A/N: Couple things: 1) Relora is a rogue/bard/assassin...in case it matters to anyone. 2) I believe that Zevran's accent is intended to be Spanish, however, several of the words he speaks are Italian. So the little phrase I threw out here is Italian...because Italian won the coin toss. And looked cooler. No offense to Spanish. I don't think it really matters, but I just thought I'd mention it. 3) This story is done! And you are all amazing, wonderful readers. Thank you for the reviews, and I hope you enjoyed the story.
Zevran savored the sound of Relora's appreciative groans as she sank into the steaming bath with him. Careful not to disturb the water, he pulled her back to rest against his chest and expelled a slow, relaxing breath. "I've never been more happy to be an elf than I am right now," she murmured, a smile in her voice as the assassin trailed faint kisses down the slope of her shoulder.
"And why is that, my dear?"
"Because…" she faded off for an incoherent moment as his bold fingers trailed over her skin beneath the water. "Because two humans would never fit into this bath together. Not without sloshing half the water on the floor."
Zevran chuckled but otherwise did not reply. He lifted his fingers to patiently pry loose the snarls in her hair, and she silently tilted her head to give him a better angle. It felt…good, natural, right. They both knew what was going on, but neither of them seemed willing to spoil this feeling with talk.
Their emotional, secondary reunion had been interrupted by the arrival of the tub and water in which they now lounged. As the servants scuttled to complete their task, sending Relora terrified and curious glances in the process, Zevran decided he had no idea how to ask her any of the hundreds of questions tumbling around in his head without shattering the fragile peace that he now felt. He was not even sure if he wanted to know anymore, though he could not really stop the questions for surfacing.
Was she really a Crow now? Did she join willingly? That seemed like a bizarre concept to him, as someone who had "joined" within the shackles of slavery. Why would she join them at all? Was she contracted to kill him? She could have easily done so many times since she appeared in his room, so he was mildly certain that this was not the case. But if not him, then someone else in Denerim?
Lora leaned over the side of the tub and searched for a washcloth and soap. "I paid Isabela to keep my identity secret," she said softly as she carefully arranged herself facing him, her eyes fixed on the cloth in her hands as she worked up a lather. "She agreed to get me out of Denerim and give me safe passage to her next port of call. Turned out, that was Antiva."
Zevran extracted the washrag from her and began a gentle, soapy exploration of her neck and shoulders. "And so you thought, 'Hey, here I am in Antiva! Why not become a Crow? It's the fashionable thing to do'."
"Actually…yes, something like that," she said with a mildly sheepish smile. "You remember Master Ignacio?"
The blonde elf did not even bother to hide his distaste. "How could I forget such a lovely little man?"
Lora shook her head ruefully, but continued. "I never told you, but…he gave me contact information in case I ever found myself in need of employment. When I got there, I needed to do something with my time. And my only other alternative plan was 'drink until all my coin is gone and pass out in a gutter somewhere until I die of exposure'."
Zervan smirked and wiped a few soapy bubbles onto the tip of her nose. "In that case, you made a wise choice."
"I am un contatta al di fuori, Zevran," she explained with an expectant expression.
His first thought was how very sexy she sounded speaking his language, with her little Ferelden accent leaking through certain words, but all of that was replaced by relief as he realized what she had said. "As an outside contact, you are not subject to the rules of the Crows," he murmured with a thoughtful nod. "Similar to your work for Ignacio before, yes? You are under no obligation to complete a contract."
"Exactly." She took the soap back from him and massaged her slippery fingers against his chest in a slow, kneading motion that forced a low groan from him.
"But, you are marked, my dear," he said after a relaxing moment, his fingers caressing her elbow where he now knew the tattoo to be.
"I needed to get them to trust me more," she shrugged, again not meeting his eyes. "It was a means to an end, and doesn't mean anything. Believe me, I made my intentions perfectly clear. I'm still a Grey Warden. I couldn't give them any promises even if I wanted to."
He caught her chin and forced her guarded gaze up to his. "What are you not telling me?"
She remained stubborn for several heartbeats, but being naked and in the bath with him seemed to make it difficult for her to ignore his question. With a defeated sigh, she admitted, "I…was hearing rumors. About you. And the contract on your life."
Zevran's hand dropped away from her face, and he nodded once in surprised reply. "And…so you…?" he prompted when she did not go on.
"I started digging." She lifted double handfuls of water to rinse the soap from his shoulders as she spoke. "I got in good with a few low-level assassins and made sure they felt comfortable around me and then squeezed them for information. Gently, of course."
"My devious little bard," he chuckled, ducking forward to steal a kiss from her smiling mouth. "Leliana would be most proud, I must say."
