Had he not seen the vicious power she wielded firsthand, and the fire in her eyes in the midst of battle, Zevran would not have believed this woman was more than a naïve girl-child. Free from the confines of the Circle Tower for only a few months, her skin still had an almost translucent quality under a smattering of freckles, and she exuded a quiet, studious nature even whilst trudging through harsh Ferelden countryside.
At first glance, everything about her was soft. Soft hands, free from the calluses of labour or battle. Soft robes, draped over even softer looking curves that made Zevran's fingers twitch. Soft, pale eyes that were both too serious and too childlike to be truly what he should want. Soft, lilting voice that made him welcome the vulgar sound of the common tongue for the first time in his life.
He had told her once, quite early in their acquaintance, that he fancied things that were dangerous and exciting. This was true, but surprisingly his mildly insincere flirting at the time had proven prophetic. Certainly she'd demonstrated she had some measure of power and skill by besting him on that desolate stretch of road, but after getting a good look at her, he'd half-blamed that on bad luck and half on his own stupidity. She was an infant in this wide-open world.
It was only a short time, however, before he realised he'd made a tactical error— another one, he supposed. He'd seen the surface, but not the depth, and for an assassin meant to be so skilled at reading people, that was a deadly mistake. She was strong, and dangerous, and undeniably exciting, despite her softness and sweetness.
He did not require as much sleep as the others (mostly due to his training, but also because of his Dalish blood), and he often found himself watching her tent in the wee hours. As far as he knew, only Leliana and the dog had ever noticed his nightly observations, and both had been gracious enough thus far to keep it to themselves. At times he was content to watch from the comfort of his own tent, while at others he slunk closer— close enough to hear her quiet, sleepy murmurs— but never inside. He would only enter her tent when he was finally invited.
On this particular day, he'd felt the need to start his watch early. After the events in Redcliffe she seemed to retreat inward, despite the surprisingly good resolution she'd managed to achieve. She was not a boisterous woman at the best of times, and for this reason he thought perhaps the others might not have noticed her disquiet. They certainly seemed to be treating her as if nothing was amiss, but Zevran couldn't shake this nagging feeling.
Evening was giving way to nightfall, and the camp was settling down after supper when, quite unexpectedly, she stood from her thoughtful recline near the fire with a strange expression on her lovely face. After a few quiet words to Wynne, words that he was too far removed from the mages to hear, she walked into the nearby forest without any further explanation. Noting quickly that Alistair was unaware of her departure— the man's attention focused rather firmly on the cheap looking amulet clutched in his hands— Zevran quickly snuck off after their wayward leader.
It would hardly do to lose half the Grey Wardens in Ferelden to a hungry pack of wolves, and Zevran didn't think her current state of mind lent itself well to alertness. He kept to the shadows and brush, staying as silent as the woods around them. Some light still filtered in through the foliage, but it was dim and warm with the promise of sunset.
What an utterly perfect moment to kill her.
Zevran sighed faintly, watching her step carefully around tree roots and uneven ground. She was quite light on her feet, quite graceful, and he imagined how well she might dance, given the opportunity.
Occasionally on her journey, she would pause and bend to collect some useful herb, pulling a small, thin blade from her belt. She'd cut some section of the plant, or dig up some of its roots, then tuck her prize away in her worn belt pouch. He recognised elfroot, and a few others he thought might be culinary rather than medicinal, but then she knelt beside a thatch of greenery he knew quite well.
She touched the deathroot gently, stroking its thick, waxy leaves with one slender finger. He was in the ideal position to see her smile softly at the potentially lethal plant, and then she was slicing a handful of leaves with meticulous kind of ease. Once finished, she pulled out a scrap of vellum and folded the leaves inside it before sliding them in the pouch with her other herbs. Carefully avoiding getting any of the thick, numbing liquid on her fingers, she wiped her knife clean on the moss at her feet.
It was actually less unexpected than her sudden interest in poisons when her smile cracked a moment later, and she fell back to sit heavily on the forest floor. She sobbed, only once, then buried her face in her bent knees. This was the tension he had noticed, but the flash of pleasure at proving he could actually read this young woman was short-lived. He didn't even spare more than a brief glance at the fascinating view of creamy thigh her position offered (especially coupled with her rather fetching Tevinter-style robes). Her pain was… unpleasant to witness.
