Zevran glanced over at Kayley's sleeping form and admired her loveliness. She inspired within in a sense of calm he'd not properly recognised until yesterday. Dawn barely tinged the sky beyond his two windows, but he'd had enough sleep. Today Alistair would be married and likely as not, his entire afternoon and evening would be consumed by the festivities. This morning he wanted to visit with and talk to his brother.
Slipping through shadow was habit and though not entirely necessary in Denerim, Zevran did it anyway, dancing from corner to street, down alleyways and even over a couple of roofs as the whim took him. He paused on the last rooftop and took in the vista below him, Denerim at dawn. Even in slumber it differed greatly from Antiva City. The smells were different; already Zevran missed the hint of spice the cooler Ferelden air seemed to lack. The city had been swept clean for the King's wedding day, however, and Zevran smiled at the pride the residents had taken in their task, painting their doors, hanging fresh window boxes and even going so far as to scrub the cobblestones.
Zevran slipped down a drain pipe and actually surprised a woman throwing open her shutters to greet the morning. He melted into shadow, leaving her gaping at the space he'd previously occupied as he chuckled and moved around the corner of the building and dropped to the ground. Strolling up to the Pearl he passed through the outer doors and into the interior and was not surprised to find the bar already held two patrons, most likely leftovers from the night before, and Sanga, the proprietor. Zevran did not know when the woman found time to sleep; she'd never not been in attendance on his varied visits.
She greeted him with, "Good morning, Zevran! You are here to visit with your friend? He has not left his room, but I have made sure his every request was met."
Zevran raised a brow. "Requests?" Was Juilden that much recovered?
"Food, bathing water, nothing I'd need to be more discreet over, however. You needn't worry on that score." She winked at him and Zevran realised she suspected Juilden was his lover. Juilden and he had stood rather close together the day before, a result their shared apprehension over his brother being an accused assassin in Ferelden.
He smiled and dipped his head. "Thank you for looking after my brother, Sanga."
Sanga laughed in response and gestured for him to make his way toward the guest rooms. Zevran stopped outside Juilden's door and tapped lightly. The door opened almost immediately and Juilden greeted him with a nod and a grunt before stepped back to allow him entrance.
Zevran looked around the room and saw the evidence of at least two meals, which comforted him. He'd only left Juilden alone for one night, but he'd been afraid his brother might not eat without him there to remind him of mealtimes. He moved to the couch and sat down, relaxing back, at ease in Juilden's company, and in Denerim, in a way he'd not been in Antiva.
Juilden started their conversation. "Your job is done?"
Zevran nodded. "It is done."
"What next then, brother?"
What next indeed. Zevran had thought of little else on the entire voyage home and even during the previous evening in while in the company of Kayley. He had awoken this morning encompassed by an overwhelming sense of peace and well being. Opening his eyes in his spare but bright room had felt natural, right. He'd felt at home. It had been unexpected but Zevran had greeted the feeling with relief. His decision, he thought, was made. He would stay in Ferelden. No more contracts and betrayal, no more creeping sensations between his shoulder blades. But, he still had one concern – his brother. Was there a place for Juilden in Ferelden? He had ascertained that Juilden had yet to make an actual attempt on Alistair's life by the time he'd been caught, but that didn't mean he would not have, had the situation not turned so rapidly to his advantage. He had come to Ferelden to lure Zevran back to Antiva, but he'd also come to Denerim to fulfill a contract.
"What next indeed. I think I have come to a decision, but I would hear your thoughts first. Do you wish to return to Antiva?"
Juilden's expression hardened and a quiet fury burned behind his eyes. Zevran swallowed, ready for an outpouring of rage and grief and was surprised when Juilden did neither. When he spoke his voice was cold and controlled. "My thoughts? They lay with my family, of course. I seek revenge, Zevran, and we have a way to achieve that. I can see your complacency; your face has softened even from yesterday when you left me here." He shrugged. "It is no matter, I will do this myself, as I started this war, I will finish it."
"You intend to join Seryer then? Perhaps talk him into forcing the Brethren to return to Tevinter?" It would be a logical step, a plan even Seryer might consider. Zevran rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You would be his forever, Juilden, if you were to return to Antiva." And he would miss his brother, he realised, if Juilden returned to Antiva without him.
"Not if you came with me, brother!" Juilden's eyes flashed. "You would be his second and together we could depose him, perhaps in only a few years. You and I have quite the reputation. We could turn many Crows to our side, strike when we had enough support. You could lead the Crows and together we could grind Cerin into dust. I would not let her return to Tevinter, I would see her dead and her Brethren scattered to the wind."
