so, I do not speak them. But that does not mean they do not exist.”

That took a moment for Alistair to parse. “Oh. Ohhhhh, right,” he said slowly, nodding thoughtfully, though in truth he wasn’t sure he understood. Maybe… Zevran did want to do things, then? Alistair’s chest began to loosen.

Zevran continued to look at him. “It would help me to know what troubles you,” he prompted.

The panic, which had begun to wane, smashed over Alistair with the force of a rogue wave. He began to babble. “Oh that. Haha, yes, it’s only that I don’t know what I’m doing at all and any second now you’re going to get annoyed or bored or start laughing at me and I’m sure it’ll be no less than I deserve, so no fear, in fact maybe we should just take that as wrote and forget the whole thing because --”

He had to stop talking then because he had a lapful of Zevran. With blinding speed, the elf had managed to straddle him, putting a finger on Alistair’s mouth. “No. Please do not say such things, cielito.” He looked very upset.

Alistair blinked rapidly, watching as Zevran’s eyes dropped to his lips. He moved his finger away slowly and leaned in.

This time Alistair had a better idea of what to expect. It was easier to settle into an angle that worked, and the rhythm of Zevran’s lips against his was more familiar. Still, when he felt Zevran’s tongue brush against his lips he groaned loudly at the sensation, his hips bucking involuntarily.

At that, Zevran broke the kiss, though he continued to hold Alistair’s cheeks with both hands.

“Sorry,” Alistair winced. “Sorry, I --”

“Shh, you do nothing wrong,” Zevran whispered. “I only mean to tell you this: I know you have done very little. It would bring me great pleasure to show you anything you should like. But I am in no rush. I was very young when such things were shown to me, and though I enjoyed the experience, in hindsight I later wished that it had not happened so quickly.”

Comprehension dawned, as it so often did, rather slower than Alistair would’ve liked. “Oh. I… see,” he said quietly, as Zevran’s mouth twitched in a tiny, sad smile. “Um. Well. I, uh, spent all of puberty with crusty old monks and uptight Templars and now the Blight, and I’ve been dying for this for about six years, so maybe we can, I don’t know. Split the difference? Go a normal speed? Is that a thing?”

Zevran began to snicker at “crusty old monks” and he was full-on laughing by the end. “I think such things can be arranged,” he said.

Alistair grinned in relief. He could feel it was one of those goofy lopsided grins, but maybe Zevran didn’t notice. And anyway Zevran was already leaning in for another kiss.

He picked up where he’d left off, doing things with his tongue that made Alistair groan and quiver. Alistair’s stomach was going melty again, and his cock strained against the laces of his trousers. It just felt so incredible: warm and soft and wet and teasing, leaving Alistair wanting so much more.

Of course he didn’t know exactly what form that “more” would take. He didn’t particularly care, either -- he was more than willing to let Zevran take the lead. Which he did, subtly shifting Alistair’s head this way and that for better angles, guiding Alistair’s hands to his waist.

And after a while he started whispering things, too. Little instructions on kissing for Alistair to follow, which should’ve been embarrassing but somehow it wasn’t. “Ah, you like that with the teeth, yes? I like that as well, very much. Perhaps you care to try on me?” Okay maybe it was a little embarrassing, having to be led like a blind horse. But Alistair found he didn’t care, especially with the way Zevran reacted, gasping or moaning or just moving against Alistair, so their chests were pressed together.

Worry flitted into Alistair’s awareness: maybe Zevran was faking his enjoyment so that Alistair wouldn’t feel bad about being so inept. He tried to put it from his mind -- even if Zevran was just being polite, he clearly wanted Alistair to enjoy himself. And there was certainly plenty to enjoy, right? Alistair fought back a frown, willing himself to stop thinking about it.

Zevran pulled away. “What is the matter? Do you wish to stop?”

Alistair grimaced for real, biting his lip. “Nothing,” he said quickly. “I don’t want to stop.”

Zevran tilted his head, blinking in that deliberate way that people do when they don’t believe you.

Alistair sighed, shoulders drooping. “I mean -- you are, um, liking this, right?”

Zevran put a hand on his cheek. “Sí, cielito. I enjoy this thoroughly.”

“You’d tell me?” Alistair blurted. “If I was doing it wrong?” Maker, what a stupid thing to ask. When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?

Zevran kissed his forehead, which was kind of embarrassing, but also reassuring. “You have my word, I will tell you if you do something I do not enjoy. Though I expect the same from you, yes?”

Alistair nodded, relieved. “I just, you know. Don’t want you to, I don’t know. Waste your time.”

Shaking his head, Zevran ran his fingers through the short hairs at the nape of Alistair’s neck. Alistair leaned into the motion, unable to help himself. “Every moment with you is --” Zevran paused. “-- A moment well-spent,” he said finally. “Come, let us move to more comfortable surroundings. Your back must be aching.”

It was easier said than done. Both of Alistair’s legs had gone to sleep. In the end, he managed to limp to the bed, groaning piteously. He tumbled to the mattress face-first with no grace whatsoever. Zevran laughed, so that was good. Alistair might not be the best lover Zevran had ever had, or even decent -- he was hoping for “not the absolute worst” -- but at least he could be funny, and that was something.

As Alistair rolled over to his back, Zevran deftly straddled his hips once again. Though they were both still smiling, the laughter died away quickly. Things suddenly felt very real and serious, now that they were in a bed.

“Would you like to remove some clothing? It is not necessary, but if you like….” Zevran trailed off, his fingers playing with the hem of his shirt.

“Um, I’d like that,” Alistair gulped, heart thumping. Zevran smiled and rolled off the bed, making quick work of his outer clothes, though he left his smalls on. Alistair hurried to do the same, sitting up to wrench off his tunic, and then lifting his hips, intending to scooch out of his trousers. At the last second, he stopped, eyes wide with panic.

“What, what is it?” Zevran asked, half-grinning.

“Um. I’m, er. I sent all of my smalls to the laundry?”

Zevran laughed, even as he climbed back atop Alistair. “Your efficiency is commendable. And we will leave the decision regarding your trousers for later,” he grinned. “Should the need arise.”

Alistair hoped it would, but he knew if he tried to say it, the words would come out all stupid, so he kept his mouth shut. Instead he traced the air over Zevran’s tattoos. He’d seen them, of course. Well, some of them, anyway, that time Zevran had been training without a shirt. But that was far away, in the early morning shadow and fog. Now Zevran was close, all golden and warm from the fire, and Alistair wanted to touch. “Maker, these are so beautiful,” he whispered.

“I am glad you find them so,” Zevran murmured. “I would like even more if you touched them.”

Alistair allowed his fingertips to brush Zevran’s skin. The markings seemed to slither almost, shifting as Zevran’s muscles bunched and relaxed. Alistair traced as many as he could reach, drawing down Zevran’s chest and stomach, then up his thighs. The markings continued, obscured by Zevran’s smalls. When Alistair’s fingers brushed the edges of the fabric, he saw Zevran’s cock twitch under the cloth.

Zevran shifted his weight minutely, grinding down on Alistair as if he was trying to relieve pressure. “There are many places I would like you to touch, in fact,” he said.

“Oh yes,” Alistair whispered. He dragged his gaze up to look at Zevran, seeking additional permission. When the elf nodded, Alistair slipped his fingertips under the waistband. As the fabric pulled away from Zevran’s body slightly, his cock sprang up, still covered, but no longer encumbered. Alistair inhaled sharply, running his fingers along the length through the thin cloth.

“Yes,” Zevran said, nodding rapidly even as his eyes fluttered closed. He rocked up into Alistair’s touch.

Alistair bucked too, mirroring the motion unconsciously. He allowed his palm to curve around Zevran’s cock, gratified to hear the tiny moan that Zevran gave at the pressure.

For a long moment they stayed like that, rocking upwards, Zevran’s eyes closed and his lips parted, breathing harder than normal. Alistair was transfixed by the sight as much as the sensation, biting his lip as his own cock rubbed against his trousers.

When Zevran opened his eyes and looked down, Alistair couldn’t look away. Zevran was just so, so beautiful, eyes almost black now with lust, his markings seeming to writhe in the firelight, dancing with the shadows.

“You are making me wish there were not so many layers between us,” Zevran murmured.

Alistair whimpered, nodding.

“I am in no hurry,” Zevran said. “We can do whatever you like.”

“I --” Alistair’s voice was a croak. He tried again. “I want….” He huffed in frustration, clenching his eyes shut. He didn’t know what he wanted, or rather, how to pick when he wanted everything all at once. He scrunched his nose. “I’m open to suggestions?”

The sound of Zevran’s humming laugh was reassuring, so Alistair peeked one eye open, then the other. Zevran grinned down at him, smoothing his hands across Alistair’s chest. “Then I suggest I give you a taste of everything,” he said. “And then you can decide.”

Gratefully, Alistair nodded. This time, when Zevran rolled away to take off his smalls, Alistair had no hesitation in removing his trousers.

As he’d suspected, Zevran’s tattoos went nearly everywhere. Two curves of ink swirled around his iliac grooves, disappearing into the crevices between Zevran’s cock and the junction of his thighs, then reappearing to twist down the back of his quads. “Those don’t, er, stop, do they?” Alistair asked.

Zevran chuckled. “No, they do not. Would you like to see?”

Alistair nodded, rolling to his side and propping himself up on his elbow. With no shame whatsoever, Zevran put one foot on the bedframe, exposing himself to Alistair’s scrutiny.

There was much to scrutinize. Zevran’s cock, for one thing, was right there. Alistair scooted closer, licking his lips. He peered under Zevran’s leg: sure enough, the tattoos followed the creases of his thighs, just barely missing his perineum. “Did it hurt?” Alistair asked, immediately kicking himself because of course it did.

“Oh yes,” Zevran whispered, still grinning. “It was quite an intimate experience.”

Carefully, Alistair reached around to touch the marks. Zevran hissed, tensing, but didn’t move away. It was very difficult to avoid contact with Zevran’s cock. And Alistair wanted so badly to touch that, as well. He paused, his fingers lingering just above Zevran’s skin. Alistair glanced up for permission, only continuing when Zevran nodded.

They both moaned when Alistair’s fingers curled around Zevran’s shaft. Alistair had intended for something more gentle and exploratory, but he couldn’t help but stroke, mesmerized by the feel of it as much as by Zevran’s reaction.

A drop of liquid had formed at the tip; Alistair was struck with an urge to lick. He knew such things were done, of course -- he wasn’t a total rube -- though the actual mechanics and techniques were a mystery. Still, he leaned closer. “Can -- can I just --”

He didn’t wait for permission this time, taking the buck of Zevran’s hips as a sign to continue. And when he did lick, lapping tentatively before sucking the tip into his mouth, Zevran’s shuddering moan was electric.

“And here I thought I was to show you things,” Zevran said after a moment. He groaned again when Alistair swirled his tongue around.

“You are,” Alistair said. “You taste amazing.”

Zevran swore under his breath, but it sounded like a blessing. After another moment he put a hand on Alistair’s shoulder, pulling away. “The night will be over far too soon if you continue,” he warned. “And I would very much like to return the favor.”

Alistair doubted he was good enough at it to make Zevran lose control of himself, but he knew a command when he heard it. So he rolled to his back, while Zevran settled himself between his legs.

“Ah, now here is something I have been wishing to taste, myself,” Zevran said.

He was far more confident that Alistair had been. And apparently Zevran had some quasi-magical ability to make his teeth seem to all but disappear. Alistair quickly lost the ability to do more than moan and gasp under Zevran’s ministrations. He had next to no idea what Zevran was actually doing -- the sensations were too new to classify -- but it all felt amazing.

“You like this, yes?” Zevran murmured.

“Nngh - yes,” Alistair managed. “Maker, I -- oo ohhhh.” Whatever he was going to say was forgotten as Zevran turned his attention to Alistair’s balls.

It was suddenly too much. Gasping in panic rather than lust, Alistair tried to shy away from Zevran. “Wait -- it’s -- I can’t --”

Instantly, Zevran stopped and kneeled away from him, concern lining his face. “What is it?”

Catching his breath, Alistair relaxed away from the edge. “Just… not quite ready for things to be over,” he explained.

“Ah.” Zevran nodded sagely. “I quite understand.” Zevran didn’t seem put out by the interruption, which was good. In fact he seemed pleased, smiling coyly as he crawled up Alistair’s body, leaning over him with his forearms framing Alistair’s face.

“And what would you like to do now?” Zevran asked, his thumb tracing the shell of Alistair’s ear.

Emboldened by all of the practicing earlier, Alistair pulled Zevran in for a kiss. This time he was less shy about it, and Zevran purred in appreciation. Still, it was a delaying tactic, albeit an incredibly enjoyable one.

Brushing so close to the edge made Alistair realize he had no idea if they would ever do this again. Sure, Zevran had talked about not rushing and such, but he hadn’t said anything about a second time. Which Alistair could understand. Zevran’s willingness to show a virgin the ropes didn’t mean he necessarily wanted a second round. And he’d certainly spun enough tales around the campfire for Alistair to know Zevran’s penchant for quick conquest.

That didn’t mean Alistair didn’t want more. Maker, he wanted everything: to taste and be tasted, to take and be taken, in every possible permutation all at once. He moaned as Zevran began to rut against him, faintly slick with sweat and pre-cum, sharpening Alistair’s desires even further.

Somewhere along the way they’d stopped kissing and were just looking at each other. Zevran’s mouth was open as if to ask a question, but nothing came out, as if he was too transfixed by the sensation of rocking against Alistair to speak.

The pressure started to build again, and Alistair took the initiative. “Can we -- like this?” he panted. “Please?”

Zevran’s eyes tightened; his face so vulnerable that it almost looked like fear. “You permit --” he whispered, hastily licking his palm and reaching between them.

Alistair felt his hand wrap around both their cocks and he whimpered, nodding. Zevran’s hand wasn’t large enough for both of them, so Alistair did the same. There was a moment of fumbling as they struggled to make it work.

