“Finally,” he tilted his head to look at her. “You’re awake.”
Illuviel blinked the sleep from her eyes and brought her hand up to rub the itchiness away. For a moment after she withdrew her hand, he was a blur before her and the haunted taint of nightmare confused her as to where she was and how she’d gotten there. The dreams didn’t always fade as she woke; sometimes they lingered, following her around for much of the morning like an old ghost that refused to be ignored.
I am here, it seemed to say.
Illuviel didn’t like to listen, but what choice did she really have? There was no getting rid of the taint—the archdemon was a part of her. At least she thought that was what those nightmares meant, anyway.
She wondered if Alistair had the same dream, if he’d woke just as frightened as she did, with the smell of ash and destruction still burnt into his nostrils. Maybe she would ask him; maybe she would suffer silently and hope he brought it up. She hated talking about the nightmares. They always made Alistair so bloody sad.
“I like to watch you sleep, you know,” Zevran confessed, then added, “though not for several hours in a row. I get bored,” he shrugged.
“You should have woke me,” she murmured and brought her arm back to rest across her forehead. “We have much to do today.”
“I probably should have, but you looked so peaceful before I left. I thought it best to let you sleep.”
“I woke before the sun,” he explained. “I watched and waited, and when it seemed there was no waking you with lurid stares and steamy kisses, I decided to take a walk. I thought you might have woken by the time I returned, and yet you slept on. You must be so very tired, my dear.”
Rolling onto her side, she buried a yawn in her shoulder and closed her sleepy eyes as she drew in breath through her nose. The memory of that scent was finally fading, ,but that dream would linger with her all day.
“Yesterday was awful and today promises to be no better.”
“We go to the alienage today, yes?”
“After Alistair and I speak with Riordan, yes.”
The thought of going into the alienage made her more nervous than meeting with the Orlesian warden. She’d heard no news from within, only that the riots brought down the gates—allowing no one in or out. She knew nothing of her father’s fate, of her cousins, Shianni or Soris. The guard said there was a plague inside, and that was one of the reasons they’d locked the gates. For all she knew, her family was dead, and so it would be with heavy heart that she journeyed into the heart of her old home to find out what troubles waited there.
“You never speak of your home,” Zevran noticed, reaching over and brushing a lock of hair from her cheek, “or your family.”
“That’s because I prefer listening to you talk of Antiva, with its rain and its flowers and the death-stench of your fancy leather…”
“And that is all well and good, but it has been nearly a year since you mercifully spared my life after I tried to assassinate you, and we have shared a bed many times, but you have never spoken of your home or your family, save to say your mother was a beautiful jewel—a fact I was most obviously already aware of, as only a jewel could beget a jewel so bright as you, amor.”
Swallowing the nervousness lodged in her throat, she blinked her eyes open and found a grin for him, “You are a shameless flatterer.”
“It is true,” he grinned. “So, tell me then, do you still have family in Denerim?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “When I was conscripted, my father was still alive, my cousins Soris and Shianni, as well, but I have not spoken to them since I left with Duncan and a lot can change in a year.”
“Indeed, it can,” he agreed. “May I ask what it is you hope to find there?”
“I hope they’re still alive, but beyond hope…”
He said nothing for a long time, only stared into her eyes as if willing her to speak further, but she didn’t. Outside the tent, she heard Wynne scolding Alistair for leaving his dirty sock in her pack and Leliana making cheerful attempt at conversation with Oghren. Somewhere at the edge of camp her dog and Sten were holding a growling competition of some sort that was making Morrigan very angry. A rather typical start to a day just like any other, she thought.
“I suppose it’s time to get up and around, head back into Denerim. I promised the arl I would get this business with the alienage sorted before the Lands Meet, and I need to speak with the Grey Warden from Orlais.”
“This Riordan you mentioned? The Grey Warden we found in Arl Howe’s dungeons yesterday morning?”
“That would be him. I am hoping he will have some insight into how we can slay the archdemon. Neither Alistair, nor I have any idea, really.”
“Then speaking with him would be wise, I think.”
“I think so too.”
“Before we go,” he began, a nervous hitch in his voice that seemed so alien she didn’t know what to make of it. “Here,” he brought something between them, a single gold, jewelled earring that glinted dully in the shadow of their shared tent, “it seems an appropriate moment to give you this.”
“You don’t have to give me anything,” she laughed nervously.
“I may not need to, but I want to.”
“Is that… an earring?”
“I acquired it on my very first job for the Crows,” the nervousness departed for a moment, replaced with nostalgic pride. “A Rivaini merchant prince and he was wearing a single jeweled earring when I killed him. In fact, that’s about all he was wearing. I thought it was beautiful and took it to mark the occasion. I’ve kept it since… and I’d like you to have it.”