Considering his next move, Zevran slithered back through the trees a short distance, then walked towards her again with audible footfalls. He rolled his eyes when it became apparent that his efforts were hardly necessary— even clomping about the underbrush like a half-blind bear didn't get her attention. She was so utterly inattentive to her surroundings that it sometimes took all his willpower not to just pick her up and shake some common sense into her overly sheltered brain.
He cleared his throat and her head jolted up, panic flashing across her features. When she saw him, however, her terror fled, replaced by surprise and obvious embarrassment. Zevran wasn't sure how he felt about her apparent lack of fear around him— the other members of their party certainly didn't approve of their leader's trusting nature, and it certainly wasn't something Zevran had expected.
She was scrubbing desperately at the dampness on her cheeks, and perhaps it would have been kinder not to mention her distress. Less interesting, however.
"What troubles you, my beautiful Warden?" He was not so cruel as to make light of the situation, and his tone was truly concerned rather than lascivious. "May I sit?"
"Of course." As he'd anticipated, her politeness overtook her humiliation before she could stop herself. Her voice sounded even more delicate than usual, which meant the words were nearly swallowed up in the quiet noises of the trees. "I mean… Oh, of course Zevran."
He was beside her in an instant, sinking smoothly onto the spongy moss close enough that their shoulders touched, and before she could say anything else he grasped her hands to stop their wringing.
He brushed his thumbs over her velvety skin, heartened when she gently squeezed his fingers. "I do not mean to pry, my dear, but if there is something you wish to talk about..." He shot her a gently playful look. "I promise you will not shock me."
Her eyes flitted away from him as the pinkness began to creep over her cheeks, but she did not pull away. "It's just— no, it's nothing. I'm simply overwrought and being childish."
"As you wish." He waited, taking the opportunity to study her closely. He considered the line of her jaw, the curve of her neck, sweeping down into the valley of her bosom. She'd been travelling about gloomy Ferelden for... about two months before his fated ambush. Was that, on top of the weeks they'd been travelling together, enough time to account for the freckles on the swells of her breasts, or were they perhaps her natural appearance? Were they limited to her newly sun-touched skin, or could there be others hidden away?
"I feel like a fool." He blinked, shaking off his absorbing contemplations. She still wasn't looking at him, and her voice had the threat of more tears layered deep within it. "That mage who poisoned the arl, Jowan. He was my friend, my dearest friend, and even after he used me, and betrayed me, and nearly got me killed or worse, I still—" She licked her lips, and her hands twisted around until her fingers were entwined with his. "I let him out of that cell. He's a blood mage, and I set him loose on the world without any punishment for what he'd done. None of the others understood… Maker's breath, I don't understand why I did it."
He stayed silent, sensing her need for an ear rather than an opinion. "I wish you'd been there, Zevran. I just needed one person at my back who didn't care if I let Jowan go free, or even if they did they wouldn't give me that look. The arlessa had him tortured, for goodness sake! They would have executed him, and I just couldn't—"
"I am sorry I was not there." He tugged their shared grip slightly, encouraging her to finally turn to face him. She did, nearly making him shiver at the anger sparking icily (and rather surprisingly) in her expression, but it was thankfully not directed at him. "I am certain such a decision did not meet with the approval of our resident almost-templar, no?"
"No." She shifted closer, and for a moment it almost seemed she might rest her head on his shoulder. Alas. "And neither did it endear me to a certain senior enchanter, who can still make me feel like a naughty child with barely a glance, or the magic-despising qunari."
Choosing an infiltration team filled with individuals of such firm, unbending morals would certainly not have been his first choice, but such judgments were not his to make. "Do you still stand by your decision to release your friend?"
"Yes, I do." Zevran shrugged, which he hoped also served as a reminder to his companion that there was indeed a rather comfortable shoulder quite nearby, perfect for resting upon.
"That is all I need to know. I can hardly judge a man for poisoning another, although he was rather sloppy about the whole thing, and I care very little about blood magic so long as it is not my blood."
Her mouth twitched up into a small, wiry smile. "That's very practical, Zev. Thank you."