Zevran set a slow pace, staring down at Alistair. His hair cascaded down in a soft wave, casting most of his face into shadow. Alistair reached up with his free hand, twisting the hair loosely in his fingers and holding it back against the nape of Zevran’s neck. At that, Zevran gave a choking sort of cry and began bucking faster.

Alistair’s eyes tightened. “I’m -- Zev, I’m --”

“Sí, sí,” Zevran whispered. He grunted at each thrust, a needy, breathy sound.

Alistair didn’t want to shut his eyes. He wanted to be able to see everything, in case he’d never get to see it again. He hadn’t banked on it being so difficult; for some reason he couldn’t seem to breathe and keep his eyes open, so he kept gasping and then accidentally holding his breath, each time chasing the edge a little further away.

And then Zevran’s eyes widened; his hips stuttered even as his hand clenched. With a whine, Alistair did the same, thrusting up hard. They both moaned, juddering against each other as they came. Dimly, Alistair realized he could feel the pulses of Zevran’s cock in his hand as well as in his own dick. Before it could register fully Zevran was kissing him through it, both of them still rutting gently as they came down.

Zevran eventually collapsed against him, breathing slow and deep. His hair was all over Alistair’s face, which tickled madly, but Alistair was too spent to move. Plus he didn’t want to risk breaking the moment. It was nice enough to have Zevran’s full weight on him like this; he wasn’t going to ruin that just because his nose itched.

He did, however, risk putting his arm around Zevran, running his hand in small circles along the elf’s back. This, at least, earned Alistair a contented sigh as Zevran wriggled against him.

It was hard to know how long they laid like that. Certainly not long enough, in Alistair’s estimation. Even if he was about to sneeze from the hairs tickling him, and his lower back began to ache from laying all funny, and the mess on their stomachs started to get sticky: he still made a small discontented sound when Zevran finally pushed up.

“I know,” Zevran said, kissing Alistair’s forehead. “A moment, only.” He rolled off the bed and disappeared behind the privacy screen in the corner.

Alistair heard Zevran relieve himself and realized he probably should do the same. Sighing, he propped himself up on his elbows. His stomach was a mess. Maker, but there was a lot of… well. A lot. And it was getting rather sticky and gross.

Zevran came back from behind the screen. He’d put on a pair of loose pajamas, and he had a damp cleaning cloth and a towel for Alistair. Alistair reached for them, but Zevran merely smiled and sat on the side of the bed. “Allow me to attend,” he said. “It would be my pleasure.”

“Um, okay?” Alistair allowed Zevran to wipe him clean. It was a little weird. Nice, but weird. Actually it was mostly nice, he decided.

“I enjoy the chance to serve, on occasion,” Zevran said by way of explanation, now drying Alistair off carefully.

“Oh, um…” Alistair cleared his throat and nodded as if he knew what that meant. “Thank you,” he said, once Zevran had finished and set the cloths aside. “Um, I just need to --” He pointed toward the privacy screen.

Zevran moved aside to allow him to get up. Alistair grabbed his shirt along the way, pulling it on after he’d done his business. Really he should probably get completely dressed -- Zevran was bound to want his room back at some point. He’d put on his pajamas, hadn’t he? Still, maybe if Alistair took a little longer to get dressed, he could steal a few more minutes.

When he emerged from behind the screen, Zevran had put the room mostly to right, returning all the cushions and blankets to their proper homes. Did that mean he wanted Alistair to leave? For that matter, did Alistair even want to stay? He wasn’t sure if sharing a bed was something that was done, or if he’d like it. His tendency towards nightmares meant he probably wasn’t fantastic as a sleeping partner. All that Alistair knew with certainty was that he wasn’t ready for whatever this was to end, even though there was a good chance it already had.

Zevran himself was sprawled lazily on the bed, laying on his side with one knee bent up, his head supported on his hand. The other hand patted the empty space on the mattress invitingly.

Biting his lip, Alistair sat, his hands in his lap. “Um, was that alright, then?”

Zevran laughed gently. “Yes, cielito. It was more than alright. I enjoyed myself greatly. And you as well, no?”

Alistair nodded, playing with his fingers.

“What is it that troubles you?” Zevran asked, his playful smile fading.

There was no point in trying to lie. “Um, I just… er. We’re not going to do this again, are we,” he said, not bothering to make it a question.

A long pause followed as Alistair continued to tie his fingers into knots. “Is there a reason we should not?” Zevran asked finally. His expression was guarded.

Alistair looked over at him, surprised. “Well I mean.” He cleared his throat. “I know that’s not, um, how you normally do things. Which is fine,” Alistair added hurriedly. “I get that. I mean this whole night was more than I deserve and --”

“Alistair,” Zevran said, cutting him off. “I also do not normally travel with a failed contract, a bastard prince, a witch who turns into a spider, a religious bard, and a qunari,” he said. “And yet I do so now.”

The lump in Alistair’s stomach shrank a bit. “Don’t forget the old lady who died and came back to life,” Alistair said.

“Of course, how silly of me,” Zevran said. “Perhaps when we go to Orzammar, we shall find a dwarf who performs magic. Then our merry band shall be complete.” Alistair laughed at that, and Zevran rubbed his back. “I should very much like to do this again, cielito.”

“Me too,” Alistair admitted, relieved.

“Though perhaps not tonight,” Zevran admitted. “It is getting very late.”

It sounded like a dismissal, which was mildly disappointing. Still, Alistair nodded. “I’ll let you get some sleep. Before the others get back, I mean. We’ll never hear the end of it if they see me coming out of your quarters.”

Zevran’s eyebrows quirked as an expression flashed across his face, too quick for Alistair to register. But then it was gone. “Of course. Sleep well.”

“You too.” It seemed a unfitting way to call the night to a close. Hesitating, Alistair leaned down and kissed him. Feeling Zevran kiss him back tugged at something in his chest, even after all they’d just done. Maybe all kisses felt like that? Or maybe it would wear off eventually? Alistair wasn’t sure. The only thing he was sure about was that he might get the chance to find out, and that in itself seemed like a miracle. He got up to leave, tugging on his pants.

“Alistair,” Zevran called out, once he’d gotten almost to the door.

For a second, Alistair had a wild thought that maybe Zevran was going to ask him to stay, and something in his chest fluttered. “Yyyes?”

“Do not forget your cheese, my friend.” Zevran pointed to the still mostly-full plate sitting on the chair by the fire.

“Oh, right.” Alistair hurried to collect his snacks. “Sorry. G’night, Zev.”

“Good night, Alistair.”







Chapter Text

Timing was not Alistair’s strong suit. It only took a few seconds for him to open the door to the hallway and step outside Zevran's room, but in that span the others came around the corner, returning from the inn.

Leliana was first to see him. Alistair’s hand was still on the doorknob when she stopped short, hiding a giggle behind one hand. Cousland and Morrigan, arms around each other woozily, knocked into her, and then Sten frowned at the crush of people.

There was a moment of near silence.

Sten grunted. “What is the issue?” He was standing off-balance, bouncing a little, one leg twisted over the other. “Make way.” He pushed past everyone, striding quickly to his own room.

Alistair tried for misdirection. “Er, have a fun night?” he asked.

“That’s not your room,” Morrigan said, squinting at him. She swayed slightly, her words slow and mushy.

“Oh, um, isn’t it?” Alistair winced.

And that was it. Cousland roared with laughter, slapping his knee as he doubled over. “What, you getting a little snacky-poo before round two?” he asked, clearly thinking Alistair was letting himself in, rather than leaving. “Good man, good man,” he said, clapping Alistair on the shoulder as he made his own way to the dining area. “There any food left? Might need a snack myself,” he said, his voice dying away as he poked around the covered plates and crockery.

Morrigan’s eyes went wide. Her mouth opened as she held up a finger. Alistair braced for whatever quip was coming, but then Morrigan’s mouth clopped shut. Her head swiveled around to regard the door to the dining room. “Did he say snacks? I want snacks.” Blearily, she stumbled after Cousland, knocking into the doorframe as she went.

“Oh dear,” Wynne tutted, following after. “Don’t forget to drink some water,” she called out.

That just left Leliana. She bit her lip, trying to keep her grin from getting out of control. Closing the distance in a few light steps, she gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I hope you have fun,” she whispered.

After standing there by himself for a moment, Alistair knocked gently with one knuckle. The door opened immediately.

“You heard,” Alistair guessed.

“I did,” Zevran said. “So much for secrets.” His smile was tight and did not reach his eyes.

Alistair felt sick. It hadn’t occurred to him that Zevran wouldn’t appreciate keeping what they’d done from the others, though in retrospect it was obvious. “Oh Maker,” Alistair whispered. “I never -- I mean, I didn’t -- you’re not --”

“Come in,” Zevran sighed, holding the door wide.

Chastened, Alistair slipped inside. “Zevran, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for you to think I wanted to keep this a secret.”

“Didn’t you?” Zevran poured himself a glass of wine. “It is certainly the business of no one else.”

“It’s not….” Sighing in frustration, Alistair sank down on the chair. “I knew they would make fun of me,” he said finally. “And I just… didn’t want them to,” he shrugged. “Not about this.” Idly, he put a piece of cheese in his mouth, mechanically chewing and swallowing out of habit.

Zevran seemed to relax, leaning back on one hand. “Ah. Well, you were right about that. No one can resist commenting on the status of a virgin.”

“It’s not just that,” Alistair said, shaking his head. “Anyway. Cat’s out of the bag, right?” He tried to smile. “Probably for the best. I’m not a very good sneak.”

“No, you are not,” Zevran said, and his smile was much better, warm and real. He got up and stood next to Alistair. “Which is why you have me.” His fingers trailed across the nape of Alistair’s neck. “And yet, I must ask once again what troubles you.”

Alistair looked up at him; it was too much and he quickly turned back to his lap. “I… Have you been with many? Virgins, I mean.” He felt Zevran’s fingers twitch on his neck and then resume their sinuous motion.

“Not many, but you are not the first,” Zevran said, his words careful.

Alistair nodded again. He kept nodding, trying to sort through how those words felt as they sank into him.

“Is that what troubles you?” Zevran sounded concerned.

“N-no,” Alistair said. “I… it’s just, this was really special to me and I know maybe it wasn’t so much for you in the grand scheme and that’s fine, it really is, you’re kind to me and that’s all that matters, it’s just I didn’t want the others to turn it into a joke because --” He forced himself to stop talking before he ended up saying this was really special again. He shouldn’t have said it in the first place; not that he was ashamed to feel it, but because he knew it would put a burden on Zevran to make him feel better.

Sure enough, Zevran dropped down to one knee beside him, so that he could meet Alistair’s eyes. “Tonight was special for me also,” he said quietly. “It pains me that you were led to think otherwise.”

“Zev, it’s okay, really,” Alistair said. “I get it.”

“No, you do not,” Zevran said, his voice gentle. For a second his gaze drifted to the middle distance, but then it snapped back to focus on Alistair. “I tell to you the truth. Tonight meant to me a great deal, cielito.”

Alistair couldn’t really believe that, but there didn’t seem to be any point in arguing about it. Instead he half-smiled. “Your little blue sky, eh?”

Zevran’s smile was warm. “Say rather, you are the slice of heaven.”

“Oh.” Alistair blinked in surprise. “That’s kind of nice.”

“As are you,” Zevran said. “Since we are on the subject of secrets, I have one of my own.”

“Do you?” Alistair wondered if it was going to be bad. Probably.

“I was not forthright with you earlier. I would very much like for you to stay with me. Tonight. It is not often we have the opportunity to enjoy a sumptuous bed, after all.” His eyes glinted and he waggled his eyebrows.

“You… want me to stay?” Alistair asked, confused. “Well… why didn’t you say something?” He half-laughed, half-accused.

Zevran shrugged. “I did not think you wanted to stay.”

Alistair snorted. “Well of course I want to stay. I want --” He stopped himself before he could blurt out I want everything. “I want to stay,” he said, quieter. He ran his fingers through Zevran’s hair, then leaned down for a kiss.

Unfortunately, he was still balancing a plate on his lap. The remains of the cheese bounced on to the floor, and the pewter plate clattered after it.

“Oops,” Alistair said. Hastily, he knelt, gathering up the mess. “I’ll just get rid of this,” he said.

“A fine plan,” Zevran agreed. “I shall be here.”

Alistair slipped out again. Cousland and Morrigan had apparently retreated to one or the other of their rooms, because they weren’t in the dining area. Wynne, however, was still there, tidying things up.

“You probably don’t need to do that,” Alistair said, putting his plate on the tray with the other dirty dishes. “There’s people that come and clean.”

Wynne shrugged and continued to natter about. “I don’t mind. I’m waiting for my tea to steep,” she said, nodding at a steaming mug on the table.

Alistair nodded. “Oh, right. Well. Um, have a good night,” he said, hoping to cut off any questions or prying.

“You too,” she said, and it was definitely possible her eyes were twinkling a little too merrily to be totally innocent. What did they get up to in the Circle, anyway?

Alistair fled back to the hallway. At the last moment he veered left, heading to his own room. Might as well change into sleeping clothes, right? He took a few minutes to brush his teeth and splash a bit of soap and water on his face and chest. Maker, what if he snored? Alistair was pretty sure he didn’t -- the Templar recruits would’ve made his life miserable in the barracks. But what if he farted? Or drooled? Talked nonsense in his sleep?

In between bouts of doubt, a thought kept bubbling to the surface: Zevran wanted him to stay. That Zevran wanted him at all was still a revelation. Alistair wasn’t sure why or how that could be; maybe Zevran had a thing for big men? Alistair was very tall, after all. Though, so was Sten, and Sten had lots of muscles, to boot. Of course, Sten was a humorless poop most of the time. At least Alistair knew he could make Zevran laugh. And it wasn’t that Alistair didn’t have muscles, it was just that they were harder to see. At least he figured they were. He hadn’t spent much time in front of a mirror, after all.

