Summary: Roughly thirty years after the Blight, Surana refuses to admit that he's just as susceptible to the taint as any other Grey Warden. Having retired to Antiva with Zevran and left his past as the Hero of Ferelden long behind, he decides he must devise his own ending.
Word Count: ~7500
Warnings: Character death, and spoilers for the lovely side effects of becoming a Grey Warden and specifically, the end of their lives. Very minor Awakenings spoilers (small discussion of the Architect/Utha).
Disclaimer: Dragon Age=Not mine!
A/N: I wrote this as the same Surana from my other fic, Questions, but this little one-shot reads fine as a standalone. Also, I've never read the book "The Calling," so I'm sorry if I get something wrong… I'm just going from what we're told about the Calling in-game. Feel free to correct my mistakes. And lastly… yes, Zevran is speaking Italian at the end—I subscribe to the Antivan=Italian theory (even though Zev calls both male & female PCs 'amora,' which is… sort of Spanish?) I just love Italian!
As always, thanks for reading, and pretty please review… even if it's to tell me you hate it! Actually, especially if you hate it… otherwise how will I learn to suck less?
King Alistair has abdicated his throne.
Even in Antiva, where few people condescend to have any significant interest in the details of the politics of un-intriguing southern countries, it was considered a curiosity when Ferelden's monarch—who was generally well-loved among his people—simply took off with only a few trusted aides, and disappeared to the dwarven city of Orzammar, promising never to be seen again.
It is said that the King's last statement to his mourning people was that this was his Calling, his final duty as a Grey Warden; he promised that Ferelden would endure as it always had, and bid his only son, the crown-Prince, a final, heartfelt goodbye—relinquishing to the boy of barely twenty his kingdom.
Alistair had always served his people with every ounce of loyalty and strength that he could muster—that was the sort of man the King was. And though he admitted that his coronation had initially been one of some reluctance, with time, he had grown into his kingship. But never had he forgotten the Wardens, their sacrifices, or their duties that could not be foresworn.
This is the way of the Grey Wardens, and it has been his fate since the moment he Joined, as it is the fate of all Wardens either sooner or later. It is simply what Grey Wardens do, it is simply his duty, and King Alistair had always been proud to be what he was.
In war, victory.
In peace, vigilance.
In death, sacrifice.
Alistair has left for Orzammar, you know.
Surana had never been very interested in sacrifice… not as an apprentice in the Circle Tower, not during the Blight, and certainly not since the fall of the Archdemon.
He preferred that his actions always largely communicated self-interest in any case, an image that he had meticulously cultivated: what good would a persona of benevolence do him where he was now, in Antiva, amongst the Crows?
To participate in the pageantry and conniving dance of Antivan politics when it suited him and indulge in Antiva's assorted pleasures and distractions when it did not—that had been Surana's focus once he had left Ferelden behind him.
He spent nineteen years in a Tower, bursting at the seams with his desire to rebel against the templars, his jailers. Joining the Grey Wardens hadn't been an honor, it had been a glorious escape route, and later a challenge.
Elves can't lead armies. Mages can't leave the Tower. No Grey Warden can slay an Archdemon and live.
Surana had been told all of these things, and he had simply scoffed, looked his detractors in the eye and taunted: Watch me.
But now, those days were long gone—hardly more than pleasant memories carrying some amount of nostalgia upon reflection, but nothing he missed very greatly. He had moved on to more interesting prospects, like experiencing and savoring this world that had been hidden from him for the first two decades of his life. The Crows had proven worthy providers of excitement, at any rate. The Crows had Zevran, after all, or more correctly, Zevran had decided to kill off a series of Crow Masters (not that Surana hadn't lent a hand here and there), and now Zevran had the Crows.
Why would Surana have traded the confines of the Circle Tower for the confines of an order obsessed with slaughtering darkspawn until a new Blight started sometime in the next couple hundred years, when he could just leave (what a concept) and have… anything else that he wanted?
He wasn't likely to be around in another few hundred years, so the prospect of the next Blight did little to pique his interest.
To Surana's mind, principles like duty were just another type of prison, anyway.
You know, when he told me that I had thirty years—only thirty!—I laughed at him. What's thirty years? It might have been an eternity.
You never did take death seriously. Or your age.
I did once.
Yes, and Morrigan rescued you from having to endure that little reality check.
"But what is the Calling exactly, father?"
