The contract had been simple: Kill the Grey Wardens.

His failure had been epic.

At her feet he laid, defeated. A desire to die was within his heart though the need to fight and live on spun from his lips.

Well here's the thing. I failed to kill you; therefore, my life is forfeit. That's how it works. If you don't kill me, the Crows will. The thing is I like living. And you certainly are the sort to give the Crows pause, so let me serve you instead.

And for some reason, he never quite understood, she let him live.

Elissa knew she should not have let the elven assassin live. He had tried to kill her after all. But there was something there, within the amber of his eyes that she recognized. A mirror's reflection glanced back at her; a mirth-veiled expression translucent hinted at something deeper and pained beneath.

So she let him live.

He could have uses, she supposed. Another blade was not a bad thing to add to your ranks. So long as he kept to his oath and was truly hers without reservation, they would get along swimmingly.

Camp life was awkward at first: new people, new personalities to understand, new rhythms to mimic. Zevran slid into the comfort of his bravado, using it as a shield to disguise his inner turmoil. A smile upon his mouth, a colorful phrase turned, no one would be the wiser to the darkness promising to swallow him whole if but given the chance.

Or so he assumed.

But there were times when he could have sworn he saw a flash of the familiar in Elissa's face. In those moments when no one was looking or she thought she was alone, a quiet melancholy would lay claim, turning the blush of her beauty into something sullen, something heavy.

And he recognized the look - duty derived from death. It bound them to their path. They were merely marionettes pulled along by ghostly puppeteers.

Small conversations had in the middle of the night revealed a great deal about her companions. She learned Alistair liked cheese, Sten lost his sword, Leliana liked to tell stories and that Zevran loved the smell of Antivan leather.

She found the boots in Haven. One whiff of the leather and she knew who they were meant for.

No one gave him gifts. Kindness without motive was not something that existed in Zevran's world. He smiled his thankful smile, he spoke his grateful words and took the gift but not for the reasons she might have supposed.

Each scrape, each mark, each drop of blood staining the leather of his previous boots he could account for.

A scrape upon the right heel – He had run along a rooftop wearing only his boots and a grin.

A small tear upon the left calf – Taliesen's dagger dropped in a moment of heated entanglement.

A distorted stain of blood upon the fronts of both boots – Rinna's blood had pooled about his feet before he could step back and avoid its approach.

He had been long overdue for a new pair of boots and for this pair, he would be grateful.

Too long Elissa resisted his charms. Too long Elissa took the road more noble and honorable. Her father would not have approved. Her mother would have been horrified. And her brother? He would have teased her endlessly. But they were no longer with her, only residing within a fractured set of memories haunting dreams and idle thoughts.

A connection she could not understand pulled in her in the direction of the Antivan. She found herself walking with him as they traveled the countryside. She found herself sitting near him during evening meals. There was a comfort in his presence, an understanding they both shared and had no need to voice. With him, she felt the falseness of her outward persona could be cast aside. With him, she could be just Elissa.

And so she followed him as he went into the woods to search out poison ingredients. And so she pushed him against a tree and pressed her mouth against his. And so she felt a bit of the numbness that had trailed her since Highever burn away in a flash of heat and lust.

Zevran did not judge.

The decision she made had been pragmatic. The decision she made had made sense.

A templar and bastard prince found replacement with a warrior and outright bastard. Loghain for Alistair and it need not have come to that. But Alistair pressed the point, he would not back down and he left.

The weight of her decision bore down upon her in a sea of regret and what-ifs. The echoing of harmful statements, the disapproving glances of their other companions, the baleful looks of Loghain, all left their bruises upon her.

Each mark he sought to kiss away. A feather's brush of affection whispered soft against bared skin, speaking of need and understanding. He would offer her distraction. He would demand it.

Zevran did not judge.

She left him at the gates in a moment of weakness she would not allow herself to regret. She had refused Morrigan's offer.

And if Riordan failed…

If Loghain fell…

All she had been working for would come down to a single moment. Her obligation sung in her blood. There was no choice.

So when presented with one, a real choice, she left him at the gates. She would not have him see her fall. She would not have him tempt her to stray.

His earring dangled from her ear, a token of something he would not voice. A token of something she understood and cherished all the same. Her hands soaked in the warmth of his skin, pulled his face toward hers. The kiss was gentle, near chaste, a teasing of flesh against flesh.

"I will see you when this is done," she whispered. It was a lie.

She left him at the gates and Zevran was angry. He was angry he would not get to see the grand finale of all they had worked to achieve. He was angry he had to fight with the dog, the giant and the dwarf. But mostly, he was angry that she lied and he let her.

Grunts, alphas, emissaries, as they crossed his path, Zevran struck. All became a blur of blood and bone and destruction. He lost count of the number dead. He lost track of the time that had passed.

And only when the sky illuminated with brilliant light and thundered with the loud clapping of an explosion was he pulled back from his fury. There was an overwhelming sense of finality as Fort Drakon rocked and bathed in explosive display.

It was over.

Everyone could sense it. Darkspawn began to retreat, what had been a single point of focus seemingly fading into the ether. Chaotic and uncertain they scattered. Men cheered in celebration. Men groaned in pain upon the ground seeking healing attention.

