The challenge on the CMDA board (here shortened by me) reads as follow: "So first Shakespira made Zev shamefully fall off the dragon just when he wanted to show off a bit. Then KCousland's Kallian punched him in the nose. And not just once. Twice! Don't get me wrong, ladies, I loved it. But there are very few stories with Zevran and even fewer that have a happy end. Rinna dies, Warden dies, Zev dies. So please please pretty please, I know most of you are Coulistairs, but please make Zev happy, too! Zev/anyone, smut or not, angsty or fluffy or silly, the only condition is the happy end. Pretty please?"
I am guilty as charged, I admit, on all counts (even on being a shameless Coulistair, sorry!) But I do so love a challenge. This is my attempt at making Zevran happy. I'm finding he's a hard man to please.
Like Crazy Little Thing, this story will not be a retelling of the game. Chapters will be very loosely tied together. It's mostly a collection of scenes of various lengths, in somewhat chronological order. It will be very randomly sprinkled with quotes from the game, mixed up with some original dialogue and in the end, Zevran will be happy. I promise.
To you, dear challenger: I know I kept you waiting and I'm sorry. I sincerely hope this was worth the wait.
Finally, a million thanks to my beta, Epiphany Sola Gratia!
One dream, one soul, one prize, one goal,
One golden glance of what should be
~Queen, A kind of magic
Lift, block, strike.
He knew the dance too well. Adrenaline rushed through his body as he fought, awakening ghosts of feelings he used to have. Exhilaration. Joy. Accomplishment.
Sidestep, feint, sweep.
Now it was all just a well-rehearsed choreography: a mechanical, passionless dance by an emotionless, methodical performer.
Step, raise, shove.
The Grey Warden was a good dancer, true, but not fast enough, not for him. He was relentless, though, his attacks following one another effortlessly, but all this heavy Templar armour and shield made him slower. Zevran knew how to take advantage of that. His whole body knew. Unfortunately.
Back step, dodge, push.
The flurry of attacks left the assassin no time to plan, to think. The weapon that was his body was acting automatically, his instincts too honed, too strong. Like everything else in his life, his own death would have to be earned. He just wanted it to stop. If only he could stop.
And then, as if wishes could suddenly come true, he did.
He felt himself lift off the ground, felt his arms spread wide, his whole body immobilized by a crushing, invisible force. He heard a woman's laughter in the distance, saw the grim determination in the Grey Warden's eyes as he charged, his shield held high.
Zevran was regaining consciousness. That was an unpleasant, rather horrible sensation, not to mention a surprising one. He didn't think he would wake up at all, really. Not ever again.
The pain was a more familiar, ever-present sensation, dulled as it was, and his mind clung to it, his eyes still closed. His chest… his whole chest hurt. He remembered a huge shield, coming in fast, crashing hard into him, sending him flat on the ground… and he didn't remember much after that, his whole world had faded to black.
Being awake, alive, made his chest hurt way beyond the physical pain.
His hands hurt, too. The explanation for that was soon made pretty obvious: they were bound behind his back, chafed raw by the ropes and the… bark? He was sitting, apparently, leaning back against a tree, his legs spread before him. His thighs hurt. They felt… crushed.
Wounded, defeated, restrained… helpless.
Well, apparently he had failed on an epic level today. Failed ambush, failed assassination and failed death, all wrapped up in one catastrophic event. Everything hurt. Maybe if his eyes stayed closed, the darkness might engulf him again…
… just want the pain to stop…
His left cheek hurt, too, a burning, lingering sensation. He was trying to pin down the feeling when he got slapped hard on his other cheek. Well… this explained that, he supposed.
"Wake up, sexy!" sang an amused female voice, suspiciously close. "I've got such a nice surprise waiting for you!"
Groaning weakly, he opened one careful eye, and found himself staring at a very generous bosom dandling right under his nose.
"Hmph, huh… what?"
He opened his other eye in a valiant attempt to try and make more sense of the situation.
His allies lay around the caravan, all dead. Three people were now standing around him, their weapons still at the ready: a red-haired girl with a bow, an old lady in mages robes, and the Grey Warden warrior that was supposed to be one of his intended targets.
The other Warden, the mage, was sitting on him, straddling his thighs, pressing her breasts up his nose and a very sharp dagger to his throat… but the dangerous, although slightly disconcerting position was not what got his immediate attention. Just what kind of kinky mage robes was she wearing, exactly? Plunging neckline, adjusted waist, short skirt, bared thighs… wait… were those thigh-high black stockings?
Well, well… this was another matter entirely.
The flat of the blade was pressed more firmly against his throat, reminding him of his precarious position, and he brought his eyes back up to her face, swallowing loudly. He couldn't die like this, bound, immobilised and helpless, every muscle screaming in agony. It felt too much like giving in, like giving up.
