(I had meant to post this on Friday, but got caught up with NaNoWriMo stuff, as did Briala.)
And as always: Reviews make not just myself squee, but Briala as well.
Title: Fiercely Cold
Chapter One: Confrontation
Authors: briala and 1smut_princess
Rating: M (some adult references)
Summary: Ferox was a cold man, from a cold country, with a cold heart. Once he was only one of those things. Then everything was taken away in a fiery blaze and he raged across Ferelden, venting that frozen, wintry fury upon the Blight. With cold calculation he fought to bring Ferelden back from the brink, no matter the toes he stepped upon. All the while the only person he could rely upon remained by his side, plotting his own plots and sowing his own seeds.
Briala's AN: So, I brought somebody new into LJ's The Dragon Age Dressing Room, to play somebody I am not...he's actually based on someone I know with a twist. Rhion asked questions in LJ about Ferox's background and the next thing I knew I was waking up with my face mashed on the keyboard of my laptop and there was more, much more. I wouldn't trade the fun I've had working on this for anything done on my own because it's bigger and better than either one of us alone. When Ferox freezes up and can't think, just banging his head on a desk, Rhion pokes him and I help with the bashing until he finally starts talking to us. Sometimes it takes hours to get him to talk, other times his words just pour out on the paper like a spilled bottle of ink.
This story links into the strange place that Kirkwall is in the DASDressing Room. Duplicates abound with multiple Hawkes, Alistairs, Wardens...any variation or ending, it can all be found there. Ferox went there, saw the strange sights and met some strange people and that's how all of this came about.
Rhion's AN: I blame Briala. I woke up one morning to see a started document. Yeah. She woke up to see a much larger document later. This kinda happened. There's weird tie-ins to concepts from an ongoing RP arc and parts of Disquiet. Most collaborative works I've been party to were 'I write a paragraph/chapter, you write a paragraph/chapter' or some such. This is one big ol'weird clusterfuck of one starting a paragraph and someone else adding to a sentence of strange flow of consciousness. So far, it's been flippin' fun. Also, references my Murder of Crow's Zevran exist, he is the 'other' Zev mentioned, the one that creeps the crap outta Ferox. And also bashes him on the head. Dulsanaya from Bri's fanfic is the healer girl mentioned, so on, and so forth.
Normally I don't do slash in fanfic, in original fiction, yes, in fanfic, not so much, but here it works. So, yes, this is a Ferox/Zev thing, but hopefully it flows naturally. Trying to keep both of their identities in line, including Ferox's own weaknesses, Zev's patience, the blended angers and impatience, the intolerable waiting, so on, so forth, build up to obvious conclusions. For me this isn't my usual type of story, I'm all blood, guts, gore and whores. Nitty gritty and all that fun stuff. In less than two weeks, Briala and I have pounded out (ohai punnage, hows yous?) over ninety-thousand words.
Sten had taken dinner duty and was searing a haunch of deer while Wynne assisted in the preparation by chopping root vegetables she had located during the day. Ferox missed the kitchen at home, sitting next to the fire watching, helping when needed, but mostly listening to the chattering, the gossip of the day, of news that had arrived. The family would eat at the kitchen table when they were alone usually with servants and the odd off duty guard or two. Stomping down the memory he went back to checking and cleaning arms and armor. Always tend to your horse then your tack, prepare yourself for the coming day, then eat and bathe. See to everything yourself; it was the only way to survive.
The stew set into the coals, Wynne joined the girls down at the pond to bathe. Alistair and Sten had stepped upstream of the creek that filled the little body of water. Grimly, he continued his task. Near silent steps behind him, a jingle of a metal belt, Zevran had not yet left camp. Ferox couldn't seem to shake the little bastard. Just as 'open' and chatty as the day he arrived. Go away. Leave me alone. I'm already sorry I saved your miserable life because you are making mine miserable as well.The others were trained to leave him alone, why couldn't this pointy eared assassin learn?
For once, Zevran was quiet, just sat next to him on the fallen log and attended to his own armor. They had run across a pack of wolves and a myriad of traps...Wynne tended to the many bites, chasing away infection with a cantrip, and stopped the bleeding of torn limbs. Even those heavily armored were hurt as the wolves found ways to sink teeth behind knees and into joints. They were going to need better armor, all of them. His mind went to these things analyzing ways to do better, to do more than just survive, to be able to tangle with what they had taken on...taken on unwillingly, pressured into by that old witch, conscripted by that damnable Duncan, they could have saved Mother...could have found a healer...should have done something there in the kitchen.