There was one in the room now, though. It was a little hazy, but he peered at his reflection nonetheless. Absently, he flexed his arms. The sight was less impressive than he wished. He made a face at himself, then tried to fix his hair, smoothing it this way and that. It still managed to stick up at the front, so he gave up and ran his fingers through it, the locks springing back to their customary position.

“Well, that’s as good as it’s going to get, I suppose,” he sighed. Alistair yanked on sleeping trousers and a tunic, then turned to go. At the last second he had a thought and rummaged through his pack. Since he didn’t know what Zevran saw in him, the least he could do would be to even things up a little.

Zevran was sitting on the bed when Alistair returned, brushing his hair.

“Sorry I took so long,” Alistair apologized.

“No apology needed. I took the time to freshen up,” Zevran smiled.

“Yeah, um. Me too,” Alistair said. “So, um, I wanted to, ah, well. Here,” he stammered, holding out a parcel at arm’s length. “This is for you.”

Grinning, Zevran took it. “For me? But I have not gotten you anything,” he said.

“But you have,” Alistair blurted out, sitting next to him. “Those stones. Must’ve taken you ages to gather them all. And my locket,” he said, fingering the necklace.

Zevran shook his head as he carefully unwrapped the fabric. “I do not think that picking up the stones qualifies as a proper gift. And the locket was yours already, I merely found it.”

“Well then this probably doesn’t qualify as a gift, either,” Alistair said as Zevran revealed the dried rose. “It’s, well, I found it when we were in Lothering.”

Zevran’s smile faded as he regarded the flower in his lap. Alistair began to babble in panic. “I know it’s not, well, it’s not really anything, is it, just a dried flower. The whole rest of the bush was dead with the Blight, but there was one blossom, and it was so beautiful that I thought I should pick it before it got all blighted too. Of course that’s kind of macabre, now I think of it, wow I really did not think this through properly at all, did I? Um, it’s beautiful and so are you and that’s all I was thinking, shut up now Alistair, you’re making it worse.”

Zevran continued to cradle the flower like a holy relic, though his shoulders started to shake with laughter by the time Alistair stopped talking. Carefully, he laid the rose on his dresser, and when he did finally turn around, his eyes were shining. “I do not deserve such a thing, and it is you who are the beautiful rose, not I. But I will treasure this gift, you can be certain.”

“It’s alright then? I mean, you like it?”

Zevran kissed Alistair. His lips were trembling. “Very much.”

“Oh good,” Alistair relaxed.

Zevran stood, padding around the room as he extinguished the lamps and banked the fire. Even doing these simple things, he was so graceful. The room was nearly dark when he pulled Alistair to lay next to him on the bed. “Are you comfortable?”

“Mm,” Alistair nodded. They were both on their side, with Zevran as the little spoon. Alistair nuzzled at Zevran’s hair; it was so soft and smelled so good. “You?”

“Oh yes,” Zevran said, squirming a little to make his point. “I am glad you have stayed.”

“I’m glad you asked.” Alistair laid there, wondering if he should say something else. Was it silly to say ‘good night’? He had no idea. He also had no idea how he was going to fall asleep like this. It was certainly comfortable enough; Zevran was small enough to nestle against his side without causing any weird pressure points or anything.

Maybe it was a little too comfortable, actually. Zevran squirmed a bit and his ass brushed against Alistair’s crotch. Alistair inhaled sharply, trying to pretend he was just yawning.

Zevran chuckled an apology. “I shall try to keep still, before we become distracted from sleep.”

“Right, that’s -- right.” Alistair cleared his throat.

“Rest is very important,” Zevran said, a smile audible in his voice. He shifted again, practically grinding backwards.

“You’re doing that on purpose,” Alistair accused. “I thought you didn’t want to do this again tonight.” He kneaded Zevran’s hip, half caress, half in warning. His cock was definitely starting to take an interest in the proceedings.

“I said perhaps,” Zevran pointed out. “Such things are always open for renegotiation.”

“A-are they?” Alistair bit his lip, fighting the urge to rut against Zevran’s ass, a battle which he only half-won.

Zevran, for his part, did not seem to mind, judging by the low, satisfied groan. The conversation stalled as they moved against each other, both of them breathing hard, Alistair clutching Zevran’s hip as he arched backwards.

Though Alistair gladly would’ve continued, Zevran eventually spoke. “I should like it if you would tell me what you want,” he said.

“Ngh, Maker,” Alistair swore. “You?”

Zevran laughed, all breath. “That is a good start. Can you perhaps be more specific? Because if we continue like this much longer, I will have to insist that you fuck me.”

Alistair gave a ragged groan, his hips bucking. He knew such things were done, of course; there wasn’t a book in the Chantry library that he hadn’t at least flipped through, including the ones the monks hid from each other. And he’d tried things with his own fingers, enough to know that it could hurt but that it could also feel good. Really, really good.

But Zevran was -- well, he wasn’t a very large person, was he? Alistair’s cock was almost as thick as Zevran’s wrist. “Won’t it hurt you?” Alistair asked.

Zevran’s answering chuckle was incredibly dirty. “Have no fear.”

Something about that sent shivers down Alistair’s spine, in both a good way and a bad way. “I’m serious,” he said, pushing himself up on one arm so he could look Zevran in the face. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Zevran’s expression softened into gratified surprise. “Ah, how are you so sweet?” he whispered, reaching up to cup Alistair’s cheek. Then he rolled to lay on his back. “I tell to you two things. First, it need not hurt in the slightest. I am well aware of my limits, and while you pose, shall we say, an estimable challenge --” Zevran’s eyes dipped down to Alistair’s crotch, and he licked his lips, “-- it is not an impossible one. Second, I would ask that you trust me. For myself, a certain level of discomfort is a thing to be welcomed. I will not allow you to injure me, or cause me to hurt in a way that I do not wish. You comprehend?”

Alistair had no doubt that Zevran could render him defenseless in the blink of an eye, so that part was fine. “You… like it to hurt?” he asked, scrunching up his nose, not quite believing it. Then he realized how that sounded. “I mean,” he hurried to continue, “that’s -- that’s fine, sorry, not my place to say such things. You like what you like.”

Zevran’s smile was so warm that Alistair felt a bit less like an idiot. “Exactly so,” he said. “And perhaps these questions are your way of telling me you would rather do something else?” His voice was as warm as his smile and utterly without judgement.

“What? No! No, I --” Alistair swallowed hard. “I, I want to. Um. Do that. Er,” he coughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “D-d’you think you’d, um, like to, ah, do that… to me? Someday,” he added quickly. “N-not tonight,” he said, his mouth suddenly dry.

Zevran laughed, but it sounded like he was laughing because he was happy, not because he thought Alistair was as big of an idiot as he felt. “Gladly,” Zevran said. “I should like to do that very much. Someday."

“O-okay,” Alistair whispered. Something seemed to shift between them, and he leaned down to kiss Zevran.

It was languid and lingering. Again, Alistair was struck with how strange it was, that something in his stomach and chest seemed to ache with need, that the kiss made him almost hungry for more, and yet he never wanted it to end. Zevran moved under him without breaking the kiss so that Alistair could rest his weight between Zevran’s legs, which he wrapped around Alistair’s lower back, pulling him even closer.

Once again, they started moving against each other. This time Alistair was bolder, allowing himself to rock his hips, getting used to the motion.

“Ah, yes, that is --” Zevran’s words ended in a formless, breathy grunt. His hands roved under Alistair’s tunic. Eventually they tangled, and Alistair realized Zevran was trying to pull the shirt off.

Alistair knelt up, shucking the offending garment off and tossing it to the side. Zevran made an appreciative sound, running his hands over Alistair’s chest. “Now there is a sight I shall never grow tired of, I think.”

Blushing, Alistair looked away, floundering for a way to deflect the compliment.

Zevran didn’t let him, reaching up to turn Alistair’s face. “You truly do not know, do you? How beautiful you are.”

Alistair didn’t know what to say to that. “Don’t be silly,” he mumbled.

“Now that is a crime,” Zevran said. “That you should have lived this long with no one to tell you the truth.”

The weight of Zevran’s gaze was intensely uncomfortable. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered.

“So I am,” Zevran said at once, without a trace of self-consciousness. “That does not mean that you are not also. Have I not told you that I like things that are beautiful and things that are strong? You have both these qualities in spades.”

Alistair flushed. He knew, on some level, that Zevran wasn’t lying, but that was a long way from accepting that what he said was true.

Zevran relented. “I see you do not believe. Perhaps I can persuade you in other ways.”

Things got serious after that. Zevran took control, kissing Alistair even as he managed to remove their clothes. The little bottle of oil seemed to appear in his hands, and Alistair could feel that he was doing something with his hand, something that made him gasp and twitch.

“Can I -- can I see?” Alistair asked hesitantly.

Zevran groaned, nodding. Alistair scooched backwards as Zevran shifted to hold one of his legs up at the knee, exposing himself to Alistair’s view.

All of the breath left Alistair’s lungs in a whoosh as he watched Zevran thrust two fingers into himself. Biting his lip, he tentatively reached out, looking to Zevran for permission. When he nodded, Alistair traced his finger tip along the stretched skin of Zevran’s entrance, whimpering at how it felt.

“You are welcome to join me,” Zevran murmured, his voice rougher than normal.

Fumbling, Alistair poured a bit of oil on his finger. Zevran had removed one of this fingers, so Alistair slid his own next to the one that remained, as gently as he could manage.

Even so, Zevran arched with a warbling moan. Alistair started to apologize, but Zevran cut him off. “No, it is good. Brasca, it is very good.” He ground down against the pressure.

“Maker, you’re so warm,” Alistair whispered.

Zevran slipped another of his own fingers into himself with a small gasp. Alistair could feel that he wasn’t just moving his fingers in and out, but was crooking them slightly. Alistair tried to match it, and Zevran inhaled sharply.

Alistair winced, thinking he’d done something wrong, but Zevran’s eyes were tight with lust. “Again,” he commanded, his voice hoarse.

Alistair did it again and Zevran moaned long and low, pulling away his hand as his head lolled back. “More, please,” he said. Zevran tipped his head up to look at him. “Please.”

Something started to unravel in Alistair’s gut. Breathing hard, he added another finger. And then a third, not waiting for Zevran to ask.

His boldness was rewarded as Zevran seemed to melt into the mattress, even as he continued to buck his hips. “Oh yes,” he moaned. “Ohhhh yes.”

Alistair’s cock was achingly hard and leaking. Even still, it was so incredible to watch Zevran like this that Alistair didn’t consider stopping.

At least, not until Zevran clutched at his bicep. “Please.” His eyes were nearly black. “Please. Fuck me.”

Alistair had the presence of mind to slick up his cock before he got into position, more clumsy than he would’ve liked. As much as he wanted to see himself sink into Zevran, Alistair watched his face instead.

It was almost too much. Zevran’s expression shifted from the hard edges of almost-frantic need to soft with yielding. If Alistair had any remaining doubts about whether Zevran was okay with his size, they were erased at that moment. Alistair continued his slow thrust, pausing at intervals as Zevran stretched around him.

“Good?” Alistair gasped as he hilted.

“So good,” Zevran sighed. “So good.”

Alistair went slow, mapping out the sensations and the range of motion, noting how Zevran moved against him, wanting to memorize how everything felt. It was beyond incredible. “Zev?” he whimpered, not even knowing what he was trying to ask.

“Yes,” Zevran answered. “More, please. I can take it.”

Whining, Alistair closed his eyes, thrusting harder, trying to find a rhythm. It was easier to go faster, and it felt amazing, but he could only do it for a few seconds before his hips stuttered.

“Here,” Zevran said, putting his hands on Alistair’s hips. “Like this.”

Alistair concentrated on maintaining the pace that Zevran set. It helped that Zevran was moving too, which kept the faltering to a minimum. Zevran snaked one of his hands between them; Alistair could feel he was stroking his cock.

“You are going to make me come,” Zevran whispered.

Alistair groaned, forcing his eyes open. He desperately wanted to go faster, harder, something -- anything -- to tip him over the edge. But he wanted to make it good for Zevran, or at least, as good as Alistair could manage. So he kept going. “I want you to,” he said. "I want you to come."

“You will not have to wait long,” Zevran warned, breathing hard.

At that, Alistair did speed up just a little; he couldn’t help it. Zevran’s eyes widened and he started to moan, disconnected half-words and snatches of Antivan. Alistair felt him clench around his cock a second before he started moaning, spurting against his stomach.

“Zev,” Alistair whined, half-begging, half in warning.

“Sí, sí,” Zevran moaned, still in the throes of his own orgasm. “Give it to me.”

Alistair’s control shattered. He slammed into Zevran, fast, probably too fast, but he couldn’t manage any finesse. Alistair was hammering into him, hard enough to jolt Zevran's body. He came harder than he’d ever done, and longer, his shout buried in the crook of Zevran’s neck, only vaguely aware that Zevran was cradling the back of his head.

Alistair’s cock was still twitching inside Zevran when the guilt hit him. No matter what Zevran had said before, Alistair must’ve hurt him at the end. He pulled out at once, struggled to move away. “Sorry, sorry, Maker, I --”

“Hush,” Zevran said, tightening his grip. “Hush, cielito.”

Alistair tried to relax, careful not to crush Zevran under his weight. He caught his breath, his heart slowing to its normal tempo.

Underneath him, Zevran stretched even as he gathered Alistair closer. “And still you do not relax,” he accused in mock disapproval. “Please, banish the worry from your mind. I promise you, I am not hurt in the slightest.”

“Really?”

Zevran shrugged. “Perhaps there will be the slight soreness, only. And that in itself is pleasurable. However,” he said, shifting, “I do have some business to attend to.”

Alistair took his meaning and rolled off of him. Zevran scooted behind the privacy screen, washing up and making use of the garderobe. Alistair laid there and tried to reconcile what Zevran had said with how he felt. He was deeply embarrassed that he’d lost control at the end, but Zevran didn’t seem traumatized or upset. Maybe it was okay? He hoped so. Maybe Zevran was being extra considerate of the fact that Alistair didn’t yet know what he was doing. That seemed likely.