The boy—and he really is just a boy, for all that he wears royal armor and can navigate the chaotic seas of court with an ease cultivated from childhood—sits across from his father in the private living room of the palace, where a generous fire crackles warmly in the fireplace and casts a gentle glow across both of their faces. A boy, the king reminds himself, but older than he had been when he accepted the crown.
"It's… complicated. Grey Wardens aren't really supposed to speak of the details," he sighs, gently running his fingers over the stubble on his chin. Though there were whispers among the nobility of how the King has begun to show his age of late, to his son he is still the same fearless, invincible father. This is the man who changed his diapers, taught him how to wield his first sword, and mended scrapes and bruises to both his knees and his pride throughout most of his life. It's hard to accept that soon he will be gone and he is expected to replace him.
"But these dreams… do they… hurt? I hear the guards talking, and they say you don't rest well anymore. Are you sure I can't accompany you to Orzammar?" his son asks, eyes worried.
"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine, and you'll have your work cut out for you after your coronation, believe me," the king explains with a small smile. "It doesn't hurt. We go because the alternative would still be worse. It's an old tradition for the Wardens, to go into the Deep Roads when we hear the Calling."
"The alternative? Do some Wardens refuse to go, then?"
He sighs deeply, with a sad smile that the prince can't understand.
"They can try, and I suppose some do… but what would be the use? The taint is in every Warden, and it will come for each of us in the end, no matter where we go. To die in the Deep Roads… is just what we have always done. It gives our deaths meaning."
The prince hates that this is the answer, though he has always known this is the end that awaited his father. Yet at the same time, it is also the most fitting answer he can imagine—simply bittersweet.
"It must be comforting to know from the start that your death will have meaning," he admits. "I… always wished I could be a Warden like you, father."
Alistair smiles fondly at his son. "I would rather you focus on giving your life meaning, than just your death. You have plenty years ahead of you yet."
He sent me a letter, months ago. He said our time was near. He… wanted us to go into the Deep Roads together.
You denied him.
Orzammar isn't part of my plan.
I was not aware that you could make plans against the taint.
Nothing forces me to do what I don't want to.
Of course not, amora.
The last time Surana had been in Ferelden, it had been shortly after the Blight, and he had only stayed long enough to establish the Grey Warden presence in Amaranthine—a task he had been somewhat coerced into performing as a favor to the King. But the memory that always endured for him from his interactions with the Architect, was meeting Utha.
More correctly: seeing her.
He knew the Architect's silent companion was a Grey Warden. Alistair had mentioned that Duncan had been getting ready to go to Orzammar for his own Calling before his death at Ostagar, and it was just Surana's guess that Utha must have been… similarly aged.
Of course, he had not been sure if her appearance was due to the affects of the taint, some other side-effect of the Architect's research, or something else completely. Really, he didn't know much at all—he hadn't been interested in chatting much at the time, and she was somewhat incapable of speech—but her pale, Blight-sick skin, the way she slouched with slow, precise movements, had haunted him for weeks afterwards.
Once he was settled in Antiva, he had simply tried to revert to denial; he didn't act like a Grey Warden, he didn't do anything Grey Wardens did any longer—not even for the Antivan Wardens, who had once or twice sought help from the conveniently located Hero of Ferelden when darkspawn problems cropped up over the years—so it was easy to pretend that he wasn't one any longer.
If he just didn't think about it, he could convince himself that being a Grey Warden really was a choice, not something he had irrevocably become, something he could not escape. Maybe he even thought that eventually he would discover a way to avoid the absolute fatality of the taint, the way he had for the Archdemon.
"If you were to forswear your oath and flee today," Riordan had told him during the Blight, "you'd find yourself in the Deep Roads or the Blight-lands, given time."
In his mind, Surana had refused to believe it. Really? Watch me.
Amora… you have been dreaming again.
Goodness, have I? Dreaming, well… how rude of me. I'm sure the formidable Master Arainai has never done anything so common as dream.
I certainly don't thrash about like a fish out of water during the night.
I do not thrash!
He had not awoken like this, gasping and breathless, grasping at thin air in, oh, thirty years.
But it's not so bad, really. Thirty years ago, all he had been met with upon awakening from these nightmares was the vaulted canvas of his tent and the feel of cold, hard dirt beneath his bedroll. Before Zevran—before he had gotten used to Zevran—night terrors and the accompanying lingering racing heart could be surprisingly difficult to fend off. Now all he has to do is roll over, and he finds Zevran lying next to him, usually already awake, staring at him with those familiar golden-brown eyes. It's good to have one thing remain constant.
