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After everything went to shit, the Seeker was only concerned with the bigger picture — what Hawke said, how the Qunari responded, why the viscount died. It gave Varric some room to gloss over events, shit that wasn’t important in the long run. Shit that didn’t matter, that regardless of how it played out wouldn’t have changed a damn thing.

Of course, nothing’s easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be his life.

When the Valos-Kas roll into Skyhold, thirty-strong and rowdy like only giants can pull off, Varric feels the sharp bite of caution at the base of his skull. He looks ‘em over quick, not that it’s of any help, all qunari look the same unless they’re built like Tiny—

And there in the back’s a human, standing close to one of the qunari, dark brown hair pulled back from his face and an unfortunate attempt at a beard sitting on his chin and cheeks. He’s just a human, weird as it is for a human to be part of a Tal-Vashoth mercenary group aside… and then he turns around, and Varric curses under his breath.

The kid looks good, healthy and you know, not dead, with as much of a tan as a Marcher can pull off. He’s wearing the clothes of a commoner. Nothing like what he grew up with, and nothing like the armor worn by… shit. That’d be Ashaad then, ducking his head down to hear whatever it is Saemus Andraste-blessed Dumar is trying to tell him, and smiling softly in response.

And when he sees Cassandra walking towards the group, Varric hauls ass to one of the far corners of the keep and makes himself scarce.

==

It's over nearly before it's begun.

The mercenaries come thundering down to the beach and attack Ashaad, and rescue Saemus.

Ashaad falls, and Saemus screams at his rescuers and struggles against their grips. Ashaad can see his anxious gaze, eyes frantically reviewing Ashaad's injuries: the blood pulsing from the sword wound in Ashaad's side, in time with his slowing heartbeat, and the arrow shafts in his thigh and shoulder that radiate pain with every shuddering inhalation.

Ashaad knows he will die here, on this beach, and this will be the last thing his kadan sees of him. If he were to have left with the Antaam, that would have been a noble parting: Saemus would have understood. But this... Saemus does not yet know the Qun well enough to understand this.

Asit tal-eb , Ashaad thinks, and he wills Saemus to know the same. If this is where he’s meant to die, then that’s what shall be.

He closes his eyes and welcomes the heaviness dragging down at him, as though he were sinking into one of the sand traps of Seheron. But there is no fear. There is no—

Saemus screams again, as though the sound has been ripped from his chest, and Ashaad's eyes snap open. He finds himself struggling to sit upright before he can process the motion. There is pain but it’s as though his mind’s moved beyond it, and when another arrow strikes him in the chest he doesn’t feel it. The sand is loose beneath his feet and his head’s too heavy upon his neck, but the mercenaries have their hands on Saemus and are dragging him up the hill, and from where Ashaad struggles he can see the fear on Saemus's face, the grief, the pain, his kadan who feels so strongly...

Ashaad’s right foot shifts below him and he knows he will fall, and that he will not rise again. He wills Saemus to know... to know that...

It is a trick of his dying mind, that the last thing he sees before the darkness is the head of the man dragging Saemus up the hill cracking open around a thrown dagger, blood and matter painting the golden sand.

==

He's disoriented when he wakes. That is why Saemus is there, why Ashaad can feel the warm sand against his bare skin, why he's in shadow — the shadows of many people, but not the mercenaries.

Saemus's face is red, his eyes are red, his hands where they clutch one of Ashaad's hands to his chest white as bone. He’s not crying, but the trails of many tears glisten on his cheeks. He hiccoughs when Ashaad looks up at him, a small ragged sound that speaks to the strain of his recent screaming.

Which makes no sense. Ashaad knows he fell. Asit tal-eb. He knows…

The bas saarebas who the Arishok has dealt with in the past stands above him, and around her are amassed a number of the bas she associates with. Ashaad looks at them each in turn, and notes the daggers one carries on her back. They interfered with the mercenaries then, which means...

“Please don’t move,” a bas saarebas tells Ashaad, kneeling on the sand next to him and pressing warm hands against his side. Ashaad immediately shifts away from the contact. He won’t be afflicted by the demons from the humans’ Fade — but beside him, Saemus tightens the grip on his hand, and Ashaad... stills.

