It was no small thing to make such an oath, and an oath it had been, after all; his lover would not have played him false. It was quite another thing, however, to begin such an… awkward arrangement. They managed to make it within sight of Alistair's room before doubt overtook resolve.
"I don't know what I'm going to say to him," Keelin whispered through her fingers, shooting a terrified glance at the waiting door as she leaned against the corridor wall. "How… what am I meant to say? How can I ask him to do this?"
The questions were at least half rhetorical, he knew, but he could hardly remain silent. Weighing his words very carefully, Zevran did not allow himself to be distracted by the scarce handful of steps that separated him from the man who held the key to Keelin's salvation in his smallclothes.
The Maker had a vicious sense of humour, but Zevran had always known that to be true.
"Grey Wardens do whatever must be done to stop a Blight, yes? You have told me this yourself, amora." At his lover's small nod, he continued, gently guiding her hand away from her face. "Even the most unsavoury of things, if necessity demands it. There are only three Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden, and a horde that could number tens of thousands strong between you and the dragon. What if—" He bent to press a desperate kiss against her knuckles, swallowing back his frustration. "Maker's breath, every darkspawn in Denerim will be out for your blood. What if none of you can make it to the archdemon? If Morrigan is to be believed, then the soul of the beast will be absorbed by her child regardless of who strikes the killing blow. Is that assurance alone not worth it?"
It stung a little when she pulled free from his touch, but it would be worth it in the end. For all her honour and sense of duty, his Keelin riled against cages with ferocity. He had learned months before that the very best way to achieve a goal was to assure this young mage that something could not be done— even without his pleading, she certainly could not be content to accept death without a fight. The woman… the woman he loved was far more obstinate than that.
"I hope it is," she said, staring down at the door once more. "Holy Andraste, I pray that it's worth it. I don't—" He heard the steel begin to wind its way into her voice, the familiar determination, and it was so uplifting he nearly gasped. "I don't want to die, Zev… not like that."
"Then speak to your brother." He kept a firm leash on the flood of emotion that was wracking him, incredibly annoyed by this entire ordeal. Traipsing off to slay an archdemon was bad enough without allowing his weakness to overtake him— he'd been trained better than that. "There are many good reasons he should consent to this exchange. Granted, I only care for one of them."
It was foolish sentiment that drove him to kiss her then, cradling her jaw gently in his hands, but she did not resist as he'd half-expected her to do. No, instead she gripped his baldric and pressed close against him, fighting not to end the kiss, but to control it. It was startling, to say the least, but instinct told him to submit, allowing his lady to take everything she needed from him without question.
Her weight shifted, pinning him to the wall, and he could feel her trembling like a dry leaf in the breeze even as she claimed such fervent possession of his mouth. It was not amorous, but it was passionate and desperate, and he would not lose her now.
He felt a whisper of cold spark along his tongue when she pulled away, and watched the bee-stung pinkness recede from her lips. It would not have been especially polite, of course, to request such a favour while looking ravished.
"I will try," she said again, quiet and firm, and then she was gone from his arms.
He knew himself well enough that he did not attempt to eavesdrop, even as impatience made him twitch and pace. Keelin had proven incredibly adept at negotiation, and regardless of anything else, she still held Alistair's affection quite strongly. To interfere would be to court nothing but trouble.
If Alistair happened to refuse, however, Zevran would not hesitate to encourage reconsideration.
Such measures were not required, thankfully. Melted into the shadows like a wraith, Zevran watched as a pale, grimacing Alistair followed Keelin back to Morrigan, emerging sometime later with only the witch and the same sickly expression. It was a staggering relief to witness; having gotten this far, the dutiful and honourable man was almost guaranteed to remain true to his word. The bargain had been accepted.
Keelin was already crying when he entered their room— shuddering, heartbreaking sobs— and for an instant he nearly fled. It was instinct, animalistic terror, but shame heated his face at the very thought, and he forced his legs to carry him towards her instead. Gently, giving her the chance to retreat if she fancied, Zevran stepped close, resting his cheek against her temple as he enfolded her in an embrace.
She did not speak, for which he was both grateful and concerned. The rest of the night was spent in strained silence, heavy and tense, but despite the foul atmosphere, he did not feel isolated. His lover stayed near, allowing him to hold her until she finally drifted into uneasy sleep, but even then he could sense her reaching out for him, seeking. Seeking what, he was not certain, but the meagre comfort of his presence seemed enough.
That was… not an entirely terrible thought. Not truly.