Before he could think about it much more, Zevran returned, and Alistair took his turn to freshen up. Even though his mind was buzzing, his body was shaky with exhaustion. He tottered back to the bed, crawling next to Zevran under the blanket.

“How do you feel?” Zevran asked.

“Good?” Alistair said tentatively.

With a laugh, Zevran turned to face him, tangling their limbs together. “Well, I feel incredible. You are ridiculously awesome, and I enjoyed every minute.”

“Even -- even at the end?”

Zevran put a hand on his cheek. “Especially at the end,” he said. “Already I look forward to the next time, when perhaps you will not hold back so much.”

“Really?”

“Oh, Alistair. Yes. Really. And if you do not believe me, then we shall simply have to fuck until such time as you do.”

Alistair snorted with laughter. “Alright, alright, I get it,” he said.

“Do you? Oh, that is a shame. I was starting to look forward to convincing you.” Zevran grinned, waggling his eyebrows.

Alistair smiled, closing his eyes and giving in to a yawn. “I mean, no, sorry. You’re right, must try again,” he said.

“That is better. Sleep well,” Zevran said.

“You too,” Alistair murmured, already half-asleep.






Chapter Text

When it was time to leave Redcliffe, Alistair wasn’t quite sure what to expect in regards to Zevran. True, they’d barely left Zevran’s bedroom while Cousland allowed the group to recuperate for a few more days. But that was -- well it was like a vacation, wasn’t it? And the reality of life on the road might’ve meant any number of things, including the possibility that Zevran would lose interest.

To Alistair’s surprise (and happiness), Zevran insisted they share a tent. Well, he didn’t insist, so much as he gave Alistair a quizzical look that first night, when Alistair began to unpack his tent pegs. And that was that, really.

It was... it was really nice. More than nice. Obviously there was the sex, which was amazing, but Alistair also liked being able to roll over and touch Zevran, or listen to him breathing when he couldn’t sleep. Outside of the tent was nice too. Well, when they weren’t fighting Darkspawn. Okay, and maybe the Deep Roads weren’t nice, per se, but being able to sit shoulder to shoulder around the campfire, or to touch knees when they played cards, that was nice.

So Alistair had no reason to think that Denerim wouldn’t be nice, too. Especially since there was a good chance he’d get to meet his sister. The closer they got to the city, the more Alistair started to look forward to it.

“What do you think she’ll be like?” he asked Zevran for the hundredth time, leaving off polishing his vambraces. They’d just finished dinner, and sat outside their tent in the lingering dusk.

Zevran was combing his hair. “I think she will be very beautiful and have a great love for the cheese and the dogs.” He tied off the braid on one side of his head and began to work on the other.

Alistair rolled his eyes. “Is that all I am to you?”

He knew the answer was no, but still, he was unprepared for the tenderness that washed over Zevran’s face.

“You are....” Zevran trailed off, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “Mí cielito. Siempre.” He smiled.

Alistair didn’t know what the last word meant, but he smiled, too. There weren’t a lot of moments like that, and he treasured them all. After a few seconds, he sighed happily. “We’ll be in the city tomorrow. I hope we find her,” he said. “I can’t wait for you to meet her.”

Zevran’s grin faded. “About that. Ah -- perhaps we should speak in private?”

Alistair didn’t like the feel of it, but he nodded, keeping a check on his natural tendency to panic. “Alright.”

They clambered into the tent. Zevran sat cross-legged on his bedroll. “I have been thinking,” he began. “I have told Cousland, I will not to go to Denerim. There is the great likelihood that the Crows have learned I did not succeed in my contract. If they find that I am also not dead....” He tilted his head back and forth. “It will be best for me to keep my distance.”

Alistair’s mouth went dry. And his throat. He knew better than to argue; Zevran’s logic was sound, and anyway, it wasn’t his decision to make. “But -- but you’ll rejoin us? Later? When we’re done?”

Zevran paused, his face wary. “That is my very great hope, yes.”

The words might’ve been reassuring, if it hadn’t been for that pause and the worry in Zevran’s face. Still, what could Alistair do but nod? “How will we find you again?”

Zevran gave a tight smile. “Rest assured, I will find you. If I do not, then I cannot.”

Alistair nodded again, hoping he didn’t look as panicked as he felt. “Well.” He cast about for literally anything to say. “Be careful.”

“I am always careful.” Zevran grinned, and Alistair’s stomach untwisted just a fraction.

That night, Zevran climbed on top of Alistair, wordlessly kissing him. They were always quiet, out of respect for the others. Still, usually there were a few whispers, a bit of laughter.

But that night, Zevran was silent, and there was an intensity to his kisses that Alistair hadn’t yet experienced, almost a hunger. He stripped entirely naked, something he almost never did out in the field, in case they were attacked.

It only lasted a few minutes; it was too intense for anything else. Penetrative sex was also something they didn’t do much in the field; the mess was one thing, not to mention the vulnerability of it all. But that night Zevran rode Alistair, hips in constant, sinuous motion, his face buried in the crook of Alistair’s neck, his hair spread everywhere. And then he leaned up slightly, kissing Alistair’s breath away, both of them barely holding in whimpers. The rhythm of it changed gradually, until Zevran’s hips were jerking against Alistair, insistent.

When they were done, Zevran continued to lay on Alistair for a long time. It was... well, under different circumstances, it would’ve been nice, but as it was Alistair felt kind of scared. It felt good to lie there and stroke Zevran’s hair, but there was a weird lump in his chest. Something about the intensity of the sex combined with that worried look Zevran had before made this whole thing feel like it was their last night on earth. Which was silly, Alistair knew; every day might be their last.

He couldn’t think of what to do about it, though. He couldn’t very well come out and ask whether Zevran was planning to leave him. Could he? No, that would be stupid. And pathetic to boot.

Zevran stirred. “I shall return in a moment,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to Alistair’s temple before pulling on his tunic.

Alistair knew Zevran was only going to clean up, but he couldn’t help himself from blurting out, “Will you?”

Zevran paused. “Of course. You need not fear.”

Alistair nodded, chastened. Zevran slipped out of the tent. Alistair took the opportunity to get under the blanket. He forced himself to stop worrying. He had no reason to believe that they wouldn’t be reunited in a few weeks. Zevran was more than a match for any other assassin; he said so himself. Frequently. It would be fine.

The next morning, Zevran woke him with a kiss. He was already dressed. “I take my leave now,” he said. “If all goes well, I shall see you soon enough.”

Alistair nodded, sitting up. “Alright,” he said, his voice raspy from sleep. He wiped some grit from his eye.

Zevran looked at him a moment longer. With the grace and speed of an assassin, he lunged forward, kissing Alistair again. And then he was gone.

Traveling without Zevran was very strange. Especially now that they had Oghren with them; it all felt very off-balance, like Alistair was wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. They got to Denerim around sundown. Alistair wondered what Zevran was doing.

Still, he forced himself to pay attention once they got into the city proper. Wouldn’t do to get separated from the others; Alistair tended to get turned around when he couldn’t see the horizon.

They took rooms at a nondescript inn called the Gnawed Noble. Alistair ended up with a room all to himself, which he didn’t particularly want. Still, it was better than being subjected to Oghren’s snoring or Sten’s... Sten-ness. The warrior was a good person, but there was something unnerving about him.

After dinner, Alistair lingered in the common room with his tankard. It wasn’t that he really liked drinking, but he knew that sleeping alone wasn’t going to be pleasant.

“Do not worry, my friend,” Leliana said, settling next to him.

“I’m not worried,” Alistair objected automatically.

Leliana looked skeptical. “Our friend can handle himself,” she said. “And you will be reunited soon enough.”

Alistair wondered if there was a reason Leliana didn’t say Zevran’s name. There were plenty of people in earshot, though they looked harmless enough. Still, Leliana knew a lot more about that kind of thing than he did. He nodded, raising his tankard for a drink rather than say anything.

Leliana went on, obviously intent on cheering him up. “And just think, we might find your sister, no? Surely, you look forward to that?”

“You know, you’re right. No point moping. It’s not like --” Alistair cut himself off. “You’re right. Will you come with me? To look for her?”

“Of course, my friend,” she smiled.

They didn’t go the next day, though, or even the day after that. Cousland took Leliana and Morrigan with him on all sorts of errands, leaving the others to cool their heels at the inn.

It was dreadfully boring. There was very little to do, and Alistair didn’t want to risk doing too much exploring on his own. The city was large and confusing, and he got turned around easily. He could manage to get to the river and to the Chantry, but that was about it.

Finally, after five days, Cousland announced that there would be time to look for Alistair’s sister. In the end, Cousland himself came along, as well as Leliana. He said something about wanting to go to the market. Finding Goldanna was easy enough -- between Cousland and Leliana, there was almost no corner of the city they didn’t already know. Which was good; Alistair definitely would’ve gotten lost otherwise.

Though Alistair intended to speak to Goldanna alone, Leliana suggested that she accompany him inside, ‘to put her at ease,’ she said. “Some women would not look upon the sudden appearance of an armed warrior as a welcome thing.”

“Right, right, Maker, I hadn’t even thought of that,” Alistair said, looking down on himself. He wasn’t in his full regalia, but he was wearing enough armor to dissuade the common street thugs. “Should I change?”

Cousland snorted. “You’re fine. I’ll be in the market,” he said, cocking his head toward the end of the street. “Find me when you’re done.”

The best thing that could be said about Alistair’s conversation with Goldanna was that it was brief. It didn’t feel brief while it was happening, but later he would realize that it was all a bit of a blur. One minute he was stammering to explain himself, and the next she was practically shrieking at him and demanding coin. Through it all, Leliana stood next to him, radiating sympathy, and that was somehow awful as well.

As soon as they were outside, Leliana put a hand on his arm. “I am so sorry, my friend.”

“I -- I just... Maker, I thought she would welcome me,” Alistair said, still dazed. “Isn’t that what families do?”

Leliana smiled sadly, her face full of pity. That was awful, in its own way. Alistair didn’t want pity. He wanted -- well, he didn’t know. Comfort, he supposed. He wanted Zevran.

“Come on, let’s find Cousland,” he mumbled.

Cousland was peering at a display of weapons. “How’d it go?” he asked, clearly distracted. He hefted a shortsword. “Nice craftsmanship.”

“Terrible,” Alistair groaned.

Cousland looked over, his eyes flicking between Alistair and Leliana. “That bad, eh?”

“She wanted money,” Alistair said, still confused by it all.

Cousland shrugged, setting down the weapon. “Some people are only out for themselves,” he said. “Anyway, I’m famished. Let’s head back for dinner.”

Suddenly, there was nothing Alistair wanted to do less than eat with his friends and pretend everything was normal. “You know what, you go on ahead. I’m just going to -- uh, go for a walk,” he said.

Leliana raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Do me some good.”

“You know how to get back to the inn?” Cousland asked.

“Of course,” Alistair said, with as much confidence as he could feign. “I mean, we’ve been here nearly a week.”

To his credit, he didn’t get lost immediately. He found the river easy enough, and walked along the shore for a long ways. But then there was a wall, and he tried to get round the building and continue on, and it got dark very fast.

Still, he wasn’t panicked. He’d only been walking for a few hours, and most of that had been very slowly. Alistair figured if he kept walking downhill, eventually he’d hit the river again, and then he’d be alright.

Wherever he was in the city, though, was a nest of dead ends and blind alleys. Alistair turned down one, certain it led to the river, only to find it blocked by crates. There was torchlight coming from beyond them, though. He huffed in frustration, rising on his tiptoes, trying to see.

Though he couldn’t see around the boxes, the sound of conversation rose from just ahead. “And here you are. When I heard you’d gone rogue, I had to come see for myself.”

Alistair turned to go; whatever was happening, he didn’t need to get involved. But then there was another voice, and he froze. It was Zevran; Alistair was sure of it.

“So I should take this to mean you volunteered, then?” Zevran sounded disinterested, almost bored.

“Of course,” the other man laughed. There was a brief pause. “Look,” he said, and there was an intimacy in his voice that Alistair did not like one bit. “I know why you did this, and I don’t blame you. We can return together. Everyone makes mistakes. We’ll make up a story.”

Zevran snorted. “It would have to be one hell of a story, if you think Master Arainai will welcome me back with open arms.”

The man huffed in annoyance. “Well obviously, we’ll have to finish the original contract, that goes without saying.”

At that, Alistair ceased thinking. He drew his sword and shouldered past the crates.

What he saw was in no way reassuring. Zevran was standing with his back up against the wall, arms crossed, casual as you like. And the other man had his hand over Zevran’s shoulder, leaning far too close for Alistair’s liking. Under different circumstances, they would have been close enough to kiss.

“Zev?” Alistair blinked, the tip of his sword dipping as he straightened out of his defensive posture.

Zevran’s eyes widened, his lips forming Alistair’s name. But he didn’t say it. Instead, he winced, as if deeply disappointed. “What are you doing here?” It was the same tone of voice someone would use for a naughty dog, or a child with his hand in the cookie jar.

It felt like a slap. Alistair was still reeling with it when the other man reacted.

“Oh ho, what have we here?” He leaned away from Zevran, eyes shining with amusement.

Zevran pinched the bridge of his nose, embarrassed. “Nothing,” he muttered.

“I beg to differ,” the man said, grinning widely. It was a dangerous sort of smile. “Such a strapping young thing. And he calls you ‘Zev’, hmm? What is he, a little pet, then? Please tell me this has nothing to do with this nonsense about you staying in Ferelden,” he said.

Zevran rolled his eyes and snorted. “Surely you know me better than that, Taliesin.”

“I thought I did,” he said pointedly.

Alistair’s heart was well on its way to breaking, but hearing the history in those words was what did it. Whoever this man was, he’d been with Zevran, Alistair knew it. And now Zevran was going to leave with him; it seemed all but inevitable. Alistair’s sword clattered to the flagstones.