“You’re lucky you’re still breathing,” says the Arishok’s bas saarebas, Hawke, if he remembers the whispers in the Antaam. “But if you want to interrupt Anders and walk around with a couple vents in your midsection, be my guest.”

“No, I’d rather he not,” Saemus laughs, the sound wet and thick and deep from within his chest, and Ashaad uncurls his fingers and brushes his knuckles against Saemus’s jaw. Saemus closes his eyes and tightens his grip on Ashaad’s hand, and Ashaad breathes in slowly, and lets the bas saarebas heal his wounds.

"So your daddy doesn't approve of your paramour," the ashaad accompanying Hawke drawls, and Saemus flushes and fidgets with Ashaad's hand.

"That sort of thing doesn't happen under the Qun," Saemus says with conviction, and Ashaad watches Saemus's eyes open wide with a new concern. "You'll be safe if we return you to the docks, won't you?"

"I must complete my task," Ashaad replies, thinking of the stretch of coast he still has yet to document for the Arishok.

Saemus's face falls as he understands, and he glances around at the bas. "And it’s unsafe for me to continue joining you here, if this is what results…”

Which is a reasonable conclusion. Still, Ashaad finds himself struggling to not dismiss it. He has orders to follow and fulfill, and for a brief moment he can imagine himself setting them aside, if there were to be even the slightest possibility that—

Down that road lies a break from the Qun, and from his duty.

“It will be as it needs to be.”

==

And while this is true, it doesn’t make the situation any more bearable.

Ashaad finds the hours pass by infinitely more slowly without someone at his side asking probing questions about his homeland, or about the Qun. He accomplishes more, however, and the Arishok is pleased with his progress.

The approval feels shallow, and Ashaad doesn’t let himself dwell on why.

He continues to do what he must, and he listens, and records, and seeks.

And when Saemus arrives at the docks one night and the alharaad won’t let him in, Ashaad is still listening, and he hears Saemus’s voice and interrupts the alharaad’s third refusal to grant Saemus admittance.

“Come, kadan,” Ashaad prompts, and seeing Saemus’s smile is akin to gazing upon the sunrise over the sea.

They read the Qun together, next to each other on the steps, Ashaad translating as Saemus struggles in his pronunciation. It’s abysmal still, and while Ashaad doesn’t say it, Saemus knows; but Saemus laughs, arguing that this simply provides a reason for his to sneak away from the keep more frequently.

It happens irregularly, though, as many days as Saemus is able to, and as many days as Ashaad is able to greet him — it hooks deep within his chest, the thought that Saemus sometimes is close, eager to learn, to see him, and Ashaad is unavailable.

But it does happen. It happens, and Saemus calls Ashaad his kadan and Ashaad… he smiles wide at him, and clasps his hands, and when it’s late, too late, and Saemus looks at him for long moments, Ashaad wonders if Saemus understands. Or if he is too bas still to…

Ashaad wonders, too, about…

He shouldn’t. There’s little problem with making Saemus smile, with determining what to do that will coax out a laugh. There’s little problem, if that’s where it ends.

He’s shared many friendships before, with others in the Antaam, and back in Par Vollen. He’s felt close to those friends. He’s gone to tamassrans when the need arose, to ensure such needs were met.

When Ashaad was stationed in Sena’a, he became close with a beresaad. The both of them understood their limits, and when they grew concerned their affections were growing unchecked, they distanced themselves. It was the correct course of action.

He doesn’t lie to himself and pretend that it wasn’t difficult; or that it wasn’t a sacrifice. But it set his mind at ease. It maintained their adherence to the Qun.

As with all things related to Saemus, Ashaad finds that this is different.

He would have died for him on the coast, just as he would die for anyone in the Antaam were it required of him. But if he had instead been instructed to go on without him, when the possibility to stay was available…

He’s not Tal-Vashoth. He has no desire to leave the Qun.

He only wishes… he wants...

He wants.

==

None of it’s a good idea. Ashaad knows this, he recognizes it, the feelings in his own heart and the way that Saemus watches him sometimes, but he takes no action to stop it.

It’s dangerous.

When Saemus’s own life is threatened by one of Kirkwall’s priests, Ashaad reconsiders his understanding of what danger truly is.

He’s told Saemus is killed.