A snarl caused a pointed ear to turn in his direction as the assassin replaced a broken strap on a pauldron. Maker damn them all. At this rate, it wouldn't matter what he dressed them in, if they didn't learned to fight together as a group, they were all going to die, going to be taken away, going to leave him...the cold anger settled in his gut and a plan began to take shape. He was going to have to master them all, to become or provide what they needed so they did not die and leave him here because he was the one who would do the leaving from now on.
Perceptive amber eyes observed a change in the Warden, as if he had come to a decision. Alistair had already spilled all of his knowledge into this listening ear and even Morrigan had been quick to point out that the Warden sulked more than Alistair. Leliana had known stories about the Couslands and what had happened to them so recently. He listened, asked questions, and gathered the information to put it to use. The night the Couslands were murdered, the night Duncan came to take Ferox, was the night winter began to set into this man's soul.
He knew this coldness, this form of avoidance, it could get them all killed, unless it were directed. Feeling the shift in temperature, he waited for it to turn to hot rage or to dissipate, but the Warden did not move, other than to continue attending to his armor. With a side glance, the Warden's outward appearance had changed subtly, Ferox was composed, locked down, features hard. This was unfortunate, he had hoped...mentally shrugging, he would wait. If the Warden changed once, he could change again. Perhaps this was only temporary.
After that night, Ferox became all things to all people, a chameleon, and in doing so became nothing. He was as changeable in nature as a spring day, crisp, pleasant, warm and sunny, wooing with a smooth words, persuading gold to flow from pockets, kind and caring, a gentleman in every way...one who was getting exactly what he wanted with soft honeyed words...as changeable as any spy or Crow, a manipulator.
When required he was a killer, efficient, cruel when necessary, quick when not. He danced with that star sword and eventually ended the life of the the Archdemon itself. And Ferox had already arranged for a soft landing at Queen Anora's side.
Very few were smoother than the Prince Consort, he was a silver tongued devil becoming whatever the company with him desired, finding whatever it was that would cause them to agree to his terms. Trade deals negotiated, discussions with merchants, nobles, elves, Wardens; the Queen may have sent Ferox in with an agenda, but it became his own, always obtaining more than she thought possible. Little favors here and there she bestowed on him as if he were nothing but a favored pet. When his temper snapped and the temperature dropped, he remained calm and made a new plan, wishing to be no one's pet at all.
He was always so busy controlling his own affairs, there was barely room for anyone of note in his life. He sent Leliana away to seek her Maker's Bride, sent Morrigan away after giving her what she wanted, sent Oghren to the Vigil and gave him the family he needed, let Alistair play Warden at the Vigil after Ferox himself controlled the situation and took the titles and positions, things the King's bastard did not want, Sten returned home, Shale and Wynne traveled and were well cared for. Loghain...well we can't have everything we want. Useful man, too bad really...
Oddly, Zevran had stayed and ran the circle of informants, ones that located information Ferox could not and began to feed him this information, causing the Prince Consort to look in a direction he hadn't considered. Ferox knew he should have questioned this so called loyalty, but he didn't want to consider what it might mean, else it be taken or take its leave of him. Do not forsake me.
The assassin had gone nearly as cold as himself, guarded and wary. Occasionally he would come to deliver interesting bits of information himself and they would discuss the ramifications. As the evening passed, and a drink was savored, the elf would almost return to his animated self as he was at the beginning. As they said good night, he would feel as if the elf were assessing him, and Ferox, who had never removed the mask, could not stop the glare and the hardening of his features. Politely they would part, one cold and distant, the other chilling.
Anora had started by bossing...which lasted for all of twenty minutes when Ferox twisted her around his fingers giving her what Cailan had neglected. The moment she arched gasping, her eyes shuttered and the begging want and need took over her voice, she was his. She would finish his paperwork, just to have his mouth on her, tasting sweet juices, dragging her to the edge where powerful waves pulled her away from daily cares. She lacked for nothing as she had before. Anywhere, everywhere, a quirk of a lip and suddenly the room was empty or she was dragging him from it. Unfortunately, this attention meant some delegation, something Zevran didn't seem to mind.