“This is a bit out of the blue, isn’t it?” And so strange considering her thoughts as she lay down beside him the night before, realizing she was in love with him, that she didn’t want to live in a world without him in it.
“Don’t get the wrong idea about it,” he grew suddenly defensive. “You killed Taliesin and as far as the Crows are concerned, I died with him. That means I am free, at least for now. Feel free to sell it or wear it… or whatever you’d like. It’s really the least I could give you in return.”
“So… it’s not a token of affection then?”
“I… look, just… just take it. It’s meant a lot to me, but so have… so has what you’ve done. Please, take it.”
“Is it wrong of me to want it to mean something?”
“You are a very frustrating woman to deal with, do you know that?” he declared, sitting up and scowling down at her. “We pick up every other bit of treasure we come across, but not this. Fine, you don’t want the earring, you don’t get the earring. Very simple.”
She attempted to reach for him, but he was already on his feet, hunched down and storming from the tent without another word, though she could hear him muttering Antivan curses under his breath as he stalked through the camp. Through the still-fluttering flap she saw him plow past Sten, the hard edge of his shoulder barely budging the scowling Qunari.
Sighing, Illuviel dropped back into the bedroll and closed her eyes, her confusion multiplied by thousands as she wondered if her press to find out if he even cared about her beyond their obvious sexual connection hadn’t served to push him away for good.
Was it wrong of her to want to know how he really felt about her? For her to want something more than a man to share her bed? Wynne’s words, nearly forgotten in the haze of nightmare that lingered upon waking, returned to haunt her. Running fingers through her dark brown hair, she pinched her eyelids even tighter together and refused to let the tears fall when they rose to the surface. She hated thinking Wynne was right, not because she didn’t value the old woman’s wisdom, but because all she’d ever wanted was some semblance of a normal life. It didn’t have to actually be normal, but even a mockery of normalcy was bettering than nothing. Wasn’t it?
Maybe loving Zevran was a stupid idea. Clearly he didn’t feel the same way at all, and she’d been foolish to think he did, but how did one just stop loving somebody? Was such a thing even possible to do? Even if that somebody didn’t feel the same? She felt like such an idiot, so inexperienced in matters of the heart, she probably deserved every ounce of heartache he dished out.
She was probably going to die anyway; she had no right to ask for something more.
Maybe she should have just taken the damn earring and said thank you, but some part of her had wanted to know if it meant something more, if she meant something to him at all. Was that so wrong?
Steeling herself against the rising emotion, she blinked furiously until the tears abated, and then she sat up, found her under-tunic in the pile of discarded clothes at the foot of her bedroll and started to get dressed. Exiting the tent, she scanned her companions quickly and sighted Zevran kneeling beside the fire, absently poking a stick through the dwindling flames as he scowled.
She considered leaving him there while she headed into Denerim and the alienage, but some part of her still wanted him to be there with her for that homecoming, to meet her father and her cousins even if he had no desire to know that part of her at all.
“Alistair,” she marched past Zevran and arrived in front of her fellow Grey Warden. “We need to meet with Riordan today before heading into the alienage.”
“Right,” he nodded agreement. “And hopefully he’ll have something enlightening to share with us regarding the archdemon.”
“That is my hope as well. We’ll take Zevran and Morrigan along. I don’t know what to expect in the alienage, but…”
“Morrigan? Really?” he wrinkled his brow and pouted. “Must we take her?”
She considered taking Wynne, but she didn’t think she could stomach spending the entire day in the company of two people so obviously mad at her. It would make for tense traveling, and there would be tension enough from Zevran to make up for any losses Wynne might lend to the situation.
“Yes,” she nodded, “we must.”
“All right, but if she even so much as looks at me strange, I’ll…”
“Do try to get along, Alistair, please.”
“Oh, fine, but only because you asked nicely and said please.”
“Thank you. I’m going to let Morrigan know what’s going on. Could you bring Zevran up to speed?”
His upper lip curled with confusion, broad shoulders lifting into a compliant shrug, “All right, but he’s standing right over there. Literally on your way to talk with Morrigan. Couldn’t you just, oh, I don’t know, bring him up to speed on your way?”
“No,” she decided, refusing to look at her paramour. “I don’t have time.” And with a nonchalant shrug, she started away from him, still not even turning a glance toward Zevran as she marched past him and headed toward Morrigan’s camp away from camp to let her know their plan for the day.
At her back, she heard Alistair muttering under his breath about how little time it would actually take to say, “Hey, you’re coming with me,” adding something else about not understanding women at all. She didn’t have to look back at him to know he was shaking his head as he approached the assassin, saying, “So, I guess you’re coming with us into Denerim.”
To which Zevran sighed and growled, “Of course I am.”