His death is pinned on the Antaam and Ashaad feels the heavy weight of anger in his chest, restrained only by his more logical mind. The Arishok would never command it. There are no Ben-Hassrath active in the city. He will not believe it.

It’s easier to focus on the incongruences in the story than the reality it’s declaring.

He seeks out one of Hawke’s stens, the elf who speaks Qunlat, who tells him the truth, about their rescue of Saemus from the hands of the priest.

Ashaad sways on his feet when he’s told. He steadies himself, one hand to the wall of their compound, and the sten huffs a rough laugh, and tells him that Saemus is hidden away in the alienage.

Ashaad wills himself still, and not to demand to be taken to him, to verify the truth for himself. It’s not a good idea. Saemus lives, the sten swears it, and Ashaad will accept it.

But the Arishok is angered by the accusations, and the Antaam is restless.

Ashaad sees the future laid out in front of him:

There will be war and many will die.

Ashaad will not allow Saemus to be among them.

==

Saemus is pent-up anxiety and anger when Ashaad goes to him. He goes easily into Ashaad’s arms and they hold each other for longer than Ashaad should allow, and when Ashaad presents his plan, Saemus pushes away from him and snarls, “I will not be Tal-Vashoth.”

Ashaad feels the words in his core. He’s shaken by Saemus’s resolve, but Saemus doesn’t understand what will befall Kirkwall.

“Kadan. You will die here. I will die here. We will die under the Qun, or live Tal-Vashoth.”

The words are bitter on Ashaad’s tongue, and Saemus is pale, and angry, and quaking. His hands shake when Ashaad takes them up, and his mouth is an angry slash across his face.

Ashaad takes both of Saemus’s hands in one of his own, and lifts his other to curve around Saemus’s jaw, to hold his handsome face. “Do not die here. Please.”

Saemus closes his eyes.

“Please, kadan.”

Saemus laughs, the sound brash and crackling in the quiet of the hovel.

“You’re… Ashaad, I want…”

He tips his head into Ashaad’s palm, and Ashaad wipes the tears from his cheeks.

==

Ashaad defects.

Saemus, flanked on either side by the bas who’ve hidden him away while the city thinks him dead, meets him in the early morning by the docks, far enough from the compound that there are few eyes on them, none Qunari.

Hawke’s ashaad has connections with sailors — smugglers, if Ashaad were to guess, from the look of the ship, low in the water. But then Ashaad has little experience with the sea, knowing only enough to be of use when the Antaam travels, and enough to know when to remove himself from the deck if he’s only going to get in the way of those who are better suited to the work.

There is no place for smugglers in a well-regulated society. A market for them only appears when there are things people want but should not have, or need and can’t get. It’s appropriate then, that they will leave Kirkwall by way of these bas:

This is something that Ashaad wants but should not have.

“Thank you,” Saemus says to the bas, voice firm, though Ashaad can see the shake of his fingers. “You didn’t need to do any of this.”

“True,” Hawke replies breezily, and she jerks her thumb over her shoulder towards one of her stens. “But you wouldn’t believe how romantic Carver thinks this all is, and I’d be a wretched sister if I didn’t let him bask in it.”

One of the sten — her brother, Ashaad corrects himself, Carver. He can see the resemblance in their faces, in the way they hold themselves. A brother and a sister. Odd — huffs and rolls his eyes, and the small saarebas next to him holds a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.

Saemus’s cheeks flush pink, visible even in the lowlight of the docks, and he looks towards Ashaad as though unsure of what to say.

“Regardless, we thank you,” Ashaad says, glancing at Carver, and Hawke waves a hand at him dismissively and then asks her ashaad to get things underway.

Money exchanges hands, an amount that makes Saemus’s eyes grow large — though Hawke disregards his protests again, and mutters something about redistributing wealth amongst the lowlifes of Kirkwall.

They’re provided with waterproofed leathers of water, salted meat, and dried fruit; then hidden below deck behind a false wall constructed from barrels and crates. It smells overpoweringly of the sea, and once they’re situated, Saemus presses the sleeve of his tunic up against his nose.

“We’ll grow used to it in time,” Ashaad tells him, and the look Saemus grants him over the edge of his arm is… fond. Fond, and sad, and bordering on desperate.

“This isn’t exactly the exciting escape I’d envisioned for us.”