And perhaps the Old God's song is not as unpleasant as it had been so soon after his Joining. Sometimes, he thinks it sounds more like a comforting invitation, or creeping intoxication wrapping icy fingers through his mind.
Not that he would admit any such thing.
Instead he lies still, catching his breath in silence.
"You're awake," comes Zevran's voice, like clockwork. He hadn't slept through a single night that Surana hadn't in years. Whereas when his dreams were quiet, Surana could probably sleep through another Blight, Zevran unfailingly woke at the slightest movement—especially Surana's.
"No matter," he answers. "I… just thought I heard something."
"Mm, then come back to sleep, amora," Zevran murmurs back, and snakes one arm around him, drawing him in close.
I also do not hear the song of an Old God once I fall asleep.
Neither do I! Maybe I'm just having wild sex dreams. How would you know?
Because if anyone ever made you scream like that while you were awake, you would kill them without a second thought.
After all these years, you still think you can lie to me.
It's the Calling.
…of course, amora.
One of the most glorious things about Antiva City remains hidden to many of its residents, but becomes intimately familiar to most Crows: the rooftops. Roofs in Antiva are low, and close together; intricate labyrinths of stone that provide the perfect cover for an assassin scouting his mark, or safe haven from the sights of an enemy who gives chase. Little used entrances and exits grant swift access to most areas of the city, and when one is quick and lithe and athletic, roads begin to feel almost superfluous.
It is early morning, and Aarón crouches low, peering down from his vantage point onto one of the lesser-traveled side roads on the outskirts of the city, in the quiet, mostly deserted suburb just outside the city walls. He has been doing this for several mornings now, watching the slim, cloaked elf pace briskly along, as if trying to shake off some imaginary pursuant, as the sun peeks out over the treetops in vibrant hues of purple and pink.
This morning, however, the elf has a companion, whose silver-blonde hair catches the early morning sun, glowing like a halo around bronzed skin. And so Aarón doubles his efforts to remain unseen, yet every so often, sharp golden eyes gaze up towards the rooftops, settling on the Crow's position—a warning. I know you're there.
Master Surana may be the Hero of Ferelden, but he is no rogue, and a sufficiently stealthy Crow can still stick to the shadows well enough to evade his survival instincts—and Aarón prides himself as being one such Crow. He has spent quite a few of his years as a Crow as something of a favorite of the Masters', and he has learnt their habits well: if you are willing to risk his hot-tempered wrath, Surana can be stalked up to a point, but Master Arainai seems to have some sort of supernatural pre-disposition against being surprised by anything. Somehow, the old Crow always seems to calmly know.
The Master lays a gentle hand on the darker-haired mage's back as they walk, an otherwise affectionate gesture that Aarón understands as more of a subtle, protective display. But his intentions as silent onlooker atop the roof are merely observatory and nothing more. It is a curious thing, after all, when one of the two Masters of the Crows—the one who usually appreciates his sleep—abruptly begins taking impromptu strolls at the crack of dawn.
Suddenly, Surana stops, mid-stride, and takes a step back, head tilted up to stare warily over the horizon. He turns back towards his fellow Master and whispers something, and Aarón can just barely read his lips—Zevran. Be careful.
He raises his hands, lightning crackling tentatively at his fingertips, ready to strike. For a moment, the Crow thinks he is the cause for the Master's alarm, but then Arainai catches the other elf's arm firmly, and asks, Amora. Are you sure?
The elf nods sharply, and Arainai turns back to face where the Crow is hiding, addressing him openly. "Aarón! You may wish to ready your crossbow."
Wordlessly, the Crow obeys the Master's command, as perplexed by it as he is. Below him, the Masters both stand battle-ready. Surana has a peculiar gleam in his eye, and he moves as if he has been taken over by some great unease, prickling with a sort of anxiety that Aarón finds completely out of character.
"They're so close," Surana murmurs.
Then he sees it—whatever it is—as it bursts from the nearby trees, a terrifying hulk of a monster. He clutches at his crossbow, choking back a wave of disgust and fear, and takes aim—but the Masters make quick work of the beast without his arrows, moving in tandem as if this is an old dance they share.
More of the creatures pour from the cover of the trees, as moths drawn to flame. Suddenly, Aarón understands. And it isn't anything the legends could have prepared him for.
Several more of them surround the Masters, but their focus is on the mage, swiping at him with frenzied swings of sickle shaped daggers and crude swords. Surana, locked into such close combat, has abandoned spellcasting in favor of his own blade, and glows with the shimmering magic of his Fade shield. Arainai distracts as many as he can, backstabbing and slicing at Blighted flesh with twin blades.
