Title: Not Made of Gold
Story Rating: Mature.
Story Content Notes: Major character death, graphic depictions of violence, language.
Chapter Rating: Mature.
Chapter Content Notes: Major character death, graphic depictions of violence.
Chapter Word Count: 2943 words.
Summary: She made him swear to keep Alistair on his feet until he could stand alone. Maker help him, Zevran will honor that final promise, even if it kills him.
Author Notes: So, some two years ago, I wrote the first piece of long fiction (as in, fiction that lasted more than a single scene) that I had written in a very long time. It was incredibly good for me, got me writing more than I imagined it would, honestly. On this piece of fiction, I was given a lot of feedback. Some wonderful praise, and some even better constructive criticism.
This piece of fiction was Shades of Gray, and after two years of working through all of this feedback and rereading what I'd written, I can finally admit to myself that some of the criticism I'd gotten was right: I had made some pretty basic mistakes. Finally, I am working on fixing them. I am rewriting Shades of Gray, and hopefully, I will be able to tell the story better this time.
That said, if you have already read Shades of Gray, I wouldn't immediately turn away just yet. I cannot say for certain how much of the story will remain the same in this retelling, as I am fixing some logic holes and trying to just generally keep everyone in character much better this time around.
[[ ... Prologue ... ]]
(A slow dying flower in the frost killing hour)
Alistair would be coming back to her soon.
He would have worked out his own emotions about this, would have come to terms with the fact that he planned on dying for her on the morrow. She stayed very still for a minute, and slowly, she forced herself to move. She needed no recipe to make a sleeping draught, and when she heard the distinctive clanking of armor outside of her tent, she was pouring it into his glass, just finishing everything up.
He made her breathing hitch when he tugged the tent flap down behind him, sweat still on his face from running endless drills with his sword and his shield, mindless movements that gave him freedom to think. He peeled off the heaviest of his armor, started to reach for the wine she'd poured, and she caught his hand, pulled him to the bedroll instead. He could drink it later.
Alistair's fingers slid down the line of her cheek and jaw as he whispered such sweet things to her, sweet, foolish things. She drew another breath, just feeling for a moment. He was swearing that she wouldn't die. That he would protect her. That it was his duty to protect her.
She hadn't the heart to correct him.
He was her Templar, and she was a mage. Her duty, and he knew it, was to protect him and die for him if necessary. It was in everything she'd ever been taught. Mages were dangerous; Templars were useful. If one of them had to die, it was always better for the mage to take the blow.
She didn't correct him. She just smiled at him, smiled and kissed him, and let him pull her close. Let him hold her and kiss her and gently peel her robes back even as she unbuckled the last of his armor.
(She let him tell her good-bye with his body, with his mouth and his fingers, and if she was the one telling him good-bye instead ... well, he would know later. He would understand when he woke.)
When he pushed into her, she cried out for him, and he whispered her name into her hair.
And when they lay there, breathless and staring at the tent's fabric, stained from the abuse it had sustained since Ostagar, she felt heat in the backs of her eyes.
She gave him his wine, drank a glass of her own, then surrendered to the darkness of sleep. When morning came, she dressed quietly, found paper and a pen and wrote him a letter that she couldn't quite manage to make herself leave, and slipped out of the tent. He was still sleeping.
She caught one of the soldiers outside by the arm and sent him to find Sten and Shale, to ask them to meet her by the city gates as soon as possible. And, after he'd done that, if he could release her hound, she would very much appreciate it.
Because she was not a mage in his eyes, not a woman, not Solona. She was a Grey Warden, one of those destined to end the Blight. She watched him go, found her staff, and started toward the gates herself.
She stopped in the open field though, her head tilting back as she felt the warmth of the morning. The sunshine was on her skin, was skating along her arms and across her face, and she leaned into it, letting it caress her cheeks and slide down her jaw.
Her head tilted back to the city ahead, and her eyes eased open. He wouldn't wake for hours, wouldn't wake until it was too late, until there was no chance of him stopping her, no chance that he could tell the others what Riordan had told them. No chance that any of them— any of those who could read her— would see her and somehow realize that Morrigan had offered her another way. They wouldn't know that Solona Amell (not truly Solona Amell any more, not since she became a Warden had surrendered her past even more thoroughly than the Tower had taken it from her; she was Warden Solona now) was the most selfish person in existence.
It was better that way.
