Disclaimer: Bioware owns all, I earn nothing.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to SiaLater, who is a wonderful beta and person

Of Whoresons and Nobles

Chapter 41

Zevran would have liked to say that he found the realisation that he was in love with the Warden to be completely overwhelming. That he needed time to adjust to it, that he required a long while to wrap his mind around the truth of it all. He had been, in fact, terrified that he would find himself unsuited to grasp the whole concept of love, when the Crows have done their very best to turn him into a proper assassin, and his experiences with anything that involved sentiment had given him nothing but pain and hardship.

But the real truth is that, above all, Zevran was a practical man, and it just wasn't in his nature to wallow in self-pity for extended periods of time. When he first acknowledged to himself that he did love the Warden, his first reaction had been a shock that felt almost physical, like taking a step too far and falling off the end of a cliff. But barely a day after the Warden had left, once the numbness from the shock wore off, Zevran found the fall to be swift and short, with a pile of cushions at the bottom, winded and stunned but none the worse for wear. Cornered and forced to confront the depth of his feelings, Zevran found that the knowledge of it simply...fit. No panic, no horror, no discomfort. The idea of loving the Warden, and of being loved in return, did nothing more than cause his heart to swell with giddy joy in a way that he had believed himself incapable of ever feeling.

All in all, it was a bit anti-climactic. Zevran found it somewhat disappointing.

Unfortunately, it also meant that by the second week of waiting for the Warden's return, Zevran had started to grow bored out of his mind.

"Guard the Queen and the Arl," the Warden had quietly ordered, just before he left for Ostagar. "If Loghain is as truly unhinged as Her Majesty had said, there is no way to predict to what lengths he will go to protect his Regency."

It rankled to be told to stay, like some kind of pet dog (and more importantly, unable to directly ensure the Warden's safety), but Zevran could hardly argue against the Warden's decision to leave most of them behind to guard his main trump card against Loghain in the landsmeet. The Warden's companions were all fiercely loyal in their own way, each of them fairly resistant to bribes and persuasions, and their combined might would put a swift end to any direct attack on the estate. They made quite the formidable Queen's guard. If a peculiarly colourful one.

Zevran, therefore, had no problem with the Warden's instructions.

Or so he thought for a while.

Indeed, he had quite a bit of fun weeding out and discreetly disposing of the usual shadowy types that ventured a little too close to his charges' proximity; it simply wouldn't do for any of the two to catch a nasty case of death by assassin, not after the effort put into saving their hides. It was the most efficient way he knew, it was good practice for his skills, and it had the added bonus of deterring additional spies once word of the constant disappearances started to spread.

Zevran privately suspected that the Warden wouldn't quite approve of his methods, but...well, if the Warden didn't know, he didn't need to worry about such trivial matters, and ignorance is bliss, no?

For the more unusual and noticeably more professional types, Zevran made sure to collect a little memento from each of them, and deliver the prizes to Ignacio's man in the Denerim marketplace. The incriminating slices of tattooed skin were as clear a statement as any that some Guildmasters were not very careful about which jobs were strictly off-limits for the time being, and the old fox would likely need all the help he could get to educate those stubborn individuals about the error of their ways.

Once he had cleaned out the vermin, however, Zevran found himself at a bit of a loss. There was very little to do at the estate that could hold his interest for long, and Zevran wasn't so chivalrous a soul that he found the idea of guarding the Queen of Ferelden to be a glamorously demanding task. She quite clearly remembered him as one of Loghain's hired Crows, and she also quite clearly didn't know what to make of his current role as one of the Warden's most trusted companions. Given her station, she was undoubtedly used to seeing elves as being subservient to humans, and the Warden quite openly treating Zevran as an equal had baffled her.

Bizarrely, with both Alistair and the Warden absent, the other companions appeared to defer to Zevran as acting leader of their merry band. He had overheard Oghren refer to him as "the Warden's right hand" once (an idea both amusing and terrifying in equal measure) and Morrigan often blithely referred to him as "the favourite" (which was definitely amusing, given the connotations of the word), which seemed to discomfit the Queen greatly. She wasn't very good at hiding her wary disapproval of Zevran's role, and it made it very unpleasant to be around her. Zevran could be charming enough if he wanted to, but there were limits to his tolerance for the Queen's manner.