When he was called away to Vigil's Keep to restore the building, play nice with the nobles, Zevran picked up more of the duties he was unable to attend. Once the keep was secure, Alistair was left to deal with the more mundane affairs, Ferox returned to Denerim and continued to earn favors from Anora. However, in order to obtain more power, Anora needed to be busy with heirs, and every hag in the place asked each month...gossip that it was the Prince Consort's problem, a 'Warden's difficulty', not the Queen's, it flowed in conversation. Daily he attended her, often twice...with the sniping of the nobility, the situation was deteriorating, until his very useful assassin, who had become indispensable, heard of a Dalish healer who frequented Kirkwall.
There he met disturbing reality, and questioned his own. But it was only a brief moment before Ferox twisted and landed on the balls of his feet. He would master this situation too. The way a familiar face and eyes stared straight through him, as though he were not truly there had been discomforting, as was the fact that he and the duplicate were of the same height. Every which way he twisted, the disturbing mirror that stared back at him only sharpened, there was no way to understand, and each assessment he made of character, each time he thought the duplicate's personality was pinned down...some other bit of information changed it. The way the Dalish healer stood near him, the way she leaned into him, caught his eye and the way the Crow's features softened, near imperceptibly, still hard, but there was fierce gentleness there.
He shoved those things away - it didn't matter. None of it was real. Even if the way the Crow stood over the slight healer with the ferociousness that his mother had shown in the kitchen...his last vision of mother and father. No. It was just a figment. A fragment of some other reality. He had come for one thing, one thing only, and he had gained it. When he left, they exchanged gifts, but unknown to Ferox not all of the gifts he received were tangible.
Through Anora's wretched pregnancy he would stare into the empty hearth in the middle of the night, seeking to banish those stirred up images. And Anora, who was used to having everything her way, now pregnant, was a constant grief and weight on his shoulder that was unrelenting. It nearly made him question the wisdom of the course of action, of the path, he had chosen. She was abysmally horrid. Zevran remained close, amazingly appearing just when he thought the cold fury would overtake him and cause him to take some unwise action. The assassin would distract the harpy with some bright bit or bauble, massaging her feet, or telling her tales to entertain.
In the light of day or when in Anora's presence, images of a hand lazily and familiarly grazing the apple of a dark bronze cheek, a green leaf tucked under an ear, would flee. But in the night, when it was quiet, quiet as any castle ever truly was, it would come back. And the mocking present folded in a box, thick spun silk threads, nearly invisible in the sort of light a puppeteer would use, took on other meanings. The duplicate said that the box was for his Zevran. Ferox had never given it to him, recognizing the way the dark laughter and the nearly evil twist of full lips on the duplicate's face meant grief for him if he had done so. No, it was a message and one he didn't want or believe in. Time and again during Anora's last months, as she waddled gracelessly from task to task, Ferox debated throwing the strings into a fire, just to be rid of the despicable items.
It didn't matter which way he twisted, he couldn't get away from them, just as he could not get away from the complaining harpy. Or anything for that matter. And when Zevran found the box, he took one look at the contents, and did what Ferox had been unable to and yet he still could not escape. Even when they disappeared, a pouch of ashes replaced in the box, some further odd symbolism that Ferox couldn't force himself to dwell on, they still haunted him. Time to time he would awaken strangling, or rub his wrist as though something was too tight and binding, jerking him this or that way.
Finally a screaming quieted, only to be accompanied by a fresh squall, heard even from his office several doors down. He raced, as that was what he was supposed to do, as that was what everyone expected of a dutiful husband and new father. To the door he was, and gaining admittance snatched a small swaddled bundle quickly from a midwife. If his hands shook more than he had planned, then no one thought it abnormal. Tiny, scrunched features, red with newness, hideous the way only a newborn could be, it didn't matter. Something still moved, and he was transported back in time for a brief instant. A nephew, passed over to him by his mother, who carefully adjusted his large and still growth-spurt awkward hands to hold the newborn properly.
He could not still the odd stutter in his chest, but only used it instead. It was what everyone expected, so it was hid and safely tucked away. Anora was haggard, waving the infant off to the waiting wet-nurse when Ferox sought to pass their son to her. He said the necessary things, brushing sweat clinging blond hair off of clammy cheeks and told her she was beautiful, amongst other things, while praising the robustness of their son.