From his vantage point, Aarón is able to slay a few of the monsters himself easily enough, but his assistance seems almost unnecessary. Aarón has seen the Masters fight together before, of course, both in battle and simple sparring matches—but this is an altogether new spectacle. He realizes that on this morning, he has unwittingly found himself privy to something no Crow probably ever had been before or would be again: the Masters fighting, side-by-side as they had in their youth, united against the Blight.
When the last of the darkspawn lay dead, and their weapons are resheathed, Aarón delicately descends from the rooftop to join his Masters. Surana is once again clutching his cloak around his shoulders, but delicately toes one of the corpses with his boot, studying the peculiar style of armor with the same faraway look in his eye.
"It seems your old fan club has returned, my dear Warden," Arainai observes lightly, glancing up at Aarón's approach. "And they are rather more fond of you than I remember."
Surana does little more than wrinkle his nose in response, his displeasure apparent.
"Holy Andraste, and you fought a horde of these creatures!" Aarón breathes, stopping before them.
At this, Surana smiles self-indulgently and shrugs. "Absolutely. My crowning achievement, or so I'm told. Be aware of that, Aarón: no matter what you do after you slay an Archdemon—no matter how many other dragons you kill or assassin's guilds you help seize control of—nothing will ever seem to top it."
"I'll take it under advisement, ser," Aarón snorts.
"Also take it under advisement, then, that until you have slain your share of dragons, perhaps spying on the Masters would be… inadvisable," Arainai continues, voice low. Aarón stands straighter at the reprimand, head bowed slightly.
"I—yes, ser. I understand."
"Good," the Master says, and his eyes flick over Aarón one last time before resting finally on Surana, who despite showing no other signs of battle-weariness, still looks troublesomely paler than usual.
Aarón knows when he is dismissed, and leaves the Masters to their business.
When the Crow is sufficiently out of earshot, Zevran reaches up to brush his lover's cheek, wiping away a streak of darkspawn blood—the other elf's skin is cold to the touch.
"Are you all right, amora?" he asks. "It has been some time since we fought darkspawn."
"It's early. I'm just a little tired," Surana answers evenly. "I may not be nineteen anymore, but a few hurlocks is nothing we can't handle."
Zevran takes a long look at the mage. The legends say that before the shemlen overtook Arlathan, the elves did not age, and looking in the mirror, Zevran can believe it. He believes he has aged quite well for a man approaching fifty, and that isn't only his own vanity speaking. The same could have been said for Surana not too long ago, but recently the signs of age have begun to creep up on him, more wrinkles settling in around the corners of his eyes and mouth, his skin tone taking on a decidedly unhealthy, pallid color. He looks older, but it is also something more than age, Zevran knows.
"My worry is that this will not be the last, nor the most, we see of them," he says. Surana just shrugs again at the suggestion, and strides off, heading back to into the city gates.
When they return to their home and are finally alone, free of the indiscretion of the open streets, Surana shrugs off his cloak carelessly, but continues to pace, his face tight and controlled. Zevran stands silently, watching him, waiting for whatever thought the mage is stewing over to come out.
"When I die, cremate me," he says suddenly, and it's probably the last thing Zevran expects to hear.
"That's much better than allowing your body to disintegrate and decay into withered old bones, don't you think?" Surana clarifies, looking up to meet Zevran's eyes. They are both so practiced at hiding their emotions, schooling their faces to communicate only what they want others to see—but Surana doesn't need facial cues to know what Zevran is thinking. He can feel it in the air between them.
"I… suppose so. But that is hardly—"
"But there's one thing you mustn't reduce to ash with me," Surana presses on, pushing past the other man's discomfort. "You must promise me you'll keep this…"
Keeping his eyes locked on Zevran's, that tiny mischievous smile on his face, he reaches up to his left ear and carefully removes the tiny jeweled earring that he always wears.
"I… what's this?"
Surana only grins broadly in response at first, because they both know what it is. He clears his throat and puts on his best imitation of an Anitvan accent—after all these years, he manages at least passably. "It is an earring I obtained long ago. It means very much to me. I would like you to have it. Perhaps you could even sell it, if you wish."
Zevran closes his eyes for a moment, wrestling back the involuntary off-kilter spin into which his head has just launched itself. He takes Surana's hand in his and smiles weakly. "So am I to assume this earring is not some token of your affection, then?"
