Title: A Child Unexpected (Part 1 of 8(ish))
Characters: Fem!City-Elf PC (Kallian Tabris), Sten, Zevran, and Alistair (this chapter is all Sten and Tabris, but the overall fic is Zevran/Tabris with Alistair and some others tossed in. Liberally, at times. References Alistair/Tabris and Zevran/Other.)
Word Count: ~3400 (this chapter)
Summary: Heroes have problems too. That's why they need friends.
Spoilers: Through end game.
Author's Note: I was offering up "drabbles" and sezso requested a Zevran/Tabris fic wherein babies are had, and stuff. Well, this monster is the result. Sadly, I veer a bit off course from the original request, BUT I do promise that it will ultimately end up where you were hoping it would. It's just gonna take a little while to get there. Posting WIP make me nervous, but I'm giving this a go regardless! Many, many thanks to pennydreadful for the beta!!! Also, in this chapter, I play fast and loose with what life in Seheron (and with the qunari) is like. And oh yeah: Sten & Tabris = BFF :-)
A Child Unexpected
Seheron: Eleven Weeks after the Fall of the Archdemon
Sten had always said that Seheron smelled of tea, incense, and the sea. And while she had gotten enough of the sea for one lifetime on the boat ride there, thankyouverymuch, she could easily see (or smell, really) what it was that he loved about the place. So much so that it nearly felt like coming home to a place she'd never before been. The trip had lasted nearly two months, every moment arduous to her land-loving self. But it was worth it: 'Seheron: Worth the Annoyance of Getting Here.'
True, being in Seheron was at times as foreign to her as she supposed being in Ferelden was for Sten. But, there were similarities as well. Merchants lined the streets (many of which had elven stall hands) that were selling all manners of goods. (Including a stall selling Orlesian soaps and finery's just like Liselle's in Denerim – almost entirely patroned by humans.) Clothing was hung out to dry on lines behind homes. Guards roamed the streets, looking impressive in their gear, and the occasional beggar could be seen skirting around for scraps. (Though these were almost never qunari.) And in place of the Chantry priests, there were Qun philosophers out and about. Of everyone in the city, these people were the most willing to converse with her in a one-to-one manner; something the Chantry would have sworn impossible. Savages as they claimed them to be, and all.
She did bemoan the distinct lack of dogs within the city. Her poor abari was something of an oddity to the people of Seheron, and he seemed a tad put out by it. But one universal truth appeared to be that wherever her pup went, little boys were sure to follow.
Everything was large, yet not grandiose. There was nothing extravagant about the city, it all seemed very purposeful, as if the originators had actually taken the time to plot out each and every street. And who knows? Perhaps they had. As such, there were few dead ends or dark alleys available for bandits to prey on the unsuspecting within, which made for an altogether pleasant meandering experience.
The people (mostly qunari, but doused with a liberal sprinkling of elves and humans as well) moved with intent from one locale to the next. When people lined up at a merchants, they knew exactly what item they wanted, in what quantity, and how much they were prepared to pay. There was little to no negotiating. It was just assumed that if a merchant was charging a price for a certain product, then that was because that item was worth that particular price.
It was rather refreshing.
The day that they had arrived in Seheron, Sten had promptly (and maybe just a little warily) dragged her off to meet with the Arishok. She had felt a little like she had upon her arrival in Ostagar: unsure of her place, and in desperate need of a rest and some hot food. When she had spoke as much to Sten, he had looked upon her as if she was possessed. (An altogether terrifying look, given their recent history.)
"It is a matter of honor, Kadan. To delay would be an insult."
So, they had met with the man. Or rather, Sten met with him; Kallian stayed mostly faded in the background, doing her best impression of a mute. It was made abundantly clear from the moment she set foot in the compound (which was an odd combination of a fortress and a palace, minus all of the finery one would associate with either – it was all entirely practical, save for one large painting of a seascape situated above the Arishok's desk) that as she was neither qunari, nor a man, nor a convert to the Qun – that speaking directly to the Arishok would not be permitted.