The first night Calenhad Ardel Mac Tir-Coulsand, was asleep in his nursery Ferox waited with an amazing amount of impatience for everyone to go to their own beds. His son's name was an atrocious mouthful, but as Ferox was nothing more than a Consort, the fact that he had that much say at all in the naming of his son - that he had sacrificedmuch for just to have a chance at conceiving - was as much as he could hope for. The door was closed and unguarded, after all this was the Royal wing, and his associate had watchers where necessary anyway. With a push he eased it open so as to not awaken the assigned wet-nurse, desiring time alone with his offspring and the newest addition to the Cousland name. Earlier he had done the new-father act, gloating over how strong a grip on his finger the boy was and the lusty abandon with which he suckled milk. Now he wished for something quieter, something...only for himself.
When unarmoured, Ferox was a particularly quiet man. It came of sneaking into kitchens to grab hot rolls and a crock of butter or honey in times past. In times not so distant it was a skill employed when ambushing the unwary. Now it was put to use to slip past the snoring wet-nurse on her cot to slide in near the crib. A very empty crib. Coldness slammed down over him, and the flash of ice stabbing, sharp in his breast was quickly washed away too fast to notice. His associate was the first one he could think of, the only one who would have a list of possible perpetrators. No need to alert the castle that the Heir was suddenly missing, until or unless it was absolutely necessary.
The halls close to Zevran's room were populated with more guards, but all were silent. Ferox glided along at a normal pace, plans spooling out. No need for anyone to find out that his son was missing, and if the infant could not be found quickly, a replacement could be gained. His associate no doubt knew of some likely infant to match the descriptions if necessary. Deep in thought, he entered the assassin's rooms as quietly as he had the nursery. He paused as he heard accented words, clearly there was some form of...company being entertained.
"Yes, and we will have to make mud pies and raise unholy terror," a quiet chuckle. "Ah, how your parents cursed you with such a name, aie. We shall have to use something else, da'len, yes? Ah. Wait, I know just the thing," soft musing brought Ferox to a halt, and he tucked himself close to shadows, listening intently. "'Len', it means child. Yes, and it matches well with your name, Calenhad, hmn? That could work..." There was a burbling coo, while Zevran paced near the fire, babe's head tucked against a shoulder. "Well then, Len, considering how all it is here, you must have someone around who can care for you properly. What with the harpy-hag your father wedded, and he himself nothing but cracked glinting obsidian, whatever shall we do? Hmn? You must have someone at least who views you as more than a mad grab at power or insurance to a dynasty..."
There was a heavy sigh, and with shocking tenderness, Ferox watched the elf rest his cheek on the downy head. The cold fury was still in control, but the need to assess bought time, allowing the urge to reassert dominance and regain what belonged to himto fade. What took its place was confusion, pressing on all sides, a terrifying and startling thing, the image superimposed of Fergus doing the same thing with Oren in the night. Shuddering, fists clenched at his sides as he drew a tight rein on himself.
"It has been a long time to get you out here to greet the world, small one," the warmth and gentleness were no mocking mask, and the younger Ferox wondered wildly if this was the real Zevran, the one who existed before the living through the Blight and the immeasurable loss returned to control the situation. "Glad I am that you are here, but sad too. What games will you play that are natural for a child? None of us are particularly good models for you to be around, such poor influences for you to choose from..."
Grimacing, Ferox made himself turn away and slipped quietly away. He needed fresh air. Else he would do something particularly ill advised.
It was a nearly nightly ritual, Ferox would go to the nursery, see Calenhad gone and go to the assassin's room. Where of course he would silently enter or stand at the door, to watch, to see Zevran doing some particularly mundane activity. From a diaper change, to using a modified waterskin to feed the boy milk, or simply brushing soft fabrics and describing the simplest word for the fabric. The entire time the Antivan would talk and muse to the boy, radiating a calm and warmth that Ferox was wary of identifying.
Late one night, as he ate a solitary evening meal, and was left to his own devices, Ferox heard a knock. "Enter."
"Ah, more plain fare," his associate glanced over his plate. "If there was little fear of Crow activity, I would suggest bringing in a cook or two from Antiva. Actually, hiring a Crow to bethe Head Cook would work, no one would dare poison the food, and he or she would be familiar with all of those pesky matters..."
Setting his utensils down, "The status of the kitchen is not something I expected would be something that holds your attention."
Zevran sat and poured a glass of wine for himself after topping off Ferox's, "Good food always holds my attention, as well as your son's." A sip of wine, and a mild tone, "He is growing well by the way, pity you do not spend any time with him."
"And when would you suggest I do that, given his busy schedule?" returning quickly as the chill began to settle on him. "As his nights are so frequently spent firmly ensconced in your room."