On more occasions in his past than he might have preferred, Zevran had been dragged back from various states of forced unconsciousness and near-death. It was painful, often terrifying, and he made a habit of avoiding it whenever possible. Recently, he had invariably found a beautiful young mage waiting for him as he clawed his way home from his fleeting forays beyond the Veil, which was something quite wonderful during such misery. He wouldn't call it worth it, especially when he could wake up beside her without a cracked skull…
This, though— no, he did not like this.
Denerim had been ravaged, broken by the brutal might of the horde, and even with the armies they had managed to gather, it was nothing short of a miracle that any of them lived to see the top of Fort Drakon. It hadn't felt like much of a miracle, face to face with a blighted nightmare made flesh, but the beast was already bleeding when they arrived, and they were still breathing; that was something.
By the end of the battle, there were places on the fort's roof where bodies piled waist deep. Darkspawn corpses made up the bulk of the dead, it appeared, but there were still more causalities amongst Denerim's defenders than Keelin would like, no doubt.
If she woke.
No, he did not like this waiting, this useless waiting over the motionless body of his lover. He would apologise profusely when she woke for ever having put her through such agony.
She was limp, so small and frail against the filthy stone of the rooftop, and he wanted nothing more than to gather her up and spirit her away from all this horror. The dragon was dead, a stinking carcass leaking a river of putrid black blood, and his lover's task was complete. She was his now, and nothing—
Very gently, he flicked a lock of sweat-darkened hair away from her brow. Her skin was icy cold, nearly enough to burn, but he hardly felt it. The blue corona of Wynne's healing magic seemed to cling to his fingertips, lifting slightly like silk caught on roughness, and he snatched his hand back as quick as lightning. Stupid bastard— he would not interfere.
He watched the slow, shallow rise and fall of Keelin's chest, heard the dangerous wet sound of her breathing, and he did not think twice about beginning to pray.
Holy Maker, please, do not take her. Whatever I have done, whatever my sin, I beg you do not—
There was a smear of blood at the corner of her mouth, but it was the bright red of a split lip rather than the deep crimson he knew to fear. He would be howling in rage at Morrigan's deception, but Keelin still breathed, still lived, if barely… having one's soul immolated by the darkest of corruptions would be beyond fatal, but being battered by a dragon could be equally so. The energy that burst outward when the beast finally died had decimated the rooftop; survivors and corpses alike were tossed aside like rag dolls. Zevran had felt the explosion hit him with more force than a golem's fist, shaking him to his core, and Keelin had been trapped in the eye of that terrible storm.
Please, Maker… She is favoured among your children, surely. Do not take her from this world… Mercy, oh Maker, do not take her from me, please…
He could hear her over the pounding in his ears, her voice quiet and willowy as it had been that night outside Redcliffe when she'd given him a packet of deathroot leaves and a painfully sweet kiss on the cheek. As soft as it had been when she'd made his heart stutter so madly that first time.
And what if I chose you? Would we still be friends, no matter what happened later?
He'd had no idea what friendship was, not truly, and even less understanding of this remarkable woman. His beautiful, darling girl.
I love you, Zevran. I hope you know that.
"So cruel," he murmured, heedless of the bruised and bleeding crowd that had assembled all around them. Wynne did not look up from her intent spellcasting, kneeling on Keelin's other side with sweat tracking paths through the dirt and gore splattered across her lined face. The intense light of healing magic was beginning to waiver, like a candle gutted by wind, and Zevran could taste nothing but ashes. "Remember your promise, hm? No goodbyes, mi amora… not yet."
He would follow wherever she led, of course. It was simply too soon for an end, when he had been such a fool for so very long.
Please come back to me, my love, my darling girl—
She coughed, a great bubbling heave of blood frothing from her mouth, but what would usually be such a dire sign filled him with incandescent hope. She was still coughing, but now the hacking was dry and frantic, turning to gasps as her eyes fluttering open, and her body began to shift and move. It was like watching a person saved from drowning, sputtering and confused, and Zevran just managed to wait until the glow of healing faded completely before laying his hands upon his lover, desperate for her living warmth.
Already trying to push herself up onto her elbows, Keelin grunted in what sounded like discomfort when he slid his arm under her shoulders, yet still she latched onto his bracer and all but dragged herself to him. Very, very carefully, Zevran gathered her close, sparing a questioning glance at an exhausted Wynne.
Fingers fumbling numbly for one of the shimmering lyrium vials tucked into her belt, Wynne seemed to fold in upon herself, slumping back to sit and rest a moment amongst the mire of the roof. "Take care, Zevran. Her ribs are still weak."