On top of all of that, Zevran found himself pining for the Warden, of all the foolish things to do. While the rational part of him was well aware that the Warden's decision to venture into darkspawn territory with only a small party for stealth and speed was a strategically sound one, the part of him that had fallen in love would not stop missing the Warden, on top of his increasing worry for the Warden's safety. Zevran wasn't prepared at all for how much of his peace of mind depended on knowing the Warden was hale and whole. He had thought that his brief bout of insanity over the Warden's capture had been bad enough, and yet as the days went by with no news of the Warden's return, the burden of his growing anxiety was like a slowly tightening noose around his neck.

So when Wynne rather unexpectedly sought him out and asked him to accompany her to the marketplace for supplies, Zevran leapt at the chance to distract himself and to stretch his legs. It did not occur to him that Wynne had some ulterior motive for taking him out of the estate (and subsequently, far away from the curious eyes and ears of their little band of misfits) until she said, quite suddenly: "I believe I owe you an apology."

Zevran looked away from his glance towards Liselle's stall where he'd been contemplating the fragrant stock to replace the stolen bottle of massage oil he and the Warden had grown so fond of. Zevran was contemplating buying another vial to replace it. He gave Wynne a raised eyebrow. He and Wynne tended to keep their conversations fairly civil these days, if rather shallow, and their exchange of words during this shopping trip had been nothing more than the usual banter of mild innuendo and barbed replies. This, however, sounded far more serious. "I'm not sure if I follow."

Wynne didn't say anything for a while, her gaze fixed at some point far ahead of her. She was silent for so long, in fact, that Zevran was about to dismiss her sudden words when she said, "At some point in the past, I expressed my distrust of your intentions towards the Warden, and I implied that I do not believe you to be sincere." She made a moue of discomfort. "I now understand that your affection for the Warden is genuine, and I have been unfairly hostile towards you. For that, I am sorry."

Ah. Zevran stared at the ground, feeling far less comfortable with the direction this conversation had turned to. "I...see your meaning," he said, looking at Wynne from the corners of his eyes. "I'll accept your apology, although there was no need for it. If I were in your place, knowing myself, I would likely have done the same."

She inclined her head in acknowledgement. "Perhaps so." She gave him a sideways glance. "That said, I cannot help but notice the strange tension between you two, just when the Warden was leaving Denerim."

"Did you now?" Zevran drew the phrase out cautiously.

"Usually you two are so obviously attracted to one another, the only way you could make it even more obvious was to quite literally glue yourselves together at the hip," she said drily. "Yet at that morning, the two of you couldn't even look each other in the eye for longer than necessary, and both of you were careful to maintain a very literal distance between each other."

Zevran grimaced. Oh yes, it had been very awkward, since they had not properly resolved the fight they had the night before. The Warden had been skittish and still feeling hurt over Zevran's lack of reciprocation; Zevran had been wary of hurting the Warden even more yet at the same time still more than reluctant to properly deal with his feelings. "We had...a bit of a misunderstanding."

A moment of silence passed; Wynne's patient, Zevran's uneasy, before he let out a sigh and finally admitted, "The Warden confessed his love to me, the night before."

"Ah." There was a note of dawning comprehension in Wynne's soft exhale. "And you didn't tell him that you felt the same, didn't you?"

Zevran shrugged, not feeling brave enough to acknowledge the truth of her words directly, but also not denying it.

Wynne gave him a very disappointed look. "Is saying 'I love you, too' so difficult for you?"

"You make it seem so very simple."

"It is, usually." She frowned. "Although I suppose that, for you, it doesn't seem that way." She reached out and patted Zevran's shoulder. "I only say this: whatever you two have is a rare and wonderful thing, especially in these difficult times, and given the very real danger our lives are constantly in, I suggest you cherish what happiness you can find, while you still live and breathe."

Zevran couldn't quite suppress a snort of laughter at her words. The sound came out sounding a little hysterical. "You know, I think having that attitude is what put me in this mess in the first place."

She raised her eyebrows. "Pleasure and happiness isn't always the same thing," she said. "And as strange as it seems, the two of you are good for each other. I do not think the Warden would be the man he is now without your influence."

Zevran froze, forcing her to stop walking as well. He gave her a disbelieving stare. "What, exactly, did you mean by that?"

Wynne was silent for a moment, her expression telling him that she was chewing over the right words to say. "Do you remember your first few interactions with him? After he first spared you after your failure to assassinate him?" At Zevran's curt nod, she went on, "What was your initial impression of him?"