His associate set his glass down, "It has never occurred that a preemptive acquisition of time was more than available?" Zevran waved a hand as he shrugged, "I take him four nights in seven. Did you believe the three were meant for a personal break? Since you so often enter my chambers as well, did you also think that the door was unlocked for carelessness on my part?" Lips twisted into a faint frown, "My door has ever been open to you, yet you have not taken the time to connect those dots. Very well, will you like to take Calenhad tonight, or shall I?"
That look he knew, the tone was the same too, and he almost flinched away from the vision of the duplicate. Catching the temper in a slow breath before it chilled him past where he could not act, "Len looks forward to his bedtime stories." Pausing, wanting, needing an excuse, any would do. Uncertain, "I think perhaps your stories need more...local flavor."
A tension flowed away that was only noticeable for its absence, "By all means, I know little enough of these Ferelden things. Other than mabari of course, but truly, that is mostly allthat Thedas knows of Ferelden."
"Next you will be telling him that we live in igloos like the southern Chasinds; someone must be there to stop that," Ferox snorted lightly.
"Auck, you mean they do not? Lies! Lies that silly historian told me!"
Muttering, "You walked around enough of it..."
An old laugh broke out, one of those ones that sounded warm and nearly honest, long lost, Ferox had thought to the time before. "How true!" Another chuckle, "And my feet are stillunhappy. What I would have done for the socks the horseclans weave of camel hair! My friend, you have never had socks until you have had those... They make even such trudging, dreary miles feel as though you walk upon spun air!"
Brown eyes roll to the ceiling as he set a boot on a nearby stool, "I believe that that I have already overheard this discussion between you and Alistair. While you are negotiating for a 'proper' cook, it would be a small matter to obtain a pair of suitable, err 'wonderful' footwear. But, that does not answer the question of why you didn't bring them with you to begin with."
Normally some quip would be used as a rejoinder, for the assassin was as quick as any rogue could hope to be. Instead there was quiet, as though he had to debate and weigh options in fullness than with the speed of the easy kill. Ferox glanced up to see Zevran staring at him intently, "Because I did not believe I would have much reason to continue walking. Why bring the best to a dog's funeral?"
Had the hound not been at the child's side, he would have whined. "So why did you? keep walking I mean?"
"You spared my life," he shrugged and looked away. "And I had no reason to return. I thought that the very quest you were on was a death sentence, but at least it would have been one that had least served something better and grander than myself. If one has little will to survive, when presented with two options - die uselessly, or die usefully - someone who has never had the opportunity to be truly useful might choose the latter over the former."
Bitterly, "It was a death sentence." Rubbing his forehead, "I said that you didn't have to stay, your life was, is your own, that you didn't need to be up there. I made the offering to Morrigan." Temper slipping a little, Ferox growled, "No one ELSE needed to die."
"And who was likely to be strong enough to haul you from the bowels of that great carcass if not myself?" he took another sip of wine, made a face then drained it. "You made the offering while still intending to make sure you would not walk down those steps. I looked into the same expression in the mirror far longer than you did. If you were going to make me learn to keep walking, then jodeme, I was going to make you do the same. And look, everything has worked out neatly for you. Prince Consort, a bevy of people to order about, and insurance to make sure nothing else is ever taken from you that you do not give." A pause, "Or trade, actually. Besides, that is not the point. My life is not my own, it never has been. It has always belonged to someone other than myself. Now it belongs to Len, and will until the day I die. It is all quite simple." He watched Zevran scowl and rise to pace, "He smiled for the first time last night, his eyes all crossed. Have you any idea how oddthat looks? But he smiled and you should have seen it."
If he had truly intended to stay on that tower he would not have...why did he? To save Alistair...snorting, I don't think so.To marry Anora...hardly, although that was the first plan. After his stay at the prison in Fort Drakon, it became the backup plan. He wanted to retort, to give that reason, to argue, but Zevran was deflecting that sink into coldness...the elf should give lessons.
Ferox did not see the child's smile, that is true, but he saw the smile's reflection. The light on the brown face and the laughter it caused in the golden eyes, as if a light was lit within them - he had seen that. Instead, as if to pretend it was no great thing, "I was holding Oren when he smiled. My mother went silly ooo'ing and ahh'ing. The women were unbearable for days trying to make the poor child smile for them."