Surana takes a step closer, his playful act fading quickly. There is no point in masking the emotion, now. "No, I think it is definitely a token of much more than that, Zevran."
Zevran nods sharply in response, eyebrows knitted tightly in something that resembles pain. He presses Surana's hand back to his chest, and rests his own over it.
"But I don't want more tokens," he says roughly, placing his other hand along the side of Surana's face. "I want only this."
He presses their lips together in a crushing, bruising kiss that leaves them both gasping.
"Please don't say anything more."
Zevran, if the taint… if I were to begin turning into, say, a ghoul, then…
What would you do?
I suppose I would… have to kill many more of the darkspawn you seem to attract these days. And I would be… quite distraught.
Would you, now?
But since you insist this is not your Calling, I suppose I shall be blessed forever with happiness.
It's not the Calling! I was just wondering. In… case.
Surana drinks more quickly from his glass of wine, now, and sometimes refuses to meet Zevran's gaze. It's small things, things that should hardly even be noticeable, but Zevran simply cannot do anything but notice: the way Surana tacitly avoids all mirrors, oddly adverse to his own reflection for a man who had once had a healthy bit of vanity; the way he wakes earlier and comes to bed later, as if he fears his dreams; the way his movements have become just a fraction slower, ever slightly more laborious and precise. It is a silent transformation, one that they both struggle to address in conversation—and yet it hangs unavoidably between them.
But If I do begin to turn… will you kill me?
Well, that seems a hasty request. You don't look as if you are turning into a ghoul.
I may. I could. I'm a Grey… I'm tainted. If I do, you will kill me, won't you?
Of… course, amora.
Surana had picked up a habit of sitting for unabashedly long spans of time in front of unguarded windows and taking leisurely strolls through crowded marketplaces without so much as a butter knife hidden in his boot.
Mage or not, it was driving Zevran insane.
"It's as if you are asking someone or something to walk up and sink a dagger in between your ribs," he would scold, as if Surana didn't know, as if he didn't know that Surana knew, and was in fact openly courting, the danger.
The mage would only smile up at the assassin, infuriatingly flippant, bathed in sunlight and for a moment restoring the glow and youth to his fading features. Then he would lounge back lazily in his window seat, stretching himself out so most every vulnerable point of his body was fully exposed to the open windows, giving anyone with even the slightest idea how to aim a crossbow a clean shot. Irritated, and not even remotely fooled, Zevran would stride over to him, looming, obscuring the mage's body from the outside with his own and snapping the windows shut with an angry click.
"Your dreams are getting worse each night. This is the Calling."
And those are the only words that make Surana's eyes flash and cause him to withdraw in anger, finally defensive of some part of himself.
It isn't the Calling, Zevran.
Oh, so now you are immune? Alistair has been gone eight months.
I'm not Alistair.
If I started to turn into a… well, you would kill me. That's all I need to know.
Then that is how you wish it to be? Truly, you are going to make me kill you?
I'm not going to Orzammar. I want to stay in Antiva. I want to stay with—
Of course, amora.
"Doesn't the master look… old, of late? Grey?"
"Which? I doubt very much Master Arainai would appreciate you calling him old and grey."
"Master Surana is a Grey Warden. I suppose it's just how they age."
"I thought they were kind of like us. You know what they say, no such thing as an old Crow…"
"Not for a Crow like you, perhaps."
"But he doesn't even wear his leathers anymore. I haven't seen him carrying a weapon in weeks."
"He's a mage."
"Yet he always did before. I think he's…"
"More dangerous with his bare hands than a dumb figlio della puttana like you is with the aid of Andraste herself?"
"I'm just saying..."
When Surana enters the room, unarmed and wrapped in the most opulent current fashion of black and green silk finery, the younger Crow glances quickly at Aarón, whose face remains impassive, and they both immediately cease conversation and come to attention.
And yet the Master does look awful—it is as if age has unexpectedly caught up to him, and with a vengeance. His already slight frame is thinner, paler, his once smooth complexion has blemished and dark circles have formed under his eyes in recent weeks; fingers whose joints have crackled alternatively with the power of healing magic and deadly lightning have treacherously turned slow and stiff. Even his dark hair has lost its shine, gone flat and dull and… grey.
But in front of the Crows, he carries himself like a man half his age, as if this transformation has taken place on some other person, like the image he avoids in the mirror is only some specter of the Fade that chooses to stare back at him instead of his true self. The warmth in his brown eyes reveals what lingering vigor he has, proving that the intelligence there has not yet dulled into dementia or madness.
