Final chapter, please move on to the sequel, Nations and Ages.
He'd never been so nervous about anything in his life, not even his Harrowing, or asking Zevran to sleep with him—why now, why this? Cadryn all but shook with the effort of restraining himself from pacing, because he needed to seem calm, collected.
Because he was still afraid of rejection. Luring a halla into a clearing and convincing it to eat from your hand were two very different tasks, after all. There was plenty of room left for Zevran to bolt if cornered, if frightened. And while Cadryn felt certain Zevran had the fortitude to refrain from doing so physically, Cadryn didn't think he could handle a step backward in their relationship at this point. He'd invested far too much in the assassin, time and emotion. Holding everything in and letting Zevran take the first steps between them was infuriating, but necessary. But now he, firstly, felt it was time to offer some more solid confirmation of his dedication than whispered declarations and surrender to the elf in spite of a persistent need for control; and secondly, he simply couldn't stand it any more. Even asking Zevran to sleep with him had been based on unsubtle cues from the assassin, so very little in their relationship had happened on Cadryn's initiative. He expected that would make a man wonder, some day, how much emotion really stood between them.
He hesitated in the front hall for quite some time, torn between going through with his plans and letting things progress as they were. But they'd be spending at least a month apart when Cadryn left for Amaranthine, likely more, and he wouldn't have a chance to do this again and it really make sense, for the Antivan to fully understand every implication of the offer, for an entire year. And Cadryn didn't think he could last a year with-
"Cadryn?" No need to find Zevran, then. He turned to greet his lover with a pleased smile, and Zevran regarded him curiously, obviously sensing tension. Instead of remarking on it, Zevran simply gave him a concerned look, and got straight to his reason for seeking Cadryn out. "Oghren and I are going to be out in the festivities today. I'm most interested to see how you Fereldans celebrate Summerday. More tamely than we do in my homeland, surely, but I expect there will be some fun to be had in Denerim, no?" A flash of a smile, suggestive. "I wondered if you would like to accompany us."
"I'd love to," Cadryn said, and it took a great deal of willpower to keep the uncertainty from his voice. "But I have a lot to do, still, before leaving. Things I can't delegate to a non-warden." Was this stalling, perhaps? True, but no one expected him to work on a holiday. No one but himself, at least.
That expression of concern returned, a very slight frown and narrowing of his eyes. Zevran reached up to run the fingertips of his right hand up Cadryn's left jaw, cupped the cheek and ran his thumb across the tattoo there, a complex motion but one made fluid and quick from practice. This was the first time he'd made the gesture where they could be seen, and the realization of that stole Cadryn's breath for a moment. Maker, why did this man make him feel like such a child sometimes? Like a hopeless, lovestruck teenager? It was such a helpless feeling, and he loathed and loved it with equal fervor. "Something wrong, mi amore?"
"I need to talk to you," Cadryn managed. "It's nothing serious," he quickly added, anticipating the deepening concern such a statement would cause. "I just need to talk to you. Alone."
Zevran smiled uncertainly, but before he could voice any misgiving or approval Oghren ambled up, hands tucked into his pockets, grinning wickedly. "Sorry, Warden, but I got a date with the Arlessa here." And then the dwarf started chuckling, overcome with his own clever humor.
Zevran's smile shifting to something half-amused when Cadryn quirked an eyebrow at him. "He's been at this all day," Zevran explained. "Arlessa this, my lady that—as if the thought just struck him. Unfortunately for Oghren, Alistair made that joke weeks ago, just after the announcement."
"Doesn't make it any less funny," Oghren said. "Or true! Come on,
your ladyship, the public awaits."
Cadryn caught the exasperation in Zevran's sigh, the set of his jaw that indicated he found this tiresome. "Oghren," Cadryn offered, "You have no idea, do you?"