"Yes, women will do very odd things to gain such a reaction," a hand ran through his blond hair. "However, I of course do not have to do anything odd at all. A wiggle here or there, and he smiles." An amused grunt, "Also, his eyes cross when he is about to make a mess, at least when changing him. If I had known his aim was so good, I would have sooner learned that an extra drape of cloth would protect my vision."
Without a word of explanation, Ferox got to his feet, did not look anywhere other than where he was headed, closed the door behind him and ducked into the farthest room down the hall to laugh until tears ran down his face.
It was always wise to have an extra cloth on hand, as well he knew, because every Cousland male was under strict orders that if they were holding Oren and he needed changing, they were doing it. Period. End of sentence. Do not look at your mother that way, young man. Do not make faces if it is bad. Do not quibble or whine. Simply man up and do something about it.
But it was the image of Zevran's surprised expression. No doubt similar to one he had worn himself on a particular occasion. Holding himself up with one hand braced on the wall as he laughed, shaking his head, Ferox had to wonder briefly if the assassin had ever changed a baby before. Then again, he had held Len securely and familiarly enough. What were the Antivan customs for such things, and would someone born in a whorehouse even know them? Ferox still couldn't get away from the idea of Zevran finding out just why women would put an extra nappy over a boy's nethers when changing them. Every time he thought he could, the vision of the normally composed and good humoured elf twisting into a scrunched face declaring that he was affronted and amused in one breath, popped back into his mind. Biting his fist, A new phrase for battle - I hope I do not get pee on me again!
Sliding down the wall, reaching for the mask of composure he had worn for so long, he realized just how much he hated it, before stilling himself and firmly replacing it. Something had cracked and he wasn't certain that he liked it and yet was relieved? Calmly, coolly, he stepped back in to finish his dinner and to try to enjoy the wine, which was fine until his little assassin did not approve of the quality of the vintage. Afterwards there would be story-time and somehow he would move beyond the doorway.
That night when he went to the assassin's room, Ferox knocked before pushing the door open. He had never really bothered knocking before, always assuming that Zevran didn't care who barged in on him, and trusted to his instincts to keep him safe, if the person entering was an attacker rather than a friend. He had believed that his associate was seeking to supplant him and had been careless in letting him see those actions. Ferox had been debating and was completely undecided on what action he had intended on taking against Zevran, if any, if the elf thought he would be a better parent. At least it would have freed his time to dealing with ruling Ferelden from behind Anora's shadow.
Yet the scene before him was one of a different variety entirely. A small bucket was close to the fire, but not too close, and Zevran was beside it with sleeves and cuffs rolled and shoved up, hair pulled back. Rocking back on his heels, "First bath, and a hand would be appreciated. Len is being particularly squirmy, and I have only so many hands myself. Of my own that is, I believe there are some mummified ones elsewhere..."
Eyebrow raised and the hurdle of the threshold was not so large. Rolling up his own sleeves, he crossed the room withing thinking of it. Looking to see that towels were close by, soap, and a cloth, all the things he remembered from Oriana bathing Oren in a washtub. "How would you like me to assist? Hold or wash?"
"Take your pick, oof," head snapping back a little when a small hand wrapped about a lip. "Len, come now," mumbling at the boy and jiggling him gently, "it is warm water, you liked your feet in it earlier. It is not cold," Ferox tested the water himself to see that Zevran was correct, and that it was also not too hot either, "and it will feel nice. Come, come it will be nice. Oh, why must you be so fascinated by eyebrows suddenly?" The last was accompanied by a grunt when two hands grabbed at the elf's face.
"Earrings...they'll be next." Wetting and soaping the cloth lightly Ferox cleaned milk crusties behind ears and under the multiple chins eventually finding Len's neck.
Zevran winced, "I already found that out two nights ago. And it was not my earring he yanked." The way his arm shifted to rub an elbow against his chest made Ferox nearly wince in sympathy. "It is almost enough to make me question the wisdom of Antivan body modification. Which would be why I am not shirtless for this endeavour. Changing clothes while juggling him is definitely a game of reflexes not for the faint of heart."
Other eyebrow raised considering this disclosure, as the folds of baby fat were cleaned of milk residue. "Are you certain that he actually swallows when you feed him, or is it just a milk bath?"
"Here now, I have no bosoms or milk of my own to feed him, I cannot help that the nipple is not correct on that," he jerked his head towards the small table. "It is close, but he keeps grabbing and squeezing the body of it..." this was nearly sheepish in its delivery.
