Apologies, I meant to get this up earlier, but the schoolwork I had been neglecting to write all this finally caught up with me, and then I got stuck in a corner trying to figure out what I wanted to say. Alas! Anyway now, onto the stirring conclusion… (la-de-da):

[12] Ritual

Zevran knows he will not sleep, so he doesn't even try. Instead, he lies in his bed, acutely aware of the emptiness next to him, and tries to use the meditation and breathing exercises the Crows teach to recruits to facilitate self-control and discipline to help ease his anxiety and pass the hours before morning, when they will begin their hurried march back to Denerim.

Surana had sought him out late in the evening, pulling him away from the others and into a deserted storeroom, one of the few places in the crowded castle where no one would hear them, since Morrigan was waiting for him in his rooms, as he soon explained. He told Zevran everything: all the secrets that Riordan had revealed and the terms of the witch's offer, discretion be damned. He had seemed subdued, all traces of his usual glibness had been flattened out by the heavy weight of decisions whose repercussions suddenly seemed all too real. His eyes were dark. His voice trembled as he spoke. Zevran realized, with some bemusement, that his Warden was scared.

He had listened quietly and offered no advice, though his first instinct was that he would string up both this Riordan and Alistair and feed them to the archdemon personally before he would let Surana sacrifice himself. He knew the other elf had not come to him for his help or opinion, though; he was simply unloading, tired and overwhelmed from the secrecy and from months performing ridiculously complicated, personally dangerous tasks. It wasn't so much the tasks themselves that were the problem, but instead the responsibility that came with them which he could no longer deny. The mage was no saint, no noble hero. He lived for the thrill and the rush of adrenaline that battle promised, the heady ego trip of doing what he had been told he never could. Alistair was the one who valued his duty and promises to people he had never met, worried about the implications of their actions—which was why Surana had made him king not more than three days ago, promising his friend that he was more suited to the position than he gave himself credit for.

But there, in the dimness of a castle storeroom, describing the possibility of ultimate, all-encompassing sacrifice, he finally doubted himself and his motivations. "What do you plan to do?" Zevran had asked when Surana had told all he had to tell.

"I don't know," the mage said softly, distantly. There was a moment of silence before he turned towards the door and opened it, stepping out into the brightness of the hallway. "I don't know. But I need to go. To figure it out."

Zevran had not seen him since.

That frustratingly sentimental part of him had been hoping that they would spend this night together, before they marched off to Denerim and their possible deaths. That would be nice, he thinks savagely, so why is he surprised that Surana seems to be denying it to him? Everything had seemed to have returned to sweet, dysfunctional normality between them, but their attention had also been focused on more immediate issues: the Landsmeet, Loghain, the Blight. But now, alone in the still darkness, it was easy to think that perhaps nothing has changed. Perhaps the mage will spend the whole night "performing the ritual" with Morrigan, if he has indeed chosen to go through with it, or perhaps his sentimentalities will lead him right back to Alistair, who apparently understands in some way that Zevran cannot.

He wonders why, then, Surana had chosen to tell him everything, when he could just as easily have let out all his concerns to his fellow Grey Warden if they did indeed share some special bond with which the assassin could not compete. Frustrated and without any satisfactory explanation, he tries again to clear his mind and focus on steady breaths and sleep.

But then he hears the door creak open, and a slim dark form slips into his room and collapses heavily onto the bed. Zevran sits up, supporting himself on his elbows, and looks over at Surana. His face is obscured by the darkness, but he seems less tense than he had been.

"I couldn't risk him dying," Surana says. His voice is startlingly flat. "I don't trust that Riordan will be able to do it… he's been vacationing in Arl Howe's dungeon since Ostagar, so forgive me if I doubt that he's in top dragon-slaying form. Fate would never be so kind as to allow me that security, and then who's to say my beloved, idiot shem won't lapse into suicidal heroics that I will be unable to stop?"