With an annoyed huff, crossing his arms, Oghren admitted, "Yeah, yeah, I know all about it. Can't hold a station because he's an elf, can't be anything officially because he's a guy. Look, I'm just trying to have some fun at his expense, alright? Stone knows you all get enough at mine."
Smiling in anticipation of Oghren's reaction, Cadryn said, "Not at all what I meant. You simply have the terms reversed. If you're going to call one of us Arlessa-"
"No!" Oghren uncrossed his arms, waved his hands once, sharply, to interrupt the explanation. "I don't want to hear—bah, I'm not drunk enough for this conversation! Come on, Arl."
And then Oghren practically dragged Zevran away. Laughing, the elf darted in for a quick parting kiss laid against the corner of Cadryn's mouth. "Can it wait, mi amore?"
"This evening," Cadryn answered. "No later."
"You have my word, then. I will be here for you." Which left Cadryn standing at the base of the stairs, uncertain of what had just passed but at once both amused and hollow.
Cadryn turned at Leliana's voice to see her descending the hallway stairs. She crossed to him and they stood together, watching Zevran and Oghren leave engaged in an animated discussion. "How so?"
"He's softer," she said. "More open. Before he used his sensuality like a shield, now he wears it like a fine piece of jewelry. Something on display, but not to be shared. As if he is taking pleasure in making others jealous of you."
Self-consciously, Cadryn tugged on the earring with his right hand, rubbing at the green gem with the pad of his index finger. "He seems happier, to me. I hope he is, at least. He used to lie so much about his feelings, I doubt, sometimes."
"He is, I think," Leliana said. "It is what lets him behave like this. This change, I have been through it, too. When I went to the Chantry I found peace, and in that I began to feel safe. I could relax, and be who I really was beneath all the masks, at least in my heart."
"Safe?" Cadryn echoed, and Leliana nodded. They watched him leave, making a half-turn as he held the door for Oghren, eyes flitting up to catch Cadryn's—and then gone, out into the streets. Safe.
"And wanted for who he is, not what he can do. That means a lot to a person who is accustomed to being used. I should know."
"That's all I want," Cadryn said, voice breathy with nameless light emotions. "All I wanted, from the moment I realized how much we had in common—him to be happy, if only for a moment."
The bard giggled, laid a hand on Cadryn's arm to draw his attention to herself. Looking up at him in a sort of coy fashion, eyes guarded under long lashes, she said, "I think you've given him more than a moment."
"I'll give him every moment I have, if he'll let me." Leliana took great pleasure in the soft smile on Cadryn's face, a look of elation. "Even if it means I have to leave the Wardens some day. Without him, I wouldn't be here. None of us would be here—I would've broken along the way, and died many times over. How do you tell someone like him that, without chasing them away?"
"He's marked you," she said, gesturing at the earring. "That says to me that he won't run, not unless you chase him off. Whatever it is you're worried over, you have no need for concern."
He regarded her with a very strange expression, one even Leliana couldn't read, but there was something vulnerable about it. "Thank you," Cadryn said. "I don't know what came over me, discussing it so openly, but thank you."
"And thank you, for everything you've done. For all of us." Any coyness left her expression, now sincere and soft, and the hand on his arm shifted just a little. "For me, especially. I understand that I will never escape what I was. I cannot turn my back on my past, and I should not. Those skills can be used for good, and that I use some does not mean I must use all. Who I was is not as important as what I am. And I do myself a disservice to behave as if I am not a bard, even with the peace I've found in the Maker." Pausing for breath, and looking up to gauge Cadryn's reaction, she smiled. "What has passed between yourself and Zevran gives me hope for Marjolaine. I will mend her, if I can, and if I cannot I will burn those bridges properly this time. I will not linger here long after you leave for Amaranthine, but I will return some day. With or without Marjolaine. As you'll be Arl, I expect you'll throw a ball in my honor, yes?"
"Only if you promise to choose the musicians for me, and let me waste a little of the Arling's money on restoring that finery you miss from Orlais, if only for a night."