With no more eyebrows to raise, Ferox nearly shook his head instead, and tried to stay intent on the task of washing someone who clearly wanted to be elsewhere. And it wasn't as if Len was not eating...he had the folds to prove it. Wrinkles behind knees, elbows, thighs, and seriously, how many chins? With a finger and a light touch he washed the tiny face rinsing it as he went, holding back the laughter at the disgusted faces to only a quirk of the lip.
Lastly, he soaped his head, gently over the soft spot. "Ready?"
"I am, whether he is...?" good humour thrown with a smirk as Zevran leaned with the infant down.
Feet touched water and kicked, then were quickly submerged up to his behind, and Zevran's hold shifted as Len's face went through several expressions all at once. The wide one with the pursed lips and crinkled brow was familiar to anyone surprising a baby, it was the place between indecision on whether to yell out that something had changed, or coo that the surprise wasn't so bad. Ferox splashed water over Len's back and shoulders, then cupping it over his head, while Zevran supported the bobbling little head that was seeking to understand the sudden difference.
"Ah, yes, cleanliness, this is something that you will find not all Fereldens have," conspiratorial 'whisper', "...particularly of the noble class. Excluding your father of course. He is a paragon of sanitation, and never once missed washing between his toes, not even during the Blight. Why there was this one time, when it was snowing up to our hips, and he said that it was time to get clean, and no matter that we had to wade through a frozen river to do it!"
"Do they actually have water in this great metropolis of Antiva or is it just dust baths?" Grabbing a towel, as Len splashed a little bit on his own. "You need an apron..."
Zevran made a dismissive sound, "We have large cisterns, and plumbing and running water. Things this country knows little of. Great aquifers beneath the ground, actual ways of draining away sewage..." He watched as the assassin let little droplets of water slip from finger tips in front of Len's eyes who watched entranced, even as one eye slid towards crossing itself. "It had best be a pretty apron then, with ribbons and frills. Something similar to Alistair's tastes for dancing the Remigold in."
"Your wish..." He definitely did not tell that story, granted he wasn't really speaking then, until long after they picked up Sten, Leliana, and Zevran. Alistair always needed to talk, so he probably told this story to them.
Even when he was quiet, Alistair was talking. When he was sulking his way out of the Wilds, he was talking...to the dog, to the trees, probably even to Morrigan. He remembers wanting to kill him. So what if he had been the only Warden, at that moment he didn't care.
Ferox had forgotten when he decided to stand up and fix it, to move them forward, to protect...was it before or after the Circle? Or was it the werewolves? Dwarves were last, so it wasn't then. He nearly asked, knowing that the assassin would have taken note. Zevran was always there sitting next to him.
The assassin was there nearly always, making himself constantly indispensable, his presence there not just in the shadows. Even after he had managed to escape his cell in Fort Drakon, the lone companion who arrived, after all, who would take note of an elf? was him. It had seemed natural. The one who could slide into places quickly and away just as fast was the only one to send for such a mission.
Len was deposited in his towel draped arms, "I will need a smock once he takes solids, so I hear. Something head to toe no doubt. At least Len is nothing like Alistair, so no worry of food flying everywhere during a desperate and mad grab to shovel more in. It is good he is a Cousland instead." A thoughtful pause, "Unless of course you were that horrible as well. Then it is simply too bad that we can not stick him to a teat until he is five the way the horseclans do."
Blinking back to the present, he quickly covered the squirmy wet infant and folded a corner on his head and kept Len facing towards the fire so he would not be chilled. Painstakingly, he dried every wrinkle, crevice, and fold of skin that had just been washed just as carefully and thoroughly. "I cannot speak for myself or my older brother, but since we were not allowed in the dining room with guests, until I was twelve, I would guess that Ferguswas not very neat," exaggerating.
A philosophical shrug, "Better than being fed poison and not being given any form of antidote if our manners had been lacking. Antivan food requires a certain neatness," gesturing with scooping fingers, while the thumb rolled as the wrist twisted his hand towards his mouth, "and the dexterity to do it as gracefully as a high ranking feeder of the particularly rich. One thing that you Fereldens have over Antivans is the presence of utensils at all meals."
Nodding as he worked his way through diapering, it had been many years since he last did this too and it took a couple of tries to remember how to fasten it securely, especially before bed. Finding the clean clothes he started with the feet and worked his way up. Not catching chill was something his father drilled into his head. Dry clothes, warm socks, hat, layers, probably because they often walked on the rocky beaches, even in the winter because there was little snow there, but much ice and bitterness in the wind.