Saemus laughs after he says it, and shifts to sit closer to Ashaad in their small crawl space. He’s quiet then, for the length of many moments, and Ashaad wonders if that’s what this is: an escape. If he could be considered not to be defecting, but fleeing instead.

“Safety doesn’t need to be exciting,” Ashaad says, and Saemus looks at him for another long moment before leaning against Ashaad’s side, resting his head on Ashaad’s shoulder.

The ship won’t leave the dock tonight. They’ll push out tomorrow morning, with the intent that the busy midday bustle of the docks will let them blend in with the rest of it. Tonight, they’ll sleep in this cramped crawl space and be quiet as a tallis to prevent suspicion.

It’s uncomfortable, but better than the alternative.

Ashaad folds his arm around Saemus’s waist, curving his fingers over Saemus’s hipbone. They sit together until even the criminals retire, and lowtown is silent save for the gentle rocking of the water against the docks.

He thinks Saemus asleep until he hears a low muffled noise, akin to a sob. “My father thinks I’m dead.”

You are as Tal-Vashoth as I, Ashaad doesn’t say. Death would be a better end.

But… he doesn’t believe that. He knows savagery awaits him, once he’s strayed too far. But until that time, Saemus will be alive, and Ashaad with him.

“And you are not,” Ashaad replies and turns his head, pressing his lips to Saemus’s forehead. “He’ll find his own peace. We will find ours.”

“Asit tal-eb,” Saemus says softly, and he pulls back enough to look Ashaad in the eye.

“Asit tal-eb,” Ashaad says, and Saemus laughs low in his throat, a tired, scratchy sound, and returns his head to Ashaad’s shoulder.

==

Saemus has no sea legs.

They discover this quickly, the smugglers and Ashaad both, when as soon as they move into clear water and open the false wall, Saemus bolts past the sailor — Hitchens, he’d introduced himself as — and up the ladder to the deck.

“You kept silent,” Ashaad says, rubbing his hand across Saemus’s back as he leans over the edge of the ship.

“I’ve some amount of self-control,” Saemus says, voice thick, and he moans and then rests his head against the railing. “Was escaping Kirkwall by wagon not an option?”

Ashaad circles his hand in the opposite direction, smoothing out the folds in Saemus’s tunic. “You’ll enjoy the sea.” Saemus gives him a weak laugh, and Ashaad amends, “Once you’ve adjusted.”

Saemus’s laugh grows stronger, and Ashaad watches his hands curl and uncurl around the railing. “I honestly can’t wait.”

==

The crew is from Rivain, and they laugh good-naturedly at Saemus when his skin burns red and flakes off his nose, his cheeks, his ears. Ashaad’s own skin darkens, and he thinks of the weeks spent at sea with the Antaam, and the Viddathari who would wear wide-brimmed hats or streak their faces with an oily cream provided by the tamassrans.

Saemus freckles, and when they lie together at night, sharing one of the few available cots built into the outer hull of the ship, Ashaad runs the back of a finger over the shell of Saemus’s ear and considers priorities.

There’s a week of travel left until they reach Rivain, and while the captain has discussed their eventual route to the Anderfels, Ashaad doesn’t think it wise to cross the Venification Sea, to bring either of them within the reach of Par Vollen.

No, they’ll depart the crew in Rivain and find a settlement that won’t mind their presence. Rivain’s good for it. They are used to Qunari, and Vashoth in the south.

He will need to be Vashoth, if they want to avoid immediate attention: Tal-Vashoth are savage, mindless; but Vashoth, those who were never given the Qun as a guide… they manage, somehow.

Ashaad must learn to manage as they do.

Saemus shifts against him on their cot, and Ashaad watches his expression tighten and relax.

Saemus was never Viddathari and so can’t truly be Tal-Vashoth, but he’ll be concerned regardless. He will miss it, the certainty that comes from living the Qun.

Ashaad forces himself away from the thought. There’s no use in these worries, late in the night when he has nothing to contend with but himself.

He focuses instead on Saemus, counting the freckles dotting his skin, until he drifts to sleep.

==

Ashaad finds himself frequently watching Saemus interact with the others. He’s not one to pry, but he is an ashaad. He watches. He observes. He listens. It is who he is, even when he has no one to report to.

