Chapter 1: It's Difficult to Decipher
“So...Leliana, I’ve noticed you and our leader have become uh, close. The rest of us have talked about it,” Alistair said, sidling up to her as nonchalantly as he could. Which in Leliana’s opinion, wasn’t. She had been standing close to the fire, where she normally would after camp had been set up, and the Warden in question was across camp checking in on his warhound.
“Hmm? The Warden and I? I think your eyes are failing you Alistair, do you need to have them checked? Besides, I’m sure our party has more important things to think about than the Warden’s potential love life” she said in return with a sly look on her face, subtly turning her body towards him so that their conversation would not carry.
“You think we have better things to do than gossip about you two? You give us far too much credit. Is it true or not?” Alistair scoffed, cutting to the chase and not allowing her a chance to redirect the conversation. Leliana rolled her eyes before replying.
“Well, for your information, there is nothing between the Warden and I. Simply enjoys hearing tales, said the nanny used to tell them before bed and it was an addiction. Ever since I revealed that I was a travelling minstrel I have been hounded for any new stories and I have to remind that I haven’t heard any since we haven’t stayed in a tavern for months. Since then, Wynne has been harassed as much as I was for tales,” She explained, waving her hand as if to wave away the rumors of them being involved. Alistair’s face went from mild distrust to entertained exasperation.
“Oh fine, fine, have it your way. Stomp on my one little feeling,” Alistair said, crossing his arms and shifting his weight to favor his left side.
“Stomping on feelings? As long as we are not stomping on other things consider my interest piqued friends. Whose feelings are being ruined today?” Zevran asked, sliding up behind Alistair and Leliana both. Alistair jolted from surprise while Leliana was unfazed and turned to grin at Zevran.
“Alistair seems to think that the Warden and I are involved romantically. I corrected him,” she explained to the assassin. At this Zevran made a noise of surprise and then turned to Alistair.
“You thought Leliana and the Warden?” he asked, before Alistair could reply in his own defense Zevran began laughing heartily at him. Alistair pouted and uncrossed his arms to position his hands on his hips.
“Well then I suppose you’re taking credit as the reason behind the good mood and cheery air about our leader recently? I know you don’t discriminate over potential partners,” Alistair said accusingly, towering over Zevran. Zev met his stare with a smirk and mirrored Alistair’s pose.
“I most certainly wish, sadly it is not to be,” Zev answered, still smirking as he turned his head to look at the Warden’s backside. Alistair’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as he dropped his hands to just rest at his sides.
“Wait so are you saying you haven’t offered?” Alistair began to ask before Zevran cut him off again.
“Oh no I did, multiple times. Our Warden seems to already have eyes for someone else,” Zevran said, shooting a glance at Leliana, hoping that she too had already caught on to the Warden’s preference. Leliana smirked back at Zevran, knowing exactly what he was insinuating.
“Hold on, so if it’s not you, and it’s not Leliana, then that leaves…” Alistair trailed off. Leliana and Zevran shot worried glances at each other, it would not be good for their party if Alistair’s chantry upbringing ruined things for them.
“Then he’s with Morrigan?!?” Alistair burst out suddenly. The two rogues shared a look of mutual disdain for the technically senior warden. Zevran put his face in his palm as Leliana struggled to try to find the words to correct the situation. Alistair however had already turned to look at Morrigan with suspicion. Morrigan, currently sitting at her little camp outside of the main camp, noticed his glare and sent back one that made Alistair’s blood feel like ice.
“Alistair,” Leliana began, trying to get his attention, but now he was already entrenched in this staring contest he started. There was no getting out of it until one of them blinked. Alistair had to prove a point, that if she hurt his fellow warden, she’d have to deal with him. Leli futilely tried getting his attention once again before turning to Morrigan with a pleading look. Let him win this one, she begged mentally, knowing that he wouldn’t let the idea of Morrigan and the Warden go if she won. However, Morrigan’s intensity made Leliana try again to get Alistair’s attention instead.
“Alistair, oh how do I put this delicately, the Warden is not interested in those with a more, feminine form,” Leliana said trying to explain it in simplest terms. For a moment it seemed as though it didn’t work but then Alistair’s gaze slightly drifted off to the distance, his brow pulling into a confused frown. Finally he turned back to her and asked a question.
“Wait so you mean he likes, other men?” Alistair’s face looked so confused Leliana wanted to take pity on him, but Zevran stepped in and instead replied.
“I do not know where your confusion comes from my friend, we have already established that men can like other men yes? So if you have a problem with the Warden’s preferences then I well suggest-”
“No, no I know that! It’s not that he likes other men that’s the problem! Promise! It’s just, y’know, he’s the Warden! On top of that he’s the son of nobles, right? It’s just, wow I did wasn’t expecting that. So wait, if he likes other men, then Zevran why isn’t he with you?” Alistair asked. Zevran looked almost stunned by Alistair’s obliviousness but then answered.