There were many ways to relieve tension, and he thought he'd done quite well thus far with simply being an attentive listener. He could hardly be expected to behave so chastely all the time, however, especially not with such a delectable woman by his side.
"Mmm. I do like how you say my name, my dear. I wonder… in the throes of pleasure, would you gasp it for me?"
She flushed a lovely shade of deep rose, and this time when she hid her face it was with her hot cheek pressed against his arm. He chuckled amiably, enjoying the chase.
"You're awful," she grumbled, and he leaned down to whisper against her ear.
"I am marvellous." Feeling her mild tremor, the anticipation began to curl through him. "Allow me to prove it to you." The quality of her silence was two answers in one— no, for now. Perhaps, for later. Carefully, he extracted one hand from her grip and lifted her chin, revelling in the hint of desire in her wide-eyed gaze.
"Zev?" It was more of a question, and it wasn't good enough, not when she wasn't objecting. He slid his fingers along her jaw, tilting her head just slightly back. He became aware of the footsteps approaching them, crunching through deadfall, but she showed no signs of hearing a thing.
"Wait… say it now." Without further warning, he darted in, sliding his lips up the line of her throat.
"Oh, Zev—" Her voice was breathy now, and he turned his toothy smirk into a gentle nip. The feel of his teeth made her entire body arch, rather fantastically. How responsive. "Zev!"
Given the limits of how far the larger seduction had progressed, Zevran could not have asked for a better moment for Alistair to find them. It was especially satisfying that she was entirely oblivious to their audience as she pressed against him, well and truly gasping.
"What—" Of course, the inconsiderate lout didn't have the courtesy to retreat silently from his intrusion into such an intimate encounter, and at the sound of his voice she startled back into awareness and away from Zevran's mouth. Alistair was an interesting blotchy crimson from his neck to his hairline, and the mixture of shock and anger in his expression was hardly the most intelligent angle he could have taken. Zevran knew that she still harboured some lingering hurt, and to have any measure of Alistair's anger turned on her again did not bode well for the unfortunate man.
She did not speak, didn't try to explain anything away, and Zevran wasn't about to supply any explanations either. Alistair fumbled with her lack of response, taking an uncertain step backwards. "Oh, well, I see. Ah. Pardon me."
It was difficult not to laugh, watching a rather brawny warrior turn tail and bolt back towards camp like a hare, but Zevran managed. He noticed with no small amount of pleasure that she had not freed her fingers from his.
She watched Alistair disappear into the trees, her expression not exactly regretful, then whipped her head around and glared at him dangerously. "How long did you know he was there?"
"For only a moment, I swear." It was true; Alistair had only been standing there for a moment. "You are a deadly distraction, it seems."
"Liar," she growled, but there was very little ire in it. Then she barked out a shockingly harsh laugh. "I wonder if he worried more for your safety or mine."
That was unexpected, and it threw Zevran for quite a loop. "As I'm not entirely certain he would piss on me were I on fire, I believe we can assume he was worried for you. Why—" He touched her face again, needing to examine her expression. "Why would you doubt that?"
She took a deep breath, and her flare of anger appeared to ebb away into a bland, resigned kind of sadness. "He's just… I've dealt with templars and their prejudices almost my entire life, and as kind and friendly as Alistair is, I don't think he's entirely comfortable with magic— my magic, specifically." He could tell that her focus was wandering, her eyes shifting to stare blindly at the forest floor as her voice thinned into something quiet and distracted. "Or perhaps it's not just him. Nearly everyone I've met since I left the Tower has been afraid of me."
He ducked his head, trying to catch her gaze again and turn the conversation back into light-heartedness. "Well, in their defence, you can make their innards boil and their eyes explode."
She yanked her hand free from his, slamming her fists against her knees. "And you can poison their food or slit their throats; Alistair can cleave their heads in two with little strain! I'm not some kind of dangerous animal!"
Once again, foolishly, he had miscalculated. Was she truly so difficult to deal with, or had she cast some spell that turned him into a bumbling idiot? "Hush, my darling girl. I meant no offence— I know you are no animal."
"But I am dangerous." Without any hesitation, he slid one arm behind her and pulled her into a snug embrace.