"Yes, it is always good to rationalize away your selfish decisions," Zevran snaps, easing himself back down into the pillows. He certainly agrees that participating in Morrigan's ritual was the most prudent choice, but he is not in the mood to listen to Surana try to convince himself that he did it out of concern for the all-important templar, the soon-to-be king, Alistair. And then, like clockwork—

"You really think it's selfish of me to do everything in my power to ensure that the King of Ferelden will live, do you?" Surana is indignant, but says the word "selfish" as if it makes him feel ill.

"Ah, yes, the king," Zevran says coldly. "I must have forgotten that is all he is to you. I am sure your decisions are made solely with concern for politics, and nothing else. My sincerest apologies, Warden."

"May I remind you that you murder people for a living, Zevran? Your big pedestal of righteousness seems rather shakily built, so take care you don't fall off," Surana answers, eyes narrow, his words short and precise. "You of all people want to criticize me for sleeping with a woman under somewhat dubious circumstances to save a… friend?"

Zevran sighs, exasperated. Women, sex, and dubious circumstances… Surana is right, he objects to none of it. He is thankful, he really is, that Morrigan has proved to be this useful. If an issue presents itself in the future, it can be dealt with at that time. What Zevran does not understand is why it always has to connect back to Alistair—Surana's fixation never seems to abate, and he denies it. "You didn't make your decision so you would be able to save Alistair. And he is not just your friend or your king. Denial does not suit you, Warden. If you would prefer to relentlessly pursue someone who has made it abundantly clear that he does not want you, then it will be no trouble for me forget what has transpired and step aside to allow you that freedom."

Surana sits up sharply and throws his feet over the edge of the bed. He curls forward, trying to shrink away from Zevran out of fear or guilt or exhaustion—he isn't sure which—and does not answer. Zevran is aware in the back of his mind that perhaps this is not the most appropriate time to criticize his Warden's thought processes, but more of him is concerned that if he doesn't address it now, he never will.

"Must I reject you as well, is that what you wish? Or perhaps I shall wear my hair in ridiculous fashions and eat more cheese? Shall I stare at you in terror and blush like a schoolboy whenever you speak to me?" Zevran asks venomously, firing the questions like arrows at Surana's hunched form.

"No, I… you're right," Surana says hoarsely, his shoulders beginning to shake. He feels Zevran's arms wrap around him, and leans into the embrace. Several words spring into his mind at that moment to describe himself, but the most prominent among them are "selfish" and "stupid and blind."

"No, this isn't about Alistair," he confirms, and he knows that it hasn't been for a very long time. His infatuation had long ago become a bad habit that wouldn't die, nothing more than a convenient crutch to fall back on so he could keep from having to process real feelings. He doesn't blame Zevran for having had enough of it. "You're right, and I've been an insufferable nug-humper, and I apologize. I won't make it an issue again."

"Good," the assassin says into his Warden's ear, and he is pleased to find the tiny jeweled earring still there. Something familiar shoots through him in waves, and for once Zevran admits that he is feeling possessive and does not deny himself the luxury of expecting the man in his arms to yield to him, and only him, because he thinks that by now he's earned it. The knots that have been twisting inside of him all loosen and the questions begin to vanish, their importance suddenly nullified.

Surana trembles as he speaks again. "I know that it is selfish, though. The ritual. Morrigan will be pregnant with my demon baby and the soul of an Old God—Maker, it's like I'm begging for something bad to happen. But Alistair has also been a better friend to me than I've deserved. You both have, truthfully, and I wouldn't let him die, even if he wasn't going to be king. Neither of you are dying," he says it as if it's more of a command than anything else.

"Of course you don't wish for us to die," Zevran whispers, softened now, satisfied and seeing that Surana needs assurances. "But I think it is as you said. If Riordan cannot kill the archdemon, then the task must fall to you. And if I know you, I don't think that you are very eager to become a martyr, even if it is for friendship. Perhaps this is selfish, and so what? Mi amora, I will never criticize you for that. In fact, I readily encourage selfishness of this type—of many types, really, but particularly this, if it keeps you alive to play your games and put me in such endlessly frustrating situations."