Crows don't quit. Ha!
It shouldn't matter. He didn't deserve to live, and so it shouldn't matter how he died. And yet…
A pair of pale blue eyes stared back at him from behind a mess of long, unnaturally red hair.
"They're golden!" the woman exulted, wiping the hair away from her face impatiently. "Pay up!"
The warrior bent to look him in the eyes, then mumbled a curse under his breath as he sheathed his weapon, fumbling to get a little coin purse tied to his belt. "You know, technically they're more of a light honeyed brown…"
"Don't be a sore loser, sweetie," the woman in his lap said, catching the tossed coin purse. "It's not attractive."
Now wait just a second…
"You… you bet on the colour of my eyes?"
He remembered… as he drew his weapons, shouting death threats, he saw surprise ripple through the enemy line, a hesitation that could have been fatal. Then she was back on her feet, after dodging a tree, no less, laughing and shouting gleefully, and that hesitation vanished, replaced by enthusiastic, lethal efficiency.
"Well," the woman in his lap said with a shrug, looking at him sternly, "you see, as the leader of our group, I feel it is my duty to keep things entertaining. No offense, but that little ambush of yours was one of the most boring things that has happened to me all week."
Well, he didn't kill her, but at least he managed to bore her, so not an utter failure then… It is possible to be bored to death after all, and you know what they say about small victories…
The Crows would probably be coming for him then. He felt a visceral disgust at the thought.
No. Not like this. Not by their hands.
It shouldn't matter.
The woman pursed her lips. "Although I'll admit, it has been a rather… spectacular week so far… so don't feel too bad."
She ran the flat of the blade slowly across his throat, then threw the dagger away with a flick of her wrist and he felt fingers dig into his cheeks as she took his face between her hands. "We won't need that, now, right, sexy?" she asked, her voice sultry. "You're going to put that pretty mouth of yours to good use and tell Tara everything you know, right?"
Was she… flirting? Exactly how hard did he hit his head?
He tested the ties, subtly. The knots were pretty solid. Maybe he could have found a way to get out of them, but the woman was way too close not to notice, especially since even the ever-so-small shifting of his arms brought burning pain to his shoulders.
Talking seemed his best option. He didn't owe anyone any loyalty… not anymore.
"Of course…" he managed to croak, pleased when he heard his voice sounding more confident than he thought it would. "After all, I wasn't paid for silence, not that I offered it for sale, exactly."
The Warden seemed very pleased.
"See, Alistair?" she said, looking over her shoulder. "He's very cooperative. I told you, I'm a people person. I know how to put someone at ease."
A scoff from the man and a giggle from the archer answered her. Zevran felt his eyebrows rise almost on their own. When that Howe fellow hired him, he had failed to mention how… interesting his targets were going to be. He let his body relax, felt the mask fall back on. This was no new terrain; it was another kind of dance, one he knew just as well.
"Tara…" the older woman said in a scolding tone, and the young mage actually pouted, like a reprimanded child.
"But Wy-y-ynne… you can't say my tactics aren't effective?"
"Indeed," Zevran said, "I feel most inclined to keep this young beauty happy by any means necessary." He even sounded sincere. Crow training was indeed one of the hardest, deepest, and most thorough in the world.
Do not show fear. Do not show weakness. Do not show incommensurable, suicidal despair. Do not show anything.
The girl turned back to him with a smile. "Yes, exactly! I'm satisfied to have him pinned down here, and he's satisfied to be pinned down here. Everybody wins!"
"Well, the view is quite entertaining…" Zevran said, licking his lips. He wasn't lying, not exactly, the words falling from his lips like a well-rehearsed text. She looked like a worthy partner, enthusiastic, at least, and that made the thrill of the game even more exciting.
"Yes, yes, entertaining!" she was saying, exulting. "See how good I am at this?"
The old woman sighed, but could not quite hide the little smile playing on her lips. Tara, however, had turned her attention back to him and was considering him thoughtfully, her fingers playing with a lock of her deep red hair.
"You know what? I like you, sexy," she said at length, swapping him lightly on his chest. "I will like you a lot more when you start talking though…"
"Then I will not make you wait one more second, dear lady. What is it you wish to know? Who hired me, surely?"
"Hmm, so eager to please…" she whispered, mirth in her eyes. "Why, yes, that's a good place to start…"
"It was a rather taciturn fellow in the capital…"
The blond warrior frowned.
"Ah, yes, that makes sense," she nodded. "Very good, sweetie! See? We're very clever people." She wrapped another lock of her hair around her finger, looking thoughtful. "But then…" She looked up at him, and something dark and cold flash in her eyes, gone in an instant. A mischievous twinkle replaced it. "I want to know what possessed the man to hire such a poor excuse for an assassin instead of someone who can do his job properly…"
"Tara, if he was any better at his job, we would be dead right now," the warrior said in a reasonable tone.