Taliesin sighed, as if deeply put-upon. “My to-do list gets longer by the minute, I see.” He took a step towards Alistair.

It was the last step he’d ever take. There was a blur behind him, and then suddenly his throat was slit ear to ear. He looked genuinely shocked, trying to turn towards Zevran, gurgling.

Zevran stood by calmly, his dagger wiped clean and sheathed before Taliesin hit the ground. Even then, Taliesin reached for him.

Zevran crouched, just out of reach. His face was impassive as he said a few words in Antivan. He continued to watch as the man bled out.

It took a long time. Finally Zevran stood and looked at Alistair. “Why are you here?” he hissed. He spun away, running his hands through his hair. He muttered to himself in Antivan as he paced.

Alistair had never seen him so angry. “I’m sorry, I-I got lost.”

Zevran stopped pacing. His back was to Alistair, but he could see Zevran clench his fists and then relax them. When he turned, his face was impassive. “I never wanted you to --” He shook his head sharply. “Well. What’s done is done.”

Alistair swallowed hard. “You knew him,” he blurted out, looking at Taliesin’s body and then away.

“Yes,” Zevran said, pointedly. “I did.”

Alistair felt sick to hear how much meaning was packed into so few words. Scrambling for reassurance, Alistair blundered on. “He wanted you to go back,” Alistair said. “But you -- you wouldn’t even think about that. Would you?”

For an instant, just an instant, Zevran looked stricken, and in that fraction of a second, Alistair knew Zevran had thought about it. He staggered as if struck, dizziness overtaking him.

Zevran sighed. “I told you once, I am not a good man. And now you know it to be true. I was a fool to think I could --” He gazed up at the night sky, blowing air out from his lips. “A dream, only. How could it be otherwise?” He looked at Alistair. “Please tell Cousland I have eliminated the threat. For now. When word reaches Antiva City that Taliesin is dead....” He regarded the body and shrugged. “A worry for later, perhaps.”

Alistair stared at him. There was no sign that he was upset in the slightest, or that he’d ever cared for Alistair in the least. It was like a bad dream. “So... that’s that?” His voice broke.

Zevran cocked an eyebrow. “Do you not think you deserve better than this? Do you not deserve a lover that you can trust, a lover that would never harm you, no matter what? Because I can say with certainty that you do.”

“B-but... you wouldn’t....”

Zevran’s face was as hard as stone. “But I have, Alistair. More than once. Taliesin was my lover, and Cousland ordered me to kill him. And I did. I lied to you before, pobrecito. I knew for certain there would be a Crow waiting for me here. If not a lover, then a brother, a sister. Cousland told me to eliminate the threat, and I have done so. Taliesin is not even the first of my lovers that I have killed.” His eyes tightened fractionally.

Everything was wrong, unreal. Alistair blinked in confusion, shaking his head as if he could clear it. But he couldn’t. His hands and feet felt too far away, and there was a strange hollowness to everything. The scent of blood on wet stone was overwhelming. Alistair pushed himself from the wall, lurching back out to the city streets.

Shockingly, he managed to find the inn; turned out he was less than a block away. He wanted to go to his room, but Cousland and Morrigan were in the hallway.

“There you are,” Cousland said, grinning. “About to send a search -- what’s happened?”

“S-saw Zev,” Alistair managed. “In an alley.”

Cousland looked worried. “And?”

“He --” Alistair winced. His tongue felt three sizes too big. “Eliminated the threat,” he said, slowly and carefully.

“What on earth is wrong with you?” Morrigan sniffed. “You sound even stupider than normal.”

Alistair didn’t even feel the insult. “We -- he said... he said we shouldn’t... we’re not....” Alistair gulped air; reality was starting to close in on him rapidly.

Morrigan’s eyes widened in shock and sympathy. “What?”

“Shit,” Cousland hissed. “Sorry. I guess we should’ve seen this coming. Come on, I’ll get you drunk. It’ll help.” He put his hand on Alistair’s shoulder and squeezed.

“What? No. No, I -- I just want to get some rest.” Alistair pushed past them up the stairs.

His room seemed both very small and very empty. Alistair laid down on the bed just as the tears began in earnest. Maybe it was good that he had his own room, after all. It would be good practice, since he’d be sleeping alone from now on.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Alistair wasn’t particularly surprised to hear a knock on his door a few minutes later. He hurriedly wiped his eyes and nose on his sleeve. “Leliana, really, I’m fine. Just need to sleep,” he called out.

“‘Tis I,” Morrigan said. “And no, I did not come to gloat.”

It was tempting to tell her to go away, but Alistair got up and unlocked the door. The quicker he found out what she wanted, the quicker she’d leave and he could get back to his wretched weeping. “What is it?”

“I thought perhaps you may want food,” she said, handing him a covered plate.

“Oh. Thank you.” Alistair took the tray, confused.

Morrigan didn’t leave, however. She studied the door frame with apparent interest. “I know we are not friends, you and I,” she began.

“No,” Alistair said in mock disbelief. “How d’you reckon?”

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “And yet,” she said, clearly using much of her available willpower to ignore his response, “I have no wish to see you suffer thus. A few months ago, I would have called you a fool for putting yourself in such a position. Now, however... perhaps I can see how one might find oneself....” She trailed off, struggling to find a certain word.

“Charmed?” Alistair offered.

“I would have preferred enraptured,” she said.

“Oh, right, why use one syllable when three will do.”

Morrigan huffed in frustration, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “Be that as it may,” she gritted from clenched jaws, “you have my sympathy. It is obvious that this is painful for you. You deserve better.”

Alistair slumped. “That’s what he said.”

Morrigan’s eyebrow shot up. “Truly?”

He nodded. A wave of exhaustion hit him. He really didn’t want to talk about it, especially not with Morrigan. “Look. Thanks,” he said, hefting the plate. “I appreciate it.”

Morrigan dipped her head in acknowledgement. “I should warn you, Leliana will be on her way momentarily.”

Alistair winced. “Fine.”

It wasn’t all bad, though. Leliana did, indeed, show up a few moments later, but she didn’t press him to talk. Instead she told stories while he ate, which was actually kind of nice. It kept him distracted, anyway. Eventually his eyes began to droop. She offered to stay until he fell asleep, but that seemed rather pathetic, so he said no.

Leliana stood. “Try to get some sleep. Is there anything else you need?”

“Actually, yes. Don’t laugh?”

“I would never.”

Alistair rooted through his pack. “Get rid of these for me? I don’t think I can.” He handed her the pouch of stones Zevran had given him.

She weighed it in her palm. “Are you sure?”

Alistair nodded. He could feel tears starting to build and he blinked rapidly. “Yeah. I’m sure.”

After a brief pause, Leliana stowed the pouch in her pocket. Then she leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. “If you need me, I’m right next door.”

He nodded, his breath shuddery. As soon as she was gone, he stopped trying to hold the tears in.

As tired as he was, sleep was not an option. With no distractions, his mind churned over and over. The crying came in waves, he realized. First, it was soundless, with enormous hot tears. Then he’d sob, muffling the sound best he could in the pillow. Finally, there came a kind of wrung-out, blank numbness. Sometimes he managed to doze off for a moment or two during that last bit, but inevitably his half-waking dreams would be of Zevran, and he’d awake with a gasp to start the cycle all over again.

By morning, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to cry again. His eyes ached and felt puffy when he pressed them with his fingertips. Plus his lips and nose were chapped; he probably looked a fright. He waited as long as he could to go downstairs, but eventually his stomach was growling.

Everyone was gone except the dwarf. “By the stones, you look like warmed-over nugshit,” Oghren said.

“Thanks.” Alistair sighed and mashed the lumps in his porridge. Served him right for waiting so long.

“This about the blondie?” Oghren asked. “What, you find him playing hide the sausage with someone else?”

“No,” Alistair grumbled. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Good, ‘cause neither do I,” Oghren said. “What you need, my friend, is a distraction. Hey,” he said, waving to the barkeep. “Hey, got a question for ya.”

“I’m afraid that’s the last of the porridge,” the man said, walking up. He wiped his hands on the towel hanging from his belt.

“Nah, not about that. Where do you go to drink when you’re not workin’? Kid here needs a lot of ale for a broken heart, maybe a place with some pretties looking to make friends, you get my drift?” Oghren handed the man a silver piece.

“Oh no no,” Alistair started to say.

The barkeep laughed. “You want the Pearl, then,” he said. “Cheapest rum in Denerim. And plenty of pretty things to look at. Or more,” he winked.

“Thanks, friend,” Oghren nodded.

Alistair insisted they wait until one of their companions returned so they could at least let someone know where they went. He was secretly hoping that Wynne or Leliana -- or hell even Morrigan -- would try to talk them out of it.

Unfortunately, they got Sten, who showed up mid afternoon. “Fine,” he said, barely glancing at them. “I shall tell the Warden of your whereabouts.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Come on, kiddo, we got some drinkin’ to do.” Oghren pulled Alistair to the door.

The Pearl, as it turned out, was just barely better than a dive. It was dark and smoky even in the afternoon, and people lurked in shadowed corners, peering out from deeply cowled hoods.

“Now we’re talkin’,” Oghren said, nodding in satisfaction. He made himself comfortable at the bar, ordering a round of rum before his ass had even hit the seat.

Alistair sighed, sitting next to him. It wasn’t that he had anything against drinking, per se, but since he’d become a Warden, it usually took more ale than he could afford to get the job done. Yet he’d still have a headache in the morning, so it wasn’t really worth the trouble.

Still, it was better than sitting in his room, weeping. At least there was music. Or at least, a person plunking dispiritedly at a lute over by the fire. That counted for something.

The bartender slid a deceptively small glass in front of Alistair and Oghren. “Six coppers,” he said.

Oghren paid. “First round’s on me, kiddo. Here’s to broken hearts,” he said, downing his shot. “Whoo!” He pounded on the bar, shaking his head like a wet dog.

Tentatively, Alistair followed suit. A moment later he was wheezing at the burn of the liquor. “Maker’s breath,” he gasped. “Is it supposed to hurt?”

Oghren slapped him on the back. “That’s how you know it’s working.” He ordered another round and some ale to chase it.

All in all, it wasn’t bad. Oghren kept the drinks coming and didn’t seem to mind that he was talking three times as much as Alistair. The sight of a non-surface dwarf was apparently enough of a curiosity to keep a steady stream of people nearby, and soon enough Oghren was basically holding court.

Alistair was content to enjoy his buzz and proximity to the conversation. A few times he felt a wave of sadness when his attention wandered, but he could focus on whatever Oghren was talking about to distract himself.

About two hours after they arrived, Alistair looked up at the mirror over the bar and froze. A person in a hood and cape was speaking to a buxom woman with dark hair. The woman appeared to be looking right at Alistair as she nodded, and then the man -- Alistair was fairly certain it was a man -- tilted his head and handed her a pouch of coins. Something about his mannerism was sickeningly familiar, and Alistair whipped around, sure it was Zevran.

He realized at once that the woman wasn’t exactly looking at him, she was merely staring into the middle distance in his direction. And the tuft of hair peeking from the man’s cowl was black, not blonde. He’d probably thought it was Zevran because of the mirror, Alistair realized. Still, suddenly he missed Zevran so much his stomach ached. Alistair turned back to the bar, dejected.

Alistair started to lose track of time and also of how many drinks he’d had. Oghren had wandered off at some point; Alistair thought it was just to go take a piss, but after a while he suspected it had something to do with the mysterious ‘back rooms’ and a woman named Sanga.

Sighing, Alistair took stock of his coin purse. He could afford another couple of rounds, but he was starting to feel melancholy. Best to just take himself back to the Gnawed Noble. Maybe he wouldn’t cry his eyes out tonight.

“Hello, luv.” A woman plunked herself down next to him, leaning her back against the bar. “You look sad. Why’s that, I wonder?”

It was the buxom lady he’d seen in the mirror. Alistair spluttered; up close, she was intensely attractive. “Oh, you know,” he shrugged, trying to find a safe place to look that wasn’t down her tunic.

“I don’t, actually. That’s why I asked,” she said, winking.

“Oh. Um. I... uh, just had a bad day yesterday.” He swallowed the rest of his ale in one huge gulp and then regretted it.

“Ah,” she nodded knowingly. “How about a round of Wicked Grace? It’ll take your mind off things.”

“Oh no no. No, I couldn’t. I, um, I’ve got no coin,” he said. It was mostly true, anyway.

“You’re a Grey Warden, aren’t you? I’ve been around you lot before. Wouldn’t dream of taking your money. We’ll play for stories. I’m sure you’ve got lots of those, haven’t you?”

Alistair hesitated. He was just sober enough to recognize that he should be wary, but also inebriated enough not to care. It would be nice to have someone to talk to, at any rate. “Um. Just stories?”

“I promise,” she said, laying a hand over her heart.

“Wellllll.... Alright. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Isabela,” she said, giving him a crooked smile. “Pleased to meet you.”

It was no surprise that Isabela was much, much better at Wicked Grace than Alistair. He lost the first hand soundly.

“Well, that’s a story for me,” Isabela grinned. “You can start by telling me where you learned to play Wicked Grace.”

“Oh.” Alistair blinked, his smile collapsing. “A friend,” he said, his voice dull. He wiped at a bit of condensation on the table with his thumb.

“A friend, hmm? And does this friend have a name?”

“Er. It’s, ah, Ze-” At the last second, Alistair realized maybe blurting Zevran’s name might not be a good idea. “Ze-zar...an. Os.” Did that sound Antivan? He hoped not.

Isabela raised an eyebrow. “Zezaranos?”

“Y-yes,” Alistair nodded. “Kind of a mouthful.”

At that, Isabela laughed, which was weird because it wasn’t particularly funny. “I’ll say. Well. Perhaps you’ll learn more about Wicked Grace from me than this Zezaranos.” She dealt the cards.

Alistair lost more than he won, but it was still fun. Isabela never asked him why he was in Denerim, or who he was with, or anything of consequence that Alistair could tell. Instead she asked him for funny stories, or about things he liked.