He grins at the Crows standing before him, and gives a special nod to Aarón, whose lips quirk upwards at the acknowledgement.
"Aarón, if you have a moment? Some privacy, perhaps?" Surana begins.
Aarón grins smugly at the other Crow, who slinks out of the room with a last resentful glance back at his fellow, then Surana continues.
"I have a proposition for you. A contract," he explains. "Well, actually, since I'll be paying you upfront, and personally, it's more of an order, really."
Aarón inclines his head in silent agreement.
"You must not tell Master Arainai."
Such a high paying contract, offered by a Master himself, is hardly one that any Crow can refuse, whatever the conditions. Aarón's throat goes dry, though, remembering the way golden eyes had flashed at him as he sat hidden among the rooftops.
Someone should probably kill me.
I… amora, I will have to disagree with you on that.
You wish I had gone with Alistair, don't you. You actually do.
Nothing can make you do what you do not want to, don't you remember?
Yes, well, I'm the one who said so, aren't I?
For some time, there is only silence.
In the last several weeks, Surana spent a great amount of time idly wondering exactly how and when it would happen. He had not specified in the contract, and even after years of becoming intimately acquainted with every method of assassination the Crows employed, it hadn't really occurred to him to pick favorites.
Well, in truth, he tended to think there was something strangely titillating to some of the more romanticized methods of poisoning, but these existed more in Crow lore than reality—tales of delicate, feminine seductresses immunized from childhood to be resistant to certain poisons which they wore painted on their lips, killing their marks with passionate kisses.
It was the sort of thing he could easily have imagined Zevran favoring as well, but in truth it was hardly a practical or efficient method of assassination. Any poison potent enough to kill in any amount that could be inconspicuously painted on the lips was unlikely to be one that a person could reliably build immunity against; the poisons that could be used in such a manner were often less fatal and had a high chance of simply making the mark very sick instead of killing them.
A few excruciating hours of vomiting, followed by a knife in the belly when he had failed to die properly, was hardly the sort of death Surana hoped for.
Aarón had had a few misfires already, in fact—and as much as Surana fully intended to see this plan to its (or his, as the case may be) inevitable end, he wasn't going to make it easy.He still had his pride, after all, and for all that he had sworn off armor and weapons in recent weeks, he wasn't about to just lie down in front of the next oncoming carriage or throw himself into a river, or he would have simply done so already.
Aarón had cornered him in a darkened alley one evening, sliding up behind him stealthily, the younger man's Crow dagger hovering a few inches from his throat. Surana had let his eyes fall closed, trying to make final peace with the Maker or Andraste or wherever he was going shortly—but then Aarón had paused, for a beat that was frustratingly, embarrassingly long and wrought with something like hesitancy. Surana had snorted, affronted and unable to just stand placidly and wait for the other man to get on with the throat-slitting, effortlessly casting him off with a forceful spell that left the Crow reeling and unconscious.
"Try harder," he had snapped, hand extended to help Aarón to his feet once the Crow had regained consciousness. "I didn't pay you that many sovereigns so you could have it easy, taking your sweet time with my assassination. And this alley's so dingy, anyway. Don't you think your old Master deserves a bit better than that?"
It was the perfect way to retain control while maintaining a sense of adventure about the whole affair. Living on the edge of probable or even just possible death had always been the most invigorating of feelings during the Blight, and even among the Crows—living on the edge of certain death, practically on borrowed time, made every sensation sweeter.
Eventually, Aarón would get it right. He had that much faith in the Crow that he and Zevran had spent so much time mentoring.
You know what the Grey Wardens say, don't you, Zevran?
It starts off… "In war, victory."
It's a simple fact that Antiva has no standing army, and as the main reason why every other country on Thedas refrains from invading despite this fact, the House of Crows has always had an… interesting relationship with the Antivan monarchy.
For the right price, the Crows can and have assassinated kings. And yet, the Crows are also the country's best protectors, and the main seat of power supporting the monarchy from collapsing in on itself in a dizzying mess of bastard princes and would-be usurpers.
It is a position Zevran has acclimated to well over the years. Surana had remained always something of an outsider—as influential and respected as the Hero of Ferelden may be, he is still the Hero of Ferelden, and Zevran Antiva's native son.