That drew another playful laugh from Leliana, and she squeezed his arm before letting go. "If that is the case, then you must promise to dance with me."
"Warn me with a letter when you're on your way back," Cadryn said. "I'll have to learn how to dance."
When Zevran opened the door, Cadryn wanted to stand and greet him, but didn't trust the sudden trembling in his limbs. He had to remain calm, otherwise this would be a weakness, and it wouldn't turn out at all how he imagined it should. He required perfection in this.
Zevran dropped heavily onto the couch next to him, leaning back and closing his eyes—Cadryn only managed a glance, pointedly not looking in an attempt to control himself. "You wished to talk?"
"I want you to know that I understand how difficult it is for you to be forward about your feelings." Which wasn't at all how Cadryn meant to start, but with the words out he had to continue. "And I apologize for how I treated you when you first offered this," he tugged on the earring to clarify his meaning. "I thought... I thought you were telling me that I was being used, in some surreptitious way, and this was your guilty thanks for my help in achieving a goal. With everything that had passed between us before, that angered me, frightened me. But I understand, now. Not just what you really meant, but that you had trouble with it, and how much." Cadryn paused to glance at Zevran again, and found the elf sitting up, looking at him intently with those rich amber eyes, skin flushed from alcohol. So Cadryn turned to look at him properly, to return the gaze with unwavering eye contact in spite of his apprehension.
He continued, after a deep breath, meant to calm and failing horribly. "My point is that you've given me more than I've given you, as far as a commitment goes. That must be worrisome. I'll be leaving for Amaranthine shortly, and I know you'll follow when our business in Denerim is done, but that may be months from now. At very worst a year. I would avoid tying you down, because I know that time will be lonely, but I want you to know... I want you to know that I, at least, will not stray, and since I love you for everything that you are, I wouldn't resent it if you did, so long as you return to me." A hand strayed down to the folds of his robe, near the laces, drawing out a little silk pouch with trembling fingers, and worrying at unconsciously it with his hand. "You said that the earring was a proposal. Was that true?"
When he responded Zevran's voice was quiet, and Cadryn thought he detected the slightest tremble. "I said that it was if you wished it, and I meant that with every fiber of my being. I have never been so sure of anything in my life."
"Couples traditionally marry on Summerday," Cadryn said, and he began working at the ties on the pouch. "We're far from a traditional couple, so we can't expect anything official or sanctioned by the Chantry, but that seems very unimportant. The commitment is the same." Finally looking away, because shaking fingers couldn't undo the careful knot in the ties, Cadryn scowled. "Damn it. Of course I would muck this up, of all things."
Zevran's hands slipped in under his, smaller but more certain, made short work of the knot and opened the pouch. He looked up to Cadryn for some sign, and when Cadryn nodded, Zevran emptied the contents of the pouch onto his hand. "What-?"
"Yes," Zevran breathed, then he smiled wickedly. "Or, 'I do'-is that what I'm supposed to say?" Zevran drew his hair together in one hand, then held it aside while Cadryn fastened the chain around his neck. It was gold, a figaro chain with no adornment, and some of the finest craftsmanship he had ever seen. A second one remained, waiting in Zevran's other hand, this one proportionally larger to fit Cadryn.
And Cadryn's fingers had stopped shaking when they brushed against his neck, the small motions of fastening the chain a strange comfort, like a familiar caress, but one unlooked for. As he finished and drew away Cadryn ran his hands down the chain, straightening it to lay just so. Zevran repeated the motion with the other chain, fixing it around Cadryn's neck, but he drew closer, leaning in and overreaching himself such that he kept his body well away from Cadryn's, their faces close enough that a kiss came naturally, once the motion was done. They drew apart after a moment, just a breath apart, and Cadryn reached up to run fingertips down the side of Zevran's face, matching Zevran's affectionate gesture by tracing the tattoos there. "Let these be the only chains that will ever bind us again."