“While I am flattered by your obvious faith in my superior abilities at gaining bed partners, I must ask you, have you stopped to wonder, that perhaps, the Warden has a taste for a different type of man than myself? Perhaps a man who is a bit more, similar to himself, than someone like me?” Zevran queried. Leliana had grown quiet watching the exchange, hoping that Alistair would finally catch on. Alistair’s face grew clouded as he began thinking more about it. Then the moment of clarity happened and the cloud over him broke away to reveal a marvelous blush. Leliana’s face broke out in a wide grin as she knew they had finally gotten through to him.
“Are you two teasing Alistair? He has the look of having been thoroughly embarrassed again,” Stephan Cousland, the second Grey Warden in Ferelden, said as he walked over to join them where they stood by the fire. As he glanced between Leliana and Zevran’s knowing faces and Alistair’s shocked and embarrassed one, he let his clear disapproval show on his normally mild face. The two rogues looked unrepentant while the two warriors seemed very confused for completely different reasons. Leli knew that it perhaps may have not been the best idea that she and Zevran spill their leader’s inner feelings. However these two had been dancing around each other for far too long, and to be certain, neither she nor Zev strictly said who the Warden had feelings for. Zevran opened his mouth to come up with a quick excuse but before he could, Alistair spoke up.
“I’m going to go check on Calenhad, he seems very lonely over there!” he said turning around abruptly. They watched him retreat and then sit down next to the dog and, in full armor, tucked his knees up to his chest.
“All right, I’m going to ask, though I can already tell this won’t be good. What did you tell him?” Cousland asked. “He only retreats to talk to Calenhad when he can’t talk to me about it” he explained further.
“Is anyone else amused by the fact that our fearless warrior speaks to a warhound about his deep thoughts and feelings?” Zevran said, his face breaking out in a shit-eating grin. Cousland looked some-what confused by his glee while Leliana actually answered him.
“He’s a Fereldan Zevran, mabaris are very intelligent animals and here they can be trusted advisors in matters of moral conscience. Remember they left the magisters of Tevinter in order to side with Fereldan barbarians. The breed is very highly valued in this country,” she said. Zevran kept chuckling to himself over it while Cousland rolled his eyes and returned to the topic at hand.
“Stop deflecting, what were you all talking about to Alistair?” he asked again, growing slightly impatient. Cousland crossed his arms as looking down at the two of them, trying to look impressive. The rogues looked at each other and silently agreed that telling the truth sounded like a bad idea, so they weren’t going to do that. However their plan went awry when they decided to speak at the same time.
“We explained where baby mabaris come from,”
“We told him that Morrigan had been asking for locks of his hair in order to create a potion that she would put in the food that would only poison him,” Zevran said barely concealing his smirk, his excuse far more outlandish than Leliana's. Cousland looked at them with an exasperated look on his face. Neither one looked as though they would cave anytime soon so eventually he just sighed and gave up.
“Fine, fine, keep your secrets,” he told them, shaking his hands of the situation. They were all adults and Cousland felt as though he didn’t need to actually tell them to stop acting childlike. As he walked toward Bodahn and Sandal, Zevran and Leliana shook hands in congratulations for their good work.
Chapter 2: It Still Isn't Easy to Figure Out
This one's for you VFive!!
If you're interested in hearing more about my warden Stephan and his misadventures (plus the huge au (mostly just a big rant nothing actually made) i made because i needed him and alistair to be happy and blightless) head on over to my tumblr, easybakedoodles, and hit me up!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So theoretically, how long could a Fereldan spend talking to a dog?” Zevran asked as he and the Warden’s other companions sat eating their dinner.
“Considering what we told him earlier? Indefinitely.” Leliana replied nonchalantly.
“I believe that begs the question, what exactly did you tell him then?” Warden Cousland asked, standing with his food in hand behind the two rogues. During their silence he sat in the almost too small space between them, forcing them to shift apart in order for him to join them. After another tense moment, Zevran spoke.
“To be fair, Warden, it is more along the lines of what we did not tell him,” he said with a grin. Cousland just stared at him, waiting patiently for either of them to fill in their intentional blanks.
“Though you should know Warden, that he brought up the subject first, asking for my intentions towards you. He believed that we were sweet on each other.” Leliana explained hesitantly. At the Warden’s shocked face she nodded sympathetically. However since Cousland’s expression of shock could easily have been mistaken for his expression of confusion, they were very similar, Leliana hoped he knew that her intentions were good.
“Then he assumed I knew the source of your good favour and believed you and I to be amors, when in reality, I have eyes.” Zevran added with a wink. Cousland’s cheeks, dark as they were, began to redden under Zevran’s knowing smirk. Zevran tried not to laugh, he really did, but could not help the few chuckles at Cousland’s face.
“Then, once we corrected him in that you have no particularly special feelings towards Zevran, Morrigan, or I. Then, we simply just, suggested what type of person you might be inclined to have feelings toward.” Leliana added, trying to soften the blow. Cousland’s cheeks, if anything, got darker at her admission and his normally stoic expression began to pull downward into what would have been a fierce frown on anyone else. However on his face was just a slight tug down on the edges of his lips.