She took her first step toward the city, then another, but before she could get any momentum going, she felt the wind rushing out of her chest, leaving her staring across the field with parted lips as a narrow, thin figure walked toward her. Bright sunlight slid down that blond hair as easily as it touched her own, and his dark eyes were glinting, hard and rough as he raked them over her, one hand perched deceptively light on his dagger at his hip. Of all her companions to see her, it would be him. She swallowed, forced herself to breathe, and she gripped her staff a little more tightly as she met him. He was watching her tug on her robes and without a word, he dropped to one knee before her, pulled the dagger and cut the hem short, sliced her skirts until they fell just above her knee. The ripping sound was loud in the field, and she reached down to tangle her fingers in his hair.
It was the soft kiss he placed against the side of her knee that made her eyes close for a moment, made her gasp. There was no trace of tongue in the motion, only the press of his lips to her skin, and she shivered for it, shivered and her fingers tightened in his hair. He glanced up at her, but there was no smile on his face at her reaction. He simply dislodged her hand, and he stood, pulling her hand with him, pressing his lips to the back of it before turning it over so that he could kiss her wrist instead.
The wind blew around them, and she found her voice then, managed to smile evenly as she tilted her head toward him. "Zevran," she said softly, and her voice was rougher than it should have been. There weren't tears in her eyes though, so she counted it as a victory. The Maker knew she needed every victory she could get.
"You did not think you were going without me, did you?" he murmured, pulling her closer to him. She studied him, the way he was looking at her, the way his hand had moved to rest on her hip. Holding her. She pulled her hand from his then, placed it in the middle of his chest, and she pushed him back a step. She had to keep some sort of distance between them. She had a duty.
"I am going, and you are fighting in the second wave, Zev. You agreed."
"That was before you were foolish enough to think you were going to do this alone. Grey Warden or no—"
"It is my duty, Zevran. I have lived by my duties, and now, if it is required, I will die by them as well." She pushed him another step back, and his eyes narrowed, his brow furrowing. Her fingers slid over the buckle on his armor. She smiled again, this time a little more softly. "After all, it is only fair."
"How is it fair that you must go in there, that Alistair is letting you—"
"He doesn't know," she said smoothly, cutting off Zevran's words and leaving him staring at her, leaving him speechless for just a moment. She dropped her hand and looked back at the city. "He is still sleeping. He will sleep, in fact, for some time. Tell me, wasn't there some sort of story you were telling me once about final wishes?"
"You are hardly in a position to demand a final wish, Solona. You are not on your deathbed."
She was. She had been the moment she'd been Joined, the moment the chalice touched her lips and she'd felt the burn of the blood, heard the singing and the screaming and the cacophony of sound that was the darkspawn horde. She didn't have words for that though. Instead, she simply hummed, and she glanced back at him. "Even so, I have one. I have a single desire above all else this morning."
He turned to look at the city, his lips thinning as he pressed them together, weighing it, maybe. Weighing her words and her desire and the fact that they both knew he would do anything she wanted if she simply asked him to. They stayed quiet for a long moment, and she focused on the fact that she could see Sten and Shale beginning their journey to the city gates. They were gathering as she'd asked. Any moment and Rabbit would be bounding across the grass to rub against her legs, and he would be her final companion on this climb.
Was the Fade where she would end up? Did Grey Wardens pass easily or did they perhaps get trapped there, the taint in their blood corrupting their souls until the Fade couldn't tell them from the demons? It would be terribly lonely in the Fade if she was mistaken for a demon. Was she a demon? Had she, a mage, been born a demon only to have that destiny ultimately realized in the cup that Duncan had handed her, the chalice still glistening with the blood of the darkspawn and the saliva of a dead man?
She hadn't even paused to think before she'd turned it up. It wasn't the first time someone had given her something to drink that could end in her death, after all. She'd had the lyrium in her Harrowing, had drunk deep and long from it, until her head was swimming, and she could no longer hear the First Enchanter or the head Templar, and she'd woken to a dream world, a surreal land of blurring figures and the vaguest pain her head that never seemed to end.
In some ways, mages had a ridiculous advantage over everyone else when it came to their Joining.
"It will destroy him, Solona," Zevran said, and she focused on him, looking at him and managing a slight smile. Her eyes felt hot, her face was flushed, and she couldn't look at him long before she was blinking back the blur and making herself look at Sten, who had pulled his sword off of his back. He and Shale were speaking as they waited on her.
"I know," she replied, and her voice was somehow tighter. The words hurt coming out of her throat. She didn't let herself stop there. "I know, and it is my fault. I can't take that away."
"You could let him go—"
"Do you want to hear what I want or no, Zevran?" She reached up, pushed her hair back, and immediately he moved to catch her hair between his fingers. He braided it wordlessly, tight and even and designed to keep out of her face. He tied it with the band he'd had around his own hair.
That made her chest hurt.
"Tell me this wish then. Whatever could you desire from me on this morning?"