Juilden's plan was not without appeal. Zevran could easily imagine his life turning out that way, with the proper connections, a whisper in the correct ear, the right contracts, this could be done. It would not be easy, but some things were worth working for. Zevran shook his head suddenly. Why was he even considering this? He'd all but made up his mind to stay as he walked through this door, but now his brother once again dangled two irresistible lures in front of him: leadership and revenge.
But Antiva was a long way away now and with the distance, his desire for it had faded. He found himself shaking his head once again. "I will not be returning, Juilden, and neither should you." What would he do with his brother? Alistair and Aedan were good men, kind men; they had given him a second chance. Would they do the same for Juilden? "Stay here with me. Let us build a new life, one where we do not need to watch each other's backs or taste everything for poison. One were we fight for a cause, instead of a price. This I have done for the past three years and yes, it has changed me. I believe it has made me a better man."
"But what of my family?" Juilden's voice was full of anguish. "They are gone, Zevran, gone!"
Zevran put a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, Juilden, they are gone."
Juilden shrugged off his hand and stood up. "You should not have brought me here. If I'd known you would turn on me like this, I'd not have come."
"I am not turning on you, Juilden. I am offering you to do something different with your life, something new. I do not suggest that you forget your family, but perhaps you can honor their memory in a way that does not involve more betrayal and needless death."
Juilden had been so quiet for most of the voyage, his bitterness now hit Zevran as unexpected. But as he thought upon it, he realised that his brother had moved on from grief to anger. How could he help him take the next step, the one to acceptance and eventual peace?
"Juilden, will you give me a day?" He could not talk to Alistair or Aedan today, not as he needed to. He would not interrupt the King's wedding for this. "I will not abandon you brother, I understand your desire for revenge. I'm offering you a better way." And he fervently hoped he was… Aedan wouldn't let him down, not intentionally, of that he was sure. He'd speak to him on Juilden's behalf tomorrow.
Juilden gazed at him a moment, his eyes hard and calculating and then he nodded. He stepped forward so suddenly Zevran flinched, but his intent was not malicious. Juilden pulled him into a hug, a rough clasp that surprised him. Moving back, Juilden said, "You have been a good brother, Zevran."
Zevran nodded slowly, his voice quiet as he answered, "As have you, Juilden. I… your loss is mine. If not for me…" and he dropped his head. Juilden had lost everything in an effort to save his life. Was he being selfish in his desire to stay here, in not wanting to honour Juilden's need for revenge? He looked up again and met his brother's eyes. "If I cannot secure a place for you here, I will return to Antiva with you. This I swear."
He grasped Juilden's arm in a gesture of comradeship and promise.
Zevran had not expected to enjoy Alistair's wedding quite so much as he did. Having a beautiful woman on his arm certainly helped. It was not often he saw Kayley out of her leathers, and then they usually weren't dressed at all. But Leliana had taken the young elven woman shopping for a dress and their choice was perfectly suited to Kayley's delicate looks.
He also enjoyed seeing Alistair's happiness and the reflection of it in his new wife. Aedan and Leliana always looked happy when they were together, but they looked especially radiant as they sat beside one another at the head of the table. And why not, they were sharing in perhaps the happiest event of their dear friend's life. The wardens all greeted Zevran warmly and he felt a part of them the entire evening. Instead of making him happy though, it made him sad. He could sense Aedan and Alistair watching him from time to time and he made the effort to look more relaxed, happier, but he found it hard as his mind kept returning to his conversation with Juilden and the fact that he might soon be leaving Ferelden again, forever.
When he finally met Aedan alone the next morning, his friend looked rested and well, but his eyes held new shadows. Kayley had told him what had occurred along the Northern Highway: the tainted village, the loss of Erald, and Luke's subsequent induction into the Grey Wardens, and he'd been horrified by it.
They chatted idly about the evening before for a while before one of the palace servants bustled into the small sitting room with a tray of refreshments for them. After she had left, Zevran took the opportunity to commiserate with Aedan over Luke's fate.
"Kayley told me what happened on the Northern Highway, Aedan. I am sorry things turned out as they did."
Aedan looked away a moment and when he returned his gaze, his eyes had darkened. He merely nodded and said softly, "As am I."