Sten had attempted to explain to the Arishok that she was a Kithshok in Ferelden, going into great – albeit brief – detail regarding her part in the war against the darkspawn, and the ending of the blight. The Arishok's deep-set red eyes had bored into her as Sten spoke. She supposed he may have been looking to intimidate her, or perhaps he was searching for a chink in her armor. Perhaps if he had ever looked into an archdemon's eyes, he would have understood why she felt absolutely at peace looking into his. So she stood, silent and steady as steel under the intense appraisal, meeting him head-on. When Sten's tale was done, the Arishok nodded and moved onto the business of reassigning Sten.
Though he did not dispute Sten's claim, neither did he appear convinced. She frankly didn't give a damn, not as long as as Sten was back in his good graces. Sten had been satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, and seemed positively eager to return to his former life. With the very subtle change of having an elf in tow, of course.
One of the first places Sten had taken her, after they had met with the Arishok, had been a museum of sorts. A rotund, impressive structure built of steel and glass in a manner the likes of which she had never before seen. Inside, the rooms were open and vast, light-doused and airy. In many of them, a single piece of artwork would be situated. Each item was distinct, and intriguing. They had remained there for many hours; Sten quietly absorbed with a serious look upon his face, and Kallian gobsmacked at the beauty of it all.
He seemed pleased with her reaction, and had actually spoken to her at great length about the origins of the various pieces once they had departed. Truly, Sten had not been wrong when he'd once told her of the artisans and bards of the qunari. They appeared to attack their chosen profession with as much zeal and talent as Sten did his.
The qunari military had barracks like any other, but Sten managed to secure a small apartment for their use while she remained in the area - which neither had thus far put a timestamp on. While the place was on the tiny side (seeing as how it needed to house an elf, a mabari, and a qunari) it was also more spacious then Kallian would have hoped. They each had their own sleeping quarters (both lightly furnished with a cot and rickety wardrobe), and the kitchen area had a sizable table with a cushy bench perfect for lounging. She found a home for several of the things she had acquired during her travels on the window ledge in her room, and Sten's paintings spruced up the walls considerably.
She had poked and prodded at him once about why he was staying with her, when he presumably could have had much more spacious lodging within that barracks – given his rank and all – but he had brushed her off. He didn't feel that she was as yet prepared to be let lose in qunari lands, and that he would have been forced to come and collect her on a near daily basis.
"This is the more prudent option." When she had looked at him askance, he had sighed that over-burdened why does no one else think like me? sigh, and explained to her that while he no longer had trouble seeing her as an equal on the battlefield, or anywhere else, his people would not be so quick to come to the same....enlightened conclusion; and she was liable to get into trouble if left to her own devices.
She hadn't stopped laughing for nearly fifteen minutes. The annoyed look upon his face didn't help in the slightest.
Despite Sten's – mostly correct – assurances that no one in his lands would be able to accept her as the warrior that she was, she found – to her great surprise and pleasure – that not nearly all qunari were as unflappable as Sten. Sure, she had caught a glimpse of the camaraderie and joviality that the members of his Beresaad had with one another during his dream within the Fade. But it was an entirely different story to settle down and join such people in a tavern.
They battered jokes at one another like arrows, and flirted (if in a somewhat unusual fashion then what she was use to), with the barmaids. They'd listen, in quiet contemplation to the songs of the minstrels, and applaud loudly when their tales had all been spun. They'd even laughed uproariously – good-naturedly – when a younger member of the group had fallen from his stool, clearly too drunk to continue to sit upright. (He had made the miscalculation of challenging her to a mead drinking contest, which he had lost rather spectacularly. He was at a disadvantage though, as he had never had the pleasure of traveling with Oghren, or the training that came with it.)
When their tongues had been loosened enough, they began to rib Sten for his entanglement with her, questioning with crass barbs just what use he had really found for an elf during his travels. So much so, that he felt the need to bring her home with him. Angered, he had lectured them – in that clipped and to-the-point manner of his – on honor and respect, and on actions befitting followers of the Qun. (She'd only been able to grasp half of the words, spoken as they'd been in his native tongue, but the message had been clear nonetheless.) It was unsurprising just how effective this method was in quieting the group.