“It’s not out of the ordinary,” the cook says with an indulgent smile, and Saemus frowns as he peels another persimmon. He doesn’t ask the cook to explain, managing to stem his curiosity. It’s a change from his usual behavior. It’s a wise choice.

The cook hums as they mix the great pot of porridge. “Not that any of them would want you to know it, but it’s common as horseshit to see one of ‘em make friends outside of their own. One thing leads to another, and someone’s head ends up on a pike.”

Ashaad missed the beginning of this conversation. Now, he’s distracted by the flush darkening the back of Saemus’s neck.

Saemus scoffs, but keeps his concentration on the fruit and knife in his hands. “The Qun wouldn’t waste anything so flagrantly.”

“Take it as a manner of speech then,” the cook replies with a laugh, and draws the back of their arm across their forehead. “It’s good to see it, is all I mean. Even if it always go wrong. You two’ll be careful though, won’t you.”

“Yes.”

Saemus looks over his shoulder, and Ashaad feels caught, though he wasn’t trying to hide himself.

Saemus smiles, one half of his mouth curving up. The expression is too reserved for his kadan, but then this is a trying time. Reservation is to be expected. In Rivain, his kadan will smile wide again. Ashaad will hear his laughter, as he did on the Sword Coast.

==

Rivain is not as friendly as Ashaad had planned on its being. The people are open and kind, but they’re also pragmatic.They maintain a good relationship with the Qunari — and while none would seek to harm a Tal-Vashoth, that relationship is prioritized.

Ashaad tells Saemus as much when he leaves the inn on the outskirts of Ayesleigh, shaking his head. “They will not serve us here.”

“How do you mean?” Saemus looks between the closed door of the inn and Ashaad. His face is that of a man who has rarely been denied anything. Saemus may be young, but this inexperience reflects poorly on those who reared him.

“They recognize that I am not Vashoth. Tal-Vashoth aren’t welcome.”

Emotions twist their way across Saemus’s face, until his expression settles angry, with a deep hurt Ashaad’s unsure how to salve. “We didn’t abandon the Qun.”

“They deal in many Qunari travellers. It’d be safe to neither them nor ourselves, were we to stay. It’s wise to move on.”

Saemus stands stubborn, unswayed by this logic. His pain is so near to the surface of his skin that Ashaad thinks he could taste it, were he to stand close enough.

“Saemus.”

Fine,” Saemus snaps, and turns on his heel to stalk down the road.

They come upon another inn a handful of miles along the route, but the innkeeper has keen eyes and requests they leave.

Ashaad wonders if his betrayal of the Qun is writ on his skin, if the vitaar across his shoulders has reformed itself into a screed illustrating his actions.

“What was the point of running if we never have a chance to stop?” Saemus asks, voice thick in his throat.

Ashaad centers himself. “We will continue east,” he says, and takes one of Saemus’s hands between both of his, and — for some reason, though his heart and his mind clamor together in the action of it — lifts it to his mouth to press a kiss against Saemus’s palm. “It will be worth it, kadan.”

Saemus laughs, weakly, but his eyes are shining when he says, “Because we’re the both of us alive,” and Ashaad draws a smile to Saemus’s lips with another kiss to his hand.

==

Ayesleigh is not too long a walk to the Antivan border, and the people they find there are less particular about the distinction between Qunari and Tal-Vashoth.

Saemus charms a young woman selling vegetables into letting them assist her in loading her cart after a day’s sales, and accompanying her back to the farm where she labors. An old man — her sire, no, father, Ashaad understands after the man introduces himself — looks them both over once he’s ascertained they pose no immediate threat to him.

It’s a benefit of the sea, and the miles they’ve trodden, that Saemus is not dismissed as too soft for labor; but it is Ashaad whom the man is most interested in. “Oxmen are good for lifting,” the man says shrewdly, and Saemus clenches his calloused hands at his sides.

Ashaad draws a hand across his shoulders, steadying him.

“Yes,” Ashaad agrees. His time in Kirkwall wasn’t spent observing humans directly, but it was still enough to know that they appreciate when their idiocies are humored. “Tell me what you need.”

And later, if Ashaad whispers in Qunlat while the man directs him while they work, things he knows Saemus will understand, critiques on the way the man smells and observations of the way dried dung clings to the bottoms of his trousers, then it is between them...