When one of the King's favored daughters finds herself engaged to be married, it's understandably cause for much festivity in Antiva City—not that Antivans usually need very much cause for a good celebration. The royal ball and banquet calls for the only the most distinguished guests, and the King personally pays the Crows handsomely to provide their services in ensuring that his daughter and her groom remain safe on her wedding day.
The contract, of course, hadn't stated anything about the safety of the attendees, or particularly the Masters themselves, but Aarón keeps a safe distance for most of the night, almost to Surana's disappointment—a royal ball, surrounded by all this uniquely Antivan pageantry, would certainly be a grand place for an assassination.
As usual, he is seated to Zevran's right during the banquet. Tonight, he rejoices in the fact, sipping his wine and making pleasant conversation, but mostly watching his lover as he skillfully navigates each interaction, his relationship with every person he speaks to like delicate strings that he weaves, scrupulously ensuring that none become tangled or snapped.
Antivan politics can be a treacherous, tumultuous affair, but Zevran and he have managed to keep a few steps ahead for a long time running, a fact that for some reason, Surana finds absolutely marvelous. As the other elf raises and clinks his glass against that of the lady seated next him, his face lit with laughter, Surana realizes, suddenly, that Zevran is magnificent.
All of this—Antiva, the Crows, everything since the Blight—he owes it all to Zevran. Where would he have ended up, if some other assassin had taken the Grey Warden contract, after all? In Amaranthine, or perhaps in court at Denerim, with Alistair? No amount of the templar's boyish, endearing blushes or silly jokes could compare to that laugh, the way Zevran grinned when he knew he had the upper hand. Everything was so good, and it was good largely because of the assassin.
At the first possible opportunity after the last course of the lavish Antivan dinner concludes, and the guests dissolve into less formally structured mingling, Surana tugs Zevran by the arm into a deserted hallway.
"My, my… but aren't I too old for these types of impromptu hallway trysts?" Zevran asks good-naturedly, his laugh airy. "Not that I am complaining, of course."
Surana finds himself unable to help the smile spreading across his face.
"Old? You? Only one of us here shows any sign of it, and you really shouldn't be so cruel to me," he chides lightly. "You know I'm sensitive about my looks."
Zevran tsks at him, but allows a crooked smirk at the oddly-presented compliment. Suddenly, Surana sees a brief shuffle of motion farther down the hall, and Zevran starts to turn to catch a glance behind him, sensing the movement. Surana intercepts him, catching the side of his face in his hand and tracing the long line of his tattoo with light fingertips.
"It's no one important," Surana says softly. "Have I ever told you that you are magnificent?"
"Mm… I think so," Zevran laughs again. "But usually, we are in a much different position…"
"Well, it's just as true here, now," Surana repeats, a faint smile on his lips as he looks over Zevran's shoulder to see Aarón position himself in shadows across the room. "You are magnificent."
There is no doubt that Zevran knows that someone is there; Zevran always knows. For a brief moment, Surana's eyes lock with Aarón's in unspoken agreement. Yes. Tonight. No hesitation.
Zevran's eyes narrow.
"Amora, what exactly is…?"
Surana's smile wavers ever-so-slightly as he turns his attention away from the assassin, and back to his assassin. It would have been fitting, in some way, for Zevran to do this himself. For him to finally fulfill the old contract he had failed to thirty years ago, to complete his perfect-except-one record, at Surana's own request.
But the mage's twisted sense of irony is tempered by the fact that he doesn't want to force Zevran to be responsible for the death of anymore of his own friends. It was too much to ask—though he had asked it, and he could have demanded it, and Zevran would have obliged. But Zevran has had his share of regrets already, and really it is so much kinder to leave this task to someone else; to give Zevran someone to focus the blame on, a way to…
Surana isn't sure where Aarón is, now, but he can guess.
"Close your eyes, Zev," he whispers. "Kiss me."
The moment of hesitation is Zevran's, this time, but he does.
He tangles his fingers in Zevran's silky hair, savoring every sensation, letting his thoughts drift pleasantly to long-forgotten memories. He lets himself get so swept away that it's honestly a surprise when Zevran jerks away, and he stumbles, teetering forward into Zevran's arms, gasping softly. It doesn't feel how he had imagined it would, having the length of a Crow dagger thrust into his back, up into his ribcage.
At first he feels almost nothing at all, and it's almost easy not to cry out. He just feels immense pressure and warmth spreading through his body, and he lets himself fall into Zevran. The other elf has no choice but to catch him, keeping him from collapsing face first onto the ground, as Aarón makes his getaway immediately, fulfilling his instructions to the letter.