"Are you telling me this because you think I don't know, sweetie?" she asked, amused. "What I mean is that it makes no sense from Loghain's perspective. I mean, he must have asked for references, right? Why would he hire such an inept assassin?"
Zevran was torn. On one hand, he couldn't just admit that the ambush had been planned to fail. On the other hand… he was not an inept assassin! Was… was he actually feeling offended?
"Oh, fine! Is that what you Fereldans do, mock your prisoners? Such cruelty!"
Well… It seemed he was.
"Hmm… no…" Tara answered him, looking thoughtful again. "I think Fereldan prisoners are usually… tortured. Is that it, Ali?"
"How would I know?"
"Well, remember that deserter at Ostagar? He was in his smallclothes in a suspended cage, and he was bloodied all over and had nothing to eat. He was tortured, right?"
"All right, then, torture it is! I wouldn't want to break Ferelden's traditions, after all…" She raised her hands in front of his face, blue electric sparkles running between her spread fingers. He felt his heart suddenly beat faster in fear and relished in the sensation, even as his body tensed against the threat of yet more pain to come.
"Mm, so you kept me around to have a bit of fun, yes? But isn't interrogation the whole point of torture? I am already offering free information."
Tara pouted, then looked over her shoulder at the warrior.
"He has a point," the man conceded.
"But he hasn't even answered my question yet!" Tara said, bringing her gaze back to him. "Just a little zap?"
"Oh, do what you want with him, I don't really care. I was on the 'kill him before he wakes up' team, if you remember correctly…" the warrior said, shrugging.
Aw, and there Zevran thought they had that male-bonding thing going on. Oh well, too bad.
"What I meant to say," he began, clearing his throat, "is that I do come with excellent references. My name is Zevran, Zev to my friends. I am part of the Crows. Surely you've heard of us?"
"Oh yeah, sure! Senior Enchanter Sweeney taught us all about foreign assassins in between elemental lessons, back at the Tower…"
The older mage actually burst out laughing, which honestly was his first clue that the Warden was joking, because her face kept a very serious expression all through the lie.
"I can tell you what the Crows are, Tara," the red-haired archer intervened.
"Yes, yes, I know, honey, you were a very worldly, mysteriously knowledgeable woman before you joined the Chantry and became very, very dull," Tara said, waving her away. "I don't care, really, who the Crows are. So, sexy, what you're saying is that you're supposed to be good at this, which honestly only means that there is no excuse for this pathetic ambush. So Loghain hired you, huh? When were you supposed to see him next?"
"I wasn't. If I had succeeded, I would have returned home and the Crows would have informed your Loghain of the result, if he didn't already know. If I had failed, I would be dead, or I should be at least as far as the Crows are concerned. No need to see Loghain then."
She frowned, the expression almost comical on her face. "If you had failed?"
"What can I say, I'm an eternal optimist. Although the chances of succeeding at this point seem a bit slim, don't they?" His laugh had a slight edge of hysteria to it, even to his own ears. She simply looked at him, eyebrows raised. Oh, how crazed he must have sounded to her. "No, I don't suppose you'd find that funny, would you?"
It was, though. Hilarious, even.
"What now, then?" she asked at length.
Yes, what now, indeed?
"Well, if you're done interrogating me, I have a proposition for you, if you're of a mind."
They led dangerous lives, this mismatched group of unlikely heroes. He could use being put in dangerous, potentially lethal situations on a daily basis, to think of it. He certainly wasn't keen on the idea of giving the Crows the satisfaction of ending his life. There would always be time to die later. Time, and opportunity, it seemed.
She looked just mad enough to let her would-be assassin live and provide him with some much-needed protection. Well… maybe not. Then again, what did he have to lose? Living in this woman's shadow promised to be… entertaining, at least. He could use some entertainment. It had been a long time since he had felt this intrigued… or felt anything, really.
"Here's the thing: I failed to assassinate you, so the Crows will kill me. That's how it works. The thing is, I like living. So let me serve you, instead, yes? I join you and help you any way I can, and in exchange you don't let my ex-employers kill me. What do you say?"
She scoffed. "You want to join me, do you, sexy? Be careful what you wish for…"
Now what did that mean?
She sat back a little to get a better look at him.
"You must think I'm royally stupid."
Well, that wasn't a "no", was it?
"I think you are royally tough to kill.,, and utterly gorgeous."
"Really?" she said as her eyebrows rose in incredulity.
"Not that I think you'll respond to simple flattery, but really, I can think of worse fate than serving the whims of a deadly sex-goddess." Better her than the Crows any time.
"Mmm… I like that. I think this should be my new nickname. Hear that, people? That is how you're going to address me from now on!"
"Not a chance," the other Grey Warden deadpanned.
She didn't look back at him, keeping her focus on Zevran. "What can you do, exactly?"