At some point, the barkeep brought over some food and a bottle of rum and two glasses. “Oh no no, I couldn’t,” Alistair said putting a hand up when Isabela started to pour him a drink. He’d only just begun to sober up.

Isabela scoffed. “My treat. I insist.”

Alistair scrunched his face up, doing his best to look skeptical. “What? Why?”

“Because,” she said, sliding a tumbler in front of him. “You’re funny, you’re respectful, and you’re not trying to get into my trousers. That’s a rarity in the Pearl.”

“You’re not wearing trousers,” Alistair pointed out, blinking owlishly.

Isabela grinned. “True enough. Here, have something to eat, too.” She piled some cheese on a piece of bread and handed it over.

“Oh no, cheese. You’ve discovered my weakness,” he tutted. “Whatever shall I do now?” Alistair took a huge bite, not realizing how hungry he was until the food was in front of him.

“I’d say your weakness is your Wicked Grace ability,” Isabela grinned. “This Zezaranos did you no favors.” She dealt a round of cards, fanning hers in her hand.

Alistair sighed. “He did, though.” A wave of sadness sloshed over him, no doubt helped along by the drink. “I miss him.” He took a careful breath.

“Oh? Were you close?”

Alistair frowned at his cards. “I... I thought so. Though, I guess he didn’t. I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” he grumbled, discarding a card and drawing another.

Isabela clucked sympathetically. “Oh, it’s the Angel of Death,” Isabela called out, laying the card she’d just drawn on the table.

“A-ha!” Alistair crowed, seeing that he’d won a round. “Finally.”

“Oi, win one, did you?” Oghren stumped up to the table. “Good on you, lad. Come on, I’m knackered.”

“Where have you been?” Alistair asked.

“Uh... making friends?”

Alistair squinted at him.

“Well you can hardly blame me,” Oghren shrugged. “With such fine dwarven lasses looking for company. Anyway, it’s getting on midnight. Time to be getting back”

“But I’m winning,” Alistair whined. “She owes me a story.” Then he hiccuped.

“Tell you what,” Isabela said, her voice soothing. “Come back tomorrow, and I’ll give you the story I owe you.”

“You’ll be he -hic- here?” Alistair asked, not quite trusting it.

“I’ll be here,” Isabela promised, holding her hand over her heart again. “Go get some rest, sweet thing.”

Reluctantly, Alistair left with Oghren. It was probably for the best -- he was tired, after all, and more than a little drunk.

Oghren jabbed him in the hip with his elbow once they’d gotten outside. “That’s the idea, boy. Get under it to get over it, eh?”

“What? Also, ow.” Alistair rubbed his hip.

“Though why you’d take the long way round is beyond me. Worth the silver to spend some time in the back, believe you me. They’ve got lads if that’s your thing.”

“Ugh, no thanks,” Alistair shuddered. “I could never just... do... that. With someone. Just... no. Noooonono.”

“Suit yourself,” Oghren shrugged. “You wanna keep playing Wicked Grace for ‘stories’, you go right ahead. Me, I’m gonna come back tomorrow, spring for Sanga’s ‘surprise’,” he leered.

“No, she wasn’t... we weren’t....” Alistair gave up, waving Oghren off.

Thanks to the rum, Alistair fell asleep without crying, though he felt rotten the next morning. Cousland was still running around the city doing who-knows what, so Alistair kept himself busy during the day. He brushed Sasha and clipped her nails, then went to the market to sell some odds and ends he’d picked up. All in all he felt almost normal when he headed to the Pearl late that afternoon.  

It was still relatively quiet, with only a few patrons about. The same dark-haired man Alistair had seen talking to Isabela skulked in his cloak and hood in a shaded corner, and the lutist was still noodling through some tunes by the fire.

Isabela was there too, as promised. She waved him over to a table, already set up with two cups and a pitcher, which turned out to be water, thank the Maker. “Hello, sweet thing. You came back.”

“I did,” Alistair said, sitting opposite her. “Here, I brought you some coin for the food and drink yesterday.” He proffered her a silver.

Her eyes softened and she shook her head. “Oh, sweetness, no. Look, I appreciate the gesture, I really do. How about this -- you can order some snacks later, alright?”

Alistair frowned, unsure of why she was refusing the money. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” she said. “Come on, I’ll tell you a story while you shuffle the cards.”

Isabela’s story was long and bawdy, and had Alistair practically wheezing for breath by the end.

“And so I told him, that’s not what you put in a stocking,” she said, landing the punchline with a dramatic finish.

“Oh Maker, that’s terrible,” Alistair groaned, wiping his eyes.

“Served its purpose,” Isabela grinned, laying down her hand. “Seeing as I won.”

Alistair sighed in mock annoyance. “Of course you did. Go on, what kind of story do you want this time?”

“How about... tell me a story of someone you met in Denerim,” she said.

Alistair blinked. The only people he’d met in the city were Goldanna and Taliesin, if that could even be considered ‘meeting’ him. “Um. Met my sister, actually.”

Isabela looked surprised. “Really? Well, that’s nice.”

“Well, it wasn’t, really. She... wasn’t pleased to make my acquaintance,” he admitted. He made a face. “She yelled quite a lot. Then she asked me for money.”

Isabela paused in dealing the cards. “Oh. Well. That... sounds unpleasant,” she said, pointedly. She glanced over Alistair’s shoulder.

“It was. My Commander said I should just get over it. Everyone’s out for themselves, he said.” Alistair sighed. “Suppose he’s right.”

“Mmm.” Isabela frowned, sorting her cards.

“Sorry. Shouldn’t complain,” Alistair said. “Anyway, I gave her what I could. Which isn’t much. I mean, it’s not like being a Warden is very rewarding.”

“You gave her money?” Isabela looked at him as if he was daft.

“Well... she asked. And -- and she’s my sister. Shouldn’t I have?”

Isabela took a slow breath and then let it out. “You’ve got a good heart,” she said, glancing over his shoulder again.

“What is it?” he asked, turning.

“A little fly,” Isabela said. “I’ve been trying to catch it all day. Driving me crazy. Anyway, I call.” She laid down her hand.

Alistair lost again. “Ugh, am I getting worse at this?” He was relatively sure he’d win that round. He wasn’t even drunk. Alistair squinted at her. “Are you cheating?”

Isabela batted her eyelashes. “Cheating, when we’re playing for stories? Whyever would I do that?”

“I don’t know,” Alistair said, still suspicious. “I’m not very good at telling stories.”

“Well you’re certainly better at that than at playing cards.”

Alistair frowned, dealing them each a hand. “I never got around to learning how to cheat,” he said pointedly. “Ze-, um, Zezaranos said it was the best part. But then....” Alistair slumped in his chair. “We don’t play anymore.”

“I have to say, this friend of yours sounds intriguing. Where is he from?”

“Oh, he’s An- a Nevarran,” Alistair stammered.

“Nevarran,” Isabela repeated. It didn’t seem like she believed him. “Interesting. And what does he look like?”

It occurred to Alistair that it could be a trap. Isabela was very nice, but she did ask a lot of questions about Zevran, come to think of it. Alistair had thought it was because he kept mentioning him, but what if Isabela was a Crow? He had no way of knowing. She didn’t seem to be Antivan, but neither did that other one, Taliesin. What if he hadn’t been the only one? “Um,” Alistair blinked, trying to think. “He’s, er, very tall and um, fat. And... and old. And he’s got dark hair, but he’s, ah, he’s going bald, and he has a big bushy beard. And he smells bad.”

Isabela bit her lip in repressed mirth. “Wow, sounds like quite the man. What possible reason would a handsome boy like you have to take a stinky old fat balding guy to bed?”

Alistair blushed. “I never said I took him to bed.”

Isabela gave him a pitying look. “Honey, you think I don’t know a broken heart when I see one?” She glanced over his shoulder again.

Now deeply suspicious, Alistair turned. “What are you --”

Before he could finish the sentence, Isabela half rose from her chair. She grabbed suddenly at the air next to him. “Ha!” she said. “Got him. Finally.” She pulled a handkerchief from the front of her tunic and wiped her hands. Seeing as she was still leaning over, her chest practically in Alistair’s face, it was intensely distracting.

“Anyway, you were saying?” Isabela sank back to her seat.

“Was I?”

“You were,” she said calmly. “You were about to tell me what drew you to this Zezaranos.”

Alistair tried to decide if it was better to keep talking or to leave. Isabela knew who he was, though, and if she was a Crow, she might follow him back to the inn, and then Cousland would be in danger. If he stayed, though, eventually Oghren would be back. Maybe he’d have a plan. At least, Alistair would have some backup.

“Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “It was a long time ago. I met him in... in Jader,” he said, plucking a city from thin air.

“Ugh, what were you doing in Jader?” Isabela scrunched her nose in distaste.

“Warden things,” Alistair mumbled. “Anyway he, um, was attacked. By bears. And we saved him.”

“Big problem in Jader, I hear, bears wandering the streets.” Isabela clucked her tongue.

Alistair rolled his eyes. “It was on the road outside of Jader,” he clarified. Isabela clearly wasn’t buying a word of it. He soldiered on. “We, er, traveled together for a time, and... and then he left. That was that, I guess.” Alistair discarded and selected a new card; hopefully Oghren would be there soon. “Oh, come on,” he groaned, drawing the Angel of Death.

Isabela grinned. “Alright. Tell me about your journey outside Jader.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Alistair grumbled. “He was... he was kind to me, that’s all. It was -- it was nice. To spend time with him. I liked being with him. He made me laugh, and got me gifts, and I thought....” Alistair swallowed hard, shaking his head.

When Isabela didn’t say anything, he looked up. Her expression seemed to be of genuine concern. But then again, what did Alistair know? Zevran had seemed genuinely uninterested in him two nights ago, when he’d stumbled into his meeting with Taliesin. He’d also seemed genuinely fond of Alistair the night before that. Who was to say which was the truth? Certainly not Alistair.

“What happened?” Isabela asked, her voice gentle.

Though he hadn’t wanted to talk about it the night it happened, Alistair had by now spent two days chewing over the events in question, and the words tumbled out of him. “I... I don’t know,” he said. “He... had to do something. Something... difficult. I made him angry. I didn’t mean to, but.... And then he said that he was a bad person, and I deserved better.” Alistair realized he should shut up; not only was he telling the truth, he was close to tears again. “But he’s not a bad person. He’s not. I think... I think maybe he was lying to make me feel better. I think h-he saw someone handsome and smart and it reminded him of--of who he could be with, and he realized he didn’t want to be with me anymore. Because I mean, who am I really, I’m clumsy and stupid. I can’t even play Wicked Grace properly no matter how hard he tried to teach me. Look. I’ve lost again,” he said, chucking his cards on the table. With a groan, he folded his arms on the table and put his head down, surreptitiously wiping his eyes on his wrists.

“Oh, honey,” Isabela said.

A moment later he felt a hand on his shoulder. He expected it to be Oghren, but instead he heard a voice with a familiar Antivan accent. “Perhaps you lose because you are playing for the wrong stakes. Try these.” A small pile of white quartz pebbles poured onto the table.

Alistair spun around in shock. “Zev?”

From underneath a hooded cloak, Zevran looked down at him. His lips twitched in a tentative smile. So it had been him all along. Alistair realized the black hair he’d seen was just horsehair attached to the inside of the hood, a rudimentary disguise.

“Well. I’ll just leave you to it, then,” Isabela said, standing up.

“You know each other,” Alistair said, looking between them.

“We are old friends,” Zevran nodded. “I asked Isabela to watch over you while you were here. It seems she had other ideas, however.” He quirked an eyebrow at her.

Isabela laughed. “You didn’t think I’d let the poor dear suffer, did you?” She patted Alistair’s cheek before sauntering away.

Zevran took her seat. “I owe to you a great many apologies. And explanations, as well.” Absently, he began shuffling the cards.

“What’s... what’s going on, exactly? Maker, I thought she was a Crow.” Alistair was thoroughly bewildered. “Where did you get these?” He sifted the pebbles in his fingertips. “I told Leliana to get rid of them.”

“And so she did,” Zevran nodded. “By throwing them in my face, along with a number of insults and grave threats. I am afraid there are less than one hundred left. Some of them fell into the sewer grate.”

“When did she do that?” Alistair was so confused.

“On the night when you kept her awake, crying. She came to find me and, ah, give me a piece of her mind.” Zevran shifted in his seat.

Maker, she’d heard him? Alistair flushed. “How did she find you?”

“The witch Morrigan turned into a dog and sniffed me out,” Zevran said. “She also had some choice words.” He rubbed his cheek. “And a surprisingly strong backhand.”

“Really?”

“I deserve a thousand more like it,” Zevran said. “I was never angry with you, only myself. And I should not have lied to you.”

Alistair realized what was happening: Zevran was trying to smooth things over. Of course he was. They would have to travel together in the future, once they moved on from Denerim. It would be best to get things back to friendly terms as soon as possible.

Alistair wasn’t sure he was ready for that. Even just sitting this close to Zevran was difficult. Still, he needed to be an adult about it. Bad enough the others knew how devastated he was. Alistair was certainly no actor, but perhaps if he pretended things were fine, he’d come to believe it. “No, it’s fine,” Alistair said. “It was none of my business, really. And I’m -- I’m sorry. About your... about Taliesin.”

Zevran laughed once, bitter and hollow. “Do not be sorry for him,” he said. “I have never told you how I came to Ferelden. For a long while, Taliesin and I were lovers, yes, but also partners. There were three of us, in fact. Rinna was with us as well. She was....” He trailed off, tracing his fingers over the edge of the deck of cards. “A singular spirit. Together, we were unstoppable. Our nights spent in the shadows, our days....” He sighed.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Alistair said.

“I do,” Zevran said. “I should have told you this from the beginning.” He took a deep breath. “Taliesin told me that Rinna had betrayed us. He convinced me we were in danger, and that I should be the one to....” Zevran frowned. “Remove the threat.”