He nearly laughed, but he was quite aware how hysteric such a thing would sound. Instead, he settled for pressing his nose against the tangled mess of Keelin's hair, seeking her scent under all the filth and matted blood. It was faint, a hint of honey and her, but it overwhelmed his senses all the same.
She was conscious, but hardly lucid as the survivors began to gather themselves— not at all surprising with her wounds and the sheer amount of lyrium she'd ingested over the course of the battle. She spoke nothing of any sense as the few remaining mages continued to patch up the most grievously wounded, just pieces of mumbled phrases and nonsense. There was an agitated edge to her quiet babbling, but she seemed to calm when he began whispering Antivan against her ear. Wynne had insisted that his lady not be moved, especially not the long journey down through the fort, until they could have a proper litter prepared.
Alistair was standing nearby, blessedly silent for once, though Zevran did not miss the way his mouth would open on occasion, only to close again soundlessly. As much as the man had been a thorn in his side, and as tense as their relationship remained, Zevran did not find himself resentful of his company or his anxiety. They were bound up, in a sense, by their affection for this woman… In truth, Zevran could not spare a thought for bitterness.
Eventually, help arrived. Those still on the roof were collected, and Zevran did not protest when Alistair assisted in lifting Keelin onto a litter. She was not heavy by any means, but Zevran could already feel the watery trembling in his muscles begin in earnest, and the excruciating fire shooting up his leg with every step forced him to take on a very obvious limp. The mages were all busy seeing to serious injuries, Wynne having stumbled off to tend a dangerously clammy looking Arl Eamon, but Zevran was determined that he would neither hinder the two elven servants who lifted his lover, nor be left behind. He would endure, for her.
A hand on his shoulder nearly made him lash out, nerves still singing, but he managed to keep himself in check. Alistair looked down at him, his smile wan and apologetic, and did not step back.
"Come on, Zev," he said, voice hoarse. "She'll be terribly annoyed if you cripple yourself. Lean on me."
He simply nodded, shifting his balance and swinging his arm over Alistair's back. The man was too tall for it to be an entirely comfortable position, but broad and strong enough to take Zevran's weight even while they both ached from battle. It was a cautious walk down into Fort Drakon— the journey had seemed so much shorter on the way up, even with droves of darkspawn slavering around every corner.
Alistair was beginning to fade by the time they made it out of the fort, but thankfully there were several wagons waiting to ferry the wounded to the infirmary tents. The harried healers were sorting through the casualties as they poured out into the fort's courtyard, and Zevran was both relieved and concerned when Keelin's condition did not immediately merit transportation.
"Maker's breath," the healer seeing to them gasped when he checked her eyes, having already peeled aside torn robes to prod gingerly at her bruised abdomen. "She's nearly addled. Nothing to do but wait and hope most of lyrium works itself out quickly. I should—" The man laid his fingers against the side of her neck, but shook his head after one silent moment. Zevran felt his heart contract painfully, as Alistair tensed beside him. "No, I would give her something to empty her stomach, but the strain could kill her. Likely wouldn't help anyway, just… just sit with her. If there is any change, let someone know immediately. I'll send over an apprentice to splint that leg until we can spare a mage."
There was a shout across the courtyard, another group of wounded coming through the doors, and the healer sprinted off without another word. Glancing from the makeshift palette where Keelin lay prone, then back up to the imposing spire of the fort, Alistair grunted in frustration. "I really hate this place."
Careful of his leg, which was beginning to swell around his calf quite painfully, Zevran extracted himself from the other man and slowly lowered himself to sit on the ground just beside Keelin. Her face was flushed, almost fever red, but it was better than pale and waxy. When he stroked his fingers along her cheekbone and down the line of her cheek, she blinked at him with huge, dilated eyes struggling to focus, but did not speak.
"As do I, my friend," he murmured, then turned back to Alistair and motioned to a patch of bare ground. "Sit, if you wish."
The man was surprised at the offer and piss poor at hiding it, but he sat without question. For the most part, Zevran ignored his presence, though it was not meant unkindly. Regardless, Alistair did not seem to mind, taking the time to catch his breath and watch Keelin slowly come back to herself.
Eventually, some portly mage in muddy green robes came over and replaced the incessant throbbing in Zevran's calf with a blast of cold and a sharp stab of agony. There would be stiffness for a day or so, but he would walk without any lingering problems. Then, shortly thereafter the three of them were piled into a wagon and trundled off towards their army's main camp.
Zevran woke from his light doze when Keelin began to shift on her cot, squeezing her hand softly when she murmured some half-sensible question. He'd laced his fingers with hers before drifting off, driven by a sentimental need for connection even as she was lost to her own dark dreams.