“Then there was a very amusing bit where he was confused on why I had not made you my own dear Warden, but we rectified his mistake quickly do not fear. Our kingly friend is not the sharpest sword on the stand it seems,” Zevran added quickly, interrupting whatever thought Cousland might have had.
“Oh good, that’s just what I was worried about thank you Zevran. Alistair is perfectly intelligent, just because he was mostly raised in a chantry does not mean his education was lacking. I just, I can’t believe that you two-” Cousland began.
“He started the conversation!” Both Leliana and Zevran claimed in their defense.
“Regardless, my feelings were my own! Don’t you two think I should have had the chance to tell him on my own? When I was ready to face the repercussions?” He said plainly, looking at them with disappointment.
“We did not say exactly-”
“Alluding to it is close enough Zevran!” Cousland interrupted as he stood, his food forgotten. “I need to speak with him, maybe I can fix this somehow.” He began to pace in front of the two rogues, both of whom shot nervous glances at each other. Normally it was as hard to get Cousland to open up as it was to get Sten to speak about anything. Seeing him this concerned and ruffled made them start to think twice about their actions.
“Perhaps Warden, you should let him continue talking to the dog.” Zevran quietly interjected as Cousland began rubbing at his chin as he stalked back and forth.
“I can’t let this go on too long, what if he thinks I’ve been entirely lecherous to him? What if he hates me for it? It’s entirely inappropriate, we’re brothers in arms I shouldn’t have even been so obvious for you two to figure it out.” The Warden said, mostly speaking to himself at that point.
“He never said he was opposed to the thought of two men together, I think Zevran is right and you should let him work through this on his own. Alistair will come talk to you when he is ready,” Leliana added, supporting her fellow rogue.
“What if he’s never ready? What if he-”
“Kadan,” Sten interrupted loudly from the open space next to camp, both away from the main fire and where Alistair and Calenhad were on watch. Cousland stopped immediately, his head popping up to stare at the Qunari. In response, Sten hefted his recently reclaimed sword on his shoulder and beckoned Cousland over. The human in question just nodded and abruptly headed toward his own tent to grab his own sword and practice leathers.
Leliana and Zevran were both adequately stunned by the new development and watched wordlessly as the two warriors then begin to spar. It wasn’t strange for the two of them to spar, but dropping everything he was doing to spar was newer. Though they both used large two handed swords, their fighting styles were so vastly different that it made every spar a battle of strategy rather than might. Cousland had flexibility and reach, while Sten had brute strength and steadfast swings.
The two didn’t need words but as they practiced, the rogues could see the conversation between their blades. Nervous, unbridled energy from Cousland, then steady relentlessness from Sten. Slowly Cousland fell into his more focused fighting, taking calculated risks, getting up close to the qunari to land better hits as he normally did in battle. Without pause, Sten rebuffed his advance and forced him back with sheer weight alone.
During any other spar, Cousland would have taken that as an opportunity to dive down and under Sten’s wide shoves to overwhelm him. Instead, he took the full force of the qunari’s might and buckled under the pressure. For a moment, Leliana and Zevran were worried that Sten wouldn’t know to stop, or couldn’t see the distracted state their leader was in, but Sten’s blade stopped next to Cousland’s throat, ending the spar. After a moment, he withdrew his sword and reached out his large hand to help him back to his feet.
On most nights, you couldn’t stop hearing the clash of metal until well into the night, for Sten to win so quickly proved how unsettled Cousland was about being found out. Instead of berating him for his absent mindedness, Sten instead simply told him to prepare himself and they went at it again.
Cousland went down four more times before he finally found his footing and let his frustration take over, getting all of his nervous energy out. He had never let his emotions rule him, but Cousland’s nerves could give him a hard time. It was good that Sten had told him to spar, and Cousland was grateful for the outlet it provided.
While the two rogue’s attention had shifted some during this, they both drifted back when they realized how intently Alistair had began watching the spar. Leliana and Zevran knew what that look meant. Whether Cousland or Sten had noticed was anyone’s guess. Or even if Alistair knew how he had been looking at his fellow Warden.
As they observed quietly, they saw both Wardens eyes begin to get hooded with weariness. The rogues finally agreed that it was late, and they were travelling to the Brecilian Forest come morning for seemingly no reason since they had already gained the trust of both elves and weres. Either way, it was a long walk, one best not unprepared for. However, if they both decided to keep an ear open towards the Warden’s tent, well that was their little secret.
And if neither Warden slept in a tent that night, that was their little secret as well.
The loud and raucous laughter that rang through camp come morning once the two Wardens found a quiet moment to talk wasn’t necessarily a secret, and later, neither was the fact that poor Alistair had thought that the two rogues had meant that Cousland had feelings towards their, albeit two-handed warrior, resident qunari.
If Sten found it amusing, he never revealed it, and instead gave them both a withering look for their lingering chuckles throughout the day.