Zevran frowned, digging back up old memories. "Stern. Somewhat aloof. Charming enough on the surface when he wants to be, but..."

A sharp memory flashed, of Zevran's careless, mocking question:

"Surely your life has not been so idyllic? People like you and I are not the product of happy lives of contentment, after all."

The Warden blinked, and… Zevran wasn't sure what happened. The Warden's face suddenly went blank, and even the sharp eyes lost their light. Something else swirled within them, though. Horror, grief, and something dark and terrifying that it took a stunned moment before Zevran could name it...

"...Rage," Zevran murmured. "Full of rage."

Wynne nodded. "Exactly. I do not have the full details of what exactly happened him before he joined the Grey Wardens, but when I first saw him in Ostagar, he was frighteningly quiet, as if he was suppressing some strong emotion. It wasn't until I met him again at the Circle, and then travelled with him, that I realised he was driven by a need for vengeance, to the point where it was starting to be the only thing he was allowing himself to feel. Left alone, he would have become a terrifying, dangerous man, unfettered by softer feelings like compassion and love, headed down a self-destructive path that would have left devastation in his wake."

Zevran thought about what she said, and shuddered. It wasn't so difficult to imagine, really. There was a vaguely unhinged air about the Warden in those days, which had drawn and repulsed Zevran in equal measure. More of the former than the latter, but still.

Wynne gave him a knowing look, but she went on, "When you became part of us, and started flirting with the Warden, I believe he was forced to acknowledge his growing attraction to you, and subsequently he had to learn how to cope with the rest of his emotions." She smiled. "Do you know, the Warden only truly talks to you, in a way that he rarely does with most of us? Oh, I know that he makes sure to chat with us every now and then," she said, when Zevran opened his mouth to protest. "But I do not think you understand how you two seem to communicate without words, both in combat and out of it. And that, Zevran, is not something you can do without a wholehearted trust in each other, and a deep understanding of what one another's thoughts. Even Alistair, who knows the Warden longer than any of us, cannot do the same thing that you do with the Warden.

"You know him best, and as a result, you keep him grounded. It's not just because of your direct influence that he tries to be a better man for you, he does so because he is afraid of disappointing you, and therefore losing you. And I think that you feel the same as well, although you appear to be doing your best to pretend otherwise." The old woman gave him an inscrutable expression, as if daring him to deny her assessment.

Zevran swallowed heavily, and looked at his feet as they continued their methodical way towards the estate. Again he felt the dark shadows of his lingering fear over being so deeply bound to the Warden. He fought the urge to snap at Wynne. It was unfair to her, when she was more than perceptive and intelligent enough to pick up his thoughts so easily, and nothing she said had been outright wrong, so far.

I'm tired, he abruptly realised. Tired of running, tired of avoiding something that could possibly give me a little bit of joy, because it does not fit my idea of being a good Crow. But I am a Crow no longer, with no masters to answer to. He looked at his hands, clad in a now familiar pair of embroidered fur-lined gloves, and remembered with crystalline clarity the moment that the Warden had made a gift of them, simply because Zevran missed the gloves that his mother had. Not the first gift that the Warden had given him, exactly, and far from being one of the most expensive or rare ones, but they were still one of his most cherished possessions.

Perhaps he had started to love the Warden a little since that day. The fool man was willing to listen to his unremarkable stories and cared enough to try and cheer him up with such a simply selfless gesture.

Perhaps, for the first time in his life, Zevran would fight to keep what was truly his to own, for once.

He exhaled noisily, and schooled his expression into one of bored annoyance. "Oh, very well, I shall apologise to the Warden, as you have not so subtly been urging me to do," he drawled. "But only if you will drop the subject, and allow me to rest my head upon your magical bosom so that I might best compose my sincere and heartfelt remorse."

Wynne chuckled at the reminder of one of his previous attempts at evasion, but she obliged, filling the air with meaningless small talk until they reached the estate. Zevran didn't actually get to rest his head on her bosom, but supposed he should be thankful for small mercies. Except, of course, because of some bizarre stroke of timing, the moment he finished helping Wynne put away her things, he heard a loud commotion from the front of the mansion, with the all-too-familiar barks of an excited mabari.