“Oh.”

Zevran didn’t look at him, though he smiled tightly in acknowledgement. “In truth, as fond as I was of Taliesin, Rinna held my heart in her hands. Still, I thought, here is proof: do not to give the heart away, for if she could betray me, then anyone could. I took that truth to myself, shaped it into armor, and did what needed doing.”

Alistair stared at the table. As hard as it was to hear that Zevran had been so in love with someone else, it was harder to hear the pain in his voice.

“Alas, in the end, she had not betrayed us. Taliesin was acting under orders from the House. He lied to me.”

Alistair gasped. “What?”

“When I found out, I....” Zevran paused again, his jaw working.

“Zev, please, you don’t have to say.”

“I want to. I want you to know this. I took the contract for the Warden because I knew I would fail. I had no intention to succeed. Do you see my meaning?”

Alistair stared at him, horrified. He nodded.

Zevran tipped his head. “Well. I need not point out that things did not go according to my plan. Neither did I expect to meet one such as yourself, who is made of sunlight and goodness and all of the things I thought I could never have. And I was selfish. I thought, perhaps this could be pleasant.”

Alistair flinched. “Wasn’t it?” His confusion began to dissipate. “Is... that why you thought about going back with him?”

“No, no, no, you do not see. This has been... so much more than pleasant. At least, for me. And that is a terrifying prospect. So I continued to fool myself, to pretend that I did not feel the things that I felt. When Taliesin made his case, I admit, I did consider it for the briefest of moments. You should not be with one such as I. You deserve one with a heart as pure as your own. And yet I have done nothing but think of you for these past few days.” He started fiddling with the cards again.

Alistair’s head jerked up. “Have you?”

“Sí, cielito.”

“I... I thought....”

“I know,” Zevran said. “I heard what you said to Isabela. She drew you out, knowing that I was listening.” He paused. “Alistair, I --”

From the front of the bar, Isabela gave a great whoop, cutting through the background noise in the room. Alistair turned in time to see her laughing as she stumbled into four men at the door as if she was drunk, which was odd, because she hadn’t been drinking at all. The men looked annoyed about it, peering into the room suspiciously.

Alistair wasn’t sure what that was all about, but it was none of his business. He turned back.

Zevran was gone.

Alistair was still blinking in shock when Isabela came back over, flinging herself into the seat across from him with a wide smile. “Hello, cutie. Sorry about that.” She winked and leaned forward, ostensibly kissing him on the cheek. “Play along. You need to leave. Now,” she murmured. “Don’t look.”

Blushing at the contact, Alistair froze, swallowing hard.

Isabela ruffled his hair playfully, though there was a hint of worry in her eyes. “What say you and I get comfortable in the back?” she said, loud enough for the people around to hear.

“Al-alright,” Alistair stood abruptly.

Giggling, Isabela draped herself on his arm, leading him towards the door that led to the back rooms. Alistair had never wanted to turn around so badly in his life, but he didn’t.

There was a sort of sitting room back there, with lots of doorways leading off of it. A woman gave Isabela a quizzical look. “Staying, or....?”

“Leaving,” Isabela said, moving confidently towards a doorway, all signs of intoxication gone. “Could do with some interference, Sanga.”

The woman sighed. “You owe me, Bela.”

“Put it on my tab,” Isabela said, blowing her a kiss. She opened the door and shoved Alistair inside.

It was a bedroom. “Um,” he managed to say. “What’s happening? Where did Zevran go?”

“Those men are looking for a Grey Warden,” Isabela explained. “And not in a good way.” She moved across the space, pulling aside a tapestry. She nudged at a hidden switch in the baseboard, and a door opened in the paneling. “Zevran will take care of them, no fear. Come on,” she said.

Alistair did as he was told. It was a tight fit; he had to scooch sideways in the dark.

“It’s not far,” Isabela said quietly. “There’s a turn just ahead.”

The space widened considerably after the turn, allowing them to walk side by side, and the air was fresher and colder. Starlight filtered in through gaps in the ceiling, though it seemed very far away.

“This used to be an alley,” she explained. “Then they added the roof and walled up the ends. Handy for quick exits, although the toll is quite high.”

“Toll?”

“Sanga charges a full-hour fee for the exit, since she has to keep the room vacant. Still, plenty of patrons don’t want to be seen coming and going, so she makes a killing.” Isabela opened a door at the far end of the passage, revealing the harborside. “Here we are. I suppose you’ll need help getting back to your digs,” she said.

“Um, yes?” Alistair grimaced. “Sorry. I get turned around easily.”

“It’s fine,” Isabela said. “I’d do it anyway. If Zevran found out his cutie-pie got roughed up on my watch, I don’t think he’d be very happy.”

“I’m not... we’re... at least, I don’t think....”

“Oh, psh. He’s crazy for you, anyone can see it.” She headed to the right.

“Really?” Alistair hurried to catch up to her, an extra skip in his step.

“Trust me,” she said.

“How do you know each other, anyway?”

Isabela stopped and turned. She gave him a searching look. “I paid him to kill my abusive shitbag of a husband.”

Alistair blanched, both from the sentiment and Isabela’s gaze. “O-oh. I thought -- I thought maybe you’d --”

“Slept with him? Well, that too. A reward for a job well done.” She crossed her arms.

“Didn’t you just say you paid him?” Alistair raised an eyebrow.

“Think of it as a gratuity, then.”

“Ohhhhh,” Alistair nodded. “Why do I get the feeling you’re angry with me all of a sudden?”

“I’m not angry, sweet thing. Just making sure there’s no problem.” Isabela shifted her weight from hip to hip.

Alistair spoke slowly, confused. “Why would there be a problem? I’m not some prude, you know. And, frankly, you must be pretty good in bed if the gratuity was for him and not the other way round.”

Isabela stared at him for another moment, then burst into laughter. “Knew I liked you for a reason. Even if you are shit at cards. Come on, let’s go.” She put a hand in the crook of his arm. “Tell me, does he still do that trick with his tongue? I was quite fond of that.”

“I may never stop blushing again,” Alistair said under his breath. “And yes. Yes, he does.”

 

 

Chapter Text

In the time it took to walk back to the Gnawed Noble, Alistair learned a great many things from Isabela. Most of them were dirty and had to do with Zevran’s predilections in the bedroom. But there was a fair amount about Denerim, the thugs at the Pearl, and Cousland.

The thugs were not Crows, as Alistair had feared. They were just common street heavies, in the employ of some criminal named D. Or was it K? Regardless, Cousland had apparently spent quite a bit of time helping K (or D?), which resulted in some deaths. Of D. Or was it K?

Alistair was shocked to find all this out. “Cousland? Working for rogues? But he’s a noble!”

Isabela snorted. “He’s also cunning as hell. Granted, I was still able to teach him a few tricks.”

“You met him?”

Laughing, Isabela squeezed his arm. “Oh honey, I did more than meet him.”

“But-but what about Morrigan?!” Alistair was aghast.

“Mmm, what about her?” Isabela gave a contented little shiver. “The three of us had a very good time.”

“What??” Alistair shook his head. “Ugh. She’s so....”

“Delicious?”

“Creepy,” Alistair insisted, frowning. “She can turn into a spider, did you know that?”

“Really? Hm. Okay, that is a bit creepy. And here we are.” Isabela led him around a corner, and lo and behold, they were at the inn.

A thought hit Alistair. “Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Oghren. He said he was going to go to the Pearl tonight,” Alistair whispered. “We have to go back.”

Isabela laughed. “That dwarf from last night? He’ll be fine. The thugs are too stupid to bother a dwarf when they’re looking for a human. And anyway, he can take care of himself.”

Alistair frowned. “And I can’t?”

Isabela gave him a pitying look. “If someone came up to you and said they needed a Warden’s help, what would you do?”

“Um, help them?”

Isabela pinched his cheek. “I rest my case.”

Alistair grumbled at that. “What’s wrong with helping?”

“Nothing,” Isabela said. “But it does rather put you in a vulnerable spot in amongst us scoundrels. Oh, don’t pout, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Look, you can sense darkspawn, right? Well, some of us can sense scoundrels.” She put her hand back into the crook of his elbow, leading him towards the inn.

Somehow, that made him feel a little better. He allowed Isabela to tow him inside. Predictably, there was a moment of awkwardness with the others in the common room. It probably didn’t help that Isabela was pulling him along like a child that had been caught stealing apples from the neighbor’s tree. Sten didn’t give any indication he even noticed Alistair had been gone. Wynne looked up from her knitting in confusion, her eyebrow cocked. Cousland took the whole thing in stride, rising to his feet with a suitably concerned look on his face, no sign that he knew Isabela. Morrigan, however, looked anywhere but at Isabela, blushing scarlet. Alistair didn’t realize she could manage it.

Leliana was halfway to furious. “I see you’ve lost no time,” she frowned at Alistair.

“Calm your tits, sister,” Isabela said. “It’s not like that. You, however, need to finish what you’ve started,” she said to Cousland. “We had a visit from certain interested parties just now, on the prowl for a Grey Warden. Not sure they were too picky about which one they caught, either.”

“Shit,” Cousland hissed. “Thought I’d taken care of that.”

“Apparently not,” Isabela said. “Anyway, no harm done. Brought this dear little lamb home for safekeeping. No charge,” she said, with a wink at Morrigan. The witch went an even deeper shade of red.

“I thought Zevran was paying you to watch out for me,” Alistair said.

Isabela clucked her tongue. “There goes my gratuity.”

Leliana scowled at her in disapproval.

“Oh don’t look so shocked,” Isabela said under her breath.

At that, Wynne snickered, trying to pass it off as a cough. Then she frowned at her knitting. “I’ve dropped a stitch.”

It was all too ridiculous. “Um. I’m going to get some dinner now,” Alistair said slowly and deliberately, backing towards the table. He felt around behind himself for a chair and sat without turning around, then folded his hands on the table in front of him. “Do they have more mutton stew, you reckon?”

“No,” Sten said.

A moderate amount of chaos ensued. First, Cousland and Isabela disappeared upstairs to go ‘have a discussion’. Morrigan followed them about a half minute later, pretending she needed something from her room. Leliana, who seemed very upset at the whole thing for some reason, sat in fuming silence for another few minutes, before announcing that she didn’t trust ‘that pirate’ and running off after them.

“Didn’t know she was a pirate,” Alistair muttered around a mouthful of shepard’s pie.

“In that outfit?” Wynne tutted, eyes on her knitting needles. “You’re joking, right?”

“I do not understand,” Sten said. “What is taking them so long?”

Wynne snorted. “Men.” She shook her head.

Sten frowned and looked at Alistair.

“Um, I think they might be, er. Busy?” Alistair tried for a grin, though it came out more a rictus. “With, uhhhhm....”

“They’re having sex,” Wynne said calmly. “It takes a while, you know, to do things properly .” She looked up from her knitting to stare at Sten in challenge, her needles continuing to fly in her hands.

Sten returned her gaze. “I am aware of how long it takes,” he growled.

“Oh, are you? Well, good.” Wynne raised a skeptical eyebrow, not lowering her eyes.

Sten’s eyes narrowed, and he continued to stare at her.

Wynne didn’t react, though her cheeks turned pink.

“I’m going to go to bed now,” Alistair said, just as slowly and deliberately as before. He stood up carefully, backing away from them.

Truth was, he wanted a few minutes to himself anyway. Alistair scuttled to his room, all but collapsing on the bed. Now that the mayhem had settled, he cast back to what Zevran had told him. Alistair knew better than to get his hopes up. Hope was a tricky thing. He would much rather keep his expectations low and be pleasantly surprised than to let hope blossom only to have it crushed later.

Still. Alistair wasn’t sure what Zevran had been about to say before they’d been interrupted, but maybe things weren’t quite as over as Alistair thought? Isabela certainly seemed to think Zevran still wanted to be with him, but Alistair didn’t trust that. It was harder to deny the words Zevran himself had used. Cielito, he’d said. Alistair felt a wrenching in his chest, trying to remain steadfast against the pull of hope. Maybe, though... maybe....

There was a knock on Alistair’s door. He grunted in frustration. “What?”

“Is this a bad time?” Zevran’s voice was quiet but unmistakable. “I can return later if--”

Alistair yanked the door open. “Zev?”

They stared at each other for a long second, until Zevran broke the silence. “Forgive me for dropping in unannounced.”

“No no, it’s... it’s good.” Alistair swallowed hard. “Um, what about those men, though?”

“Incapacitated,” Zevran said. “A matter for our fearless leader to finish. That is, once his immediate business is, ah, concluded.” He coughed delicately.

“Oh, are they still...?” Alistair poked his head down the hallway, as if there was something to see.

A muffled whoop came from Cousland’s room, followed by a faint thud.

“They are,” Zevran said. “I have no doubt it will take them quite some time. I am sure the men I tied up in the abandoned warehouse will use that opportunity to rethink their life choices.”

Alistair wasn’t so sure of that. “Um, come in?” he said, holding the door wide.

Zevran stepped past him into the small chamber. There was no chair, so he sat on the bed. “Hopefully I can finish my apology to you with no further interruptions.”

Alistair sat next to him, careful to leave a few inches of space between them. “Zev, honest, you don’t need to apologize. You were just doing what you thought was right. It’s fine, really, I’m not mad or anything. I’m just --” He realized he was blathering and stopped himself before he could say I’m just glad you’re back. Because he wasn’t sure Zevran was back. He wasn’t sure of anything.

The look of utter despair on Zevran’s face didn’t help things any. “And still you do not see. Alistair, I was not doing what I thought was right. I lied to you, hid from you the truth, all for my own selfish ends. And I need for you to understand that you do not deserve to be treated in such a manner.” He reached for Alistair, but at the last second grasped a handful of the blanket instead.

Alistair didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t sure why Zevran was so upset over this. Hell, he still wasn’t sure this whole thing wasn’t his own fault, somehow. He had eavesdropped on Zevran in the alley, and then blundered into the situation, putting them both at risk. “Are you mad at me?”