Though Saemus must excuse himself from the fields when his laughter gets the best of him.

==

They move on from the small-minded bas and his farm, supplies heavy across their backs, and camp under the stars. The heat and humidity of summer leave Saemus bone-tired, but when Ashaad offers to take his load, he forces himself tall and brushes Ashaad’s hand off.

He looks as though he could fall asleep mid-step, but he doesn’t complain. He was coddled during his upbringing, but he’s no less determined for it. The firm set of his jaw forces something loose in Ashaad’s chest, until his every limb feels warm, energized. Ashaad can’t dismiss it purely as respect.

They find another traveller, an Antivan headed to Tevinter, who tells them she’s looking for work on the border. Saemus doesn’t question the story, but Ashaad watches the way she moves, and how she responds to the sounds of the road — he figures her for one of Antiva’s tallis, a Crow. He doesn’t tell Saemus — the Crows are too professional to harm bystanders, and so they’re in no danger.

They share a fire every night, and by the third sunset they sit together, laughing over a story the tallis tells about a Rivaini hedgewitch and a possessed goat. Ashaad wraps his arm around Saemus’s waist when Saemus shivers from the cool breeze meandering its way through the valley, and Saemus leans into his touch.

Ashaad watches him in profile until the story lulls, and Saemus notices his gaze. Saemus laughs again, asking, “What is it?” while the tallis snorts and pokes the fire with her walking stick, careful not to unsettle the pots they have boiling.

Ashaad has no answer for the question. They’ve been gone from Kirkwall weeks now, and Ashaad has yet to feel the creeping madness he expected. Saemus has changed though, subtly — but in comparison to the man he was under the purview of his father, he is nigh unrecognizable.

Ashaad wishes he’d had a chance to see how Saemus would have flourished under the Qun.

But then, they wouldn’t be here. They may be dead. If they returned to Par Vollen, Saemus would be viddathari, and sent to the tamassrans for re-education and training. It’s unlikely they would meet again, and if they did, it wouldn’t be like this.

Saemus’s laughter fades into a gentle smile, and Ashaad can do nothing save bring their mouths together.

Ashaad had never been brought to the tamassrans to breed, but he had found his satiation through them and others, through acquaintances and strangers. Under the Qun, it would be frowned upon to take up like this with someone you considered a friend. A kadan.

But they are neither of them under the Qun.

“Your lips are cold,” Saemus says, his smile stretching his own mouth wide. “Drink something. Or kiss me again.”

The Crow laughs and raises her wineskin in salute.

==

They kiss early, when the sun rises, morning dew on the grass and coating their bedrolls. Saemus's nose and cheeks are blush pink from the chill in the air, and when Ashaad exhales the air billows from his lips in clouds of white. Saemus laughs and then quiets, and holds himself still in the silence of the morning.

Ashaad brushes the lock of hair away from Saemus's forehead, and trails his thumb across an eyebrow, down over a cheekbone. Saemus is so gloriously, beautifully alive.

The both of them are alive, and Ashaad used to know with a surety in his bones that his life was only consequential because of his purpose. He would live until he was no longer useful, and then he would die.

Now he lives for this, the moment just after waking — to see Saemus's eyes crinkle when he smiles, to feel the pale warmth of his skin.

Saemus kisses him, shifts forward and presses their lips together, and Ashaad feels wholly alive.

==

They part ways with the Crow before the mountains that split Antiva and Tevinter, turning south towards Nevarra. Their rations are low and they find work in a border town, manual labor, but the merchant neither addresses Ashaad as oxman nor laughs off the idea of Saemus’s helping. Neither do they seem to care about Ashaad’s status as Tal-Vashoth — perhaps this far inland it’s more common. Safer to be Tal-Vashoth than Qunari near Tevinter.

They sleep in a bed for the first time since they left the farmer in Rivain. Saemus lies with his back to Ashaad’s chest, one of Ashaad’s arms slung around his waist and held tight by Saemus’s hands against his belly. The weather is warm enough that they’re stripped to their smalls, and Ashaad breathes Saemus in, face pressed to the crown of his head.

He is nearly asleep when Saemus shifts, tightening his hold on Ashaad’s arm.