Silence settles over them like a thick, warm blanket, and Surana is finally calmed by the forgiveness in Zevran's words. Some of his undeterrable exuberance begins to return, whatever crisis that had overtaken him conquered or absolved, and they make their way back into the bed, becoming twisted and entangled with each other and the sheets.

They do sleep eventually, and it is undisturbed by worries or dreams, at least until morning.

[13] Fort Drakon

There is a span of time during the final battle that Zevran swears he is not inside his own body.

When he thinks about the moment that archdemon was slain, which he tries to do as little as possible, he feels as if his field of vision is widening and he is flying away, exploding with the light that erupts from the dragon's neck and envelopes his Warden.

He is vaguely aware of his body being thrown back, far away from Alistair and Morrigan and where Surana lies motionless next to the body of the dragon. There is an impossibly long moment, then, when everything is completely still, and though he is fighting a massive battle of wills to move, to stand, to get to him, he remains flat on the ground.

Then reality comes back as if a switch has been flipped, and Zevran catapults forward with speed that surprises even him, knocking Alistair and straggling darkspawn alike out of his path.

When he finally makes it, and sees that Surana is not moving, he knows that he starts screaming, incoherent, consuming rage exploding from him. He lets fury overtake grief, but he cannot decide who he is angriest at: Morrigan, for lying? Surana, for dying?Or perhaps Alistair, for not dying?

(The irony is unbearable, after everything he put up with, for it to end like this.)

But then, as he is considering this, Surana's eyelids flutter, and he moves his head slightly and groans, as if he's only waking from a night of heavy drinking. His eyes finally open and fall on Zevran, who guesses he must look ridiculous and disheveled and surprised and just grateful at this point, because Surana grins stupidly and reaches up to touch him, mumbles something.

Zevran scoops him up in his arms and laughs, hysterically, like their lives depend on it, and he hardly even notices that Alistair is standing near them, panting slightly with a joyous, relieved grin across his face, and that Morrigan is simply gone.

Everything is finally over, and everything has just begun.

There are times in the coming weeks that Zevran wakes up in a cold sweat, blinding white light and the image of Surana's lifeless body fresh in his mind. Other times, he wakes up because he cannot breathe, not because of his dreams, but because Surana's hand is clamped over his mouth. It's the same every time: he gains consciousness mid-struggle, to the oppressive feeling of Surana's soft skin pressed against his lips, and the first thing he sees is the mage watching over him, innocent and doe-eyed. As he gasps, Surana always says the same thing, his voice low and gentle, hand now stroking his hair lightly, affectionate in the mage's own roundabout way: "I like it when you scream my name, you know, but please just not like that."

Eventually, the dreams subside, just as Surana's have since the end of the Blight, and Zevran can finally consider them even.



After the final battle, coronation ceremonies, parades, and countless other celebrations were over, the newly-crowned King Alistair begged Surana in private to stay in Denerim. He had said publicly that he planned to travel, and maybe he would consider returning either to help the Grey Wardens or the Circle. He hadn't mentioned Denerim or court at all, and that made Alistair nervous. Of course he had Eamon, Wynne, and an army of advisors to aid him, but the thought of facing this new life of politics and governance without the man who'd become his closest friend—the man who had orchestrated his current position in the first place—made him uneasy, and lonely for the first time since leaving the Chantry. He told Surana he would give him absolutely anything he wanted: his own estate, riches, a whole field full of lampposts, and his own personal guard to make sure Zevran was protected from any Crows sent for him. But Surana had only smiled weakly, and slid a slender arm around the blonde haired assassin who had hardly left his side since they had descended from Fort Drakon, victorious and alive.