Zevran had remained silent, watching each of his movements, and if Len drowsily looked towards him, he would make a face. Eventually the assassin leaned in, ears nearly flapping, which got crossed eyes and a smile. It was a peculiar thing, but also a thing that was warm. Ferox had never realized that the assassin had that much control over the appendages, a twitch here or there but never the completely horizontal curling he was witnessing. A huffing sound that was nearly a laugh exposed toothless and pink gums.
"Ah, there you are," fingers came down to brush a fat cheek. "I knew you would come out and say hello to your father."
A satisfied sigh and the assassin pulled away leaving the boy in his care as he puttered around quietly whistling through his teeth, putting away the used and now unneeded items. Ferox stared down at his son, who stared right back curiously before twisting with a mighty yawn. He felt something loosening, just a little, and expanding. It hurt but it felt good as well, the familiar weight of a tiny life in his hands. Shifting Len up to his shoulder he rubbed his child's back in slow circles, slightly amazed that he had created this creature.
Stretching out on the rug before the fire, he propped up his head to look at this creature that he did much to obtain and took a good look at his features. "I hope you don't get your grandfather's nose. Other than that, look like whomever you will."
"Or his complexion," Zevran pressed his hands to his face, stretching the skin out. "Weathering is all well and good, but no need to look like one was accosted by the mountain of doom and gloom. Whatever would your subjects think then Len? Hmn? Though, it is true that people tend to only remember tyrants. A good king is one that the common people never particularly notice, the taxes do not go too high, the bandits are not too bad, and there is no war."
"You are..." he begins. Stops and begins again, "You are..." trying to remember the exact words he overheard, sternly, "...a public menace."
Zevran flopped into the embrace of a large chair, indolently lounging as he did so, "And here I thought nothing less than witnessing your son's aim would garner anything even resembling a smile from you. However, dutiful assistant and friend that I am, I would have taken one for the team in the name of being a good sport."
It was not the time, at all, to give into the urge to tell him the battle-cry he had crafted.
That word, friend, had not been used again after that night in Highever and the slight quirk in his cheek relaxed as he considered it, looking away. None of the others were. Certainly traveling companions, shrug acknowledging the closer relationship of a fellow Warden. When you can track each others movements, it's hard not to feel a connection. When Rory died, he hadn't looked for a replacement. Was that a reason Zevran stayed? They were friends? Trying to remember when that happened. What did he do other than be the drill instructor, wheedler, and all around conniver? All he wanted was for no one to die. When did that warrant friendship?
Focusing his gaze on the face pressed to his chest. Len clearly didn't know that, or much of anything, as he had fallen asleep. Nearby, the assassin had made himself comfortable in his chair, a leg thrown over the armrest, slouching into it, head tucked to the side, dozing like an overlarge feline, so he could not be questioned as well.
Laying his head back, he considered this evening. Uncomfortable, not unpleasant exactly...but a part of him wishes he had locked the door during dinner, the rest of him was not unhappy that he didn't. It all made his head hurt and he briefly desired desperately for a long walk...without camel socks...or whatever those were. Hair, not hide. How odd.
He's trapped, it was all a trap. Sighing, as he was tired as well and recognized that part of his mind was working his way out and was making contingency plans.
A grunt, and then a pillow landed near his head, "If you insist on thinking so hard, best not to do it with nothing beneath it."
Rumbling back, "I am certain this floor is very solid." Grabbing it with the arm not around the boy, he tucked the pillow under his head.
"So it is, so it is," mumbled agreement. "And it is far too unyielding, even with that rug, at least for a tender-head that does much thinking. However it is also Len's favorite place to sleep, I know not why. It is not as though the bed is hard. But he has been fussing badly near dawn of late, and so beside the fireplace is where we spend most of our time. Sitting, pacing, sleeping."
He sounded mostly asleep himself and Ferox lifted his head enough to watch Zevran roll in the chair until he was nearly upside down, one leg stillover the armrest, the other now over the chair's back. "It is all a man can do to take a nap sometimes."
Making a mental note to find more rugs...or just throw the mattress on the floor. Glad they are not on the first floor with the flagstones. Meetings tomorrow...and wondered if he mentioned where he was?
I'm sorry, I'm afraid that if you want your silly meeting you will have to come here and whisper, very very softly, or I will be forced to have someone kill you, or give you what I have been told will be a fussing child...take your pick. Continuing to imagine ways out of this trap while defending it at the same time, he slid into sleep.