His voice was hard, tense and angry, and she closed her eyes for a moment before she turned to look at him, to face him. He was paler than she'd ever seen him before. She reached up and brushed the pads of her fingers against his cheek, and she leaned in close, very nearly kissing him. "I want you to take care of Alistair for me, Zevran," she whispered.
He flinched, his eyes darting away from her, but he didn't move. She pressed just a little closer to him. He had taught her this; he had honed her into this thin knife of a weapon and taught her to slide right between the ribs when she spotted an opening. She licked her lips, and when he was glancing back at her, she drew a breath.
He made a low noise, jerking back from her, his hair falling around his face. He looked soft in the sunlight, dreamy, like they were in the Fade all over again, and she wanted to touch him, wanted to feel his pulse and reassure herself that this, no matter how surreal and how awful and how twisted, was real. He was here, and she would very soon be nothing more than a footnote in Ferelden's history.
Would they forget that she was a mage, eventually? Would they forget that she had fled her destiny only to realize that she was running straight into its arms? Did it matter?
He bit his lip, and then he nodded. It wasn't enough. She reached out and caught his wrist, pulling him close to her this time. She brought the back of his hand up to brush against her cheek, and her eyes closed.
"I need you to promise. Promise you'll take care of him."
He was quiet for long enough that she very nearly doubted her read on the situation. Then he blew out a breath, and he whispered, "I promise, Solona. I will take care of Alistair. Until he can manage on his own."
She smiled, her eyes easing open. "Thank you," she murmured, and she did move then, leaned forward and touched her lips to his. She reached into her waistband, pulled out that letter she'd written for Alistair and pressed it into his hands as she drew back from him. Before he could react, she was turning away from him, and she was heading toward Sten and Shale. Rabbit was bounding up beside them already, and all they were waiting on was her. She didn't look back at Zevran but once, just as she was slipping in through the gates. He was still standing there, in the field, hair blowing across his face without the band to keep it back.
She fought for what felt like hours within Denerim's walls, and the sun climbed in the sky, until finally, they were on top of the Fort, and the dragon was roaring at them. Her chest was swelling, almost ready to burst from the music that she could hear pouring off of the thing. The melody was wrong, corrupted and destroyed, and she knew that had it been right, she might not have been able to resist it. She still wanted to touch it, wanted to lay her hand on the flank of the dragon and feel its breathing and make her own body respond and follow its lead, but then it was roaring and Sten was shaking her, and she jerked back into herself, focusing on the fight at hand. She directed her companions the way she always did, the way they had long since learned to follow. After two years with them, she would have been disappointed in anything less.
And her moment came, blinding and bright, because her hound had the dragon by the throat, and Solona was casting her staff away, willingly letting it fall from her fingers during a battle for the first time in her life. She wouldn't need it, and, thanks to the fact that Zevran had hacked off the bottom of her robes, she could move. She could break into a run toward the dragon.
In war, victory.
She jerked the dragon-bone dagger that Zevran had given her from her hip, flipped it smoothly in her hand the way she'd never been able to under Leliana's trained eye in the camp. Her finger brushed the inscription— Alistair had secreted the blade from her and had just one word, Warden, inscribed; nothing else had suited it— and then she was charging, and she had the dagger in her hand.
In peace, vigilance.
She slipped in the blood though, and she was sliding on her back, air knocked from her chest and gasping, and she just kept moving, sliding. She was under the beast, still struggling to shake off her dog— faithful mabari, faithful Rabbit— and Sten was shouting even as Shale pounded on the dragon's side. She was staring up at it, at the sensitive skin and the fact that she could hear its blood rushing through it.
In death, sacrifice.
She plunged the dagger home— a certain artistry to the deed, Zevran had once said— and the dragon screamed, jerked, sending her blade only deeper. Then it bucked and the dagger laid it open, the dragon-bone blade glowing a brilliant blue from the taint in everything around her. There was blood gushing over her skin, and she was jerking just as much as the dragon was, screaming and bucking, and she couldn't let go of the dagger, couldn't do anything but feel the archdemon dying.
Then the fire was in her, under her skin and not just where the blood was touching her, not just where her flesh was hissing and sizzling, and she was sobbing, her breath leaving her helpless under the weight of the dragon as it roared and collapsed. She was dying.
No. She'd always been dead. This was her gift, her last redeeming moment when she could save everyone else.
Everything was too bright, and she could feel the fire anew in her, like something too big and too bright and too much was trying to force its way into her body. She wasn't giving it up though, wasn't letting it take her. Her eyes fluttered and she could see shadows, could see that blurring, lurching world of the Fade at the edges of her senses. She didn't want to go.
She didn't want to go.