The sudden, unexpectedly dizzying conflict of elation and trepidation must have made quite an expression on his face, because Wynne laughed at him and patted his arm. "Have some courage. Best get it over and done with, Zevran," she said gently, but not without a twinkle of amusement in her eye. "I do think of you as a friend, but if you keep this up I shall be forced to tie the two of you together and put you both in a locked room."

Zevran stared at her, wondering if she even realised how delightfully obscene her idea was, and grinned broadly at her. "My dear Wynne, if you wanted to participate with us in our bedroom activities, you only had to ask," he said with his best leer, and laughed as he ducked to avoid her attempt to smack him upside the head and escaped the room.

But what little good humour Zevran gained from teasing Wynne vanished the moment he stepped into the entrance hall and saw the Warden. The Wolf looked remarkably hale and whole as he removed his helmet and joked about needing a long, hot bath to a laughing Leliana. Zevran used to dismiss the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder as some sentimental tripe conjured by lonely and horny poets, but when the Warden spotted him and smiled with unabashed delight—as well as, now that Zevran actually thought to look for it, the kind of adoration that could only belong to a besotted man—Zevran could not help but be conscious of the way his heart leapt to his throat, and the urge to run across the hall and kiss the Warden senseless was almost overwhelming.

Maker's breath, Wynne was right. We really are a pair of love-struck fools.

Zevran prided himself on being able to resist temptation when he decided to, even if he more often than not decided the opposite, so he put a smirk on his face and affected cocky nonchalance as he approached the Warden. "Ah, I see someone found himself a new suit of armour. Very flashy. I'm surprised you haven't been mobbed on the streets while wearing it." He looked pointedly at the gold griffin crest emblazoned on the breastplate. "Are you really so keen to paint an even bigger target on your own back, my dear Warden?"

"I told him it was too obvious," Alistair grumbled. "But noooo, he had to wear it the moment he could pry it off the owner's corpse."

Corpse? Zevran raised an eyebrow at the Warden, who only grinned, looking completely unrepentant. "What can I say?" he said. "I simply couldn't resist such fine workmanship. And contrary to what Alistair made it sound like, I did get it cleaned and refitted to me before I put it on. I do have standards." Zevran choked back a laugh as the Warden raised his arms and twirled on the spot, showing off the admittedly impressive suit of plate. "Don't you think I look good in Warden blue?"

"You look rather dashing," Leliana said, giggling. "Very commanding."

Zevran rolled his eyes, doing his best to stifle the urge grab his Warden and kiss him, as well as other activities that would impress upon the other man just how adorable and frustrating he was being. "Yes, yes, very nice. But if you get yourself recaptured by Loghain, I am not going to come to your rescue again."

"Spoilsport," the Warden sighed. "Speaking of Loghain, how is his daughter the Queen faring?"

"Alive and well," Zevran said with a casual shrug. "I expect she'll be glad to see that you are too. She and the Arl were both worried over your absence." As was I.

"I had better go reassure them in person then." Except the Warden made no move to go find the Queen, and instead stood staring at Zevran, looking… unsure?

Abruptly, Zevran remembered the Warden's confession to him, and Zevran's subsequent refusal to talk about it, and now Zevran was acting with casual indifference to the Warden's return, which might have come off as he didn't really care about… Oh.

Guilt twisted sharp and painful in his chest. Of course, the Warden would have reason to doubt his feelings, when Zevran had been so adamant to ignore them for so long. Words hovered at the tip of his tongue, but he was far too aware of Alistair and Leliana's presence in the room, and what he wanted, needed to say was far too intimate to be expressed in front of an audience.

Ah, a quiet voice spoke in his head. But actions speak louder than words, do they not? And there is one thing that you've wanted to do since the beginning that wouldn't be too intimate for such a small, trusted audience, no?

Zevran looked around, made certain that yes, there was no one else in the entrance hall beyond the four of them (and Anlan, who was busy sniffing out the corners of the hall as if reacquainting himself with the estate), and then, not allowing the opportunity to second-guess himself, closed the too-wide distance between himself and the Warden.

Until Zevran was close enough to reach out, grip the sides of the Warden's head, and pull him down to claim his mouth in a hard, hungry kiss.

The Warden froze, mouth slackening with shock under his, and Zevran took the chance to push his tongue in for the briefest of tastes, before he pulled back with a final lick to the Warden's lower lip. The Warden stared at him with a poleaxed expression when Zevran stepped back, a gauntleted hand flying up to touch his lips in belated reaction.