Zevran’s eyes fell closed as he exhaled softly, as if he was disappointed with himself. “No, cielito. In the moment, I was distraught, but I could never be angry with you. I was so certain that you would no longer want to be with me, seeing the truth of what I am, that I leapt to the conclusion too soon and pushed you away. It is I who is in the wrong.”

Alistair knew he should leave it at that, accept Zevran’s apology and move on. But he had to know, and so he heard himself ask, “And -- and you didn’t mean what you said in the alley? That, um, that I’m not anything? To you?” He winced to hear how pathetic he sounded.

“Mi corazón, you mean to me everything. I would die a thousand deaths to take back those words if I could. It was all an act. My only thought was to protect you. Taliesin is -- was,” he said, correcting himself quickly, “-- a great one for the poisons. He needed only to draw blood to end your life. I thought if he considered you of no consequence, the danger would be less.”

“Oh good.” Alistair took a shaky breath. “You’re a very good actor,” he said, hoping it didn’t sound too much like an accusation. It was hard to know what to believe, even with everything Zevran had just told him. He wanted to believe that it had been an act, and that Zevran really did care for him, but just because he wanted it to be true didn’t make it so.

“If I have not yet earned my place among the damned, surely I have done so now, by sowing within you the seeds of doubt. Would that I could prove to you the truth of my heart.”

Alistair felt the words settle, lightly, tentatively, like birds on a swaying clothesline. “Zev, will you -- will you kiss me?”

Zevran didn’t answer in words, but Alistair didn’t want more talking. Instead he got a lapful of elf, as Zevran gracefully knelt to straddle him. Alistair was so desperate for the kiss that it almost ached, and he moaned quietly, clutching as much of Zevran as he could reach.

It was frantic, almost feral, teeth clacking and noses in all the wrong angles as each tried to get their fill of the other. Alistair tried to nip Zevran’s earlobe and ended up with a mouthful of hair, but he didn’t care. A second later Zevran swore under his breath as one of the buckles on his armor caught on a button.

“We should -- ngh -- too many clothes,” Alistair grunted.

“Yes,” Zevran said. “Here, let me --”

There was a moment or two of fumbling as they got out of their respective gear. Alistair was only in clothes, so he finished first, laying back on the bed to watch Zevran remove the rest of his armor. Idly, he stroked himself, to take the edge off.

Once Zevran was naked, he paused to gaze at Alistair. It was something he did often, usually with a wink and a smirk. Now, however, his expression was almost reverent.

Alistair rolled to his side to give Zevran room on the narrow bed. Instead, Zevran knelt beside it. “After all that I have done, I do not want you to think even for the moment that I take this for granted,” he said. “If I am to have a place by your side, let me earn it.”

A part of Alistair wanted to say you already have, to brush the whole thing away. But, incredibly, Alistair’s remaining doubts began to melt; surely, if Zevran was just using Alistair, he would just get in the bed and take what he wanted without the need for such overt submission. And he had to admit there was something about seeing Zevran like this, in such a vulnerable posture, that was intensely arousing. Alistair licked his lips. “Alright,” he said.

Zevran’s eyelids fluttered as he drew in a sharp breath. His eyes were nearly black with lust. “Tell to me what is it you desire.”

Alistair paused, choosing his words carefully. Wouldn’t do to stammer, not now. “I’ll have your mouth.”

Zevran swayed, biting his lip. “Your command is my wish.”

Not wanting to break the moment, Alistair scooted on his side so that he was near the edge of the bed. He felt a small twinge of guilt for keeping Zevran on his knees, but there was something decadent about it. And after all, it had been Zevran’s idea to begin with.

Still, he groaned when Zevran took him into his mouth, following up each swallow with a twist of his hand along Alistair’s shaft. The sensation alone was incredible, but the position was undeniably erotic. Zevran’s hair had fallen forward; Alistair tangled his fingers in it, pulling it back so that he could see his face.

At that, Zevran groaned with a deep contentment, taking even more of Alistair’s cock into his mouth. Alistair thrust slightly at the sound, unable to help himself. Zevran moaned again, nodding.

Alistair took that as permission. He lifted himself onto his elbow and began to move in earnest. The angle was not really suited to what they were doing, so his thrusts were shallow. Which was probably for the best; he had no desire to do anything to hurt Zevran.

Still, he couldn’t deny that something was coalescing, all of the fear and despair and disappointment of the last few days swirling together with Zevran’s need for absolution. Alistair didn’t feel angry, exactly, but something was unleashed -- a kind of forceful intent, a need to take after so much giving.

He fucked Zevran’s face, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight of his cock sliding in and out of Zevran’s mouth. Zevran had closed his eyes, his expression almost placid, as if he was meditating or praying. He wasn’t silent, however; he’d relaxed his mouth and jaw so as to allow Alistair complete control, and the sounds coming from him were, quite frankly, filthy.

Alistair could feel that he was hitting the back of Zevran’s throat, but the elf made no move to stop him. Some corner of Alistair’s mind wondered how it was that he wasn’t gagging. That made him wonder how much more Zevran could take, and a small explosion of need went off like a bomb in Alistair’s chest.

“Enough,” Alistair gasped, pulling away.

Zevran sat back on his heels, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His chest rose and fell as he caught his breath, but he didn’t speak.

Maker, it was almost more than Alistair could take. He sat up. “On the bed. On your belly.” Alistair rooted through his pack for the oil while Zevran got settled. There wasn’t much room; Alistair laid half on his side, straddling one of Zevran’s thighs.

The pause in the proceedings took the edge off Alistair’s need, but only just. He poured a generous drizzle of oil onto Zevran, circling his entrance with the tip of one finger. “Is this what you want?” Alistair’s voice had gone hoarse.

Zevran nodded, his face in the pillow.

“I want to hear you say it,” Alistair said. “Tell me you want me to take you.”

With a choked gasp, Zevran turned his face to the side. “Please,” he said. “Please, take me. I am yours, cielito.”

Alistair pressed his finger into him; the whimper that left Zevran’s lips was very gratifying. “Say it again. Say my name.”

“Alistair,” Zevran gasped. “Alistair, I am yours.” He rutted against the mattress, even though the top blanket was scratchy wool. The knowledge that it was probably uncomfortable for Zevran, that he wanted Alistair so much that he was willing to endure the discomfort, sent another spike of need through him.

Alistair added a second, then a third finger, allowing Zevran to back onto him at his own pace. It didn’t take long before Zevran was sinking up to the second knuckle, moaning almost continuously.

Alistair rolled on top of him, slicking his cock with more oil. He rested the tip at Zevran’s entrance. “Again,” he said, nipping at the tip of Zevran’s ear. “I want to hear you say it again.”

“I am yours,” Zevran moaned. “Alistair, please. I am yours.”

With a grunt, Alistair thrust, slow and inorexible. Zevran was incredibly tight, hissing beneath him. Despite this, he reached behind to pull Alistair closer, even as he winced at the stretch.

Alistair lowered himself till he was fully hilted, pinning Zevran. He rocked in and out, not really thrusting, feeling Zevran relax around him. “Is this what you want?” Alistair asked again. He bit the nape of Zevran’s neck, just hard enough for him to feel it.

“Sí, sí,” Zevran moaned. “All I am is yours to take.”

Alistair gathered his weight onto his forearms and began to fuck Zevran in earnest. He was not gentle. Zevran made it clear he wanted to be claimed, so Alistair claimed him. It was hard and slow, their skin smacking together.

It helped that Zevran was so clearly enjoying it. As tempting as it was to be utterly selfish, Alistair wasn’t sure he’d be able to enjoy this if it were one-sided. But Zevran continued to whimper and writhe underneath him, grasping at the blankets with both hands.

Instinct prodded Alistair to pick up the pace. And now Alistair was grunting as he pistoned in and out of Zevran. It was animalistic, a rut, as Alistair sank deeper into himself, letting his base needs come to the fore.

He was close, close. He bit Zevran again, heedless of anything but the need to do something, anything, with his mouth. Perhaps it was too hard, because Zevran’s head snapped backwards with a yelp. Even as the signal to stop hit Alistair’s forebrain, he also registered the rhythmic clenching sensation around his cock; Zevran was coming.

Gasping, Alistair let go, fucking Zevran fast, hard, chasing the edge. With a broken moan, Alistair came, his rhythm faltering as his cock pulsed within Zevran.  

Toppling to his side, Alistair collapsed with a sigh. It took a moment, but then the knowledge of what he’d done came into focus. “Zev? Are you okay? Maker, was that --?”

“Mmmn,” Zevran hummed, stretching. “I am fantastic, and that was incredible.”

“Are you sure?” Alistair couldn’t help but wrap his arms around Zevran; not only did he crave the closeness, there was literally nowhere else for him to put his limbs.

“Quite sure,” Zevran said, contentedly burrowing into Alistair’s embrace.

Alistair was too worn out to do anything but take him at his word. It felt unbelievable just to lie there. It was barely sunset, far too early to go to bed. Still, nothing was going to drag Alistair out of the room save the inn burning down. Eventually reality began to set in, and he realized the blanket was itchy and he was getting cold. “We should -- nngh,” Alistair groaned, heaving himself up.

“Sadly, I must agree,” Zevran said. With no sign of fatigue, he rolled off the bed and slipped behind the privacy screen in the corner. Alistair fumbled himself under the covers, too lazy to pull on a tunic.

Zevran emerged a moment later and joined him under the covers. “I will confess I have missed this, these last few nights.”

“Me too,” Alistair admitted. “A lot.”

“I was quite certain that I had all but destroyed any chance to experience this again. I have never been so grateful to be wrong.”

“Happens to me a lot,” Alistair said without thinking. “Best to expect the worst, that’s what I say. Otherwise you only get disappointed.”

“Mmm,” Zevran said, wrapping his arms around Alistair’s waist. “As you were with your sister?”

“You heard me talking to Isabela, did you?” At Zevran’s nod, Alistair sighed. “I suppose Cousland was right. People only look out for themselves.”

“It is my great regret that I was not there with you,” Zevran said. “And not everyone is as cynical as Cousland describes. In fact the world would be a better place, if more had a wholesome heart. It is a rare commodity.”

Alistair raised an eyebrow. “Are you talking about me?”

Zevran chuckled. “Perhaps. It is one of the things about you that I lo--” He caught himself, tensing slightly. “That I appreciate.”

Reality came crashing to a halt. Alistair could tell that wasn’t what Zevran had been about to say. He knew he should leave it alone. After all, they were only just reunited. Not to mention the fact that Alistair himself hadn’t been thinking about this in terms of -- well, in terms of love. But that was only because he didn’t dare to hope.

In the vacuum of time and space created by Zevran’s slip of the tongue, and perhaps engendered by the rather spectacular manner in which they’d just communed, recklessness sparked in Alistair’s heart. He found himself pressing for more. “I thought you didn’t want to lie to me anymore.”

Zevran went still and silent. Alistair held his breath; Andraste take him, why couldn’t he have just let it go? Just before he was about to say something, Zevran spoke. “Perhaps, it is not a lie, so much as a truth which is not yet ripe for the speaking.”

“But -- but someday, maybe?”

“Someday, cielito.”

“Alright,” Alistair said. “Someday,” he agreed. Zevran relaxed against him and they went quiet. Alistair began the now-automatic process of talking himself out of his disappointment. Someday wasn’t never. Granted, it wasn’t a promise, but something was better than nothing. It was his fault for pushing, anyway. He knew better; it’s what he deserved for getting too greedy with Zevran’s affection.

“No,” Zevran said suddenly, pushing himself up. “No, I cannot let this stand.” He shook his head, seemingly angry, and began fussing with his hair, which had apparently become stuck in his earring. “There should be no room for doubt.”

Alistair didn’t bother pretending to be confused. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have pressed. It’s fine, honest, look, I’m just happy to --”

“Alistair,” Zevran said, cutting him off. “I want you to have this. If I cannot force my cowardly tongue to speak, you must at least have a token.” He handed over the earring, closing Alistair’s fingers around it and covering his hand with both of his own. “I promise you, someday I will have the courage to say everything you deserve to hear. I cannot possibly ask you to wait until that day, and yet I hope that you will do so regardless.”

Alistair stared down at their intertwined hands. “It’s not a matter of waiting. You make me happy. You don’t have to give me anything or tell me anything. Just -- just stay.”

“I do not plan to do anything else,” Zevran said.

Alistair unfurled his fingers, examining the earring. He felt like he might float off the bed. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “Maybe -- maybe tomorrow I can get my ear pierced? You must know a place, right?”

Zevran’s eyes widened. “Truly? I did not think you would wish to wear such a thing.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Alistair asked. “Unless you don’t want me to wear it?”

Zevran smiled, brushing the backs of his fingers over Alistair’s cheek. “I would like nothing better. In fact --” He stopped abruptly as a faint thumping sound came from the wall next to the bed, drawing both their attention. Then it happened again a second later.

“Is that...?” Zevran raised an eyebrow. Another thump.

“Wynne and Leliana’s room,” Alistair answered. “Maker, do you think something happened to Wynne? She is kind of old. Maybe we should --”

The sounds became louder and more regular. Very regular -- rhythmic, in fact. Almost like --

Zevran began to laugh. “Perhaps she is not as old as you think,” he winked.

An unmistakably feminine moan of satisfaction could just be heard, and then the low rumbling of Sten’s voice.

“Um, how about we go tonight?” Alistair said, already diving for his trousers and pulling them on. “Like right this instant.”

Zevran laughed harder, though he also dressed with remarkable speed. “An excellent idea. Come, I know a tattoo parlor that is open quite late.”

“Good, fine, let’s just go.” Alistair was already standing in the open doorway, hands over both ears.

“You permit, a moment?” Zevran said, stealing a kiss.

“I permit all the moments, for you,” Alistair said. The thumping began to rattle the furniture against the wall. “Let’s just start those moments somewhere else, shall we?” He tugged Zevran out into the hallway, closing the door firmly behind them.