Surana has to keep Zevran from going after him.
"Let him go," he gasps out, his hands clutching at Zevran as tightly as he can manage. He feels himself descending to the ground slowly, his knees weak. "Aarón's just doing me a favor."
Zevran kneels beside him, his eyes flashing angrily for a moment, as understanding sets in.
"I might have bought a contract on myself," Surana continues conversationally, feeling strangely lucid as a haze of calm washes over his mind. He tries valiantly to ignore the persistent, gradually intensifying throbbing that starts in the middle of his back and spreads out to every inch of his body. He tells himself that he doesn't mind these last moments of pain, if it means he can still feel Zevran's arms cradling him. "Weighing the options, it—it seemed the most appropriate plan, s-since I didn't want to burden you with the task, and suicide is just… so… passé."
"You idiot. I will kill him, later," Zevran hisses, his voice taking on a strangled tone Surana has never heard him use before. "I promise to kill him for making you suffer like this—I would have done it myself. I said… you didn't have to—"
"I know. Zevran. It's fine." Surana is laughing, though the effort makes the throbbing, concentrated in his chest now, magnitudes worse. Zevran is unsure how to react, seeing Surana sprawled in his arms, bleeding out, dying… and laughing, calling it fine. "I couldn't make you do it. I've put you through enough over the years, haven't I? This is better."
"I'd have gladly gone through much more," Zevran starts. "If only you had…"
"You'll be the last thing I see, you know," Surana interrupts, blinking vaguely. "You're much prettier than a hurlock."
Zevran closes his eyes for a moment and reminds himself he will need to exhale at some point.
Surana's rasping, painstaking inhalations make Zevran all too aware of his own breath, still caught in his lungs. He feels a very uncomfortable pinch growing in his chest, as if the space between his ribs is being grabbed and squeezed by a pair of garden shears.
"Stay with me," Surana says, his voice suddenly faint but urgent. He coughs violently, sending blood spraying across Zevran's shirt.
"Of course, amora, of course," Zevran repeats, smoothing stray locks of hair from the other man's face. Once the coughing subsides, Surana burrows his face into Zevran's side and begins to speak hastily, choked and mumbled words tumbling out of him almost without his control. When Zevran tries to shush him—speaking must be so painful for him now—he only presses on with an undeterrable, fevered zeal.
It starts off: "In war, victory." And it turns out I'm pretty good at that, right? Aren't I? But… then it goes "In peace, vigilance." And vigilance… watching… you're much better at that than I am. You are. I… never had any patience. And the last part, Zevran. Do you remember the last part?
Of course I do.
Say it, Zev.
"In death, sa…"
Suddenly, Surana gives a harsh, wheezing laugh that ends in another wracking cough, blood coating his lips. There is a queasy grin on his face, a terrifyingly pale ghost of his boyish, younger self. Weakly, trembling, he lifts one finger to Zevran's lips, icy skin sending an involuntary shiver down the assassin's spine.
He tries to pull Surana even closer, for warmth.
That. I don't do that. I won't do that, not like they say.
I'm dying on my own terms.
I'm not dying under a swarm of flesh-eating… monstrous… tainted…
Surana is coughing again, and his hand falls limp and lands heavily on Zevran's shoulder, grazing his cheek on its path down. He smiles up at Zevran wistfully, slowly blinking his glassy eyes, staring at him without truly seeing. Zevran chokes, his throat filled with gravel, his accent thick.
No, amora, you are not.
Zevran. You're... the one thing…
Surana's voice finally drops off, broken in his throat, and he is spitting blood, pooling at the edges of his impossibly pale, grey face.
Amora, per piacere—Ti—ti voglio—b-but you must tell me—just give me one last—
Of course, Zevran…
Something flickers within them, and then the Hero of Ferelden's eyes collapse into darkness, that last spark swallowed up by utter blankness. He stares up at Zevran with the same empty black gaze that he has seen countless hundreds of times. Death happens, he repeats silently—a fine motto for a Master of the House of Crows. This same pose has been the motif of his life, after all; he has made a living around watching people die. Friends. Lovers. Enemies. Rinna, Taliesen. He had seen them all fall silent before him.
This silence was not the same. It extended too far in all directions.
Cruel to the end.
A/N: Psst… so I have to ask… I keep having ideas concerning this PC, but I don't know if I should bother to keep indulging the plot bunnies & posting them, or focus on the other stories I have brewing… would anyone like to hear more from my silly m!Surana? Please, I'd be delighted to know!