When she had thanked him after, he'd very nearly blushed.
They had been in Seheron nearly three weeks when she was no longer able to ignore the obvious symptoms; but she was simply too enamored with Sten's homeland to allow little things like bouts of nausea and dizziness to ruin it for her. Well, that and it could never be said that she wasn't completely capable of ignoring things which caused distinct amounts of discomfort. The ability to selectively filter out information had been a virtue growing up in the alienage; and if that ability just so happened to allow her to be a champion of denial now, then so be it.
When she had been sick on the boat, it was easy to assume that it was just motion induced (the perpetually green coloring of her skin during the voyage went a long way to validating that theory). Then, when they had first arrived and Sten had questioned the continuing imbalanced state of her health, she had just brushed it off as being an after-effect of one too many "hearty meat stews" which the qunari seemed to be so fond of (and which Kallian had whole-heartedly indulged in). He hadn't appeared convinced, but her obvious joy in all things qunari seemed to override his better judgment.
So it was not so odd that one morning, she had quickly sprung from the bed and dashed to the water closet (the qunari had fascinating inventions, one such being a room containing an open bottomed chamber pot that emptied into some system of trenches below, which one could poor water down to wash clean) as to avoid being sick all over the floor.
With shaky limbs, she had retreated back to her bed, a towel clenched tightly in one hand. She sat there, gingerly on the narrow mattress, and allowed the shades of denial covering her to finally be drawn back. Her mabari had made a whimpering little sound at her, and nudged her with his head, but even petting him seemed like too much effort. Her stomach had begun to roll from something other then nausea as her mind accepted the truth. Which – because the Maker, Andraste, and any other deity or fates that may exist all seemed to have it out for her – was when Sten decided to confront her.
By the entrance to her room, a floorboard had creaked, announcing his presence. She didn't need to look up to know that it was Sten (who else would it be after all?) but that did not stop her from raising wide, frightened eyes to face her friend. His gaze was harsh, arms crossed over his chest. Accusing.
"When was your last moonblood?" No preamble at all. How very Sten of him.
"I-" Her eyes swam with hot tears, she blinked rapidly in a vain attempt to keep them at bay. When the first wet trickle began to trace the curve of her cheek, she bit her lower lip hard enough to draw blood. Crying over physical pain was something that she could handle. The alternative was not. She did her best to meet his penetrating gaze, but found the view blurred. Her head shook rapidly, still trying to deny the truth.
The vehemence in his voice broke the floodgates, and she found herself (sickeningly) sobbing into her hands.
Several minutes passed like that, with him standing in the entryway, and her curled in upon herself on the edge of the bed, tears coming in horrid little rivers; her dog licking at her hands. She felt the bed beside her give way as he silently settled down beside her. A large, warm hand tentatively rested on her back in an awkward – and yet still comforting – gesture. Her body sought out more of that comfort as she unintentionally burrowed closer to him, her head tucking itself against his lap. Slowly, his hand began to make tiny (for him, at least) circles on her back, and she found herself dragged into a dreamless sleep.
When she awoke, they had shifted position: Sten had braced his back upon the wall, legs stretched in front of him, and she had folded herself completely into his side. She could hear snuffling by the floor, and knew that her hound had fallen asleep once more. Her heart and head ached, and she was unwilling to disturb the small bit of solitude that she had found. He, however, had no such compunction.
"Based on your reaction, I assume that the child is not the other Warden's."
She shook her head, the rough cloth of his clothing scrapping her raw cheeks with each movement. "It's not possible for two Grey Warden's to have a child."
He made a sound then, not unlike the deep-throated growls her mabari would unleash when his dinner was threatened. "The assassin's then."
The fingers of her right hand clenched in the cloth of his shirt, and she nodded only once.
Sten sighed a full-bodied heave. "What are your intentions?"