"I'm sorry, Alistair," he had said, his voice oddly even and emotionless, though Alistair knew the apology was sincere. They were close friends, comrades. Of course Surana would miss him, and yet… "I'd like to see more of Thedas, without the Blight looming over my every movement, and Zevran has offered to take me to Antiva."

Of course Zevran had something to do with this, and Alistair felt a stab of white-hot jealousy course through him, suddenly missing the relentless teasing and flirting he'd always fended off. He didn't even bother asking Surana if he would return after his visit to Antiva… the quiet calmness in the mage's eyes when they set upon him, where there had only been fire and passion before, told him everything he needed to know.

Years later, Alistair began to hear rumors that one Zevran Arainai and a mysterious elven mage were indeed in Antiva, and had carved their way to the top of the House of Crows.

Surana was awful at saying goodbye.

He felt it was something that should only be said with a note of finality. Why say goodbye to someone if you were to be reunited shortly? It didn't make sense, and it irritated him.

So whenever he had to separate from Zevran, and his return was not assured, the mage always brushed the side of his face with his hand, and commanded sternly, "You will not die."

And if Zevran noticed that he felt a little stronger, a little more alert, with that touch, and that his enemies' blades seemed a little more likely to miss him, he had no questions— he was only thankful that it made it that much easier to oblige.

"Your majesty, I have news from Antiva."

Alistair was sitting in his study, tiredly pouring over stacks of contracts, letters, and other papers that were supposed to be important to him for some reason that he had failed to identify over the past several years as King of Ferelden. He was itching to go outside to the training grounds and spar with the guards, just to kill the boredom that seemed to settle thickly around him whenever he sat down in his study for any length of time, but Eamon had threatened to schedule him to appear at a few banquets for young Fereldan noblewomen if he didn't keep up with the paperwork.

Eamon had been irritable lately, after reports had been pouring in over the past few weeks about the suspicious deaths of a few of the minor banns. Alistair was troubled, as well; at first, it had seemed merely like a few coincidental accidents, but it was all too methodical and convenient. Everyone was beginning to suspect foul play, but no one knew who was responsible or why.

At his foreign advisor's arrival, Alistair had looked up quickly, grateful for any distraction or excuse to take a break from this busywork, but his excitement turned to dread when he heard his advisor mention Antiva. He liked to be genial and informal as often as he could, but something about Antiva always made him clam up. His first thought was always of Surana, and his own overwhelming jealousy that he had chosen to travel with Zevran instead of staying at court and helping to make the whole king business more tolerable. There had been plenty of times that the persuasive support of the Hero of Ferelden (or even just a friend) would have been more than a little helpful in dealing with the nobles, but in the end Alistair had to admit that the lack of it had taught him how to handle things on his own.

"Go ahead, Iain."

"Ser, the House of Crows has… sent you a package. As you would expect, it has been inspected thoroughly and we believe the message and… gift… are genuine."

Alistair's chest felt even tighter at the mention of the Crows—assassins always made his day brighter—so he stood up and moved to lean casually on his desk, hoping the change in position would loosen him up. "Give me the message first, please."

Iain handed Alistair a neatly folded letter, written in fine ink on expensive, weighty parchment. He easily recognized Surana's handwriting, though it had been years since he had seen it.

To my dearest, most respectable King of Ferelden, Alistair Theirin,

I regret that it has been quite some time since we last spoke, but I understand that Ferelden has been faring well under your rule and that with Eamon's guidance you're becoming quite the leader—fair and reasonable and well-loved. I'll refrain from a childish "I told you so," even though if I remember correctly, I did. Regardless, I'm sure it has come to your attention in recent weeks that a peculiar pattern of Ferelden nobles have been meeting a series of unfortunate accidents. I would like to extend my deepest regrets for this tragedy, but feel it necessary that I bring to your attention an episode that occurred not too long ago.