Zevran sensed immediately that Aedan would prefer not to talk of it further and so he pressed on. "Did you want specifics regarding my time in Antiva or did my trophy suffice?"
A half smile crooked the warrior's lips and Zevran relaxed a little. "If you have any pertinent details you feel you need to share, Zev, by all means. But if you say the matter is ended, then it is. I trust you." Aedan's smile warmed and he titled his head a little before adding, "I think we have both seen more these past three weeks than we'd liked to have." Again he hesitated, considered, and then added, "Um… if there's anything you wanted to talk about, I'd be happy to listen."
And he would be, Zevran knew that. Perhaps because he was a man of few words himself, Aedan was an exceptional listener. "There is something I'd like to talk to you about, Aedan. The assassin I took back to Antiva with me, Juilden." How to put this delicately… "He is better known to me than I first let on."
Aedan frowned. "Runir told me Juilden was your brother, is that why you look so changed?" He leaned back and cleared his throat. "I don't mean to pry, I just… I don't like to see my friends looking so lost, Zev."
Zevran saw his opening. "I have changed, but I think you will agree for the better. That is what I'd like to discuss. I'm sure you remember our first meeting?" Zevran smiled and Aedan responded with a grin of his own. "You offered me my life, and then your friendship. Two gestures I will never forget. I humbly ask you to make that same offer to my brother." He saw Aedan's eyes widen and he held up a hand.
Aedan nodded and said quietly, "I will listen."
"He has lost much, everything in fact. What he did, well, I think you'd understand his motivations, Aedan, perhaps better than any other. He did something no assassin in their right mind should." Zevran sighed and shook his head, hoping Aedan wouldn't take the next as a bad reflection on his own relationship, but he felt it might be the only way to make his friend understand his brother's plight. "He fell in love, he married and he had a child. Because of this business, they are…gone." He looked up at Aedan and asked, "He needs a new start, a place to belong again. Would you extend him the same gift as you gave me?"
Aedan considered him for only a moment before saying, "Yes."
Zevran had hoped for this answer of course, but speed with which Aedan responded stunned him. "You will speak to Alistair on his behalf?"
"I will. I assume you brought him back to Ferelden with you?"
"I did. Aedan, are you sure about this? I cannot imagine Alistair will be pleased." Zevran did not want to cause any problems between the two men who were as close as brothers.
Aedan smiled. "He'll give me that eyebrow, Zev, you know the one. But I think he'll see it as a fair exchange for Anora's head. He owes you a debt of gratitude, yes, but he'll agree because he is also your friend. This is what friends do, right? Give gifts to one another."
Zevran nodded slowly and looked up again as Aedan grasped his arm. "Thank you, Aedan."
"You're welcome, Zev."
Zevran returned to The Pearl, but he'd barely stepped through the door before Sanga handed him a note. He opened it, read it, and ran down the hall, bursting through the door to Juilden's room without knocking. The room was empty, Juilden was gone. Zevran read the note once more:
Brother, follow your heart, stay with your friends, your Kayley and your new life. Here you are a better man. Though Ferelden is your home now, there will come a day when you will be welcomed back to Antiva. I will send word when that day comes.
Thanks to everyone that read and commented on Brothers in Arms. I realised halfway through 'Gifts' that I really wanted to include Zevran's POV, but as his plot developed in my mind, I further realised I'd like to tackle it separately. Though I always start a story with a beginning and an end in mind, and a fairly firm plot direction (incl. intentional misdirection!) this story did change a little in the writing. Originally I did intend for Zevran to return to Antiva at the end and to lead the Crows as suggested by one of the endgame epilogue cards (this is actually the one Aedan got in his play through). I also liked the idea of tying in some of his previous jobs for the Crows (the prince).
But, I didn't count on two things: Juilden and Seryer. Juilden grew on me, yes he did. He should have died after the showdown with the Baron, but I found myself quite unable to kill him, so I had to rework the rest of the story to fit. I dithered for three days over killing his family, it made me very sad, but I saw it as a necessary motivator for two reasons: One, Zevran would be deeply affected by it, and Two, Juilden would have the desire to return to Antiva and seek revenge, thereby fulfilling Zevran's intended role as leader of the Crows. I am really looking forward to further exploring Seryer's character.
So yes, there will be a sequel to this. Likely it will be a complete departure from anything I've previously written for DA because it will be all my own characters and my version of Antiva. It will be a fun project!
I hope you found my departures and conclusions satisfying and I fervently hope I did Zevran justice with this little tale. Thanks again for reading.