"Maybe." Her expression slowly faded to something sad and dark. Zevran twitched as her fingers caressed his side under the water, her palm gently pressing against the skin that had been broken by the assassin's blade. "I…thought I could stop them. Save you, like…like you saved me. But I was too late. I…"
Relora's expression was hard, but her pale eyes brimmed with bright tears. Shaking his head, Zevran drew her boldly into his lap, her legs curling around his waist and tightening against his back as their bodies slid into a firm, demanding embrace. He could feel her trembling, sense her fear that she had nearly lost him. He dug his fingers into her back and pressed his lips against the soft skin of her chest as she wound her arms around his neck. "But you have saved me, amore," he whispered tightly, hearing a broken sob catch in her throat. "You came back to me…"
Both elves startled at a loud, insistent bark just outside the door, followed closely by muffled shouts and distant clanking armor. The couple stared as the door shook and rattled, then burst open in a flurry of fur and slobber and bounding puppy yips. Colt shoved himself bodily between them, delighted that he had tracked down his two favorite elves and trying to lick both of their faces at once. The hound sloshed half of the water onto the floor as he stuck his front feet and chest into the bath with them.
"Oh, so you taught the dog to pick locks now, have you?" Zervan chortled as they both tried in vain to push the hound from the tub and calm him.
"What can I say?" Lora laughed back, tilting her head aside to avoid a splash. "We both learned some new tricks in Antiva."
"Mmm…yes," the blonde assassin purred with a suggestive stare over the back of the enthusiastic Mabari, "so I noticed last night."
Colt abruptly backed out of the tub, but it became clear it was through no effort of theirs that he withdrew. Hackles raised, the hound snarled aggressively as two dumbfounded palace guardsmen came to a stumbling halt in Zevran's doorway.
After the initial surprise of "two naked elves in a bathtub," the more collected of the two men managed to stammer, "I-I-I…Master Arainai! Apologies, ser, but the hound was…was…"
"No worries, my dear gentlemen," Zevran soothed with a charming smile as Relora shook with laughter and buried her face against the crook of his neck, using him as a shield to protect some shred of modesty. "The dog was merely seeking his mistress, and see? Now he has found her. There is no cause for alarm."
"Y-yes, of course. It's…just that…"
A voice drifted to them from down the hallway, and the two guards in the doorway suddenly snapped to attention and stepped off to one side, though Zevran noticed with a smirk that the less-coherent of the guards was not too subtle about his wandering gaze.
"…don't know why no one will tell me anything! I just want to know where that dog came…" Alistair, followed closely by a third guardsmen, froze in the doorway, blinking rapidly, "…from."
"Your Highness, you have such exquisite timing," Zevran simpered, a bit startled when Relora lifted her face to stare coldly at the human king. He had half expected her to hide her identity for any number of reasons, but it seemed he was mistaken. Not that remaining inconspicuous would be a possibility for long with the Mabari at her side.
"King Theirin," the elven woman acknowledged him calmly. Zevran made absolutely no effort to hide a smug grin at the way Relora remained quite comfortably entangled with him.
"Wow," Alistair shook his head and muttered to himself. "Right here, this is one of those moments I'll never unremember." Clearing his throat, he stood a little straighter and addressed the naked elves. "Welcome back, Relora. I would greet you properly, but you seem…busy."
Zevran very much wanted the pleasure of joining the incredibly awkward conversation, especially since the three guards looked as though they were going to bolt down the hall at any moment, but Relora was already answering. "Don't strain yourself, Your Majesty. We won't be staying long."
Alistair appeared to be stewing over the word "we," but after a short pause he said, "Ah. That's…good to know. I suppose. What brings you back to Denerim, then?"
"I'm working for the Crows now," she answered flatly, and that candid statement did surprise Zevran – until she continued. "I'm just here to bring Zevran his next contract."
"Really?" The King frowned in confusion, and Zevran had to struggle to keep a straight face. "And…who exactly is his next contract for…from the group of assassins who just tried to have him killed twice and he claims he has no ties to anymore? If it's not too much to ask."
"Of course not. It's Anora."
Alistair stared at her stupidly before his eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "Ha, ha, that's very funny, Lora. She's kidding," he added quickly when one of the guards slid his hand over the hilt of his sword and glared at the elves. Zevran bit his tongue until he tasted blood to keep his amusement in check. "She's a funny, funny lady. Not that I'd stop you or anything…joking!" He held his arms up in a gesture of surrender at the scandalized look he received from his guards. "You know, I don't remember you being quite this amusing back when we were…"
"Running from darkspawn?" she offered when he hesitated, her voice clipped and annoyed. Zevran suddenly remembered why he had broken the King's nose and his amusement slipped away. "Hunting the archdemon? Raising an army?"
"Uh…yes. All of that."
Relora shrugged and curled herself in toward Zevran, her cheek resting on his shoulder as she watched Alistair from the corner of her eye. "Things change."
The King did not respond for a moment, then nodded stiffly. "Yes. They do. Well." He cleared his throat sharply. "Get back to your posts," he ordered the guards. He gave the elven couple an unreadable look before he nodded once and left, shutting the door firmly behind him.
The woman's body slumped in relief as soon as Alistair was gone, and Zevran could not stop himself from kissing away her tension. "You wicked, wicked woman," he whispered when she responded eagerly. "You have learned some things in Antiva. Such cruel taunts drip from your lovely lips."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she murmured sweetly, then did something with her hips that made the Antivan growl in pleasure. "I'm the picture of innocence."
Zevran chuckled and let his hands roam freely over her water-cooled skin. "This coming from the woman who just joked about assassinating the Queen of Ferelden."
Relora captured his face between her hands and smiled, one eyebrow arched coyly. "Who says I was joking?"