Imagine our surprise when Master Arainai and I learned that two minor banns of Ferelden had seen fit to travel to Antiva, seeking to discuss the terms of a sticky business venture with the Crows personally. It seems these banns were under the impression that they stood to gain quite a bit of power and riches if they were successful in eliminating the current monarch and his supporters and reinstating a certain disgraced teyrn's daughter—surely you haven't forgotten about Anora, languishing in that tower? I'm afraid that they even offered quite a handsome sum for our assistance, dear Alistair.

Alistair felt himself become somewhat lightheaded as he absorbed the implications of the information. The possibility of rebellion and yet another battle over the throne was bad enough, but he was particularly thrilled at the prospect of being hunted by Crows for the second time in his life—especially Crows lead by Zevran and… Surana. Were they giving him some kind of heads-up, fair warning among old friends? He shouldn't have been so disappointed that the years between them would see the dissolution of their camaraderie to the point that Surana would not hesitate to see him assassinated for a large enough bottom line, but still it stung.

But you can un-furrow your worried brow, my friend; such expressions do not become you. And fear not for the end of your plentiful appearances among your subjects and "secret" evening visits to local taverns. Upon hearing their plans, we dispatched the rebels personally and without hesitation, even at the expense of the fine Orlesian silk shirts Zevan was wearing. He was put out about it, so I do hope you are grateful for our efforts. I took the liberty of tracking down the remainder of the conspirators, and you have the Crows' assurance that they pose no further threat.

Still, you must do something about Anora— you are too indulgent when it comes to matters of your survival. It will stay no secret that the House of Crows is not accepting contracts on the King of Ferelden, though I'm sure you'll understand if that exception does not extend to other members of your court… business is business, after all. But the Crows are not offering you protection, and from now on will only be turning a blind eye. I am only sending you a warning that I hope, as a concerned friend, you will heed.

On a personal note, since you have no mother to nag you about grandchildren, when am I to expect to hear news of young Alistairs scampering about the royal palace, depleting Ferelden of its cheese stores? There are some Crows in Denerim, you know, and even a few who have special orders to keep watch over you, and never have they reported even the most basically untoward or salacious stories about your activities. I must say I'm disappointed. If you had learned anything from me over our travels, I would have hoped it would be how to take up the philandering, lecherous habits befitting a young unwed King. Alas.

Anyway, my kindest regards to you, your Majesty. You are welcome in Antiva should the mood ever strike you—though I warn you, you may be distraught upon the realization that Ferelden truly does smell only of dogs, once you've left.

Con affetto ed amicizia,

Masters Surana & Arainai

Iain watched his king closely as he read the letter, and when Alistair finished he glanced back up at his advisor, who said, "Not to worry, ser, I'm sure the part about the Crows watching you is simply Antivan bravado, the Royal Guard would never allow any such thing."

But even as he said the words, Iain's eyes were surveying the study warily, lingering on the dark or shadowed areas.

"No, Surana isn't Antivan, but… never mind, that's… lovely, really, because it's just touching that the Masters know how fond I am of assassins," Alistair said lightly, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously, suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of being watched. Still, the news wasn't really all that unpleasant, and it was surprisingly good to hear from Surana, even under these circumstances. "What about the package you mentioned?"

Iain reached inside his robes then, and procured a square square box, no more than six or seven inches on each side and filled with a fine grey ash. Handing the box to the incredulous king, Iain explained, "My Lord, the Masters claim that in this box is all that remains of the leaders of Anora's rebellion."

Alistair blinked once, and stared down at the box, a ghost of a smile playing across his face as he tried to imagine exactly how the meeting between the would-be rebels and Zevran and Surana must have played out. He shook his head, and looked up at Iain.

"The Crows send their regards."


A/N: Whew! And… that's it. That's all I got. I'll be ecstatic if you leave a review… you can tell me you loved it, or inform me that I have disgraced Zevran and you demand an apology. (I'm sorry, I promise!) Anyway, thank you if you braved it all, you are absolutely wonderful!