She blinked. What were her intentions? She stared forward, letting the silence linger as long as she could. "I have no idea."
"I am unsurprised." He pushed himself up, gently dislodging her from her resting place, and stood from the bed, looking pensive. She waited, her tongue darting out to trace over her wounded lip. "Come, Kadan. You must eat to maintain your strength. Then, we shall head into town. There is a mid-wife that I know from..." He cut off; likely catching the worried look she was wearing at the moment. "She is as kind a soul as you are likely to find in Seheron. She will be able to advise you in this. Now come."
In yet another surprising change of pace for Sten (as if allowing her to cry herself to sleep practically in his lap wasn't enough) he held out a hand to assist her in standing. She stared at the appendage, shock coursing through her. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with Sten?"
He raised an eyebrow at her, "I could ask the same of you. You have spent a great deal of time proving to me that you are unlike most women. And yet, here you are: weeping for things you can not change. And your ability to produce a child seems entirely intact."
Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, "Point taken."
She took his hand.
Seheron: Eight Months after the Fall of the Archdemon
The mid-wife had not been quite as kind as Kallian had hoped. In fact, the large woman regularly scolded her on taking such poor care of herself during her pregnancy. The number and quality of her insults and recriminations was somewhat impressive. She had even known a choice few elven words, which went completely over Kallian's head.
When they first met, Kallian had attempted to explain the business regarding the blight, the darkspawn, and, oh yes, slaying an ancient god residing in a somewhat irritable high dragon – only to have the woman scoff at her. "Such nonsense. You will cease your lies if you wish for our association to continue. Now lay back, and stop fidgeting." Kallian had, grudgingly, acquiesced.
What difference would it make if this woman believed her? Maker knew that half the time she didn't believe herself either.
She had left Ferelden, and more specifically two of its current residents, behind in the hopes that she could determine exactly what it was she wanted out of life. Perhaps it had been a somewhat childish impulse - an attempt to outrun her problems. Outrun her life. Which was an act that could only have two outcomes: either total failure, or total success. The latter of which would ultimately mean that she was dead, and wouldn't be able to enjoy the fruits of her labors.
So, instead, she spent the time trying to live by Sten's philosophy: It is better to live well, than to live.
A child had not been in the cards. Nor, did she ever think it would be. But, in an unexpected twist of fate (a concept that had Kallian's life in a very firm choke hold), Kallian found that pregnancy agreed with her. Mostly. The overly lengthy morning illness she had suffered notwithstanding. The pregnancy had brought a kind of focus to her mind that she hadn't felt in ages. She felt energized, and happy. When she wasn't a hormonal wreck, of course.
Sten was – to put it succinctly – a rock during her pregnancy. Like the stalwart warrior that he had proven himself to be again and again during the blight, he managed to withstand all but the worst of her emotional outbursts. At which point, he would vacant the premises for a day or two, a muttered curse beneath his breath. When he would return, he'd always be well-stocked with supplies. She knew enough to merely welcome him back with a nod, and a thanks for the food.
He even managed to withstand the looks and whispers from the villagers regarding the parentage of her child with a minimal of glares. And to the best of her knowledge, there had been only one honor-battle held – in her name or his, she was never quite sure – during the entire time.
It was practically a miracle.
The child, when it came, stole her heart away; as children are want to do. The mid-wife presented the babe to her, lightly swaddled in a soft cloth. From the moment she held her daughter's tiny, wet and wriggling form, she fell in love. Every inch of golden skin, from her teeny toes to the tips of her oh-so-pointed ears, was absolutely perfect.
The babe mewled fretfully at first, discontent with her change in location, before she slipped into a quiet sleep. "Shanedan, little one." Everything about Kallian's body ached, but in that moment – holding her daughter for the first time, she felt light as air.
Sten had let out a low grumble, "She looks like her father. Let us hope that she has your disposition."
As exhausted as she was, Kallian couldn't help but laugh. The sound briefly roused the babe, who had blinked at her, opening wide eyes the color of warm honey. She couldn't look away.
She named the child Adaia, after her mother.