Zevran waited for a moment, but when the Warden continued to stare at him in mute shock, he rolled his eyes and smirked. "Surely this is a custom that even you Fereldens are familiar with, yes?" he said, waggling his eyebrows. "How else does one greet a lover after they have returned from a long journey?"

To Zevran's delight, the Warden turned a delightful shade of beet red, although he still failed to move a muscle or say a word in reply.

"Great," Alistair said with a pained expression. "You broke him. How am I supposed to take him to see Eamon like this?"

Zevran made a show of eyeing the Warden critically. "Oh, he'll recover," he said in his cheeriest tone. "The Warden is made of very stern stuff."

Leliana had been watching them with avid eyes, and at Zevran's remark she burst into another fit of giggles. "I think the Warden is simply not used to being welcomed back in such a passionate manner," she said, eyes sparkling with mischief.

"Something which should be confined to the bedroom, thank you very much," Alistair said, managing to sound chiding despite the pink that bloomed on his cheeks. "Bad enough that I have to deal with the sounds you two make, I do not need the visuals to go with it."

That seemed to shake the Warden out of his stupor; he blinked, and his expression shifted to one of mock hurt. "Why, Alistair, I didn't know you disapproved of our relationship," he said.

"That's not what I'm talking about and you bloody well know it," Alistair said hotly. "There's a time and place for your shenanigans and this isn't it. Can we go make our reports to Eamon now? Before you get distracted again?"

"Maker help me, I've created a monster," the Warden said, shaking his head. "Who knew you'd be such a taskmaster?"

"You said that I have to learn how to take more responsibility on my shoulders. This, here, is me, shouldering it." Alistair gripped the Warden's shoulders, spun him around, and started pushing him towards the direction of Eamon's study. "Leliana, Zevran, if you'll excuse us, we have some urgent business to attend to."

"Please try not to hold onto the Warden for too long," Zevran said. He waited a beat, and then added, "Actually, you can hold him as much as you like, but I want to be there to watch."

"In your dreams, Zevran," Alistair called back.

Zevran grinned, a cheeky reply already on the tip of his tongue, but then the Warden glanced over his shoulder, eyebrow raised in silent inquiry.

Zevran met his gaze and shook his head slightly. Later.

The Warden frowned and Zevran could see him briefly entertain the thought of staying back and demanding to know what was the intent of that kiss, before he mentally shrugged and allowed himself to be led away by Alistair's increasingly forceful pushing.

Zevran watched the Warden disappear around a corner, and would have continued staring after him, but he felt an arm twine companionably around his, and a light kiss on his cheek.

"I suppose I should extend my congratulations, since you discovered that you have a heart after all," Leliana said teasingly. "I would say, 'It's about time' as well, but I shall be merciful. For now."

"Funny. Very funny. I am moved by your clever wit." Zevran raised an eyebrow at the unapologetic, amused expression on her face. "Would it be too much to hope that perhaps you might not hold this over my head?"

Leliana pursed her lips and tapped a finger on her cheek, giving every impression of thinking about his suggestion very seriously. "Mmm, perhaps if you will make me your maid of honor at your wedding, I might consider it."

"Done," Zevran said cheerily. "But the Warden gets to wear the dress, not I."

As Leliana burst out laughing, Zevran very briefly wondered at the fact that the word "wedding", with its myriad implications of love and commitment, didn't quite cause the flood of panic it would have given him not so long ago.

Ah, Zevran, how you have changed.

But perhaps, he thought, smiling to himself, it was for the best.

~to be continued~

A/N: Oh, hey there! Look what we have here, a brand new chapter!

It only took me, oh, A LITTLE OVER A YEAR to write? Shame on me.

Good news! Seems that after hammering out the unholy mess that is Zevran's feelings into a coherent narrative, whatever writer's block I have on this fanfic seems to have vanished. Expect an update in two weeks, and it'll be a sexytimes one, so stay tuned.

Bad news? There's only enough material left for three chapters, with maybe an epilogue. Now that we are near the conclusion of the romance plot from the game, all that's left for me is to tie up loose ends, and give our heroes a (hopefully) suitable end.

(no I'm not going to reveal what's the Warden's end decision on the Dark Ritual this early, that'll ruin things)

Thanks so much to all of you who have been following me so far, and hope that this chapter meets your expectations!