"Zev— Zevran?" His gesture was returned, slender fingers tightening between his own, but he was not willing to embrace hope so easily. Since his lover had awoken on the Fort Drakon roof, she had called him by name more than once, but also mistaken him for others just as easily in her delirium. He had been Jowan, Alistair, Duncan… even Papa, which had been said with such heartbreak that it nearly undid him.
This time, however, when she turned her head to look at him, he could tell she was finally present. Her eyes, bloodshot and still a little hazy, saw him— not through him. It was such a vital difference, he had discovered.
"Zev," she said again, confused but not obviously addled, and he surged up from his recline to kneel next to her, cupping her jaw with his free hand. Whispers of Warden, archdemon, and hero had secured them a quiet, almost private corner of the main infirmary tent, but an audience would not have mattered even if a dozen Grand Clerics and the Divine Justinia were looming at his back, waiting for a show.
Some light-hearted jibe about sleeping the day away caught on the tip of his tongue; he wanted to reassure her, to hear her laugh even a little, but he could not piece together the words in any language he knew. It was… frustrating and foolish, so instead of staring like a dullard, he leaned in and caught her in a gentle kiss.
She tasted of copper, and a strange tang he recognised as lyrium— he thought of honey and violets, and broke the kiss abruptly, dropping his head to lay nestled against her chest, feeling not wholly unlike a babe. Her torn, filthy robes had been stripped away by the healers, leaving only smallclothes, bandages, and blankets in their wake, but he made no attempt to seek more of her skin. His mind was a maelstrom, but her heartbeat was a strong and steady rhythm in his ear, keeping him tethered. It was enough, more than enough, to feel the life in her.
"Where are… wait, we did it," she said softly, her words vibrating into his bones as her hand carded into his hair. "Andraste's grace, the archdemon— we did it, Zev, it's over—"
The change in her breathing roused him, curled against his side as she was, but Zevran kept his eyes closed. It still felt very early, quite likely before dawn, and the Hero of Ferelden deserved her rest after enduring so much pomp and circumstance over the past days. Being paraded through Denerim like the risen Andraste had been awkward for his lover, and Alistair had fared little better, but now the ceremonies were through. Now the world might have a chance to stop spinning, but Zevran had his doubts. Excitement, of both the good and ill variety, did seem to follow his beloved as closely as her faithful hound.
There had been no thrashing, no tense muscles or distressed cries— it had not been a nightmare that woke her, and he expected her to settle easily back into sleep. Instead, he heard her quiet, sleepy giggle, and made no attempt to suppress a shiver when her lips found his throat and her hand skated low across his stomach.
"Mmm, minx," he purred, arching into her touch, and felt her smile against his skin. The Denerim palace still stunk faintly of smoke and death, even with repair teams already working diligently to mend the damage left by the horde, but the spacious rooms they had been afforded— complete with fine sheets and soft mattress— more than made up for it. It was Fereldan luxury, which would do for the moment, but Zevran was already considering where he might convince his lover to travel, if only for a time…
He would see her basking in bright sunlight, resplendent in silks, and make love to her under familiar stars. She would savour jasmine tea and perfectly ripened fruit, and dance with him to the music of drums and lillo flutes, with the sand shifting soft and warm under their feet. These were the sort of dreams she stirred in him, things he had never allowed himself to consider, and he could very nearly taste them.
But he knew the Wardens would not let their celebrated sister go so easily, especially not when her fame would so bolster the revival of the Grey in Ferelden, and the shadow of the Crows barred him from his homeland. If he asked, truly asked, he thought she might go with him, Warden business be damned. Whether or not she would feel guilt, however, and how poisonous that guilt might be… he was not certain.
He was certain, at that precise moment, that he was utterly at the mercy of a deadly, gorgeous woman who seemed intent on playing him as skilfully as a minstrel with a lute. Despite his musings, he could hardly ignore that fact.
Letting his eyes slit open lazily, Zevran made no move to take the lead in this dance, quite content to enjoy all the benefits of his lover's enthusiasm. Running his hand along the smooth line of her ribs, he groaned deeply when she took his earlobe between her teeth and twisted her wrist just so.
"Ah, mi amora—" She was. Maker's breath, she was. "My darling girl… I am yours."
"Yes," she whispered, then brushed a feather-light kiss against his cheek. Her voice curled into every fibre of his being like smoke, filling him up. "Yes, you are."
AN: Oh wow... it's finished. I hope you enjoyed reading this even half as much as I loved writing it, truly. I'm a little teary, more than a little sad, but I feel strangely good about this, too.