That sounded less and less like a refusal.
"I am skilled at many things, from fighting to stealth and picking locks…"
"Hmm, well I already have one wicked charming rogue with a sketchy past for all that, don't I, honey?"
"You sure do, Tara," the archer said with a wink.
"I could also warn you should the Crows attempt something else…"
"Yeah… see… here's the thing… I'm not afraid of the Crows so much, and that's kinda because of you, sexy. Let them come, for all I care. What else?"
"I could also stand around and look pretty, if you prefer. Warm your bed? Fend off unwanted suitors? No?"
Her eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Ah, see, now we're talking! You should have opened with that little suggestion! So what are your bed-warming skills, exactly? Don't leave out any…"
"Tara!" the older mage scolded, and the woman's mouth snapped shut, her expression almost guilty. Zevran wasn't about to lose this opportunity, though.
"I knew we could find a common interest… or two… or three…" He winked. "Really, I could go on all night…"
Tara smiled widely.
"I feel like you know me so well already! We'll continue this conversation later, in private, away from… sensitive ears."
"Does that mean I'm tagging along?"
She thought it over.
"Promise you won't try to kill me again?"
"I can only make that promise if you take me with you. There's no way to know what will become of me if you leave me here, after all…"
"Well, you're a clever little fox, aren't you?" An amused smile was playing on her lips as she looked at him thoughtfully. "If I leave you here, I leave you dead."
Then he would have succeeded at one thing today, at least… There was something to say for that "nothing left to lose" attitude. It seemed to him it was more healthy than people usually let on. Maybe she'd even let him get on his feet, first.
"Very well, I accept your offer," she said at length, sounding very official.
"What? You're taking the assassin with us now?" the warrior protested.
"Aw, don't be jealous, sweetie, it doesn't suit you. Beside, you know I still like you best…" she said over her shoulder before turning back to him, winking mischievously.
"I'm not - that's not why - how can you…" the man sputtered, and Zevran, despite his seemingly precarious position, tried hard to keep from laughing. "Oh, fine, have it your way!"
"I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you, until such a time as you choose to release me from it. I am your man, without reservation. This I swear," he said, the oath falling effortlessly from his lips.
"Well aren't we very officially friends now?" she said, laughing. "You sound like you're used to giving your life away to crazy people." She leaned over his shoulder and untied his wrists, before placing both her hands flat on his chest. "I guess that means I can call you Zev, now, right? Wanna see what I can do, Zev?"
Before he could answer, her hands on his chest started to glow in a soft blue light. He felt the distinct tingling of healing magic on his skin, cool and refreshing, and he sighed in contentment as the pain in his chest slowly abated. He opened his mouth to thank her, but all that came out was a strangled gasp when he felt the tingling intensify, spreading wider, penetrating deep inside him… feeling absolutely amazing.
The cool, healing tendrils of Tara's magic were coursing through him, leisurely following what seemed like every vein and every nerve of his body, replacing any lingering pain with blissful rejuvenation. As the overwhelming sensation reached his extremities, he realized his breathing had grown uneven, coming in short gasps. His whole body arched into her hands, the blue light now pulsing between her fingers, each surge of magic increasing the intensity of the sensation to a point of near-unbearable sensitivity.
Then her hands glowed red, and soothing warmth spread from his chest through his whole body, reducing his muscles to relaxed contented jelly. After the intensity of the healing magic, the numbness that came with the warmth brought relief so overwhelming and sudden that Zevran felt like he was losing control of his body altogether. Exhilarating… and immensely frightening.
Her hands glowed blue again, and a cool, revitalizing sensation pushed through the warmth. Somehow the contrast in sensations made it even more intense.
Every muscle and nerve was awakening, sensitive to every tiny feeling. Time… slowed. He could feel the soft brush of his hair caressing his cheek with exquisite acuity, the breeze on his skin sending a shiver down his spine. And… he could feel her. He felt the soft touch of her fingers through the leather, the pressure of her palm over his heart, the warmth of her body where her thighs were pressed against his. He felt like he was floating, weightless, and she was the only force keeping him grounded. No more bounds. No more wounds. No more pain.
And then it stopped.
He caught her wrists in his hands as she started to move away, and she smiled smugly upon seeing the awestruck look on his face.
"You liked that, did you? I can tell… Don't get used to this, though, it won't always feel like this… I just thought I'd do something special, you know, because I've threatened you with torture and you've been such a nice prisoner…"
She got off him, extending a hand to help him up. He stood on shaky legs, feeling ridiculously unstable. The loss of her healing magic had left him… oddly empty. Vulnerable.
"Well," Zevran said, not managing to make his voice sound quite as casual as he might have liked, "I can see that it is in my best interest to always be very nice to you, my lovely Grey Warden."
"And don't you forget it!"