"You would be a terrible Grey Warden if that were not true." Any obvious struggle left in her melted away, and she curled herself against his chest with a soft, heartbreaking sound. This was… well, simply not what he'd planned. He was not a serious man, except about killing, and even then he was never so dour as this waif of a mage seemed to insist upon being.
Why did he yearn to make her smile?
"Are you afraid of me, Zevran?"
"Hm." He took a moment, not only because he actually needed the time to reflect on the question, but also because she deserved to believe he considered his answer, rather than simply pandering. "I would say… no. No, I'm not. Perhaps I should be— I have been told I embrace the threat of death far too readily." He tightened his arms just briefly, striving for even a hint of levity to re-enter the proceedings. She did not laugh, but the air around her seemed a little less foreboding. "In the spirit of fairness, my dear, do you fear me?"
"Why would I?" She glanced up at him through lashes nearly as fair as jasmine petals, and he marvelled at the way this inexperienced woman could surprise him with her natural allure. "I could boil your innards, right?"
He couldn't help his quiet laughter, especially when he saw she was indeed smiling just slightly. "Too true, though if given the option, could you please choose some other method to dispose of me? That does sound particularly unpleasant."
Her fingers had begun tracing the small cracks and marks marring his leathers, across his stomach and side, and he idly imagined what they might feel like against the skin beneath. "If it ever comes up, I'll keep that in mind. Only fireballs to kill Zevran."
"You are too kind; thank you."
Despite the tears, the anger, and the interruptions, things seemed to be going quite well. It was possible, though not guaranteed, that he would get a proper kiss out of her before the night was out. Then, tragically, she sighed. "I should go back to camp. Alistair's probably throwing a fit, and the others will worry."
He kept his opinions of such fits and worries to himself, but he was not about to give up so easily. "Will you at least allow me to escort you? The forest is rather darker now than when you left."
He hadn't expected the giggle he received in response, but then she waved her hand and a globe of pale green light emanated from the tips of her fingers. The glow of it was surreal, but not overpowering, and the orb began floating gently around their heads.
"Darkness, I can deal with. I wouldn't object to an escort, though," she murmured, and he noticed the shy happiness brighten her eyes as she watched him study the glowing ball with clear fascination. "You can touch it, if you'd like."
He could hardly be blamed for leering at her then, licking his lips as he lost all interest in anything but drinking in the closeness and the scent of her. "Oh my sweet, these things you say."
"That's not what I meant," she protested weakly, but she didn't flinch as he leaned in closer— close enough that he could feel her shallow, rapid breaths against his cheek. "Zevran…"
Lightly, with just the barest hint of moisture, he brushed his lips against her tantalizing skin, just grazing the corner of her mouth. She didn't turn to meet him, but neither did she retreat.
One day soon she would meet him halfway, and it would be glorious— he thrummed with the anticipation of it. Perhaps his strange yearning would cease once he saw her smile in ecstasy, or afterwards in satisfied bliss.
"Let us go," he whispered, and her delicious little shiver nearly tested his resolve, but then without further temptation he slid smoothly to his feet and reached down to offer her a hand up. Her fingers were cool against his skin, and as she stood he made sure to tug her close and stroke his free hand ever so briefly against her hip. The glowing orb ducked and weaved around them, beginning to fly more erratically.
She kept hold of his hand when they began walking, and that was simply one more situation from which Zevran was surprised he did not withdraw… nor did he wish to withdraw. It was not especially sensual to allow her to swing his arm along with hers, all without drawing her against him, or stroking the inside of her wrist, or any of the dozens of ways he could hold a woman's hand and make her swoon.
Sooner than he might have desired, the light of the campfire broke through the trees. When she stopped just inside the tree line, he was pleasantly surprised that she pulled him near, and utterly charmed by the sweet way she bit her lip and glanced up at him.
"Here," she said so shyly, and he blinked when she shoved a folded paper packet towards him— he hadn't even noticed that she'd retrieved it from her belt pouch, and his distraction was worrisome. "I… These are for you."
He took the deathroot leaves gingerly, trying to keep the bulk of his astonishment from showing on his face. She'd thought of him, even in her pensive, troubled state, and he was ignorant of what one was meant to do in such a situation.
She saved him the bother of thinking of something, however, when she suddenly leaned in and pressed a kiss against his cheek, then sprinted out of the trees and back to camp.