It was over.

Zevran did not join in the festivities. He did not join in helping the wounded. He headed toward Fort Drakon, steps at first slow but soon picking up their pace to that of a run.

He had to know.

She came out of the Fort, one arm clutched against her chest. Her steps staggered, footing unsure upon the ground. Each advance teetered with the promise of a fall. Her hair, normally well coifed and kept in tight buns along the nape of her neck, was unkempt and wild. And the blood… Every inch of her appeared to be covered in the cakey and flaking substance.

Never had she looked more beautiful and he allowed himself to celebrate.

It was over.

With the death of the Archdemon, a period of rebirth came to Ferelden. A new King was crowned and Elissa he made his advisor, his Chancellor. The chasm of misunderstanding and anger between Elissa and Alistair filled slightly at the end of the Blight with the death of Loghain, with the explanations of why Grey Wardens were needed to kill an Archdemon.

She traded daggers and swords as her weapons of choice for the carefully orchestrated twist of the tongue in political doublespeak. It was the life her parents had bred her for, the life she had studied all her life for. Beneath all the armor, beneath the taint of her Grey Warden blood, she was still a Cousland.

And she excelled at her new position. The kingdom flourished in a golden period of prosperity and peace.

Any that sought to disrupt the tranquility of Alistair's reign were dealt with efficiently. Diplomatic means were usually successful. But on those occasions where they failed, other measures were taken and Zevran was more than happy to assist when the call came. Old roles were slid back into easily.

At Elissa's side, he was a fixture. What would have been scandalous to her at one time, no longer mattered. She flaunted her Antivan, thumbing her nose at the unspoken rules of the noble class.

She had helped slay an Archdemon and if she wished to consort with an elf, she would. Maker damn all those that protested.

Zevran had almost been too late. He had almost… Everything moved at a slowed beat. An aerial attack, foot upon chair, landed. The pulse of a vein beneath a neck, severed. An armor covered lower back, pierced. Each move calculated and completed with precision.

Three men. He merited only three men. A snort of a laugh rose within his throat. "I should feel insulted that I am…" He sought out Elissa with the turn of the head and playful commentary was forgotten, silenced. She lay on the ground, skin slick with blood, theirs and hers. Her hands clutched at her side, pressing down upon a wound.

He watched as a dullness overtook her vision; the light within began to fade, consciousness desperate like the last flickers of a candle before its wick runs dry. He knew was dying.

Everything drained. Energy, vision, only the soft murmur of pleas remained. The voices crashed in, loud whispers beckoning her to join them.

Come play with me Auntie.

You have made us so proud, Pup.

They could not be real. They were hallucinations, a byproduct of the wound.

A single voice crashed in, begging her to stay.

Do not die.

A single voice crashed in, speaking of affection.

I love you...

And she hoped - as all faded into unconsciousness - that these voices were real.

It did not take much to unravel the plot. Either too arrogant to cover their tracks or too confident that their plans would succeed, the coalition of Banns that aided the Crows in penetrating the security of the Royal Palace were easily found.

It did not take long to coax the words from their lips. Zevran's methods had been merciless and exacting. They sang of conspiracies, hatred and bigotry.

We planned to put forth our own person as Chancellor…

She advised the King against us…

She threatened our way of life with her talk of elevating elves…

They sang of the guilt and coalition with the Crows.

Two birds with one stone, the Antivan and the Cousland bitch…

It did not take long to separate their heads from their necks. The King's sentence passed and carried out speedily. An attack against the Chancellor was an attack against the Crown, he said.

It did not take long for Zevran to decide to leave. Recovered from her wounds, she slept at his side. In sleep, she looked peaceful, free of the scars duty and death left upon her. There were things he wished to confess. Things he knew he should tell her. If he stayed, she would remain a target of the Crows. If he remained, he might lose her. He would not watch another woman he… He would not go through it again.

And so, he left, a coward's retreat built upon the best intentions.

Elissa woke to find him gone and she knew. The hints had been there since she recovered, a quiet distance tempered with the emotion of final moments. Each kiss he gave her felt too savored. Each caress of his hand felt too urgent. At the time she had thought he was merely happy she had lived. But as she looked at the spot in the bed where he might usually lie, she knew.

He was gone.

In a way, it did not surprise her. She had kept him caged for so long, tethered to her. She was too afraid to lose him, to lose the one part of her that still felt right and true. He had been an unconventional choice as lover and confidant. But he had been her choice. And in the end, even that did not appear to matter.

The smells of the ocean – a salty ambrosia, crisp and fresh -- always made Zevran nostalgic. Nimble fingers clutched the battered wooden railing of the ship. His eyes closed as his head tilted back. A kiss of sunlight brushed warm against his brow and he inhaled, breathing in the brackish scent.

His trip to Ferelden was to have been a one-way journey. Goodbyes had been said to Antiva. He was not to return.

Fate had a wicked sense of humor and set him upon a different path than planned. On a time-worn patch of road, everything changed.

AN: I'm sorry to those that tried to read at first. Ffnet erased all my formatting for section separation.