“Sleep, kadan,” Ashaad murmurs, and Saemus heaves a great sigh, which Ashaad knows signals neither of them falling asleep for some time. He waits for Saemus to explain, and finds himself drifting before Saemus finally does:

“You cared about the other Qunari in the Antaam.”

Ashaad flattens his hand against Saemus’s stomach and finds comfort — as he has for weeks now — in Saemus’s steady breathing. “I did,” he says, and if he knew what Saemus intended with this line of questioning, would answer with more.

“Did you ever consider leaving the Qun?”

Ashaad pushes himself up on his elbow and gazes at the side of Saemus’s face, shadowed and tense. “No.”

Saemus’s expression crumples, as though Ashaad’s said the worst thing he could have. Ashaad pulls his hand free from Saemus’s, and reaches up to smooth the wrinkles from his brow.

“I had friends, and those whom I respected. If there were the…” He considers his words. “If I knew I was overly partial to someone, I took the steps necessary to separate myself from them. To ensure such emotions didn’t have time to take root.”

Saemus laughs, the sound thick, from his throat. “Is that a compliment?”

“It’s the truth,” Ashaad replies, imbuing his own voice with as much warmth as he is able. He doesn’t know how to express that the Qun was more important than any bond he’d felt the beginnings of. He doesn’t know how to express the moment when the Qun was no longer more important.

Saemus takes his hand again, pressing it to his chest. “How aren’t you afraid?”

Ashaad laughs, gently, because that’s not a simple answer either, and settles back onto the bed. He presses a kiss against Saemus’s shoulder, and after a long moment Saemus moves their entwined hands down his chest, steadily, to come to rest just below his navel.

Ashaad kisses him again, and again when he finds the line where the collar of Saemus’s workshirt must end, for the skin is hot from sunburn beneath his lips. Saemus laughs softly before him, shifting on the bed, raking his nails across the back of Ashaad’s hand.

Ashaad opens his mouth against Saemus’s shoulder, tasting sweat from the day’s laboring. Saemus inhales sharply, and presses back into him. “I’m not afraid because we are alive, together,” Ashaad replies, and knows it to be both an oversimplification and the truth.

Saemus turns in his grip and kisses him, and murmurs sweet talker between them as he pushes Ashaad onto his back.

==

The road to Nevarra joins with others until they are rarely alone as they travel. They receive lingering looks, but no one finds their presence particularly strange. Regardless, Saemus seems to find pleasure in speaking in low, serious tones in Qunlat, uttering nonsense to Ashaad about the flowers and the birds just to see the reactions of travelers who stare overlong.

In Nevarra they find work as they have before. One farmer points them to the town inn, mentioning something about the need for types like them, a group of mercenaries with frequent work. Ashaad is wary of the recommendation, but the Qunari are not thick on the ground in Nevarra and — without any other established plan — it makes as much sense as continuing to wander across Thedas.

When they enter the inn’s adjoining tavern and it’s filled to the ceiling beams with Qunari, Ashaad feels the ground shift beneath his feet as though they’re back on the ship fleeing the Free Marches. He suspected. He should have gone with his gut, he should’ve been more careful. He’s let his guard down and the both of them will suffer now, regardless of their abandoning the Qun —

Yet Saemus is not quaking at his side, or moving towards the door. He wraps his hand around Ashaad’s wrist and breathes out slowly. “Tal-Vashoth,” Saemus whispers, and his calm is what Ashaad needs to see it — Thedosian dress, nonstandard tattoos. Contraband, if this were a mission, on the tables between them — dice, a book. A saarebas sits in the corner, horns cut and mouth scarred.

“You sent here by Elias?” one of them, a warrior, asks as they stand from a table and approach them. Ashaad does not back up only because he’s concentrating on not. “He’s a shit. Didn’t tell you we were qunari, did he?”

“No,” Saemus replies with the ease of his upbringing, and says something else, though Ashaad doesn’t hear it. Ashaad hears nothing over the rush in his ears, his heart loud inside his skull. As Ashaad saw their future in Kirkwall laid out before them, death and war and a severance he was unwilling to endure, he sees their future now.

==

“Another lie,” Cassandra snarls, but Varric can tell her heart’s not truly in it. She hasn’t tried to throw him across a table, for one.

“Romantic though,” Varric responds tentatively, and she glares at him until she breaks eye contact to duck her head.

She blushes as she agrees.